Cicero is remembered as one of the greatest statesmen, orators, and writers of the Roman Republic, whose death has been referred to as the moment the republic died. But how did Cicero die?
Cicero was killed on December 7, 43 BC, as a political rival sought by the Second Triumvirate of Rome to secure an uneasy share of power that would collapse and lead to Octavian becoming Emperor Augustus. Cicero disapproved of the betrayal of republican values and was beheaded by soldiers.
To find out more about Cicero and the last days of the Roman Republic, read on.
Who Was Cicero?
Cicero was a Roman statesman and lawyer who is regarded as one of the greatest Roman orators and writers, having a profound impact on subsequent Roman literature and ideals. He wrote on everything from politics to philosophy, with these works even praised by the later Catholic church who marked him as a virtuous pagan, preserving his writings millennia after his death.
Through his writings and oratory, he had a profound impact on the Latin language and subsequent European literature, and his book De Officiis was one of the first books to be printed using the Gutenberg press. While he may be better remembered today for his writings, he was also a key figure in the politics of his age.
Cicero was born into an equestrian family (seen as above the plebeian class yet below the patrician class, with the majority of senators being patricians) in 106 BC and experienced resentment as he rose to be a “new man” or the first in his family to serve as a senator.
He was well accomplished as a lawyer and made his first significant political contributions in 66 BC when, as praetor, he argued in favor of Pompey (a close friend of Cicero) being given command in the campaign against the King of Pontus.
Cicero was elected consul in 63 BC, beating Catiline who tried to organize an uprising in Rome and Italy to seize power. The conspiracy was later uncovered and, under Cicero, the Senate voted to execute Catiline.
In 60 BC, Julius Caesar invited Cicero to join the secret alliance between Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey called the First Triumvirate, but Cicero declined, believing it to be counter to the constitution of Rome. However, as the First Triumvirate gained more power, Cicero lost influence and was later declared an exile in 58 BC, before being recalled to Rome in 57 BC.
As Pompey and Caesar vied for power and Caesar invaded Italy in 49 BC, Cicero tried to negotiate with Caesar and avoid conflict. Cicero disapproved of Caesar’s dictatorship and spoke publicly against him, although he was not involved in the conspiracy to assassinate Caesar in 44 BC despite being present in the Senate at the time.
Following the assassination of Caesar, Cicero subsequently urged for amnesty to deescalate conflict in the Senate. With Antony pursuing revenge against Caesar’s assassins and continuing to carry out Caesar’s wishes, Cicero tried to move the Senate to declare war on Antony in April 43 BC, while also saying of Caesar’s heir Octavian that “the young man should be given praise, distinctions—and then be disposed of.”
Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus formed the Second Triumvirate as a political alliance at the end of October 43 BC to control the republic for Caesar-supporting factions and sought to remove their political rivals, with Cicero among them.
Having fled life in Rome, Cicero spent the last months of his life in his villa in rural southern Italy as the Second Triumvirate moved against him, knowing they had marked him for death.
Writing in the 2nd century AD, according to Appian, as Cicero tried to make his way to a boat to flee to Greece, Antony’s soldiers beheaded Cicero and chopped off his hands, before they were displayed in the Forum in Rome, where he had once argued so eloquently.
His final words are believed to have been “there is nothing proper about what you are doing soldier, but do try to kill me properly.”
The Second Triumvirate of Rome
The death of Cicero and the establishment of the Second Triumvirate, sharing supreme power over the republic between them, marked the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic and the march to the Roman Empire. When the Second Triumvirate collapsed in 33 BC, Octavian moved against Antony and convinced the Senate to declare war on him and Cleopatra in 32 BC.
Octavian defeated Antony in the Last War of the Roman Republic in 30 BC, leading to peace in Roman territories that had long been marked by internal conflict. The Senate named Octavian Augustus in 27 BC, being the first emperor of Rome and marking its transformation into an empire.