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Assume the following scenario: In the late days of the Roman Republic a consul is assaulted on the streets of the city by an angry mob, abetted by his political enemies. His lictors run away, leaving the consul:

1) To be killed

2) To be beaten

3) To run for his life

4) To get late from his duties

Are the lictors in these cases punishable for their desertion?

  • Lictors were Roman civil servants. If anything, their punishment would have been to be sacked and lose their income. – sempaiscuba Dec 4 '17 at 16:05
  • When and where did this actually happen? – justCal Dec 4 '17 at 16:49
  • @justCal I'm assuming it's from Livy's History of Rome book 2 – sempaiscuba Dec 4 '17 at 17:02
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    help center makes it clear that hypothetical questions are out of scope. I think this is more of an abstraction of a set of events, but I feel obliged to point out for the record that hypothetical questions are discouraged. – Mark C. Wallace Dec 4 '17 at 17:33
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    Agreed - but if someone sees the word "hypothetical" in this question, they're going to assume that it is OK to ask about other hypotheticals. My goal was to try to establish that I think this question is in scope, but most hypotheticals are likely to be treated with more scrutiny. – Mark C. Wallace Dec 4 '17 at 18:27
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Lictors were Roman civil servants. They were recruited from the ranks of the Roman Plebeian class. Livy described them in the following terms:

Twenty-four lictors were all the retinue of the consuls, and even these were plebeians. Nothing was more contemptible or weaker, if there were any to contemn; it was every man's own imagination that made them great and awe-inspiring.

They were often former soldiers, and were also employed to carry out punishments. In return they received a received a fixed salary (of 600 sesterces at the beginning of the Empire, according to the Wikipedia page).

They would be unlikely to be punished for fleeing the mob in Rome (the histories that survive include many stories of people of all ranks having to flee the mob). However, they might lose their employment (since they were often personally chosen by the magistrate they were supposed to serve) and so also lose their sole source of income.


In fact, Livy recounts another case where a lictor confronted the mob:

... the consuls sent a lictor to him. The lictor was driven back. Whereupon, with a cry of “Shame!” the senators who were attending the consul rushed down from the tribunal to assist the lictor. But when the mob turned from the officer, whom they had merely prevented from arresting the man, and assailed the senators, the consuls intervened and checked the brawl, in which no stones had been thrown nor any weapons used, and there were more shouts and expressions of rage than hurts. The senate was convened in confusion ...

In that case, the lictor did not abandon his post, but the limits of the lictors when confronted by the mob were made abundantly clear. The limits of the Senate in the face of the mob were made equally clear.

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