The Remarkable Legacy Of CICERO’S Slave

Silence is one of the great arts of conversation. - CICERO

As Tiro was desperately trying to follow the pace of his master, who was walking around the Forum Romanum and delivering yet another fascinating, memorable and deeply philosophical, oratory contribution to eager ears, Tiro realised that he was definitely missing words and losing brilliant concepts. He needed to devise a faster system of taking dictation, otherwise the style of argument and wisdoms of his brilliant master, might be lost forever. 

It suddenly came to him as he the pace slowed to a halt at the Rostrum and Tiro looked down at his notes. He noticed how his handwriting “on-the-run” had turned into scribbles and drawls. What if he could generate a set of symbols to encapsulate whole words or often-used phrases? His master’s speeches seemed full of just such “favourite phrases” and repetitive legal- and political jargon…

And so Tiro’s notes and scribbles were slowly transformed into a unique system of shorthand, thereby ensuring that one of Rome’s greatest orators and prose stylist’s contribution to Roman literature was captured and safeguarded for posterity.

Tiro’s “notae” allowed for gems such as these still to remain known more than 2000 years later:

It is foolish to tear one’s hair in grief, as though sorrow would be made less by baldness. - CICERO

Possibly born a slave in the household of Marcus Tullius Cicero, but elevated to the status of personal secretary, scribe and personal confidante of one of Rome’s greatest orators and prose stylists, Tiro’s duties included managing Cicero’s garden, table and financial affairs, deciphering his handwriting and finally and most importantly, taking dictation as and when his master was prompted into speech, whenever, wherever.

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. - CICERO

Tiro was finally freed by his master in 53 BC and it is believed that he published his collection of Cicero’s works after the latter’s death. 

A room without books is like a body without a soul. - CICERO

Tiro is credited with inventing a type of shorthand, which was later, especially during medieval times, used by monks, and referred to as “Notae Tironianae”, consisting of 4,000 symbols, a few of which are still used to this day.

The Tironian et is a remnant of Tiro’s shorthand system, which was popular for centuries but is now almost entirely discontinued. The mark lives on in just a couple of writing systems, one of which is Irish.

Even Irish people who respond to the phrase “Tironian et” with blank looks are familiar with it from bilingual street signs like the one in the middle below.



The final image shows the Tironian et used at the end of this paragraph in the abbreviation “⁊c”, that is, “etc.”, short for “et cetera”, in a German document from 1768.

Tiro’s system of taking notes ensured that his notes were more correct than any other system of taking down dictation at the time his “Notae Tironionae” had been devised. History shows that a writer who adopted this style of writing, was later on referred to as a “Notarius”.

The relevance of this fascinating origin story, is simply this: one of the oldest functions or offices held by lawyers, seems to derive its name from this colourful morsel of information. Throughout history, holding office as Notary, or Notarius, has an implicit understanding that it represents correctness and that reliance can be placed on such documents, scribed or secured, or witnessed and subsequently, even drafted as such by a Notarius, who is further deemed to be an expert in his field.

Even though the name was inherited from Cicero’s slave and eventual confidante, Tiro, the “job description” of the modern Notary, emerged from that of the Roman “Tabelliones” which were clerks, employed to draft legal documents, forming the highest class of officials, from registrars to provincial governors to being secretaries, to the Emperor himself. Later the title was applied almost exclusively to registrars and high-ranking government officials.

The higher we are placed, the more humbly we should walk. – CICERO

The Office of Notary in South Africa

The first notary in South Africa was appointed in 1672. After 1858, the British imposed legislation relating to this office. In 1903 further legislation was passed, requiring that only attorneys may qualify as notaries as well. Admittance as a Notary is now further regulated by the passing of a formal competency based-exam or assessment as per the Legal Practice Act.

It is customary for Notaries to have a seal of office to affix to documents so executed, but not prescribed. Every Notary however has to maintain a “Protocol”, which is nothing other than an index kept of its contents and a place of safekeeping of original minutes of all documents attested and executed by the Notary, known as the “protocol copy”.

The foundation of justice is good faith. -  CICERO

The following services are currently reserved for Notaries
  1. Actions and notarial contracts that require registration in a Deeds Office:

    • Personal servitudes – which are servitudes of usufruct, usus (right of use) and habitatio; 
    • Praedial servitudes - these create registerable real rights such us servitudes of right of way and especially servitudes allowing for municipal services etc;  
    • Cancellation of personal and praedial servitudes; 
    • Long-term Lease Agreements – which are leases for 10 years or longer, including cessions thereof, subletting agreements in terms thereof, cancellations and releases thereof;  
    • Notarial Deeds in respect of Sectional Titles Schemes - which include Cessions of Real Rights, such as exclusive use areas (gardens, parking areas, etc. and reserved in terms of the Sectional Titles Act);
    • Notarial bonds – which are mortgage bonds where movable assets are tied up as security for a loan, as opposed to fixed property in terms of a typical mortgage bond;  
    • Antenuptial contracts – for marriages undertaken Out of community of property, with or without the Accrual System, marriages for Civil Union partners and Customary Law marriages.

  2. Actions and contracts that do NOT require registration in a Deeds Office:  

    • Notarial certification of a Memorandum and Articles of Incorporation of Companies, to be handed in with Registrar of Companies; 
    • Noting and protesting of bills of exchange and promissory notes;
    • Execution of Maritime Bonds - which can be either “Bottomry” or “Respondentia bonds”;   
    • Attesting to Sea/Shipping Protests – which is a customary declaration (done notarially) by a marine captain, in the event of certain claims lodged for damages.

  3. Other services that notaries are known for:   

    • Commissioner of Oaths – which is always a service provided completely free of charge; 
    • Authentication of Signatures for documents signed within South Africa – for use in foreign countries, either by adding an Apostille in terms of the The Hague Convention of 1961, or adding an Apostille (incorporating a longer verification process) for use in countries not bound by the The Hague Convention of 1961; 
    • Certification of Documents as true copies – which is an additional service provided free of charge, depending on the volume of documents; 
    • Drafting of Wills – which can incorporate various conditions such as the creation of testamentary trusts, nomination of guardians, provisions for burial and cremation, bequests of body or organs; living wills and even fiduciary substitutions;   
    • Drafting and setting up of Trusts – which incorporates all duties of trustees and deals with the trust property, employment of capital and income and regulates beneficiaries;   
    • Drafting of Deeds of Donation – which can be inter vivos donations (donations made “whilst living”) or donations mortis causa (donation made in anticipation of death).
A final eloquent wisdom by Cicero, as per Tiro’s notes:

A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gate is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. – Marcus Tullius Cicero
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