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Ancient/Classical History/Roman history - city prefect Pedanius Secundus' slaves


Hi Maria,
I read a brief account of the decision to execute Pedanius Secundus' 400 slaves after one of them murdered him in AD 61.  I would love to know more about this case.  Was there a trial for the slaves or was their fate decided by the senate alone?  Where would the arguments have taken place?  Would spectators have been permitted to witness any of it?

I am trying to include this piece of history in a work of fiction I am writing, and any information you can provide would be most helpful.

Thank you!


first of all,to briefly answer your questions, before I  tell you more about the decision to execute Pedanius Secundus' 400 slaves after one of them murdered him in AD 61, I have to point out  that:

1)there  was no trial for the slaves.
2)their fate was decided by the senate alone and confirmed by the emperor who was Nero at that time.
3)the arguments took  place in the Senate.
4)spectators have not  been permitted to witness any of it.

That being stated, here is what we know about Pedanius Secundus and his slaves,according to what we read in Tacitus Annals, book 14, chapters 42- 45.

Lucius Pedanius Secundus, a Roman politician who  had been consul from March to July 43 AD and in the year 56 AD was appointed Praefectus urbi (city-prefect), was murdered in the year 61 AD by one of his  400 slaves,  either because Pedanius had been refused his freedom, for which he had made a bargain, or in the jealousy of a boy favorite  in which the slave did not tolerate  his master's rivalry”(“seu negata libertate cui pretium pepigerat sive amore exoleti incensus et dominum aemulum non tolerans”. Tacitus Annals, book 14, chapter 42).

Tacitus says that, in accordance with  ancient Roman law and custom, all the slaves that had dwelt under the same roof should be dragged to execution, but there was a sudden gathering of the populace, which wanted to save  many innocent lives.

So, it was up to the Senate to take a decision and among the senators  there was a strong feeling on the part of those who shrank from extreme rigour, though the majority were opposed to any innovation and derogation from the existing law.

Of these, Caius Cassius, a distinguished jurist, in giving his vote, argued in favour of  death penalty which had to be inflicted on all the 400 slaves as they all could not be unaware of evil designs  of that slave who had killed his master, since this slave could not have taken the courage to murder his master without letting fall a threatening word or uttering a rash syllable (“...creditisne servum interficiendi domini animum sumpsisse ut non vox minax excideret, nihil per temeritatem proloqueretur? “. chapter 44).

So, Caius Cassius finished his speech by saying that there is always some injustice in  any exemplary measure that, though injurious to individuals, has its compensation in the public advantage. (See chapter 44: “ habet aliquid ex iniquo omne magnum exemplum quod contra singulos utilitate publica rependitur”).

In short, though no one indeed dared singly to oppose the opinion of Cassius, clamorous voices rose in reply from all who pitied the number, age, or sex, as well as the undoubted innocence of the great majority, but  the party which voted for their execution prevailed.

Anyway the sentence could not be executed in the face of a dense and threatening mob, that with stones and firebrands demanded the release of the innocent.

Then the emperor [Nero] reprimanded the people by edict, and lined with a force of soldiers the entire route by which the condemned had to be dragged to execution and finally all the 400 slaves of murdered Pedanius were executed.

Hope this can be helpful to you.

Best regards,

Tacitus ( born(c. AD 56 – died after 117 AD) was a great Roma historian who in his Annales (Annals) tells of the period from the death of the emperor Augustus  in 14 AD  to the death of the emperor  Nero  in 68 AD.  

Ancient/Classical History

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My field of expertise is Ancient Greek and Roman History.


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I received my Classics (summa cum laude) from Genova University (Italy).

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