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How Much History did the Romans Know? Historical References in Cicero’s Speeches to the People

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Chapter Summary

Roman orators habitually used historical examples in their speeches. This paper focuses on the preserved speeches that Cicero delivered before the people in a contio. Ultimately the question which the paper addresses is that of how much history the Romans actually knew. Can speeches before the people be used as an indication of the historical knowledge of Roman citizens, or did they constitute rather a means of learning history? We should not take for granted that the audience knew in advance all historical information contained in a speech delivered before the people. Cicero’s speeches show how the contiones functioned as a venue in which the people could learn past history and in which their opinions about current events could be formed. Roman assemblies were therefore one of the main disseminators of historical knowledge for the inhabitants of the city.



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