Cicero The Most Famous Governor in
By Ismail Veli
If I was to choose the most famous Governor in Cypriot history I would choose the great Marcus Tullius Cicero, a Roman philosopher, politician, lawyer, orator, political theorist, consul and constitutionalist, though not in the Patrician class he was elected Consul of Rome in 63 B.C. His name Cicero was actually added as a family nickname passed on from his ancestors. The Latin meaning of ”Cicer’ ( pronounced Chi-chair) literally meant a ”chickpea” attributed to the chickpea shape of the nose. For Cicero to maintain this nickname must have meant that it was originally given to a prestigious ancestor which became the family trademark name.
His success was due to his immense reputation in Oratory, Philosophy and law, and by the standards of his day seen to be free of corruption which adhered him to the provinces he was assigned to.
As a young ambitious lawyer of little distinction a notorious court case involving a hence man of Sulla the dictator named Cornelius Chrysogonus, who was originally a Greek slave but became immensely rich through the confiscation of land through proscriptions on what he considered to be ”enemies of the Roman State” was about to change his destiny. One particular confiscation of land worth 6 million sesterces was put out for auction at the measly sum of 2000 sesterces and with Chrysogonu’s men threatening anyone who bid, acquired the land as the sole bidder for himself. The owner Sextus Roscious from the town of Ameria seeing his inheritance was gone was so furious that he began to make waves in public which infuriated the dictator Sulla in exposing the manner in which his people stripped off land from others, therefore undermining his credibility. This prompted Chrysogonus to try and trump up a scandal and accused the owner Sextus of murdering his own father in order to justify and keep all the land for himself. The sentence if found guilty of Patricide in Ancient Rome was of such a vile nature that it was rarely used. This involved flaying and tying the accused into a sack with a snake, a dog, a cockerel, and a monkey then throwing them into the River Tiber.
Such was the power of Sulla and Chrysogonus that no advocate in Rome could be found to defend Sextus. Cicero still a young lawyer of 26 years old at the time was persuaded by his friends to take on the challenge and defend Sextus. Using the principle of the famous Lucius Cassiu Longinus Ravilla, (127B.C) regarded by the Romans as a judge of flawless integrity who first used the term ”Cou/Kuo Bono” (who benefited by what was done). In modern terms we use the word Motive for the crime. Taking on the case involved an immense risk on his life. At one point the prosecution Advocate Erucius brought in as witness’s Sextus own cousins, Magnus and Capito who were promised land and money in return for their testimony that Sextus hated his father and therefore murdered him. Erucius challenged Sextus on his love for his father, Cicero went on the attack and challenged Erucius that being an ex slave himself how could he possibly know what a sons or fathers love really was.
Under Roman law slaves did not have legitimate fathers as the owners were free to bed their female slaves. This humiliating jibe caused a massive roar of laughter in the crowd and Cicero’s amazing performance went on and on, he simply wiped the opposition out. Chrysogonus, Capito and Magnus were exposed as having benefited from the murder of Sextus ‘s father in the district of the Subura. Indeed it was Magno and Capito who actually helped and carried out the crime, therefore the principle of Kuo Bono (motive) was established.
Soon after the trial he had to leave Rome for his safety. He decided to go to Rhodes, Greece, in order to advance his learning on Philosophy and Oratory. His tutor the famous Apollonius, son of Molon educated him in Oratory. When he was finally ready his Oratory went down so well that all the listeners cheered and clapped him but to Cicero’s disappointment his teacher was not one of them. After the initial distress this caused him he finally asked Appolonius if he found his oratory less then satisfactory. Appolonius replied ”Certainly Cicero. I congratulate you and I am amazed at you. It is Greece and her fate that I’m sorry for. The only glories that were left to us were our culture and our eloquence. Now I see that these too are going to be taken over in your person by Rome”.
On his return to Rome, his reputation having grown, Cicero was assigned as a quaestor in western Sicily in 75 B.C. His honesty and integrity in his dealings with the inhabitants, was so admired after their suffering at the hands of the previous Governor Gaius Verres who had plundered the land for personal gain that Cicero actually prosecuted Verres for his immense corruption.
In 51 BC and much against his will he was assigned to Cilicia which was associated to Cyprus. As usual the previous Governor’s considered their post as an opportunity to enrich themselves at the expense of the local people. Arriving in August 51 B.C he remained until the following year until 3rd August 50 B.C. Though not pleased on his post Cicero as usual set about his task with honesty, hard work and aimed at making the lives of the locals much more comfortable. In addition to the corruption, Cilicia was in an unsettled state due to the Parthian wars. His first order was that the locals need not present him with gifts they could ill afford. He also did away with spending on many forms of Roman entertainment. He only accepted invitations to modest dinner parties so as not to force the locals extra spending. He himself restrained from having extravagant dinner parties, only well served and delicious food at the lowest cost possible was on offer. He never ordered anyone to be beaten with rods or stripped of their clothing. His biggest achievement was in fighting the embezzlement of public funds which was at a chronic level. He invited the culprits to hand over the funds on the condition that they would not be charged and allowed to retain their citizen rights. The effect was that much money was given back to the point that financial stability and prosperity grew. Any chiefs who refused were met with the wrath of the Roman army at Cicero’s disposal. By the time he left Cilicia the people honoured him with the title of ‘Imperator’.
Meanwhile in Cyprus he found the same if not worse problems as he confronted in Cilicia.
He assigned one of his most trusted men Q. Volusius as prefect to help with the task. The previous Governors had exacted large sums of money from the locals in compensation for not stationing Legionaries on the Island in winter at their expense. Instead they blackmailed the local cities to pay a charge amounting to over 200 Attic talents (one talent was worth 6000 Denarii. The average pay for a citizen was about 1-2 denarii a day). In addition when the city of Salamis needed a loan, Marcus Brutus levied a charge of 48% interest which was crippling the local economy. Raising loans by provincials in Rome was illegal under the Gabinian law (introduced in 67 B.C) Therefore Brutus together with Cato raised it on their behalf. The reason for their exorbitant interest was the excuse that times were volatile and with wars raging in Asia Minor and the Middle East they were at great risk of losing their money. In the end after heavy negotiation the locals were happy to settle for 106 Talents therefore reducing their heavy burden by almost half. Cicero made good the rest from some of the money he had won back from the embezzlers in Cilicia. A Scaptius complained bitterly to M. Brutus that Cicero was so unreasonable that he was not even allowed fifty troopers to have with him in Cyprus, to which Cicero replied that ”Fifty troopers could do no little harm among such gentle folk as the Cypriotes. Spartacus had begun his insurrection with a smaller troop”.
After leaving Cyprus, Cicero retained an interest in Cypriot affairs. In 47 B.C he wrote to C Sextilius Rufus who was quaestor for the Island in that year warmly commending to him all the Cypriotes, especially the Paphians; and suggesting that he would do well to set an example to his successor, instituting reforms in accordance with the law of P.Lentulus and following Cicero’s decisions and policies on the Island.
So ended Cicero’s period of short but effective Governorship of the Roman province of Cyprus. Not many rulers treated the Cypriots with the care and concern as did Cicero. Even if some did I don’t have any doubt that anyone more famous in history can claim to have presided over the people of the Island.
To end this article I would like to add that Cicero detested Gladiator fights or animals being butchered in the arena for entertainment. In fact when Caelius, the orator asked Cicero to send him some panthers from Cilicia for a show he was giving in Rome, Cicero, in a mood of self glorification at what he had achieved, wrote back to say there were no panthers left in Cilicia; they had all run off to Caria in indignation at the fact that they were the only creatures that were being attacked while everyone else was enjoying peace. That just about sums up the amazing man who has gone down in History as one of the greatest Orators, philosophers and advocates second to none.
Last but not least let’s not forget that Plutarch credited Cicero’s freedman Marcus Tullius Tiro (named after his master Cicero) with inventing shorthand writing which is still in use today. So prolific was Cicero’s speeches and writings that Tiro eventually invented this form of shorthand writing in order to keep pace. Tiro lived long after Cicero was murdered on 7th December 43 B.C. by Mark Antony. He kept many records of Cicero’s speeches, poems and trials and wrote an immense amount about the life and work of Cicero until his death in 4 B.C. He was reputed to be 94 years old at the time.
The legacy of Cicero and Tiro has lived on in perpetuity.
The sources used for this article are from my personal collection of books on Cicero’s life and career.
The fall of the Roman Republic by Rex Warner 1958
Murder trials by Penguin classics. 1975
George Hill. A history of Cyprus Volume 1. Cambridge Library Collection 1940