Cicero was one of history’s great orators and a key figure during the fall of the Roman Republic. Did Cicero kill Caesar?
Cicero did not kill Julius Caesar and was seemingly unaware of the conspiracy to do so. He was present in the Roman Senate and witnessed the killing. Cicero implored the conspirators to immediately seize power in the aftermath, but his advice was ignored.
For more on Cicero and the role he played during the final days of the Roman Republic, read on.
Marcus Tullius Cicero was born in 106 BCE. His family was wealthy but not patrician; it instead belonged to the equestrian class, higher than the plebeians but lower than the patricians.
Cicero’s family was well-connected in the military but his interests lay in politics. He entered a successful career in law and, at 27 years old, he married into a wealthy family.
Over the ensuing decade and a half, Cicero ascended through the political hierarchy, culminating in being elected consul in 63 BCE. During Cicero’s year as consul, Senator Lucius Sergius Catiline launched a rebellion, one which Cicero had repeatedly warned the senate about.
Catiline escaped but five of his co-conspirators were arrested. Cicero called for their execution without trial, a view shared by the majority of the Senate. Julius Caesar was the most notable exception.
Catiline and his supporters were soon defeated and Cicero’s public reputation benefitted greatly. At the same time, two of Rome’s wealthiest men, Caesar and Marcus Licinius Crassus, were using their financial might to gain an increasing amount of influence in Rome.
They aligned themselves with Pompey Magnus, the son of a plebeian family but one of Rome’s greatest generals. Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey declared themselves a triumvirate, with the three men essentially ruling Rome together.
Caesar and Pompey
Cicero believed strongly in the Roman Republic and saw the First Triumvirate as a threat to the system of representation. He left Rome, refusing to support the alliance, but Pompey eventually convinced him to return.
Following the death of Crassus in 53 BCE, Cicero appealed to Pompey, asking him to break away from Caesar but Pompey refused. Cicero reluctantly showed his support, but the partnership of Caesar and Pompey became increasingly strained.
In 49 BCE, a civil war erupted between Caesar and Pompey. Both men wanted Cicero’s support but, perhaps recognizing Caesar’s loftier ambitions, he and other influential members of the Senate sided with Pompey.
Despite being outnumbered, Caesar’s troops were more experienced and he ultimately won the war. Caesar was declared dictator for life and immediately pardoned members of the Senate who had sided with Pompey, looking to consolidate his power.
Cicero wrote a series of works defending the Roman Republic, attempting to prevent it from becoming a monarchy. Another group of senators resolved to end Caesar’s ambitions by assassinating him.
Several of the conspirators were close friends of Cicero but there is no evidence that he was aware of the plot. On March 15, 44 BCE, Caesar was stabbed to death on the Senate floor.
Cicero wrote that he was appalled by the violence he witnessed but hoped that the deed would mark a return to republican politics. He encouraged the conspirators to immediately seize power but they failed to do so.
The failure to act meant that Cicero and Mark Antony, one of Caesar’s most loyal generals, were now the two most senior figures in Rome. Antony used his close ties to Caesar to rally public opinion, holding an extravagant funeral for the fallen dictator.
Caesar’s assassins and Cicero fled Rome, fearing reprisal, and Cicero aligned himself with Octavian, Caesar’s heir. Cicero used his oratory skill to speak against Antony in the Senate in his 14 famous speeches known as the “Philippicae”.
Unfortunately for Cicero, Octavian’s defeat of Antony did not mark a return to the Roman Republic. Octavian used his legions to seize power much as Caesar had, and ultimately reconciled with Antony, forming the Second Triumvirate with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus.
Octavian reluctantly agreed that Cicero should be killed, and he was ultimately hunted down and beheaded. His head and right hand served as trophies for Antony, having spoken and written in opposition to him.
When the Second Triumvirate collapsed and Octavian defeated Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium, Antony committed suicide. Appropriately, it was Cicero’s son, Cicero Minor, who delivered the news to the Roman Senate. Despite Cicero’s death, his family had ultimately prevailed over Mark Antony.