The Orations of Marcus Tullius Cicero

Date: 1851–1856

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Chapter XVII Cicero the Orator



First Verrine Oration


. . . An opinion has now become established, pernicious to us and pernicious to the republic . . . that in the courts of law as they exist at present no wealthy man, however guilty he may be, can possibly be convicted. Now, at this time of peril to your order1 and to your tribunals, when men are ready to attempt by harangues and by the proposal of new laws, to increase the existing unpopularity of the Senate, Gaius Verres is brought to trial as a criminal. He is a man condemned in the opinion of every one by his life and actions, but acquitted by the greatness of his wealth, according to his own hope and boast.

I, O judges, have undertaken this cause as prosecutor with the sincerest good wishes and expectation on the part of the Roman people, not in order to increase the unpopularity of the Senate but to relieve it from the discredit which I share with it. For I have brought before you a man, by acting justly in whose case you have an opportunity of retrieving the lost credit of your judicial proceedings, of regaining your credit with the Roman people, and of giving satisfaction to foreign nations. . . . And if you come to a decision about this man with severity and a due regard to your oaths, that authority which ought to remain in you will cling to you still. If, however, that man’s vast riches shall break down the sanctity and honesty of the courts of justice, at least I shall achieve this, that it shall be plain that it was rather honest judgment that was wanting to the republic, than a criminal to the judges, or an accuser to the criminal. . . .

What are the circumstances on which Verres founds his hopes . . . I see clearly. But how he can have the confidence to think that he can effect anything with the present praetor and the present bench of judges, I cannot conceive. This one thing I know. . . that his hopes were of that nature that he placed all his expectations of safety in his money; and that if this protection was taken from him, he thought nothing would be any help to him. . . .

Verres has established great and numerous monuments and proofs of all his vices in the province of Sicily, which he for three years so harassed and ruined that it can by no possibility be restored to its former condition. It appears, indeed, scarcely able to recover at all after a long series of years. . . . While this man was praetor, the Sicilians enjoyed neither their own laws nor the decrees of our Senate nor the common rights of every nation. . . . No legal decision for three years was given on any other ground but his will. No property was so secure to any man, even if it had descended to him from his father and grandfather, but he was deprived of it at the command of Verres. Enormous sums of money were exacted from the property of the cultivators of the soil by a new and nefarious system. The most faithful of the allies were classed in the number of enemies. Roman citizens were tortured and put to death like slaves. The worst criminals were acquitted in the courts of justice through bribery. . . . The most fortified harbors, the greatest and strongest cities, were laid open to pirates and robbers. The sailors and soldiers of the Sicilians, our own allies and friends, died of hunger. The best built fleets on the most important stations were lost and destroyed, to the great disgrace of the Roman people. This same man, while praetor, plundered and stripped those most ancient monuments, some erected by wealthy monarchs and intended by them as ornaments for their cities; some, too, the work of their own generals, which they either gave or restored as conquerors to the different states in Sicily. And he did this not only in the case of public statues and ornaments, but he also plundered all the consecrated temples. In short, he did not leave to the Sicilians one god which appeared to him to be made in a tolerably workmanlike manner. . . .

1 , translated by C. D. Yonge. 4 vols. London, 1851–1856. George Bell and Sons.

2 Cicero, Against Verres, i, 1, 3–5.

1 The judges at this period were taken from the senatorial order.

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Chicago: C. D. Yonge, trans., The Orations of Marcus Tullius Cicero in Readings in Early European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1926), 194–195. Original Sources, accessed July 21, 2024,

MLA: . The Orations of Marcus Tullius Cicero, translted by C. D. Yonge, in Readings in Early European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1926, pp. 194–195. Original Sources. 21 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: (trans.), The Orations of Marcus Tullius Cicero. cited in 1926, Readings in Early European History, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.194–195. Original Sources, retrieved 21 July 2024, from