The Roman, at any rate the upper-class Roman, was a letter writer. In ancient Greece a man’s circle was apt to be mainly confined to a single small town and the countryside adjoining. But the well-to-do Roman might well have connections up and down Italy as well as in the provinces. He himself spent much time in his country houses (villas). Business, public or private, might take him abroad for long periods. Although there was no postal system, bearers could usually be found: his own slaves, his friends’ slaves, casual travellers, or the couriers of business companies.

Hardly any specimens of this activity survive except for Cicero’s correspondence, consisting almost entirely of private letters written without any idea of future publication and published, as it seems, almost exactly as they stood. (The omission in one letter to Atticus of a scandalous story about Cicero’s nephew may have been deliberate, but it is hard to find any other evidence of expurgation, let alone falsification.) As such they are uniquely interesting, even apart from their value as a source of historical and other kinds of information.

What remains of Cicero’s correspondence has come down in two large collections, the Letters to Atticus and the so-called Letters to Friends, and two much smaller