[4:135] O you who believe, you shall be absolutely equitable, and observe GOD, when you serve as witnesses, even against yourselves, or your parents, or your relatives. Whether the accused is rich or poor, GOD takes care of both. Therefore, do not be biased by your personal wishes. If you deviate or disregard (this commandment), then GOD is fully Cognizant of everything you do.
In ancient Rome, when called to testify at a trial, a witness had to swear an oath that he would tell the truth—similar to our practice today. But because the ancient Romans didn’t have a bible—or any document like it—on which a witness would have to place his hand while he swore his oath dicere veritatem, omnen vertitatem, et nihil sed vertitatem, it was custom that the witness grab his balls and swear by them. If you think about it, this was a very effective way of ensuring that someone would tell the veritas and only the veritas, because if it were found out that he hadn’t, he stood the chance of losing something quite near and dear to him!
In ancient Rome, since a man’s household slaves enjoyed an intimate relationship with their masters—often making them privy to their comings and goings, when, and with whom—overhearing little things muttered in dark corners meant for ears others than their own—the testimony of a slave could be very powerful stuff in the hands of a wily prosecutor. But because many slaves were also quite loyal to their masters, or might be reluctant to testify against them in open court out of fear of repercussions should his master not be convicted, it was Roman law that a slave could only testify against his master—or any member of the household in which he worked, for that matter—if that testimony was extracted under physical torture. This is quite the opposite of the way our legal system works today. Today, any statement given under any force of duress, be it physical or otherwise, is almost always ruled inadmissible without exception. Not so for the Romans, at least when it came to the testimony of slaves.
The way it worked was the slave was called in and strapped down to a chair. And then a court official—usually some big, brawny, mean-faced brute with large muscular hands—would then stand next to the witness with one hand under the slave’s tunic gripping the poor fellows nuts and beginning to apply pressure as the questioning began. Then, as the interrogation proceeded, if it was the opinion of the court members that the slave was not forthcoming to their satisfaction, they would give the nod to man with his ‘hand on the switch’ so to speak, and he would turn up the pressure. A lot of testimony probably went much like this:Slave: ‘…I think I heard him say…he wanted to learn to please her…’
Slave ‘..I mean I think I heard him say he wanted to murder Caesar!’There is some truth to the old adage—for which this might very well be the origin: when you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow!"
Slave: ‘…I think I heard him say…he wanted to learn to please her…’
Slave ‘..I mean I think I heard him say he wanted to murder Caesar!’
PhD, Duke University.
Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Assistant Professor at the Center for Intercollegiate Studies in Rome.
"Dr. Steven M. Cerutti has a Ph.D. in Classics from Duke University and is an internationally recognized expert on word origins. Considered one of the world's leading authorities on Classical literature, art, and architecture, Dr. Cerutti is a professor of Classical Studies at East Carolina University where his courses are consistently voted 'most popular' among the over 20,000 undergraduate student population.
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