Marcus Tullius Cicero

Marcus Tullius Cicero (January 3, 106 BC - December 7, 43 BC) was an orator, statesman, political theorist, and philosopher of Ancient Rome. He is generally considered the greatest Latin orator and prose stylist. His speeches are regarded as the pinnacle of the Golden Age of the Latin language, whereas the age which followed in the next two centuries, the Silver Age, is regarded as slightly less than the brilliance displayed by the works of the Golden Age, primarily Cicero's. He is considered by some to be the greatest orator and speech- and prose-writer in history.


Cicero was born in Arpinum and killed at Formia while fleeing from political enemies. "It is no exaggeration", wrote Taylor (as cited in "References"), "to say that the most brilliant era of Roman public life was ushered in by Cicero and closed by his deathhe stood at its cradle and he followed its hearse." His family, the Tullii, were one of the landed gentry in Arpinum and resented the fame and fortunes of the other great Arpinate family, the Marii. Throughout his life, the conservative Cicero loathed being compared to the more famous Marius. The name "Cicero" is derived from cicer, the Latin word for "chickpea." Plutarch explains that the name was originally applied to one of Cicero's ancestors who had a cleft in the tip of his nose, which resembled that of a chickpea. In fact (Plutarch continues), Cicero was urged to change the theretofore-ignoble name when he entered politics, but he refused. He had two children, a daughter, Tullia Ciceronis, and a son, Marcus Tullius Cicero Minor, were from his marriage to Terentia Varrones.

Early life

According to Plutarch, he was an extremely adept student, learning so well and rapidly that he attracted attention from all over Rome. So much so that he was granted the opportunity to study Roman Law under Quintus Mucius Scaevola; and in later years, a young Marcus Caelius Rufus studied under Cicero. Such an association was considered to be a great honour for both the teacher and the pupil. He was especially fond of poetry, although he shied away from no scholarly field. In 89 BC-88 BC, Cicero served on the staffs of Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo and Lucius Cornelius Sulla as they campaigned in the Social War, though he had no taste for war. Cicero also had a love for almost everything Greek, and even stated in his will that he wanted to be buried in Greece. He found the ancient philosophers such as Plato very thought provoking. This love of Hellenic culture was stoked during a semi-voluntary sojourn in the region that followed his successful defense of a man accused of parricide that was an indirect challenge to the Dictator Sulla in 80 BC. It was both due to the potential (though never realized) wrath of the dictator and a sudden attack of laryngitis brought on by Cicero's early speaking style that prompted his trip to Greece and Rhodes. While there, he visited with Publius Rutilius Rufus, a former Roman magistrate who had been exiled to Asia and held staunch Republican ideals, and with Posidonius, a famed philosopher and scholar who also held an idealized view of Rome in the world. He also met and studied at the feet of the rhetorician Molon of Rhodes, who instructed Cicero in a more expansive and less intense (and less strenuous on the throat) form of oratory that would provide the building blocks of Cicero's own idiosyncratic style in years to come.

Cicero served as quaestor in western Sicily in 75 BC. He wrote that in Sicily he saw the gravestone of Archimedes of Syracuse, on which was carved Archimedes' favorite discovery in geometry, that the ratio of the volume of a sphere to that of the smallest right circular cylinder in which it fits is 2:3. He built an extremely successful law practice, and first attained prominence for his successful prosecution in August 70 BC of Gaius Verres, the former governor of Sicily. Despite his great successes as an advocate, Cicero suffered from his lack of reputable ancestry; as no Tullius had been consul before him, he was neither noble nor patrician, and his family was considered unimportant. He was further hindered by the fact that the last memorable man to have been elected to the consulate without consular ancestors (i.e., the last "New Man", or Novus homo) had been the politically radical and militarily innovative Gaius Marius.


In 63 BC, Cicero was elected consul. His only significant historical accomplishment during his year in office was the suppression of the Catiline conspiracy, a plot to overthrow the Roman Republic led by Lucius Sergius Catilina, a disaffected patrician. Cicero procured a senatus consultum de re publica defendenda (a declaration of martial law, also called the senatus consultum ultimum) and drove Catiline out of the city by four vehement speeches in which he described the debauchery of Catiline and his followers, describing them as a company of dissolute senators and other assorted rogues who were deep in debt and latched onto Catiline as a last hope. At the end of the first speech, Catiline burst from the Temple of Jupiter Stator, where the Senate had been convened, and made his way to Etruria. The other three speeches were therefore not directly addressed at him (as the first one was -- the main theme was something on the order of "leave Rome, and take your mob with you!") but at the people or Senate, depending on the particular speech, to steel them for action in case the worst happened, as well as exposing more evidence against Catiline.

Catiline had fled, but had left behind his 'deputies' to start the revolution from within whilst Catiline assaulted it from without with an army recruited among Sulla's veterans in Etruria. Cicero managed to have these 'deputies' of Catiline confess their crime in front of the entire Senate, after ambushing an embassy they had sent to a Gallic tribe. The tribe, the Allobroges, had been in contact with Catiline's faction, but were of conflicted loyalties: The tribe was a client of Quintus Fabius Sanga, who was loyal to Rome, but some in the tribe wanted to join with Catiline. In the end, the affair seems to have ended up as something of a "sting," with the emissaries knowing beforehand about the Roman ambush, and planning to hand the conspirators and their messages to Cicero.

The Senate then deliberated upon the punishment to be given to the conspirators. As it was a legislative rather than a judicial body, there were limits on its power to do so; however, martial law was in effect, and it was feared that simple house arrest or exile - the standard options - would not remove the threat to the State. At first most in the Senate spoke for the 'extreme penalty'; many were then swayed by Julius Caesar who spoke decrying the precedent it would set and argued in favor of the punishment being confined to a mode of banishment. Cato then rose in defense of the death penalty and all the Senate finally agreed on the matter. Cicero had the conspirators taken to the Tullianum, the notorious Roman prison, where they were strangled. Cicero himself accompanied the former consul Publius Cornelius Lentulus Sura, one of the conspirators, to the Tullianum. After the executions had been carried out, Cicero announced the deaths by the formulaic expression Vixerunt (They have lived), meant to ward off ill fortune by avoiding the direct mention of death. He received the honorific "Pater Patriae" for his actions in suppressing the conspiracy, but thereafter lived in fear of trial or exile for having put Roman citizens to death without trial. He also received the first public thanksgiving for a civic accomplishment; heretofore it had been a purely military honor.

Cicero's Pro Flacco oration provides a uniquely early and clear example of anti-Semitism; in this speech, Cicero plays upon several stereotypical themes which have been echoed throughout the last two millennia. The case involved the defense of Lucius Valerius Flaccus, a Roman aristocrat, who was accused of (among other things) unlawfully confiscating Jewish funds which had been collected for the maintenance of the Temple at Jerusalem. In defense of Flaccus, Cicero made arguments regarding the public site which had been selected for the open-air tribunal: "Now let us take a look at the Jews and their manna for gold. You chose this site, [chief prosecutor] Laelius, and the crowd which frequents it, with an eye to this particular accusation, knowing very well that Jews with their large numbers and tendency to act as a clique are valuable supporters to have at any kind of public meeting."

Exile and return

In 58 BC, the populist Publius Clodius Pulcher introduced a law exiling any man who had put Roman citizens to death without trial. Although Cicero maintained that the sweeping senatus consultum ultimum granted him in 63 BC had indemnified him against legal penalty, he nevertheless appeared ragged in public and began to beg for support from the people. Since he could not go out in public without being lambasted by Clodius's heavies, he dedicated a statue to Minerva in the Forum and left Italy for a year and spent his quasi-exile setting his speeches to paper. In letters to his friend Atticus, Cicero maintained that the Senate was jealous of his accomplishments which was why they did not save him from exile.

Cicero returned after over a dozen months from his exile to a cheering crowd, much in the manner of Demosthenes, which the historian Appian pointed out. During the 50s, Cicero supported the populist Milo to use as a spear head against Clodius, who continued to use his popular support to establish terror in the streets. During the mid-50s, Clodius was killed by Milo's gladiators on the Via Appia. Cicero defended Milo on counts of murder from the relatives of Clodius, yet failed. Despite this failure, Cicero's Pro Milone was considered by some as his ultimate masterpiece. Cicero argued that Milo had no reason to kill Clodius and had all to gain from his living, pointing out that Milo had no idea that he would encounter Clodius on the Via Appia. The prosecution, however, pointed out that Milo had freed his slaves who were with him during the bout with Clodius so that they could not testify against him in court on charges that he had ordered the killing of Clodius. Cicero rejected this, saying that Milo's slaves had defended him honorably and deserved to be free, seeing as how they had saved their master from an attack by Clodius. Milo fled into exile and continued to live in Massilia until he returned to stir up further trouble during the Civil War.

As the struggle between Pompey and Julius Caesar grew more intense in 50 BC, Cicero favored Pompey but tried to avoid turning Caesar into a permanent enemy. When Caesar invaded Italy in 49 BC, Cicero fled Rome. Caesar attempted vainly to convince him to return, and in June of that year Cicero slipped out of Italy and traveled to Dyrrachium (Epidamnos).In 48 BC, Cicero was with the Pompeians at the camp of Pharsalus and quarreled with many of the Republican commanders, including a son of Pompey. They in turn disgusted him by their bloody attitudes. He returned to Rome, however, after Caesar's victory at Pharsalus.

In a letter to Varro on April 20, 46 BC, Cicero indicated what he saw as his role under the dictatorship of Caesar: "I advise you to do what I am advising myself avoid being seen, even if we cannot avoid being talked about... If our voices are no longer heard in the Senate and in the Forum, let us follow the example of the ancient sages and serve our country through our writings, concentrating on questions of ethics and constitutional law."

In February 45 BC, Cicero's beloved daughter Tullia died. He never entirely recovered from this tragic shock.

Opposition to Mark Antony, and death

Cicero was taken completely by surprise when the Liberatores assassinated Caesar on the Ides of March 44 BC. In a letter to the conspirator Trebonius, Cicero expressed a wish of having been "...invited to that superb banquet". Cicero became a popular leader during the instability and was disgusted with Mark Antony, Caesar's former Master of the Horse. Antony was scheming to take revenge upon Caesar's murderers. He arranged to avoid having Caesar outlawed as a tyrant so that the Caesarians could have lawful support; in exchange for amnesty for the assassins which the Senate agreed to.

Cicero and Antony, Caesar's subordinate, became the leading men in Rome; Cicero as spokesman for the Senate, and Antony as consul and as executor of Caesar's will. But the two men had never been on friendly terms, and their relationship worsened after Cicero made it clear he felt Antony to be taking unfair liberties in interpreting Caesar's wishes and intentions. When Octavian, Caesar's heir and adopted son, arrived in Italy in April, Cicero formed a plan to play him against Antony. In September he began attacking Antony in a series of speeches he called the Philippics. Praising Octavian to the skies, he labeled him a "God-Sent Child" and said he only desired honor and that he would not make the same mistake as his father by adoption. Meanwhile, his attacks on Antony, whom he called a "sheep," rallied the Senate in firm opposition to Antony. During this time, Cicero became an unrivaled popular leader and, according to the historian Appian, "had the power any popular leader could possibly have." He was at the height of his fame. As popular leader, Cicero heavily fined the supporters of Antony for petty charges and had volunteers forge arms for the Republicans. It turned out to be so insulting that a right hand man of Antony was preparing to march on Rome to arrest Cicero. Cicero fled the city and the plan was abandoned. Appian is the only one to give this tale of a march on Rome for the arrest of Cicero.

Cicero supported Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus as governor of Cisalpine Gaul (Gallia Cisalpina) and urged the Senate to name Antony an enemy of the state. One tribune, a certain Salvius, delayed these proceedings and was "reviled," as Appian put it, by Cicero and his party. The speech of Lucius Piso, Caesar's father-in-law, delayed proceedings against Antony. Antony was later declared an enemy of the state when he refused to lift the siege of Mutina, which was in the hands of Decimus Brutus. Cicero described his position in a letter to Cassius, one of Caesar's assassins, that same September: "I am pleased that you like my motion in the Senate and the speech accompanying it... Antony is a madman, corrupt and much worse than Caesar - whom you declared the worst of evil men when you killed him. Antony wants to start a bloodbath..."

Cicero's plan to drive out Antony failed, however. After the successive battles of Mutina, Antony and Octavian reconciled and allied with Lepidus to form the Second Triumvirate. Immediately after legislating their alliance into official existence for a five-year term with consular imperium, the Triumvirate began proscribing their enemies and potential rivals. Cicero and his younger brother Quintus Tullius Cicero, formerly one of Caesar's legates, and all of their contacts and supporters were numbered among the enemies of the state (though reportedly Octavian fought against Cicero being added to the list for two days).

Among the proscribed, Cicero had the dubious distinction of being the most viciously and doggedly hunted. Many men fell bravely, with many stories of bravery and virtue according to historical accounts. One victim turned out to be the tribune Salvius, who, after siding with Antony, moved his support directly and fully to Cicero. Salvius held a dinner party for his friends because he knew he would not be around for long and wished to have one last gathering to say goodbye. The legionaries burst into the party and beheaded Salvius in front of his friends.

Cicero was viewed with pity by many, and many claimed not to have seen him. He fled, but was caught at one of his villas after going to retrieve money. He fled by the coast of the nearby villa. When the executioners arrived, his slaves said they did not see him, yet a dependant of Publius Clodius said otherwise. His last words were said to have been "there is nothing proper about what you are doing, soldier, but do try to kill me properly." He was decapitated by his pursuers on December 7, 43 BC; his head and hands were displayed on the Rostra in the Forum Romanum according to the tradition of Marius and Sulla, both of whom had displayed the heads of their enemies in the Forum. Again, he held the dubious distinction of being the only victim of the Triumvirate's proscriptions to be so displayed. According to Cassius Dio (often mistakenly attributed to Plutarch), Antony's wife Fulvia took Cicero's head, pulled out his tongue, and jabbed the tongue repeatedly with her hairpin, taking a final revenge against Cicero's power of speech. However, Cicero was not the only one to meet a violent end. According to reports, the dependant of Clodius was captured by one of Cicero's friends, who ordered his skin cut off, roasted, and fed to him. Additionally, it was Cicero's son, later a politician, who read to the Senate of Mark Antony's naval defeat at Actium by Octavian.

Even after both his death and the death of the Republic, however, Cicero's memory survived. He was declared a "Righteous Pagan" by the early Catholic Church, and therefore many of his works were deemed worthy of preservation. Saint Augustine and others quoted liberally from his works "On The Republic" and "On The Laws," and it is due to this that we are able to recreate much of the work from the surviving fragments. Cicero also articulated an early, abstract conceptualization of rights, based on ancient law and custom.

Another story of his fame may suffice as well: Caesar's heir Octavian was to become Augustus, Rome's first emperor, and it is said that in his later life he came upon one of his grandsons reading a book by Cicero. The boy, fearing his grandfather's reaction, tried to hide the book in the folds of his tunic. Augustus saw this, however, and took the book from him, standing as he read the greater part of it. He then handed the volume back to his grandson with the words "He was a learned man, dear child, a learned man who loved his country."


Of Cicero's books, six on rhetoric have survived, as well as parts of eight on philosophy.


Of his speeches, eighty-eight were recorded, but only fifty-eight survive. (Some of the items below are more than one speech.)

Judicial speeches

  • (81 BC) Pro Quinctio (On behalf of Publius Quinctius)
  • (80 BC) Pro Sex. Roscio Amerino (On behalf of Sextus Roscius of Ameria)
  • (77 BC) Pro Q. Roscio Comoedo (On behalf of Quintus Roscius the Actor)
  • (70 BC) Divinatio in Caecilium (Spoken against Caecilius at the inquiry concerning the prosecution of Gaius Verres)
  • (70 BC) In Verrem (Against Gaius Verres, or The Verrines)
  • (69 BC) Pro Tullio (On behalf of Tullius)
  • (69 BC) Pro Fonteio (On behalf of Marcus Fonteius)
  • (69 BC) Pro Caecina (On behalf of Aulus Caecina)
  • (66 BC) Pro Cluentio (On behalf of Aulus Cluentius)
  • (63 BC) Pro Rabirio Perduellionis Reo (On behalf of Gaius Rabirius on a Charge of Treason)
  • (63 BC) Pro Murena (On behalf of Lucius Licinius Murena)
  • (62 BC) Pro Sulla (On behalf of Publius Cornelius Sulla)
  • (62 BC) Pro Archia Poeta (On behalf of the poet Aulus Licinius Archias)
  • (59 BC) Pro Flacco (On behalf of Lucius Valerius Flaccus)
  • (56 BC) Pro Sestio (On behalf of Sestius)
  • (56 BC) In Vatinium (Against Publius Vatinius at the trial of Sestius)
  • (56 BC) Pro Caelio (On behalf of Marcus Caelius Rufus) : English translation
  • (56 BC) Pro Balbo (On behalf of Cornelius Balbus)
  • (54 BC) Pro Plancio (On behalf of Plancius)
  • (54 BC) Pro Rabirio Postumo (On behalf of Gaius Rabirius Postumus)

Political speeches

Early career (before exile)

  • (66 BC) Pro Lege Manilia or De Imperio Cn. Pompei (in favor of the Manilian Law on the command of Pompey)
  • (63 BC) De Lege Agraria contra Rullum (Opposing the Agrarian Law proposed by Rullus)
  • (63 BC) In Catilinam I-IV (Catiline Orations or Against Catiline)
  • (59 BC) Pro Flacco (In Defense of Flaccus)

Mid career (after exile)

  • (57 BC) Post Reditum in Quirites (To the Citizens after his recall from exile)
  • (57 BC) Post Reditum in Senatu (To the Senate after his recall from exile)
  • (57 BC) De Domo Sua (On his House)
  • (57 BC) De Haruspicum Responsis (On the Responses of the Haruspices)
  • (56 BC) De Provinciis Consularibus (On the Consular Provinces)
  • (55 BC) In Pisonem (Against Piso)

Late career

  • (52 BC) Pro Milone (On behalf of Titus Annius Milo)
  • (46 BC) Pro Marcello (On behalf of Marcellus)
  • (46 BC) Pro Ligario (On behalf of Ligarius before Caesar)
  • (46 BC) Pro Rege Deiotaro (On behalf of King Deiotarus before Caesar)
  • (44 BC) Philippicae (consisting of the 14 philippics Philippica I-XIV against Marcus Antonius)

(The Pro Marcello, Pro Ligario, and Pro Rege Deiotaro are collectively known as "The Caesarian speeches").



  • (84 BC) De Inventione (About the composition of arguments)
  • (55 BC) De Oratore (About oratory)
  • (54 BC) De Partitionibus Oratoriae (About the subdivisions of oratory)
  • (52 BC) De Optimo Genere Oratorum (About the Best Kind of Orators)
  • (46 BC) Brutus (For Brutus, a short history of Roman oratory dedicated to Marcus Junius Brutus)
  • (46 BC) Orator ad M. Brutum (About the Orator, also dedicated to Brutus)
  • (44 BC) Topica (Topics of argumentation)
  • (?? BC) Rhetorica ad Herennium (traditionally attributed to Cicero, but currently disputed)

Other philosophical works

  • (51 BC) De Republica (On the Republic)
  • (45 BC) Hortensius (Hortensius)
  • (45 BC) Lucullus or Academica Priora (The Prior Academics)
  • (45 BC) Academica Posteriora (The Later Academics)
  • (45 BC) De Finibus, Bonorum et Malorum (About the Ends of Goods and Evils). Source of Lorem ipsum
  • (45 BC) Tusculanae Quaestiones (Questions debated at Tusculum)
  • (45 BC) De Natura Deorum (The Nature of the Gods)
  • (45 BC) De Divinatione (Divination)
  • (45 BC) De Fato (The Fate)
  • (44 BC) Cato Maior de Senectute (Cato the Elder On Old Age)
  • (44 BC) Laelius de Amicitia (Laelius On Friendship)
  • (44 BC) De Officiis (Duties)
  • (?? BC) Paradoxa Stoicorum (Stoic Paradoxes)
  • (?? BC) De Legibus (The Laws)
  • (?? BC) De Consulatu Suo (His Consulship)
  • (?? BC) De temporibus suis (His Life and Times)
  • (?? BC) Commentariolum Petitionis (Handbook of Candidacy) (attributed to Cicero, but probably written by his brother Quintus)

More than 800 letters by Cicero to others exist, and over 100 letters from others to him.

  • (68 BC-43 BC) Epistulae ad Atticum (Letters to Atticus)
  • (59 BC-54 BC) Epistulae ad Quintum Fratrem (Letters to his brother Quintus)
  • (43 BC) Epistulae ad Brutum (Letters to Brutus)
  • (43 BC) Epistulae ad Familiares (Letters to his friends)
  • Anthony Everitt (2001), Cicero: the life and times of Rome's greatest politician, Random House, hardback, 359 pages, ISBN 0-375-50746-9
  • Taylor, H. (1918). Cicero: A sketch of his life and works. Chicago: A. C. McClurg & Co.
Further reading
  • Francis A. Yates (1974). The Art of Memory, University of Chicago Press, 448 pages, Reprint: ISBN 0226950018
  • Taylor Caldwell (1965), A Pillar of Iron, Doubleday & Company

This biography was taken verbatim from the Wikipedia. We're providing a snapshot just in case the Wikipedia servers were temporarily unreacheable. The original page is not only much more up-to-date, it also features links to other pages and sites. This snapshot was last updated: 08/15/2006. (mm/dd/yyyy)

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