Ancient Prisons – Comfortable?

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Prisons exist since the mankind could close entries. Just recently they found an ancient prison in Tiberias (Israel) during excavation of a Basilica. Those prisons were not comfortable with less than 5 sqm to use each“.

#09.11.2017–The cell walls were very strong and it would be impossible to escape those 1.1 meter thick walls. Those cells were build over 1800 years ago! While they look somewhat spacy because of their height of 2 meters, there might be crowded and possibly mostly dark.

As researched, ancient prisons were only used as holding place for people before they came to trial; mostly were waiting for their case came up for discussions for up to several years. If they were lucky or had good connections, that prison trial waiting period would only be a few months. Enough time to die, anyway.

Ancient prisons and the underlying justice system were more than cruel but might have followed the law at their times and defendant could found innocent. Yet, waiting for months for a trial was an indirect and lawless punishment in itself. Still, if the accused found innocent, some (especially Roman) laws allowed it to punish the accuser instead with the penalty he was looking for the defendant.

It wasn’t fun to be a prisoner at any time but back then you had luck if not to be fixed on one of the walls or ended up at a fully occupied place. Of course, the food might have been rotten or, alternatively was delivered by the families of those prisoners for a high service fee, perhaps after some extensive bribe.

In China for example, it was very common to be in a prison for years before you even got to see a judge who letting you finally know why you ended up in such a place. Many died quickly if there were no outside help. In most cases, visitors were not allowed and if that happened often only for a few minutes, and again often against a high bribe.

One of the famous Roman prisons was the Tullianum (or Mamertime Prison) in the Forum Romanum in ancient Rome, constructed about 390 years ago. That particular prison was only for famous prisoners since Roman law did not used and recognized imprisonment itself as a punishment. But there was always a way to go around that obstacle.

Still, some where imprisoned there for years before they were executed…which was also common in medieval times or earlier. The judgement and trial process were often not transparent at all and there was no lawyer who would speak on the behalf of the accused. The judge was the solely authority in every case brought to his desk. Only the emperor could cancel the execution of prisoners and that happened not often. He was told exactly (but indirectly) which of the accused must be punished (executed) and which not.

There were however attempts made to streamline and change at times existing laws such as for Sicilian (for example by Emperor Friedrich II in 1231) and to collect them together, even if some of these laws were later changed again without the authority who ordered those collections in the first place.

But that happened years later; and even for our current laws worldwide you can say: To have right and given right are two pair of shoes.

Still, over the centuries there was further made significant progress to interpret the law now on a more evenly level. Yet, to try and to find ways to avoid the laws are many and with a top lawyer nowadays you could delay or get away with a “crime” otherwise you could not.


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