Discovering a Higher Law: Cicero's Creation of a Roman Constitution

Thumbnail Image

Persistent link to this item

View Statistics

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Discovering a Higher Law: Cicero's Creation of a Roman Constitution

Published Date




Thesis or Dissertation


Political legitimacy is often characterized as a particularly modern concern, and, it is argued, one never broached by ancient political thinkers. The electoral contests of the Roman Republic, under this traditional view, have been seen as merely the marshalling of public support and the quid pro quo infighting of the great Roman families. A completely different story is revealed, however, by a close reading of Cicero’s early speeches. The political atmosphere of the Republic, far from being an ideologically sterile wasteland, was in fact a fertile source of political ideas and competing political ideologies. It was in these early speeches, after all, that Cicero began building his public reputation. Although he was a newcomer to Roman politics (novus homo - ‘new man’), his early speeches reveal the great effort (and risks) he took to articulate a coherent political program: a set of ideas about the Republic, its laws and constitution that set him apart from his contemporaries. Thus this project shows how Cicero’s early private speeches, the Pro Roscio Amerino, the In Verrem, and the Pro Caecina, should be read as important steps in the construction of both Cicero’s political thought and his public persona. In these speeches, Cicero laid out his vision for the Roman Republic, and this vision is, in its essence, a constitutional vision. His earliest speeches emphasize, repeatedly and consistently, the necessity of building a constitutional and limited Republic as the only route of escape from the troubles which were vexing Roman society. A government is made legitimate, Cicero argues, by those things it chooses not to do. Instead, a legitimate government recognizes and acknowledges that certain actions are simply unthinkable, illegitimate, and fundamentally unconstitutional. This vision of a limited and legitimate Res Publica, then, helps to explain some of Cicero’s electoral appeal in his own time and his continuing influence in our own.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. 2015. Major: Classical and Near Eastern Studies. Advisor: Christopher Nappa. 1 computer file (PDF); 214 pages.

Related to




Series/Report Number

Funding information

Isbn identifier

Doi identifier

Previously Published Citation

Suggested citation

Willey, Andrew. (2015). Discovering a Higher Law: Cicero's Creation of a Roman Constitution. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

Content distributed via the University Digital Conservancy may be subject to additional license and use restrictions applied by the depositor. By using these files, users agree to the Terms of Use. Materials in the UDC may contain content that is disturbing and/or harmful. For more information, please see our statement on harmful content in digital repositories.