5 Famous Roman Orators Who Left Their Mark

August 20, 2023

7 min read

5 Famous Roman Orators Who Left Their Mark

Oratory is the art of public speaking, and ancient Roman society valued it highly. Trained to be eloquent and persuasive, orators used their skills to influence public opinion, sway judges, and win elections. Before we get to know some of the most famous Roman orators, let’s take a quick look at why ancient Rome gave rise to these skilled speakers.

Oratory in Roman Society

The importance of oratory in Roman society is evident in the fact that it was a core part of the education of Roman men. Young men studied rhetoric and learned how to write and deliver speeches. They also practiced their skills by giving speeches in public.

Oratory was also an important part of Roman politics. Politicians used their speeches to persuade voters, win elections, and influence public policy.

The Romans’ skill in oratory had a lasting impact on Western culture. Throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance, scholars and writers studied and adapted the Roman rhetorical tradition. And, even today, many schools and universities still teach the principles of Roman rhetoric.

With that background and context, let’s look at five of the most famous Roman orators.

#1: Marcus Tullius Cicero

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) was a Roman statesman, lawyer, philosopher, writer, and one of the greatest orators of all time. His speeches stood out for their clarity, logic, and persuasiveness. He was also a prolific writer, and his works on philosophy, rhetoric, and politics were highly influential.

Cicero was born in Arpinum, a small town in Italy. He studied law and rhetoric in Rome and then went on to practice law. He quickly became one of the most successful lawyers in Rome, and his speeches were often cited as legal precedents.

In 63 BC, Cicero became consul, the highest political office in Rome. During his consulship, he delivered a series of speeches against Catiline, a Roman politician who was plotting to overthrow the republic. Many regard these speeches, the Catilinarian Orations, as some of the greatest speeches ever written.

After his consulship, Cicero continued to be active in politics. He served as governor of Cilicia, a province in Asia Minor, and he also wrote extensively on philosophy and rhetoric.

In 43 BC, Mark Antony, a Roman general who was one of Julius Caesar’s successors, had Cicero executed. Cicero’s death was a major blow to the Roman republic, and it’ i’s often seen as the beginning of the end of the republic.

Here are some of Cicero’s most famous speeches:

  • The Catilinarian Orations (63 BC) (noted above)
  • The Verrine Orations (70 BC): Cicero delivered these speeches against Verres, a Roman governor accused of corruption.
  • The Philippics (44-43 BC): Cicero delivered these speeches against Mark Antony.
  • De Oratore (55 BC): This is one of Cicero’s treatises on rhetoric.
  • De Officiis (44 BC): This is one of Cicero’s treatises on ethics.

Cicero’s speeches are a valuable resource for understanding Roman history and culture. They’re also a testament to his skill as an orator and his mastery of the Latin language.

#2: Gaius Gracchus

Next on our list of famous Roman orators is Gaius Sempronius Gracchus (154-121 BC)—a politician famous for his attempts to reform the Roman republic. He was the younger brother of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, who was also a tribune of the plebs and a reformer.

Gracchus became tribune of the plebs in 123 BC. During his tribunate, he proposed a number of reforms, including:

  • Distributing public land to the poor
  • Giving citizenship to the Italian allies
  • Reforming the judicial system

The Roman Senate, controlled by the wealthy elite, opposed Gracchus’s reforms. His opponents accused him of being a demagogue and a threat to the republic. In 121 BC, a mob of his political opponents Gracchus assassinated him.

A gifted orator, Gracchus infused his speeches with passion and eloquence. He used them to appeal to the common people and to rally support for his reforms. Here are some of his most famous speeches:

  • The First Speech on the Agrarian Law (123 BC): Gracchus delivered this speech in support of his proposal to distribute public land to the poor.
  • The Second Speech on the Agrarian Law (123 BC): Gracchus delivered this speech in response to the opposition to his proposal.
  • The Speech in Defense of His Brother Tiberius (121 BC): Gracchus delivered this speech in defense of his brother Tiberius.

Gracchus was a controversial figure, but many considere him to be one of the most important figures in Roman history. His reforms were unsuccessful in the short term. Eventually, though, they helped lay the groundwork for the social and political upheavals that led to the collapse of the Roman republic.

#3: Cato the Elder

Next on our list of famous Roman orators is Marcus Porcius Cato, also known as Cato the Elder. He was a politician, soldier, and writer who lived from 234 to 149 BC. He was a staunch defender of traditional Roman values. His famous phrase—”Carthage must be destroyed!”—often punctuated his long, rambling, and often repetitive speeches.

Cato was born into a wealthy family in Tusculum, a town near Rome. He served in the Roman army and fought in several wars, including the Second Punic War against Carthage. After the war, he entered politics and became consul in 195 BC.

As consul, Cato was a vocal opponent of the corruption and luxury that he saw in Roman society. He also advocated for a more aggressive foreign policy, including the destruction of Carthage. Remember: “Carthage must be destroyed!”

In Cato’s speeches, he often repeated the same phrase or idea over and over, in order to drive it home. He used humor and sarcasm to great effect in his attacks on his opponents.

One of Cato’s most famous speeches was his speech in the Senate in 149 BC, in which he argued for—you guessed it—the destruction of Carthage. This time, he said it in Latin: “Carthago delenda est!” This phrase became a rallying cry, and it eventually led to the Third Punic War. In that war—you guessed it—Carthage was destroyed.

Cato was a complex and controversial figure. He was a ruthless politician who was willing to use any means necessary to achieve his goals. His speeches were often long and rambling, but they were also full of passion and conviction.

#4: Cato the Younger

Next on our list of famous Roman orators is Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis, also known as Cato the Younger. He was a senator during the late Republic. He was a staunch conservative and a vocal opponent of Julius Caesar.

Cato was born in 95 BC into a wealthy family. He studied philosophy and rhetoric, and he was a follower of Stoicism. Cato entered politics at a young age and quickly rose through the ranks. He was elected quaestor in 67 BC, praetor in 62 BC, and consul in 54 BC.

As a senator, Cato was a vocal opponent of Caesar. He opposed Caesar’s reforms and his increasing power. Cato also opposed Caesar’s plan to invade Parthia.

In 49 BC, Caesar crossed the Rubicon and began the civil war. Cato sided with Pompey and the Optimates. After Pompey’s defeat at Pharsalus, Cato fled to Utica in Africa.

In Utica, Cato continued to oppose Caesar. He refused to surrender to Caesar, and he eventually committed suicide in 46 BC.

Here are some of his most famous speeches:

  • His speech against Caesar’s plan to invade Parthia (54 BC)
  • His speech against Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon (49 BC)
  • His speech in defense of his decision to commit suicide (46 BC)

Cato was a complex and controversial figure. He was a staunch conservative who was willing to die for his beliefs. His eloquent speeches served as a passionate defense of traditional Roman values.

#5: Julius Caesar

Last on our list of famous Roman orators is Julius Caesar—a general, statesman, and author who lived from 100 to 44 BC. He’s perhaps best known for being one of the greatest military commanders in history. But, he’s also one of the most famous Roman orators. His speeches are known for their clarity, wit, and persuasiveness.

One of Caesar’s most famous speeches is his speech to the Roman Senate in 49 BC, in which he justified his crossing of the Rubicon. In this speech, Caesar famously said, “The die is cast” (alea iacta est). This phrase became a symbol of Caesar’s determination and his willingness to take risks.

Another famous speech by Caesar is his speech to the troops at Alexandria in 47 BC. He urged his troops to fight on, even though they were outnumbered and outgunned. The talk inspired his troops to victory.

Caesar used oration as a powerful tool to achieve his political and military goals. His speeches were clear, concise, and persuasive, and they helped him to win the support of the Roman people.

In addition to his speeches, Caesar was also a gifted writer. He wrote a book about his Gallic Wars, which is considered one of the most important military histories ever written. Caesar’s writing is clear, concise, and informative, and it provides a valuable insight into his military campaigns.

Caesar was a complex and contradictory figure. He was a brilliant military commander and a gifted orator, but he was also a ruthless politician who was willing to use any means necessary to achieve his goals. His speeches and writings continue to be studied and debated today, and they provide a fascinating glimpse into one of the most important figures in Roman history.

Wrapping Up

Most of these speeches weren’t recorded in their entirety, but they’re preserved in the works of ancient historians such as Plutarch, Livy, Suetonius, and Appian.

The speeches of these famous Roman orators are still studied today by students of rhetoric and law. They’re also of interest to historians and political scientists, as they provide insights into Roman politics and society.

Note: This post was created in partnership with artificial intelligence.


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