31 BC - AD 54 )

( Johnson, Coleman-Norton & Bourne, Ancient Roman Statutes, Austin, 1961, p. 113, n. 133


   This document bas been variously assigned to emperors from Augustus to Claudius, although the letter forms of the inscription, which is in Greek, make Augustus the most probable author. Attempts have been made to connect it with Herod I's plundering of the tombs of David and of Solomon ( Josephus, Ant. Jud. 7, 394 ; 16, 181 ), with the desecration of the temple area at Jerusalem by the Samaritans, who scattered dead bodies there in 8 A.D. ( Josephus, Ant. Jud. 18, 30 ), with the events connected with the resurrection of Jesus perhaps in 29 A.D. ( Matt. 28, 12-15 ), and with Claudius' attempts to settle increasing squabbles between Jews and Christians ( Acts 17, 6-9 ; Suetonius, Claud. 25, 4 ). In any case, if the document belongs to the reign of Augustus, it helps to explain the consternation at the disappearance of Christ from his tomb. Because the inscription was procured in 1878 from Nazareth, now in Israel, some scholars have tried to find significance in the provenance, but it may be that the convection of the document with Nazareth is purely modern and casual.
So far as is known, in early Roman law only a civil action was granted for the violation of sepulchers, and the penalty was pecuniary. Capital punishment for the spoliation of corpses is first attributed to the reign ( 193-211 A.D. ) of Septimius Severus ( Dig. 17, 12, 3, 7 ). While our document, therefore, must reflect local rather than contemporary Roman law, it may be considered an example of early provincial law which ultimately, in the leveling and consolidating processes of the Empire, became a part of Roman criminal law.

Edictum Caesaris.
Edict of Caesar.
Placet mihi sepulchra tumulosque, quae ad religionem maiorum facta sunt uel filiorum uel propinquorum, manere immutabilia in perpetuum. Si quis autem probauerit aliquem ea destruxisse, siue alio quocumque modo sepultos eruisse, siue in alium locum dolo malo transtulisse per iniuriam sepultorum, siue titulos uel lapides amouisse, contra illum iudicium iubeo fieri, sicut de diis, ( ita ) in hominum religionibus ( Manium sacris ? ). Multo enim magis oportebit sepultos colere. Omnino ne cuiquam liceat loco mouere. Qui autem fecerit, illum ego capitis damnatum nomine sepulchri uiolati uolo.
It is my pleasure that graves and tombs which anyone has prepared as a pious service for forebears, children, or members of his household are to remain forever unmolested. But if any person shows that another either has destroyed them, or in any other way has cast forth the persons buried there, or with malicious deception has transferred the bodies elsewhere to the dishonor of the dead, or has removed the inscribed or other stones, I command an action to be instituted against such person, protecting the pious services of men, just as if they were concerned with the gods. For it shall be by far more proper to do honor to the dead. No ove whatsoever shall be permitted to remove them. If anyone does so, however, it is my will that he shall suffer capital punishment on the charge of desecration of graves.