“Never has the state been in greater danger, never have disloyal citizens had a better prepared leader.”
So wrote consul and philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero to his man servant, Marcus Tullius Tiro, on 12 January 49 BCE in response to Julius Caesar’s increasingly vehement calls for governmental reform. This was a moment when political tensions were at their pinnacle. Just days prior Caesar, in an act of war, had crossed the Rubicon on his march toward Rome, the launch of what would become known as the Great Roman Civil War and the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic. Lasting from 49 to 44 BCE, this war would essentially initiate the changes in governmental management that would pave the way for the powerful Roman Empire.
As Cicero’s words suggest, he was wary of Caesar’s proposed reforms and preferred instead to adhere to the ways of the Republic. Caesar’s impending approach on Rome caused Cicero to flee the city, yet over time Cicero warmed to Caesar’s policies even though he still maintained hope that the Republic would be revived. This tenuous relationship would come to end, though, with Julius Caesar’s assassination on 15 March 44 BCE. Unfortunately, Cicero would also be killed the following year at the behest of Mark Antony and his proscription list.
Francesco Granacci, Julius Caesar and the Crossing of the Rubicon (Scenes from the Story of Alexander the Great), 1493-1494. Tempera and gold on panel. Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
Andrea del Sarto, Study for the Head of Julius Caesar, 1520-1521. Red chalk on paper. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Bust of Julius Caesar (heavily restored). National Archaeological Museum, Naples.
Portrait of Cicero, 1st century CE. Marble. Capitoline Museums, Rome.