Roman Statesman - Marcus Tullius Cicero
Cicero 106-43 BC
Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman statesman, was regarded as the greatest Roman orator. He was also a philosopher, notable essayist, letter-writer, and respected politician. In his speeches and letters, he is one of the principal sources for the history of his time.
Born Arpinum (now Arpinoy) in Italy, January 3, 106 BC Cicero spent most of his youth in Rome, where he received a thorough education in literature, philosophy, oratory, and law. Cicero studied in Greece and Rome.
He fought in the Social War in 89 B.C. and then returned to Rome to begin his career as a lawyer. His success as a legal orator was remarkable, and he was soon recognized as the leader of the Roman bar.
In 79 he achieved fame with his defence of Sextus Roscius on a fabricated charge of parricide (the killing of a close relative).
In 75 BC, Cicero began his extensive political career as quaestor in Sicily and in 70 successfully prosecuted the governor, Gaius Verres, for extortion.
He was elected curule aedile in 69 BC. Although not a member of the Mobiles, he was elected Consul in 63 (Cicero was never well supported by the Optimates who did not forget his social origins). During his term of office, he made public and suppressed an attempted coup, the Catiline conspiracy. The conspirators were executed without trial.
He held each of these offices at the earliest age that was permitted by Roman law. In politics, Cicero was an uncompromising defender of republican principles.
Cicero was also opposed to Julius Caesar, whom he regarded as a dangerous threat to the republic. He refused to join Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus when they formed the First Triumvirate in 60 BC, he withdrew from active political life and devoted himself to literature, writing De orations in 55 and De republics in 51.
In 58 however, he was forced to flee when Publius Clodius, against whom he had previously given evidence on a charge of incest, became tribune. Mainly through the efforts of Pompey and the tribune Milo, he was able to return in 57, to discover that his property in Rome had been destroyed at the instigation of Clodius.
In 52, Milo murdered Clodius, and Cicero's speech in his defence (later revised and published as Pro Milone) was unsuccessful.
In 51 he was sent to govern Cilicia, south-east Asia Minor, for a year, and put down several uprisings.
Although he disapproved of Caesar's dictatorship, Cicero was not involved in his assassination and he returned to political life in 44. Following Caesar's death he was violently opposed to Mark Antony, and in his 14 Philippics delivered to the Senate in 44-43, he tried to have Antony declared a public enemy. A struggle for power also ensued between Caesar's adopted son Octavian and Mark Antony. Cicero joined the opposition to Antony and fought valiantly in an attempt to save the Roman republic. However, Octavian and Antony were soon reconciled and, with Lepidus, formed the Second Triumvirate in 43 B.C. Antony put Cicero's name on the list of persons who were to be executed as enemies of the state. Later that year, Cicero was put to death.
He died near Formiae (now Formia), in Italy on December 7, 43 BC.
Cicero's writings mark the highest level of achievement in Latin prose. His works on oratory, philosophy, and rhetoric set standards of excellence for all future European prose literature. Cicero developed a style that combines grace and elegance with precision and clarity. He also introduced the philosophical and theological terminology that served other writers on these subjects for the next several centuries.
Although Cicero was an outstanding statesman, his importance today rests chiefly on literary achievement. The most widely read of his works are the orations. They include the four famous speeches against Catiline in 63 B.C. and the 14 speeches of the Philippics, in which he bitterly attacked Antony in 44 and 43 BC. The remainder of Cicero's surviving orations includes six speeches against Verres, the corrupt governor of Sicily, whom Cicero prosecuted in 70 B.C.
Only 12 of Cicero's philosophical treatises have been preserved. The most important to students of government are the surviving sections of On the Republic and On the Laws. The others include such charming dialogues as On Old Age and On Friendship. His three most important works on rhetoric are On the Orator, a handbook on the system of oratory; Brutus, a historical account of Roman oratory; and Orator, a discussion of the ideal orator. These books provide the only complete study of ancient oratory.
In addition to his formal works, Cicero left more than 900 letters. These are valuable both for their literary style, and particularly for the light they throw on contemporary events and attitudes and contain interesting biographical data and are an excellent source of information about Roman life and politics of the time. Many were written to his friend Atticus, others to Brutus, Cicero's brother Quintus, and a large number of leading men of his time. His philosophical writings are of importance mainly for the Greek thought they convey.
Above all, the treatises, orations, and letters show a mastery of prose style unsurpassed by any other Latin writer. Since the Renaissance their eloquent style has been a model for students of literature and oratory. Altogether 58 of his political works survive.