The Letters Project Workshop

The following will acquaint you with aspects of Roman culture which are embedded in Cicero's letters and will help you better understand the content of your letters. We will begin by exploring the sites together, but you should feel free to break away after the first two sites to do research that is specific to your own correspondent and letters.

The Roman Calendar
Cicero's letters are dated, as ours, by day, month, and year. After familiarizing yourself with the various religious, secular, and computational aspects of the Roman calendar, go to the live Julian Calendar page and click on each of the dates of your four letters; read and save the url's of the results to disk.
The Romans dated their years by counting forward inclusively from the founding of the city of Rome in 754 BCE (e.g., Cicero's consulship in 63 BCE would be 692 AUC (ab urbe condita). Calculate and record the dates AUC for each of your four letters.
If you are interested in reading more about the Roman calendar, explore the following two calendar sites: 1 , 2.

Roman Names
Cicero's letters open, as do ours, with a salutation by name. Here is a description of the Roman practice of naming. Identify your correspondent by Praenomen, Nomen, Cognomen.

Roman History
Cicero and his correspondents are key players in the public events of the closing years of the Republic. This is a chronological timeline of Roman history which may help you situate the unfolding action.

Cursus Honorum
Public leadership in Rome was carefully sequenced and ordered, forcing the ambitious to begin at the lower rungs of the power structure and slowly work their way to the top. Julius Caesar's disruption of this order was not the first nor the last, but it led to his death and the end of the Republic.

Roman Constitution
While much modified through the years from 509 BCE, the founding of the Roman Republic, this was the legal underpinning of the Roman government.

Roman Politics
Roman politics built on political, economic, and social connections which both joined and separated the classes. What you find here will help you understand Cicero's delicate position as a novus homo and his uneasy relationships with leading political and military figures, especially Julius Caesar. Roman political life was played out very much in public in the Roman Forum; of particular interest to Ciceronians is the Rostra (click here for another interesting site on the Forum).

The Life of Cicero:
Plutarch, the author of this ancient life of Cicero, was a Greek man of leters who participated fully in the Greco-Roman civilization of his time (c. 50 -120 CE). Written in Greek, this is part of a collection of biographies known as The Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans. While the biography is factually accurate, it seems to have been enhanced for the purposes of the narrative--which makes it interesting reading. It is worth consulting for information about Cicero's life, relations and associates.
In her introduction to the letters of Cicero, Evelyn Shuckburgh begins her account of his life with the year in which his letters appear, 68 BCE; she goes on to describe his early life and education, and concentrates on the later public events and activities of his adult life, which form the background for the corpus of letters.

Return to Cicero, "The Letters Project"