5 People Cicero Defended - or Dominated - in Court

Marcus Tullius, Attorney at Law!

Everyone knows about Cicero's grandstanding against Catiline, but what about the court cases that made his career as a lawyer? In honor of Robert Harris's superb new novel about Cicero, Dictator, here are five folks Cicero either represented or routed in court.

1
Caelius Rufus

Clodia/Lesbia, Caelius's trouble-making mistress. Edward Poyntor/Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

One of Cicero’s most infamous clients was Marcus Caelius Rufus, whom he defended in his stupendous oration, the Pro Caelio. A protégé of Cicero and the über-wealthy Crassus, Caelius eventually became Cicero’s frenemy. He prosecuted Cicero’s former co-consul, Gaius Antonius Hybrida (defended by Cicero), and was also well-known for his drop-dead gorgeous looks.

But the real trouble began when he allegedly took the promiscuous beauty Clodia as his mistress and became pals with her brother, Cicero’s arch-enemy Clodius. In the poet Catullus’s rants against his mistress, Lesbia (probably a pseudonym for Clodia), he disses a guy named Rufus, probably our dear Caelius. In Poem 77, he blasts “Rufus, whom I, your friend, trusted in vain, and to no purpose … [who had] torn away, alas, all my blessings” – meaning Rufus stole Clodia from him. 

Not long after Cicero returned from exile, Caelius was brought to court in 56 B.C. Why? For stirring up mob violence, the attempted poisoning of his mistress Clodia, and the murder of an Alexandrian ambassador, among other reasons. Perhaps to stick it to Clodius, Cicero defended Caelius in a brilliant effort, citing his client’s youth and naiveté as reasons he was led awry in the Pro Caelio. He dubbed Clodia the worst influence of all, calling her as treacherous as mythical murderess Clytemnestra. Not surprisingly, Caelius got off scot-free, and Cicero was back to his status as number-one defense attorney in Rome.

2
Aulus Cluentius Habitus

Cicero strikes a pose, perhaps while defending a wayward son. PaoloGaetano/Getty Images

In 66 B.C., Cicero defended one Aulus Cluentius Habitus in his Pro Cluentio. Cluentius accused of poisoning his stepdad and previously bribing a jury to convict that same stepfather of a murder he didn't commit. The guy who brought him to trial? The stepdad's son, Oppianicus. Awkward family affair! 

In the Pro Cluentio, Cicero cited Oppianicus Sr.'s notorious activities (he supposedly murdered his own mom) and claimed that the stepdad was just an all-around bad guy. But it turns out Cluentius's mother, Sassia, wasn't Mom of the Year, as she supposedly seduced her own son-in-law and then married him, as Cicero claimed. Then Oppianicus murdered her husband, married the widow, and tried to murder her son, supported by Sassia herself!

Of course, with all of these theatrics, Cicero probably got Cluentius acquittedand Sassia's reputation was ruined. 

3
Gaius Verres

Here's ancient Sicily, which Verres ruled with an iron fist. Ghitax/Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

70 B.C. brought to light huge corruption in the Roman provinces on the part of those assigned to govern them. That year, Cicero prosecuted Gaius Verres, governor of Sicily, who supposedly stole so much from his domain that it could no longer provide lots of grain for Rome.

He had a long history of robbing from the places he served, whether embezzling funds during the time of Sulla or plundering the province of Cilicia in Asia Minor with his boss, Dolabella. Later, Dolabella was convicted of misdeeds, largely thanks to Verres's testimony. 

So Verres was a troublemaker by the time he went to Sicily as governor in 73 B.C. He stole works of art, sent people to prison without proper trials, and, according to Cicero, even illegally increased taxes on corn. The angry Sicilians appealed to Rome, and Verres was sent home to be tried for his crimes. Cicero convicted him, and the former governor was sent into exile in Massilia (modern Marseilles in France).

4
Aulus Licinius Archias

Check out Cicero in legal eagle mode. Louis le Grand/Gunnar Bach Pedersen/Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

Who didn't love poetry in ancient Rome? People prosecuting poets! The Turkey-born scribe Aulus Licinius Archias experienced this first-hand when he was prosecuted in 62 B.C. for being an illegal immigrant. A law passed three years earlier had condemned anyone who didn't have a permanent residence in Italy; if they couldn't prove themselves citizens, they'd be prosecuted and kicked out.

At the time he moved to Rome, Archias was close pals with the general Lucullus (he even wrote a praise poem for the guy!), who became an enemy of another military master named Pompey. Perhaps the man who accused Archias was trying to curry favor with Pompey. 

But Cicero was on the case! In his Pro Archia Poeta, Marcus Tullius claimed that the Antioch-on-the-Orontes native was a Roman and did "not deserve to be expunged from the list of citizens." In fact, he wasn't, and the following year he was recorded as still residing in Rome.

5
Titus Annius Milo

Lucky Milo was exiled to Massilia, modern Marseilles in France!. Victuallers/Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

Cicero defended another of his close allies, Titus Annius Milo, in 52 B.C. A rabble rouser, Milo pitted himself against Clodius and Julius Caesar, rallying his gladiators to bash his rivals. The rule "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" definitely applied to Milo, who hated Clodius as much as Cicero did; as a result, Milo helped recall Cicero from exile. Clodius and Milo bumped skulls for quite a few years - until things finally came to a head.

The details of the incident vary depending on the account, but the gist is this: the tensions between Milo and Clodius eventually combusted in an encounter on the Appian Way, which left Clodius dead. Chroniclers held Milo responsible; Livy stated, "Publius Clodius was killed on the Via Appia, near Bovillae, by Titus Annius Milo, a candidate for the consulship." Dio elaborated, saying that Milo wounded Clodius, then finished the deed.

Cicero was called upon to help out Milo, but this one time the famous orator's skills failed him, perhaps due to nerves. Although he made some pretty interesting arguments, as Asconius recounted - like the statements that "Clodius had been killed for the good of the State" and the claim that Clodius ​ambushed Milo, rather than the other way around - Milo was convicted. Cicero's speech didn't survive in full, and he published an entirely different oration after the fact. And Milo was exiled to Massilia, like Verres.