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Cicero and species protection

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Elephant on Roman mosaic
Elephant on Roman mosaic

Marcus Tullius Cicero became famous for many won cases, speeches and sayings. He probably had no idea that it was due to his very original, as for the Roman, approach to the natural resources of his province, which today could be regarded as a precursor to the protection of biodiversity. Well, Cicero was not in high esteem of gladiators and often spoke critically about the involvement of animals in the games. He was outraged, among others, by the massacre of elephants during the Games organized by the Pompey the Great.

He reacted much more actively when he was ordered to bring panthers for the purposes of the Games (festival), while he was the proconsul of Cilicia. In the year 50 BCE aedile Celius Rufus and Marcus Oktavius demanded Cicero to send them animals for the games. Celius exerted pressure by writing that Cicero would be covered with disgrace if Rufus did not receive “Greek panthers” (it was probably about leopards). Cicero complained to his friend Pomponius Atticus in the letters from this period: “Celius sent me a freedman with a very precise letter, demanding a panther”.

Cicero’s position was not unfounded. Pliny, 100 years later, informs us that once Scaurus was aedile, 60 panthers were brought in, Pompey showed them 410, and Octavian August, who naturally wanted to surprise everyone, showed them 420 (NH 8.24.64). We do not know anything about the fate of animals.

Of course, Cicero did not bend and he refused to play a proper jocular, though strong in a letter to Cecilius Rufus: “About the panthers, the usual hunters are doing their best on my instructions. But the creatures are in remarkably short supply, and those we have are said to be complaining bitterly because they are the only beings in my province who have to fear designs against their safety. Accordingly they are reported to have decided to leave this province and go to Caria”.

  • Cicero, Letters, (ATT. V 21), (FAM. II 11), (ATT. VI 1)
  • Pliny the Elder, Historia Naturalis

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