So what is a Modern historian doing writing about a man who lived from 106 BC to 43 BC. Well as you may have seen from earlier posts, this month we are all writing out of our comfort zones. Now I have a confession to make. Ancient Rome and Greece is not really out of my comfort zone, I studied them for Classics at A-Level and I still have a keen interest in that area, but as long as you don’t tell anyone, I think I may get away with it! I jest, I am limited in my knowledge of this time period, but it is indeed interesting!
So this post on Cicero will also describe Rome at the time where he lived. Rome is coming to its end as a republic, with the dictator Sulla being in charge for the early part of Cicero’s life, the political alliance of Pompey, Caesar and Crassus, which dominated politics from 60BC, and of course the rise of good old Julius Caesar himself and his crossing of the river Rubicon in 49BC. The end of Cicero’s life saw another triumvirate of Mark Anthony, Octavian and Lepidus. We all know of Mark Anthony and Octavian (soon to be Augustus), but Lepidus is one who has faded into obscurity and was not a major player. Mark Antony of course brought a civil war against Octavian after Cicero’s death, and with support of Herrod (the one in the bible) and nations such as Egypt, attempted to rule on his own, however Octavian won and thus dominated Rome’s politics for years to come.
Times were quite turbulent, politics was corrupt, conspiracies were everywhere and the wealthy always seem to get acquitted in any trials brought against them, all you had to do was bribe the jury. Rome was expanding at this time, Pompey and Caesar were leading armies to conquer land distant and far, the might of Rome was shown to the world.
So where does Cicero fit into it all. Well firstly he wasn’t Roman; he came from a noble family outside of Rome. This was important as traditionally only Romans could get anywhere in politics. He was always seen as an outsider during his life, but he never let that stop him and pushed himself to get as far as possible. Cicero was one of the first Consuls of Rome who wasn’t a Roman by birth, he broke the mould. Cicero climbed the political ladder and eventually made it to the top. You could say that it was his great oratory skills or maybe his money, but it was the fact that out of the limited candidates, he was the least stupid one. In a way he was a lesser of two evils. Now during his year as Consul of Rome, he always believed he saved Rome from tyranny in the year 63 BC. The person accused was a man named Catiline, whom according to Cicero wanted to overthrow the Republic. Cicero succeeded in ousting the plot and the accusers were executed, which was advocated by Cato the younger (I’m sure many of you have heard of Cato before, if not he is also another famous, political figure in Rome). They were executed, the horror! This was not a done thing in the Roman Republic, you weren’t meant to kill a Roman Citizen or even torture them (also evident later as in the bible regarding Paul, who when mentions he is a Roman citizen received better treatment). Cicero let this whole episode in his life, get to his head, already an overconfident man, he believed that he was almost untouchable, and usually said stuff that got him in trouble, especially after the fall of the republic.
Cicero was forced into exile in 58 BC when Publius Clodius Pulcher, a tribune (a lower ranking official but extremely powerful), brought in a law threatening exile to anyone who executed a Roman citizen without a trial. The target was Cicero who had made this particular tribune an enemy earlier on. Cicero was forced into Greece for an entire year where he succumbed to Depression, nonetheless he was back within a year, with crowds meeting him and cheering him. Cicero, the man he was, tried to make a great comeback in the political scene, but attacking Caesar’s bill was not a smart move, and it proved unsuccessful. Cicero then had to attend the conference at Luca in 56 BC here he was made to support the triumvirate. In the years after, Cicero spent most of his time in this books and a bit of time as a pro-consul (a governor in one of the conquered lands). This was until the Civil War in 49 BC.
During the Civil war between Pompey and Caesar, Cicero had to pick a side. Now this was a hard decision for him. He was good friends with both, and was even offered to join the triumvirate back when Crassus was still alive and Pompey and Caesar were not fighting. Cicero had to side with the republic, it was a thing that he cherished, he adored and loved. If there was not republic, there would be no Cicero. His attempts to reason with Caesar were all in vain and as we all know Pompey lost the war and this put Cicero in an interesting place. Choosing to grovel to Caesar was the best action he could take, Caesar forgave him and Cicero’s life was spared. After the Civil war, he took a step back from politics, and instead went into his study and wrote books.
So why did Cicero die, and how did he die? Well his death was rather well, let’s say it didn’t surprise me. He of course made more enemies, because he wouldn’t know when to not speak. Making an enemy of the second Triumvirate was never going to be good, and although Octavian wanted him alive, Mark Antony ordered his death. Men were sent to Cicero’s house. According to the sources that are available, Cicero was heading to Macedonia, but was intercepted, and by the hands of a centurion and a tribune, he was killed. He apparently stuck his neck out and offered no resistance. His cut off head was put outside the forum, where Antony’s wife pulled out the decapitated head and stabbed the tongue many times. It shows you that she clearly didn’t like his speech then. Cicero was a man of Speech and was a great orator.
So why is Cicero was important to us as historians, he was just a man who lived in Ancient Rome. Why do we care so much for him? Well a lot of his speeches, letters and ideas are written down. We actually have a fair few of them! We get to see the fall of the republic through his eyes; we get to see his anguish, his depression and his joys. Cicero’s speeches in law courts and political speeches are something to behold and are worded amazingly. I believe also that his speeches were also some of the first we have found in short hand, which is again another remarkable discovery. Cicero is an important figure during the end of the republic and that must be noted.
One thing I have not mentioned is that Cicero was a remarkable lawyer. He beat Hortalus (I believe) whom was at the time known as one of the best lawyers in Rome. Cicero took him on, and won. It showed how great an orator Cicero was. He avoided to anger of Sulla who ruled at the time and managed to gain a conviction of the man Verres whom had misruled Sicily. Cicero’s speeches are available to buy and I recommend that you do, they are truly very interesting!
Well there’s a small bit on Cicero’s life for you. There is so much more to write about, but I don’t want to make this too long and tedious to read. He was a remarkable person and I have enjoyed talking about him, I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I have writing it. If you want to hear about any other historical figure in this time period then do ask, I would be happy to tell you more! Thanks for reading!