Drunkenness – a “Passion” in Roman Criminal Law?
Since ancient times jurists and lawyers have had to handle offences
connected with alcohol abuse. There are only three texts on drunkenness in the Roman legal sources: two relate to offences committed by
inebriate soldiers, and the third contains the basic division into intentional offences, accidental offences, and crimes of passion. In all three
categories drunkenness was a mitigating factor, which may be surprising for modern lawyers. Other Roman sources present public opinion
on drinking, which seems to have depended on the circumstances
– heavy drinking and alcoholism were disapproved of. A precise analysis of the rhetorical writings shows elaborate distinctions between
intentional and unintentional acts. Drunkenness was regarded as an
emotional state which could influence the penalty, but the specific circumstances of the offence were crucial. The rhetorical works confirm
the views presented in poetry and philosophy. Contrary to the legal
sources, the facts seem to show that a judge could sentence an offender
to a severe or mild punishment, or even acquit him if drunkenness had
been a factor contributing to the offence. The rhetorical works may be
considered to provide not only an important theoretical background to
the legal sources, but also crucial supplementary information giving
a better insight into Roman criminal law.