Cicero on slavery


Life does not consist wholly in breathing, there is literally no life at all for one who’s a slave.

Cicero’s oration against Marcus Antonius

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About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

36 thoughts on “Cicero on slavery

  1. john zande says:

    Colossal words considering the time and makeup of the Roman empire

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  2. Arkenaten says:

    I have never read Cicero, but have read Marcus Aurelius.
    This is worth a few gold stars.

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    • makagutu says:

      I read Aurelius and my impression of him was he was a good man.
      Cicero has a lot to say on friendship, especially when you read his letters and the man felt, and I think rightly so, that he saved Rome more than on one occasion. Those who were making claims on Caesar on your blog should read how Cicero talks about Caius[Julius] Caesar.

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  3. An interesting thought on what I think is a very complex issue. Upon reading it, I remembered hearing that the native population of South America was deemed unfit to be slaves by their colonisers, but when I looked this up, I found this quote: “Much of the commentary on native slavery holds that the Indians were unfit physically to be slaves, when actually it was their strong resistance to slavery (…) that led to the African slave trade.”
    I think much of the debate boils down to the fact that nobody asked the slaves how they felt about their status. I am sure many people were prepared to face death rather than be enslaved.

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    • makagutu says:

      You know what I find interesting about Cicero is that as a Roman citizen he owned slaves but felt that a Roman citizen couldn’t be a slave. He vehemently opposed the machinations of Marcus Antonius, a Roman citizen, whom he felt had every intention of making slaves of the Roam people. He campaigned to have him declared public enemy and to have a war brigade sent to fight him when peace ambassadors failed to dissuade him from attacking the republic.

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      • One wonders what is so special about Roman citizens. Male citizens, probably.

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        • makagutu says:

          Fortunately he meant all Roman citizens. He had a high regard of women. He considers the Romans to be specially blessed by Jupiter the all-powerful and all- loving.

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          • Thanks for mentioning that. I did not know. Do you have a theory on what would have made Romans so different from other peoples to him?

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          • makagutu says:

            My working theory is that at this particular time, Rome was the ruling super power after the collapse of the Greek civilization. So I think for a high ranking official as he was, he could have felt, and rightly so, that Roman citizens were great and favoured by the gods.

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          • Maybe it’s just that I find it such an alien concept. To generalise about ‘all Romans’ compared to ‘all others’. It would make sense for Romans to feel themselves to be part of a superpower, of course. ๐Ÿ™‚

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          • makagutu says:

            Though it included satellite cities under Roman rule, so they didn’t have to be Roman by birth.

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          • And there things are starting to look complicated again! Apparently what made somebody a Roman could be transferred…or partly transferred.

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          • makagutu says:

            Not really. Any peoples under the Roman empire were considered citizens. So like in this case, Marcus Antonius was attacking Gaul which was far removed from Rome but he [Cicero] defended them as Romans.

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          • I know what you mean. I’m just thinking that people could be not part of the Roman empire at one point and part of it at another point in time. Depending on the borders of the empire. Which makes it, theoretically, more unlikely for something uniquely Roman for Cicero to base his opinions on. (I do know that this discussion doesn’t make much sense, by the way. It’s just that I always find it on the one hand very easy to imagine people from that long ago, because they’re so like us. While on the other hand they aren’t and it’s hard to see exactly where the differences lie. Anyway, all of this because of one quote!)

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          • makagutu says:

            Interesting indeed. The comments have been longer than the entire post and a source of learning.
            The Romans and the Greeks are an interesting group to study. In many ways they were like us but also apart. We can learn a lot from them.

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          • I agree. ๐Ÿ™‚

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          • makagutu says:

            mate, you could look at the clarification above on citizenship by emmylgant

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  4. emmylgant says:

    I would like to make a small clarification Noel. Under Roman rule, not all people were consdered Roman citizens. Precisely because it was a privilege, which granted specific rights to citizens.
    An example of this was the account of Saul of Tarsus who, as a Roman citizen, chose to appeal to Caesar’s justice, which could overturn Jewish law, as he had just been condemned by the Sanhedrin.
    If I remember correctly it seems to me that women did not have citizenship either… Why would they, they had no right to vote.

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  5. Allow me one more comment on this…Reading the article by Cats-Baril you referred to, I see something of a parallel. Lucretia is a symbol of virtue because she took her own life after being raped. She must have felt there was “no life at all” just like in the quote. On the other hand, the Sabines (i.e. not Romans) were kidnapped and raped and this seems to have been an ennobling experience for them. Some years later, they were loyal to Rome. Sometimes there’s a whole world hiding behind one quote, isn’t there?

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