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Authors: Anthony Everitt


Praise for

“In the half-century before the assassination of Julius Caesar … Rome endured a series of crises, assassinations, factional bloodletting, civil wars and civil strife, including at one point government by gang war. This period, when republican government slid into dictatorship, is one of history's most fascinating, and one learns a great deal about it in this excellent and very readable biography.”

The Plain Dealer

“An excellent introduction to a critical period in the history of Rome. Cicero comes across much as he must have lived: reflective, charming and rather vain.”

The Wall Street Journal

“Riveting … a clear-eyed biography … Cicero's times … offer vivid lessons about the viciousness that can pervade elected government.”

—Chicago Tribune

“Lively and dramatic … By the book's end, he's managed to put enough flesh on Cicero's old bones that you care when the agents of his implacable enemy, Mark Antony, kill him.”

Los Angeles Times

“Everitt is an attentive biographer who continuously rehearses and refines his account of the motives of his subject.… His … achievement is to have replaced the austere classroom effigy with an altogether rounder, more awkward and human person.”

Financial Times

“Wonderful … This is biography at its best—excellent research, an approachable writing style, a knack for making an ancient ancestor relevant to today's world without overreaching.… Yes, the Roman Republic differed greatly from the United States. But political machinations then resonate today, because the way an accomplished politician wins popular support has not changed all that much.”

—Denver Post

“A highly readable examination not only of a great man's career but also of an important chapter in the history of Western civilization. There may be lessons in the death throes of the Roman Republic for those of us who hope to protect our own freedoms in a changing and dangerous world.”

—Ft. Worth

“Everitt is a skillful, deft, articulate and often humorous expositor.… Cicero is fortunate to have found in Everitt one who is at home in the ancient world and able to communicate to readers of the present time.”

—The Seattle Times/Post Intelligencer

“Brilliant … not only deeply and carefully researched but well-crafted in a style that should appeal to a wide variety of readers … Everitt has made a man of antiquity a flesh-and-blood person with recognizable flaws, as well as impressive strengths.”

—Deseret News

“Cicero mastered the essence of politics. He preached the difference between authority and power. He was an orator who wrote poetry, a politician who read history, ruthless yet able to articulate the demands of clemency, democracy and the rights of free men under law.… If good government is rooted in history and history in biography, Cicero is the man of the hour.”

—The Times

“Anthony Everitt … is a brilliant guide to the intricacies of Roman politics.… [He] has written a book which is unobtrusively crammed with fascinating information about Roman life and customs, splendidly clear and coherent in its narrative and altogether convincing in its portraiture.”

—Dublin Sunday

“Superb … Cicero's political life forms the real backbone of this book.… As an explicator, [Everitt] is admirably informative and free from breathlessness. He has a sophisticated conception of character, too, including a willingness—so crucial in biographers—to embrace contradictions.”

—Independent on Sunday

“Everitt's masterful biography draws on Cicero's letters to his friend Atticus to give a clear picture of the famous Roman orator.… A staunch defender of the Roman Republic, Cicero spent his career battling foes such as Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.… Everitt does a superb job of bringing the last days of the Roman Republic to life, and he accurately portrays the tenuous political situation that marked the times. Most important, he creates a sympathetic portrait of Cicero.”


2003 Random House Trade Paperback Edition

Copyright © 2001 by Anthony Everitt
Reader's guide copyright © 2003 by Random House, Inc.

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Random House Trade Paperbacks, an imprint of The Random House Ballantine Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

This work was previously published in hardcover by Random House, Inc., in 2002.
This work was originally published in Great Britain by John Murray (Publishers) Ltd. in 2001.

Everitt, Anthony.
Cicero: the life and times of Rome's greatest politician / Anthony Everitt.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references.
eISBN: 978-1-58836-034-2
1. Cicero, Marcus Tullius. 2. Statesmen—Rome—Biography. 3. Orators—Rome—Biography. 4. Rome—Politics and government—265–30
. I. Title.
DG260.C5 E94 2002
[B]       2001048531

Random House website address:



With the disappearance of Latin from the schoolroom, the greatest statesman of ancient Rome, Marcus Tullius Cicero, is now a dimly remembered figure. He does not deserve this fate and it is time to restore him to his proper place in the pantheon of our common past.

One powerful motive for doing so is that, nearly two thousand years after his time, he became an unknowing architect of constitutions that still govern our lives. For the founding fathers of the United States and their political counterparts in Great Britain, the writings of Tully (as his name was Anglicized) were the foundation of their education. John Adams's first book and proudest possession was his Cicero.

Cicero wrote about how a state should best be organized and decision-makers of the eighteenth century read and digested what he had to say. His big idea, which he tirelessly publicized, was that of a mixed or balanced constitution. He favored not monarchy nor oligarchy nor democracy, but a combination of all three. His model was Rome itself, but improved. Its executive had quasi-royal powers. It was restrained partly by the widespread use of vetoes and partly by a Senate, dominated by great political families. Politicians were elected to office by the People.

This model is not so very distant from the original constitution of the United States with the careful balance it set between the executive and the legislature, and the constraints, now largely vanished, which it placed on pure, untrammeled democracy. When George Washington, meditating on the difficulty of ensuring stable government, said, “
What a triumph for the advocates of despotism, to find that we are incapable of governing ourselves, and that systems on the basis of equal liberty are merely ideal and fallacious,” he could have been quoting Cicero.

Towards the end of his life Cicero distinguished himself in his battle to save the Roman Republic. Through sheer force of character he took charge of the state during the months following Julius Caesar's assassination, despite the fact that he held no public office, and organized a war against the dead Dictator's friend and supporter, Mark Antony. Cicero came to stand for future generations as a model of defiance against tyranny—an inspiration first to the American and then the French revolutionaries.

The triumphs and catastrophes of Cicero's stormy career were not the end of his story, for he has enjoyed a long life after death. His speeches and philosophical writings have had an incalculable influence on western civilization throughout its history, as his great contemporary Julius Caesar foresaw.

For the Christian Fathers he was a model of the good pagan. St. Jerome, ashamed of what he felt was an excessive partiality for a heathen author, would undertake a fast, so that he could study Cicero afterwards. Petrarch's rediscovery of his works gave a powerful steer to the Renaissance and by the age of sixteen Queen Elizabeth had read nearly all his works. Cicero's prose style left its mark on Dr. Johnson and Edward Gibbon. The cadences of his oratory can be heard in the speeches of Thomas Jefferson and William Pitt (not to mention Abraham Lincoln and, only half a century ago, Winston Churchill).

Cicero merits our attention not just for his influence, but because he was a fascinating man who lived through extraordinary times. One reason why he still speaks to us across a vast interval of time is that we know so much about him. Uniquely in the classical world, hundreds of his letters survive, many written to his dear friend Atticus. I challenge anyone who reads them not to warm to his nervous, self-regarding, generous personality. He was an introvert who led the most public of lives, a thinker and intellectual who committed himself to a life of action. We see him live his life from day to day and sometimes from hour to hour. We follow the spectacular narrative of the fall of the Roman Republic through the excited, anxious eyes of a participant who twice held the reins of power and who did not know how the story would end. Here is someone who dined with Julius Caesar, detected the incorruptible Marcus Brutus in a financial scam and helped put a stop to a sexual escapade of the teenage Mark Antony. In Cicero's correspondence, noble Romans are flesh and blood, not marble.

The last years of the Republic present particular difficulties for the biographer. Events come into sharp, close focus and then suddenly pull back into a fuzzy long shot. There are years about which little is known and all there is to go on are books or summaries of books by late and only variably reliable historians. Then all at once we are in the company of Cicero and his
bête noire
Publius Clodius Pulcher as they stroll down to the Forum together one morning; we listen to their conversation and hear Cicero making a tasteless joke at Clodius's expense. The letters to Atticus are a unique repository of firsthand information, but when Atticus is with Cicero in Rome the picture breaks up. Posterity should be grateful that he spent as much time as he did in Athens or on his estates in Epirus. It has often been possible to smooth the lumpiness in the historical record, but where the detail is missing there is no point in trying to conceal the fact.

I have referred to all those who appear in this book, other than Pompey, Mark Antony and Octavian, by their Latin names (except for passing references to writers such as Livy, Horace, Plutarch and Sallust). So far as places are concerned, I take a more relaxed line; it would sound odd to talk of Roma or Athenae rather than Rome or Athens. Other places' names retain their Latin forms to avoid giving too anachronistic an impression (so, for example, I prefer Antium to Anzio and Massilia to Marseille). One of the complications of the history of this period is the large number of bit players. This is compounded by the fact that the Romans tended to call firstborn males by the same given name as their own; I have sometimes not identified people who make only a single appearance.

Some Latin terms have been retained on the grounds that there are no reasonably close English equivalents. These include
, the official political authority to rule and to raise troops;
, the wealthy social class below Senators, which included businessmen, Italian provincial gentry and aristocrats, usually young, who had not yet entered on a political career (the singular form is
eques); amicitia
, which could mean more, or less, than friendship, being a form of mutual indebtedness among equals;
, the mutual indebtedness between social superiors and inferiors;
, a common term for the aristocratic constitutionalists in the Senate; and
for their radical, populist opponents.

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