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 tes­ta­ments were car­ried out : 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).

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