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Roman Life in the Days of Cicero by  Alfred J. Church




[247] IT was usual for a Roman statesman, after filling the office of prætor or consul, to undertake for a year or more the government of one of the provinces. These appointments were indeed the prizes of the profession of politics. The new governor had a magnificent outfit from the treasury. We hear of as much as one hundred and fifty thousand pounds having been allowed for this purpose. Out of this something might easily be economized. Indeed we hear of one governor who left the whole of his allowance put out at interest in Rome. And in the province itself splendid gains might be, and indeed commonly were, got. Even Cicero, who, if we may trust his [248] own account of his proceedings, was exceptionally just, and not only just, but even generous in his dealings with the provincials, made, as we have seen, the very handsome profit of twenty thousand pounds out of a year of office. Verres, who, on the other hand, was exceptionally rapacious, made three hundred and fifty thousand pounds in three years, besides collecting works of art of incalculable value. But the honours and profits to which most of his contemporaries looked forward with eagerness did not attract Cicero. He did not care to be absent from the centre of political life, and felt himself to be at once superior to and unfitted for the pettier affairs of a provincial government.

He had successfully avoided the appointment after his prætorship and again after his consulship. But the time came when it was forced upon him. Pompey in his third consulship had procured the passing of a law by which it was provided that all senators who had filled the office of prætor or consul should cast lots for the vacant provinces. Cicero had to take his chance with the rest, and the ballot gave [249] him Cilicia. This was in B.C. 51, and Cicero was in his fifty-sixth year.

Cilicia was a province of considerable extent, including, as it did, the south-eastern portion of Asia Minor, together with the island of Cyprus. The position of its governor was made more anxious by the neighbourhood of Rome's most formidable neighbours, the Parthians, who but two years before had cut to pieces the army of Crassus. Two legions, numbering twelve thousand troops besides auxiliaries, were stationed in the province, having attached to them between two and three thousand cavalry.

Cicero started to take up his appointment on May 1st, accompanied by his brother, who, having served with distinction under Cæsar in Gaul, had resigned his command to act as lieutenant in Cilicia. At Cumæ he received a levée of visitors—a "little Rome," he says. Hortensius was among them, and this though in very feeble health (he died before Cicero's return). "He asked me for my instructions. Everything else I left with him in general terms, but I begged him especially not to allow, as far as in him lay, the government of [250] my province to be continued to me into another year." On the 17th of the month he reached Tarentum, where he spent three days with Pompey. He found him "ready to defend the State from the dangers that we dread." The shadows of the civil war, which was to break out in the year after Cicero's return, were already gathering. At Brundisium, the port of embarkation for the East, he was detained partly by indisposition, partly by having to wait for one of his officials for nearly a fortnight. He reached Actium, in north-western Greece, on the 15th of June. He would have liked to proceed thence by land, being, as he tells us, a bad sailor, and having in view the rounding of the formidable promontory Leucate; but there was a difficulty about his retinue, without which he could not maintain the state which became a governor en route  for his province. Eleven more days brought him to Athens. "So far," he writes from this place, " no expenditure of public or private money has been made on me or any of my retinue. I have convinced all my people that they must do their best for my character. [251] So far all has gone admirably. The thing has been noticed, and is greatly praised by the Greeks." "Athens," he writes again, "delighted me much; the city with all its beauty, the great affection felt for you" (he is writing, it will be remembered, to Atticus, an old resident), "and the good feeling towards myself, much more, too, its philosophical studies." He was able before he left to do the people a service, rescuing from the hands of the builder the house of Epicurus, which the council of Areopagus, with as little feeling for antiquity as a modern town council, had doomed. Then he went on his way, grumbling at the hardships of a sea voyage in July, at the violence of the winds, at the smallness of the local vessels. He reached Ephesus on July 22nd, without being sea-sick, as he is careful to tell us, and found a vast number of persons who had come to pay their respects to him. All this was pleasant enough, but he was peculiarly anxious to get back to Rome. Rome indeed to the ordinary Roman was—a few singular lovers of the country, as Virgil and Horace, excepted—as Paris is to the Parisian. "Make it absolutely [252] certain," he writes to Atticus, "that I am to be in office for a year only; that there is not to be even an intercalated month." From Ephesus he journeys, complaining of the hot and dusty roads, to Tralles, and from Tralles, one of the cities of his province, to Laodicea, which he reached July 31st, exactly three months after starting. The distance, directly measured, may be reckoned at something less than a thousand miles.

He seems to have found the province in a deplorable condition. "I stayed," he writes, "three days at Laodicea, three again at Apamca, and as many at Synnas, and heard nothing except complaints that they could not pay the poll-tax imposed upon them, that every one's property was sold; heard, I say, nothing but complaints and groans, and monstrous deeds which seemed to suit not a man but some horrid wild beast. Still it is some alleviation to these unhappy towns that they are put to no expense for me or for any of my followers. I will not receive the fodder which is my legal [253] due, nor even the wood. Sometimes I have accepted four beds and a roof over my head; often not even this, preferring to lodge in a tent. The consequence of all this is an incredible concourse of people from town and country anxious to see me. Good heavens! my very approach seems to make them revive, so completely do the justice, moderation, and clemency of your friend surpass all expectation." It must be allowed that Cicero was not unaccustomed to sound his own praises.

Usury was one of the chief causes of this widespread distress; and usury, as we have seen, was practised even by Romans of good repute. We have seen an "honourable man," such as Brutus, exacting an interest of nearly fifty percent. Pompey was receiving, at what rate of interest we do not know, the enormous sum of nearly one hundred thousand pounds per annum from the tributary king of Cappadocia, and this was less than he was entitled to. Other debtors of this impecunious king could get nothing; everything went into Pompey's purse, and the whole country was drained of coin to the very uttermost. In the end, however, Cicero did [254] manage to get twenty thousand pounds for Brutus, who was also one of the king's creditors. We cannot but wonder, if such things went on under a governor who was really doing his best to be moderate and just, what was the condition of the provincials under ordinary rulers.

While Cicero was busy with the condition of his province, his attention was distracted by what we may call a Parthian "scare." The whole army of this people was said to have crossed the Euphrates under the command of Pacorus, the king's son. The governor of Syria had not yet arrived. The second in command had shut himself up with all his troops in Antioch. Cicero marched into Cappadocia, which bordered the least defensible side of Cilicia, and took up a position at the foot of Mount Taurus. Next came news that Antioch was besieged. On hearing this he broke up his camp, crossed the Taurus range by forced marches, and occupied the passes into Syria. The Parthians raised the siege of Antioch, and suffered considerably at the hands of Cassius during their retreat.

Though Cicero never crossed swords with the [255] Parthians, he found or contrived an opportunity of distinguishing himself as a soldier. The independent mountaineers of the border were attacked and defeated; Cicero was saluted as "Imperator" on the field of battle by his soldiers, and had the satisfaction of occupying for some days the position which Alexander the Great had taken up before the battle of Issus. "And he," says Cicero, who always relates his military achievements with something like a smile on his face, "was a somewhat better general than either you or I." He next turned his arms against the Free Cilicians, investing in regular form with trenches, earthworks, catapults, and all the regular machinery of a siege, their stronghold Pindenissum. At the end of forty-seven days the place surrendered. Cicero gave the plunder of the place to his host, reserving the horses only for public purposes. A considerable sum was realized by the sale of slaves. "Who in the world are these Pindenissi? who are they?" you will say. "I never heard the name." Well, what can I do? I can't make Cilicia another Ætolia, or another Macedonia." The campaign was concluded about the middle [256] of December, and the governor, handing over the army to his brother, made his way to Laodicea. From this place he writes to Atticus in language that seems to us self-glorious and boastful, but still has a ring of honesty about it. "I left Tarsus for Asia (the Roman province so called) on June 5th, followed by such admiration as I cannot express from the cities of Cilicia, and especially from the people of Tarsus. When I had crossed the Taurus there was a marvellous eagerness to see me in Asia as far as my districts extended. During the six months of my government they had not received a single requisition from me, had not had a single person quartered upon them. Year after year before my time this part of the year had been turned to profit in this way. The wealthy cities used to pay large sums of money not to have to find winter quarters for the soldiers. Cyprus paid more than 48,000 on this account; and from this island—I say it without exaggeration and in sober truth—not a single coin was levied while I was in power. In return for these benefits, benefits at which they are simply astonished, I will not allow any but verbal honours [257] to be voted to me. Statues, temples, chariots of bronze, I forbid. In nothing do I make myself a trouble to the cities, though it is possible I do so to you, while I thus proclaim my own praises. Bear with me, if you love me. This is the rule which you would have had me follow. My journey through Asia had such results that even the famine—and than famine there is no more deplorable calamity—which then prevailed in the country (there had been no harvest) was an event for me to desire; for wherever I journeyed, without force, without the help of law, without reproaches, but by my simple influence and expostulations, I prevailed upon the Greeks and Roman citizens, who had secreted the corn, to engage to convey a large quantity to the various tribes." He writes again: "I see that you are pleased with my moderation and self-restraint. You would be much more pleased if you were here. At the sessions which I held at Laodicea for all my districts, excepting Cilicia, from February 15th to May 1st, I effected a really marvellous work. Many cities were entirely freed from their debts, many greatly relieved, and all of them enjoy- [258] ing their own laws and courts, and so obtaining self-government received new life. There were two ways in which I gave them the opportunity of either throwing off or greatly lightening the burden of debt. First: they have been put to no expense under my rule—I do not exaggerate; I positively say that they have not to spend a farthing. Then again: the cities had been atrociously robbed by their own Greek magistrates. I myself questioned the men who had borne office during the last ten years. They confessed and, without being publicly disgraced, made restitution. In other respects my government, without being wanting in address, is marked by clemency and courtesy. There is none of the difficulty, so usual in the provinces, of approaching me; no introduction by a chamberlain. Before dawn I am on foot in my house, as I used to be in old days when I was a candidate for office. This is a great matter here and a popular, and to myself, from my old practice in it, has not yet been troublesome."

He had other less serious cares. One Cælius, who was good enough to keep him informed of [259] what was happening at Rome, and whom we find filling his letters with an amusing mixture of politics, scandal, and gossip, makes a modest request for some panthers, which the governor of so wild a country would doubtless have no difficulty in procuring for him. He was a candidate for the office of ædile, and wanted the beasts for the show which he would have to exhibit. Cicero must not forget to look after them as soon as he hears of the election. "In nearly all my letters I have written to you about the panthers. It will be discreditable to you, that Patiscus should have sent to Curio ten panthers, and you not many times more. These ten Curio gave me, and ten others from Africa. If you will only remember to send for hunters from Cibyra, and also send letters to Pamphylia (for there, I understand, more are taken than elsewhere), you will succeed. I do beseech you look after this matter. You have only to give the orders. I have provided people to keep and transport the animals when once taken." The governor would not hear of imposing the charge of capturing the panthers on the hunters of the province. Still he would do his best to [260] oblige his friend. "The matter of the panthers is being diligently attended to by the persons who are accustomed to hunt them; but there is a strange scarcity of them, and the few that there are complain grievously, saying that they are the only creatures in my province that are persecuted."

From Laodicea Cicero returned to Tarsus, the capital of his province, wound up the affairs of his government, appointed an acting governor, and started homewards early in August. On his way he paid a visit to Rhodes, wishing to show to his son and nephew (they had accompanied him to his government) the famous school of eloquence in which he had himself studied. Here he heard with much regret of the death of Hortensius. He had seen the great orator's son at Laodicea, where he was amusing himself in the disreputable company of some gladiators, and had asked him to dinner, for his father's sake, he says. His stay at Rhodes was probably of some duration, for he did not reach Ephesus till the first of October. A tedious passage of fourteen days brought him to Athens. On his [261] journey westwards Tiro, his confidential servant, was seized with illness, and had to be left behind at Patræ. Tiro was a slave, though afterwards set free by his master; but he was a man of great and varied accomplishments, and Cicero writes to him as he might to the very dearest of his friends. There is nothing stranger in all that we know of "Roman Life" than the presence in it of such men as Tiro. Nor is there anything, we might even venture to say, quite like it elsewhere in the whole history of the world. Now and then, in the days when slavery still existed in the Southern States of America, mulatto and quadroon slaves might have been found who in point of appearance and accomplishments were scarcely different from their owners. But there was always a taint, or what was reckoned as a taint, of negro blood in the men and women so situated. In Rome it must have been common to see men, possibly better born (for Greek might even be counted better than Roman descent), and probably better educated than their masters, who had absolutely no rights as human beings, and could be tortured or killed [262] just as cruelty or caprice might suggest. To Tiro, man of culture and acute intellect as he was, there must have been an unspeakable bitterness in the thought of servitude, even under a master so kindly and affectionate as Cicero. One shudders to think what the feelings of such a man must have been when he was the chattel of a Verres, a Clodius, or a Catiline. It is pleasant to turn away from the thought, which is the very darkest perhaps in the repulsive subject of Roman slavery, to observe the sympathy and tenderness which Cicero shows to the sick man from whom he has been reluctantly compelled to part. The letters to Tiro fill one of the sixteen books of "Letters to Friends." They are twenty-seven in number, or rather twenty-six, as the sixteenth of the series contains the congratulations and thanks which Quintus Cicero addresses to his brother on receiving the news that Tiro has received his freedom. "As to Tiro," he writes, "I protest, as I wish to see you, my dear Marcus, and my own son, and yours, and my dear Tullia, that you have done a thing that pleased me exceedingly in making a man [263] who certainly was far above his mean condition a friend rather than a servant. Believe me, when I read your letters and his, I fairly leapt for joy; I both thank and congratulate you. If the fidelity of my Statius gives me so much pleasure, how valuable in Tiro must be this same good quality with the additional and even superior advantages of culture, wit, and politeness? I have many very good reasons for loving you; and now there is this that you have told me, as indeed you were bound to tell me, this excellent piece of news. I saw all your heart in your letter."

Cicero's letters to the invalid are at first very frequent. One is dated on the third, another on the fifth, and a third on the seventh of November; and on the eighth of the month there are no fewer than three, the first of them apparently in answer to a letter from Tiro. "I am variously affected by your letter—much troubled by the first page, a little comforted by the second. The result is that I now say, without hesitation, till you are quite strong, do not trust yourself to travel either by land or [264] sea. I shall see you as soon as I wish if I see you quite restored." He goes on to criticise the doctor's prescriptions. Soup was not the right thing to give to a dyspeptic patient. Tiro is not to spare any expense. Another fee to the doctor might make him more attentive. In another letter he regrets that the invalid had felt himself compelled to accept an invitation to a concert, and tells him that he had left a horse and mule for him at Brundisium. Then, after a brief notice of public affairs, he returns to the question of the voyage. "I must again ask you not to be rash in your travelling. Sailors, I observe, make too much haste to increase their profits. Be cautious, my dear Tiro. You have a wide and dangerous sea to traverse. If you can, come with Mescinius. He is wont to be careful in his voyages. If not with him, come with a person of distinction, who will have influence with the captain." In another letter he tells Tiro that he must revive his love of letters and learning. The physician thought that his mind was ill at ease; for this the best remedy was occupation. In another he writes: "I have received your [265] letter with its shaky handwriting; no wonder, indeed, seeing how serious has been your illness. I send you Ægypta (probably a superior slave) to wait upon you, and a cook with him." Cicero could not have shown more affectionate care of a sick son.

Tiro is said to have written a life of his master. And we certainly owe to his care the preservation of his correspondence. His weak health did not prevent him from living to the age of a hundred and three.

Cicero pursued his homeward journey by slow stages, and it was not till November 25th that he reached Italy. His mind was distracted between two anxieties—the danger of civil war, which he perceived to be daily growing more imminent, and an anxious desire to have his military successes over the Cilician mountaineers rewarded by the distinction of a triumph. The honour of a public thanksgiving had already been voted to him; Cato, who opposed it on principle, having given him offence by so doing. A triumph was less easy to obtain, and indeed it seems to show a certain weakness in Cicero that he should have sought [266] to obtain it for exploits of so very moderate a kind. However, he landed at Brundisium as a formal claimant for the honour. His lictors had their fasces (bundles of rods enclosing an axe) wreathed with bay leaves, as was the custom with the victorious general who hoped to obtain this distinction. Pompey, with whom he had a long interview, encouraged him to hope for it, and promised his support. It was not till January 4th that he reached the capital. The look of affairs was growing darker and darker, but he still clung to the hopes of a triumph, and would not dismiss his lictors with their ornaments, though he was heartily wearied of their company. Things went so far that a proposition was actually made in the Senate that the triumph should be granted; but the matter was postponed at the suggestion of one of the consuls, anxious, Cicero thinks, to make his own services more appreciated when the time should come. Before the end of January he seems to have given up his hopes. In a few more days he was fairly embarked on the tide of civil war.

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