By indexer
139 days ago

The death of Cicero, 43 BC

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On 7th December 43 BC the orator and politician Cicero died at the hands of his enemies, aged 63. He had been a staunch defender of the old Roman Republic but backed the wrong side in the shenanigans that transformed the republic into an empire, and he paid the ultimate price for so doing.

He came from a wealthy family and was a noted lawyer, famed for his speeches and rhetorical style. He was elected to the Senate and became a consul, during which time he was active in defeating a conspiracy, led by a senator named Catiline, that aimed to overthrow the republic.

Once the ringleaders (with the exception of Catiline himself) had been arrested, Cicero condemned them in the Senate and ordered their immediate execution without trial. This made enemies for Cicero among the conspirators’ powerful friends.

Cicero backed Pompey in the civil war against Julius Caesar for the same reason that he detested the Catiline conspirators, namely that he saw Caesar as an enemy of the republic. Although he took no part in the plot to assassinate Caesar in 44 BC, he spoke in favour of the conspirators and against the new strong men, namely Mark Antony and Octavian (the future Emperor Augustus). He was particularly vehement in his condemnation of Mark Antony, whom he declared to be a criminal, a drunkard and a consorter with prostitutes.

In 43 BC the triumvirate that ruled Rome (Mark Antony, Octavian and Lepidus) drew up a list of undesirables whom they wished to eliminate. The list was headed by the assassins of Caesar but also included Cicero. Any Roman citizen who killed him could be assured of freedom from reprisal.

As Cicero fled from Rome in his litter he was overtaken by a group of soldiers. Knowing that he could not escape, he stuck his head out of the litter and asked a soldier to make a proper job of beheading him, which is what happened.