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Speech of Cicero in defense of Quintus Ligarius

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)


Cicero was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Roman orator. Popularizer of Greek philosophy and politician. A supporter of the optimates. He came from an old equestrian family – the Tullia.

Although he came from an insignificant family, thanks to his oratory skills he was able to stand out in the political arena. What definitely helped him get to the “tops” was working in the courts and acting as a prosecutor or defender of a party. Cicero was not afraid to act against great figures, even leading to their conviction and expulsion from Rome – for example, the governor of Sicily.

When Caesar defeated Pompey in 48 BCE, he became the de facto independent ruler in Rome. His unwavering reputation and position terrified many.

In 46 BCE Cicero undertook the defence of Quintus Ligarius, accused by Quintus Tuberon of high treason (perddellio), more precisely of hostility towards Caesar.

Before that, Quintus Ligarius was a supporter of Pompey. He took part in the defeat of the “Pompeians” at the Battle of Thapsus. Then he was captured in the African city of Hadrumetum (next to today’s Sousse, in Tunisia). Caesar forgave him the guilt but forbade him to return to Italy. Ultimately, however, he was accused of conspiring.

During the trial, the confident Caesar allowed Cicero’s defensive speech – known as Pro Ligario. This is how Plutarch of Chaeronea told us about it:

[…] and Cicero was his advocate, Caesar said to his friends: “What is to prevent our hearing a speech from Cicero after all this while, since Ligarius has long been adjudged a villain and an enemy?”. But when Cicero had begun to speak and was moving his hearers beyond measure, and his speech, as it proceeded, showed varying pathos and amazing grace, Caesar’s face often changed colour and it was manifest that all the emotions of his soul were stirred; and at last, when the orator touched upon the struggles at Pharsalus,​ he was so greatly affected that his body shook and he dropped from his hand some of his documents. At any rate he acquitted Ligarius under compulsion.

Plutarch, Life of Cicero, 39

As you can see, Cicero, despite the hard times and the full power of Caesar, was still able to decide with his speeches about the fate of others and to convince even Julius Caesar himself to his opinion.

Quintus Ligarius, after Cicero’s victorious speech, was allowed to return to Rome. Despite Caesar’s benevolence, he still hated him and became involved in a plot against his life. Due to illness, however, he did not participate in the murder of Caesar in 44 BCE.

  • Plutarch, Cicero, 35

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