Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Reviving Poena Cullei?

Having just written a post on LaMarotte suggesting that finance reform should have taken draconian forms rather than the mild shape of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, it occurred to me while walking the dog (Katie-sitting for a bit) that we need not go back to 621 BC when the Athenian Draco put out his harsh code. We could stay closer to our own time and simply revive the Romans’ poena cullei. To be sure some changes are required to modernize this law. The punishment of the sack, as the Romans called it, only applied to parricides; hence we’d have to extend it to apply to financial malfeasance. No other details need to but could be changed. The sack, anciently of leather, could be made of modern canvas or very stout plastic. How did it work? Evidently the culprit was sown into a sack along with (1) a dog, (2) a cock, (3) a serpent, and (4) a monkey. Then he was thrown into deep water.

Academia tells me here that the punishment was last imposed in Germany in the eighteenth century—which is actually quite recent. And a thesis by someone evidently called Clark, at Xavier University, here, tells me that the authority for this punishment is, among others, Richard A. Bauman, specifically in his Crime and Punishment in Ancient Rome, Routledge, New York, 1996. But the punishment was in my head because last night I had been reading Suetonius’ life of Augustus. That emperor, although evidently only temporarily, outlawed this sentence. And, reading on, I might also learn who had wisely revived it. We might be among those smart enough to do so again. Something ought to get Wall Street’s attention. Finally.


  1. No, no, no! Being a member of, and supporting, the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), I cannot agree with the inclusion of the four “lower” animals in this punishment; they are entirely innocent of the crimes that only the human is guilty of. Therefore he alone, or perhaps with some of his money for ballast, should to be “sacked”.

  2. Finally, thanks to you, Brigitte, a drop of kindness in this downpour of venom!

  3. Max Radin:
    "When the South Sea Bubble burst,a passionate member of the British Parliament called for the application of the Lex Pompeia on Parricides to those who had defrauded the nation. Just as the Romans, he argued, face to face with a monstrous and unprecedented crime devised for it a monstrous and unprecedented punishment...

    A proper punishment applied by those who were, indeed, left holding the "bag".


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