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63-62 B.C. - Cato, Cicero, and the Conspiracy of Catiline

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The Catilinarian Conspiracy
Cicero accuses Catiline

Cicero accuses Catiline

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1st Century B.C. Rome Timeline > The Mithridatic Wars > Conspiracy of Catiline

A disgruntled patrician named Lucius Sergius Catilina (Catiline), who had helped Sulla carry out the proscriptions, conspired against the Republic with the help of his band of dissidents. These were the debt-ridden, people ruined by their affiliations with both Sulla and Marius, followers in Etruria, and others. Catiline had been thwarted in his ambitions for the top political post of consul. He had been derailed by prosecution on the charge of extortion during which period he couldn't run for office, and therefore ran out of time, so he gathered more people into his conspiracy, other disaffected senators and equestrians, and raised an army.

A contemporary, Sallust (86-35 B.C.) wrote about the conspiracy and puts this speech in the mouth of Catiline as he addressed his followers and would-be followers:

""What I have been meditating you have already heard separately. But my ardor for action is daily more and more excited, when I consider what our future condition of life must be, unless we ourselves assert our claims to liberty.[120] For since the government has fallen under the power and jurisdiction of a few, kings and princes[121] have constantly been their tributaries; nations and states have paid them taxes; but all the rest of us, however brave and worthy, whether noble or plebeian, have been regarded as a mere mob, without interest or authority, and subject to those, to whom, if the state were in a sound condition, we should be a terror. Hence, all influence, power, honor, and wealth, are in their hands, or where they dispose of them: to us they have left only insults,[122] dangers, persecutions, and poverty. To such indignities, O bravest of men, how long will you submit? Is it not better to die in a glorious attempt, than, after having been the sport of other men's insolence, to resign a wretched and degraded existence with ignominy?

"But success (I call gods and men to witness!) is in our own hands. Our years are fresh, our spirit is unbroken; among our oppressors, on the contrary, through age and wealth a general debility has been produced. We have therefore only to make a beginning; the course of events[123] will accomplish the rest."

"Who in the world, indeed, that has the feelings of a man, can endure that they should have a superfluity of riches, to squander in building over seas[124] and leveling mountains, and that means should be wanting to us even for the necessaries of life; that they should join together two houses or more, and that we should not have a hearth to call our own? They, though they purchase pictures, statues, and embossed plate; [125] though they pull down now buildings and erect others, and lavish and abuse their wealth in every possible method; yet can not, with the utmost efforts of caprice, exhaust it. But for us there is poverty at home, debts abroad; our present circumstances are bad, our prospects much worse; and what, in a word, have we left, but a miserable existence?"

"Will you not, then, awake to action? Behold that liberty, that liberty for which you have so often wished, with wealth, honor, and glory, are set before your eyes. All these prizes fortune offers to the victorious. Let the enterprise itself, then, let the opportunity, let your poverty, your dangers, and the glorious spoils of war, animate you far more than my words. Use me either as your leader or your fellow-soldier; neither my heart nor my hand shall be wanting to you. These objects I hope to effect, in concert with you, in the character of consul; unless, indeed, my expectation deceives me, and you prefer to be slaves rather than masters."
Sallust Conspiracy of Catiline

On the night of 18 October, 63 B.C., Crassus brought letters to Cicero warning of a plot against Rome, led by Catiline. The Senate debated how to proceed. Julius Caesar, who would be praetor the following year, spoke against both the traitors and the death penalty. Afterwards, the moralistic follower of the Stoic philosophy Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis (aka Cato the Younger) gave a rousing speech about the old Roman virtues. As a result of his speech, the Senate voted to pass the "extreme decree," putting Rome under martial law. Because he was consul at the time as well as favoring the executions, Cicero was credited with removing the threat to the Republic. He was even named Pater patriae 'father of his country' for his handling of the conspiracy. Although they were Roman citizens, the conspirators were executed without trial. Later, after Cicero had antagonized the hotheaded Clodius Pulcher, he paid dearly for his failure to follow the accepted protocol for dealing with Romans.

Cato was probably quaestor at the time of the Catilinarian Conspiracy. As tribune, he helped alleviate hunger, one of the problems that had led Romans to join Catiline's conspiracy: In 62 B.C., Cato sponsored a bill for the Senate to purchase grain for distribution to the people of Rome. Whether this was a gesture of a compassionate politician or a bribe depends on the interpreter's political stance. Although Cato is looked up to as a moral exemplar, Roman expectations differ from ours today. A certain amount of bribery seems to have been expected.

Cato's hostility to Julius Caesar was boundless, yet Sallust considered both Cato and Caesar the best Romans of the times.

As the head of the Optimates, Cato did what he could to put his followers in positions of power. These Optimates included his son-in-law Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus, who became the... perhaps the word is 'obstreperous' co-consul with Julius Caesar -- who only ran for the consular office after Cato thwarted his bid for a triumph, and Cato's brother-in-law Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, who wasn't too fond of Caesar, either, after Caesar kept him from taking Gaul as his post-consular province. Cato denied Pompey the land he wanted for his veterans and belittled the general's victories. He also thwarted the demands of the equestrians who served as tax-farmers in the provinces. Here he came into opposition with what would be the third man of the coming powerful coalition we know as the first triumvirate. This man was Crassus.

During the civil war, Bibulus captured Caesar's fleet when Caesar was at Epirus. Bibulus died the same year. Ahenobarbus would be killed at Pharsalus in 48, where Pompey and he fought were fighting on the same side, and Cato committed suicide at Utica, in Africa, in 46 because he refused to live in the current state of Rome. [historyoftheancientworld.com/2011/07/ciceros-cato/] Cicero's Cato]

Next: Rome 60-50 B.C. The 1st Triumvirate.

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