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Denoted among the Romans the sovereign power of the people and the State, or that of the emperor. To detract from this sovereign power was a crime (crimen minetae maiestatis). Originally the term perduellio (q.v.) included all offences of this kind; distinctions were first made in B.C. 100 by the Lex Apuleia, which declared some offences to be treason that had previously been regarded as perduellio, such as hindering the tribunes and exciting to sedition. The idea of treason was considerably extended by the Lex Cornelia of the dictator Sulla in B.C. 80, which made it include inciting to sedition, hindering a magistrate in the exercise of his functions, and acting in a manner prejudicial to the Roman prestige or beyond the limits of one's authority. It also instituted a permanent lawcourt (see QUAeSTIO PERPETUA) to take cognisance of such cases; and made exile (interdictio aquae et ignis) the penalty. (See EXILIUM.) Caesar's Lex Iulia, B.C. 46, made perduellio pass over into crimen maiestatis, which was held to cover all actions prejudicial to the State and the existing constitution (such as treason, plots, conspiracies, sedition, illegal assumption of authority). The Julian Law also formed the basis for punishing offences of this kind under the Empire; to these were now added all those against the person and the authority of the emperor. The term was very elastic, and received whatever interpretation the emperor preferred, so that when a charge, e.g. that of embezzlement (see REPETUNDARUM CRIMEN), was brought against a man, he could often be also charged with the crimen maiestatis, especially as the accusers were rewarded if the offence was proved. After the closing of the quaestiones these cases were decided by the senate; later still, the emperor was judge, or entrusted them to the praefectue urbi. The regular penalty was confiscation, and sometimes banishment or death. Charges of treason could he brought or the trial could be continued, even after the death of the accused; and in the most serious cases the penalty had to be borne by the children, in accordance with a decree of the emperor, and even with the law at a later period.
Type: Standard
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