Posted on 26th December 2020
Born Marcus Tullius Cicero on 3 January 106BC, he was to become one of Rome’s greatest orators.
Cicero was well educated in his youth and studied ancient Greek philosophers, poets and historians, his time spent translating Greek into Latin, opening up the work to a much wider audience. He craved learning and became a most dedicated student; his talent for learning knew no bounds.
Cicero served in the military in 89BC, but this was not where his passion lay, he was determined to have a political career. He began this career around 81BC, taking on the defence of a controversial case; Sextus Roscius charged with patricide; the winning of this case secured his political reputation.
Cicero married eighteen-year-old Terentia in 79BC and they had two children; Terentia was instrumental in supporting her husband’s political career. Although believed to have been a marriage of convenience, it lasted around 30 years, before finally ending in divorce around 47BC – 50BC. Cicero married again, although this marriage was short lived.
Cicero became quaestor (public administrator) in 75BC, aedile (maintenance of public buildings) in 69BC and then praetor (magistrate) in 66BC. He attained these positions on or as close to the earliest age it was possible to do so.
Cicero aspired to become consul and he attained this in 63BC at the age of forty-three, being responsible for exposing a conspiracy to take over the Roman state by force. Following this exposure, he had the major instigators executed without trial. Cicero was a popular man, but he also had his enemies.
A period of uncertainty in government followed this conspiracy, but in 60BC the first triumvirate (three-way power share) ruled, Julius Caesar, Pompey Magnus and Crassus. This triumvirate wanted Cicero to join them but he refused and stayed loyal to the senate and the republic.
Cicero’s refusal gave fuel to his enemies, resulting in him being exiled from Rome in 58BC. This exile bought on a bout of depression; he wrote to his good friend Atticus ‘your pleas have prevented me from committing suicide. But what is there to live for? Don’t blame me for complaining. My afflictions surpass any you ever heard of earlier’.
Cicero lived in exile for 18 months, but returned to Rome in late 57BC to a cheering crowd of Roman citizens. He partook little in politics and reluctantly supported the triumvirate, for he believed if he didn’t, he would be permanently excluded from public life.
While Julius Caesar was away conquering Gaul, Pompey Magnus was left in charge of Rome, the relationship between Caesar and Pompey became strained. Caesar wanted power for himself, so he marched on Rome with his army in 49BC.
Pompey along with his army fled Rome; Cicero followed and joined forces against Caesar. Pompey and Caesar met at the battle of Pharsalus where Caesar triumphed; Cicero, becoming disenchanted with Pompey after this defeat, returned to Rome. He was pardoned by Caesar and returned to his political life.
Caesar was assassinated on 15 March 44BC (the Ides of March) and following this Marc Antony ruled Rome.
Cicero believed the republic could be restored, but his relationship with Antony, which had never been good, became further strained.
Cicero wanted Caesar’s adopted son Octavian to oppose Antony and he made a series of speeches in the senate known as the Philippics; these were not complimentary of Antony.
Octavian however reconciled with Antony and joined forces along with Lepidus, ruling as the second triumvirate. All three rulers had enemies to eliminate and Cicero was on Antony’s list.
Cicero had helped Octavian gain power, but Octavian did not return the favour, and Cicero fled Rome. He was pursued on the road, and killed leaving his villa; his hands and head were returned to Rome and nailed to the Forum on the orders of Marc Antony.
His last words are said to have been ‘There is nothing proper about what you are doing soldier, but do try to kill me properly’.
Cicero died on 7 December 43BC aged 63.
Tagged as: Junior Ancient Rome
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