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Cato the Younger

Statue of Cato the Younger in the Louvre Museum. He is about to kill himself while reading the Phaedo, a dialogue of Plato which details the death of Socrates. The statue was begun by Jean-Baptiste Roman (Paris, 1792–1835) using white Carrara marble. It was finished by François Rude (Dijon, 1784 – Paris, 1855).

Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis (95 BC, Rome – April 46 BC, Utica), commonly known as Cato the Younger (Cato Minor) to distinguish him from his great-grandfather (Cato the Elder), was a politician and statesman in the late Roman Republic, and a follower of the Stoic philosophy. A noted orator, he is remembered for his stubbornness and tenacity (especially in his lengthy conflict with Julius Caesar), as well as his immunity to bribes, his moral integrity, and his famous distaste for the ubiquitous corruption of the period.


  • Biography 1
    • Early life 1.1
    • Political development 1.2
    • The Optimates 1.3
    • The First Triumvirate 1.4
    • Cyprus 1.5
    • The Civil War 1.6
    • Death 1.7
  • After Cato 2
    • Romans 2.1
    • Medieval 2.2
    • Enlightenment 2.3
  • Chronology 3
  • Cato's descendants and marriages 4
    • Family tree 4.1
  • In literature, music and drama 5
  • Naming legacy 6
  • References and sources 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


Early life

Cato was born in 95 BC in Rome, the son of Marcus Porcius Cato and his wife Livia Drusa. His parents died when he was young, and he was cared for by his maternal uncle Marcus Livius Drusus, who also looked after Quintus Servilius Caepio, Servilia Caepionis Maior, and Servilia Caepionis Minor from Livia's first marriage (though Quintus Servilius Caepio was generally known to be Cato's full brother), as well as Porcia (Cato's full sister), and Marcus Livius Drusus Claudianus (Livius' adopted son). Drusus was murdered when Cato was 4 years old.

Cato's stubbornness began in his early years. Sarpedon, his teacher, reports a very obedient and questioning child, although slow in being persuaded of things and sometimes very difficult to retrain. A story told by Plutarch tells of Quintus Poppaedius Silo, leader of the Marsi and involved in a highly controversial business in the Roman Forum, who made a visit to his friend Marcus Livius and met the children of the house. In a playful mood, he asked the children's support for his cause. All of them nodded and smiled except Cato, who stared at the guest with most suspicious looks. Silo demanded an answer from him and, seeing no response, took Cato and hung him by the feet out of the window. Even then, Cato would not say anything.

Plutarch recounts a few other stories as well. One night, as some children were playing a game in a side room of a house during a social event, they were having a mock trial with judges and accusers as well as a defendant. One of the children, supposedly a good-natured and pleasant child, was convicted by the mock accusers and was being carried out of the room when he cried out desperately for Cato. Cato became very angry at the other children and, saying nothing, grabbed the child away from the "guards" and carried him away from the others.

Plutarch also tells a story about Cato's peers' immense respect for him, even at a young age, during the Roman ritual military game, called "Troy", in which all aristocratic teenagers participated as a sort of "coming of age" ceremony, involving a mock battle with wooden weapons performed on horseback. While the child of one of Sulla's surrogates was chosen by the adult organizers to lead one of the "teams", the team refused to follow him because of his character, and when they were finally asked whom they would follow, the boys unanimously chose Cato.

Lucius Cornelius Sulla, the Roman dictator, liked to talk with Cato and his brother Caepio, and often requested the child's presence even when the boy openly defied his opinions and policies in public (Sulla's daughter Cornelia Sulla was married to their uncle Mamercus Aemilius Lepidus Livianus). According to Plutarch, at one point during the height of the civil strife, as respected Roman nobles were being led to execution from Sulla's villa, Cato, aged about 14, asked his tutor why no one had yet killed the dictator. Sarpedon's answer was thus: "They fear him, my child, more than they hate him." Cato replied to this, "Give me a sword, that I might free my country from slavery." After this, Sarpedon was careful not to leave the boy unattended around the capital, seeing how firm he was in his republican beliefs.[1]

Political development

After receiving his inheritance, Cato moved from his uncle's house and began to study Stoic philosophy and politics. He began to live in a very modest way, as his great-grandfather Marcus Porcius Cato the Elder had famously done. Cato subjected himself to violent exercise, and learned to endure cold and rain with a minimum of clothes. He ate only what was necessary and drank the cheapest wine on the market. This was entirely for philosophical reasons; his inheritance would have permitted him to live comfortably. He remained in private life for a long time, rarely seen in public. But when he did appear in the forum, his speeches and rhetorical skills were most admired.

Cato was first engaged to Aemilia Lepida, a patrician woman, but she was married instead to Quintus Caecilius Metellus Scipio, to whom she had been betrothed. Incensed, Cato threatened to sue for her hand, but his friends mollified him, and Cato was contented to compose Archilochian iambics against Scipio in consolation. Later, Cato was married to a woman called Atilia. By her, he had a son, Marcus Porcius Cato, and a daughter, Porcia, who would become the second wife of Marcus Junius Brutus. Cato later divorced Atilia for unseemly behavior.

In 72 BC, Cato volunteered to fight in the war against Spartacus, presumably to support his brother Caepio, who was serving as a military tribune in the consular army of Lucius Gellius Poplicola. Gellius is often remembered as an indifferent commander, but his army inflicted the greatest of any defeats on Spartacus before Crassus raised his six legions and ultimately defeated Spartacus.

As a military tribune, Cato was sent to Macedon in 67 BC at the age of 28 and given command of a legion. He led his men from the front, sharing their work, food, and sleeping quarters. He was strict in discipline and punishment but was nonetheless loved by his legionaries. While Cato was in service in Macedon, he received the news that his beloved brother Caepio (from whom he was nearly inseparable) was dying in Thrace. He immediately set off to see him but was unable to see his brother before he died. Cato was overwhelmed by grief and, for once in his life, he spared no expense to organize lavish funeral ceremonies for his brother (as Caepio had wished).

At the end of his military commission in Macedon, Cato went on a private journey through the Roman provinces of the Middle East.

The Optimates

On his return to Rome in 65 BC, Cato was elected to the position of quaestor. Like everything else in his life, Cato took unusual care to study the background necessary for the post, especially the laws relating to taxes. One of his first moves was to prosecute former quaestors for illegal appropriation of funds and dishonesty. Cato also prosecuted Sulla's informers, who had acted as head-hunters during Sulla's dictatorship, despite their political connections among Cato's own party and despite the power of Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, who had been known as the "teenage butcher" for his service under Sulla. The informers of Sulla were accused first of illegal appropriation of treasury money, and then of homicide. At the end of the year, Cato stepped down from his quaestorship amid popular acclaim, and he never ceased to keep an eye on the treasury, always looking for irregularities.

As senator, Cato was scrupulous and determined. He never missed a session of the Senate and publicly criticized ones who did so. From the beginning, he aligned himself with the Optimates, the conservative faction of the Senate. Many of the optimates at this time had been personal friends of Sulla, whom Cato had despised since his youth, yet Cato attempted to make his name by returning his faction to its pure republican roots.

Propaganda cup of Cato (the cup to the left, the one to the right being dedicated to Catilina), for his election campaign for Tribune of the Plebs of 62 BC (left cup). These cups, filled with food or drinks, were distributed in the streets to the people, and bore an inscription supporting the candidate to the election.

In 63 BC, he was elected tribune of the plebs for the following year, and assisted the consul, Marcus Tullius Cicero, in dealing with the Catiline conspiracy. Lucius Sergius Catilina, a noble patrician, led a rebellion against the state, raising an army in Etruria. Upon discovery of an associated plot against the persons of the consuls and other magistrates within Rome, Cicero arrested the conspirators, proposing to execute them without trial (an unconstitutional act). In the senate discussion on the subject, Gaius Julius Caesar agreed that the conspirators were guilty, but argued for distributing them amongst Italian cities "for safekeeping". In contrast, Cato argued that capital punishment was necessary to deter treason and that it was folly to await the ultimate test of the conspirators' guilt—the overthrow of the state—because the very proof of their guilt would make it impossible to enforce the laws. Convinced by Cato's argument, the senate approved Cicero's proposal, and after the conspirators had been executed, the greater portion of Catilina's army quit the field, much as Cato had predicted.

Cato's political and personal differences with Caesar appear to date from this time. In a meeting of the Senate dedicated to the Catilina affair, Cato harshly reproached Caesar for reading personal messages while the senate was in session to discuss a matter of treason. Cato accused Caesar of involvement in the conspiracy and suggested that he was working on Catilina's behalf, which might explain Caesar's otherwise odd stance that the conspirators should receive no public hearing yet be shown clemency. Caesar offered it up to Cato to read. Cato took the paper from his hands and read it, discovering that it was a love letter from Caesar's mistress Servilia Caepionis, Cato's half-sister.

After divorcing Atilia, Cato married Marcia, daughter of Lucius Marcius Philippus, who bore him two or three children. While Cato was married to Marcia, the renowned orator Q Hortensius Hortalus, who was Cato's admirer and friend, desired a connection to Cato's family and asked for the hand of Porcia, Cato's eldest daughter. Cato refused because the potential match made little sense: Porcia was already married to Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus, who was unwilling to let her go; and Hortensius, being nearly 60 years old, was almost 30 years senior to Porcia. Denied the hand of Porcia, Hortensius then suggested that he marry Cato's wife Marcia, on the grounds that she had already given Cato heirs. On the condition that Marcia's father consented to the match, Cato agreed to divorce Marcia, who then married Hortensius. Between Hortensius' death in 50 BC and Cato's leaving Italy with Pompey in 49 BC, Cato took Marcia and her children into his household again. Ancient sources differ on whether they were remarried. [2][3]

The First Triumvirate

After the Catilinian conspiracy, Cato turned all of his political skills to oppose the designs of Caesar and his triumvirate allies (Pompey and Marcus Licinius Crassus), who had among them held the reins of power in a finely balanced near-monopoly. Caesar gained influence over the Senate through Pompey and Crassus. Pompey gained influence over the legions of Rome through Crassus and Caesar. Crassus enjoyed the support of the tax-farmers and was able to gain a fortune by exploitation of the provinces controlled by Caesar and Pompey.

Cato's opposition took two forms. First, in 61 BC, Pompey returned from his Asian campaign with two ambitions: to celebrate a Triumph, and to become consul for the second time. In order to achieve both goals, he asked the Senate to postpone consular elections until after his Triumph. Due to Pompey's enormous popularity, the Senate was willing to oblige Pompey at first, but Cato intervened and convinced the Senate to force Pompey to choose. In opposition to this action, Quintus Metellus Celer, Pompey's brother-in-law, attempted to repeal the act, but he was unsuccessful. Pompey did not run for the consulship that year, choosing instead to hold his third Triumph, one of the most magnificent ever seen in Rome.

When faced with the same request from Caesar, Cato used the device of Marcus Bibulus, the husband of Cato's daughter Porcia.

When Caesar became consul, Cato opposed the agrarian laws that established farmlands for Pompey's veterans on public lands in Campania, from which the republic derived a quarter of its income. Caesar responded by having Cato dragged out by lictors while Cato was making a speech against him at the rostra. Many senators protested this extraordinary and unprecedented use of force by leaving the forum, one senator proclaiming he'd rather be in jail with Cato than in the Senate with Caesar.[4] Caesar was forced to relent but countered by taking the vote directly to the people, bypassing the Senate. Bibulus and Cato attempted to oppose Caesar in the public votes but were harassed and publicly assaulted by Caesar's retainers. Eventually, Bibulus confined himself to his home and pronounced unfavorable omens in an attempt to lay the legal groundwork for the later repeal of Caesar’s consular acts.

Cato did not relent in his opposition to the triumvirs, unsuccessfully attempting to prevent Caesar's 5-year appointment as governor of Illyria and Cisalpine Gaul or the appointment of Crassus to an Eastern command.


Clodius (who worked closely with the triumvirate) desired to exile Cicero, and felt that Cato's presence would complicate his efforts. He, with the support of the triumvirs, proposed to send Cato to annex Cyprus. Plutarch recounts that Cato saw the commission as an attempt to be rid of him, and initially refused the assignment. When Clodius passed legislation conferring the commission on Cato "though ever so unwillingly," Cato accepted the position in compliance with that law. His official office while in Cyprus was Quaestor pro Praetore (an extraordinary Quaestorship with Praetorian powers)

Cato appeared to have two major goals in Cyprus. The first was to enact his foreign policy ideals, which—as expressed in a letter to Cicero—called for a policy of "mildness" and "uprightness" for governors of Roman-controlled territories. The second was to implement his reforms of the quaestorship on a larger scale. This second goal also provided Cato with an opportunity to burnish his Stoic credentials: the province was rich both in gold and opportunities for extortion. Thus, against common practice, Cato took none, and he prepared immaculate accounts for the senate, much as he had done earlier in his career as quaestor. According to Plutarch, Cato ultimately raised the enormous sum of 7,000 talents of silver for the Roman treasury. He thought about every unexpected event, even to tying ropes to the coffers with a big piece of cork on the other end, so they could be located in the event of a shipwreck. Unfortunately, luck played him a trick. Of his perfect accounting books, none survived: the one he had was burnt, the other was lost at sea with the freedman carrying it. Only Cato's untainted reputation saved him from charges of extortion.

The Senate of Rome recognized the effort made in Cyprus and offered him a reception in the city, an extraordinary praetorship, and other privileges, all of which he stubbornly refused as unlawful honours.

The Civil War

The triumvirate of Caesar, Pompey and Crassus was broken in 54 BC at the same time as Cato's election as praetor. Judging their enemy in trouble, Cato and the optimates faction of the Senate spent the coming years trying to force a break between Pompey and Caesar. It was a time of political turmoil, when popular figures like Publius Clodius tried to advance the cause of the common people of Rome, going so far as abandoning his patrician status to become a pleb. As a leading spokesman for the optimate cause, Cato stood against them all in defense of the traditional privileges of the aristocracy.

In 52 BC, Cato ran for the office of consul for the following year, unsuccessfully. In a time of rampant bribery and electoral fraud, he ran a scrupulously honest campaign and lost to his less conscientious opponents. Cato accepted the loss with equanimity, but refused to run a second time.

In 49 BC, Cato called for the Senate to formally relieve Caesar of his expired proconsular command and to order Caesar's return to Rome as a civilian and thus without proconsular legal immunity. Pompey had blocked all previous attempts at ordering Caesar back to Rome but had grown concerned with Caesar's growing political influence and popularity with the plebs. With the tacit support of Pompey, Cato successfully passed a resolution ending Caesar's proconsular command. Caesar made numerous attempts to negotiate, at one point even conceding to give up all but one of his provinces and legions. This concession satisfied Pompey, but Cato, along with the consul Lentulus, refused to back down. Faced with the alternatives of returning to Rome for the inevitable trial and retiring into voluntary exile, Caesar crossed into Italy with only one legion, implicitly declaring war on the Senate.[5]

Caesar crossed the Rubicon accompanied by the XIII Legion to take power from the Senate in the same way that Sulla had done in the past. Formally declared an enemy of the State, Caesar pursued the senatorial party, now led by Pompey, who abandoned the city to raise arms in Greece, with Cato among his companions. After first reducing Caesar's army at the battle of Dyrrhachium (where Cato commanded the port), the army led by Pompey was ultimately defeated by Caesar in the battle of Pharsalus (48 BC). Cato and Metellus Scipio, however, did not concede defeat and escaped to the province of Africa with fifteen cohorts to continue resistance from Utica. Caesar pursued Cato and Metellus Scipio after installing the queen Cleopatra VII on the throne of Egypt, and in February 46 BC the outnumbered Caesarian legions defeated the army led by Metellus Scipio at the Battle of Thapsus. Acting against his usual strategy of clemency, Caesar did not accept surrender of Scipio's troops, but had them all slaughtered.


In Utica, Cato did not participate in the battle and, unwilling to live in a world led by Caesar and refusing even implicitly to grant Caesar the power to pardon him, he committed suicide in April 46 BC. According to Plutarch, Cato attempted to kill himself by stabbing himself with his own sword, but failed to do so due to an injured hand. Plutarch wrote:

Cato did not immediately die of the wound; but struggling, fell off the bed, and throwing down a little mathematical table that stood by, made such a noise that the servants, hearing it, cried out. And immediately his son and all his friends came into the chamber, where, seeing him lie weltering in his own blood, great part of his bowels out of his body, but himself still alive and able to look at them, they all stood in horror. The physician went to him, and would have put in his bowels, which were not pierced, and sewed up the wound; but Cato, recovering himself, and understanding the intention, thrust away the physician, plucked out his own bowels, and tearing open the wound, immediately expired.[6]

On hearing of his death in Utica, Plutarch wrote that Caesar commented: "Cato, I grudge you your death, as you would have grudged me the preservation of your life."[7]

Starting with Pliny the Elder, later writers sometimes refer to Cato the Younger as "Cato Uticensis" ("the Utican"). In doing so they apply to him a type of cognomen that was normally awarded to generals who earned a triumph in a foreign war and brought a large territory under Roman influence (e.g. Scipio Africanus). Such names were honorific titles that the Senate only granted for the most spectacular victories. Reference to Cato as "Uticensis" is presumably meant to glorify him by portraying his suicide at Utica as a great victory over Caesar's tyranny. [2][3]

After Cato


Cato is remembered as a follower of Stoicism and was one of the most active defenders of the Lucan, writing under Nero, also made Cato the hero of the later books of his epic, the Pharsalia. From the latter work originates the epigram, "Victrix causa deis placuit sed victa Catoni" ("The conquering cause pleased the gods, but the conquered cause pleased Cato", Lucan 1.128). Other Imperial authors such as Horace, the Tiberian authors Velleius Paterculus and Valerius Maximus along with Lucan and Seneca in the 1st century AD and later authors such as Appian and Dio celebrated the historical importance of Cato the Younger in their own writings.

Silver denarius of Cato (47-46 BC)


In Dante's The Divine Comedy, Cato is portrayed as the guardian of the mount of purgatory. In Canto I, Dante writes of Cato:

I saw close by me a solitary old man, worthy, by
his appearance, of so much reverence that never
son owed father more.
Long was his beard and mixed with white hair,
similar to the hairs of his head, which fell to his
breast in two strands.
The rays of the four holy lights so adorned his
face with brightness that I saw him as if the sun
had been before him.

He is one of the two pagans presented by Dante as saved souls encountered in Purgatorio, the other being Statius (Cantos XX-XXII). Cato appears in the Purgatorio not as a "saved" soul, but as one who will receive special compensation on the Day of Judgment. He is not "in" Purgatory, but on the shores of "The High Mount", or part of ante-purgatory. Statius, on the other hand, was baptised in a secretive ceremony and remained a "closet-Christian", for which lukewarmness he remained in ante-Purgatory for a prescribed time before he could enter Purgatory proper: As he made God wait, so God made him wait.


Cato was also lionized during the republican revolutions of the Enlightenment. Musée du Louvre.


  • 95 BC: Birth in Rome
  • 67 BC: Military tribune in Macedon
  • 65 BC: Quaestor in Rome (some scholars date this to 64 BC)
  • 63 BC: Catiline's conspiracy; Cato speaks for the death penalty
  • 63 BC: Tribune of the Plebs; Cato passes corn dole
  • 60 BC: Forces Caesar to choose between consulship and triumph
  • 59 BC: Opposes Caesar's laws
  • 58 BC: Governorship of Cyprus (leaves at the end of 58/returns March 56)
  • 55 BC: unsuccessful 1st run for praetorship
  • 54 BC: Praetor
  • 51 BC: Runs (unsuccessfully) for Consul
  • 49 BC: Caesar crosses the Rubicon and invades Italy; Cato goes with Pompey to Greece
  • 48 BC: Battle of Pharsalus, Pompey defeated; Cato goes to Africa
  • 46 BC: Scipio defeated in the Battle of Thapsus; Cato kills himself in Utica (April)

Cato's descendants and marriages

Family tree

In literature, music and drama

Novels: Cato is a major character in several novels of Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series. He is portrayed as a stubborn alcoholic with strong moral values, though he is prepared to transgress these beliefs if it means the destruction of his mortal enemy, Caesar. Cato also appears in Thornton Wilder's highly fictionalized "fantasia" Ides of March, where Cato is described by Caesar as one of "four men whom I most respect in Rome" but who "regard me with mortal enmity". Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick refers to Cato in the first paragraph: "With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship." He also appears as a major character in Robert Harris' Imperium and Lustrum novels, appearing as an eccentric, yet utterly inflexible guardian of republican virtues. In Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" Clerval, in an attempt to. comfort his friend dismayed over the recent news of his young brother William's murder, remarks to Frankenstein that, 'even Cato wept over the dead body of his brother."

Plays: In 1712, Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-1778.

Poetry: Cato appears as a character in Dante's Purgatorio. He is in charge of the souls that arrive in Purgatory.

Television: In the television series Rome, Cato, played by actor Karl Johnson, is a significant character, although he is shown as quite older than his actual age (mid-forties) at the time. In the 2002 miniseries Julius Caesar, Cato is played by Christopher Walken (also depicted as much older than he was, since he is seen as a major figure in the senate when Caesar is just a young man, although Caesar was five years older than Cato). Cato was also featured in the BBC docudrama Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire.

Opera: In the 17th century several distinguished composers set to music the Metastasio libretto, Catone in Utica, among them, Leonardo Leo, Leonardo Vinci, J.C. Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Handel, Paisiello, Jommelli, Johann Adolf Hasse and Piccinni, in two versions.

Naming legacy

Cato's Letters were written in the early 1700s on the topic of republicanism, using Cato as a pseudonym. The libertarian Cato Institute think tank was named after the letters.

References and sources

  1. ^ Plutarch, Cato Younger 3.3
  2. ^ a b*.html
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ Cassius Dio 38.3,
  5. ^ Plutarch, Pompey [1], 59.4
  6. ^ Plutarch, Life of Cato: Plut. Cat. Mi. 70.6
  7. ^ Plutarch, Life of Cato: Plut. Cat. Mi. 72.2
  • Badian, E. "M. Porcius Cato and the Annexation and Early Administration of Cyprus", JRS, 55 (1965): 110-121.
  • Bellemore, J., "Cato the Younger in the East in 66 BC", Historia, 44.3 (1995): 376-9
  • Earl, D.C. The Political Thought of Sallust, Cambridge, 1961.
  • Fantham, E., "Three Wise Men and the End of the Roman Republic", "Caesar Against Liberty?", ARCA (43), 2003: 96-117.
  • Fehrle, R. Cato Uticensis, Darmstadt, 1983.
  • Goar, R. The Legend of Cato Uticensis from the First Century BC to the Fifth Century AD, Bruxelles, 1987.
  • Gordon, H. L. "The Eternal Triangle, First Century B.C.", The Classical Journal, Vol. 28, No. 8. (May, 1933), pp. 574–578
  • Hughes-Hallett, Lucy. Heroes: A History of Hero Worship, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, New York, 2004. ISBN 1-4000-4399-9.
  • Marin, P. "Cato the Younger: Myth and Reality", Ph.D (unpublished), UCD, 2005
  • Marin, P. Blood in the Forum: The Struggle for the Roman Republic, London: Hambledon Continuum, (April) 2009 ISBN 1-84725-167-6 ISBN 978-1847251671
  • Marin, P. The Myth of Cato from Cicero to the Enlightenment (forthcoming)
  • Nadig, Peter. "Der jüngere Cato und ambitus", in: Peter Nadig, Ardet Ambitus, Untersuchungen zum Phänomen der Wahlbestechungen in der römischen Republik, Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 1997 (Prismata VI), S. 85-94, ISBN 3-631-31295-4
  • Plutarch. Cato the Younger.
  • Syme, R., "A Roman Post-Mortem", Roman Papers I, Oxford, 1979
  • Taylor, Lily Ross. Party Politics in the Age of Caesar, University of California Press, Berkeley, California, 1971, ISBN 0-520-01257-7.

Further reading

External links

  • Media related to at Wikimedia Commons
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