How They Killed Cicero

Who killed him?

The three leaders [triumviri] Octavian, Lepidus, and Anthony ordered his execution. But it was Anthony who hated him most.

This is how the Roman historian Appian tells it:

“Cicero…was condemned along with his son, his brother, his nephew, and all his connections, supporters, and friends.
He was escaping by boat but being unable to tolerate the roughness of the sea, returned to land and lay low in a country place of his…near the Italian town of Caieta. When the men who were tracking him down came near…some crows flew into his room, squawking and rousing him from sleep, and pulling his bedclothes from him, until his attendants divined that this was a sign from the gods, put him in a litter, and took him down to the sea again through a dense thicket which hid him.

“Numbers of men were running in various directions and trying to discover if Cicero had been seen anywhere. Everyone else, wishing Cicero well and pitying him, said that he had already put out to sea and his boat was under way, but a cobbler, who was a dependant of Clodius, one of Cicero’s bitterest enemies, showed the path to a small party under Laenas, the officer in command. He ran along it, and when he saw that Cicero’s attendants far outnumbered the men coming with him to wreak their vengeance, he very astutely shouted out, “Centurions behind me, come up on the double!’

“The attendants were terror-struck, thinking that more soldiers were coming, and Laenas, who had actually once won a court case with Cicero’s support, pulled his head out of the litter and proceeded to cut it off. It took three blows and some sawing through because of his inexperience, and he also cut off the hand with which Cicero had composed the speeches against Anthony, portraying him as a despot, which he entitled Philippics in imitation of Demosthenes.


“People immediately rushed to take the good news to Anthony, some on horseback, others by sea. Laenas found him seated in the forum and waved the head and hand at him from a long way away. Anthony was overjoyed and garlanded the officer, and gave him 250,000 denarii on top of the normal reward, on the grounds that he had removed the man who had been his greatest and most aggressive personal enemy.

“Cicero’s head and hand were fastened for a long time to the rostra in the forum, where he had previously played the popular leader, and more came to see the sight than had listened to him. It is said that Anthony had the head placed before the table at his meals, until he was sated with looking at the vile object.

“This, then, was the way in which Cicero was killed and outraged after his death—a man who is renowned to this day for his literary achievements, and was of the greatest service to his country when he held the office of a consul.” Appian, The Civil Wars, Book IV

Compare with Plutarch’s account.


This entry was posted in 1, Cicero, history, Romans and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to How They Killed Cicero

  1. William says:

    The Romans didn’t mess around with all the ways they had to kill you.

  2. Anonymous says:

    anyone know how he died tho like who killed him

  3. Pingback: Cicero’s tips for aging well: Stay active, use your brain, chill out - Seattle Events Live

  4. Pingback: Cicero’s tips for aging well: Stay active, use your brain, chill out

  5. Aqil Minhas says:

    Despite his tragic end, Cicero’s name will live on

  6. Pingback: What’s in a name? Atticus Finch and his Roman forebears | Em News

  7. Anonymous says:

    wow great story

  8. 100swallows says:

    Anonymous: Thanks for your comment. I agree. Have you read Pliny the Younger? Check him out. He’s another very decent man. Few can read Cicero in Latin any more. I need to have that translation beside the Latin but even so it’s worth it.

  9. Anonymous says:

    There is something in his writings that I find up liftin it shows Rome for what it was and not what the film people would have us think it was, I once did start to read his letters as he wrote them in Latin but I am not that good wish I was.

  10. ryanblank says:

    I had always understood that when Laenas cornered him, Cicero’s last words were, “There is nothing proper about what you are doing soldier, but do try to kill me properly.” He was a brave man, a masterful orator, and a gaurdian of the rights of the people.

  11. Pingback: Cause and Effect in Rhetoric (Part 7) « Edu*Rhetor

  12. Madame Monet says:

    A very sad ending.

    Madame Monet

  13. 100swallows says:

    Thanks, Ken, I’m glad to have you as a reader here. I don’t know about those TV commercials but don’t you be forgiving of barbarism practiced by our country.

  14. Ken Januski says:

    Appian said: Cicero’s head and hand were fastened for a long time to the rostra in the forum, where he had previously played the popular leader, and more came to see the sight than had listened to him.

    As unsettling as this is it’s always useful to see the behavior of past generations. Sometimes they make the occasional, seeming barbarism of our own seem not so bad………. I will now be slightly more forgiving of the endless TV commercials for some sort of body thrashing(WWF, slasher movies, etc).

    A quiet moment has given me time to visit your other blog Swallows and it’s just as rich and rewarding as The Best Artists.

  15. 100swallows says:

    Ritesh: Cicero’s “Philippics” were vicious. It would have taken a Caesar to forgive him for them. Remember too that Cicero urged the senate to vote Anthony an enemy of the state when Anthony was in Gaul with his army and he worked very actively against him.
    Octavian let Anthony have his way with Cicero. Appian says the proscription lists were drawn up this way:

    “The triumvirs withdrew privately to put together a list of those who were to die. They marked down not only the powerful men they mistrusted, but also their own private foes. In exchange, they surrendered their own relations and friends to each other, both then and later. Extra names were constantly added to the list, some from enmity, others only because they had been a nuisance, or were friends of enemies, or enemies of friends, or were notably wealthy. They needed…a great deal of money for the war…”

    Plutarch tells this story, which shows that Octavian respected Cicero:
    “A long time afterwards, so I have been told, Octavian [then called Caesar Augustus] was visiting the son of one of his daughters. The boy had a book of Cicero’s in his hands and, terrified of his grandfather, tried to hide it under his cloak. Augustus noticed this and, after taking the book from him, stood there and read a great part of it. He then handed it back to the young man with the words: ‘A learned man, my child, a learned man and a lover of his country.’ And directly after the final defeat of Anthony, when Augustus was consul himself, he chose Cicero’s son to be his colleague.”

    Cicero was a whiner and a bickerer in his letters but he was no coward.

  16. Ritesh Ranjan says:

    Heartrending!! Reading about the manner of Cicero’s death, the mutilation of his body and the extremely distasteful act of displaying his body parts was mindnumbing. I remember reading in Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, that Antony was the one who wanted to proscribe Cicero the most. It also said that Octavian was opposed to the idea, but later gave in. Is it true? The comparison with Demosthenes is quite interesting. Demosthenes detested Phillip’s tyranny and made volatile speeches against him. However, unlike Demosthenes who almost fainted from fright when he met Phillip and also ran away from battle to save his skin, Cicero faced his death valiantly.

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