Related Content

Related Overviews


More Like This

Show all results sharing this subject:

  • Classical studies


Show Summary Details


Tullius Cicero

Quick Reference


The first of two sons of a rich and well‐connected equestrian of Arpinum, b. 106 bc. His father gave his two sons an excellent education in philosophy and rhetoric in Rome and later in Greece. Cicero did military service in 90/89 under Pompey's father, and attended legal consultations of the two great Scaevolae (Mucius Scaevola 1 and (2) ). He conducted his first case in 81 and made an immediate reputation through his successful defence of Roscius of Ameria on a charge of parricide in 80, a case which reflected discreditably on the contemporary administration of Sulla. Cicero was then from 79 to 77 a student of philosophy and rhetoric both in Athens and in Rhodes, where he heard Posidonius; he visited Rutilius Rufus at Smyrna.

He returned to Rome to pursue a public career, and was elected quaestor for 75, when he served for a year in western Sicily, and praetor for 66, in each case at the earliest age at which he could legally become a candidate. By securing the condemnation of Verres for extortion in Sicily in 70 he scored a resounding success against Hortensius Hortalus, eight years his senior, whom he was to replace as the leading figure at the Roman bar. In a cleverly disarming speech delivered during his praetorship he supported, against strong optimate opposition, the tribune Manilius' proposal to transfer the command in the war against Mithradates to Pompey; this was the first public expression of his admiration for Pompey, who was, with occasional short interruptions, henceforward to be the focus of his political allegiance. He was elected consul for 63—the first novus homo with no political background whatever since 94—because, in a poor field (including Catiline (see sergius catilina), who had tried for the office twice before), his reputation as an orator and his cultivation of aristocrats, equestrians, and prominent Italians paid off. Hampered by a weak and indeed suspect colleague, Cicero did very well to secure evidence which convinced the senate of the seriousness of Catiline's conspiracy. After the ‘last decree’ (senatus consultum ultimum) had been passed, and Catiline had left Rome for his army in Etruria, five conspirators prominent in Roman society and politics, including a praetor, were arrested and executed on 5 December. Although, after debate, the senate, influenced by Porcius Cato (2), had recommended their execution, the act itself, a violation of the citizen's right to a trial, could be justified only by the passing of the last decree and was Cicero's personal responsibility. Though approved in the first moment of panic by all classes of society in Rome, its legality was strictly questionable, and Cicero was unwise to boast of it as loudly as he did. He published his speeches of 63, including those against Catiline. To the end of his life he never wavered in his belief that he had acted rightly and had saved Rome from catastrophe.

Though it was unlikely that he would escape prosecution, Cicero refused overtures from Caesar, which might have saved him at the price of his political independence. In 58 Clodius Pulcher, whom he had antagonized in 61 when Clodius was charged with sacrilege, moved a bill as tribune re‐enacting the law that anyone who had executed a citizen without trial should be banished. Without awaiting prosecution Cicero fled the country, to Macedonia, and Clodius passed a second bill, which Cicero regarded as unconstitutional, declaring him an exile. His house on the Palatine was destroyed by Clodius' gang, part of its site to be made a shrine of Liberty, and his villa at Tusculum was also badly damaged. With Pompey's belated support and with the support of the tribune Annius Milo, who employed violence as irresponsibly as Clodius had done in the previous year, Cicero was recalled by a law of the people in August 57 and was warmly welcomed on his return both in Italy and in Rome.


Subjects: Classical studies

Reference entries