Cicero was a poet and lawyer of note, although he is best known as a Roman politician during a period of power struggles between his political rival Catiline, Julius Caesar, and General Pompey. He is also considered to be the greatest Roman orator; his communication skills are a common thread of his work as a lawyer, poet, politician, and writer. Cicero’s correspondence has served as a critical historical record; 835 of his letters and 58 of his speeches survive to record a tumultuous period when politics in general, and Cicero’s own life, were marked by assassination, execution, and exile. His correspondence recorded events of his time; his writing formed a record, almost an encyclopedia, of contemporary philosophic thought.
Born to a family that was wealthy but not part of the aristocracy, Cicero was educated in Rome and Greece, and served in the military before beginning his legal career. He once gained an acquittal for a man accused of murder; Cicero boasted of “throwing dust in the jurymen’s eyes” with his rhetoric. In the year 63 B.C. Cicero faced an assassination attempt as a result of his opposition to Catiline’s attempt to overthrow the Republic; Cicero survived but Catiline was executed. In 58 B.C. Cicero was forced into exile, but recalled the next year. In 51 B.C. he served as governor of the province of Cilicia for a year. After Caesar’s murder, Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus formed a triumvirate that was hostile to Cicero; he was captured and executed on December 7, 43 B.C.; his head and hands were displayed on the speakers’ platform at the Forum in Rome.