In 45 Bc, Servius Sulpicius Rufus and Cicero exchanged letters containing reflections on the recent death of Cicero's daughter Tullia. This tragic event was assimilated by both to what they saw as the ‘death’ of the res publica, defined loosely by both as the constitutional order that had underpinned their own success and prestige, and that now, thanks to the victory of Caesar, was no more. However, both also resorted to survival strategies: a continued involvement, somehow, in the affairs of the res publica ; and the fulfilment of obligations to the interests of clients and friends.
Although the emotions that prompted the exchange were heart-felt (at least on Cicero's side), the pair of letters was also a jointly created literary artefact. Both writers were masters of rhetoric (despite Cicero's allegations to the contrary with regard to Servius in the Pro Murena) and their arguments add up to a joint exercise in self-representation as the chief mourners for a defunct res publica. As an analysis of what was meant by res publica, the letters leave much to be desired in that they may reflect Servius’ more limited political and philosophical outlook; Cicero, even when profoundly afflicted by grief, could do better, as is evidenced in the Tusculan Disputations, also a response to Tullia's death. In other words, Cicero, as so often, adapted himself to his correspondent.
Cicero's and Servius’ concern with helping friends would provide a means to enable the elite under the Empire to survive and prosper as manipulators of networks of power. Among them, Servius’ intellectual successors, the Roman jurists, also prospered; his career, and the subsequent perspectives on it, illustrated here through brief analyses of the presence of Servius in Celsus and Pomponius, illustrate how easily the iuris periti could adapt to a new constitutional order, by representing it as a continuation of the old. The ‘procuratorial’ attitude to the role of the populus in the res publica in their exchange is more problematic. The ‘fall of the Republic’ can be read in many ways; certainly, the ability of the populus Romanus to act as an effective element in constitutional governance was an early casualty of Augustus’ new system.