Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


Gaius Verres (c. 120 - 43 BC), was a Roman magistrate, notorious for his misgovernment of Sicily.

It is not known to what gens he belonged. He at first supported Marius and the popular party, but soon went over to the other side. Sulla made him a present of land at Beneventum, and secured him against punishment for embezzlement. In 80, Verres was quaestor in Asia on the staff of Gn. Cornelius Dolabella, governor of Cilicia. The governor and his subordinate plundered in concert, till in 78 Dolabella had to stand his trial at Rome, and was convicted, mainly on the evidence of Verres, who thus secured a pardon for himself.

In 74, by a lavish use of bribes, Verres secured the city praetorship, and, as a creature of Sulla, abused his authority to further the political ends of his party. He was then sent as governor to Sicily, the richest of the Roman provinces. The people were for the most part prosperous and contented, but under Verres the island experienced more misery and desolation than during the time of the first Punic or the recent servile wars. The corn-growers and the revenue collectors were ruined by exorbitant imposts or by the iniquitous cancelling of contracts; temples and private houses were robbed of their works of art; and the rights of Roman citizens were disregarded.

Verres returned to Rome in 70, and in the same year, at the request of the Sicilians, Cicero prosecuted him. Verres entrusted his defence to the most eminent of Roman advocates, Q. Hortensius, and he had the sympathy and support of several of the leading Roman nobles. The court was composed exclusively of senators, some of whom might have been his personal friends. But the presiding judge, the city praetor, M. Acilius Glabrio, was a thoroughly honest man, and his assessors were at least not accessible to bribery. Verres vainly tried to get the trial postponed till 69 when his friend Metellus would be the presiding judge, but in August Cicero opened the case. The effect of the first brief speech was so overwhelming that Hortensius refused to reply, and recommended his client to leave the country. Before the expiration of the nine days allowed for the prosecution Verres was on his way to Massilia (today Marseille). There he lived in exile till 43, when he was proscribed by Antony, the reason alleged being his refusal to surrender some of his art treasures which Antony coveted.

Verres may not have been quite so bad as he is painted by Cicero, on whose speeches we depend entirely for our knowledge of him, but there can. hardly be a doubt that he stood pre-eminent among the worst specimens of Roman provincial governors. Of the seven Verrine orations only two were actually delivered; the remaining five were compiled from the depositions of witnesses, and published after the flight of Verres.