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Power and Public Finance at Rome, 264-49 BCE$

James Tan

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780190639570

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190639570.001.0001

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Profiteering in the Provinces

Profiteering in the Provinces

(p.68) 3. Profiteering in the Provinces
Power and Public Finance at Rome, 264-49 BCE

James Tan

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The Roman aristocracy was adept at making money in the provinces, and in this the state was a formidable instrument. Rome’s leaders used the state to compel provincials to pay large sums, but used financial instruments to redirect those payments into private estates. Similarly, Roman leaders relied on fees, allowances, gifts, requisitions, and other legitimate devices to squeeze more money out of subjects in ways that were largely legal. In so much of this, however, it was the state’s peculiar combination of high capacity and low autonomy that allowed leaders to force payment on a public level and retain the profits privately.

Keywords:   provinces, administration, exploitation, aristocracy, Greece, Sicily, Verres

If anyone wants to know how to turn the state into an instrument of private enterprise, then Cicero’s letters from February of the year 50 are a reasonable place to start.1 A governor who was doing his best to stay above board, Cicero was forced to deal with moneylenders who wanted him to abuse his authority to maximize their profits. The people of Salamis provided his most torturous test. These Cypriots, presumably to buy influence with senators, had sent a delegation to Rome and had borrowed money at the outrageous rate of 48 percent interest per annum. When Cicero was setting out for his province, he was asked by M. Brutus, keen philosopher and soon to be principled assassin of Caesar, to assist his friends in collecting the Salaminians’ debt. When Cicero met one of these friends, a man named M. Scaptius, he was asked to empower the debt collector with an official prefecture and cavalry units. Cicero refused, shocked that his predecessor, who happened to be Brutus’ father-in-law, had done so. With that prefecture and armed with Roman horse, Scaptius had besieged the leading Salamininans in their senate house. Five starved to death. To his eternal credit, one of Cicero’s first acts on Cyprus was to order Scaptius off the island. But there was still the matter of the debt to conclude. Cicero thought it was a simple matter: his own decree as governor was clear that 12 percent per annum. was the maximum rate of interest allowed; a law actually forbade loans to foreign envoys, so the whole transaction was legally questionable; and in any case he really did not have to worry about this lowly M. Scaptius. It is easy to sympathize with his shock, therefore, when he was presented with three documents overturning all of these comforts. The first revealed that Scaptius was in fact a mere agent and that Brutus was the real creditor; Cicero was now dealing with the affairs of a young man from the heart of the aristocracy. The second and third recorded that the senate had, through Brutus’ influence, passed decrees allowing the loan to take place despite its obvious illegality and ordering courts to respect its rate of 48 percent. He therefore sat both parties down and had them tally accounts. The only disagreement was over the rate of interest, and Cicero’s sympathies were plainly (p.69) with the debtors in this respect. The Salaminians offered to pay off the whole loan at 12 percent (106 talents) on the spot, and Cicero urged Scaptius to accept what was an excellent deal, but the latter would not do so. Scaptius knew the next governor might accept his preferred 48 percent, and so he was in no hurry to close out the debt except on his own terms. Neither party would budge. In the end, with each side tugging at him, Cicero simply walked away from the problem. He would not sanction a debt at 48 percent interest, but he would not alienate his Roman peers, either. We do not know how the matter resolved itself, but Cicero feared what would come of the Salaminians under the next governor.

For the Salaminians and so many others, the Roman state was the worst combination of strength and weakness. It had a formidable capacity when it came to coercing whichever unfortunate souls fell within its sights, but it lacked the autonomy to fend off the agenda of a Brutus or of so many others. In this particular case, the state’s diplomatic weight had forced foreigners to travel to Rome and borrow money, while its cavalry had terrorized debtors in the process of collecting repayments. From the Salaminians’ perspective, this was a powerful state. On the other hand, public law was overridden by the personal influence of one well-bred individual, an individual who had only held the most junior of magistracies, but who could call upon his father-in-law to empower an agent with a prefecture and cavalry. The Salaminians could only watch, therefore, as a private loan caught the attention of the Roman army. For Brutus, there were clear advantages. He had manipulated the state’s diplomatic process to force a loan, had then used the resources of the state to collect it, and was all the while lining his own pockets with the profits. Prominent Romans like Brutus could have done none of this without the influence and power they derived from the state. Cicero makes this especially clear in the year 70, as he pokes holes in C. Verres’ defense against charges of provincial corruption. Faced with evidence that plaintiffs and defendants were making payments to secure favorable verdicts in his court, Verres insisted that it was only ever his private associates—in this case, a man named Volcatius—who received or retained the money, but Cicero reminds his audience that it was the support of the state that empowered Verres’ friends:

I agree, and my witnesses say as much. They say that they gave the money to Volcatius. [But] what great power did Volcatius have that he could squeeze 400,000 sesterces out of two people? Would anyone, if Volcatius had come on his own initiative, have given him one cent? Let him come now, see what happens; no one would receive him into his house. But I will speak more directly. I am demonstrating that you illegally took 40 million sesterces, I say that not a single coin was paid out to you yourself. But since it was on account of your decrees, your edicts, your orders (p.70) and your verdicts that the money was handed over, we are not asking whose hand received it, but whose injustice compelled it.2

The only reason that a man like Verres—much less his associate Volcatius—could compel payments from provincials was that he wielded the judicial and administrative resources of the state, and it is worth pondering Cicero’s biting question: Who would even give Volcatius the light of day if it were not for his patron’s sway over the state’s legal system?3

To elite Romans like Brutus or Verres, the state’s potential to generate revenue was tantalizing. Whether through its awesome ability to intimidate or through the opportunities it presented for rent seeking, the state was a moneymaking machine—if harnessed correctly. The obvious difficulty was that the state’s activities represented all Romans, centralized in the form of legions or other state institutions, and the revenues of those activities should theoretically have belonged not to an individual but to the entire Roman people in the form of the treasury.4 The trick lay in privatizing those profits for personal enrichment. In this chapter, I will explore various ways in which Romans—and particularly, privileged Romans—used the state to compel money out of foreigners without having to share the profits with the treasury. This will be an essential step in understanding how private actors managed to seize so much of the empire’s yield at the state’s expense—or in other words, how they managed to increase the amount paid by provincials without increasing the amount received by the treasury.

This manipulation of state operations to create private profits was typical of Roman profiteering in the province. There was plenty of grossly illegal moneymaking as well, of course, but the Roman elite consistently found ways to conceal their rapacity within the velvet glove of legitimate government.5 Requisitions took the form of fees, allowances, gifts, levies, loan repayments, and other perfectly valid transfers. Legality was critical: the use of legitimate means allowed Romans to justify profits and to press provincials further and further. In this chapter I will be looking in particular at the use of public resources to maximize private profits. Debt will play a leading role in the first half of the story, as individuals found ways to turn obligations to the state into obligations to creditors, while the manipulation of allowances and other legitimate contributions will be the topic of the second half. Romans managed to convert a great deal of the provincials’ legitimate payments into private property, and this is part of the reason why there was such a discrepancy between net taxation and gross taxation.6 (p.71) The last chapter was an attempt to show one way in which tax farming suppressed net taxation, and this chapter will go further in showing how individuals could maximize gross taxation.

The evidence on which it is built relates disproportionately to Asia Minor and Sicily in the last decades of the Republic, when the profiteering of Roman officials was almost certainly at its worst.7 The reason for this is that two sources address the topic more explicitly than any others: Cicero’s prosecution of Verres after his Sicilian governorship, and the letters Cicero wrote to Atticus while governing Cilicia. In these letters, Cicero himself was shocked by some of the details he found on the ground, and his eagerness to report the details—crucially, details most other sources neglect—was in part designed to contrast his own self-image as a virtuous governor who spurned the kinds of profits embraced by less reputable sorts. In particular, the situation he found reflected the actions of his immediate predecessor, Ap. Claudius Pulcher, whose unkindness to his province may or may not have been typical. Cicero was eager to draw a distinction between Appius and himself, and no doubt selected his cases to further this goal. In his prosecution of Verres, Cicero obviously crafted a hyperbolic account to portray his defendant’s misconduct as unprecedented. This realization may lead to charges of Ciceronian exaggeration, but the point cuts both ways: it is difficult to know whether Cicero is inflating the abuses of Verres, or merely overstating his singularity.8 Or both. My position in this chapter is that it would be impossible to reconstruct exactly what Verres did in each case, but that the speeches do give a more or less accurate guide to the kinds of abuses to which Rome’s most venal leaders turned. Cicero’s case depended not only on the plausibility—much less provability—of his accusations; it must have depended to some degree also on the audience’s prior understanding of how the system was used and abused by others. In that sense, the details in his letters and speeches can be taken as reflections of a general approach, even if not as forensically perfect retellings of specific cases.

A potentially more serious problem, however, is that Cicero anchors the discussion in the last three decades of the Republic. Accounts of earlier periods are not absent in what follows, but the portrait relies heavily on details from one specific period. When it comes to provincial profiteering, however, I would argue that this period reflects a change in scale rather than quality. Romans were already making a fortune in the provinces in the second century; why else would a Lex Calpurnia of 149 have established a court to try corrupt governors? And there is plenty of reason to think that abuses in this period involved far more people than the lucky few who held high office. Including a governor’s (p.72) sons in its jurisdiction, for example, Gaius Gracchus’ law on provincial extortion reveals that Roman leaders were already raising money through their private households in the 120s. The evidence may be overwhelmingly from the end of the Republic, but it would be a mistake to assume that the corrupt practices examined in this chapter were unknown in the second century.

The focus here is on the gap between gross and net taxation, and though the Late Republic may reveal that gap at its most yawning, the process was begun much earlier. Kay has assembled evidence for Romans of the third and second centuries acquiring new wealth, invested particularly in the agricultural land of central Italy. He makes a strong case for vibrant private enterprise in the provinces, and this would obviously have expanded the wealth of private estates. At stake in this chapter, however, is also the failure of public profits to keep up. Much—though not all—of Kay’s enrichment was inextricably bound to the exploitation of Rome’s rule.9 This exploitation of the state’s powers was normal. Many of the greatest fortunes leveraged the state’s actions to generate greater profits, as commanders, financiers, and entrepreneurs transacted with provincials who were in no position to resist. State action, therefore, sparked much of Rome’s blazing enterprise in the provinces.

The goal of this chapter, then, is to show how egregious acts of personal enrichment—whenever or wherever they occurred—often relied on the state in ways that yielded far greater profits for private actors than for the public treasury. The focus is not solely on how these avaricious leaders made their money; it is also on how the state was forced to aid and abet them for only a minor share of the spoils. To that end, the evidence is revealing.

Credit, Debt, and the Privatization of Public Revenues

The great wars of the third and early second centuries resulted in indemnities paid directly to the treasury by conquered foes. The defeats of Hannibal, Philip V, Nabis, Antiochus III and the Aetolians all resulted in annual payments for fixed terms, and the fact that the Carthaginian indemnity of 199 was only inspected upon delivery at Rome—it turned out to be a cheap alloy—suggests that the Romans played no role in actually collecting and moving these bounties.10 (p.73) Similarly, the senate decreed that the Aetolians, having paid the first installment of their indemnity to the consul on site, had to deliver all subsequent payments themselves to Rome.11 This made it very difficult for individuals to skim a percentage off the top, since foreigners simply came to Rome with silver or gold and put it in the treasury with no Roman intermediary. In areas like Spain, the first generation of Roman administrators seems to have relied on more or less ad hoc contributions to help sustain the legions and their presence.12 Over time, however, these indemnities were converted into regular revenues in various provinces, even if the process is not always clear. The Romans inherited a tithe system in Sicily that they expanded at the end of the third century, while tribute seems to have been regularized in Spain by 178 and in Macedonia after the defeat of Perseus in 168.13 Similar systems of revenue raising would subsequently be established in Africa, Achaea, and Asia.14 Fixed-term indemnities from independent peoples (whether for five years or fifty years) thus more or less fell out of fashion as regular tribute came to replace them. Every community that became part of this Roman tax base was now prone to intervention, while every act of tax collection was open to manipulation by members of the administration.15 This was an essential step in widening the gap between gross and net taxation (or tribute, in this case). So long as the conquered were themselves raising and delivering their payments to Rome, there were few if any opportunities for individuals to siphon off funds for their own private estates. Once Roman officials and contractors became more embedded in the process of collecting or transporting payments, however, interference by governors and their staffs grew much more feasible. The door was opening to various forms of profiteering.

(p.74) This trend manifested itself in other ways, as well. Alongside regular taxation, indemnities were replaced by one-off payments from the conquered to the Roman commander on the scene. More than 3,000 talents were handed over to Metellus Numidicus by Jugurtha, and Curio forced payments out of the Dardani on the borders of his province in Macedonia.16 Manius Aquillius drove Nicomedes of Bithynia into debt for a sum that, although unspecified in the sources, was evidently impressive—Mithridates poured molten gold down his throat to quench his thirst for bribes.17 Sulla demanded 20,000 talents from Asia after the First Mithridatic War, justified as arrears accumulated during the Pontic occupation, but demanded at once nonetheless.18 In chapter 1, I discussed the enormous profits made under Pompey’s command in the East: M. Scaurus was taking bribes for military favors, while Ariobarzanes III, king of Cappadocia, was so far in arrears to Pompey that 33 talents a month did not even cover the interest he owed.19 Badian, moreover, points out that Pompey had had very little to do with the Cappadocians, and rightly imagines “what other kings and dynasts, with whom Pompey was in close contact and for whom he had done a great deal, owed him or had paid him.”20 Badian could have drawn upon at least one well-attested case: Tigranes agreed to pay 6,000 in return for the Armenian throne.21 Then there were the outright bribes from Egypt. Ptolemy Auletes offered 6,000 talents to Pompey and Caesar, and then 10,000 talents to Gabinius, all in order to regain his position as ruler of Egypt.22 These were the most gratuitous uses of the state to promote private wealth. Foreigners found themselves at the mercy of the legions, and Roman commanders could easily dictate terms in exchange for favors. Few if any private individuals could simply demand such exorbitant sums from foreign peoples. It was only the presence of Rome’s army—a state institution—that compelled the unfortunate to accede to demands.

But how did this money find its way to the private estates of Roman leaders? Not all these payments, after all, were to the person of the commander. Sulla, for example, was claiming public taxes in arrears, and Pompey construed his fees as tribute to the Roman people as a collective, so any seizure by the commander would have to be illegitimate. It was finance that provided the means to convert (p.75) these public revenues into private profits.23 If the payments were demanded in coin or bullion, then promptly gathering sufficient metal could be impossible, and the debtor would have to borrow the money from the commander or his associates at whatever outrageous interest rate was stipulated. In this case, the seemingly honorable process of earning tribute for the state could simply be occasion for usury. Take the case of Ariobarzanes III just mentioned.24 A Roman army stood between him and his throne, and if he wished to remain in power, he had little choice but to accept whatever sum was asked of him. Pompey could portray this as tribute to Rome and could happily deposit Ariobarzanes’ one-off payment in the treasury, thus satisfying anyone who claimed that all such tribute belonged to the Roman people. By choosing an amount beyond the king’s ability to furnish at once, however, Pompey forced Ariobarzanes to take out a loan and effectively inserted his own private interests into the transaction. Since, moreover, Pompey could construct a debt so harsh that Ariobarzanes could never conceivably pay it off, he and his associates would continue collecting repayments for as long as Ariobarzanes could find the money. The state absorbed the costs of the operation—raising and paying troops, deploying an army at the far ends of the Mediterranean, feeding thousands as they marched in conquest—but its share of the tribute was limited to the original sum. It was Pompey and other private bankers who would inflate Ariobarzanes’ tribute through ongoing interest payments. They very successfully, therefore, privatized the profits of publicly funded military activity and grew them at interest. It is worth exploring such manipulation of finance in detail.

The first attested instance of converting state payments into private loans was in 199, when the Carthaginians, trying to make the first payment of their indemnity with coins of just 75 percent purity, were forced to borrow the missing 25 percent.25 Nobody at the time, however, seems to have embraced the full potential of this racket. By the first century, it was not uncommon to force communities into debt in order to raise money, as the actions of Sulla and Pompey make clear. The expansion of the practice may stem from the widening scope of tax farming in the provinces, since the affinity between the two types of enterprise is clear. In both cases, provincials owed payments to the treasury. Tax farmers would advance a predetermined sum to Rome in exchange for the right to maximize tax collection within the defined tax farm, and if taxpayers could not afford their obligation, then a banker would lend them the money for even greater profits over time, thanks to the interest charged.26 The use of bankers to collect tribute from foreign kings and peoples was similar. A vanquished foe was (p.76) obliged to make payments to Rome, but instead of engaging the treasury in the long process of collecting the tribute as debtors raised it, a creditor advanced the sum on his behalf, and then collected the amount over a period of time through repayments. In his relationship with the treasury, the creditor is “purchasing” the right to collect the tribute himself for whatever extra interest he can manage, just as a tax farmer “purchases” the right to collect taxes at whatever profit he can find. Of course, this was not tax farming per se—there was no contract between state and creditor, and the payer only had resort to the creditor if unable to meet the obligation up front—but at the heart of the transaction was the use of private business to collect Rome’s income for profit. In both cases, a community needed to make payments to Rome, and the creditor’s gains were simply his price for taking on the lengthy task of collecting those payments. The likes of Pompey and his financial associates were creating “debt farms” out of military campaigns. When asking how common this was, it is worth considering just how many recorded loans were to cities rather than to individuals. Brutus’ loan to the Salaminians was cited earlier, but to it can be added Cluvius’ loans to various Asian cities, T. Pinnius’ loan to Caunus, Castricius’ loans to Tralles and Smyrna, and Atticus’ loans to Sicyon and Ephesus.27 The exact reasons for these loans are usually unstated—Brutus and the Salaminians are exceptions in this respect—but the presence of civitates must make some role for the state likely.

Using the state to maximize private profits was not, however, the reserve of those with legions at their backs. Any well-connected creditor could play the game, and the case of Brutus’ loan to the Salaminians, as discussed at the start of this chapter, illustrates the point well.28 Brutus did not require an army to force the Salaminians to take out a loan. The need for bribes in Roman diplomacy forced the Salaminians to access capital from someone, and Brutus, who was their patron at Rome, was an obvious lender. The first problem, however, was that loans to foreign envoys in Rome were illegal. A minor hurdle. Brutus’ influence among senators earned him a decree that granted dispensation from the law for this one transaction at an outrageous rate of interest.29 The loan was effected. In this case, one blue-blooded but junior aristocrat subverted state attempts to regulate such lending simply by coopting the support of senior leaders. This, moreover, was just the beginning of the state’s inability to resist Brutus’ agenda. Once the contract was drawn up, Brutus could use other connections to involve the state’s resources in maximizing his return. To Cyprus he sent M. Scaptius and P. Matinius, neither of whom had any prior role in the administration of the province, and when these two encountered difficulties (p.77) in pressing such harsh payments from the Salaminians, they approached the governor, Brutus’ father-in-law Ap. Claudius Pulcher, who duly endowed them with state cavalry to besiege the leaders in the senate house at state expense.30 Without the prefectures Appius gave them, they had neither the authority nor the resources to deploy such force in calling in their debt. Armed with cavalry and with the support of the state’s resources, however, they could engage in a shockingly intensive style of debt collection at virtually no cost to themselves. Indeed, it was standard practice for governors to use their administrative resources to further the private business interests of their friends. Provincials frequently complained of legationes being sent purely for the sake of private finances or to collect bequests left to them. P. Lentulus Spinther would as governor seize land on behalf of Q. Cicero, and when Atticus was trying to recoup a loan to the Sicyonians, he had recourse not only to a promagistrate, C. Antonius, but also to the senate itself.31 The support of the governor or the senate allowed creditors to up the ante in debt collection at no expense to themselves.

Assisted by the governor or his troops, debt collection could effect not just regular repayments but often also the seizure of mortgaged land, which constituted the final, most utterly ruinous step in maximizing profits. As a private lender, the creditor had every right and every reason to demand land or some other property as security.32 This ensured he could suffer no loss. While a tax farmer could lose money if he overbid or the taxpayers produced too little, a lender who failed to receive the sum expected could simply recoup property. Cicero, for example, wrote a letter of commendatio for a certain Cluvius, who was looking to seize security from Philocles of Alabanda, a debtor of Pompey’s.33 (p.78) Cicero wrote elsewhere of a debtor who was handed over into his creditor’s custody, and eventually bought his release by surrendering bonded property.34 This was more than just the resolution of a debt. If a debtor could not close out his obligation, and if he parted with mortgaged property, the creditor could easily find himself owning land in the community, drawing rents from it in perpetuum.35 The creditor in this instance becomes the equivalent of a tax farmer on a limitless contract. He goes from a short-term collector of the state’s tribute in the form of loan repayments to one who collected it forever in the form of rents. It is worth retracing the steps. The state, through its diplomatic process or its military activities, forced foreigners to take out loans from Roman entrepreneurs, who could then use state resources to squeeze as much cash out of the debtors as possible. Once the debtors ran dry, the creditors would seize their capital, and the latter would go on enjoying its yield forever. A one-off payment to the state became a perpetual source of income for private citizens. The combination of Roman tribute and Roman finance, therefore, could produce a rentier class drawing revenues from private land in the provinces.

In no way did private finance depend exclusively on the state to force provincials into borrowing, and no doubt many loans were recovered without any state intervention. For the upper echelons of Roman society, however, the state—its armies, its fiscal system, its diplomatic influence, its magistrates, and its courts—were easily deployed to generate more borrowing and to maximize the return on those loans. It would, after all, have been difficult to force a city into a loan at 48 percent cumulative interest in a free and fair market.36 At the (p.79) heart of this “business” was the ability to use the centralized resources of the state for personal advantage. Because the state had such low autonomy, because its institutions were so unable to resist the claims of aristocratic administrators and their peers, its ability to coerce was constantly hijacked for purposes that had nothing to do with its own public ends. Having become an instrument in the hands of the elite, it could not prevent private individuals from dissolving the boundary between public and private whenever it suited. Successful commanders like Pompey could use the state’s military and political resources to force foreigners into paying tribute, but could then privatize the ongoing yield of those payments by embedding the transaction in debt relationships. Collecting that debt involved a similar game. Imagine a Pompey or a Brutus running two sets of accounts, one for his own personal income and expenses, and another reflecting the state’s. Each could transfer to the state’s ledger much of the cost of debt collection by deploying the state’s own coercive means in squeezing payments out of their debtors—in Brutus’ case, his agents even starved local leaders to death. All profits from this business, however, would be channeled into their own personal accounts. In this way, they could employ practices that would be illegal or too expensive if pursued privately, without having to pay a financial or legal price themselves. They pocketed ever greater returns until, often enough, they ended up owning property within the provinces, deriving income from it for as long as they owned it. Or, of course, they could sell it for a windfall. The state, unable to preserve its independence, had become the workhorse of private enterprise, carrying out its orders, collecting its debts, and shaking down foes so that its masters could pick up the profits.

Provincial Administration and the Privatization of Public Revenues

The state was similarly instrumental when it came to individuals’ profits from provincial administration. By the end of the Republic, most provincials were subject to various direct taxes, from poll or land taxes to tithes and half-tithes on agricultural production. In addition to these were indirect taxes on certain sales and imports, rents on public land, and tolls for the use of infrastructure.37 (p.80) Cicero could, when it suited his purposes, tell juries about Greek subjects, “to whom the pasture tax, the tithe and the customs dues are a source of death.”38 As harsh as all this sounds, it still does not allow for the actual costs of provincial administration. It was not simply through taxation that the Romans drew from the provincials, but also through an array of allowances, fees, and contributions that the locals had to provide in order to sustain Rome’s administrative presence. Governors had to eat and their horses needed fodder; good relations required statues and inscriptions. This would be costly for the provincials, but was a boon to their Roman rulers. For a governor to expand his personal profits by squeezing more out of his province, it helped to sniff out these exactions and dues because they were payable to him rather than to the treasury or the tax collectors.39

Once again, the problem for the avaricious governor was the inviolability of certain revenues, those which were paid directly to the treasury or which were already reserved for collection by contractors. The stipendium paid by Spanish communities, for example, was owed to the treasury in Rome, the defrauding of which posed serious political risks, while poll taxes in the East were difficult to manipulate or inflate because they were fixed and required no complicated measuring.40 There was, therefore, no easy point at which the governor could stretch these poll taxes further, nor was there an obvious way to divert the Spanish stipendium into his own pocket. Similar complications applied to other taxes. The governor could not directly profit from squeezing more out of the tithe, the customs dues, or the rents on public land, since these were all (p.81) reserved for designated tax farmers—if he increased the total yield, he simply increased the profits of the contractors. The best he could do on this front was to conspire with the tax farmers who collected them in exchange for a slice of the profits.41 Not that this should be underestimated, but for many communities the worst of the profiteering—worse even than the legally indefensible instances of bribery and extortion—came in the form of permissible contributions or the manipulation of the governor’s own allowance.42 Because an allowance was paid directly to his own person, it could easily be converted from public levy to private profit. While governing Cilicia, for example, Cicero repeatedly emphasizes that his own restraint on this front was a boon to his subjects. His staff refused such basic perks as firewood or on occasion even a roof, sleeping instead in tents for much of the time. He refused to burden Asian cities with guests requiring hospitality. He sent no letters demanding treasure.43 For a sense of just how much money could be involved in these demands, Cicero’s visit to Laodicea provides some indication. There, partly because Cicero asked for no money—not even the smallest coin, he insists—the local communities were able to extract themselves from debt.44 During his visit to Cyprus, he learned that the Salaminians were accustomed to providing each governor with an allowance as hefty as their notorious debt to Brutus, and so Cicero’s abstinence meant that their payments were in some sense coming out of the governor’s own pocket.45 Elsewhere, after discussing the abject poverty of cities paying the poll taxes, he offered a little solace in the form of his own abstinence: “The miserable cities are, however, relieved because they incur no costs on my behalf, nor those of my legates, nor my quaestor nor anyone else.”46 Sustaining the Roman administration was, it seems, no meagre task. No wonder the people of Claros erected inscriptions thanking at least one benefactor who covered the costs of hosting Roman authorities.47

For obvious reasons, the most desirable exactions were those made in cash. There were no doubt times when governors simply seized money without pretext—Cicero claimed that Verres’ demands for cash in Achaea would (p.82) not, had it not for his sadistic methods, even have been worth mentioning in court—but there were also “legitimate” excuses for raising money from provincials.48 Direct cash exactions could be made through gold crowns given in honor of a leader (aurum coronarium),49 contributions for entertainment at Rome (vectigal aedilicium),50 money for the governor’s own use (vectigal praetorium),51 pay for rowers (pecunia in remiges),52 contributions for monuments,53 and general gifts.54 There could also be rent seeking in the form of fees whenever governors or contractors obtained contributions from provincials, whether for coin testing, for exchanging currencies, or simply as payments to staff.55 Cicero made the point that demanding 100,000 sesterces in cash was likely to lead to a conviction, whereas demanding 200,000 sesterces for statues gave Verres some sort of pretense.56 Obviously these contributions were easy—if not always legal—for the governor to keep as his own, and he could repeat the same exactions at community after community. When we consider that the Salaminians were handing over more than 106 talents to each governor, and we consider how many communities must have been offering similar sums, the extent of the profits becomes clear.57 Once again, individuals were using their access to state authority to generate extraordinary private profits.

Other pretexts could be portrayed as perfectly reasonable. A governor had an array of legitimate burdens that he could place on communities, almost all of which were designed to provide him with necessary supplies or to meet extraordinary circumstances. Local communities, for example, were obliged to provide (p.83) him with grain for his everyday food needs (frumentum aestimatum, frumentum in cellam, or frumentum cellae nomine).58 A governor and his staff were also able to accept accommodation while visiting towns, and to draw a basic allowance of hay, wood, and salt while doing their jobs.59 It would, after all, have been difficult to conduct assizes without food, shelter, and fuel. The regulatory challenge, however, surrounded the extent and timing of these requisitions, and this challenge was in no way limited to the last years of the Republic. The senate was already attempting to clamp down on the reckless demands of its members as early as 171: it forbade officials in Spain from setting arbitrary prices for grain and insisted that no city in Greece should provide anything to Roman magistrates unless specified by the senate.60 A Lex Porcia of 121 or 118 regulated the scope of a governor’s requistions, and by the time of the Lex Julia in 59, most forms of profiteering were the subjects of (imperfect) regulation.61 Calls for grain, ships, sailors, gifts, and hospitality, for example, were permitted only to the extent required by the governor to perform his task. But who would judge that extent? In practice it could only be the governor himself.62 The loophole was simple. The Roman magistrate genuinely needed certain resources to perform his duties on behalf of the state, but it was never clear how many resources he needed and when. The door was therefore open to a slew of excessive demands. The magistrate could legitimately extract resources to some degree, but as a profiteering individual and the arbiter of his own public needs, he knew that he could extract more than his state role required. It is worth stressing that the abuse was often less in the type of demand than in its frequency or its timing. (p.84) To ask for a day’s grain was justifiable; to ask for it from several towns a day was profiteering.

In this context, rent seeking appears to have been standard practice, and Verres’ visit to Miletus as quaestor in 82 serves as a useful case study.63 Although assigned to aid the consul’s army in Gaul, the uncertainties of civil war saw him defect to serve in the East instead. While en route to his destination of Cilicia, he stopped at Miletus. Cicero accuses him of demanding luxurious hospitality at incredible expense—a theme of decadence central to his character assassination throughout the speeches—and witnesses would tell of wool seized in the name of the state (publice). It was obviously in Cicero’s interests to frame even legitimate requisitions as theft, but the controversy here rests on whether Verres needed the wool for the fulfillment of his public duties, and nobody in the city was authorized to judge that except him. This power—to demand a commodity as an officer but to retain it as a private citizen—capitalized on a permeable boundary between public and private that was easily manipulated by a governor and his staff. The people of Miletus were in no position to deny Verres’ claim that he needed this or that for his legitimate duties. Nor were the people of the next city, nor the city after that or the city after that.

Unless he had an unexpected zeal for knitting, of course, we should assume that Verres was looking to sell the wool for profit. The obvious goal was to convert as many of these commodity payments into cash as possible, and there were various ways to do that, some of which seem brazen in their illegality. Aside from the matter of wool, Verres also had the people of Miletus supply him with a warship as escort, one of ten ships that the city was required to provide to the Roman fleet after Sulla’s recent pacification of the area.64 That was not an unreasonable request, given that he was a Roman magistrate and the ship was to escort him in his public duties. According to Cicero’s outraged retelling, however, Verres reached Myndus and ordered the crew to march home to Miletus on foot. He then sold the vessel for his own profit. This kind of theft was, if Cicero’s account can be trusted, grossly illegal, but it shows how simple it could be for an unashamed magistrate to convert contributions into money. Verres was once again making a legitimate demand in leading the ship out of Miletus, and assuming the basic outline of the story is true, we might expect him to have offered a (reasonable?) defense for the sale that Cicero is omitting in his hostile retelling.65

(p.85) Converting goods into cash, however, was sometimes far less controversial. To save communities the task of moving bulky items to the governor, for example, locals were able to convert their payments into coin through a process known as aestimatio. This would obviously become a more attractive option for the local communities as the task of transportation became more expensive, since it was far easier to transport a few coins than any significant measure of a commodity. The conversion to coin in this case was a favor to the locals, as Cicero tells us:

In fact, jurors, this aestimatio originally found its origin not in the interests of the praetors and consuls, but in those of the farmers, for nobody then was so brazen that, when owed grain, he demanded cash. There is no doubt that the practice began with the farmer, or with the city ordered to deliver grain. When someone had sold the grain or wished to store it or was unwilling to convey it to the location demanded, he sought as a service and as an act of good will that he pay the value of the grain instead of the grain itself. From the beginning of this practice and due to the generosity and beneficence of the magistrates, the custom of aestimatio was introduced.

As he goes on, however, Cicero outlines how an unscrupulous governor could exploit this procedure for personal gain:

Avaricious magistrates followed, who nevertheless found in their greed not only a way to enrich themselves, but also an escape and a pretext in their defence. They resolved always to order that corn be delivered to the furthest and most difficult places for transporting grain, in order that they would have resort to the aestimatio they wanted because of the difficulty of conveyance. In this respect it is easier to criticize than to convict, because we can judge the man who does this, but it is not so easy to establish his crime, since it seems best to allow our magistrates to accept grain in whichever location they wish. And so this may be what many have done, but not so many that it was done by those whom we remember or are said to have been guiltless.66

This was not all. Cicero tells us that some magistrates traveled to multiple cities in a day, drawing their “daily” allowance more than once.67 Alternatively, differences in grain price within a province could be manipulated by demanding that grain from an expensive area be delivered at another, and then collecting (p.86) the cash willingly offered by a community when moving the costly grain was deemed too expensive.68 A similar maneuver allowed governors—if we are to believe the Verrines—to demand the cash equivalent of their grain at the preharvest price, even later in the season when grain was cheap and plentiful.69 Nor was aestimatio confined to food. Verres was alleged to have had a particular fondness for converting all his exactions into cash, from grain and hides to textiles and bags.70 A practice designed to help locals was in this way turned against them as Romans began to demand a range of contributions made exclusively in coin.

The most lucrative cash payments, however, probably involved the billeting of troops. It was understandable that a governor—the commander of troops in the province—could demand housing for his army when necessary, but there were few mechanisms to prevent him from manipulating that right beyond its intended circumstances. Once again, a protection racket emerged from the overapplication of what was at times a necessary and justifiable practice. By threatening to send his troops into a city for the winter, the governor opened a sequence of bargaining, and most responded by offering cash to fund accommodation for the troops elsewhere—anywhere but in their own city. “Rich cities,” as Cicero styled them, would pay huge sums to avoid what must have been a torturous few months. The people of Cyprus alone—not the wealthiest part of the Mediterranean—paid 200 talents to avoid hosting troops.71 L. Piso allegedly imposed billets on Byzantium in frustration that he had been unable to squeeze money out of them in any other way.72 Lest someone doubt the burden Piso was accused of imposing on the Byzantines, we might turn to Caesar’s admittedly prejudiced account of Metellus Scipio’s billeting, which, along with sizable bonuses and a free hand to pillage, was imposed on the wealthiest cities of Asia as an indulgence for the troops.73 Probably even more oppressive was Sulla’s billeting of troops among the households of Asia, which were ordered to pay each ordinary soldier 4 tetradrachms per day, not to mention 50 drachmas to military tribunes.74 Lucullus, knowing that billeting was abhorred by the provincials, wintered his troops in camp and paid a heavy political price for his virtue: he was recalled by the voters and had his triumph denied for a (p.87) time.75 The Lex Antonia de Termessibus explicitly declares Termessus’ privilege in not having to winter Roman troops.76 Billeting must have been horrendous, as it would remain throughout most of European history, and it is no wonder that allies were spared and, crucially, that subjects would pay to avoid it. A governor could, moreover, inflate his profits by issuing the same threat to every city in his province, collecting the money voluntarily offered in return. The role of the state must again be emphasized here. No private individual could threaten cities with such fearsome burdens, and so the protection racket of billeting was a direct result of state troops and the authority given to the governor to winter them where he chose. The state was once again an instrument in the rent seeking of the elite.

This was not strictly money for the governor himself, though all parties understood that he was likely to pocket it. Protection money to prevent billeting fell within a larger pool of payments that a governor and his staff could easily retain in defiance of the law.77 Governors received money for public honors, and so long as they claimed that they were planning to spend it on the decreed statues or inscriptions, they could deflect charges of embezzlement. Cicero complains that Verres was employing just this tactic, trying to see out the five-year statute of limitations by continually promising that he was about to spend the contributions.78 Asian cities pooled contributions and offered the total to L. Flaccus for games in honor of his father; he may well have spent the money as intended, but the fact that Cicero makes no mention of the spectacles suggests that charges of embezzlement had some basis.79 Flaccus was also accused of retaining money that had been left with him for temple repairs in Temnos as well as gold he had seized from Jews who were trying to export it during an embargo.80 Cicero accuses L. Piso of canceling a debt as governor in exchange for 100 talents, though we have no idea what Piso’s defense was to this charge.81 In all of these cases, Roman governors are alleged to have manipulated their public positions to top up their own private accounts.

Access to state resources offered two final possibilities for creating personal profits. The first was the business of selling verdicts in courts, a pillar of Cicero’s case against Verres and a frequent source of abuse in all provinces.82 Governors (p.88) could also rule in court that communities were immune to taxation and then earn “gifts” in return.83 The other was through embezzlement of public money. M. Fonteius, for example, was accused of as much, and such charges were common enough that Cicero could speak of them generically.84 Verres was accused of pocketing the cash the state gave him to purchase food for the city’s grain dole.85 Alternatively, in case a governor was not willing simply to seize the money, he could lend it out at interest and retain the profits.86 The senate offered a lavish bonus to governors to ensure that they did not need to squeeze the provincials, but in practice this seems to have done little.87

Both of these sources of profit demonstrate the basic phenomenon at the heart of this chapter. The Roman aristocracy did not simply ravage the provinces as a set of social superiors reliant upon their own personal capacities; nor did provincials hand over vast sums of money to just any Italian who passed through, collecting his share of the empire. Elite Romans made a great deal of their money through the state. Just as they had relied on armies, diplomacy, and financial contracts to squeeze foreigners through debt relations, governors and their subordinates manipulated the legal and illegal demands that the state empowered them to make for cash, grain, and various other commodities. The state was more than powerful enough to threaten local communities with convictions in court or with the horrors of billeting soldiers, just as it could demand that its representatives be provided with food, shelter, and fuel. Despite this exclusive power of the state, however, there was not enough autonomy to reserve its use for legitimate, public endeavors. Those prominent enough within society to have access to state resources were privileged with forms of enrichment that the rest of the population lacked. The state, through its coercive means, its legal structures, and its administrative footprint, became the instrument of its masters as the latter used it to dig deeper and deeper into the empire’s bounty.


Not all profits were the result of avarice, since various good deeds could result in voluntary payments from local communities. L. Lucullus, for example, (p.89) inherited part of his wealth from bequests “in exchange for outstanding liberality and great benefactions” as proconsul in Asia, and others received well-deserved funding for games or statues, as was discussed earlier.88 This more conciliatory tack could be an especially advisable course of action in provinces like Sicily, where the governor lacked large military forces or where the locals retained some means of self-defense.89 Despite some few exceptions, however, virtue was not the hallmark of Roman administration in the provinces. This chapter has neglected cases of outright extortion, and has skirted enormously lucrative businesses like that of seized art objects, yet the nature of so much Roman profiteering should be clear. Furthermore, while Verres’ sins—so central to the latter half of this chapter—are no doubt embellished in Cicero’s improbably rich catalogue, other governors in other provinces likely had other means of profiteering that are no longer attested. What, for example, were Verres’ peers doing in provinces with silver mines, or sources of slaves, or barbarian neighbors to harass? It is unfortunate for Verres that our chief source for the period happened to be his prosecutor, and so, while there can be no doubt that Cicero has exaggerated some of Verres’ crimes, it may well be true that his greatest hyperbole is in elevating Verres beyond his contemporaries in other provinces.

While Verres emerges as no saint in the years between magistracies, it is no coincidence that Cicero focuses on his deeds as (pro)quaestor and (pro)praetor. It was while in office that the opportunities for enrichment were at their ripest, since it was only in these years that Verres commanded troops and decided the fates of locals in court cases. From the perspective of elite Romans like Pompey, Brutus, and Verres, the state was integral to private profits, since it was uniquely well equipped to squeeze more and more money out of those poor provincials who were caught in its contracts, its fiscal relationships, its military demands, its treaty obligations, and its other domains. Without the state, elite Romans could not cast their nets into these richest of waters.

From the state’s own perspective, however, the story was not so rosy. It was constantly engaged in raising more money in the provinces, but saw little of the winnings. Its work was being done on behalf of powerful individuals who were commandeering its agenda for their own enrichment, ensuring on the one hand that the empire continued to pay up, but on the other hand that the wider citizens and their treasury received a limited share. When it comes to explaining how Rome’s leading families managed to enrich themselves so much faster than the rest of society, this story of state labor on behalf of private profits is central. The aristocracy managed to centralize the costs of raising money by deploying (p.90) the resources of the entire Roman people, all the while hoarding the profits for their own private gain.

Thus the gap between gross and net taxation widened, and the engine driving them apart was the imbalance between the state’s capacity and its autonomy. Although the Mediterranean was littered with poor souls who could attest to the awesome power of the Roman state, it was always clear that that state was the captive of the leading aristocrats, men who could prioritize their own personal goals over those of the collective Roman people. Citizens under arms were used in the collection of debts for private creditors, yet the state and its armed forces would see few of the profits. Provincial administrators could exercise the state’s claim to grain, shelter, and other commodities, but could not be stopped from pocketing what was handed over and retaining it beyond the needs of the state. It was largely through this manipulation of the state’s claims and capacities that the privileged few made so much money in the provinces. A Roman aristocrat could not lead his own personal army through foreign lands or—with few exceptions—force provincials to provide him with anything in the name of his own dignity. Instead, his profits tended to flow from the resources and claims of the Roman people, centralized in the form of the state. Fortunately for the aristocrat, this state was in no position to resist such abuse. It proved to be excellent at raising money and terrible at retaining it, which, for its aristocratic beneficiaries, was the best possible outcome.


(1.) Cic. Att. 5.21–6.1. Stockton 1971: 240–3 offers a clear summary, with Rauh 1986 and Rosillo López 2010b: 989–91.

(2.) Cic. 2.Verr. 2.26.

(3.) For a reminder of just how much legal power rested with the courts’ senior magistrates, see Cic. 2.Verr. 2.30.

(4.) See Rosillo López 2010b for the distinction between public and private property in Rome.

(5.) Mann 1986: 296. On the blurry line between corruption and patronage, see Lintott 2012: 235.

(6.) Jones 1974: 121.

(7.) For a wise meditation on the dangers of extrapolating from this largely Ciceronian evidence, see Kallet-Marx 1995: 125–6.

(8.) On the rhetoric of the Verrines, and the third speech in particular, see Steel 2007 and Frazel 2009.

(9.) Kay 2014: esp. ch. 7–8; see especially 196–209 and 224–6 for the role of commerce in enriching Italians beyond the city. At the same time, however, see Rosenstein 2008 on the limits of agricultural profits. See Mann 1986: 267 on the elite’s reliance on the state for windfall profits. Nicolet 2000: 35–6 argued that the demands of a political career hindered a truly mercantile way of life for the aristocracy, though this is a generalization with plentiful room for exceptions. The salience of his point might be clearest in the example of one Roman noble whose fortune was made not in enterprise but in the management of state contracts: the father of L. Calpurnius Piso cos. 58, having been put in charge of supplying arms during the Social War, made a killing by corralling and managing resources in the name of the state (Cic. Pis. 87).

(10.) Carthage: Polyb. 15.18; Livy 30.37.5; Plin. HN 33.51. Philip: Polyb. 18.44.7; Livy 33.30.7. Antiochus: Polyb. 21.42.19; Livy 37.45.14. Aetolians: Polyb. 21.30.2; Livy 38.9.9. For summaries, see Kroll 1933: 88, Frank 1933: 127ff., and Crawford 1977: 43.

(11.) Polyb. 21.32.8.

(12.) Whether this unregulated practice encouraged avarice among the governors is obscured by the lack of evidence. Rebellions among the Celtiberians and Lusitanians in 187 might have been related to exactions, but there is no shortage of other possible explanations. For events of this period, see Richardson 1986: 98–100.

(13.) For the process on the whole, see Ñaco del Hoyo 2003: 201–9. Sicily: Clemente 1988, emphasizing the Republic’s need for grain in the Second Punic War. Perseus: Livy 45.18.7, 45.26.14. Communities that had gone over to the Romans were exempted. Achaea: Kallet-Marx 1995: 59–65, with references, to which we might add more recently the opposing view of Ferrary 1999: 70–1. Sicily: Carcopino 1919, Scramuzza 1933, Badian 1972a: 79–80, Lintott 1993: 75, Kunkel & Wittmann 1995: 342–4, and Nicolet 2000: 279–80. Spain: Richardson 1986: 72, 160–1, esp. 115–6, and López Castro 2013: 69, each arguing that stipendium was regularized by Ti. Gracchus during his propraetorship in 180–78. Howgego 1994: 17 has cast doubt on whether the Spanish communities had access to coin in such an early period, but even if he and other low daters are right, Richardson 1986: 116–7 and 123 rightly downplays the importance of silver coinage in favor of a half-tithe of grain and perhaps payments in bronze. Alas, the evidence is scant. In any case, even if taxes could not have been paid in 180–78, the creation of a regular tax system did eventually emerge. The transition from indemnities to regular taxes would, therefore, still hold true as a broad phenomenon. For further discussion and bibliography on the emergence of denarii and taxation in Spain, see Ñaco del Hoyo 2003: 218–21, who denies that Spanish tribute could meet a definition of “regular” taxation.

(14.) Asia: Broughton 1938: 535–43, Mitchell 1993 vol. 1: 29–30. Kallet-Marx 1995: ch. 4. Achaea: Kallet-Marx 1995: 59–65, with references, and the opposing reconstruction of Ferrary 1999: 70–1.

(15.) Dahlheim 1977: 129. See also Ñaco del Hoyo 2003: 202, with further bibliography on the relationship between taxation and subjugation.

(16.) Numidicus: Sall. Iug. 62.5. Curio: Sall. Hist. 2.60 McGush; Amm. Marc. 29.5.22.

(17.) App. Mith. 11, 21.

(18.) See the discussion at Broughton 1938: 516–9, Magie 1950: 251, Crawford 1977: 47, Mitchell 1993: 31, Jones 1998: 63–4, and Santangelo 2007a: 114. See Merola 2001: 53–5 and Santangelo 2007a: 114–7 on the financing of the indemnity.

(19.) Scaurus: Joseph. AJ 14.80–1, 14.30; Joseph. BJ 1.6.3. Ariobarzanes III: Cic. Att. 6.1.3. See also Cic. Att. 6.3.5, where Ariobarzanes has promised Pompey 200 talents over six months, besides another 100 talents paid to Brutus that year.

(20.) Badian 1968: 82–3.

(21.) App. Mith. 104; Plut. Pomp. 33.4; Strabo 11.14.10; Tac. Ann. 11.14.10; Dio 36.53.5 adds that Pompey received even more than had been promised.

(22.) Suet. Iul. 54; Cic. Rab. Post. 21. For Ptolemy’s perspective, see Siani-Davies 1997 and Hekster 2012: 191–9.

(23.) Jones 1974: 118–9.

(24.) See note 19, this chapter.

(25.) Livy 32.2.1. The potential of this “business” seems not to have been fully appreciated for some time, since it did not become standard practice until the Late Republic.

(26.) Magie 1950: 165–6, 251–2; Kallet-Marx 1995: 139–40; and Eckstein 1997: 365–6.

(27.) See Kay 2014: 195–6.

(28.) Cic. Att. 5.21.10–3, 6.1.5–8, 6.2.7–9, 6.3.5.

(29.) The rate of 48 percent p.a. is not unprecedented: See the Cloatius brothers’ loan to Gytherion at Syll. 3 748, discussed at Billeter 1898: 92 and Kay 2014: 256.

(30.) Scaptius (though Cic. Att. 6.3.5 suggests a different individual of the same name) and another agent, L. Gavius, would receive prefectures from Cicero for transacting Brutus’ business in Cappadocia (Cic. Att. 6.1.4). Cicero refused to empower negotiatores in this way within his own province of Cilicia (Att. 6.1.4), but the technicality of having them operate outside his borders apparently satisfied his conscience. On the role of the governor in pressing debtors in the provinces, see Zehnacker 1979: 174.

(31.) Legationes: see, for example, Cic. Flac. 86, Fam. 3.8.5, and Fam. 13.56. The best treatment of legates managing private business is at Schulz 1997: 173–4, 197–9 while Kay 2014: 192–3 contains evidence for Roman businessmen in Asia during Cicero’s era. Lentulus and Quintus: Cic. Fam. 1.9.24, with Rosillo López 2010b: 987–8. Atticus and C. Antonius: Cic. Att. 1.13.1, 20.4. Antonius was not known for his light touch, especially after he borrowed some of Sulla’s cavalry and plundered parts of Achaea (Asc. 84C). The offense saw him prosecuted by Caesar and caught the eye of the censors when he was expelled from the senate. Atticus appears more principled in Nepos’ biography of him, where he refuses any prefecture for profit (Nep. Att. 6.4). Cicero’s legate, M. Anneius, was resolving a problematic loan to Sardis in 51, though it is unclear whether he was given the office in order to pursue his business interests—Cic. Fam. 13.55 denies as much. See also Rosillo López 2010b: 992.

(32.) There was nothing unusual about mortgages in ancient Greece; see, for example, Strabo 13.3.6. Finley 1952, Millett 1992, and Cohen 1992 examine the Greek tradition of hypothecation. Zehnacker 1979: 181–5, Sherwin-White 1984: 239, and Mitchell 1993: 30 touch upon the relationship between usury and land seizures in Roman Asia. Howgego 1994: 18 hypothesizes a similar dynamic of debt and property transfer in Spain.

(33.) Cic. Fam. 13.54.2. Some governors could even be given land in exchange for political favors (Cic. Flac. 85–6). It seems that it was not uncommon for land claimed by Romans in Asia to be acquired under dubious circumstances. When recommending L. Genucilius Curvus at Fam. 13.53, for example, Cicero goes out of his way to stress that Curvus’ claims to land near Parium are “beyond doubt” (sine ulla controversia) and to warn that this or another possession may be challenged by “some Hellespont local.” The particulars of this case may well involve the seizure of mortgaged land. The rejoinder of sine ulla controversia might also imply a more general suspicion that land mentioned in commendationes usually involved legal or financial processes.

(34.) Cic. Flac. 48–50. This was a debt between Greeks. Cic. Flac. 43 records a praetor selling the property of a debtor who could not repay a loan from his city.

(35.) This may explain Cicero’s comment at QFr. 1.1.7 that Asia was vexed by both publicani and negotiatores, and Shatzman 1975: 69 stresses the importance of Roman force in seizing the people’s security. The prospect of interest could lead creditors to refuse repayment until the debt had grown. Scaptius, for example, resorted to delaying tactics to prevent the Salaminians settling their account with him, preferring to drag the ordeal out longer (Cic Att. 5.21.12). Cornelius Nepos praises Atticus for refusing to increase his profits by drawing out repayments from his foreign debtors (Nep. Att. 2.4). Benevolent creditors in Thessaly and Aetolia, on the other hand, were willing to lower interest rates to prevent a rebellion, at Livy 42.5.7. Modern scholars have adopted divergent views on just how oppressive finance was. Bernhardt 1985: 185 paints a startlingly optimistic picture of Greek urban finances, believing that cities were usually able to repay their loans, but were simply unwilling. So also Kallet-Marx 1995: 277–8, who argues for the financial health of Pergamum by pointing out that the city erected statues to Diodorus Pasparos, despite the fact that one of Diodorus’ great benefactions appears to have been convincing the Romans to grant financial relief in light of Pergamum’s crippling debt. Against this view, see inter alia, Broughton 1938: 545, Magie 1950: 160–2, Jones 1974: 121, and Santangelo 2007a: 61 for Diodorus Pasparos and 2007a: 124–5 specifically for the Sullan period. There is little epigraphic evidence for predatory creditors, but then it is unsurprising that inscriptions were not erected to those who were preying upon local finances.

(36.) The majority of loans to foreign cities in the East, for example, were for unknown reasons. Kay 2014: 256–7 argues convincingly that unfavorable markets at Rome led lenders to transact abroad, where there were fewer regulations to stifle profits. Unexplained, however, is why these cities needed to borrow such vast sums from outsiders in the first place. So often when the reason is given by the sources—Sulla’s back taxes, the Salaminians, Pompey’s kings—the role of the state is unmistakeable. Romans used the state to create crises, which in turn forced provincials to borrow money.

(37.) Various foreign cities were exempted from Roman taxes. Strabo 17.3.24 defined a province (as opposed to an independent kingdom, a free city, or some other minor exceptions) as an area to which the Romans sent a governor and tax collectors. Cicero speaks of the five cities exempt from taxes in Sicily (Cic. 2.Verr. 3.13) and Pliny tells us what proportion of cities in various provinces at his time were free from direct tax: e.g., 120 out of 175 in Baetica and 135 out of 189 in Hispania Citerior (Plin. HN 3.7, 3.18). For Santangelo 2007a: 57–8, “the clearest sign of [some cities’] lower condition was not political, but economic,” though even this did not in practice relieve them of all financial burdens. He notes that the lex Antonia de Termessibus forbade Termessus from taxing publicans, and a similar proviso—freeing all Romans and Latins from taxation—applied to the free city of Ambracia, at Livy 38.44.4, as well as to all such cities, presumably. Dahlheim 1977: 220–1 notes that this forced free cities to participate in the movement of other cities’ tribute, free of charge. He then stresses the impact of having a governor establish his “court” in a city like Pergamum or Ephesus, despite both being free cities (see also Ferrary 1999: 78–9 and Santangelo 2007a: II, ch. 1, though see Amarelli 2005 on potential benefits of hosting a governor). Magie 1950: 160–1 points out that even free cities were committed to supporting Roman troops as early as the war against Aristonicus. Bernhardt 1985: 183 and Daubner 2006: 223 show that both free and stipendiary cities brought accusations against magistrates for misdemeanors in the provinces. Schulz 1997: 111–2 looks at some of the costs of entertaining the governor. Yet such expenses were necessary if cities were to maintain good relations with Rome: See Bernhardt 1985: 169–83; Kallet-Marx 1995: 129–30; Schulz 1997: 231; and Ferrary 2002: 139–40. Ferrary 2002: 140–1 rightly points out that not all free cities were equal in their capacities or in the respect they could command. Finally, Jones 1998: 59–60 shows convincingly that C. Gracchus imposed his taxes on all cities in Asia, free or otherwise.

(38.) Cic. Flac. 19. His rhetorical purpose is to explain why Greek witnesses would prefer revenge over accurate testimony.

(39.) On the sociological need to match the profits of peers, see Crawford 1977: 51. Instances of magistrates simply seizing their allowance will be left untouched in this chapter, but there is plenty of evidence of such practices: see, for example, Cic. 2.Verr. 1.34; Cic. Pis. 86. And this kind of embezzlement was not limited to Romans; see the case of Heraclides at Cic. Flac. 45. Cicero himself may have benefited when he received money from the aerarium in the name of his brother Quintus, who was governor of Asia at the time (Cic. QFr. 1.3.7). Of course the governor’s staff was playing the same game. C. Trebatius was open about his plan to enrich himself in Gaul, though the means are not always clear: Cic. Fam. 7.9.2, 17.1, 16.3, 8.13.1, 18.1.

(40.) Daubner 2006: 222. On poll taxes, see Jones 1998: 64 and Neesen 1980:8. Cic. Att. 5.16.2 discusses poll taxes (epikephalia) in the Cilician cites of Laodicea, Apamea, and Synnada, though it is unclear whether it was a permanent fixture or a special levy put in place by his predecessor as governor. Cf. Cic. Fam. 3.8.5.

(41.) See Badian 1972a: 79–81, Shatzman 1975: 57–8, Daubner 2006: 226–7, and Rosillo López 2010b: 995–6. L. Piso allegedly seized the legitimate profits of the contractors, though Cicero’s accusation here should be treated with great suspicion (Cic. Prov. cons. 5). Cicero’s Verrines offer a veritable handbook on how a governor could conspire with tax collectors for mutual profits (esp. 2.Verr. 3.53–63 and 67–121), even if Cicero finds it difficult to prove that Verres himself was profiting from his support of tax farmers (see the wording, for example, at 2.Verr. 2.52, 2.61, and 3.76, as well as the hearsay at 2.Verr. 3.130–1). On the problem of reading Cicero’s speeches on Verres, see note 8, this chapter.

(43.) Cic. Att. 5.16.3, 5.21.7.

(44.) Cic. Att. 6.2.4. The other reason the communities escaped debt was that Cicero prevented the local officials from embezzling funds. The sin was not, evidently, an exclusively Roman one.

(45.) Cic. Att. 5.21.11.

(46.) Cic. Att. 5.17.3.

(47.) Robert & Robert 1989: Menippos II.42–6 and Polemaios IV. 20–3, with Ferrary 1991: 561 and Kallet-Marx 1995: 145.

(48.) Cic. 2.Verr. 1.44–5.

(49.) See, for example, Cic. Leg. agr. 2.59. See also Rosillo López 2010a: 100, as well as Neesen 1980: 9 for this and the next five notes.

(50.) Cic. QFr. 1.1.26. This was already controversial by 179, when the senate had to place limits on such contributions due to the lavish funds raised by Tiberius Gracchus. See Livy 40.44.12, with Rosillo López 2010a: 99.

(51.) Cic. Att. 5.21.11. As early as 198, Cato saw the need to reduce the expenses of the praetor in Sardinia (Livy 32.27.3–4).

(52.) Cic. Flac. 33.

(53.) Cic. QFr. 1.1.26, assumed at Brunt 1990: 55 to postdate the Lex Julia. The practice might well have been outlawed in that legislation, but it might instead have been the subject of an earlier law. Taxpayers in the Phrygian city of Appia complained to Cicero that their magistrates were imposing new taxes to fund a building wanted by Appius and probably in his honor (Cic. Fam. 3.7.2–3). Verres demanded money for statues from every one of the 130 censors appointed by him (Cic. 2.Verr. 2.137). Cicero asked Quintus not to interfere in the collection of funds for a statue decreed to Q. Publicenus (Cic. QFr. 1.2.12). See the brief treatment at Shatzman 1975: 55.

(54.) Despite probably being outlawed by or before the Lex Julia. Cf. Brunt 1990: 55. Cicero felt that the banquets and gifts provided to Verres in Asia were not worth stressing in a prosecution, presumably because they were so common (Cic. 2.Verr. 1.18).

(55.) See, for example, Cic. 2.Verr. 3.73 and 3.116 for contractors’ fees, and 3.181–6, as well as Divinatio 30 for administration fees when purchasing grain. See also De Laet 1949: 108. For recent discussion stemming from the Lex Portorii Lyciae and the Lex Portorii Asiae, see Takmer 2007: 183 and Cottier et al. 2008: 121.

(56.) Cic. 2.Verr. 2.142–3. Regulations allowed a certain number of monuments to be erected, but obviously any money raised for statuary was not supposed to be retained for any other purpose. In practice, Cicero asserts, corrupt officials could forever claim that they were about to spend the money on statues without ever doing so. See note 78 below, as well as Cic. 2.Verr. 2.141–6 for a fuller discussion.

(57.) See note 45, this chapter.

(58.) Dig. 1.1.18, with Zehnacker 1979: 182 and Brunt 1990: 54–6. Cicero claims at Cic. 2.Verr. 3.200 that Sicilians should not have to provide grain free of charge, but the law seems to have required no payment. The language he uses is more ethical than legal: “Do you want the Sicilians to supply grain to your magistrates for free? What is less worthy (indignius), what is less fair (iniquius) [than that]?” Cicero was also more than capable of changing his tune when circumstances demanded; at Cic. Flac. 86, he claims that free grain for governors was widely acknowledged to be fair. Cicero’s own account of the Sicilian grain allowance (frumentum in cellam), moreover, shows that governors in the 70s were not required to pay for wheat. In his summary of charges at 2.Verr. 3.226, for example, Cicero only mentions that the senate had wanted Verres to apply a generous valuation when his grain allowance was converted into coin; given that he does not mention misuse of money set aside for purchasing frumentum in cellam, it is safe to assume that there was no such funding. More decisively, at 2.Verr. 3.214–5, the Sicilians ask C. Sacerdos to accept coin instead of grain for his allowance, and he generously allows them to pay at 3 sesterces per modius, even though the market price was 5. It would make no sense for him to be spending money to buy grain commuted into money—especially if it were less money—in return. If he is receiving coin, he must surely not be purchasing it. On Sacerdos’ governorship, see Brennan 2000: 485.

(59.) The clearest treatment is at Brunt 1990: 54–6, with Lintott 1993: ch. 6. Shatzman 1975: 53–63 illuminates well the division between legitimate and illegitimate demands, both of which yielded a profit.

(60.) Livy 43.12, 17.2–3, with Rosillo López 2010a: 103 on the Spanish case. Livy emphasizes that the Greek communities were being exhausted by these demands. In 170, the people of Abdera in Thrace complained about excessive requisitions from A. Hortensius (Livy 43.4.8–9).

(61.) War against Perseus: Livy 43.17.2–3. Crawford 1999: 201–2 and Nicolet 2000: 198 both emphasize the tightening of the rules in the Late Republic through better-codified legislation. See again Brunt 1990: 54–6.

(62.) Shatzman 1975: 58–62, Brunt 1990: 55–6, Lintott 1993: 105, Kunkel & Wittmann 1995: 351 (stressing senatorial attempts to protect provincials), and Schulz 1997: 287.

(63.) Cic. 2.Verr. 1.86–90.

(64.) Broughton 1938: 571–2 gives an extensive list of ship requisitions. The case at Messana is perhaps the clearest in the sources: Cic. 2.Verr. 2.23, with Prag 2007: 78–80 on the role of Sicilian ships in the earlier period. Elsewhere, Flaccus demanded ships partly just to adorn Rome’s rule of the seas (Cic. Flac. 27). The reversal of this policy by Quintus Cicero apparently spared the cities great expenses (Cic. Flac. 33).

(65.) Virtually any act of purchase on the part of the governor was prohibited, since he held far too much power for locals to insist on a fair price. The same logic would apply to sales. See Cic. 2.Verr. 4.10, with Berenger 2011: 187.

(66.) Cic. 2.Verr. 3.190. For further evidence, see Cic. 2.Verr. 2.147 and especially 3.188–91, where it is specifically stated that a modius of wheat could be converted to cash at 4 sesterces, and barley at 2 sesterces. On its manipulability, Broughton 1938: 574, Webber & Wildavsky 1986: 118.

(67.) Cic. Att. 5.21.5.

(68.) Cic. 2.Verr. 3.189–90, 3.193–4.

(69.) See the clear account of M. Antonius and Verres at Brennan 2000: 485.

(70.) Cic. 2.Verr. 1.95–6 (though quite possibly Dolabella’s crimes instead of Verres’) and the absurdist dialogue at 3.196–7. Sallust claimed that corrupt governors could even cause the price of grain to fluctuate (Sall. Hist. 3.83 McGush).

(71.) Cic. Att. 5.21.7. The billeting of sailors in both summer and winter was part of Rome’s mistreatment of Chalcis in 170 (Livy 43.7.11).

(72.) Cic. Prov. cons. 5.

(73.) Caes. BCiv. 3.31.4.

(74.) Plut. Sull. 25.2. In addition to the money, each soldier was to receive a daily meal for him and any guest, while every military tribune was to receive two sets of clothing. These were obviously punitive measures following the massacre of 88.

(75.) The testimony of Sallust is preserved at Plut. Luc. 33.3–4.

(76.) ILS 38 col. 2 ll:11–3.

(77.) Even if construed as a gift, such payments were not permitted by the end of the Republic, though in practice they were scarcely regulated. See note 54, this chapter.

(78.) Cic. 2.Verr. 2.142.

(79.) Cic. Flac. 55–9, with Rosillo López 2010a: 101–2. As an interesting view of the other side, see Cicero’s charge that the city of Tralles lent the money at interest while minding it.

(80.) Cic. Flac. 43–4, 67–70, with Zehnacker 1979: 167–75 and Ameling 1988: 11–4.

(81.) Cic. Pis. 86, Sest. 94, with Rosillo López 2010b: 991.

(82.) For a series of individual incidents with which Verres was tried, see Cic. 2.Verr. 2 passim, as well as the basic charge at 1.Verr. 1.10. Cicero claimed elsewhere that provincials resented the fair verdicts of Roman magistrates, though few today would trust his words: see Zehnacker 1979: 185. On the development of Roman jurisdiction in Asia, see Sherwin-White 1984: 238. And on the legal and political structures of jurisprudence in the East, see Kallet-Marx 1995: esp. 126–38. On judicial corruption in general, see now Rosillo López 2010a: ch. 4.

(83.) 2.Verr. 4.23, where Cicero exempted Messana from various dues and then received a ship from them for free. This may have been Gabinius’ plan in his liberation of Syrian and Jewish communities from taxes and tribute (Cic. Prov cons. 10), though I suspect the more generous reading at De Laet 1949: 71, 87—that Gabinius was trying to minimize the abuse of the publicani—is correct.

(84.) Cic. Font. 3: “Atque homines, si qui in hoc genere quaestionis accusati sunt.”

(85.) Cic. 2.Verr. 2.170–9. Instead of purchasing grain, Verres was allegedly demanding cash at an inflated price. He could then spend part of this cash payment on the grain he was obliged to provide to the capital, or he could use tithe grain that he had collected earlier through overtaxation. At Cic. 2.Verr. 3.178–9, Cicero claims that Verres employed the latter method, though the account is suspiciously hyperbolic.

(86.) Cic. Pis. 86, with Badian 1972a: 109. Cic. 2.Verr. 3.165–9 claims that Verres was charging 24 percent interest on this sort of loan.

(88.) Cic. Flac. 85, with Plut. Luc. 20, 23.1. On Lucullus’ benevolence in Asia, see Santangelo 2007a: 125–6.

(89.) The case of C. Verres notwithstanding. On the relevance of the Sicilian case in this regard, see Prag 2007 and Prag 2009: 137.