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Marcus Tullius Cicero Political Career: A Remarkable Journey


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Born into a wealthy family in 106 BC, Marcus Tullius Cicero political career was nothing short of extraordinary. From his early days as a lawyer to his rise as one of ancient Rome’s most powerful figures, Cicero left an indelible mark on history.

But how did he do it? What made Cicero political career stand out in a world of political giants? Let’s look at the man behind the legend and uncover the secrets of his success.

Table Of Contents:

Early Life and Education of Marcus Tullius Cicero: Cicero Political Career

Cicero Political Career

Marcus Tullius Cicero was born in 106 BC in Arpinum, a hill town southeast of Rome. He came from a wealthy family of the equestrian order but was not part of the Roman nobility.

Cicero’s Family Background

Cicero’s family was well-off and respected in Arpinum, but they were not considered part of the elite Roman aristocracy. Despite this, they had the resources to invest in their son’s education and future.

Cicero’s father was a wealthy member of the equestrian order, a class of landowners and businessmen in ancient Rome. This status provided the family with financial stability and social connections that would prove valuable to Cicero throughout his life.

Cicero’s Early Education: Cicero Political Career

As a young man, Cicero was sent to Rome to study under the best teachers of the day. He learned Greek and Latin and was exposed to the great works of philosophy, rhetoric, and literature.

Cicero’s education was not limited to the classroom. He also had the opportunity to observe and learn from his time’s leading orators and politicians. These experiences would shape his own style and approach to public speaking and politics.

“Cicero was educated in Rome, studying philosophy, law, and rhetoric. He learned Greek and studied extensively the works of Greek philosophers, especially the Stoics.” – Britannica

Cicero’s Military Service

In addition to his intellectual pursuits, Cicero also fulfilled his military service obligations. In 89 BC, he served under Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo, the father of Pompey the Great, during the Social War.

However, Cicero’s true passions lay in politics and law. After completing his military service, he returned to Rome to pursue his education and launch his career as an orator and statesman.

Cicero’s Early Political Career and Rise to Prominence: Cicero Political Career

Cicero’s early career was marked by a series of successful legal cases and political appointments that established him as a rising star in Roman politics. His talent as an orator and dedication to the principles of justice and integrity earned him the respect and admiration of his peers.

As Cicero navigated the complex world of Roman politics, he remained committed to his ideals and worked tirelessly to serve the interests of the Republic. His early successes laid the groundwork for his later achievements and cemented his place in history as one of Rome’s greatest statesmen.

Defense of Sextus Roscius: Cicero Political Career

In 80 BC, Cicero took on his first major case, defending Sextus Roscius against charges of patricide. This was a bold move for a young lawyer, as the prosecution was supported by powerful figures in Rome.

Cicero’s brilliant defense strategy and oratorical skills resulted in Roscius’ acquittal. This victory established Cicero’s reputation as a formidable advocate and set the stage for his future political career.

“Cicero’s skillful defense led to Roscius’ acquittal and established Cicero’s reputation as a formidable orator.” – Britannica

Cicero’s Election to Quaestor

In 75 BC, Cicero was elected quaestor, a key stepping stone in the cursus honorum, the sequential order of public offices held by aspiring Roman politicians. As quaestor in western Sicily, he earned a reputation for honesty and integrity.

Cicero’s success as quaestor demonstrated his ability to manage public affairs effectively and served as a testament to his growing influence in Roman politics.

Cicero’s Election to Aedile

His political career continued to advance when he was elected to the position of aedile in 69 BC. Aediles were responsible for maintaining public buildings and regulating public festivals, among other duties.

As aedile, Cicero likely used his position to build popular support and enhance his reputation as a dedicated public servant.

Cicero’s Election to Praetor: Cicero Political Career

In 66 BC, Cicero reached the praetorship, a high-ranking magistrate position in the Roman Republic. As praetor, he presided over a court that handled cases of extortion.

One of Cicero’s most notable cases during his praetorship was the successful prosecution of Gaius Licinius Macer for extortion. This victory further solidified Cicero’s reputation as a skilled orator and a defender of justice.

Throughout his early political career, Cicero demonstrated exceptional abilities as a lawyer, orator, and public servant. His rise to prominence was a testament to his talent, integrity, and unwavering commitment to the principles of the Roman Republic.

Key Takeaway: Cicero Political Career

From a wealthy family in Arpinum, Cicero got an exceptional education and built his career on strong oratory skills. His defense of Sextus Roscius marked the start of his political journey. Elected as quaestor, aedile, and praetor, he earned respect for honesty and integrity in Roman politics.

Cicero’s Consulship and the Catilinarian Conspiracy: Cicero Political Career

In 64 BCE, Cicero ran for the highest Roman office of consul. He was elected in the year 63 BCE, becoming the first man from a non-noble family to achieve this position in over 30 years.

Cicero’s election was a significant achievement in his political career, but it also marked the beginning of one of the most challenging periods in the history of the Roman Republic.

The Catilinarian Conspiracy

During Cicero’s consulship, he uncovered a conspiracy led by Lucius Sergius Catilina to overthrow the Roman Republic. Catiline had gathered a group of disaffected Roman nobles who were deeply in debt and sought to seize power.

The Catilinarian conspirators planned to carry out armed uprisings in Italy and arson in Rome. Cicero had difficulty convincing the Senate of the danger, but he eventually persuaded them to pass the “last decree” (Senatus consultum ultimum), essentially a declaration of martial law.

Cicero’s Response to the Conspiracy: Cicero Political Career

On November 8, 63 BCE, after escaping an attempt on his life, Cicero delivered the first famous speeches against Catiline in the Senate. In this speech, known as the First Catilinarian Oration, Cicero exposed the conspiracy and called for Catiline to leave Rome.

Catiline fled the city that night, but Cicero continued to gather evidence against the remaining conspirators. He presented this evidence to the Senate and argued for their execution.

Aftermath of the Conspiracy

The Senate ultimately authorized Cicero to execute five of the conspirators without trial. This decision was controversial, as it violated the rights of Roman citizens to a fair trial.

Despite the controversy, Cicero was hailed as a hero for suppressing the conspiracy. For his actions in defending the Roman Republic, he was given the title of “pater patriae,” or “father of his country.”

The Catilinarian Conspiracy was a defining moment in Cicero’s consulship and political career. It demonstrated his skill as an orator and his commitment to preserving the institutions of the Roman Republic.

Cicero’s Exile and Political Struggles: Cicero Political Career

Despite his success in suppressing the Catilinarian Conspiracy, Cicero’s political career was challenging. In the years following his consulship, he faced opposition from powerful political rivals and ultimately found himself in exile.

Conflict with Publius Clodius

One of Cicero’s most significant political enemies was Publius Clodius Pulcher, a populist politician who sought to undermine Cicero’s authority.

In 58 BCE, Clodius proposed a law that threatened exile to anyone who executed a Roman citizen without trial. This law was clearly aimed at Cicero’s actions during the Catilinarian Conspiracy.

Cicero’s Exile from Rome: Cicero Political Career

Faced with the threat of prosecution under Clodius’ law, Cicero chose to go into voluntary exile rather than face trial. He left Rome in March of 58 BCE and spent the next year and a half in Greece and Macedonia.

Cicero’s exile was a difficult period in his life and career. He was separated from his family and friends and struggled with feelings of despair and hopelessness.

Cicero’s Return to Rome

In August of 57 BCE, the political tide turned in Cicero’s favor. The Senate passed a resolution calling for his return, and he was welcomed back to Rome with great fanfare.

Cicero’s return marked a new phase in his political career. He sought to rebuild his influence and reputation, but he also faced new challenges and political rivalries.

Cicero’s exile and return were tumultuous periods in Roman politics. They demonstrated the precariousness of political power in the late Roman Republic and the challenges faced by even the most skilled orators and statesmen.

Despite these challenges, Cicero remained committed to his principles and vision of a stable and prosperous Roman Republic. His political career would continue to be marked by both triumphs and setbacks, but his legacy as one of Rome’s greatest orators and statesmen still endures.

Key Takeaway: Cicero Political Career

Cicero’s consulship saw him expose and thwart Catiline’s conspiracy, earning praise but also leading to his exile due to political rivalries. His return marked a new chapter of influence amid ongoing challenges.

Cicero’s Role in the Civil War and Opposition to Julius Caesar: Cicero Political Career

The civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey was a defining moment in Cicero’s political career.

As tensions rose, Cicero found himself caught in the middle. He wanted to remain neutral, hoping for a peaceful resolution.

But as the conflict escalated, Cicero was forced to choose a side.

Cicero’s Initial Neutrality

When Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 BC, effectively declaring war on Pompey and the Roman Republic, Cicero hesitated to take sides.

On January 17th, he met with Pompey outside Rome but did not immediately join him. Cicero hoped to broker a peace deal between the two rivals.

He even met with Caesar on March 28th, courageously proposing that Caesar end his pursuit of Pompey. But Caesar could not accept these terms.

Cicero’s Support of Pompey: Cicero Political Career

Despite his initial reluctance, Cicero eventually sided with Pompey against Caesar. He believed Pompey was the better defender of the Republic, even if he had reservations about Pompey’s leadership.

Cicero accepted Pompey’s commission to supervise recruiting efforts in Campania. However, when Pompey fled Italy on March 17th, Cicero did not follow him.

This decision would haunt Cicero, as he later criticized Pompey’s strategy while recognizing his own inexperience in military matters.

Cicero’s Reconciliation with Caesar

After Pompey’s defeat and death, Cicero reconciled with Caesar. He realized that had Pompey’s forces triumphed; he likely would have been among the first victims due to his criticism of Pompey.

During Caesar’s dictatorship, Cicero withdrew from politics and focused on his philosophical writings. Works from this period include Brutus, Paradoxa Stoicorum, Orator, De finibus, and Tusculanae disputationes.

While Cicero disapproved of Caesar’s dictatorial rule, he understood the necessity of maintaining a cordial relationship with Rome’s ruler. This was a pragmatic move for the staunch Republican.

“I consider it my duty to look after my own safety, but without infringing on my dignity or neglecting my friends.” – Cicero, Letter to Atticus, 49 BC

Cicero’s experience in the civil war showcases the difficult choices faced by Roman politicians as the Republic crumbled. His initial attempt at neutrality, his eventual support of Pompey, and his later reconciliation with Caesar reflect the complex political maneuvering necessary to survive in turbulent times.

Cicero’s Opposition to Mark Antony and Final Years: Cicero Political Career

After the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC, Mark Antony emerged as a key figure vying for power. Cicero recognized the threat Antony posed to the already fragile Republic.

In the last years of his life, Cicero would become Antony’s staunchest opponent, delivering fiery speeches condemning his actions. This opposition would ultimately cost Cicero his life.

Cicero’s Philippics Against Antony

Cicero delivered 14 impassioned speeches, known as the Philippics, against Mark Antony. He aimed to rally the Senate to stand against Antony’s power grab.

In these speeches, Cicero denounced Antony as threatening Roman liberty and Republican values. He accused Antony of abusing his power, disregarding the rule of law, and even having designs on becoming a king.

Cicero’s words were so powerful that “Philippic” has become synonymous with a harsh, condemning speech. His fierce opposition made him a target of Antony’s wrath.

“Our ancestors never allowed any man to be king over them, not even if he wanted to be.” – Cicero, Second Philippic, 44 BC

Formation of the Second Triumvirate

Despite Cicero’s best efforts, Antony formed the Second Triumvirate with Octavian (the future Emperor Augustus) and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus in 43 BC.

This political alliance, much like the First Triumvirate of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus, consolidated power in the hands of a few men. It was a death knell for the Republic Cicero fought so hard to save.

As part of the Triumvirate’s proscriptions, a list was drawn up of those deemed enemies of the state. Cicero’s name was on that list, directly resulting from his opposition to Antony.

Cicero’s Proscription and Death: Cicero Political Career

With his life in danger, Cicero attempted to flee Italy. However, soldiers loyal to Antony caught him near his villa in Formia.

On Antony’s orders, the soldiers killed Cicero, cut off his head and hands, and displayed them in the Roman Forum. It was a grisly end for one of Rome’s greatest orators and defenders of the Republic.

“There is nothing proper about what you are doing, soldier, but do try to kill me properly.” – Cicero’s last words, according to Plutarch

Cicero’s death tragically ended a life dedicated to public service and the preservation of the Roman Republic. His opposition to Antony and the Second Triumvirate was a final, defiant stand against the forces that would transform Rome from a republic to an empire.

Key Takeaway: Cicero Political Career

Cicero’s political career during the Civil War was marked by tough choices and shifting alliances. He initially tried to stay neutral but ended up supporting Pompey, then later reconciled with Caesar. After Caesar’s death, Cicero fiercely opposed Mark Antony through his powerful Philippics, which eventually led to his proscription and tragic death.

Cicero’s Philosophical Works and Legacy: Cicero Political Career

Cicero was a deep thinker and a philosopher at heart. In the Roman Senate, he didn’t just talk the talk. He walked the walk, putting pen to paper to explore the big questions of life.

Cicero’s Philosophical Influences: Cicero Political Career

Cicero was a sponge, soaking up the wisdom of the Greek greats. He was especially drawn to the Stoics and their ethics, logic, and natural law ideas.

In Cicero’s eyes, philosophy wasn’t some abstract academic exercise. It was a practical guide to living a good life. A compass to navigate the complexities of the world.

“The study of philosophy is not that we may know what men have thought, but what the truth of things is.”

– Cicero

He believed that by studying philosophy, we could unlock the secrets to happiness, virtue, and fulfillment. We could rise above petty ambitions and live a life of true meaning and purpose.

Major Philosophical Works

Cicero left behind a treasure trove of philosophical writings. Works that have stood the test of time and continue to inspire and provoke thought to this day.

Among his most famous works are:

  • Tusculan Disputations – A series of dialogues exploring the nature of happiness, grief, and the soul.
  • De Officiis (On Duties) – A treatise on moral obligation and the principles of ethical behavior.
  • The Finibus (On Moral Ends) – Examining various theories on the ultimate good.
  • De Natura Deorum (On the Nature of the Gods) – A dialogue on theology and the nature of the divine.
  • Stoic Paradoxes – A defense of the Stoic philosophy and its seemingly contradictory principles.

In these works, Cicero grapples with the big questions. What is the meaning of life? What is our duty as human beings? How can we find true happiness and fulfillment?

His writing is eloquent, engaging, and deeply personal. He doesn’t just recite abstract theories but relates them to his own life and experiences.

Impact on Western Thought

Cicero’s impact on Western philosophy and political thought can hardly be overstated. His ideas on natural law, the social contract, and the ideal form of government helped lay the foundation for modern democracy and republicanism.

Thinkers like John Locke, Montesquieu, and the American Founding Fathers drew heavily from Cicero’s wisdom. His notion that government should serve the people, not the other way around, echoes through the ages.

But Cicero’s legacy extends far beyond the realm of politics. His thoughts on ethics, friendship, and the art of living well have resonated through the centuries, influencing countless philosophers, writers, and thinkers.

From Seneca to Petrarch to Erasmus, Cicero’s voice echoes through the halls of history. A clarion call to live a life of virtue, wisdom, and purpose.

In the end, that may be Cicero’s greatest gift to us. Not just his idea but his example. The example of a man who lived passionately and purposefully. Who faced triumphs and tragedies with equal measures of resilience and reflection.

A man who, even in the darkest of times, never lost sight of the light of reason and the power of the human spirit. That is the legacy of Cicero. A legacy that endures to this day.

Key Takeaway: Cicero Political Career

Cicero’s philosophical works explore life’s big questions, blending Greek influences with practical wisdom. His writings on ethics and government laid the groundwork for modern democracy and still inspire today.

Conclusion: Cicero Political Career

Cicero political career was a testament to his unwavering dedication, razor-sharp intellect, and unparalleled oratory skills. From his early victories in the courtroom to his triumphant rise to the consulship, Cicero repeatedly proved that he was a force to be reckoned with.

But perhaps his greatest legacy lies in his enduring impact on Western thought. Cicero’s writings on politics, philosophy, and rhetoric have inspired generations of thinkers and continue to shape our understanding of the world today.

So, the next time you marvel at the power of words or the intricacies of politics, remember Marcus Tullius Cicero. His story reminds us that with passion, perseverance, and a whole lot of talent, anything is possible.

author avatar
Jon Giunta Editor in Chief
Meet Jon. He has spent his lifetime researching and studying everything related to ancient history, civilizations, and mythology. He is fascinated with exploring the rich history of every region on Earth, diving headfirst into ancient societies and their beliefs. His curiosity about how ancient civilizations viewed the world and how those views affected their belief systems and behaviors is what drives him.

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