On Dec. 7, 43 B.C., the Roman statesman Cicero was assassinated. Set against the backdrop of the demise of the Roman Republic, Cicero was murdered to appease his primary political enemy, Mark Antony.
Marcus Tullius Cicero was born in 106 B.C. to a wealthy family of launderers who belonged to the equestrian order, the commercial class that sat on the highest rung of the plebeian class. The name Cicero was a nickname meaning chickpea, perhaps referring to his bulbous nose (think of the distinctive nose of actor Karl Malden). Cicero entered the law around 80 B.C., making a name for himself defending Sextus Roscius, a man accused of murdering his own father.
Above the plebeian class sat the patricians, the class that boasted families who went all the way back to the foundation of the republic, and who typically dominated the senate. Through his intelligence and hard work, Cicero had been allowed to enter the senate despite his lack of noble heritage. Such a man was then referred to as Novus Homo, or New Man, since he was the first in his family to serve in the senate.
In the year 63 B.C., Cicero served as one of the two consuls, executive officers of the senate who together served a similar function to the president of the United States. While consul, Cicero defused the conspiracy of Catiline, a senator who sought to overthrow the republic. A few years later, when Pompey, Crassus and Julius Caesar formed the First Triumvirate, a political alliance, they asked Cicero to join, though he refused because he thought so much concentrated power in the hands of four men was antithetical to the ideals of the republic.
After Crassus died, the alliance between Caesar and Pompey soon withered, and in 49 B.C. Caesar crossed the Rubicon River from Gaul to Italy, essentially declaring war upon Pompey and the senate. Though Cicero had little love for Pompey, he joined him in the war until the senate's army was defeated by Caesar at Pharsalus in Greece in 48 B.C. After the battle Cicero returned to Rome, accepting Caesar's promise of a pardon.
A strict constitutionalist, Cicero was appalled at Caesar's domination of Roman politics, and no doubt detested the title given to him by the senate — perpetual dictator. The republic, it appeared, was being dismantled before his eyes. Caesar, however, was murdered by a host of senators in 44 B.C., who like Cicero wished to see a return to the republic.
In the aftermath of Caesar's death, Mark Antony, Caesar’s chief lieutenant, took over leadership of the pro-Caesar faction against the conspirators who had killed him. At the time, Antony also served as consul. Soon, however, a new contender for for leadership appeared in the form of Caesar's 18-year-old adopted son, Octavian. The young heir arrived in Rome to claim his inheritance, and soon after raised an army at his own expense, ostensibly to punish Caesar's murders, but just as much to challenge Antony's authority.
With the advent of Octavian, Cicero saw a way to finally restore the republic. He had long been critical of Antony, publicly attacking him with his speeches titled “The Philippics,” named in honor of the Greek orator Demosthenes' attacks on Philip II of Macedon. Now Cicero sought to work out a deal with Octavian in the hopes that he could control the young man, while at the same time sidelining Antony.
It didn't help Antony's cause that he left Rome before his term as consul was over to take up the governorship of Gaul. It further damaged his standing when the current governor of Gaul refused to leave early, and Antony went to war with him.
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