Is the Cicero Quote About A Balanced Budget in 55 BC Authentic? No, and Here’s Why (With References)

An email forward has been making the rounds ever since appx 2008, suggesting that Marcus Tullius Cicero (wiki), a famous Roman orator, statesman and philosopher, spoke about how necessary a balanced budget was for Rome, supposedly remarking:

“The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance.” –Cicero – 55 BC

An image is occasionally found alongside, or perhaps more easily propagandized over Facebook’s sharing function:

From my own research, the consensus seems to suggest that the source is actually from a fiction novel called, “A Pillar of Iron” by Taylor Caldwell, in which a fictional Cicero is spoken of by the narrator of the novel, to have had such beliefs.

I went so far as to find the first edition of the book in question personally through Inter-Library Loan, and took photographs of the passage in question (and the bookplate which includes the popular “no relation to anyone real” clause, clearly upon it)

The actual passage in question —

Cicero looked at his colleague’s cheerful and handsome face and his winsome eyes, and shook his head in dismay. Reared in republican virtues, Cicero found himself frequently confounded by Antonius. Antonius heartily agreed with him that the budget should be balanced, that the Treasury should be refilled, that public debt should be reduced, that the arrogance of the generals should be tempered and controlled, that assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt, that the mobs should be forced to work and not depend on government for subsistence, and that prudence and frugality should be put into practice as soon as possible. But when Cicero produced facts and figures how all these things must and should be accomplished, by austerity and discipline and commonsense, Antonius became troubled.
“But this–or that–would bring hardship on this–or that–class,” Antonius said. “The people are accustomed to lavish displays in the circuses and theatres, and the lotteries, and free grain and beans and beef when they are destitute, and shelter when they are homeless and a part of the city is rebuilt. Is not the welfare of our people paramount?”
“There will be no welfare of the people if we become bankrupt,” said Cicero, grimly. “We can become solvent again, and strong, only by self denial and by spending as little as possible until the public debt is paid and the Treasury refilled.”
“But one cannot–if one has a heart at all–deprive the people of what they have received for many decades from government, and which they expect. It will create the most terrible hardships.”
“Better that all of us tighten our girdles than Rome fall,” said Cicero. (Pillar of Iron by Taylor Caldwell, 1965 HC first edition, historical fiction)

Bookplate photo:

Page 483 photo:

Editor’s note, 02-17/2013 — The post above discusses the authenticity of the falsely-attributed Cicero quote’s attribution, not matters of authenticity regarding interpretation/meaning of the misattributed quote. That is, although the incorrectly-attributed quote’s *message* may ring true to some, it was not actually a quote from Cisero as far as the consensus of my research can determine.


10 thoughts on “Is the Cicero Quote About A Balanced Budget in 55 BC Authentic? No, and Here’s Why (With References)

  1. Why would you take the passage from a book and believe that is where the quote originated? How do you know the author didn’t take the quote or statement from Cicero or even another source? Why is conflicting information on the source of one quote more original or genuine than the other? I don’t have any idea myself about who wrote or said it first but how did you determine which quote came first? Nothing in your research reflects any evidence as to why one is more valid than the other or which came first, therefore invalidating your conclusion. “Consensus is that…” is an incredibly weak argument. The publisher’s disclaimer is not proof of anything nor do the book pages themselves evidence anything related to who made the quote first. Again, I dont care eitherway but your research is flawed and incomplete thereby rendering your findings invalid or at the least arguable. You proved only that the origination of the quote is probably unknown, at least based on what you found. Actually who uttered or wrote the quote is not terribly important. The only thing of importance is whether or not the quotation reflects a current truism or not.

    • All research is flawed, from being incapable of having complete knowledge of all things. All perception of truth is merely an opinion of the credibility of the source. Can you offer any credible evidence to suggest that Cisero did actually make the meme’s quote?

      • No I can’t and I never claimed to be able to, nor was that the point of my reply. I simply pointed out that the statement that was sent out by the writer was based on flawed investigative conclusions. The actual issue is that whoever made or did not make the statement is irrelevant. What is relevant is if the statement is valid and that is up to an individual to decide. It matters not at all who made or did not make the statement. To try and make that an issue is an interesting historical study at best or an attempt to cloud the real issue which is the validity and current applicability of the statement in today’s world. Thanks for your reply, I appreciate that you took the time to do so.

    • It appears you have misinterpreted the headline.

      At no point did I, at all, suggest that the authenticity of the falsely-attributed quote’s MEANING were in question.

      The quote’s authenticity (as a quote that could be traced to Cisero), is the question that I provided evidence for. You appear to have misinterpreted the headline, and for some reason believed I was talking about your misinterpretation despite providing no evidence — and yet dared not explore the fact that SINCE I offered no evidence for the authenticity of the MEANING of the quote, that therefore I was not, at all, discussing the MEANING of the quote, but rather whether the attribution was authentic.

      Editor’s note added.

      • We are clearly on different wave=lengths. If what you say was truly your aim, I guess it is an interesting but somewhat unimportant bit of information. The real question of value would seem to be ” is the content of the quote true and applicable today or not?” If you were not interested in that then I guess there is nothing more to discuss and perhaps I mis-interpreted what you were ultimately interested in. Thanks again, it was fun and interesting. I appreciate your responses.

  2. “The real question of value would seem to be, ‘is the content of the quote true and applicable today or not?'”
    No, that’s not the real question. Cisero’s name was lent to this quote to give it credence – if he did not say it, then it is just a comment that lies in obscurity on someone’s blog…Authenticity was the word used – is the quote authentic? Whether the quote is true or has value is a whole different matter. Why would someone feel the need to lie in order to make their point?
    Personally, I think the quote is applicable – but is diminished by lying about its origin. Furthermore,

    • The quote about a balanced budget attributed to Cicero may not be used in a scientific article with the intent to suggest that the quote is genuinely a quote by Cicero. It is falsely attributed to him, and is not a genuine Cicero quote.

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