Academic journal article Antichthon

Cicero's Retreat from Rome in Early 58 BC *

Academic journal article Antichthon

Cicero's Retreat from Rome in Early 58 BC *

Article excerpt

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In early 58, the tribune Clodius proposed a lex de capite civis Romani reaffirming the essence of an earlier lex Sempronia, that no Roman citizen should be put to death without a trial.1 Since Cicero, as consul in 63, had overseen the summary execution of five men, he was, without doubt, the target of Clodius' rogation. On the day before the bill de capite civis Romani was voted upon, however, and at the insistence of friend and foe alike,2 Cicero departed from the city,3 but his 'timely' exit did not put an end to this episode. Very soon after his departure, chattels were removed from his estates under the aegis of the consuls,4 and his wife was subjected to financial harassment.5 As we know, Cicero was never charged under the lex de capite (Cic. Att. 3.15.5),6 and, he insisted, a trial would have cleared him (Cic. Dom. 51, 77, 95).7 We need to explain, therefore, what propelled him from Rome on the eve of the passing of the lex de capite, and why his property was sequestered.8

In speeches made after his return, Cicero asserts that the threat of violence was the primary factor in his decision to leave Rome, and that if he had stayed in the city, he would have been forced to fight against Clodius, which would have destroyed the republic (e.g. Sest. 49: servavi . . . rem publicam discessu meo . . .).9 It is true that there was disruption surrounding the passing of the lex de capite, but much of this seems to have arisen from opposition to it by Cicero and his allies,10 and after the rogation became law there was perhaps popular agitation because of Cicero's departure from the city, since violence, he admits to his brother Quintus, was one factor that kept him from returning to Rome at that time (Q.f. 1.4.4).11 Although Clodius no doubt used violence, first to push through his law, and then to stir up resentment against the absent Cicero, his overt intention by promulgating the lex de capite was surely not to force Cicero from the city,12 but to have him undergo a trial,13 during which the legitimacy of his actions as consul and those of the senate in 63 could have been called into question.14 In his account of this period, therefore, Cicero has failed to discriminate between the various causes of the disruption in the city in his efforts to argue that violence forced him from the city and that his property had been vandalised in the general mêlée.15 He has almost obscured what was in fact his seminal, exacerbating role in the events, and he has certainly exaggerated the level of violence used against him.16 We should reject his claim, therefore, that he was forced from the city to prevent bloodshed.

Velleius Paterculus (2.45.1), on the other hand, relates that Cicero went into exile as punishment under the terms of the lex de capite because he was guilty of having put men to death without a trial.17 Velleius' claim has won some approval because it accounts for Cicero's departure and the seizure of his property,18 but this interpretation has given rise to a legal difficulty, as noted by Kelly: '[T]his lex Clodia would be the first statute to incorporate the aquae et ignis interdictio as a legal penalty so far as the surviving evidence indicates.'19 Cicero's exile under the lex de capite, therefore, is unlikely (and Velleius' wording seems no more than a contraction of the effect of Clodius' two laws concerning Cicero). In addition, Velleius is directly contradicted by Cicero himself who publicly denies that he had left the city under legal compulsion (Dom. 95-7), a point that he strengthens through his repetition of the neutral word discessus to describe his departure (e.g. Cic. Dom. 15, 17, 95, 96).20 Cicero's public utterances were not just a legal quibble about the timing of his departure, but these are also fully supported by his private claims. He indicated to Atticus, some months after his departure from the city, that he could in fact have remained in Rome, had he chosen to do so (Att. …

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