|home | alphabetical index|
This article is about the Roman orator. For other uses see Cicero (disambiguation)
Marcus Tullius Cicero (January 3, 106 BC - December 7, 43 BC) was an orator and statesman of Rome, and is generally considered the greatest Latin prose stylist.
Cicero was born in Arpinum and died in Rome. His family, the Tullii Cicerones, was one of the landed gentry in Arpinum and resented the fame and fortunes of the other great Arpinate families, the Marii. Throughout his life, the conservative Cicero loathed being compared to the more famous Marius.
Cicero served as a quaestor in Western Sicily in 75 BC. He built an extremely successful career as an advocate, 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 Cicero had been consul before him, he was neither noble nor patrician, and his family was considered unimportant. He was furthermore hindered by the fact that the last man to have been elected to the consulate without consular ancestors (i.e., the last "New Man", or Novus Homo) had been the political radical Marius.
In 63 BC, Cicero became the first New Man in more than 30 years by being elected consul. His only significant historical accomplishment during his year in office was the suppression of the Catilinarian 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 ordered the summary execution of a handful of the conspirators in Rome. 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.
In 58 BC, the demagogue Publius Clodius Pulcher introduced a law exiling any man who had put Roman citizens to death without trial. Although Cicero maintained that he had been indemnified against legal penalty by virtue of having been made a pocket dictator by the senatus consultum ultimum, he nevertheless left Italy for a year and spent his quasi-exile setting his speeches to paper.
As the struggle between Pompey and Julius Caesar grew more intense in 50 BC, Cicero favored Pompey but tried to avoid making 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 travelled to Salonika. He returned to Rome, however, after Caesar's victory.
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 daughter Tullia died. He never entirely recovered from this shock.
Cicero was taken completely by surprise when Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March 44 BC. Cicero and Caesar's subordinate Mark Antony 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. When Octavian, Caesar's heir, 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.
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 Octavian and Antony failed, however. The next year the two reconciled and allied with Lepidus to form the Triumvirate for the Constitution of the Republic. Immediately after legislating their alliance into official existence for a five-year term with consular imperium, the Triumviri began proscribing their enemies and potential rivals. Cicero and his younger brother Quintus Tullius Cicero, formerly one of Caesar's legates, were both numbered among the enemies of the state.
Cicero 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. He was the only victim of the Triumvirate's proscriptions to have been so displayed after death.
|copyright © 2004 FactsAbout.com|