De Legibus

De Legibus

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The de Legibus is a dialogue written by Marcus Tullius Cicero during the last years of the Roman Republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

. It bears the same name as Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

’s famous dialogue, The Laws
Laws (dialogue)
The Laws is Plato's last and longest dialogue. The question asked at the beginning is not "What is law?" as one would expect. That is the question of the Minos...

. Unlike his previous work de re publica
De re publica
De re publica is a dialogue on Roman politics by Cicero, written in six books between 54 and 51 BC. It is written in the format of a Socratic dialogue in which Scipio Africanus Minor takes the role of a wise old man — an obligatory part for the genre...

,
in which Cicero felt compelled to set the action in the times of Scipio Africanus Minor, Cicero wrote this work as a fictionalized dialogue between himself, his brother Quintus
Quintus Tullius Cicero
Quintus Tullius Cicero was the younger brother of the celebrated orator, philosopher and statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero. He was born into a family of the equestrian order, as the son of a wealthy landowner in Arpinum, some 100 kilometres south-east of Rome.- Biography :Cicero's well-to-do father...

 and their mutual friend Titus Pomponius Atticus
Titus Pomponius Atticus
Titus Pomponius Atticus, born Titus Pomponius , came from an old but not strictly noble Roman family of the equestrian class and the Gens Pomponia. He was a celebrated editor, banker, and patron of letters with residences in both Rome and Athens...

.
The dialogue begins with the trio taking a leisurely stroll through Cicero's familial estate at Arpinum and they begin to discuss how the laws should be. Cicero uses this as a platform for expounding on his theories of natural law of harmony among the classes.

The three remaining books (out of an indeterminate number, although Jonathan Powell and Niall Rudd in their translation for Oxford seem to argue that it may have been six, to bring it in line with the number in de re publica
De re publica
De re publica is a dialogue on Roman politics by Cicero, written in six books between 54 and 51 BC. It is written in the format of a Socratic dialogue in which Scipio Africanus Minor takes the role of a wise old man — an obligatory part for the genre...

), in order, expound on Cicero's beliefs in Natural Law
Natural law
Natural law, or the law of nature , is any system of law which is purportedly determined by nature, and thus universal. Classically, natural law refers to the use of reason to analyze human nature and deduce binding rules of moral behavior. Natural law is contrasted with the positive law Natural...

, recasts the religious laws of Rome (in reality a rollback to the religious laws under the king Numa Pompilius
Numa Pompilius
Numa Pompilius was the legendary second king of Rome, succeeding Romulus. What tales are descended to us about him come from Valerius Antias, an author from the early part of the 1st century BC known through limited mentions of later authors , Dionysius of Halicarnassus circa 60BC-...

) and finally talk of his proposed reforms to the Roman Constitution.

Whether or not the work was meant as an earnest plan of action is unknown. Cicero's basic conservative
Conservatism
Conservatism is a political and social philosophy that promotes the maintenance of traditional institutions and supports, at the most, minimal and gradual change in society. Some conservatives seek to preserve things as they are, emphasizing stability and continuity, while others oppose modernism...

 and tradition
Tradition
A tradition is a ritual, belief or object passed down within a society, still maintained in the present, with origins in the past. Common examples include holidays or impractical but socially meaningful clothes , but the idea has also been applied to social norms such as greetings...

alist beliefs led him to imagine an idealized Rome before the Gracchi
Gracchi
The Gracchi brothers, Tiberius and Gaius, were Roman Plebian nobiles who both served as tribunes in 2nd century BC. They attempted to pass land reform legislation that would redistribute the major patrician landholdings among the plebeians. For this legislation and their membership in the...

, with the classes still in harmony. From there, he reformed the worst points of the Roman constitution, while keeping the majority of it. Cicero's proposed constitution in Book Three must be seen as a renovation of the existing order, not a call to shatter the order and build anew. However, less than a decade after the accepted date for his beginning the manuscript, Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

 crossed the Rubicon
Rubicon
The Rubicon is a shallow river in northeastern Italy, about 80 kilometres long, running from the Apennine Mountains to the Adriatic Sea through the southern Emilia-Romagna region, between the towns of Rimini and Cesena. The Latin word rubico comes from the adjective "rubeus", meaning "red"...

, launching the civil war that would end the Republic.

Book One


The book opens with Cicero, Quintus and Atticus walking through the shaded groves at Cicero's Arpinum estate, when they happen across an old oak tree linked by legend to the general and Consul
Consul
Consul was the highest elected office of the Roman Republic and an appointive office under the Empire. The title was also used in other city states and also revived in modern states, notably in the First French Republic...

 Gaius Marius
Gaius Marius
Gaius Marius was a Roman general and statesman. He was elected consul an unprecedented seven times during his career. He was also noted for his dramatic reforms of Roman armies, authorizing recruitment of landless citizens, eliminating the manipular military formations, and reorganizing the...

, who also was a native of Arpinum. Atticus questions whether or not it still exists, to which Quintus replies that so long as people remember the spot and the associations connected with it, the tree will exist regardless of its physical presence. This brings the trio into a discussion of the porous border between fact and fable in historians' writing of the day. Cicero lets on that even in their day, many of the stories of the Roman kings
Roman Kingdom
The Roman Kingdom was the period of the ancient Roman civilization characterized by a monarchical form of government of the city of Rome and its territories....

, such as Numa Pompilius
Numa Pompilius
Numa Pompilius was the legendary second king of Rome, succeeding Romulus. What tales are descended to us about him come from Valerius Antias, an author from the early part of the 1st century BC known through limited mentions of later authors , Dionysius of Halicarnassus circa 60BC-...

 conversing with the severed head of his wife Egeria
Egeria (mythology)
Egeria was a nymph attributed a legendary role in the early history of Rome as a divine consort and counselor of the Sabine second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius, to whom she imparted laws and rituals pertaining to ancient Roman religion...

, were thought of as fables or parables rather than as actual incidents which happened.

Atticus takes the opportunity to prod Cicero to starting a promised work on Roman history (if such a work existed, it has not surfaced to any extent in modern times) and flatters him by pointing out that in any case, Cicero may be one of the more qualified men in Rome to do it, given the numerous flaws of Roman historians of the era. Cicero begs off, mentioning that he has his hands full with studying the law in preparation for cases. This brings us to the meat of the book, an exposition of the wellspring of the law. Atticus, as a divertissment, asks Cicero to put some of his knowledge to use right then and there and give them a discussion on the law as they walk across his estate.

To Cicero, law was not a matter of written statutes, and lists of regulations, but was a matter deeply ingrained in the human spirit, one that was an integral part of the human experience.

His reasoning goes thus:
  • Humans were created by a higher power or powers (and for the sake of argument, Cicero has the Epicurean Atticus concede the point that this higher power is engaged with the affairs of humanity).
  • This higher power which created the universe did, for reasons known to itself, endow humans with a bit of its own divinity, giving the human race the powers of speech, reason, and thought.
    • Due to this spark of divinity inside humans, they must de facto be related to the higher power in some fashion.
  • Because humans share reason with the higher power, and because this higher power is presumed to be benevolent, it follows that humans, when employing reason correctly, will likewise be benevolent.
  • This reason is what Cicero considers the law. To him, the law is whatever promotes good and forbids evil. What holds us back from upholding this absolutely is our human failings, our lusts for pleasure, wealth, status, other inconsequentials outside of virtue and honor.

Book Two


Book Two begins with Cicero espousing his beliefs on Natural Law
Natural law
Natural law, or the law of nature , is any system of law which is purportedly determined by nature, and thus universal. Classically, natural law refers to the use of reason to analyze human nature and deduce binding rules of moral behavior. Natural law is contrasted with the positive law Natural...

. The party has made it to an island in the river Fibrenius where they sit and relax and resume their discussion. As the book begins, Cicero and Atticus argue about whether a person can hold patriotism for both one's larger country and the region therein that one hails from: i.e., can one love Rome and Arpinum at the same time? Cicero argues that not only can one, but it is natural. Cicero uses the example of Cato the Elder
Cato the Elder
Marcus Porcius Cato was a Roman statesman, commonly referred to as Censorius , Sapiens , Priscus , or Major, Cato the Elder, or Cato the Censor, to distinguish him from his great-grandson, Cato the Younger.He came of an ancient Plebeian family who all were noted for some...

, who by dint of his birth in Tusculum
Tusculum
Tusculum is a ruined Roman city in the Alban Hills, in the Latium region of Italy.-Location:Tusculum is one of the largest Roman cities in Alban Hills. The ruins of Tusculum are located on Tuscolo hill—more specifically on the northern edge of the outer crater ring of the Alban volcano...

 was a Roman citizen yet could, with no hypocrisy, also call himself a Tuscan. However, Cicero also makes the important distinction that one's birthplace must take subordination to the land of one's citizenship—that there is where one's duty is owed to and for which one must, if necessary, lay down one's life. Cicero also strengthens the link between him and Gaius Marius
Gaius Marius
Gaius Marius was a Roman general and statesman. He was elected consul an unprecedented seven times during his career. He was also noted for his dramatic reforms of Roman armies, authorizing recruitment of landless citizens, eliminating the manipular military formations, and reorganizing the...

 by having Atticus mention a speech by Pompey
Pompey
Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, also known as Pompey or Pompey the Great , was a military and political leader of the late Roman Republic...

, who talked of Rome's debt to Arpinum, as its two greatest sons were also Rome's saviors.

Once the trio reach the island, Cicero launches into an examination of law. He begins by saying that law does not, and cannot, begin with men. Men, to him, are the instruments of a higher wisdom which governs the entire earth and has the power, through shared morality, to command good or forbid evil. Cicero also makes a distinction in this section between legalism (actual written law) and law (right and wrong as dictated by the eternal wisdom). To Cicero, human laws can be good or ill depending on whether they are in sync with the eternal, natural law. A law enacted for a purely temporary or local purpose is law, according to him, by dint of public approval. It has force of law only so long as people observe it and the state enforces it. Natural law, however, needs no encoding, no enforcement. By way of example, Cicero mentions that when Sextus Tarquinius
Sextus Tarquinius
Sextus Tarquinius was a Roman prince, the third and youngest son of the last king of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus . He is primarily known for his rape of Lucretia, daughter of Spurius Lucretius Tricipitinus, wife of Collatinus....

, son of King Lucius Tarquinius Superbus
Lucius Tarquinius Superbus
Lucius Tarquinius Superbus was the legendary seventh and final King of Rome, reigning from 535 BC until the popular uprising in 509 BC that led to the establishment of the Roman Republic. He is more commonly known by his cognomen Tarquinius Superbus and was a member of the so-called Etruscan...

, raped Lucretia
Lucretia
Lucretia is a legendary figure in the history of the Roman Republic. According to the story, told mainly by the Roman historian Livy and the Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus , her rape by the king's son and consequent suicide were the immediate cause of the revolution that overthrew the...

, there were no laws in Rome governing rape
Rape
Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse, which is initiated by one or more persons against another person without that person's consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority or with a person who is incapable of valid consent. The...

. However, even then, the populace knew viscerally that what had happened was against shared morality, and followed Lucius Junius Brutus
Lucius Junius Brutus
Lucius Junius Brutus was the founder of the Roman Republic and traditionally one of the first consuls in 509 BC. He was claimed as an ancestor of the Roman gens Junia, including Marcus Junius Brutus, the most famous of Caesar's assassins.- Background :...

 to correct matters. Evil laws, or ones that go against the eternal law, further, do not deserve the title, and states that enact them to the exclusion of the eternal law do not deserve the title states. To demonstrate, Cicero uses the analogy of unschooled people or quacks passing themselves off as doctors and prescribing deadly treatments. No one in their right mind, Cicero argues, would dare call such treatments "medicine" or their practitioners "doctors".

Cicero's insistence that religious belief (the belief in the gods, or God, or the Eternal wisdom) must be the cornerstone of law leads the trio, naturally, into the framing of religious laws. The laws proposed by Cicero seem to draw mostly from even then antique statutes from Rome's earliest days, including those of Numa Pompilius
Numa Pompilius
Numa Pompilius was the legendary second king of Rome, succeeding Romulus. What tales are descended to us about him come from Valerius Antias, an author from the early part of the 1st century BC known through limited mentions of later authors , Dionysius of Halicarnassus circa 60BC-...

, the semi-legendary second king of Rome and the laws of the Twelve Tables
Twelve Tables
The Law of the Twelve Tables was the ancient legislation that stood at the foundation of Roman law. The Law of the Twelve Tables formed the centrepiece of the constitution of the Roman Republic and the core of the mos maiorum...

, according to Quintus. From thence follows a long discussion on the merits of Cicero's hypothetical decrees.

Among the things acknowledged in this section are the fact that at times religious laws have both a spiritual and a pragmatic purpose, as Cicero, when quoting the laws of the Twelve Tables
Twelve Tables
The Law of the Twelve Tables was the ancient legislation that stood at the foundation of Roman law. The Law of the Twelve Tables formed the centrepiece of the constitution of the Roman Republic and the core of the mos maiorum...

 and their injunction against burial or cremation within the pomerium
Pomerium
The pomerium or pomoerium , was the sacred boundary of the city of Rome. In legal terms, Rome existed only within the pomerium; everything beyond it was simply territory belonging to Rome.-Location and extensions:Tradition maintained that it was the original line ploughed by Romulus around the...

, admits that the injunction is as much to appease fate (by not burying the dead where the living dwell) as it is to avoid calamity (by lessening the risk of fire in the city due to open-pyre cremation). After the discussions on religious laws, and with Cicero's stated objective to replicate Plato's feat by conducting a thorough discussion on the laws in one day, they move into civil law and the makeup of the government.

Book Three


Book Three, where the manuscript breaks off, is Cicero's enumeration of the set up of the government, as opposed to the religious laws of the previous book, that he would advocate as the basis for his reformed Roman state.

Outline of Cicero's proposed Constitution

  • The Judicial System Cicero, who believed that the trial courts as he had seen them were too open to tampering through bribery or through sharp practice (as he had himself experienced and thwarted in the case of Gaius Verres), would place the trials back in the hands of the people at large, with the Comitia Centuriata trying cases where the penalty was death or exile, and the Concilium Plebis trying all other cases. A magistrate (Praetor or even Consul) would still preside over the trial. That same magistrate would then, upon a guilty verdict, impose a punishment unless a majority of the relevant assembly disagreed. During military campaigns, unlike in civilian trials, Cicero would remove the right of appeal from those convicted of wrongdoing.

  • The Senate
    Roman Senate
    The Senate of the Roman Republic was a political institution in the ancient Roman Republic, however, it was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a magistrate served his term in office, it usually was followed with automatic...

    The Senate, in Cicero's laws, would no longer exist as merely an advisory body, but would now hold actual legislative authority, and their decrees would be binding. Any former magistrate has the right to enter the Senate. In a later portion of the dialogue, Cicero defends the apparent democracy of the change by arguing that the quasi-aristocratic Senate would serve as a counterbalance to the populist and democratic popular assemblies. Further, Cicero would impose a stipulation that only those with thoroughly unblemished behavior and reputations could remain in the order — the Censors
    Censor (ancient Rome)
    The censor was an officer in ancient Rome who was responsible for maintaining the census, supervising public morality, and overseeing certain aspects of the government's finances....

     could remove those who misbehaved at will. It was Cicero's stated hope that such a reformed Senate could serve as an example for the rest of the Roman state of probity, harmony, common interest and fair play. Acquisitiveness and greed in the Senate were to be severely punished, apparently, by Cicero's laws. This was not so much to punish the greed itself, but because greed in the Senate bred greed and dissent among the Romans. "If you're prepared to go back over the records of history, it is plain that the state has taken its character from that of its foremost men." (III.31)
    • The two Consuls, the Praetor, the Dictator, the Master of the Horse (his lieutenant), election officers and the tribunes would have the right to preside over Senate meetings. However, such meetings were to be held in what Cicero characterized as a "quiet, disciplined manner".
    • Senators must also, by Cicero's hypothetical law, be current in important affairs of state whether or not it is the particular Senator's bailiwick.

  • Magistrates The basic outline of Roman society was to be kept (in keeping with Cicero's basic conservatism
    Conservatism
    Conservatism is a political and social philosophy that promotes the maintenance of traditional institutions and supports, at the most, minimal and gradual change in society. Some conservatives seek to preserve things as they are, emphasizing stability and continuity, while others oppose modernism...

    ) but reforms to the structure were in his plan to prevent or reverse the decay of the state. From low to high, the proposed magistrates in Cicero's reformed Republic seem to be:
    • Quaestors, still with the power of the purse as normal, with the exception that Quaestorhood would no longer be the first step on the cursus honorum
      Cursus honorum
      The cursus honorum was the sequential order of public offices held by aspiring politicians in both the Roman Republic and the early Empire. It was designed for men of senatorial rank. The cursus honorum comprised a mixture of military and political administration posts. Each office had a minimum...

    • A new magistrate who would be responsible for the safety of prisoners and the executing of sentences (he may have meant a normalization of the triumviri capitales as an elected magisterial post)
    • Minters and moneyers (again, a reform of the triumviri monetales)
    • An expansion, apparently, of the Board of Ten for Deciding Cases (or decemviri stlitibus iudicandis
      Decemviri
      Decemviri is a Latin term meaning "Ten Men" which designates any such commission in the Roman Republic...

      ), whose purview would have been more than the citizenship and freedom/slavery cases they then judged (Cicero does not seem to elaborate — it may have been in the lost portion of the work)
    • Aediles, who were still responsible for public works and welfare, and who would thenceforth be the first step on Cicero's reformed cursus honorum
      Cursus honorum
      The cursus honorum was the sequential order of public offices held by aspiring politicians in both the Roman Republic and the early Empire. It was designed for men of senatorial rank. The cursus honorum comprised a mixture of military and political administration posts. Each office had a minimum...

    • Censors
      Censor (ancient Rome)
      The censor was an officer in ancient Rome who was responsible for maintaining the census, supervising public morality, and overseeing certain aspects of the government's finances....

      , who, while holding their traditional post (conducting the census
      Census
      A census is the procedure of systematically acquiring and recording information about the members of a given population. It is a regularly occurring and official count of a particular population. The term is used mostly in connection with national population and housing censuses; other common...

       and permitting or denying membership in the Senatorial Order
      Roman Senate
      The Senate of the Roman Republic was a political institution in the ancient Roman Republic, however, it was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a magistrate served his term in office, it usually was followed with automatic...

       and otherwise ordering society), would now be a normalized elected post with the usual restriction of having been a former consul apparently removed. The Censors would also have the task of interpreting laws.
      • At the end of a magistrate's tenure, he was to give a full account to the Censor of his actions in office, whereupon the Censor would judge his fitness to remain in the Senatorial Order. This did not absolve him from prosecution for his actions.
    • A Praetor
      Praetor
      Praetor was a title granted by the government of Ancient Rome to men acting in one of two official capacities: the commander of an army, usually in the field, or the named commander before mustering the army; and an elected magistratus assigned varied duties...

      , responsible for civil cases and lawsuits. Along with him would be an indeterminate number of equally-empowered officials (although most likely under his direction — again, Cicero does not elaborate overmuch) appointed by the Senate or popular assemblies.
      • At the same time, any magistrate could preside over a trial and conduct auspices.
    • At the top would be the two Consuls, as always, with split royal power. All of these posts would be filled for terms of one year, except the Censors
      Censor (ancient Rome)
      The censor was an officer in ancient Rome who was responsible for maintaining the census, supervising public morality, and overseeing certain aspects of the government's finances....

      , which would be a five-year tenure. No person would be eligible to run for the same office twice in ten years. All age restrictions as then-currently existing for the posts would remain in force.
    • Should the state be in extremis, the Senate could appoint a dictator
      Dictator
      A dictator is a ruler who assumes sole and absolute power but without hereditary ascension such as an absolute monarch. When other states call the head of state of a particular state a dictator, that state is called a dictatorship...

      , who would, as in years past, be allowed a six-month term of unlimited imperium
      Imperium
      Imperium is a Latin word which, in a broad sense, translates roughly as 'power to command'. In ancient Rome, different kinds of power or authority were distinguished by different terms. Imperium, referred to the sovereignty of the state over the individual...

      and who would appoint a lieutenant in charge of cavalry Magister Equitum
      Master of the Horse
      The Master of the Horse was a position of varying importance in several European nations.-Magister Equitum :...

      who would also function as Praetor
      Praetor
      Praetor was a title granted by the government of Ancient Rome to men acting in one of two official capacities: the commander of an army, usually in the field, or the named commander before mustering the army; and an elected magistratus assigned varied duties...

      .
    • Cicero would also leave in place the ten Tribunes of the Plebians
      Tribune
      Tribune was a title shared by elected officials in the Roman Republic. Tribunes had the power to convene the Plebeian Council and to act as its president, which also gave them the right to propose legislation before it. They were sacrosanct, in the sense that any assault on their person was...

      , with their full powers of veto
      Veto
      A veto, Latin for "I forbid", is the power of an officer of the state to unilaterally stop an official action, especially enactment of a piece of legislation...

      , and would still be sacrosanct
      Sacrosanct
      Sacrosanctity was a right of tribunes in Ancient Rome not to be harmed physically. Plebeians took an oath to regard anyone who laid hands on a tribune as an outlaw liable to be killed without penalty...

      . The Tribunes of the People would also be permitted to preside over meetings of the Senate.
      • Quintus, later in the dialogue, strongly objected to this, feeling that the Tribunes, as currently constituted, were a destabilizing force in the state, and believed that Cicero should have rolled back their powers to their severely curtailed state under the laws of Sulla. Cicero seems to argue that curtailing the power of the plebians or giving them a sham representation of a share in government would be even more destabilizing than a potential Tiberius Gracchus
        Tiberius Gracchus
        Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus was a Roman Populares politician of the 2nd century BC and brother of Gaius Gracchus. As a plebeian tribune, his reforms of agrarian legislation caused political turmoil in the Republic. These reforms threatened the holdings of rich landowners in Italy...

         or Saturninus
        Saturninus
        Saturninus may refer to:* Lucius Appuleius Saturninus , tribune* Lucius Antonius Saturninus , provincial governor and rebel against Domitian* Julius Saturninus , provincial governor and rebel against Probus...

         could be. To do so, he in effect argues, would create the same Saturninii
        Saturninus
        Saturninus may refer to:* Lucius Appuleius Saturninus , tribune* Lucius Antonius Saturninus , provincial governor and rebel against Domitian* Julius Saturninus , provincial governor and rebel against Probus...

         and Gracchi
        Gracchi
        The Gracchi brothers, Tiberius and Gaius, were Roman Plebian nobiles who both served as tribunes in 2nd century BC. They attempted to pass land reform legislation that would redistribute the major patrician landholdings among the plebeians. For this legislation and their membership in the...

         that Sulla's laws tried to halt. Cicero remarks: "I admit there is an element of evil inherent in the office of tribune; but without that evil we would not have the good which was the point of setting it up. 'The plebeian tribunes,' you say, 'have too much power.' Who's arguing with that? But the crude power of the people is much more savage and violent. By having a leader, it is sometimes milder than if it had none." (III:23) (from The Oxford World Classics translation by Niall Rudd)
  • Should both consul
    Consul
    Consul was the highest elected office of the Roman Republic and an appointive office under the Empire. The title was also used in other city states and also revived in modern states, notably in the First French Republic...

    s, or the Dictator
    Dictator
    A dictator is a ruler who assumes sole and absolute power but without hereditary ascension such as an absolute monarch. When other states call the head of state of a particular state a dictator, that state is called a dictatorship...

    , die or otherwise leave office, all other current officials from quaestor
    Quaestor
    A Quaestor was a type of public official in the "Cursus honorum" system who supervised financial affairs. In the Roman Republic a quaestor was an elected official whereas, with the autocratic government of the Roman Empire, quaestors were simply appointed....

     on up are removed from office. An interrex
    Interrex
    The Interrex was literally a ruler "between kings" during the Roman Kingdom and the Roman Republic. He was in effect a short-term regent....

     would be appointed by the Senate to arrange as soon as practicable new elections.
  • Popular Assemblies: The People's Assemblies were, by law, to be free of violence, and were also legislative assemblies. In both the Senate and people's assemblies, a magistrate of a higher rank than the one presiding would be able to veto any act.
  • Voting and Laws Ballots were, due to an epidemic in Cicero's time of vote tampering and bribery, not to be secret, so that they could be immediately examined for voter fraud. There was also a measure of elitism in his proposal as well, however — if the people did not know how the upper classes had voted, Cicero thought they would be confused as to which way to vote.
    • No laws were to be passed that were meant to target an individual (no doubt, this was in response to the law pushed through by Publius Clodius Pulcher
      Publius Clodius Pulcher
      Publius Clodius Pulcher was a Roman politician known for his popularist tactics...

       in 58 BC that demanded exile for any magistrate who imposed and executed a death sentence without a vote by the Popular Assemblies — a clear reference to Cicero, who had done just that in 63 BC in response to the Catilinarian Conspiracy
      Catiline
      Lucius Sergius Catilina , known in English as Catiline, was a Roman politician of the 1st century BC who is best known for the Catiline conspiracy, an attempt to overthrow the Roman Republic, and in particular the power of the aristocratic Senate.-Family background:Catiline was born in 108 BC to...

      )
    • No magistrate could impose capital punishment or revocation of citizenship without a vote of the Comitia Centuriata
    • Bribery or seeking bribes were to be punished severely.
    • Laws would be kept in official record form, something that Cicero felt had lapsed.


After a discussion and debate between Cicero and Quintus about the Consuls and the voting rights of citizens, the manuscript breaks off.

Provenance of the text


Much like its sister work de re publica
De re publica
De re publica is a dialogue on Roman politics by Cicero, written in six books between 54 and 51 BC. It is written in the format of a Socratic dialogue in which Scipio Africanus Minor takes the role of a wise old man — an obligatory part for the genre...

, de Legibus exists in fragmentary condition, with no work beyond the first half of Book Three known to survive. The remaining fragments of de Legibus are scattered in three volumes at the Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit in Leiden, Netherlands
Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

.

Further, issues of legibility and authenticity have been raised among researchers. Vienna Professor M. Zelzer in 1981 argued that the text as it is now known may have been translated out of a cursive (as opposed to block-text) copy at some point, incurring possible mistranslations from the vagaries of the script. Others (such as translator Niall Rudd) argue that the text was still in rough-draft form at the time of Cicero's murder in December 43 BC, and that it was still to be cleaned up and edited by the author. Much like de re publica
De re publica
De re publica is a dialogue on Roman politics by Cicero, written in six books between 54 and 51 BC. It is written in the format of a Socratic dialogue in which Scipio Africanus Minor takes the role of a wise old man — an obligatory part for the genre...

, some material was recovered from the writings of others. Two passages were found used in the third- and fourth-century writer Lactantius
Lactantius
Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius was an early Christian author who became an advisor to the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine I, guiding his religious policy as it developed, and tutor to his son.-Biography:...

's Divinae Institutiones (Lactantius also quoted heavily from de re publica
De re publica
De re publica is a dialogue on Roman politics by Cicero, written in six books between 54 and 51 BC. It is written in the format of a Socratic dialogue in which Scipio Africanus Minor takes the role of a wise old man — an obligatory part for the genre...

), and one further paragraph has been located in Macrobius' Saturnalia
Saturnalia
Saturnalia is an Ancient Roman festival/ celebration held in honour of Saturn , the youngest of the Titans, father of the major gods of the Greeks and Romans, and son of Uranus and Gaia...

.

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