66 BC | Rome

Pay Dirt

Cicero protects the coffers.

While the revenues of our other provinces, gentlemen, are barely sufficient to make it worth our while to defend them, Asia is so rich and fertile as easily to surpass all other countries in the productiveness of her soil, the variety of her crops, the extent of her pastures, and the volume of her exports.

This province, gentlemen, if you wish to retain what makes either war possible or peace honorable, it is your duty to defend not only from disaster but from fear of disaster. For in most cases, it is at the moment when disaster occurs that loss is sustained; but in the case of revenue, it is not only the occurrence of a calamity but the mere dread that brings disaster—for when the enemy’s forces are near at hand, even though they have not crossed the frontier, the pastures are deserted, the fields left untilled, and the seaborne trade comes to an end. Consequently, neither from customs duties, tithes, nor grazing dues can the revenues be maintained; and so a single rumor of danger, a single alarm of war, often means the loss of a whole year’s income. What, pray, do you suppose to be the state of mind either of those who pay us the taxes or of those who farm and collect them when two kings with mighty armies are near at hand; when a single cavalry raid can in an instant carry off the revenue of a whole year; when the tax farmers feel that there is the gravest risk in keeping the large staffs which they maintain on the pastures and the grain lands, at the harbors and the coast-guard stations? Do you imagine that you can enjoy these advantages unless you preserve those from whom you derive them and keep them free, as I said before, not only from disaster but from fear of disaster?


Marcus Tullius Cicero

From On the Manilian Law. Educated in Rome and Greece, Cicero made his first public defense in 81 bc. The legislation he defends in this oration had been passed in response to threats against Rome from Mithradates VI Eupator, king of Pontus. The Manilian Law—named for the tribune who proposed it—consolidated Roman military power in Asia under the sole command of Pompey the Great, who had already been granted unprecedented power to eradicate piracy from Mediterranean waters.