Marcus Tullius Tiro

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Marcus Tullius Tiro (died c. 4 BC) was first a slave, then a freedman of Cicero. He is frequently mentioned in Cicero's letters. After Cicero's death he published his former master's collected works. He also wrote a considerable number of books himself, and possibly invented an early form of shorthand.


The date of Tiro's birth is uncertain. Jerome dates it to 103 BC,[1] which would make him only a little younger than Cicero. However, he was probably born considerably later than that: Cicero refers to him as an "excellent young man" (adulescentem probum) in 50 BC.[2]

It is possible that Tiro was born a slave in Cicero's household in Arpinum and came with his family to Rome. However we do not know for sure that he was a verna (homegrown slave). Cicero refers to Tiro frequently in his letters. His duties included taking dictation, deciphering Cicero's handwriting and managing his table,[3] as well as his garden[4] and financial affairs.[5] Cicero remarks on how useful he is to him in his work and studies.[6]

He was freed in 53 BC and accompanied Cicero to Cilicia during Cicero's governorship there,[citation needed] although he was frequently separated from his patron due to poor health, and many of Cicero's letters refer with concern to his illnesses.[7]

After Cicero's death Tiro bought an estate near Puteoli, where Jerome says he died in 4 BC at the age of ninety-nine.[8]


He is believed to have collected and published Cicero's work after his death, and, it seems, was a prolific writer himself: several ancient writers refer to works of Tiro, now lost. Aulus Gellius says, " [he] wrote several books on the usage and theory of the Latin language and on miscellaneous questions of various kinds," and quotes him on the difference between Greek and Latin names for certain stars.[9] Asconius Pedianus, in his commentaries on Cicero's speeches, refers to a biography of Cicero by Tiro in at least four books,[10] and Plutarch refers to him as a source for two incidents in Cicero's life.[11]

He is credited with inventing the shorthand system of Tironian notes, later used by Medieval monks, among others. There is no clear evidence that he did, although Plutarch credits Cicero's clerks as the first Romans to record speeches in shorthand.[12]

Tiro in fiction

Tiro appears as a recurring character in Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa crime fiction series, where he occupies the role of sometime sidekick to Saylor's investigator hero, Gordianus the Finder. He is the first-person narrator in the three books of Robert Harris's biographical-fiction trilogy of Cicero: Imperium (2006), Lustrum (2009, published in the US as Conspirata), and Dictator (2015). Tiro appears in several books in the SPQR series by John Maddox Roberts.

Tiro (spelled Tyro) appears in the television programme Rome, played by Clive Riche in the episodes "Son of Hades", "These Being the Words of Marcus Tullius Cicero", "Heroes of the Republic", and "Philippi". This version of Tiro appears to be older than Cicero, and is only freed in Cicero's will.

See also


  1. Jerome, Chronological Tables 194.1
  2. Cicero, Letters to Atticus 7.2
  3. Cicero, Letters to Friends 11.22
  4. Cicero, Letters to Friends 16.20
  5. Cicero, Letters to Friends 16.23, 16.24
  6. Cicero, Letters to Atticus 7.5
  7. e.g. Cicero, Letters to Atticus 6.7; Letters to Friends 16.8, 16.9, 16.10, 16.11, 16.13, 16.15
  8. Cicero, Letters to Friends 16.21; Jerome, Chronological Tables 194.1; William Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology vol. 3 p. 1182
  9. Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 13.9 (Loeb edition, translated by John C. Rolfe, 1961)
  10. Asconius Pedianus, In Milone 38
  11. Plutarch, Cicero 41, 49
  12. Plutarch, Cato the Younger 23.3