[Thatcher Introduction]: Marcus Tullius
Cicero was the eldest son of an equestrian, though not noble, family.
He was born 105 B.C. and was beheaded by Antony's soldiers in 43 B.C.
The path open for political honors to a "new man" [i.e., no
one of whose family had held a magistracy in Rome] was through the
law, and at twenty-six, after a thorough Greek and Latin education,
Cicero pleaded his first case. The next year he successfully defended
Publius Sextus Roscius against the favorite of Sulla, the dictator,
and thought it best, during the rest of Sulla's dictatorship, to
travel for his education and his health. At thirty-two he was elected
quaestor to Sicily, and because of his integrity while holding this
magistracy, was soon afterwards chosen by the Sicilians to prosecute
their former governor Verres for extortion. Cicero was curule aedile
in 69 B.C., praetor urbanus in 66 B.C. In this year he supported
Pompey for the eastern command, and the two never quite ceased to be
friends. Cicero was consul in 63 B.C., and put down the conspiracy of
Sulla's constitution had been gradually changing since his death,
and Cicero slowly came to side with the optimates as against the
populares and to try to carry the equestrians with him. He might have
been a member of the "First Triumvirate" but perhaps
preferred the existing institutions to such high-handed measures. In
58 B.C. he was exiled through the efforts of the demagogue Publius
Clodius, but was recalled the next year. When civil war broke out
between Caesar and Pompey, Cicero tried to side with neither, but at
length joined Pompey's army in Epirus. After the defeat of the latter
at Pharsalus, Cicero, whom sickness had kept from the battle, returned
to Italy and sought pardon of Caesar. When Caesar was assassinated
four years later, Cicero saw visions of the old republican government
revived once more, and delivered his fierce philippics against Antony;
but upon the coalition of Octavius and Antony, was proscribed by
Antony and killed by the latter's soldiers.
On the Laws:
4. Marcus: Let us, then, once more examine, before we
come to the consideration of particular laws, what is the power and
nature of law in general; lest, when we come to refer everything to
it, we occasionally make mistakes from the employment of incorrect
language, and show ourselves ignorant of the force of those terms
which we ought to employ in the definition of laws.
Quintus: This is a very necessary caution, and the proper
method of seeking truth.
Marcus: This, then, as it appears to me, has been the decision
of the wisest philosophers---that law was neither a thing to be
contrived by the genius of man, nor established by any decree of the
people, but a certain eternal principle, which governs the entire
universe, wisely commanding what is right and prohibiting what is
wrong. Therefore, they called that aboriginal and supreme law the mind
of God, enjoining or forbidding each separate thing in accordance with
reason. On which account it is that this law, which the gods have
bestowed upon the human race, is so justly applauded. For it is the
reason and mind of a wise Being equally able to urge us to good or to
deter us from evil.
Quintus: You have, on more than one occasion, already touched
on this topic. But before you come to treat of the laws of nations, I
wish you would endeavor to explain the force and power of this divine
and celestial law, lest the torrent of custom should overwhelm our
understanding, and betray us into the vulgar method of expression.
Marcus: From our childhood we have learned, my Quintus, to call
such phrases as this "that a man appeals to justice, and goes to
law," and many similar expressions "law," but,
nevertheless, we should understand that these, and other similar
commandments and prohibitions, have sufficient power to lead us on to
virtuous actions and to call us away from vicious ones. Which power is
not only far more ancient than any existence of states and people, but
is coeval with God himself, who beholds and governs both heaven and
earth. For it is impossible that the divine mind can exist in a state
devoid of reason; and divine reason must necessarily be possessed of a
power to determine what is virtuous and what is vicious. Nor, because
it was nowhere written, that one man should maintain the pass of a
bridge against the enemy's whole army, and that he should order the
bridge behind him to be cut down, are we therefore to imagine that the
valiant Cocles [i.e., Horatius] did not perform this great
exploit agreeably to the laws of nature and the dictates of true
bravery. Again, though in the reign of Tarquin there was no written
law concerning adultery, it does not therefore follow that Sextus
Tarquinius did not offend against the eternal law when he committed a
rape on Lucretia, daughter of Tricipitius. For, even then he had the
light of reason from the nature of things, that incites to good
actions and dissuades from evil ones; and which does not begin for the
first time to be a law when it is drawn up in writing, but from the
first moment that it exists. And this existence of moral obligation is
co-eternal with that of the divine mind. Therefore, the true and
supreme law, whose commands and prohibitions are equally
authoritative, is the right reason of the Sovereign Jupiter.
5. Quintus: I grant you, my brother, that whatever is
just is also at all times the true law; nor can this true law either
be originated or abrogated by the written forms in which decrees are
Marcus: Therefore, as that Divine Mind, or reason, is the
supreme law, so it exists in the mind of the sage, so far as it can be
perfected in man. But with respect to civil laws, which are drawn up
in various forms, and framed to meet the occasional requirements of
the people, the name of law belongs to them not so much by right as by
the favor of the people. For men prove by some such arguments as the
following, that every law which deserves the name of a law, ought to
be morally good and laudable. It is clear, say they, that laws were
originally made for the security of the people, for the preservation
of states, for the peace and happiness of society; and that they who
first framed enactments of that kind, persuaded the people that they
would write and publish such laws only as should conduce to the
general morality and happiness, if they would receive and obey them.
And then such regulations, being thus settled and sanctioned, they
justly entitled Laws. From which we may reasonably conclude, that
those who made unjustifiable and pernicious enactments for the people,
acted in a manner contrary to their own promises and professions, and
established anything rather than laws, properly so called, since it is
evident that the very signification of the word "law"
comprehends the whole essence and energy of justice and equity. I
would, therefore, interrogate you on this point, my Quintus, as those
philosophers are in the habit of doing. If a state wants something for
the want of which it is reckoned no state at all, must not that
something be something good?
Quintus: A very great good.
Marcus: And if a state has no law, is it not for that reason to
be reckoned no state at all?
Quintus: We must needs say so.
Marcus: We must therefore reckon law among the very best
Quintus: I entirely agree with you.
Marcus: If, then, in the majority of nations, many pernicious
and mischievous enactments are made, which have no more right to the
name of law than the mutual engagement of robbers, are we bound to
call them laws? For as we cannot call the recipes of ignorant and
unskillful empirics, who give poisons instead of medicines, the
prescriptions of a physician, so likewise we cannot call that the true
law of a people, of whatever kind it may be, if it enjoins what is
injurious, let the people receive it as they will. For law is the just
distinction between right and wrong, made conformable to that most
ancient nature of all, the original and principal regulator of all
things, by which the laws of men should be measured, whether they
punish the guilty or protect and preserve the innocent.
6. Quintus: I quite understand you, and think that no
law but that of justice should either be proclaimed as one or enforced
Marcus: Then you regard as null and void the laws of Titius and
Apuleius, because they are unjust.
Quintus: Yes; and I would say the same of the laws of Livius.
Marcus: You are right, and so much more the more, since a
single vote of the senate would be sufficient to abrogate them in an
instant. But that law of justice, the power of which I have explained,
can never be abrogated. Certainly, if I could get you both to agree
with me. But Plato, that wisest of all men, that most dignified of all
philosophers, who was the first man who ever composed a treatise on a
Commonwealth, and afterwards a separate one on Laws, induces me to
follow his illustrious example, and to proclaim the praises of law,
before I begin to recite its regulations. Such, likewise, was the
practice of Zaleucus and Charondas, who wrote the laws which they gave
their cities, not for the sake of study or amusement, but for the
benefit of their country and their fellow-citizens. And imitating
them, Plato considered that it was the property of law, to persuade in
some instances, and not to compel everything by threats and violence.
Quintus: What, do you venture to cite Zaleucus, when Timaeus
denies that he ever existed ?
Marcus: But Theophrastus, an author, in my opinion, quite as
respectable, and as may think, much more so, corroborates my
statement. His fellow-citizens, too, my clients, the Locrians,
commemorate him; but whether he was a real man or not, is of no great
consequence to our argument; we are only speaking according to
7. Let this, therefore, be a fundamental principle in all
societies, that the gods are the supreme lords and governors of all
things---that all events are directed by their influence, and wisdom,
and Divine power; that they deserve very well of the race of mankind;
and that they likewise know what sort of person every one really
that they observe his actions, whether good or bad; that they take
notice with what feelings and with what piety he attends to his
religious duties, and that they are sure to make a difference between
the good and the wicked.
For when once our minds are confirmed in these views, it will not
be difficult to inspire them with true and useful sentiments. For what
can be more true than that no man should be so madly presumptuous as
to believe that he has either reason or intelligence, while he does
not believe that the heaven and the world possess them likewise, or to
think that those things which he can scarcely comprehend by the
greatest possible exertion of his intellect, are put in motion without
the agency of reason?
In truth, we can scarcely reckon him a man, whom neither the
regular courses of the stars, nor the alterations of day and night,
nor the temperature of the seasons, nor the productions that nature
displays for his use and enjoyment, urge to gratitude towards heaven.
And as those beings which are furnished with reason are
incomparably superior to those which want it, and as we cannot say,
without impiety, that anything is superior to the universal Nature, we
must therefore confess that divine reason is contained within her. And
who will dispute the utility of these sentiments, when he reflects how
many cases of the greatest importance are decided by oaths; how much
the sacred rites performed in making treaties tend to assure peace and
tranquility; and what numbers of people the fear of divine punishment
has reclaimed from a vicious course of life; and how sacred the social
rights must be in a society where a firm persuasion obtains the
immediate intervention of the immortal gods, both as witnesses and
judges of our actions? Such is the "preamble of the law," to
use the expression of Plato.
Quintus: I understand you, my brother; and I am greatly pleased
to find that you take a different view of the subject, and dwell upon
other points of it, than those which he selects, for nothing can less
resemble his opinions, than what you have just now asserted, even in
this preamble. The only matter in which you seem to me to imitate him,
is his style and language.
Marcus: I wish, indeed, I did, but who is, or who ever will be
able to translate them, and, indeed, that is what I should do if I did
not wish to be altogether original. For what difficulty is there in
stating the same doctrines as he does, translated from him almost word
Quintus: I entirely agree with you; for as you have just
remarked, your arguments ought to be entirely your own. Begin, then,
if you will do us a favor, and expound the laws of religion.
Marcus: I will explain them as well as I can; and since both
the topic and the conversation is a familiar one, I shall begin by
describing the laws of laws.
Quintus: What laws do you mean?
Marcus: There are certain terms in law, my Quintus, not so
ancient as those in the primitive sacred laws, but still, in order to
carry with them greater authority, being of a somewhat greater
antiquity than the common parlance of people. These legal terms, I
shall mention with as much brevity as possible; and I shall endeavor
to expound the laws, not, indeed, in their whole extent, for this
would be a boundless subject, but those which involve the principles,
and contain the sum and substance of the rest.
Quintus: This appears a most desirable method; let us therefore
hear the terms of the law.
10. Atticus: You have managed to include a great deal of
law in a very small compass; but it seems to me, that this class of
religious maxims does not much differ from the Laws of Numa and
our national regulations.
Marcus: Do you suppose, then, that when, in my Treatise on
the Commonwealth, Scipio appears to be arguing that our ancient
Roman Commonwealth was the best of all republics, it was not
indispensable that I should give laws of corresponding excellence to
that best of all republics?
Atticus: Undoubtedly I think you should.
Marcus: Well, then, you may expect such laws as may embrace
that most perfect kind of republic. And if any others should haply be
demanded of me this day, which are not to be found, and never have
existed, in our Roman Commonwealth, yet even these formed a portion of
the customs of our ancestors, which at that time were maintained as
religiously as the laws themselves.
1. Marcus: I shall, therefore, imitate that divine man,
who has inspired me with such admiration that I eulogize him perhaps
oftener than is necessary.
Atticus: You mean Plato.
Marcus: The very man, my Atticus.
Atticus: Indeed you do not exaggerate your compliments, nor
bestow them too frequently, for even my Epicurean friends, who do not
like any one to be praised but their own master, still allow me to
love Plato as much as I like.
Marcus: They do well to grant you this indulgence, for what can
be so suitable to the elegance of your taste as the writings of Plato,
who in his life and manners appears to me to have succeeded in that
most difficult combination of gravity and politeness.
Atticus: I am glad I interrupted you, since you have availed
yourself of an opportunity of giving this splendid testimonial of your
judgment respecting him; but to pursue the subject as you began.
Marcus: Let us begin, then, with praising the law itself, with
those commendations which are both deserved and appropriate to the
Atticus: That is but fair, since you did the same in the case
of our ecclesiastical jurisprudence.
Marcus: You see, then, that this is the duty of magistrates, to
superintend and prescribe all things which are just and useful, and in
accordance with the law. For as the law is set over the magistrate,
even so are the magistrates set over the people. And, therefore, it
may be truly said "that the magistrate is a speaking law, and the
law is a silent magistrate." Moreover, nothing is so conformable
to justice and to the condition of nature (and when I use that
expression, I wish it to be understood that I mean the law, and
nothing else) as sovereign power; without which, neither house, nor
commonwealth, nor nation, nor mankind itself, nor the entire nature of
things, nor the universe itself, could exist. For this universe is
obedient to God, and land and sea are submissive to the universe; and
human life depends on the just administration of the laws of the
universe; and human life depends on the just administration of the
laws of order.
2. But to come to considerations nearer home, and more familiar
to us, all ancient nations have been at one time or other under the
dominion of kings. Which kind of authority was at first conferred on
the wisest and justest of men (and this rule mainly prevailed in our
own commonwealth, as long as the regal power lasted). Afterward, the
authority of kings was handed down in succession to their descendants,
and this practice remains to this day in those which are governed by
kings. And even those to whom the regal domination was distasteful,
did not desire to be obedient to no one, but only to be always under
the authority of the same person.
For ourselves, then, as we are proposing laws for a free people,
and we have already set forth in six books all our own opinions about
the best kind of commonwealth, we shall on the present occasion
endeavor to accommodate our laws to that constitutional government of
which we have expressed our approval.
It is clear, then, that magistrates are absolutely necessary;
since, without their prudence and diligence, a state cannot exist; and
since it is by their regulations that the whole commonwealth is kept
within the bounds of moderation. But it is not enough to prescribe
them a rule of domination, unless we likewise prescribe the citizens a
rule of obedience. For he who commands well, must at some time or
other have obeyed; and he who obeys with modesty appears worthy of
some day or other being allowed to command. It is desirable,
therefore, that he who obeys should expect that some day he will come
to command, and that he who commands should bear in mind that ere long
he may be called to the duty of submission.
We would not, however, limit ourselves to requiring from the
citizens submission and obedience towards their magistrates; we would
also enjoin them by all means to honor and love their rulers, as
Charondas prescribes in his code. Our Plato likewise declares that
they are of the race of the Titans, who, as they rebelled against the
heavenly deities, do in like manner oppose their magistrates. These
points being granted, we will, if you please, advance to the
examination of the laws themselves.
Atticus: I certainly do please, and the arrangement seems
3. Marcus: Let all authorities be just, and let them be
honestly obeyed by the people with modesty and without opposition. Let
the magistrate restrain the disobedient and mischievous citizen, by
fine, imprisonment, and corporal chastisement; unless some equal or
greater power, or the people forbid it; for there should be an appeal
thereto. If the magistrate shall have decided, and inflicted a
penalty, let there be a public appeal to the people respecting the
penalty and fine imposed....
With respect to the army, and the general that commands it by
martial law, there should be no appeal from his authority. And
whatever he who conducts the war commands, shall be absolute law, and
ratified as such.
As to the minor magistrates, let there be such a distribution of
their legal duties, that each may more effectively superintend his own
department of justice. In the army let those who are appointed
command, and let them have tribunes. In the city, let men be appointed
as superintendents of the public treasury. Let some devote their
attention to the prison discipline, and capital punishments. Let
others supervise the public coinage of gold, and silver, and copper.
Let others judge suits and arbitrations; and let others carry the
orders of the senate into execution.
Let there likewise be aediles, curators of the city, the
provisions, and the public games, and let these offices be the first
steps to higher promotions of honor.
Let the censors take a census of the people, according to age,
offspring, family, and property. Let them have the inspection of the
temples, the streets, the aqueducts, the rates, and the customs. Let
them distribute the citizens, according to their tribes; after that
let them divide them with reference to their fortunes, ages, and
ranks. Let them keep a register of the families of those of the
equestrian and plebeian orders. Let them impose a tax on celibates.
Let them guard the morals of the people. Let them permit no scandal in
the senate. Let the number of such censors be two. Let their
magistracy continue five years. Let the other magistrates be annual,
but their offices themselves should be perpetual.
Let the judge of the law who shall decide private actions, or send
them for decision to the praetor---let him be the proper guardian of
civil jurisprudence. Let him have as many colleagues of equal power,
as the senate think necessary, and the people allows him.
Let two magistrates be invested with sovereign authority; from
their presiding, judging, and counseling, let them be called praetors,
judges, or consuls. Let them have supreme authority over the army, and
let them be subject to none; for the safety of the people is the
supreme law; and no one should succeed to this magistracy till it has
been held ten years---regulating the duration by an annual law.
When a considerable war is undertaken, or discord is likely to
ensue among the citizens, let a single supreme magistrate be
appointed, who shall unite in his own person the authority of both
consuls, if the senate so decrees, for six months only. And when such
a magistrate has been proclaimed under favorable auspices, let him be
the master of the people. Let him have for a colleague, with equal
powers with himself, a knight whomsoever he may choose to appoint, as
judge of the law. And when such a dictator or master of the people is
created the other magistrates shall be suppressed.
Let the auspices be observed by the senate, and let them authorize
persons of their body to elect the consuls in the Comitia,
according to the established ceremonials.
Let the commanders, generals, and lieutenants, leave the city
whenever the senate decrees or the people orders that they shall do
so. Let them properly prosecute all just wars. Let them spare our
allies, and restrain themselves and their subordinates. Let them
increase the glory of our country. Let them return home with honor.
Let no one be made an ambassador with a view to his own interest.
Let the ten officers whom the people elect to protect them against
oppression be their tribunes; and let all their prohibitions and
adjudications be established, and their persons considered inviolable,
so that tribunes may never be wanting to the people.
Let all magistrates possess their auspices and jurisdictions, and
let the senate be composed of these legitimate authorities. Let its
ordinances be absolute, and let its enactments be written and
ratified, unless an equal or greater authority disannul them. Let the
order of the senators be free from reproach and scandal, and let them
be an example of virtue to all.
In the creation of magistrates, the judgment of the accused, and
the reception or rejection of laws, when suffrages are employed, let
the suffrages be at once notorious to the nobles, and free to the
4. If any question occur out of the established jurisdiction of
the magistrates, let another magistrate be appointed by the people,
whose jurisdiction shall expressly extend thereto. Let the consul, the
praetor, the censor, the master of the people and of the equites, and
he to whom the senate has committed the election of consuls, have full
liberty to treat both with the senate and the people, and endeavor to
reconcile the interests of all parties. Let the tribunes of the people
likewise have free access to the senate, and advocate the interests of
the people in all their deliberations. Let a just moderation
predominate in the opinions and declarations of those who would thus
act as mediators between the senate and the people. Let a senator who
does not attend the senate, either show cause of his non-attendance,
or submit to an appropriate fine. Let a senator speak in his turn,
with all moderation, and let him be thoroughly acquainted with the
interests of the people.
By all means avoid violence among the people. Let the greatest
authority have the greatest weight in decisions. If any one shall
disturb the public harmony, and foment party quarrels, let him be
punished as a criminal. To act the intercessor in cases of offence
should be considered the part of a good citizen. Let those who act
observe the auspices; obey the public augur, and carry into effect all
proclamations, taking care that they are exhibited in the treasury and
generally known. Let the public consultations be concentrated in one
point at a time, let them instruct the people in the nature of the
question, and let all the magistrates and the people be permitted to
advise on the subject.
Let them permit no monopolies, or privileges. With respect to the
capital punishment of any citizen, let it not take place, unless by
the adjudication of the high courts of justice, and the ministry of
those whom the censors have placed over the popular orders. Let no
bribes be given or received, either in soliciting, discharging, or
resigning an official situation.
If any one infringe any of these laws, let him be liable to
penalty. Let these regulations be committed to the charge of the
censors. Let public officers, on their retiring from their posts,
gives the censors an account of their conduct, but let them not by
this means escape from legal prosecution if they have been guilty of
I have here recited the whole law; now, consider the question, and
give your votes.
5. Quintus: With what conciseness, my brother, have you
brought before our eyes the duties and offices of all magistrates! But
your system of laws is almost that of our own commonwealth, although a
little that is new has also been added by you.
Marcus: Your observation is very just, my Quintus, for this is
the very system of a commonwealth which Scipio eulogizes in my
treatise, and which he mainly approves---and which cannot be kept in
operation but by a successive order of magistrates, such as we have
described. For you may take it for granted that it is the
establishment of magistrates that gives its form to a commonwealth,
and it is exactly by their distribution and subordination that we must
determine the nature of the constitution. Which establishment being
very wisely and discretely settled by our ancestors, there is nothing,
or at all events very little alteration that I think necessary in the