2023-2024 Catalog

LATN 348 Defending the Republic: The Literature of Constitutional Crises, from Cicero to Adams

The assassination of Pompey the Great in September of 48 B.C.E sealed the fate of the Roman republic. Pompey’s military leadership had been the republicans’ last hope of preserving Rome’s constitutional order in the face of the dictatorial ambitions of Julius Caesar, who had in effect declared war on his own country in 49 B.C.E when he brought his army across the Rubicon river into Italy from Gaul. With Pompey gone, the republic was lost.

Some Romans—including the statesman, orator, and philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero—resisted Caesar with the pen, not the sword. In works such as On the Republic and On the Laws, Cicero articulated and urged upon his fellow citizens the merits of republican government, its basis in popular sovereignty, and the moral and political virtues of the rule of laws not men. A group of republican conspirators who sought to restore the old order assassinated Caesar in 44 B.C.E. They were, in turn, destroyed by Caesar’s would-be heirs. In the tumult, Cicero was assassinated by the Caesarian faction for his political speech and activism.

Cicero’s writings and their influence survived his assassination and have inspired opponents of tyranny and proponents of self-government for over 2000 years. In this course, we engage with the legacy of Roman republicanism, and its historically unprecedented regime of rights, laws, and constitutional norms. We read foundational texts by Cicero and the Roman historian Livy as well as by later political theorists who drew inspiration from them, such as Machiavelli, who re-introduced the theory of republican government into a Renaissance Europe ruled by princes in his 1517 treatise Discourses on Livy, and John Adams (the “American Cicero”), whose 1787 work Defence of the Constitutions of the United States of America owed much to Ciceronian thought and made the Constitution that we have today—the oldest constitution in the world, and one that many perceive as now under threat—the world-changing document that it has proved to be.


5 units


LATN 201

Core Requirements Met

  • Regional Focus
  • Pre-1800