oa Fundamina : A Journal of Legal History - Senecas misstrauen in brief und siegel
In his work De beneficiis, Seneca deals with the topic of generosity from several points of view, including the legal one. This paper treats a fragment of Seneca, benef. 3,15,1-4, which reports "strange" notarial practices in Italy. The philosopher wishes the central role of fides in the Roman "law in action" to be preserved - but times changed and written documents came to be preferred in every-day business transactions. According to Seneca, there were striking tensions between stipulation and consensual contracts, pacta and documentary texts. Because sealing was usual in Roman tabulae, and was a common proof in legal procedure, sealed tablets seem to have been generally trusted; there was more trust in sealing rings than in men's consciences. The central role of written tablets in legal matters soon gave rise to forgery, too. Tacitus reports a famous testamentary forgery in Roman high society in 61 AD. It seems very likely that it was because of this case that the Senatus Consultum Neronianum was introduced in 62 AD. The Senate ordered that legal documents be prepared and sealed in a particular way (Suet. Nero 17): "It was then against forgers that no tablets should be sealed unless they were bored through and a string passed three times through the holes ... ." In this paper I look at possible connections between Seneca's complaints, the SC Neronianum and documentary practice as recorded in the archive of the Sulpicii.
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