Roman Crime and Punishment

These are revision cards based on Roman society, crime and punishment. They may be able to help with future tests and exams..

  • Created by: Hollie
  • Created on: 02-10-12 10:00

Introduction to Roman Society

Roman society was hierarchical and patriarchal. The power of the society was centralised.


Hierarchical - A system where some people had more authority over others.

Patriarchal - A system run by men.

Centralised - Power concentrated in one place.

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Roman Law - Introduction

After The Romans conquered Britain in 43 AD their laws were enforced in Britain.

Britain now had a centralised and common system of law and law enforcement. Roman law was rational and not based on religion. 

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The Twelve Tablets

The laws of Rome were carved onto metal sheets and displayed in town centres.

A century after the Romans left Britain, Emperor Justinian created a code that recorded and summarised Roman law - these were called 'The Institutes of Justinian.'

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Roman Law - Enforcement

Britain was a province of the Roman Empire and was ruled by a Provincial Governor. He dealt with the most important cases whilst magistrates dealt with minor cases in local courts.

Roman legions controlled the province, as there was no such thing as a police force back then. Victims of crime had to collect evidence and take the suspect to court themselves.


Province - A Roman territory outside of Italy.

Provincial Governer - A selected ruler of a province.

Magistrate - A civil officer who deals with minor cases.

Roman Legions - Members of the Roman army.

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What Triggered Roman Crimes?

In the Roman era, there were people who had huge wealth, but at the same time there was huge poverty. There were food shortages during bad harvests. 

The government did very little to help people, so desperation drove those in poverty to break the law.

Because there was no proper police force around to arrest suspected criminals or attempt to prevent crime, the Roman army acted in this role.

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Minor Roman Crimes and Punishments

Although some crimes were minor back in the Roman times, they still had a harsh punishment for everything...


  • Selling underweight bread
  • Petty theft 


  • Beating 
  • Flogging  
  • Fines


Flogging - Whipping someone.

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Major Roman Crimes and Punishments


  • Not accepting the Roman religion (Seen as disobeying the emperor)
  • Rebellions
  • Burglary
  • Murder


  • Amputation of limbs
  • Execution
  • Being forced to become a gladiator (Which meant almost certain death!)

Roman punishments were public and humiliating. Some major crimes were seen as an offence to the emperor, in religious crime especially, as he was said to be chosen for his role by the Roman Gods!

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The Difficulty of Actually Catching the Criminal!

Many crimes, however, went unpunished, simply because it was hard for a victim to catch their criminal without a police force and then make them come to court, especially if the victim was weak and unable.

If they could, they found help from other people in the community.

If this didn't work, they would turn to religion for help. The victim would go to the temple, and leave a curse tablet for Roman Gods such as Mercury.


Curse Tablet - Messages to the Roman Gods, written on lead, from crime victims asking for justice/to seek vengeance on their criminal.

Mercury - The Roman messenger God.

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Roman and Modern Continuity Vs. Change

Although forms of punishment have changed from the Roman times as opposed to modern times, (you wouldn't find a criminal being fed to the lions nowadays, would you?!)some crimes are still a problem in the modern world


  • Theft
  • Rioting
  • Burglary
  • Murder

Other ways in which Roman continuity is still around in today's times are the ideas of hierarchy, social attitude and individual responsibility.

Change from Roman Britain to Modern times includes the idea of having a proper police force system, more help from the government and less gruesome punishments!

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