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there is no preface, the dramatic date is not speci¬ed, and in fact there
seems to be no possible date on which the three participants could have
met at Arpinum. It consists of a conversation on a long summer day (just
as in Plato™s Laws) between Cicero, his younger brother Quintus, and his
close friend and correspondent Titus Pomponius Atticus, a very wealthy
member of the equestrian order who advised and assisted Cicero in
matters political, ¬nancial, and literary.
The subject of law emerges from a conversation about Cicero™s pro-
posed activities in retirement, should he ever retire from arguing cases in
court. The writing of history is one suggestion “ and it is clear that Cicero
did in fact consider undertaking a historical project “ but the alternative
idea, the traditional Roman practice of senior statesmen acting as legal
advisers to their clients and friends, leads to the criticism of Roman legal
knowledge as insu¬ciently rational in structure and excessively con-
cerned with minor details. At the request of Quintus and Atticus,
therefore, Cicero undertakes to expound on the topic of law, starting
from ¬rst principles and o¬ering an account of a legal system corre-
sponding to the ideal Roman republic described in On the Commonwealth.
He takes his starting point where Laelius™ argument in On the Common-
wealth Book  leaves o¬, with the doctrine of natural law. Cicero argues
that law itself is part of the cosmos; that it is the same as right reason; that
humans and gods both possess reason (and therefore right reason) and
are thus fellow citizens of the same community “ which is the universe
itself. The exposition of the idea and implications of natural law in Book
± is the fullest exposition of Stoic doctrine on the subject that survives,
the idea of the cosmopolis or world city. In this account positive human
law, if it is to be considered true law, must be in accord with the natural
law: that is to say, it must embody the principles of reason as re¬‚ected in
the order of the world. That is, in e¬ect, precisely the argument that
Cicero seems to have made in Books  and  of On the Commonwealth, but
here it is expressed in general terms rather than with speci¬c relevance to
Roman institutions. That is the function of the rest of the dialogue: in
Book , after a prologue summarizing the philosophical argument of
Book ±, Cicero presents the ¬rst part of his code of natural law to
correspond with the ideal (Roman) government of the earlier dialogue;
quite properly, since the Stoic theory of On the Laws assumes a commu-
nity of gods and men, the code begins with religious laws. In Book , he
continues with the laws concerning magistracies; and in later books, he
almost certainly dealt with (or, if he did not complete the work, would


have dealt with) further aspects of public law (the capabilities and limits
of magisterial power and the administration of justice in particular), laws
concerning education (anticipated at .“°) and the family, and the
civil law itself, about the organization of which he is so scornful in Book
±. The laws that Cicero presents are written in a style meant to re¬‚ect the
conservative and archaic language of Roman legislation; some of them are
in fact drawn directly from the laws of the Twelve Tables (and are thus a
valuable source for early Roman law). They are, however, ¬lled with false
archaisms and bogus reconstructions; the peculiarity of the language is
one of the reasons why the text of On the Laws is extraordinarily corrupt
and di¬cult to understand in many passages.
On the Laws is a puzzling and not altogether satisfactory work. The
precise relationship between the natural law itself and the particular laws
proposed in Book  and later is never made clear; on more than one
occasion (concerning the tribunate and ballot laws) it is made explicit that
the proposed law is not meant to be ideal but merely the best under
prevailing circumstances. Cicero vacillates between presenting his laws
as the best absolutely (and thus embodiments of the natural law) and the
best possible; between seeing them as universal and seeing them as
speci¬cally related to the particular circumstances of Rome. This uncer-
tainty corresponds to the tensions in the argument of On the Common-
wealth in describing a state that is simultaneously historical and utopian.
In the earlier work, the strains of the argument are themselves one of the
strengths of the dialogue, which in fact acknowledges the impossibility of
attaining perfection in a real society existing in real time; in On the Laws,
the di¬culties are managed with less success. Similarly, the discussion of
particular laws, notably in connection with the continuity of family cult
and with burial in Book , extends far beyond the necessities of present-
ing an ideal code. One has the sense that Cicero is quite successful in
dealing separately with the philosophical underpinnings of justice and
the particularities of legislation but is unable to make the two cohere; in
this, of course, Cicero is not unique. There is every reason to believe that
On the Laws was left incomplete not merely because of the turbulent
circumstances of Cicero™s life but because it is not nearly so satisfying a
work as On the Commonwealth.
As a result of the disparity between the ¬rst book (with the opening of
the second) and the remainder of the dialogue, the two parts of On the
Laws have been in¬‚uential in very di¬erent ways. The discussion of
natural law (together with Lactantius™ version of the account of natural


law in On the Commonwealth Book ) lent itself easily to Christian
adaptation, and it plays an important role in Aquinas™ analysis of law in
the Summa Theologiae (First Part of Part II, QQ. °“·); but although
the idea of natural law was of immense importance in later periods, as for
Grotius in the seventeenth century, and is still the subject of considerable
debate among legal theorists, its basis lies as much in Aquinas™ treatment
as in Cicero™s. In legal writing, on the other hand, the e¬ect of Books 
and  seems to have been considerable. Although Cicero used the Twelve
Tables, it is apparent that the order and the structure of his code are far
more rational than those of the archaic text; and throughout On the Laws
his emphasis is on the analysis of legal principles and the establishment of
general rules. Prior to Cicero™s time, writing on jurisprudence in Rome
consisted largely of case law; in On the Laws and in some of his speeches,
Cicero placed a great deal of emphasis on the principles of law and equity
rather than on the casuistic approach dominant in his youth. Cicero was
not alone in his day in attempting to rationalize the presentation of law “
his eminent contemporary, alluded to but not named in On the Laws,
Servius Sulpicius Rufus, was similarly inclined “ but there can be little
doubt that his polemic against the pettiness of the civil lawyers and the
simple and relatively clear organization of his model code played a role in
the formation of classical Roman law and thus in European legal thinking
since his time.


This table includes both events mentioned by Cicero (legendary as well
as historical) and important dates in Cicero™s own life. For early periods
the chronology assumed is that of Polybius; for regnal dates the recon-
struction of F. W. Walbank is employed. It should be noted that the
Polybian chronology does not correspond to the standard version, con-
structed by M. Terentius Varro at about the time Cicero wrote On the
Commonwealth, according to which Rome was founded in ·µ/ rather
than ·µ±/°. Some dates are attested only in Olympiads, which do not
correspond to Roman calendar years and hence are double, e.g. ·µ±/°.
It should be recognized that many of the early dates (and some of the in-
dividuals) are ¬ctional. All dates are . For an account of the di¬erent
chronological systems of early Roman history, see T. J. Cornell in Cam-
bridge Ancient History vol. ©©. (±), ·“µ°; fuller chronological
tables can be found in Cambridge Ancient History vol. ©©. (±),
µ“·; vol. ©©© (±), µ“±; and vol. © (±), ·°“.

± ·±/
Latest date for Homer Death (or immortality)
 Legislation of of Romulus
Lycurgus at Sparta Accession of Numa
±µ/ ·/±
Foundation of Accession of Tullus
Carthage Hostilius
·· /
First Olympic Games Accession of Ancus
·µ±/° Foundation of Rome Marcius
and accession of Accession of
Romulus Tarquinius Priscus


µ··/ °
Assumption of power Law of Iulius and
Papirius on ¬nes
by Servius Tullius
Death of Stesichorus Exile of Camillus for
and birth of misappropriating
Simonides (Ol. µµ) plunder from Veii
µ/± ·/
Assumption of power Gallic Sack of Rome;
by Tarquinius defeat of Gauls by
Superbus Camillus
µ/ °
Arrival of Pythagoras Aedileship of Gnaeus
Flavius; ¬rst
in Italy
µ°/· Expulsion of publication of the
Tarquinius; legal calendar
foundation of War with Pyrrhus
Republic First Punic War
? ±“°
First dictatorship (of Second Punic War
Titus Larcius) Marcellus™ capture of
 Consulate (and Syracuse; death of
attempted coup) of Archimedes
Spurius Cassius; Defeat of Perseus of
executed the Macedon by Lucius
following year Aemilius Paullus at
µ Law of Aternius and Pydna
Tarpeius on ¬nes and ±µµ Carneades in Rome
sureties (Philosophers™
µ±“ Decemvirate; writing Embassy)
of Twelve Tables Third Punic War
 ±
Consulate of Lucius Scipio Aemilianus
Valerius Potitus and military tribune in
Marcus Horatius Third Punic War;
Barbatus; restoration consulate of Manilius
of Republic First consulate of
µ Canuleian plebiscite Scipio Aemilianus
on intermarriage Sack of Carthage and
between patricians of Corinth
and plebeians Scipio Aemilianus™
 Spurius Maelius eastern embassy
killed by Gaius Consulate of Furius
Servilius Ahala for Philus; inquiry into
aiming at monarchy Mancinus™ treaty


± Second consulate of of Sulla; Cicero™s
Scipio Aemilianus travels to Greece and
± Sack of Numantia Rhodes for study
Tribunate and death Cicero quaestor in
of Tiberius Gracchus Sicily
± ·°
Dramatic date of On First consulate of
Pompey and Crassus;
the Commonwealth
Death of Scipio restoration of full
±“± Tribunate of Gaius powers of tribunate
Gracchus Cicero aedile
±± 
Death of Gaius Cicero praetor
Gracchus Cicero consul;
±° Exile of Lucius conspiracy of
Opimius for bribery Catiline and
in Jugurthine War execution of
±° Birth of Cicero conspirators
±°° °
Tribunate and Formation of
murder of Appuleius; so-called First
exile of Metellus Triumvirate
Numidicus for (Pompey, Crassus,
refusing to swear an Caesar)
oath to support First consulate of
Appuleius™ agrarian Caesar; transfer of
law Publius Clodius to
 Tribunate of Titius plebs
±“ µ
Murder of Livius Tribunate of Publius
Drusus, followed by Clodius; Cicero sent
Social War into exile in March
 µ·
Sulla™s march on Cicero returns from
Rome and departure exile in September
to ¬ght Mithridates; µ Renewal of First
¬‚ight of Marius Triumvirate; Cicero
· Marius™ march on warned not to oppose
Rome them
 µµ
Death of Marius Cicero writes On the
“± Sulla™s return; his Orator
dictatorship (“±) Cicero composes On
and proscriptions the Commonwealth
·“· Retirement and death and On the Laws


µ “ Cicero composes the
Murder of Clodius by
Milo; sole consulate of bulk of his rhetorical
Pompey and philosophical works
µ±“µ° Cicero governor of (Brutus, Orator;
Cilicia (± July “ ° Consolation [lost],
June); return to Italy  Hortensius [lost],
November µ° Academica, On the
 Outbreak of civil war Supreme Good and Evil,
between Caesar and Tusculan Disputations,
Pompey On the Nature of the
 Defeat of Pompey at Gods, On Divination, On
Pharsalus; Cicero Fate, On Old Age, On
returns from Epirus to Friendship)
Brundisium Assassination of Caesar
· on ±µ March; Cicero
Cicero permitted by
delivers ¬rst Philippic
Caesar to return to
Rome in July against Antony in
 Defeat of Republicans September and
by Caesar at Thapsus composes On Duties
(N. Africa); suicide of Formation of Second
Cato Triumvirate (Antony,
Octavian, Lepidus) in
November; assassination
of Cicero on ·


Ancient works
Cicero™s works
The Loeb Classical Library includes almost all Cicero™s surviving works
(in many volumes, with facing Latin and English texts); there are more
recent (and better-annotated) translations of many of them. Of those
most relevant to On the Commonwealth and On the Laws, the speeches
delivered shortly after Cicero™s return from exile may be found in Cicero:
Back from Exile, translated by D. R. Shackleton Bailey (Atlanta, ±±);
the most important of these is On Behalf of Sestius delivered in µ. The
same translator™s version of the Philippics (Chapel Hill, ±±) is also
excellent. Of Cicero™s philosophical and rhetorical works, those most
relevant to On the Commonwealth and On the Laws include On the Orator,
On the Ultimate Good and Evil, Tusculan Disputations, On the Nature of the
Gods, On Divination, On Friendship, and On Duties. There is a Penguin
translation of On the Nature of the Gods by Horace McGregor and two
collections of relevant selections from a number of works in On the Good
Life and On Government (translated by Michael Grant; both Penguin).
The Aris and Phillips series contains annotated translations (with facing
Latin) of On Friendship and the Dream of Scipio by J. G. F. Powell, of
Tusculan Disputations Book ± and Books  and µ by A. E. Douglas, and of
On Stoic Good and Evil (De ¬nibus bonorum et malorum Book  and
Paradoxa Stoicorum) by M. R. Wright. On Duties, translated by M. T.
Gri¬n and E. M. Atkins, is published in this series. The complete
translation of Cicero™s correspondence by D. R. Shackleton Bailey (Let-
ters to Atticus and Letters to His Friends) has been allowed to go out of


print by Penguin in favor of Selected Letters; his complete translation of
the correspondence with Atticus is available now only in the seven-
volume edition (Cambridge ±µ“·°, with text, translation, and com-
mentary), while Letters to His Friends has been reprinted by the American
Philological Association (Atlanta, ±).

Other ancient works
Among Cicero™s contemporaries, the works of Lucretius (De rerum
natura [On the Nature of Things]) and of Sallust (Conspiracy of Catiline
and Jugurthine War) are available in Penguin translations (and many
others); the biography of Cicero™s friend Atticus by Cornelius Nepos is
translated with commentary by N. Horsfall in the Clarendon Ancient
History Series (Oxford, ±).
For the philosophical background to On the Commonwealth and On the
Laws, the works of Plato and Aristotle are most important; of the former,
particularly the Republic (translated by G. M. Grube, revised by C. D.
Reeve: Hackett, ±), the Statesman (translated by J. Annas and R.
Water¬eld: Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought, ±µ),
and the Laws (tr. T. Saunders: Penguin, ±·°). Of Aristotle, most
relevant are the Politics (tr. S. Everson: Cambridge Texts in the History
of Political Thought, ±) and the Nicomachean Ethics (tr. D. Ross:
World™s Classics, ±°). There is a valuable translation of Hellenistic
philosophical texts in A. A. Long and D. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philos-
ophers vol. © (Cambridge, ±·); the Greek text appears in vol. ©©. There is
a careful and well-annotated translation of Macrobius™ Commentary on
the Dream of Scipio by W. H. Stahl (New York, ±µ).
Of great importance for the historical and philosophical background to
On the Commonwealth is the Histories of Polybius, particularly Book 
(constitutional theory and early Roman history) and Book ± (his conver-
sations with Scipio Aemilianus); aside from the Loeb edition, there is a
good translation by E. S. Shuckburgh (London, ±; repr. Blooming-
ton, ±). Other accounts of early Rome, parallel to Cicero™s narrative in
On the Commonwealth Book , are those of Livy and Dionysius of
Halicarnassus. The relevant portions of Livy are available in The Early
History of Rome, tr. A. De Selincourt (Penguin); for Dionysius the only
available translation is in the Loeb Classical Library.
The legal text most relevant to On the Laws is the fragments of the
Twelve Tables, now available in a new text with translation and full


commentary in M. Crawford et al., Roman Statutes (London, ±). The
fragments are also available in E. Warmington (ed.), Remains of Old Latin
( vols., Loeb Classical Library), which also includes the fragments of
early poetry quoted by Cicero. The notes in this edition give references
to the collections of Crawford and Warmington, but it should be noted
that in the latter case both the text and the translation often di¬er

Modern works
For almost all subjects relevant to the texts in this volume, a brief
introduction will be found in The Oxford Classical Dictionary (rd ed.,
±). The bibliography given here excludes almost all works written in
languages other than English, but for the study of On the Commonwealth
and On the Laws in particular some of the fundamental tools for research
are in German and (since they have been of great use in preparing this
volume) must be mentioned here. An essential guide to modern study of
On the Commonwealth is P. L. Schmidt, ˜˜Cicero ˜De re publica™: Die
Forschung der letzten funf Dezennien,™™ in Aufstieg und Niedergang der
romischen Welt, ed. H. Temporini and W. Haase, vol. ©. (Berlin and New

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