BMCR 2007.03.27

A History of Exile in the Roman Republic

, A history of exile in the Roman republic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. vi, 258 pages ; 24 cm. ISBN 9780521848602 $70.00.

Table of Contents

Exile is an important issue, especially in a political system where the elite could be accountable before the people, or before juries, and condemned. Kelly’s (henceforth K.) book is an interesting analysis of this phenomenon and of its changes during the Republic. As he declares (p. 2): “this study examines the phenomenon of voluntary exile to avoid legal penalties or proceedings”, especially from 220 to 44 BC. K. does not consider proscriptions, “since they are a separate phenomenon” (p. 3). The book is aimed at postgraduates and researchers.

K’s main hypothesis is presented on p. 13: “I believe that Roman exile was an outgrowth of the civic ideal of concordia, in that it served to promote the stability of the state. To this end, exilium performed a very specific function: it acted as a ‘safety valve’ to prevent public disputes among elite citizens from turning into armed civil conflict”. Losers were removed “without disturbing the overall social fabric”. However, not all “losers” could affect the social fabric in the same way as a powerful senator such as Caesar could. I do not believe that, for instance, Verres’ or Rabirius Postumus’ convictions (even if they did not go into exile) would have disturbed political life and ended the concordia of the state.

Chapter one is concerned with the legal and historical issues of exile. K. reviews its character as a citizen right and the formula that the state used to inhibit return, and includes a discussion about the eventual loss of citizenship of an exile. K. is not only concerned about the elite and notes (p. 19) that probably this practice was not available for humbler Romans. However, the evidence is not so strong as to prove it definitely. The criterion for considering a person a voluntary exile is: “that the person’s flight allowed him to avoid potential legal penalties and that the fugitive was recognized as an exile by Roman authorities (and thus was prevented from returning home)” (p. 5). According to K., this second point is decisive. K’s arguments about the extent of aquae et ignis interdictio, the formula used by the Roman people to ratify exile and the prohibition of the exiles’ return, are convincing (p. 25-39), even if most sources are silent about this procedure. K. notes interestingly that “interdictions (…) could be tailored to each individual case” (p. 37), which precludes us from believing in the existence of a general and immutable rule.

K. goes on to review “exile and citizenship” (p. 45-47): Roman citizenship could not be removed by the state. Roman citizens, according to a clear statement by Cicero (Cic. Dom. 78), lost their citizenship when they were received into the citizenship of another state. K. rightly reconsiders this view, which has not convinced all scholars. Chapters two and three develop the main analysis of the book, the historical trends relating to exile during the Roman Republic. They are organized in chronological fashion, with the Social War as the turning point. K. states (p. 93) that the extension of franchise to Italy meant that Roman exiles could no longer choose it as a haven. Another change is concerned with internal political reasons: mass recalls were attested after that moment.

However, these changes do not appear suddenly. In the second chapter, K. discusses why some exiles chose Dyrrachium, Western Greece, or even more distant places instead of remaining in Italy (p. 77-92). Areas with good communications with Rome were favoured, in the anticipation of a possible recall. Family connections in the place were also a reason (as in the case of C. Porcius Cato, who moved to Tarraco).

Chapter four treats exile from the 80s onwards through some case studies: the exile of Oppianicus (as described in Cicero’s Pro Cluentio), Q. Pompeius, Cicero and, finally, Milo. Evidently, Cicero’s exile merits a longer treatment due to the abundance of sources (p. 110-125). History leads K. to the mass recall of exiles during the civil war between Caesar and the Pompeians, a recall from which Milo would not benefit. Civil war provoked new exiles and new recalls, such as those as lucky as Cicero in gaining Caesar’s clementia.

Chapter five, “Topics of Exile” (p. 133-160) is a mixture of different themes, one historical (“accompaniment into exile”), one financial (“the economics of exile”) and a third of literary nature (” exempla and the accounts of exile”). The second topic is more innovative and follows a recent trend in Roman historiography which analyses the economic impact of apparently non-economic aspects, such as K. Verboven’s study about the economics of amicitia.1 However, the sources are not as loquacious as an ancient historian would desire. K. (pp. 137-141) explains how exiles could leave Rome with their possessions, often converting them previously into movable assets. Maintenance abroad, an interesting point, is explained through the case of Cicero, who was aided by many friends. The tantalizing statement that Rabirius’ father, who had helped other exiles, may have made money through loans to exiles is a hypothesis (p. 139).

Pages 161-219 will probably figure among the most consulted pages of this book, since they present a chronological list of Roman exiles between 220 and 44 (those citizens who were proscribed are excluded). Judicial proceedings and an exile’s activities after his flight and possible recall are analysed in all cases, from “certain matronae” (exiled in 213) to a certain “Victor”, exiled for unknown reasons before Caesar’s assassination, to famous and infamous Romans such as Rutilius Rufus and Verres.

Some typos appear in the work, although they do not hinder clarity: p. 35 (‘tribuncian’ for ‘tribunician’), 95 n. 7 ( Republique romaine for République romaine); 71 (‘survivng’ for ‘surviving’); 111 n. 58 ( lex Clodia sur le bannissement du Cicéron, for de Cicéron); 118 n. 80 ( Atheneum for Athenaeum); 242 (‘vor.’ for ‘vol.’); 246 ( hiut for huit).

One of my main concerns is reflected in this sentence: “with this means of avoiding judicial penalty available to them, senators and equestrians need never lose their lives as the result of politically motivated charges” (p. 13). K. does not always bear in mind that not all politically charged accusations led to capital sentences. His study about exile does not establish differences between charges. Extortion ( repetundae), for instance, was not capital, and nor were electoral corruption ( ambitus) or embezzlement ( peculatus). The convicted senator had to pay a certain amount of money determined after a litis aestimatio (assessment of damages). Romans such as Verres fled to avoid this drain on their fortunes. Few senators chose to stay at Rome and pay the damages, which could amount to duplum (double of the sum extorted, in the case of extortion) or quadruplum (four times the sum extorted, in the case of embezzlement). L. Cornelius Lentulus Lupus was elected to the censorship in 147 BC after being condemned for extortion ca. 154-153 BC.2 C. Porcius Cato (cos. 144 BC condemned for extortion after his proconsulate in Macedon,3 probably paid, since he was appointed afterwards legate in Numidia. He was convicted again and fled.4 K. duly lists him (p. 171, n. 14), and notes that he paid and stayed at Rome after the first trial.

One concern about the analysis of the famous exile P. Rutilius Rufus relates to mentions of his autobiography, De vita sua. Rufus appears throughout the text, and his case is extensively treated on pp. 89-90, after the analysis of Metellus Numidicus and the letters through which the latter managed to make himself heard at Rome. However, it is not until p. 145 that Rufus’ memoirs are mentioned. In my opinion, for the sake of clarity it would have been advisable to have mentioned them before.

In conclusion, K. rightly sees exile as a non-static practice linked to the political arena of Republican times (p. 221), but also extending more widely into society, as family, friends, even slaves and freedmen of exiles would work and press for their restoration (p. 223). The book is a well-researched work whose prosopographic chapter on exile is a useful working-tool for Roman Republican researchers.


1. K. Verboven, The Economy of Friends. Economic Aspects of Amicitia and Patronage in the Late Republic (Bruxelles, 2002).

2. Val. Max. 6.9.10; Fest. 360L. On the date of the trial, cf. T. R. S. Broughton, The Magistrates of the Roman Republic. Vol.1 (New York, 1951) 451-2, n. 2.

3. Cic. 2 Verr. 3.184 (fine of 18000 sesterces); Vell. Pat. 2.8.1 (fine of 4000 sesterces).

4. Cic. Brut. 128; Balb. 28.