Cicero's Philippics, 15th-century manuscript, British Library

The Philippics (Latin: Philippicae, singular Philippica) are a series of 14 speeches composed by Cicero in 44 and 43 BC, condemning Mark Antony. Cicero likened these speeches to those of Demosthenes against Philip II of Macedon;[1] both Demosthenes' and Cicero's speeches became known as Philippics. Cicero's Second Philippic is styled after Demosthenes' On the Crown.

The speeches were delivered in the aftermath of the assassination of Julius Caesar, during a power struggle between Caesar's supporters and his assassins. Although Cicero was not involved in the assassination, he agreed with it and felt that Antony should also have been eliminated. In the Philippics, Cicero attempted to rally the Senate against Antony, whom he denounced as a threat to the Roman Republic.

The Philippics convinced the Senate to declare Antony an enemy of the state and send an army against him. However, the commanders were killed in battle, so the Senate's army came under the control of Octavian. When Octavian, Antony and Marcus Lepidus formed the Second Triumvirate, Antony insisted that they proscribe Cicero in revenge for the Philippics. Cicero was hunted down and killed soon after.

Political climate

Cicero was taken by surprise when Gaius Julius Caesar, the dictator of the Roman Republic, was assassinated on the fifteenth day of March, 44 BC (the Ides of March) by a group of Roman senators who called themselves Liberatores. Cicero was not included in the conspiracy even though the conspirators were sure of his sympathy. When Marcus Junius Brutus, one of the killers, lifted his bloodstained dagger after the assassination, he called out Cicero's name, beseeching him to "restore the Republic!".[2] A letter Cicero wrote in February 43 BC to Trebonius, one of the conspirators, began, "How I wish that you had invited me to that most glorious banquet on the Ides of March!"[3]

Caesar had used his dominant position simply to appoint his supporters to magistracies (which were normally elected positions) and promagistracies (which were usually assigned by the Senate). This was a clear violation of the Roman constitution and left Caesar's supporters, known as the Caesarian faction, vulnerable to their appointments being declared illegal by the Senate. Following the assassination, the Caesarians sought to legitimise their positions and to take revenge on the assassins.

With the Caesarians and supporters of the assassins deadlocked in the Senate, Cicero brokered a compromise: he arranged for the Senate to confirm Caesar's appointees in their posts and in exchange issue an amnesty for the assassins. This brought an uneasy peace between the factions, though it would last less than a year.

Cicero became a popular leader during the subsequent months of instability. He was opposed by Mark Antony, one of the consuls for 44 BC and the leader of the Caesarian faction. In private Cicero expressed his regret that the assassins had not eliminated Antony as well as Caesar. The two men had never been on friendly terms and their relationship worsened when Antony began acting as the unofficial executor of Caesar's will. Cicero made it clear that he felt Antony was misrepresenting Caesar's wishes and intentions for his own gain.

Octavian, Caesar's adopted son and heir, arrived in Italy in April and visited Cicero at his villa before heading to Rome. Sensing an opportunity, Cicero encouraged Octavian to oppose Antony.[4] In September Cicero began attacking Antony in a series of speeches that he called the Philippics in honour of his inspiration, Demosthenes' speeches denouncing Philip II of Macedon. Cicero lavished praise on Octavian, calling him a "god-sent child", claiming that the young man desired only honour and would not make the same mistakes as Caesar had.

During the period of the Phillippics Cicero's popularity as a public figure was unrivalled. He was appointed princeps senatus ('first man of the Senate') in 43 BC, becoming the first plebeian to hold the position. Cicero's attacks rallied the Senate to firmly oppose Antony, whom he called a "sheep". According to the historian Appian, for a few months Cicero "had the [most] power any popular leader could possibly have".[4]


The fourteen speeches were:


The first two speeches mark the outbreak of the enmity between Mark Antony and Cicero. It is possible that Cicero wanted to invoke the memory of his successful denunciation of the Catiline conspiracy; at any rate, he compares Mark Antony with his own worst political opponents, Catiline and Clodius, in a clever rhetorical manner.

In the 3rd and 4th speeches, of 20 December 44, he tried to establish a military alliance with Octavian; the primary objective was the annihilation of Mark Antony and the restoration of the res publica libera – the free republic; to reach this goal, he favoured military means unambiguously.

As the Senate decided to send a peace delegation, in the 5, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th speeches, he argued against the idea of an embassy and tried to mobilise the Senate and the Roman People to war.

In the 10th and 11th, he supports a military strengthening of the republicans Brutus and Cassius, but he was successful only in the case of the first one.

In the 12th, 13th and 14th, he wanted to wipe out any doubt against his own war policy. After the victory over Mark Antony, in the last speech he still warns against a too prompt eagerness for peace.


Cicero’s attacks on Antony were only partially successful and were overtaken by events on the battlefield. The Senate agreed with most (but not all) of Cicero's proposals, including declaring Antony an enemy of the state. Cicero convinced the two consuls for 43 BC, Aulus Hirtius and Gaius Vibius Pansa, to lead the Senate's armies (with an allied force commanded by Octavian) against Antony. However, Pansa was mortally wounded at the Battle of Forum Gallorum, and Hirtius died at the Battle of Mutina a few days later. Both battles had been victories for the Senate army, but the deaths of its commanders left the force leaderless. The senior magistrate on the scene was Decimus Brutus (the propraetor of cisalpine Gaul), who the Senate attempted to appoint in command, but Octavian refused to work with him because he had been one of Julius Caesar's assassins. Most of the troops switched their loyalty to Octavian. With Cicero and the Senate attempting to bypass him and now in command of a large army, Octavian decided to reconcile with Antony. Antony and Octavian allied with each other and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus to form the second triumvirate, in opposition to Caesar's assassins. With the triumvirate controlling almost all of the military forces, Cicero and the Senate were left defenceless.

Immediately after legislating their alliance into official existence (for a five-year term with consular imperium), the triumvirate began proscribing their enemies and potential rivals. Cicero was proscribed, as was his younger brother Quintus Tullius Cicero (formerly one of Caesar's legati), and all of their supporters.[citation needed] They included a tribune named Salvius, who had sided with Antony before switching his support to Cicero. Octavian reportedly argued for two days against Cicero being added to the proscription list, but the triumvirs eventually agreed to each sacrifice one close associate (Cicero being Octavian's).[7]

Most of the proscribed senators sought to flee to the East, particularly to Macedonia where two more of Caesar's assassins, Marcus Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus, were attempting to recruit new armies. Cicero was one of the most doggedly hunted of the proscribed, but was viewed with sympathy by a large segment of the public so many refused to report that they had seen him. He was eventually caught leaving his villa in Formiae in a litter heading for the coast, from where he hoped to embark on a ship to Macedonia.[8] He submitted to a soldier, baring his neck to him, suffering death and beheading. Antony requested that the hands that wrote the Philippics also be removed. His head and hands were publicly displayed in the Roman Forum to discourage any who would oppose the new Triumvirate of Octavian, Mark Antony, and Lepidus.


  1. ^ Cicero, Ad Atticus, 2.1.3
  2. ^ Cicero, Second Philippic Against Antony
  3. ^ Cicero, Ad Familiares 10.28
  4. ^ a b Appian, Civil Wars 4.19
  5. ^ cf. Cicero, Ad Atticum 15.13.1
  6. ^ Cicero, Marcus Tullius (2010). "Phillipic 5". In Bailey, D. R. Shackleton; Ramsey, John T.; Manuwald, Gesine (eds.). Philippics 1-6. Loeb Classical Library. Vol. 189. Translated by Bailey, D. R. Shackleton. Harvard University Press. p. 241. doi:10.4159/DLCL.marcus_tullius_cicero-philippic_5.2010.
  7. ^ Plutarch, Cicero 46.3–5
  8. ^ Haskell, H.J.: This was Cicero (1964) p. 293