XXIX.9 That Greek and Roman laws punished self-homicide without having the same purpose

A man, says Plato, who has killed the man clo­sely allied with him, in other words him­self, not by order of the magis­trate, nor to escape igno­miny, but out of weak­ness, shall be puni­shed.1 Roman law puni­shed this act when it had not been done out of weak­ness of soul, wea­ri­ness of life, or lack of strengh to suf­fer pain, but out of des­pair over some crime. Roman law absol­ved in the case where the Greek law condem­ned, and condem­ned in the case where the other absol­ved.

Plato’s law was mode­led on Lacedæmonian ins­ti­tu­tions, where the magis­trate’s orders were totally abso­lute, where igno­miny was the grea­test of mise­ries and weak­ness the grea­test of cri­mes. Roman law aban­do­ned all these fine thoughts ; it was nothing but a fis­cal law.

In the time of the repu­blic there was no law in Rome to punish per­sons who killed them­sel­ves : that act, in the his­to­rians, is always taken posi­ti­vely, and we never see any punish­ment against those who have done it.

In the time of the first empe­rors, the great fami­lies of Rome were cons­tantly being exter­mi­na­ted by pro­se­cu­tions. The cus­tom arose of anti­ci­pa­ting the condem­na­tion by a volun­tary death. It see­med to offer one great advan­tage : one obtai­ned an hono­ra­ble burial,2 and the wills were exe­cu­ted : that was because there was no law against peo­ple who killed them­sel­ves. But when the empe­rors became as ava­ri­cious as they were cruel, they no lon­ger left to those they wan­ted rid of the means of pre­ser­ving their pro­perty, and they made it a crime to take one’s life for remorse over ano­ther crime.

What I am saying about the pur­pose of the empe­rors is so true that they consen­ted to the pro­perty of those who killed them­sel­ves not being confis­ca­ted when the crime for which they had killed them­sel­ves did not sub­ject them to confis­ca­tion.3

Book IX of Laws.

Eorum qui de se statuebant, humabantur corpora, manebant testamenta, pretium festinandi (Tacitus [Annals VI]).

Rescript of the emperor Pius, in law III, §1–2 following De bonis eorum qui ante sententiam vel mortem sibi conscriverunt vel accusatorem corruperunt.