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Who was Cicero and what was with all the arguing? - A Primary School Guide

You know how some people are always determined to argue with whatever you say?

“The sky is blue” you suggest, “No, it’s more baby powder blue” they respond.

“Water is wet” you venture, “No, you are wrong, it’s soggy” they reply.

“My favourite food is pizza” you declare, “Nope, it’s ice cream,” they say.

Basically, they just love to argue. The same is true of Cicero. He loved to argue more than zebra twins love confusing their mates.

A bust of Cicero.
A bust of Cicero. This fella sure liked to argue! Image courtesy of José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro.

Cicero’s full name was Marcus Tullius Cicero and he was a Roman. He was born in 106 BC, during the height of the Roman Republic, before Rome was ruled by an Emperor alone.

Cicero was clearly a busy fella, as he had loads of jobs. And all of them, you won’t be surprised to learn, involved arguing with people. He was a writer, philosopher, lawyer, scholar, statesman and sceptic. That’s right, one of his jobs was just to be sceptical! I mean, how can you be more argumentative than that?

Cicero is likely known so well today because of his time as a Roman politician. He served as a Consul of Rome, one of the top political gigs of the time. During his consulship, Cicero played a nasty role in the Caitiline Conspiracy, where a dude named Lucius Sergius Catilina attempted to overthrow the Republic with violent force.

Weeeeeell, Catilina probably attempted a revolution. Modern historians aren’t sure, mainly because Cicero had the conspirators put to death without trial.

It was for being Julius Caesar’s arch-nemesis that Cicero is most famous, however. Cicero hated everything about Caesar, seeing him as a threat to the Roman Republic. Whilst historians generally don’t think Cicero had anything to do with Caesar’s assassination, he certainly sought to hurt the future Dictator for Life with words instead. Cicero loved talking, to orate. And he orated a whole lot of speeches criticising Caesar and his actions. In fact, Cicero loved talking so much that a talking technique was even named after him, called "Ciceronian rhetoric".

Cicero as played by Actor David Bamber.
Cicero about to unleash some word bombs. Actor David Bamber does the big man justice.

After Caesar got stabbed 23 times and, rather unsurprisingly, died, Cicero took on Mark Antony. Antony, one of Caesar’s best buds, wanted to rule Rome. Cicero wasn’t keen on that idea, he wanted to return to the very different values of the Roman Republic; to have a group of rich men rule Rome rather than just one rich man. Okay, so not that different then…

Cicero spoke very strongly worded speeches, having a go at Antony. Cicero’s speeches really stung Antony and his ego, as Cicero was crazy popular at the time - like a Roman Tay-Tay or something. Antony wasn’t impressed with being publicly mocked, so he branded Cicero a traitor, an enemy of the state. Cicero legged it but only got so far before he was killed by Antony’s soldiers in 43 BC.

A 17th century painting of Cicero being dragged to his death.
It's the end of the road for Cicero as he is dragged from his litter and killed in this painting by François Perrier.

Cicero was a born talker though, and he died a talker too. Cicero said to the Roman soldiers who had pursued him, “I go no further: approach, veteran soldier, and, if you can at least do so much properly, sever this neck.” He then bowed to the soldiers and bared his neck. I mean, how hardcore is that? Even approaching his death Cicero dished out the sas, suggesting the soldier would likely mess up chopping off his head. The Roman Legionnaire clearly wanted to prove Cicero wrong this time and lopped off the ex-consul’s head with one swipe of a gladius.

Just goes to show, live by the word, die by the sword.


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