Major Department

Ancient Civilization


College of Liberal Arts & Sciences


BA (Bachelor of Arts)

Session and Year of Graduation

Spring 2019

Honors Major Advisor

Robert Ketterer

Thesis Mentor

Sarah E. Bond


In varying ways, vengeance is a prominent feature in the human social experience. At first appearing to oppose rational law, vengeance was a familiar concept in ancient Greco-Roman justice systems, especially regarding cases of homicide during which vengeance was a strong motivating factor for the kin of the victim. However, legally justified vengeance within ancient homicide law is usually considered an unfortunate consequence of a primitive system. Such dismissal of ancient licit vengeance after an act of homicide ignores an integral aspect to ancient Greco-Roman law. In reality, the integrated social, religious, and legal spheres that regulated ancient Greco-Roman lives, offers evidence for the conceptualization of vengeance as a viable legal action against homicide. Despite the development of a more prevalent criticism of vengeance during the Roman Republic, I contend, in an analysis of these integrated spheres, that vengeance was a means of expressing the victim’s voice for retribution in ancient Greco-Roman homicide law.

From the Archaic to Classical periods in the Greek polis of Athens, vengeance was a valuable social tool for expiating religious pollution, and maintaining respect between the community and deities after an act of homicide. The manifestation of licit vengeance that commenced in Draco’s 7th century BCE codification of law provided a guide for the incorporation of vengeance into legal formulas, the execution of capital punishment, and the juror’s actions in court proceedings. The victim’s voice was given the ultimate respect through these legal practices, expressing the importance of the victim’s fulfillment for vengeance in ancient Athenian law. An analysis into Rome’s republican and imperial perceptions of rational vengeance reveals a shifting attitude from the ancient Athenian of vengeance. However, ancient Rome from the 5th century BCE demonstrates a similar concentration and focus on the victim’s legal satisfaction through vengeance. Through a study of the relationship between ancient vengeance and homicide law, the understanding of current legal systems and their role in fulfilling justice can be expanded to acknowledge rational vengeance as a means to protect the victim’s justice after an act of homicide.


Vengeance, Homicide, Rome, Greece, Pollution, Emotions

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Copyright © 2019 Kate Whitaker

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.