The son of an undistinguished senator, in 80 BC he became Quaestor in
Asia to the consul Gnaeus Carbo, but, when civil war broke out in 83, Verres
embezzled the military funds and joined the forces of Lucius Cornelius Dolabella.
Under the command of Cornelius Dolabella the governor of Cilicia, the province
was plundered by both, for which the governor Dolabella was prosecuted in 77
BC by Caesar as advocate, and was convicted mainly on the evidence of Verres,
who thus secured a pardon for himself.
In 74, by a lavish use of bribes, Verres secured the city praetorship,
and as a creature of Sulla, abused his authority to further the political ends
of his party. He was then sent as governor to Sicily, the richest of the Roman
provinces. The people were for the most part prosperous and contented, but under
Verres the island experienced more misery and desolation than during the time
of the first Punic or the recent servile wars. The corn-growers and the revenue
collectors were ruined by exorbitant imposts or by the iniquitous cancelling
of contracts; temples and private houses were robbed of their works of art;
and the rights of Roman citizens were disregarded.
Verres returned to Rome in 70, and in the same year, at the request
of the Sicilians, Cicero prosecuted him. Verres entrusted his defence to the
most eminent of Roman advocates, Q. Hortensius, and he had the sympathy and
support of several of the leading Roman nobles. The court was composed
exclusively of senators, some of whom might have been his personal friends.
But the presiding judge, the city praetor, M'. Acilius Glabrio, was a
thoroughly honest man, and his assessors were at least not accessible to
bribery. Verres vainly tried to get the trial postponed till 69 when his
friend Metellus would be the presiding judge, but in August Cicero opened
the case. The effect of the first brief speech was so overwhelming that
Hortensius refused to reply, and recommended his client to leave the
Before the expiration of the nine days allowed for the prosecution
Verres was on his way to Massilia. There he lived in exile till 43, when
he was proscribed by Antony, the reason alleged being his refusal to
surrender some of his art treasures which Antony coveted.