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Gibbon on Use of Torture in the Roman Empire

Gibbon relates in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire how the use of torture increased as Roman liberty decreased. Some other parallels to today’s United States are noted in my Colorado Confederate blog. About torture in the time of Constantine (Chapter 17), Gibbon says:

The annals of tyranny, from the reign of Tiberius to that of Domitian, circumstantially relate the executions of many innocent victims; but, as long as the faintest remembrance was kept alive of the national freedom and honour, the last hours of a Roman were secure from the danger of ignominious torture. The conduct of the provincial magistrates was not, however, regulated by the practice of the city, or the strict maxims of the civilians…. The acquiescence of the provincials [in Guantanamo?] encouraged their governors to acquire, or perhaps to usurp, a discretionary power of employing the rack, to extort from vagrants or plebeian criminals the confession of their guilt, till they insensibly proceeded to confound the distinctions of rank, and to disregard the privileges of Roman citizens…. But a fatal maxim was introduced into the new jurisprudence of the empire, that in the case of treason [terror], which included every offence that the subtlety of lawyers could derive from an hostile intention towards the prince or republic, all privileges were suspended, and all conditions were reduced to the same ignominious level.

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