During the Republic of Rome the law was a central pillar of society. Court was not only a way to settle disputes but a source of entertainment for the masses. Advocates were not required to learn extensive pieces of law because the law was not written down. Instead oratory was relied upon and the jury could be swayed by whoever was the greatest speaker. Invective, rhetoric and emotive language were key tools to winning a court case.
In the hot sun of the forum at the heart of Rome Aemellius stood in his white toga, confident of success. In his head he ran through his speech as he gazed out at the plebeian crowd eager to hear his words.
When the magistrate commenced the proceedings Aemellius took a deep breath. He looked towards his client reclining regally behind him, slaves shading her from the harsh rays. But despite being so beautiful, grief lined the face of Octavia Drusus. Not only had she recently lost her husband but now she must face her brother-in-law’s crimes.
The magister announced Aemellius. He stepped forward, nodded respectfully at the jury then faced the crowd. They were silent and expectant now but soon he would have them riled up and demanding justice for Rome.
‘Citizens of Rome! Today I, Marcus Aemellius, stand before you to prove that Lucius Drusus Marcellus is guilty of fraud and treason!’
The crowd jeered at the charge while Aemellius continued to speak.
‘My distinguished colleague, Gaius Drusus Filo, will attempt to convince you that Marcellus is a man of distinguished and reputable character. A man who has brought glory to his family name through an untarnished military career and being consul this previous year,’ Aemllius emphasised his disbelief while the crowd responded with disgruntled murmurs.
‘But it is the events of last year, during Marcellus’ consulship that are so condemning! While Marcellus held the most prestigious office of Rome he committed the most slanderous of crimes!’ Aemellius yelled.
‘Marcellus stole money from his deceased brother, Tiberius Drusus Superbus, an inheritance legally entitled to his grieving widow Octavia Drusus. Need I remind you that Tiberius Drusus was a soldier and good citizen of Rome who served in the East under Pompey the Great himself! And yet this man who died for the glory of Rome is so dishonoured by his very own brother!’
The crowd had now escalated to yelling at and cursing Marcellus. It was time to push them over the limit.
‘But this was the least of Marcellus’ crimes! For he then used this stolen money to hire murderers, thieves and cutthroats to terrorise our country-side and justify the senate granting dictatorship,’ hissed Aemellius. Meanwhile Marcellus was looking up at the sky in apparent boredom.
So Aemellius turned and pointed at Marcellus, ‘Look at that patrician nose. He looks down upon all of us with it! He thinks he is untouchable by the laws of Rome because of his three names!’
‘Down with the aristocrats!’ cried out someone from the crowd as they pegged rotten tomatoes at Marcellus who merely wiped his face but did not utter a word of protest.
‘Now my friends, let us not be hasty. It is not because he is an aristocrat, that noble breed that knows and keeps our best interests at heart. No! He is guilty because he is something despicable. He is… a DEMAGOGUE!’
The crowd erupted in anger. They were close to becoming a mob if Aemellius didn’t turn their attention away quickly. Aemllius had created his desire; the crowd were transfixed at his words. Yet when he turned to Marcellus, the man remained stoic which only served to rouse Aemllius further.
Aemellius turned back to the crowd and opened his arms, ‘We know he is guilty, all you have to do is look at him,’ once again he directed his accusing finger towards Marcellus. ‘That mole on his face is an outward reflection of his disgusting soul! But it gets worse my friends, oh but does it get worse.
‘His mother was Macedonian! That’s right! If his guilt wasn’t sealed before, now you must surely know. He is a foreigner, a citizen only by his father’s good name. And yet though his guilt is so apparent, there he sits with his unnatural composure, his face not betraying a single emotion despite my accusations.
‘Yes my friends! All you have to do to determine Marcellus’ guilt is to look… at… his face.’ And all eyes in the forum turned to glare at Marcellus’ face.
‘The verdict of Lucius Drusus Marcellus has been drawn,’ droned the Magister with his crackly, fading voice.
‘The jury has voted that Marcellus is guilty,’ he continued, then hobbled over to his chair to sit down again.
The crowd cheered wildly, some throwing the rotting fruit they had brought to heckle the advocates.
Aemellius looked to Marcellus with a victorious smirk as Marcellus was escorted away to his punishment. But the man was as emotionless as ever. All throughout the trial his face had not changed one iota.
From her litter Octavia, in a hollow voice, ‘Even as he meets his fate, Marcellus is as apathetic as he was when he told me his brother had died.’
Note that all names and events in this story are fictional but is based upon what remains of Cicero’s speeches in court, especially In Verrem and Pro Sestio.