This earthquake occurred a few weeks before Cicero’s oration “On the Responses of the Haruspices”, delivered between 6-14 May 56 BC.
Cicero soon after his consulship, had purchased the house of Marcus Crassus on the Palatine Hill, which adjoined that in which he had always lived with his father; it was one of the finest houses in Rome, and cost him nearly thirty thousand pounds, and was joined to the colonnade or portico called by the name of Catulus, who had built it out of the Cimbric spoils on that area where Flaccus formerly lived, whose house had been demolished by public authority for his seditious union with Caius Gracchus.
As soon as Clodius had carried his decree against Cicero after his flight, he immediately began plundering and destroying all his houses; the consuls, Piso and Gabinius, divided the greater part of his furniture and of the ornaments of his house and villa between them; and, in the hope of making the loss of his house at Rome irretrievable, Clodius consecrated the area on which it stood to the service of religion, building on it a temple to Liberty, and he pulled down the adjoining portico of Catulus in order to rebuild it of the same order as the temple. The law being that a consecration, legally performed, made the thing consecrated inapplicable ever after to any private use.
The affair was to be determined by the college of priests, who were the judges in all cases relating to religion; since the senate could only make a provisional decree, that, if the priests discharged the ground from the service of religion, then in that case the consuls should rebuild the house at the public charge. The cause now came before the priests on the last day of September. Cicero endeavoured, in the first place, to disabuse their minds of any enmity to him which might have been instilled into their minds by Clodius on account of his late conduct with respect to Pompey. (For there had been a great scarcity at Rome, partly occasioned by the great multitudes that had come from all parts of Italy on Cicero’s account; and Cicero had supported a resolution of the senate by which Pompey was entreated to undertake the province of restoring plenty to the city, and to this end the consuls had been ordered to draw up a law by which the whole administration of the corn and provisions of the republic was granted to Pompey for five years. And in consequence of Cicero’s advocacy of the measure Clodius endeavoured to excite odium against him, as having deserted the cause of the senate to pay court to Pompey; though the measure had been very successful, as the credit of Pompey’s name immediately reduced the price of provisions in the markets.)
As, however, the main question turned upon the legality of the consecration, Cicero applies to establish the fact of its illegality by proving that Clodius could not legally consecrate anything, as his election to the tribunate was illegal; since his adoption into a plebeian family, or at least into that particular family into which he had been adopted, was in violation and defiance of all the laws made for such cases; if his adoption was illegal, clearly he could not have legally been elected tribune, nor have legally done any action as tribune.
The priests decided that if he who performed the office of consecration had not been legally authorized to do so, then the area in question might without any scruple of religion be restored to Cicero. The point of law they left to the senate, who, after many interruptions from Clodius and Serranus, passed a decree that Cicero’s damage should be made good to him, and his houses rebuilt at the public charge.
Cicero himself thought very highly of this speech, and published it immediately; and says, in one of his letters to Atticus, (iv. 2) that if ever he was great in speaking, he was so especially now, as his indignation and the greatness of the injury done to him gave him especial energy and force of oratory. Some critics, but apparently without any good reason, have doubted the genuineness of this oration.