Roman tribunals of inquiry into crimes, later standing courts. By the 2nd cent. bc some political crimes and instances of mass law‐breaking with serious public implications came to be handed over to a quaestio, at this point an ad hoc commission under a magistrate, appointed by the senate or the people or both, which investigated cases laid before it without the need for formal prosecution. See e.g. the Bacchanalia. Trials of stabbers (sīcāriī) and poisoners (venēficī) were sometimes subject to a quaestio under a praetor or his deputy before permanent courts were set up (c.100).
Meanwhile, a new form of quaestio, a standing court (q. perpetua), was introduced by Calpurnius Piso Frugi, tribune of the plebs (see tribuni plebis) 149, to deal with extortion cases. Like ad hoc quaestiones it was under the presidency and control of a praetor, and the jurors or assessors were drawn from senators, but prosecutions were conducted by a civil procedure. This court was completely overhauled by Gaius Sempronius Gracchus, who substituted a form of denunciation for the civil procedure, introduced a large non‐senatorial jury with full responsibility for verdict and damages, made these damages penal by doubling the amount originally taken, rewarded successful prosecutors, and formulated elaborate regulations for the conduct of the court.
In the next 40 years, while ad hoc quaestiones continued to be set up for special offences, several quaestiones perpetuae, modelled on the extortion court, were created—apart from those dealing with stabbers and poisoners; they concerned maiestas and ambitus. The composition of the juries in the quaestiones was changed several times. In 70 Aurelius Cotta created three jury albums, assigning one to senators, one to equestrians, and one to tribūnī aerāriī (akin to). From these albums juries were chosen by lot (one‐third from each) for individual trials, with prosecution and defence having a limited right of rejection. The size of juries varied from court to court.
There was no public prosecutor at Rome, nor were prosecutions initiated by the magistrates in charge of quaestiones perpetuae (as opposed to ad hoc quaestiones). Originally in extortion cases charges were brought by the wronged individual, a member of his close family, or his chosen representative. Later, as in other quaestiones, any private citizen could request authority from a presiding magistrate to prosecute before his court. If several men wished to bring the same accusation against a person, then the relevant magistrate held a special pre‐trial hearing, in which a panel of jurors, apparently not on oath, decided who should be the accuser. The authorized prosecutor then formally denounced the defendant to the magistrate, who accepted the charge, interrogated the defendant and, unless the latter pleaded guilty, formally recorded the indictment and fixed the date of the hearing. At the end of the trial the jury gave its decision by majority vote (a tie acquitted). The presiding magistrate did not vote but pronounced judgement and sentence, against which under the republic there was no appeal. Under most late republican statutes the maximum penalty seems to have been exile. Senior magistrates and men absent on public business could not be prosecuted in a quaestio.
Subjects: Classical Studies.