Gaius Verres Trial (70 B.C.)

The records of the trial of Gaius (sometimes spelled Caius) Verres reveal--far better than any other extant source--the corruption of the last years of the Roman Republic. Through a series of orations and witnesses, Verres's prosecutor, Cicero, presented a powerful story of how the shocking greed and arrogance of a provincial governor wreaked havoc on what had been the breadbasket of the Roman Empire, Sicily. In his successful prosecution of Verres, Cicero both demonstrated the talents that would make him one of Rome’s foremost politicians and set in motion events that bring an end to the senatorial oligarchy established by the Sullan constitution.

A word of caution: what we know about Gaius Verres comes to us from Cicero’s seven trial orations. No records of the speeches by Verres’s defense attorney survive. Nor do we have from Verres himself any explanation for his behavior. There is the possibility, of course, that Cicero, as prosecutor, might have exaggerated the extent of Verres’s abuses, or that he might have omitted information that could have put Verres's actions in a more sympathetic light. The mountains of evidence presented by Cicero leave little doubt, however, that Verres was indeed a very despised and unscrupulous official. If he wasn’t the worst governor that a Roman province was ever made to suffer, he surely ranks right up there.