Who is Cicero 101: The Life and Legacy of Rome's Greatest Orator, Philosopher, and Statesman

Who Is Cicero

Who is Cicero: Discover the life of Marcus Tullius Cicero, Rome's prominent orator, philosopher, and statesman who shaped Roman law, politics, and literature while navigating complex alliances and rivalries in the Roman Republic.

Who is Cicero: The Orator Who Shaped Roman Literature and Politics

Marcus Tullius Cicero, an esteemed Roman statesman, lawyer, philosopher, and academic skeptic, tirelessly endeavored to uphold optimate principles amidst the political turmoil that eventually gave rise to the Roman Empire. Born into a wealthy equestrian family, Cicero's intellectual prowess led him to become one of Rome's most revered orators and prose stylists.

Cicero's consulship in 63 BC was marked by the Catiline conspiracy, an attempt to overthrow the government. His swift and controversial actions, which included the execution of five conspirators without trial, effectively quashed the revolt. Despite the chaos that ensued during the first century BC, with civil wars and Julius Caesar's dictatorship, Cicero staunchly advocated for a return to traditional republican governance.

After Caesar's death, Cicero emerged as a fierce opponent of Mark Antony, relentlessly attacking him through a series of speeches. The Second Triumvirate declared him an enemy of the state, and he was ultimately executed by their soldiers in 43 BC while attempting to flee the Italian peninsula. Mark Antony exacted his revenge by displaying Cicero's severed hands and head on the Rostra.

Cicero's profound influence on the Latin language is undeniable; he authored more than three-quarters of the known Latin literature in his lifetime. His style became a benchmark for subsequent prose in Latin and European languages up to the 19th century. As a translator and philosopher, Cicero introduced Hellenistic philosophical concepts into Latin, devising neologisms such as evidentia, humanitas, qualitas, quantitas, and essentia.

The 14th-century Renaissance, characterized by a resurgence of public affairs, humanism, and classical Roman culture, is often attributed to Petrarch's rediscovery of Cicero's letters. As Polish historian Tadeusz Zieliński observed, "the Renaissance was above all things a revival of Cicero, and only after him and through him of the rest of Classical antiquity." Cicero's influence peaked during the 18th-century Enlightenment, significantly impacting thinkers and political theorists like John Locke, David Hume, Montesquieu, and Edmund Burke.

Today, Cicero's works remain among the most influential in global culture, and his writings serve as an essential source for understanding and revising Roman history, particularly the final days of the Roman Republic. As a prominent statesman, orator, lawyer, and philosopher, Cicero's life and accomplishments continue to resonate throughout history.

The Formative Years of Marcus Tullius Cicero

Cicero’s Early Life

Marcus Tullius Cicero was born on January 3, 106 BC, in Arpinum, a hill town southeast of Rome. As a member of the equestrian order and the Cornelia tribe, Cicero's father held significant connections in Rome. Despite being semi-invalid and unable to participate in public life, he compensated for this by becoming an avid scholar. Little is known about Cicero's mother, Helvia, but she likely managed the household, as was customary for wives of prominent Roman citizens.

Cicero's cognomen (personal surname), derived from the Latin word for chickpea, has an interesting origin story. Plutarch posits that the name was given to one of Cicero's ancestors who bore a chickpea-like cleft in the tip of his nose. However, it is more plausible that his ancestors' prosperity was linked to the cultivation and sale of chickpeas.

During this period, being "cultured" required fluency in both Latin and Greek, so Cicero was educated in ancient Greek philosophy, poetry, and history. His understanding of rhetoric came from Greek poet Archias and Greek rhetorician Apollonius. Cicero used his Greek knowledge to translate numerous philosophical concepts into Latin, making them accessible to a wider Roman audience.

Cicero's philosophical interests would later inform his career, leading him to create a comprehensive account of Greek philosophy for Roman readers and develop a Latin philosophical vocabulary. As a devoted student of philosophy, Cicero studied under Philo of Larissa, the head of the Platonic Academy, and absorbed the principles of Academic Skepticism.

Cicero's exceptional talents as a student drew attention from all over Rome, allowing him to study Roman law under Quintus Mucius Scaevola. His fellow students included Gaius Marius Minor, Servius Sulpicius Rufus, and Titus Pomponius— the latter two would become lifelong friends. In 79 BC, Cicero traveled to Greece, Asia Minor, and Rhodes to hone his skills and enhance his physical fitness.

In Athens, he studied philosophy with Antiochus of Ascalon, a proponent of Middle Platonism. Throughout Asia Minor, he met with leading orators and continued his studies. In Rhodes, Cicero reunited with his former teacher, Apollonius Molon, who helped him refine his speaking style and train his body for the rigors of public speaking. Striking a balance between the competing Attic and Asiatic styles, Cicero would ultimately be regarded as one of history's greatest orators, second only to Demosthenes.

Cicero's Family Life and Relationships

At the age of 27, in 79 BC, Cicero married Terentia, a wealthy woman from the noble plebeian house of Terenti Varrones. This union was primarily a marriage of convenience, aligning with upper-class customs of the time. Nonetheless, their marriage lasted harmoniously for nearly three decades. Terentia, a strong-willed woman, took a keen interest in Cicero's political career and provided him with both economic and social support.

However, in the 50s BC, Cicero's letters to Terentia became increasingly distant, and he complained of her betrayal without specifying the details. This strained relationship eventually led to their divorce in 51 BC or shortly before. In 46 or 45 BC, Cicero married his young ward, Publilia, likely for financial reasons, as he needed to repay Terentia's dowry. This second marriage did not last long.

Cicero's great love for his daughter, Tullia, is well-known. Her sudden illness and death in February 45 BC, following the birth of her son, devastated Cicero. He expressed to his friend Atticus that he had lost his reason to live, and no consolation could ease his sorrow. Notable figures like Caesar, Brutus, and Servius Sulpicius Rufus offered their condolences.

As for Cicero's son, Marcus, he aspired to a military career, despite his father's hope that he would pursue philosophy. After joining Pompey's army and receiving Caesar's pardon, Marcus was sent to Athens to study under philosopher Kratippos. However, he indulged in a hedonistic lifestyle during his time away from his father's watchful eye. Following Cicero's death, Marcus joined the Liberatores' army but was eventually pardoned by Augustus. Driven by guilt for not objecting to Cicero's proscription, Augustus significantly aided Marcus' career, allowing him to become an augur, consul, proconsul of Syria, and governor of the province of Asia.

Cicero’s Public Career

First Steps in Law and Politics

Cicero, a prominent Roman orator, lawyer, and statesman, aspired to follow the cursus honorum, the traditional path of Roman political careers. Between 90 and 88 BC, he served under Pompeius Strabo and Lucius Cornelius Sulla during the Social War, though he primarily identified as an intellectual.

Cicero started his legal career around 83-81 BC, with his first extant speech (pro Quinctio) delivered at age 26. His first major public case was the defense of Sextus Roscius, accused of patricide, in 80 BC. By taking on this case, Cicero boldly challenged the dictator Sulla, as the individuals he accused of the murder were Sulla's favorites. Despite the risk, Cicero's successful defense of Roscius helped to establish his reputation as a skilled lawyer.

Rise in the Roman Political Landscape

In his early political career, Cicero served as a quaestor in western Sicily in 75 BC. His honest and fair dealings with the locals earned him their gratitude, and they requested his help in prosecuting Gaius Verres, a corrupt governor of Sicily. Cicero's prosecution of Verres was a significant legal victory, and he gained further recognition as an outstanding orator.

Cicero's time was marked by civil unrest and war. Although Sulla's reforms undermined liberties, they also strengthened the equestrian class, to which Cicero belonged. As a Roman constitutionalist and an Italian eques, Cicero managed to win the support of the people and the Italian middle class. Despite facing opposition from the optimates faction, he successfully climbed the cursus honorum, holding each position at the youngest possible age: quaestor at 30, aedile at 36, and praetor at 39. He was later elected consul at the age of 42.

Cicero's Consulship and the Suppression of the Catilinarian Conspiracy

As a prominent Roman statesman, lawyer, and orator, Marcus Tullius Cicero was elected consul for 63 BC. This was due to the support of various factions within the Roman Republic, including rival members of the post-Sullan establishment and leaders of municipalities throughout post-Social War Italy. His co-consul for the year, Gaius Antonius Hybrida, played a minor role.

During his consulship, Cicero opposed a land bill proposed by a plebeian tribune, which aimed to appoint commissioners with semi-permanent authority over land reform. Additionally, he defended Gaius Rabirius against accusations of participating in the unlawful killing of plebeian tribune Lucius Appuleius Saturninus in 100 BC, arguing that the use of force was authorized by a senatus consultum ultimum.

The Catilinarian Conspiracy

Cicero's most renowned accomplishment during his consulship was the suppression of the Catilinarian Conspiracy. Led by Lucius Sergius Catilina, the conspiracy sought to overthrow the Roman Republic with foreign armed forces. Cicero delivered four vehement speeches, known as the Catiline Orations, which denounced the conspirators and their senatorial sympathizers. As a result, Catiline fled the city, leaving his followers to initiate the revolution from within.

Cicero worked with the Allobroges, a tribe of Transalpine Gaul, to obtain letters that incriminated five conspirators. The evidence led to their confessions before the Senate, which deliberated upon their punishment. Eventually, the Senate agreed upon the death penalty, and the conspirators were executed in the Tullianum, Rome's notorious prison.

For his efforts in suppressing the Catilinarian Conspiracy, Cicero was honored as "pater patriae" (father of the country). However, he lived in fear of trial or exile for having executed Roman citizens without trial. Cicero argued that the conspiracy's treason made the conspirators enemies of the state, thus forfeiting their intrinsic protections as Roman citizens.

After the conspiracy's suppression, Cicero was proud of his achievement, though some political enemies suggested that he exaggerated his success. Many Romans, led by politicians Gaius Julius Caesar and Publius Clodius Pulcher, believed that Cicero's evidence against Catiline was fabricated and the witnesses bribed. Despite these criticisms, Cicero's actions during his consulship furthered the position of the Optimates, a political faction that advocated for the status quo and resisted social changes in Rome.

Cicero's Resistance, Exile, and Return: Navigating the Complexities of Roman Politics

In 60 BC, Julius Caesar sought to include Cicero, a prominent statesman, and orator, as the fourth member of his partnership with Pompey and Marcus Licinius Crassus, known as the First Triumvirate. However, Cicero declined, fearing that it would jeopardize the Roman Republic. Despite this, the triumvirate achieved many objectives during Caesar's consulship in 59 BC, such as land reform and publicani debt forgiveness.

As Caesar departed for his provinces, the triumvirate aimed to maintain political control. To achieve this, they facilitated the adoption of patrician Publius Clodius Pulcher into a plebeian family and supported his election as a tribune of the plebs in 58 BC. Clodius, backed by the triumvirate, introduced several popular laws known as leges Clodiae, which strengthened his power base. Eventually, he targeted Cicero by threatening exile to anyone who executed a Roman citizen without a trial, in reference to Cicero's actions against the Catiline conspiracy four years prior.

Despite Cicero's efforts to gain the support of senators and consuls like Pompey, he faced persecution from Clodius and his gangs, leading to his exile in 58 BC. His property was confiscated, and a temple of Liberty was erected in its place. Cicero's exile plunged him into depression, but the intervention of tribune Titus Annius Milo and Pompey's support led to the Senate recalling Cicero in 57 BC. Upon his return, Cicero regained his property and continued his political career as an independent operator. However, his attempts to challenge Caesar's legislation proved unsuccessful, forcing him to support the triumvirate out of fear of political exclusion.

Cicero's subsequent years were primarily devoted to his literary works, and his direct involvement in politics remains uncertain. Through his life, Cicero navigated the complex political landscape of the Roman Republic, leaving a lasting legacy as a lawyer, philosopher, and orator.

Cicero's Proconsulship in Cilicia: Diplomacy, Restoration, and Military Success

In 51 BC, Cicero reluctantly accepted a promagistracy as proconsul in Cilicia, due to a legislative requirement enacted by Pompey in 52 BC mandating a five-year interval between a consulship or praetorship and a provincial command. Cicero arrived in Cilicia in August, tasked with maintaining the loyalty of King Ariobarzanes III of Cappadocia, which he achieved without resorting to war.

Cicero's tenure in Cilicia coincided with unrest in the region following the defeat of Marcus Licinius Crassus by the Parthians at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BC. Cicero restored order through his mild governance and uncovered significant embezzlement of public property by corrupt officials. He diligently worked to recover the embezzled assets, improving the condition of the cities and gaining popularity among the natives by being frugal in his personal and staff expenses.

In addition to his financial and administrative efforts, Cicero played an active military role in Cilicia. Upon learning of the Parthian prince Pacorus's invasion of Syria, Cicero marched with two understrength legions and auxiliary cavalry to provide relief to Cassius, the interim Roman commander in Syria. Cicero's forces successfully engaged and defeated the Parthians in a series of skirmishes, ultimately repelling their incursion.

Cicero also addressed local security concerns by tackling robbers based on Mount Amanus, earning the title of imperator from his troops. He then besieged the fortress of Pindenissum, a stronghold of the independent Cilician mountain tribes, which fell in December after 47 days. Cicero left the province to his brother Quintus in July 50 BC and traveled to Rhodes and Athens, where he reconnected with old friends and scholars, further enriching his intellectual pursuits.

Cicero's Struggle for the Republic amidst the Rise of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony

Cicero returned to Rome on January 4, 49 BC, staying outside the pomerium to retain his promagisterial powers, anticipating either a triumph or the need for an independent command in the brewing civil war between Pompey and Julius Caesar. Cicero supported Pompey as a defender of the Senate and the Republican tradition, but he initially avoided alienating Caesar.

When Caesar invaded Italy in 49 BC, Cicero fled Rome and joined Pompey's forces in Dyrrachium (Epidamnos), Illyria. Despite growing disillusionment with Pompey's leadership, Cicero accompanied the Pompeian forces to the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC. Following Caesar's victory, Cicero declined to continue the war and returned to Rome in 47 BC, renouncing his command upon crossing the pomerium. Caesar pardoned Cicero, who then attempted to adapt to the new political landscape while hoping for a Republican revival.

In a letter to Varro in April 46 BC, Cicero outlined his strategy under Caesar's dictatorship. However, the assassination of Caesar on the Ides of March, 44 BC, by the Liberatores caught Cicero by surprise. Although not part of the conspiracy, Cicero was sympathetic to their cause. Following the assassination, Cicero became a popular leader during the ensuing instability, despising Mark Antony's vengeful schemes against Caesar's murderers.

In exchange for amnesty for the assassins, Cicero negotiated with the Senate to prevent Caesar from being declared a tyrant, thus preserving Caesar's reforms and policies. This decision allowed the Caesarians to maintain lawful support and safeguarded the possibility of a restored Republic, demonstrating Cicero's unwavering commitment to the Roman Republic amidst the rise of powerful individuals like Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.

Cicero's Final Struggle: The Power Play between Antony and Octavian

Following Julius Caesar's assassination, Cicero and Mark Antony emerged as the two leading figures in Rome: Cicero represented the Senate, while Antony, as consul and leader of the Caesarian faction, unofficially executed Caesar's public will. Their relationship deteriorated as Cicero accused Antony of misinterpreting Caesar's intentions. Cicero sought to leverage Octavian, Caesar's adopted son and heir, against Antony by praising Octavian and criticizing Antony in a series of speeches known as the Philippics. Cicero's popularity as a public figure reached new heights during this time.

Cicero supported Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus as governor of Cisalpine Gaul and urged the Senate to declare Antony an enemy of the state. Antony's refusal to lift the siege of Mutina ultimately led to his designation as a state enemy. However, Cicero's plan to oust Antony failed when Antony reconciled with Octavian and formed the Second Triumvirate alongside Lepidus. The Triumvirate immediately began proscribing their enemies, with Cicero among them despite Octavian's objections.

Cicero was relentlessly pursued as one of the proscribed, but many people refused to betray his whereabouts. He was eventually captured on December 7, 43 BC, while attempting to escape to Macedonia. Cicero's last words, as reported by Seneca the Elder and attributed to the historian Aufidius Bassus, were an acceptance of his fate and a request for a swift death. Cicero's captors beheaded him and displayed his head and hands in the Forum Romanum as a warning to others, making him the only victim of the proscriptions to be treated in such a manner.

Although Cicero's son, Marcus Tullius Cicero Minor, later avenged his father's death to some extent by announcing Mark Antony's naval defeat at Actium in 31 BC, Cicero's political career was marked by inconsistencies and sensitivity to the changing political climate. Contemporary Roman statesman and historian C. Asinius Pollio remarked, "Would that he had been able to endure prosperity with greater self-control, and adversity with more fortitude!"

Cicero: The Orator, Statesman, and Philosopher Who Shaped the Modern World

Marcus Tullius Cicero, a Roman orator, lawyer, statesman, and philosopher, has been widely regarded as the master of Latin prose. Quintilian once described him as the embodiment of eloquence itself. Cicero's linguistic achievements transformed Latin into a versatile literary medium, capable of conveying complex ideas with clarity. His impact on Latin language and culture led to the creation of words like "Ciceronian" (meaning "eloquent") and "cicerone" (meaning "local guide") derived from his name.

Cicero's extensive writings covered a diverse array of subjects, reflecting the Hellenistic philosophical and rhetorical traditions in which he was trained. His works were highly accessible and widely distributed, often used as teaching materials in schools. This widespread admiration for Cicero's texts continued through the Early Middle Ages, with influential Church Fathers such as Augustine of Hippo and St. Jerome praising his work.

The rediscovery of Cicero's letters by Petrarch ignited a passion for uncovering ancient Greek and Latin writings, ultimately leading to the Renaissance. Cicero became synonymous with classical Latin, with some humanist scholars insisting that only words and phrases from his works be used. His writings, particularly his correspondence with his friend Atticus, introduced the art of refined letter writing to European culture.

Cicero's influence can be seen in the works of various thinkers and philosophers, including Desiderius Erasmus, Martin Luther, John Locke, and the Philosophes of the 18th century like Edward Gibbon, Diderot, David Hume, Montesquieu, and Voltaire. The Founding Fathers of the United States and the French Revolutionaries also drew inspiration from Cicero's ideas on republicanism.

Despite the admiration, Cicero has faced considerable criticism in modern times. Critics such as Friedrich Engels have denounced him as a "contemptible scoundrel" for opposing land and class reforms while upholding the Roman oligarchy. Others, like Michael Parenti, have accused him of being a vain, hypocritical, and pompous individual.

Cicero's influence extends beyond politics and philosophy, even impacting the field of astronomy. Nicolaus Copernicus credited Cicero for introducing him to the idea of Earth's motion. Additionally, in the world of typesetting, "Cicero" became the name for size 12 font.

Overall, Cicero's enduring legacy as an orator, statesman, and philosopher has left a profound impact on the modern world, shaping language, culture, and the values of liberty and republicanism.

Cicero's Enduring Legacy and the Preservation of His Works

Recognized as a righteous pagan by the Early Church, many of Cicero's works were considered valuable and worthy of preservation. Roman and medieval Christian writers frequently quoted from his notable works, De re publica (On the Commonwealth) and De Legibus (On the Laws), enabling the recreation of his work from the surviving fragments. Cicero's writings presented an early, abstract conceptualization of rights rooted in ancient law and custom.

As a prominent Roman statesman, lawyer, and orator, Cicero's influence has persisted through time. Six of his rhetoric books and parts of seven philosophy books have survived. Additionally, 52 of his recorded 88 speeches continue to be studied today. Cicero's works, encompassing various subjects from philosophy and law to rhetoric and politics, remain a testament to his contributions as an eloquent and skilled writer, philosopher, and orator in ancient Rome.

Unraveling the Mystery of Cicero's Legacy: Alleged Ruins and Residences

Cicero's distinguished reputation as a Roman orator, lawyer, and philosopher has led to various ruins in Italy being identified as potentially connected to him. In Formia, the Tomba di Cicerone and a villa are popularly believed to be Cicero's mausoleum and the site of his assassination in 43 BC, respectively. The modern villa on the site was constructed after the Rubino family purchased the land in 1868. However, it remains uncertain whether the tower on the ancient Via Appia outside of Formia is indeed Cicero's tomb or a monument commemorating his assassination site.

In Pompeii, a large villa excavated in the mid-18th century near the Herculaneum Gate was widely believed to be Cicero's holiday residence, referred to as his Pompeianum. Despite being stripped of its frescoes and mosaics and reburied after 1763, the villa has not been re-excavated. However, discrepancies between the villa's descriptions by excavators and Cicero's own references to his Pompeianum make it unlikely that it belonged to him.

In Rome, Cicero's house has been approximately identified through excavations on the northwestern slope of the Palatine Hill, revealing the Republican-era stratum. While Cicero's domus is known to have been in this area, there is ongoing debate about its precise location, with some suggesting it was closer to the base of the hill near the Roman Forum, and others believing it was nearer to the summit. The area was highly desirable during Cicero's time, with many patrician houses, including those of Julius Caesar and Cicero's rival Clodius, situated nearby.

Frequently Asked Questions

What was Cicero's particular reason for studying Greek philosophy?

Cicero studied Greek philosophy to enrich his understanding of various subjects and enhance his oratory skills. As a prominent Roman orator, lawyer, statesman, and philosopher, Cicero recognized the value of Greek philosophical thought in shaping his intellectual and rhetorical abilities.

Greek philosophy provided him with a foundation for developing his ideas on ethics, politics, and law, which allowed him to become an influential figure in the Roman Republic. Moreover, the study of Greek philosophy helped Cicero refine his eloquence and persuasive techniques, crucial components of his successful career as an orator and politician.

Why is Cicero considered an important figure in ancient roman politics and culture?

Cicero is considered an important figure in ancient Roman politics and culture due to his significant contributions as a statesman, orator, lawyer, and philosopher. As a prominent politician, he played a crucial role in the Roman Republic, defending its values and promoting the rule of law. His eloquence and persuasive skills made him one of the most renowned orators in Roman history, leaving a lasting impact on the development of rhetoric and public speaking.

Cicero's writings on philosophy, politics, and ethics were heavily influenced by Greek philosophical thought, and his works helped to bridge the gap between Greek and Roman intellectual traditions. His philosophical treatises, including De Officiis, De Natura Deorum, and De Finibus, among others, covered a wide range of subjects and greatly influenced later Western thought.

Furthermore, Cicero's extensive body of work, including his speeches and letters, provides valuable insight into the political and social climate of the late Roman Republic. His writings not only documented significant historical events, such as the Catilinarian conspiracy and the rise and fall of the First Triumvirate, but also offered a glimpse into the lives of prominent figures like Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Mark Antony.

In addition to his political and intellectual achievements, Cicero's mastery of Latin prose left a profound impact on Roman literature and the development of the Latin language. His eloquent and elegant writing style became the standard for future generations of writers and scholars, further solidifying his importance in ancient Roman politics and culture.

Was Cicero even a stoic?

Cicero was not a strict Stoic, but he was greatly influenced by Stoic philosophy. As a Roman statesman, lawyer, and philosopher, Cicero was exposed to a wide range of Greek philosophical schools, including Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Academic Skepticism. While he did not adhere to any one school exclusively, he was known to incorporate various elements from different schools of thought in his writings and speeches.

Cicero's works, such as De Officiis, De Finibus, and De Natura Deorum, demonstrate his interest in Stoic ideas, particularly in ethics and moral philosophy. He often engaged with Stoic concepts and principles, sometimes agreeing with them and at other times offering critiques or adaptations. Cicero's approach to philosophy was eclectic, meaning he was open to adopting ideas from different schools of thought if they aligned with his intellectual and moral convictions.

In summary, while Cicero was not a strict Stoic, he was certainly influenced by Stoic philosophy and incorporated its ideas into his own thinking and work. His contributions to Roman literature and philosophy reflect a synthesis of various Greek philosophical traditions, with Stoicism playing a significant role.

Cicero Quotes

Here are some of Cicero’s most famous quotes.

The higher we are placed, the more humbly we should walk.
Silence is one of the great arts of conversation.
Nobody can give you wiser advice than yourself.

To see more Cicero quotes, we recommend visiting the Cicero Quote section in Quotes Analysis.

We hope we have been helpful to you in this "Who is Cicero" article, and we hope you have a better understanding of who this amazing protagonist of ancient history is!

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