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Confronting TortureEssays on the Ethics, Legality, History, and Psychology of Torture Today$
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Scott A. Anderson and Martha C. Nussbaum

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226529387

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226529554.001.0001

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The Fragility of Evidence: Torture in Ancient Rome

The Fragility of Evidence: Torture in Ancient Rome

Chapter:
(p.105) Chapter 5 The Fragility of Evidence: Torture in Ancient Rome
Source:
Confronting Torture
Author(s):

Kathleen M. Coleman

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226529554.003.0006

This chapter looks at the early recorded history of torture, and argues that torture as a technique of interrogation in ancient Rome must be seen in the context of the degree of physical suffering that was deemed appropriate to the status of a person accused of a crime. Under Roman law, slaves could be tortured to extract evidence and confessions of guilt. At various times in ancient Rome, these sanctions were also applied to free persons, in particular when they lost their status in the wake of committing capital crimes. Roman jurists frequently questioned the efficacy of torture as a means of extracting the truth, whether from free persons or from slaves. At the same time, after the virtually universal grant of citizenship to all free persons in 212 CE, judicial savagery increased. Ultimately, the use of torture as both a means of interrogation and an instrument of punishment coalesced in the treatment of the late antique Christian martyrs, who undermined the entire purpose of torture by enduring it, thereby paradoxically demonstrating their innocence in the process of proving their guilt.

Keywords:   ancient Rome, Christian martyrs, history of torture, interrogation, Roman Empire, Roman law, slavery, status, torture

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