CICERO (105-43 B.C.)

Cicero (106-43 B.C.) was a famous Roman statesman, orator and writer known for his rhetorical style and eloquence. The scholar Micheal Lind wrote in the Washington Post, “No great mind in Western history “not Socrates, Plato or Aristotle — has influenced so many other great minds, Ciceronian eloquence was incorporated into Christianity by St. Augustine and St. Jerome...Machiavelli sought to revive the the republican political tradition of Cicero...The United States — more than even France — is a Ciceronian state."

Cicero is regarded as the greatest of Roman orators and the chief master of Latin prose style. His ideas were important in the development of American democracy. Cicero is credited with introducing Greek philosophy to Rome and originating the idea of checks and balances. Cicero once said, "Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain always a child." For a long time schoolchildren were required to memorize his speeches. Many that had to do this recall Cicero as a pompous, long-winded bore. Now he is all but forgotten outside the history and Classics communities.

Cicero was tall and thin. He was a devoted father and enjoyed collecting books and paintings. He was committed to restoring traditional political values but was not great purveyor of the values he extolled. He once was charged with rigging a provincial lottery and other times was accused of hiring street toughs to settle matters. He divorced the woman who bore his children so he could marry a teenager from a wealthy, influential family. When Caesar was assassinated, Cicero saw visions of the old republican government revived once more, and delivered his fierce philippics against Antony; but upon the coalition of Octavius and Antony, was proscribed by Antony and killed by the latter's soldiers.

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; Lacus Curtius; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; British Museum; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy;
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Book: “Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician” by Anthony Everitt (Random House, 2002)

Cicero’s Life

The eldest son of an equestrian, though not noble, family, Cicero was born in a small town. Through his powers of persuasion and without much money, he rose to the highest echelons of Roman government. By the age of 35 Cicero had established himself as the premier courtroom orator of his time.

Evelyn S. Shuckburgh wrote: “Marcus Tullius Cicero was born at Arpinum, Jan. 3, 106 B.C. His father, who was a man of property and belonged to the class of the "Knights," moved to Rome when Cicero was a child; and the future statesman received an elaborate education in rhetoric, law, and philosophy, studying and practising under some of the most noted teachers of the time. He began his career as an advocate at the age of twenty-five, and almost immediately came to be recognized not only as a man of brilliant talents but also as a courageous upholder of justice in the face of grave political danger. After two years of practice he left Rome to travel in Greece and Asia, taking all the opportunities that offered to study his art under distinguished masters. He returned to Rome greatly improved in health and in professional skill. [Source: “Letters of Marcus Tullius Cicero, with his treatises on friendship and old age; translated by E. S. Shuckburgh. New York, P. F. Collier, 1909, The Harvard classics v.9.]

Young Cicero
Oliver J. Thatcher wrote: “The path open for political honors to a "new man" [i.e., no one of whose family had held a magistracy in Rome] was through the law, and at twenty-six, after a thorough Greek and Latin education, Cicero pleaded his first case. The next year he successfully defended Publius Sextus Roscius against the favorite of Sulla, the dictator, and thought it best, during the rest of Sulla's dictatorship, to travel for his education and his health. At thirty-two he was elected quaestor to Sicily, and because of his integrity while holding this magistracy, was soon afterwards chosen by the Sicilians to prosecute their former governor Verres for extortion. Cicero was curule aedile in 69 B.C., praetor urbanus in 66 B.C. In this year he supported Pompey for the eastern command, and the two never quite ceased to be friends. Cicero was consul in 63 B.C., and put down the conspiracy of Catiline. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 216-241]

“Sulla's constitution had been gradually changing since his death, and Cicero slowly came to side with the optimates as against the populares and to try to carry the equestrians with him. He might have been a member of the "First Triumvirate" but perhaps preferred the existing institutions to such high-handed measures. In 58 B.C. he was exiled through the efforts of the demagogue Publius Clodius, but was recalled the next year. When civil war broke out between Caesar and Pompey, Cicero tried to side with neither, but at length joined Pompey's army in Epirus. After the defeat of the latter at Pharsalus, Cicero, whom sickness had kept from the battle, returned to Italy and sought pardon of Caesar.

“In 46 B.C. he divorced his wife Terentia, to whom he had been married for thirty years, and married the young and wealthy Publilia in order to relieve himself from financial difficulties; but her also he shortly divorced. Caesar, who had now become supreme in Rome, was assassinated in 44 B.C., and though Cicero was not a sharer in the conspiracy, he seems to have approved the deed. In the confusion which followed he supported the cause of the conspirators against Antony; and when finally the triumvirate of Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus was established, Cicero was included among the proscribed, and on December 7, 43 B.C., he was killed by agents of Antony. His head and hand were cut off and exhibited at Rome.

Cicero as a Lawyer

In addition to being an influential politician, Cicero was also the most celebrated defense lawyer of his time — a Roman Johnny Cochran or F. Lee Bailey if you will. He was famous for winning shaky cases with his extraordinary persuasive skills. He once won a Greek poet Roman citizenship, even though he had documents to prove it, by waxing eloquently about contributions poets make to society. Cicero once said, "We are brought in not to say what we stand by in our own opinions, but what is called for by circumstances and the case itself" and if necessary "to pour darkness over the judges."

Cicero pioneered standard defense tactics such as the praeterito (a technique in which the lawyer condemns his opponents while he insists he doing no such thing) and the ad misericordiam (an appeal of pity in which the defendants crying wife and malnourished children were positioned in front of the jury box). If Ciceros client was childless he would hire some homeless children to play the part. In the classic example of a praeterito, the lawyer would say he wants the jury to make their decision based totally on evidence and the fact that the prosecutor cheats on wife and is cruel to his dog.

Cicero as a Politician

Cicero hailed as a hero along with Alexander the Great

Cicero became the first member his family to become a Senator. He soon established himself in the Roman Senate as its master orator and quickly rose through the ranks. In 63 B.C. he took the position of the consulship, the highest Roman office. The day before he had escaped an assassination attempt at the hands of conspirators plotting to overthrow the government. After taking his seat Cicero as consul, he rose up and addressed his main political rival, Catiline, whom Cicero had just defeated in an election for the consultship: “How long, O Catiline will you abuse your patience? To what lengths will your unbridled audacity carry you? Do you not see that your conspiracy is known to all here? Long ago, Catiline, you ought to have been led forth to execution." Catiline tried to reply. But he was drowned out with cries of “traitor." As he and his followers fled. Some of the followers were grabbed by a mob and killed. Catiline died not long after in a battle.

Cicero was at the height of his power at this time but his reign was brief. He overextended himself by using his power in the Senate to issue death threats that were carried out. He was charged with misuse of power and was banished in 58 B.C. He was allowed to return the next year but never again had the same power or influence.

Cicero did little of consequence during Caesar's rise to power and was unable to do much to halt the demise of the republic. He had a bit of a swan song after Caesar assassination when he placed himself at the head of the Republican party and denounced Marc Antony in a series of famous speech called the “Philippics." When Antony became leader he had Cicero executed for these speeches. According to Plutarch Cicero was taken by a death squad as he attempted to flee to Macedonia. His head and hands were cut off displayed in the Forum, where Antony's wife Fulvia — who Cicero said Antony married for her money — used her hairpins to pierce the tongue of the man who so caustically denounced her husband.

Cicero’s Political Career

In 76 B.C. Cicero was elected to the office of quaestor. Evelyn S. Shuckburgh wrote: “He was assigned to the province of Lilybaeum in Sicily, and the vigor and justice of his administration earned him the gratitude of the inhabitants. It was at their request that he undertook in 70 B.C. the prosecution of Verres, who as praetor had subjected the Sicilians to incredible extortion and oppression; and his successful conduct of this case, which ended in the conviction and banishment of Verres, may be said to have launched him on his political career. He became aedile in the same year, in 67 B.C. praetor, and in 64 B.C. was elected consul by a large majority. The most important event of the year of his consulship was the conspiracy of Catiline. This notorious criminal of patrician rank had conspired with a number of others, many of them young men of high birth but dissipated character, to seize the chief offices of the state, and to extricate themselves from the pecuniary and other difficulties that had resulted from their excesses, by the wholesale plunder of the city. The plot was unmasked by the vigilance of Cicero, five of the traitors were summarily executed, and in the overthrow of the army that had been gathered in their support Catiline himself perished. Cicero regarded himself as the savior of his country, and his country for the moment seemed to give grateful assent. [Source: “Letters of Marcus Tullius Cicero, with his treatises on friendship and old age; translated by E. S. Shuckburgh. New York, P. F. Collier, 1909, The Harvard classics v.9.]

“But reverses were at hand. During the existence of the political combination of Pompey, Caesar, and Crassus, known as the first triumvirate, P. Clodius, an enemy of Cicero's, proposed a law banishing "any one who had put Roman citizens to death without trial." This was aimed at Cicero on account of his share in the Catiline affair, and in March, 58 B.C., he left Rome. The same day a law was passed by which he was banished by name, and his property was plundered and destroyed, a temple to Liberty being erected on the site of his house in the city. During his exile Cicero's manliness to some extent deserted him. He drifted from place to place, seeking the protection of officials against assassination, writing letters urging his supporters to agitate for his recall, sometimes accusing them of lukewarmness and even treachery, bemoaning the ingratitude of his country or regretting the course of action that had led to his outlawry, and suffering from extreme depression over his separation from his wife and children and the wreck of his political ambitions.

Cicero speaking before the Senate

Finally, in August, 57 B.C., the decree for his restoration was passed, and he returned to Rome the next month, being received with immense popular enthusiasm. During the next few years the renewal of the understanding among the triumvirs shut Cicero out from any leading part in politics, and he resumed his activity in the law courts, his most important case being, perhaps, the defense of Milo for the murder of Clodius, Cicero's most troublesome enemy. This oration, in the revised form in which it has come down to us, is ranked as among the finest specimens of the art of the orator, though in its original form it failed to secure Milo's acquittal. Meantime, Cicero was also devoting much time to literary composition, and his letters show great dejection over the political situation, and a somewhat wavering attitude towards the various parties in the state.

In 51 B.C. he went to Cilicia in Asia Minor as proconsul, an office which he administered with efficiency and integrity in civil affairs and with success in military. He returned to Italy at the end of the following year, and he was publicly thanked by the senate for his services, but disappointed in his hopes for a triumph. The war for supremacy between Caesar and Pompey, which had for some time been gradually growing more certain, broke out in 49 B.C., when Caesar led his army across the Rubicon, and Cicero after much irresolution threw in his lot with Pompey, who was overthrown the next year in the battle of Pharsalus and later murdered in Egypt. Cicero returned to Italy, where Caesar treated him magnanimously, and for some time he devoted himself to philosophical and rhetorical writing. The most important orations of the last months of his life were the fourteen "Philippics" delivered against Antony, and the price of this enmity he paid with his life.

Cicero's Writings, Speeches and Thoughts

More writings of Cicero survive than of any other Latin author. These include around 900 letters. Among them are letters to almost every famous person in Rome who lived during his time. They also provided an invaluable look at everyday life in Rome. Cicero is also famous for his speeches. About 60 of Cicero's speeches remain. They are regarded as some of the most eloquent speeches ever written. Numerous philosophical and rhetorical treatises and poetry have also survived.

Cicero's made Latin into an art form. His speeches and prose were so eloquent and stirring that “Ciceronian” became synonymous with “classically perfect," “persuasive” and “polished." The Oxford classic professor J.W. Mackail wrote: “Cicero's unique and imperishable glory is that he created the language of the civilized world, and used that language to create a style which 19 centuries have not replaced, and in some respects have hardly altered."


Evelyn S. Shuckburgh wrote: “To his contemporaries Cicero was primarily the great forensic and political orator of his time, and the fifty-eight speeches which have come down to us bear testimony to the skill, wit, eloquence, and passion which gave him his preeminence. But these speeches of necessity deal with the minute details of the occasions which called them forth, and so require for their appreciation a full knowledge of the history, political and personal, of the time. The letters, on the other hand, are less elaborate both in style and in the handling of current events, while they serve to reveal his personality, and to throw light upon Roman life in the last days of the Republic in an extremely vivid fashion. [Source: “Letters of Marcus Tullius Cicero, with his treatises on friendship and old age; translated by E. S. Shuckburgh, New York, P. F. Collier, 1909, The Harvard classics v.9.]

“Cicero as a man, in spite of his self-importance, the vacillation of his political conduct in desperate crises, and the whining despondency of his times of adversity, stands out as at bottom a patriotic Roman of substantial honesty, who gave his life to check the inevitable fall of the commonwealth to which he was devoted. The evils which were undermining the Republic bear so many striking resemblances to those which threaten the civic and national life of America today that the interest of the period is by no means merely historical.

“As a philosopher, Cicero's most important function was to make his countrymen familiar with the main schools of Greek thought. Much of this writing is thus of secondary interest to us in comparison with his originals, but in the fields of religious theory and of the application of philosophy to life he made important first-hand contributions. From these works has been selected the following treatise, On Friendship, which has proved of most permanent and widespread interest to posterity, and which gives a clear impression of the way in which a high-minded Roman thought about some of the main problems of human life.”

Cato, Cicero, and the Growing Influence of Caesar

During the absence of Pompey in the East (67-61 B.C.) the politics of the capital were mainly in the hands of three men—Marcus Porcius Cato, Cicero and Julius Caesar. Cato was the grandson of Cato the Censor; and like his great ancestor he was a man of firmness and of the strictest integrity. He was by nature a conservative, and came to be regarded as the leader of the aristocratic party. He contended for the power of the senate as it existed in the days of old. But lacking the highest qualities of a statesman, he could not prevent the inroads which were being made upon the constitution. On the other hand, Julius Caesar was coming to the front as the leader of the popular party. Though born of patrician stock, he was related by family ties to Marius and Cinna, the old leaders of the people. He was wise enough to see that the cause of the people was in the ascendancy. He aroused the sympathies of the Italians by favoring the extension of the Roman franchise to cities beyond the Po. He appealed to the populace by the splendor of the games which he gave as curule aedile. He allied himself to Crassus, whose great wealth and average ability he could use to good advantage. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]


Plutarch wrote in “Lives”:“At this time, Metellus, the high priest, died, and Catulus and Isauricus, persons of the highest reputation, and who had great influence in the senate, were competitors for the office, yet Caesar would not give way to them, but presented himself to the people as a candidate against them. The several parties seeming very equal, Catulus, who, because he had the most honour to lose, was the most apprehensive of the event, sent to Caesar to buy him off, with offers of a great sum of money. But his answer was, that he was ready to borrow a larger sum than that to carry on the contest. Upon the day of election, as his mother conducted him out of doors with tears after embracing her, "My mother," he said, "to-day you will see me either high priest or an exile." When the votes were taken, after a great struggle, he carried it, and excited among the senate and nobility great alarm lest he might now urge on the people to every kind of insolence. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120), Life of Caesar (100-44 B.C.), written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden, MIT]

Cicero, who, in spite of his vanity, was a man of great intellect and of excellent administrative ability; but being a moderate man, he was liable to be misjudged by both parties. He was also what was called a “new man” (novus homo), that is, the first of his family to obtain the senatorial rank. Cicero was made consul, and rose to the highest distinction during the absence of Pompey. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

If Cicero had done nothing else, he would have been entitled to the gratitude of his country for two acts—the impeachment of Verres and the defeat of Catiline. Cicero stood for law and order, and generally for constitutional government. By his impeachment of Verres, the corrupt governor of Sicily, he brought to light, as had never been done before, the infamous methods employed in the administration of the provinces. He not only brought to light this corruption; he also brought to justice one of the greatest offenders. Then by the defeat of Catiline during his consulship Cicero saved Rome from the execution of a most infamous plot. \~\

Catiline Conspiracy

The Catiline conspiracy was a plot devised by Catiline, with the help of a group of fellow aristocrats and disaffected veterans of Lucius Cornelius Sulla, to overthrow the consulship of Marcus Tullius Cicero and Gaius Antonius Hybrida. In 63 B.C., Cicero exposed the plot, forcing Catiline to flee from Rome. The conspiracy was chronicled by Sallust in his work “The Conspiracy of Catiline,” and this work remains an authority on the matter. [Source: Wikipedia]

When Cato threatened to prosecute Catiline, Catiline said that if a fire were kindled against him he would put it out, not with water, but by a general ruin. Ruined himself in fortune, he gathered about him the ruined classes—insolvent debtors, desperate adventurers, and the rabble of Rome. It is said that his plot involved the purpose to kill the consuls, massacre the senators, and to burn the city of Rome. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

The plot was discovered by Cicero, and was foiled. Cicero delivered in the senate an oration against Catiline, who was present and attempted to reply; but his voice was drowned with the cries of “Traitor,” and he fled from the senate to his camp in Etruria. Here a desperate battle ensued; and Catiline was defeated and slain, with three thousand of his followers (62 B.C.). Five of his fellow-conspirators were condemned to death by the senate; and Cicero put the judgment into execution. This act afterward exposed Cicero to the charge of executing Roman citizens without a proper trial. But the people hailed Cicero as the savior of Rome, the Father of his Country. \~\

Cicero, Caesar and the Catiline Conspiracy

Cicero denouncing Catiline

It was charged that Caesar was implicated in the plot of Catiline; but this charge was answered when Cicero declared that Caesar had done all that a good citizen could do to crush it. The great success of Cicero gave to the senate and the moderate party a temporary advantage. But the senate under the leadership of Cato and Lucullus had not the skill to retain this advantage. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Suetonius wrote: “When the conspiracy of Catiline was detected [63 B.C.], and all the rest of the senate favored inflicting the extreme penalty on those implicated in the plot, Caesar, who was now praetor elect, alone proposed that their goods be confiscated and that they be imprisoned each in a separate town. Nay, more, he inspired such fear in those who favored severer measures, by picturing the hatred which the Roman commons would feel for them for all future time, that Decimus Silanus, consul elect, was not ashamed to give a milder interpretation to his proposal (since it would have been humiliating to change it) alleging that it had been understood in a harsher sense than he intended. Caesar would have prevailed too, for a number had already gone over to him, including Cicero, the consul's brother, had not the address of Marcus Cato kept the wavering senate in line. Yet not even then did he cease to delay the proceedings, but only when an armed troop of Roman knights that stood on guard about the place threatened him with death as he persisted in his headstrong opposition. They even drew their swords and made such passes at him that his friends who sat next him forsook him, while a few had much ado to shield him in their embrace or with their robes. Then, in evident fear, he not only yielded the point, but for the rest of the year kept aloof from the House. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius” (“The Lives of the Caesars, The Deified Julius”), written A.D. c. 110, Suetonius, 2 vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 3-119]

“On the first day of his praetorship [62 B.C.] he called upon Quintus Catulus to render an account to the people touching the restoration of the CapitoI, proposing a bill for turning over the commission to another [namely, Gnaeus Pompeius]. But he withdrew the measure, since he could not cope with the united opposition of the optimates, seeing that they had at once dropped their attendance on the newly elected consuls and hastily gathered in throngs, resolved on an obstinate resistance.

Plutarch wrote in “Lives”: Piso and Catulus found fault with Cicero for having let Caesar escape, when in the conspiracy of Catiline he had given the government such advantage against him. For Catiline, who had designed not only to change the present state of affairs, but to subvert the whole empire and confound all, had himself taken to flight, while the evidence was yet incomplete against him, before his ultimate purposes had been properly discovered. But he had left Lentulus and Cethegus in the city to supply his place in the conspiracy, and whether they received any secret encouragement and assistance from Caesar is uncertain; all that is certain is, that they were fully convicted in the senate, and when Cicero, the consul, asked the several opinions of the senators, how they would have them punished, all who spoke before Caesar sentenced them to death; but Caesar stood up and made a set speech, in which he told them that he thought it without precedent and not just to take away the lives of persons of their birth and distinction before they were fairly tried, unless there was an absolute necessity for it; but that if they were kept confined in any towns of Italy Cicero himself should choose till Catiline was defeated, then the senate might in peace and at their leisure determine what was best to be done. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120), Life of Caesar (100-44 B.C.), written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden, MIT]

Discovery of the Body of Catiline

“This sentence of his carried so much appearance of humanity, and he gave it such advantage by the eloquence with which he urged it, that not only those who spoke after him closed with it, but even they who had before given a contrary opinion now came over to his, till it came about to Catulus's and Cato's turn to speak. They warmly opposed it, and Cato intimated in his speech the suspicion of Caesar himself, and pressed the matter so strongly that the criminals were given up to suffer execution. As Caesar was going out of the senate, many of the young men who at that time acted as guards to Cicero ran in with their naked swords to assault him. But Curio, it is said, threw his gown over him, and conveyed him away, and Cicero himself, when the young men looked up to see his wishes, gave a sign not to kill him, either for fear of the people or because he thought the murder unjust and illegal. If this be true, I wonder how Cicero came to omit all mention of it in his book about his consulship. He was blamed, however, afterwards, for not having made use of so fortunate an opportunity against Caesar, as if he had let it escape him out of fear of the populace, who, indeed, showed remarkable solicitude about Caesar, and some time after, when he went into the senate to clear himself of the suspicions he lay under, and found great clamours raised against him, upon the senate in consequence sitting longer than ordinary, they went up to the house in a tumult, and beset it, demanding Caesar, and requiring them to dismiss him. Upon this, Cato, much fearing some movement among the poor citizens, who were always the first to kindle the flame among the people, and placed all their hopes in Caesar, persuaded the senate to give them a monthly allowance of corn, an expedient which put the commonwealth to the extraordinary charge of seven million five hundred thousand drachmas in the year, but quite succeeded in removing the great cause of terror for the present, and very much weakened Caesar's power, who at that time was just going to be made praetor, and consequently would have been more formidable by his office.

Outcome of the Triumvirate

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “The extraordinary coalition, known as the first triumvirate, which came into existence as an informal alliance among Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus in 61/60 B.C., had not been planned as early as a few years before. In 63 B.C. Caesar and Crassus had tried to pass a land bill, the Rullan law, which was violently opposed by Cicero and which went down to defeat; this should probably be viewed as an attempt to head Pompey off, since he was certain to want land for his veterans upon his return from the East. In Pompey's absence, Cicero had drifted as close as possible to the Old Guard; when Pompey returned, it was to them that Cicero led him. Pompey wanted two things: 1) Land for his veterans, and 2) the ratification of his many dispensations over the future status of the lands in the east. Either Pompey was too powerful and popular already, or the conservatives (including M. Porcius Cato) were too pig-headed to see that it was in their own interests to embrace him; in any case he was rebuffed, Cicero could do nothing, and Pompey was driven into the arms of Crassus and Caesar.” [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

Plutarch wrote in “Lives”: A little time after become a member of the Triumvirate, “Caesar married Calpurnia, the daughter of Piso, and got Piso made consul for the year following. Cato exclaimed loudly against this, and protested, with a great deal of warmth, that it was intolerable the government should be prostituted by marriages, and that they should advance one another to the commands of armies, provinces, and other great posts, by means of women. Bibulus, Caesar's colleague, finding it was to no purpose to oppose his bills, but that he was in danger of being murdered in the forum, as also was Cato, confined himself to his house, and there let the remaining part of his consulship expire. Pompey, when he was married, at once filled the forum with soldiers, and gave the people his help in passing the new laws, and secured Caesar the government of all Gaul, both on this and the other side of the Alps, together with Illyricum, and the command of four legions for five years. Cato made some attempts against these proceedings, but was seized and led off on the way to prison by Caesar, who expected that he would appeal to the tribunes. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120), Life of Caesar (100-44 B.C.), written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden, MIT]

“But when he saw that Cato went along without speaking a word, and not only the nobility were indignant, but the people also, out of respect for Cato's virtue, were following in silence, and with dejected looks, he himself privately desired one of the tribunes to rescue Cato. As for the other senators, some few of them attended the house, the rest, being disgusted, absented themselves. Hence Considius, a very old man, took occasion one day to tell Caesar that the senators did not meet because they were afraid of his soldiers. Caesar asked, "Why don't you, then, out of the same fear, keep at home?" To which Considius replied, that age was his guard against fear, and that the small remains of his life were not worth much caution. But the most disgraceful thing that was done in Caesar's consulship was his assisting to gain the tribuneship for the same Clodius who had made the attempt on his wife's chastity and intruded upon the secret vigils. He was elected on purpose to effect Cicero's downfall; nor did Caesar leave the city to join his army till they two had overpowered Cicero and driven him out of Italy.”

First Triumvirate Caesar, Crassus and Pompey

Plutarch wrote in “Lives”: “When he entered on his office he brought in bills which would have been preferred with better grace by the most audacious of the tribunes than by a consul, in which he proposed the plantation of colonies and the division of lands, simply to please the commonalty. The best and most honourable of the senators opposed it, upon which, as he had long wished for nothing more than for such a colourable pretext, he loudly protested how much it was against his will to be driven to seek support from the people, and how the senate's insulting and harsh conduct left no other course possible for him than to devote himself henceforth to the popular cause and interest. And so he hurried out of the senate, and presenting himself to the people, and there placing Crassus and Pompey, one on each side of him, he asked them whether they consented to the bills he had proposed. They owned their assent, upon which he desired them to assist him against those who had threatened to oppose him with their swords. They engaged they would, and Pompey added further, that he would meet their swords with a sword and buckler too. These words the nobles much resented, as neither suitable to his own dignity, nor becoming the reverence due to the senate, but resembling rather the vehemence of a boy or the fury of a madman. But the people were pleased with it. In order to get a yet firmer hold upon Pompey, Caesar having a daughter, Julia, who had been before contracted to Servilius Caepio, now betrothed her to Pompey, and told Servilius he should have Pompey's daughter, who was not unengaged either, but promised to Sylla's son, Faustus. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120), Life of Caesar (100-44 B.C.), written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden, MIT]

Banishment of Cicero

Clodius, who held the position of tribune, was given the task, first, of keeping hold of the populace; and, next, of getting out of the way as best he could the two most influential men in the senate, Cicero and Cato. The first part of this task he easily accomplished by passing a law that grain should hereafter be distributed to the Roman people free of all expense. To carry out the second part of his task was not so easy—to remove from the senate its chief leaders. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Cato was disposed of, however, by a law annexing Cyprus to the Roman dominion, and appointing him as its governor. Cicero was also got rid of by a law which Clodius succeeded in passing, and which provided that any magistrate who had put a Roman citizen to death without a trial should be banished. Cicero knew that this act was intended for him, and that it referred to his execution of the Catilinian conspirators. After vainly attempting to enlist sympathy in his own behalf, Cicero retired to Greece (58 B.C.) and devoted himself to literary pursuits. With their leaders thus removed, the senate was for a time paralyzed. \~\

Suetonius wrote:“ Marcus Cato, who tried to delay proceedings [by making a speech of several hours' duration; Gell. 4.10.8. The senate arose in a body and escorted Cato to prison, and Caesar was forced to release him], was dragged from the House by a lictor at Caesar's command and taken off to prison. When Lucius Lucullus was somewhat too outspoken in his opposition, he filled him with such fear of malicious prosecution [for his conduct during the Third Mithridatic War] that Lucullus actually fell on his knees before him. Because Cicero, while pleading in court, deplored the state of the times, Caesar transferred the orator's enemy Publius Clodius that very same day from the patricians to the plebeians [59 B.C.], a thing for which Clodius had for a long time been vainly striving; and that too at the ninth hour [That is, after the close of the business day, an indication of the haste with which the adoption was rushed through] Finally taking action against all the opposition in a body, he bribed an informer to declare that he had been egged on by certain men to murder Gnaeus Pompeius , and to come out upon the rostra and name the guilty parties according to a pre-arranged plot. But when the informer had named one or two to no purpose and not without suspicion of double-dealing, Caesar, hopeless of the success of his over-hasty attempt, is supposed to have had him taken off by poison.. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius” (“The Lives of the Caesars, The Deified Julius”), written A.D. c. 110, Suetonius, 2 vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 3-119]

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “The 50s B.C. at Rome is the decade of anarchy in the capital at Rome, of gangs and of chaos. Some of the blame for this rests with Pompey, who was notoriously inept at domestic administration, and unfortunately the only of the triumvirs continually present in the city (as his provinces were being governed by proxy). In 58 B.C. the unscrupulous P. Clodius, tool of Caesar and sworn enemy of Cicero (ever since the latter had prosecuted him for an embarrassing youthful peccadillo), was tribune. Among his laws was one directed against poor old Cicero who, inflated with a false sense of his own importance, had foolishly refused to cooperate with the new lords and was thrown to the wolves. Clodius' law (which had to do with the way Cicero had proceeded in the execution of the Catilinarian conspirators) sent the orator into exile. By the summer of 57 B.C. Cicero had decided that maybe he could find it in himself to support Pompey after all, and he was recalled from exile amid great celebrations. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

Cicero returns from exile

“At this point Cicero still believed that he could play Pompey off against Caesar, and at the same time there was friction between Pompey and Crassus, who had never gotten along very well, so the coalition of the triumvirs looked fragile. A crisis was also brewing over a possible legal challenge to one of the founding acts of the triumvirate, the Lex Julia by which Caesar had settled many of Pompey's veterans in Campania, and also there were the first rumblings of a movement to deprive Caesar of his command in Gaul. Caesar managed to head off disaster by calling the faithful to a conference at Luca in 56 B.C., where the solidarity of the junta was confirmed, giving Caesar some breathing space for the conquest of Gaul. At Luca we hear little of Campania; the focus was on the future status of the triumvirs. Pompey and Crassus were to be consuls again in 55, and Pompey was to get a military command in Spain, while Crassus (who longed to compete with his partners in military honours) was to go to the eastern edge of the Roman empire and defeat the mighty Parthians. It is worth noting that although the Senate was compliant on this occasion (even Cicero supported the new dispositions in a speech which survives titled On the Consular Provinces) the decisions were ratified by the comitia tributa directly, which shows that the trend was towards bypassing the Senate.” ^*^

When Caesar had departed from Rome to undertake his work in Gaul, Clodius began to feel his own importance and to rule with a high hand. The policy of this able and depraved demagogue was evidently to govern Rome with the aid of the mob. He paraded the streets with armed bands, and used his political influence to please the rabble. Pompey as well as the senate became disgusted with the regime of Clodius. They united their influence, and obtained the recall of Cicero from exile. At the same time Cato retuned from his absence in Cyprus. On the return of the old senatorial leaders, it looked as though the senate would once more regain its power, and the triumvirate would go to pieces. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

“Far from undermining Caesar’s confidence, Pompey’s deceitful maneuver only seemed to stiffen his resolve. Throughout that year, the brinkmanship between the two generals grew, and nerves stretched to breaking point. A false rumor spread that Caesar had set out from Gaul with four legions. The statesman and orator Cicero vainly tried to find a peaceful solution to the conflict while a sense that the republic was becoming increasingly ungovernable took hold in the capital. Alliances shifted continually: One of Caesar’s most loyal lieutenants, Labienus, decided to switch sides to Pompey. /*\

Cicero and the Political Fallout After Caesar’s Death

assassination of Caesar

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “Cicero approved of the result if not the method” of Caesar’s death;” he says repeatedly in his letters that the Ides of March was a glorious day. Cicero had encouraged the assassins to their deed on the Ides of March, but neither he nor they had a plan for restoring the Republic afterwards. Having allowed Antony to regain the initiative, Cicero retired to his villa at Puteoli in the spring of 44. There are surviving over 200 letters written by Cicero between the Ides of March and his own death; thus there is a nearly unique opportunity for constructing a detailed account of the politics of the day. Cicero put forward no clear political or military solutions in the aftermath of the Ides; instead, he wrung his hands over the situation and hoped that someone else would take the lead. Is Cicero to blame for his indecision in these months, or was he simply being cautious and prudent, waiting for a better opportunity and greater chances of success? [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“Surprisingly, Caesar's death did not lead to a quick renunciation of his acts or massive retaliation against his supporters. Cicero supported amnesty for the conspirators; The conspirators had not looked far beyond the tyrannicide, nor severed all of the hydra's heads. The second- and third-in-command in Caesar's organization were his magister equitum M. Aemilius Lepidus and his co-consul for 44, M. Antonius (Mark Antony). Cassius had proposed that Antony should be killed along with Caesar, but Brutus had prevailed with his opinion that Antony might live. Cicero's letters to Atticus from April of 44 give a sense of the uncertainty of the political situation. Anthony was rumoured to be hoarding grain in the capital, but for what purpose was not known; ^*^

“Antony managed to effect a rapid deal, brokered by Cicero, with the Republicans: there was to be amnesty for Caesar's killers, but his acts were to be upheld. Why did Brutus and Cassius agree to this compromise, which seems to undercut the purpose of their deed? The answer is military power; the conspirators could kill the dictator, but they could not change the fact that Antony had lost no time in bringing some of Lepidus' legions from Spain and Gallia Narbonensis (S. France). Nor did Antony intend to let go the reins of power. At the funeral oration for Caesar, he surprised his erstwhile Republican "allies" by igniting the wrath of the crowd against the tyrannicides; Brutus and Cassius were forced to flee from Italy, but they fled not into oblivion. Already assigned to safeguard the corn supply from Libya and Egypt, they made for the more fertile recruiting grounds of Macedonia, Asia, and Syria. In fact this episode was a deliberate attempt by Antony to consolidate his position as the successor of Julius Caesar (Plut. Cicero 42 over Suet. Iul. 84). It is true that Caesar managed to curry favor with the people even after his death by leaving 300 sesterces to every Roman citizen. However, there is a further reason why the historical record represented the event as a popular uprising against the murderers of Caesar, that it was consistent with Octavian's later claim to have been carrying out the popular will in avenging the death of Caesar.” ^*^

Cicero and the Rivalry Between Mark Anthony and Octavian After Caesar's Death

After Caesar's assassination in 44 B.C., Octavian's connection to Caesar boosted him on the political scene. At that time Octavian (Augustus) was seen as a “deceptively, malleable-seeming” 18-year-old. “He is wholely devoted to me," Cicero boasted, not long before the youth cut a deal to have him murdered.

The only leading man of the senate who had survived the last civil war was Cicero; but Cicero with all his learning and eloquence could not take the place of Caesar. What Rome needed was what the liberators had taken from her, a master mind of broad views and of great executive power. It is no surprise that the death of Caesar was followed by confusion and dismay. No one knew which way to look or what to expect.\~\

murder of Ciciero

Cicero’s attempt to defeat Antony by the aid of Octavian was not a successful piece of diplomacy. It resulted not only in alienating the Octavian; but worse than that, it brought about the very coalition — the Second Triumvirate — - which Cicero was trying to prevent. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Cicero thought that everything should be done to weaken the power of Antony, and to prevent any possible coalition between him and the young Octavian. The hostility between Cicero and Antony grew to be bitter and relentless; and they were pitted against each other on the floor of the senate. But in a war of words Antony was no match for Cicero. By a series of famous speeches known as the “Philippics,” the popularity of Antony was crushed; and he retired from Rome to seek for victory upon other fields. He claimed Cisalpine Gaul as his province. But this province was still held by Decimus Brutus, one of the liberators to whom the senate looked for military support \~.

When Antony attempted to gain possession of this territory, Cicero thought he saw an opportunity to use Octavian in the interests of the senate. Accordingly Antony was declared a public enemy; Octavian was made a senator with the rank of a consul, and was authorized to conduct the war against Antony. In this war—the so-called war of Mutina (44-43 B.C. ) — Octavian was successful. As a reward for his victory he demanded of the senate that he receive a triumph and the consulship. Cicero had intended Decimus Brutus for this office, and the request of Octavian was refused. But the young heir, then twenty years of age, following the example of Caesar, enforced his claims with the sword; he took possession of the city, and obtained his election to the consulship. Octavian thus became the ruling man in Rome.

Murder of Cicero by Octavian

Among other things the rivalry between Octavian and Antony led to the murder of Cicero. Cicero did little of consequence during Caesar's rise to power and was unable to do much to halt the demise of the republic. He had a bit of a swan song after Caesar assassination when he placed himself at the head of the Republican party and denounced Marc Antony in a series of famous speech called the “Philippics." When Antony became leader he had Cicero executed for these speeches. According to Plutarch Cicero was taken by a death squad as he attempted to flee to Macedonia. His head and hands were cut off and displayed in the Forum, where Antony's wife Fulvia — who Cicero said Antony married for her money — used her hairpins to pierce the tongue of the man who so caustically denounced her husband.

When Cicero was warned of his danger, and urged to flee, he replied, “Let me die in my fatherland which I have so often saved.” Cicero has been accused of timidity; but he remained at his post, the last defender of the republic. He has been charged with vacillation; but he lived in days when no man knew which way to turn for help. He failed as a politician, because he continually bungled in the fine arts of intrigue. He failed as a statesman, because he persisted in defending a lost cause. He appealed to reason, when the highest arbiter was the sword. But with all his faults, Cicero was, next to Cato, the most upright man of his time; and his influence has been, next to that of Caesar, the most enduring. To practical politics he contributed little; but his numerous writings have exercised a wonderful influence in the intellectual and moral education of the world. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Fulvia with Cicero's head

Plutarch wrote in “Lives”: “Caesar, perceiving that Cicero's wishes were for liberty, had ceased to pay any further regard to him, and was now employing the mediation of his friends to come to a good understanding with Antony. They both met together with Lepidus in a small island, where the conference lasted three days. The empire was soon determined of, it being divided amongst them as if it had been their paternal inheritance. That which gave them all the trouble was to agree who should be put to death, each of them desiring to destroy his enemies and to save his friends. But, in the end, animosity to those they hated carried the day against respect for relations and affection for friends; and Caesar sacrificed Cicero to Antony, Antony gave up his uncle Lucius Caesar, and Lepidus received permission to murder his brother Paulus, or, as others say, yielded his brother to them. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120): Life of Anthony (82-30 B.C.) For “Lives,” written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden MIT]

“I do not believe anything ever took place more truly savage or barbarous than this composition, for, in this exchange of blood for blood, they were guilty of the lives they surrendered and of those they took; or, indeed, more guilty in the case of their friends for whose deaths they had not even the justification of hatred. To complete the reconciliation, the soldiery, coming about them, demanded that confirmation should be given to it by some alliance of marriage; Caesar should marry Clodia, the daughter of Fulvia, wife to Antony. This also being agreed to, three hundred persons were put to death by proscription. Antony gave orders to those that were to kill Cicero to cut off his head and right hand, with which he had written his invectives against him; and, when they were brought before him, he regarded them joyfully, actually bursting out more than once into laughter, and, when he had satiated himself with the sight of them, ordered them to be hung up above the speaker's place in the forum, thinking thus to insult the dead, while in fact he only exposed his own wanton arrogance, and his unworthiness to hold the power that fortune had given him. His uncle, Lucius Caesar, being closely pursued, took refuge with his sister, who, when the murderers had broken into her house and were pressing into her chamber, met them at the door, and spreading out hands, cried out several times. "You shall not kill Lucius Caesar till you first despatch me who gave your general his birth;" and in this manner she succeeded in getting her brother out of the way, and saving his life.”

Imperium and Conspirata, Novels with Cicero as Their Central Character

In a review of the novel Conspirata , Frank Bruni wrote in the New York Times, “Cicero must regularly foil death threats, his vestibule patrolled by a fearsome guard dog; his front door barricaded against invaders; and his wife, Terentia, alternately moping about the danger and questioning his response to it. Many of his supposed allies are really wolves in sheep's togas, and the spies Cicero plants in enemy camps sometimes prove cowardly or inconveniently mortal. One, a woman, winds up gutted like a fish. While they were sharp with words around the Roman Senate, they were even sharper with daggers. [Source: Frank Bruni, New York Times, February 16, 2010 ==]

“Will Cicero survive, entrails intact? What of the Republic he governs? History buffs can already answer those questions, so it's to Robert Harris's considerable credit that he wrings some suspense from them, producing a fact-based novel that's deliciously juicy and fleetly paced — maybe too fleetly, all told: the comically foreboding title foreshadows Harris's principal intentions, which are to make you gasp, titter and turn the pages. This you will surely do, but with an engagement limited by an occasional sense of silly overkill. ==

““Conspirata? is a sequel to the bestselling novel “Imperium” and part of what is intended to be a trilogy devoted to the power games played by Cicero and a few contemporaries whose names just might strike a bell: Julius Caesar, Gnaeus Pompey, Marcus Antonius. “Imperium” traced the rise of Cicero from cunning lawyer to crafty consul, or senior magistrate, of Rome. Reviewing the book in these pages in 2006, Marcel Theroux noted that the portrait of its protagonist variously brought to mind Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, and that Harris seemed to be holding up “a distant mirror of the politics of our own age." ==

“Conspirata” is less pointed than that, the political stratagems it recounts so rococo and dastardly they would make Karl Rove quiver and James Carville blush. It's precisely that outlandishness that makes ancient Rome so attractive to Harris and legions of others. The reader meets Pompeius and Pomptinus, Roscius and Rabirius, Servius and Sulpicius and — my favorite — Valerius Flaccus, whose name sounds like an ailment so embarrassing you're loath to tell even your doctor about it. Keeping the characters and their alliances straight isn't easy, even with the help of the glossary in the back, and Harris muddles things further by assuming a reader's familiarity with the basic architecture and processes of Roman government. ==

But he's a bluntly efficient storyteller, aware that what works at the start of an episode of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” can also set his tale in motion. And so, in the first sentence, there's the body of an adolescent boy pulled from the Tiber, throat slashed and internal organs missing, suggesting a human sacrifice. In due time Harris reveals what happened and why, but “Conspirata” is less a mystery or crime procedural than a gubernatorial and legislative chess match, narrated, as was “Imperium," by Cicero's secretary, Tiro. Tiro employs a tone at once grandiose and wry — this is one jaunty epic — and serves as a fly on the frescoed wall, inserting himself into the narrative only occasionally, as when he avails himself of a tryst with a Greek slave girl named Agathe. “Here is my philosophy," she tells him, the seductress as Socrates. “Enjoy such brief ecstasy as the gods permit us, for it is only in these moments that men and women are truly not alone." The togetherness that follows isn't detailed. “Conspirata” pays more attention to the gutting than to the rutting.

Marc Antony, Fulvia and Cicero's head

The novel is concerned most of all, though, with calculation; it's a serial chronicle of the binds Cicero encounters — most notably a welling insurrection, spearheaded by Lucius Sergius Catilina — and how he shimmies his way out of them. And it's lavish with classical oratory, reproducing windy, eloquent, absorbing Senate debates. A passage in which the senators discuss the possible execution of a band of traitors is rousingly good.

Book: “Conspirata” by Robert Harris (Simon & Schuster, 2010)

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|; BBC Ancient Rome ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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