OCR Crime and Punishment - Romans 500BC - 400AD

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  • Praetorian Guard: Emperors household guards - used only in emergencies and to protect the Emperor in riots.
  • Urban Cohort: (3000 soldiers) Used to keep order by stopping riots - Didn't patrol streets.
  • Vigiles: (7000 men) Preventing and extinguishing fires - on patrol at night - tried to stop crime and capture runaway slaves.

The gaurds main task wasn't to investigate crimes

Roman's didn't have a 'proper' police force - The army acted as a police force in the provinces of the Empire, and citizens were expected to help police their local area. 

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Laws in Roman times were made up by the Emporer and the Senate. They were very complex and there were laws to cover every aspect of life. They were often updated.

  • Pretty crime - e.g. Street threft, burgalry.
  • Treason - e.g. Assasination
  • Environmental laws - e.g. Keep the street/pavement outside of your house clean
  • Arson - To prtect the city.

However in the modern day, most of our laws are against major crimes.

Just like today everyone is expected to know the law and everyone was subject to it, however in Roman times, noblemen may have managed to get away with some crimes. 

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Minor and major crimes were both dealt with in majestrates court. 

  • For minor crimes a judge was picked from a crowd and told to decide the outcome of the case.
  • For major crimes, a jury of 12 men that knew the defendant and the accused were chosen to decide the outome of the case. 

Everyone was inncoent until proven guilty. 

Citizens were expected to take those who had wronged aganst them to court. It was up to them to:

  • Find the criminal (along with help of friends, family and neighbours)
  • Collect eveidence against the accused
  • Represent themselves in court. (However they could hire trained lawyers if they could afford them)

The accused could run away or just get away with it as the defendant had to summon them. 

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Punishments were harsh and often violent to deter others from crime. Excecutions were common, although noblemen were allowed to go into exile to escape excecutions. 

Prisons were not used except for debtors. This was because the Romans beleived they were too expensive. 

Ordinary citizens could be put to death for crimes such as:

  • Arson
  • Attacking the Emperor
  • Robbing temples
  • Stealing farm animals

Lesser crimes (e.g. theft or selling under-weight bread) could be punished by:

  • Whipping
  • Conficastion of property
  • Repaying the cost of goods
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Punishments: (2)

Slaves in a were household were crucified if one of them murdered or tried to murder their master. They could give evidence at trial, but only if they had been tortured first.

Nobles could escape excecution with exile

Legionaries who ran way in battle fced execuction. One in every ten men from the legions that the ran away from was chosen by lot and also executed. This was called decimtion and carried out ruthlessly. 

Three key principles of Roman law that are still part of the British legal system today are:

  • Defendants must know the charges against them
  • Both accuser and defendant must come to the court
  • Defendants must have the chance to give their evidence to defend themselves. 
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