In order to understand the Catilinarian conspiracy
it is vital to place it in its historical context, the turbulent times
of the first century BCE.
In this last era of the Roman republic, Rome herself
was forced to juggle many demands at once: those of the lower classes,
those of her allies within Italy, and those of the wide world outside Italy.
What follows is the fruit of student research
into the political and social climate of the late republic. The essay
are arranged more or less chronologically; each may be read individually,
but together they tell the story of a city-state teetering, reluctantly,
on the brink of empire.
The Gracchi, by
The Gracchi were two brothers, Tiberius and Gaius, that took control
of the tribune and Rome. Tiberius was the elder and came into power as
tribune in 133 BCE. He and his brother were democrats and wanted
a few reforms. Tiberius wanted to take pubic land and give it to
some of the landless citizens, although his methods were unconstitutional.
Although this act took some time to pass, it was rather successful, settling
over 70,000 people. Tiberius also violated the constitution by having
a rival tribune voted out of his position. This was the first time
in the republic that someone was removed from power in this manner.
In the same year, Tiberius started a bloody revolution and was killed.
Like his older brother, Gaius sought political power, but went about
it in much more successful ways. Gaius was a favorite of the people because
of his reforms. His first was the setting up of granaries. The distribution
of grain in Rome at that time was very poor and random, but Gaius built
granaries and offered handouts every month for a lesser price. This was
both a success and a failure: it was a better system, but it drained
the treasuries. Another reform was to devote more money to the military,
so that the men would no longer have to supply their own weapons and such.
Before 124 most of the city's workings went through the senate, but
Gaius gained so much power that people would come to him for various sanctions,
such as building roads and picking jurors. In the latter case, one
of his reforms had been to change the court system in which nobles would
serve as jurors. Gaius appointed a class of land-owning citizens,
the knights (equites), to serve as jurors. This meant that the nobles
and the senate lost their power in the court because they were no longer
being judged by their peers.
The biggest reform sought by Gaius (and Tiberius as well) was the enfranchisement
of the Italian allies (socii). This meant
that all of Italy would become citizens but the republicans didn't feel
too good about this and never let the act pass. In 122 Gaius went
to Carthage to found a settlement, hoping to produce trade and commerce.
His absence caused a decline in his support, despite the efforts of his
lieutenant. When Gaius realized that he would not be reelected, his
last few months in office turned bloody. A price was put on
his head, and was eventually collected.
The Gracchi were not after dictatorship, but a representative democracy.
Branded unpractical idealists, their death left the republic demoralized.
Marius, by C. Dunn.
Gaius Marius was born in 157 BCE in the town known as Cirrhaeaton.
Marius' family was not a wealthy one, but they did have a connection with
a couple of influential political figures: Scipio Aemilianus and the Metelli.
In 123 Marius served under Scipio as quaestor at Numantum. In the
short span of eight years (123-115), Marius was elected military tribune
(119) and urban praetor (115) by the people of Rome. Marius continued
by serving under Metellus as senior legate in the Jugurthine Wars.
During these wars, Marius both gained the admiration of his soldiers
and became a national hero. Marius' success at these battles helped
him attain his first consulship in 107, followed by six more terms. He
was elected consul for a second time in 105 in order that he might deal
with the threat of barbarian attack, which he then successfully eliminated.
The Roman people admired Marius' effort and elected him to his third, fourth,
and fifth consulships. At this time, Marius decided to make a few adjustments
in the military.
The major adjustment that Marius made was reforming the legion. Marius
was a firm believer in loyalty and felt that it was one quality that was
necessary for a professional army to have. He made each legion consist
of six-hundred men, all of whom had to swear under oath to him, and then
fulfill a ten year term under their commander. Each Roman commander had
his own private army with legions that were faithful to him. Many believe
that Marius' new Army system was the cause for the destruction of the Roman
republic and the establishment of the Roman empire.
Marius always kept a strong relationship with his soldiers, and they
admired him for it. Marius respected all his men and he wanted to
help them out after they had completed their ten year term. He granted
his men land in North Africa and in Southern Gaul, mainly through the help
of Saturninus, a speaker in the Republic. Marius' alliance with Saturninus
only became stronger when Saturninus was elected tribune in 103 and 100.
As time went on, however, Saturninus began to abuse his power as tribune.
He often held public meetings filled with violence. This abuse of
power helped Marius decide to break away from their alliance, and eventually
overthrow Saturninus from his position. Marius acted upon the Senate's
declaration of emergency and had Saturninus arrested. Marius' act
of overthrowing Saturninus scared the Roman republic, because it was proof
that if a leader had enough man power, he could take over the government.
It was clear to everyone that the Roman republic needed some revision.
Marius was elected consul for a seventh time in 86, but died seventeen
days into his term. Despite his time in office as consul, he was
really a military figure, and though he made some important adjustments
in the Roman army, he is often blamed for the fall of the Roman republic.
The Social War, by B. Vancik.
The Social War, which lasted from 90 to 88 BCE, was fought between Rome
and its Italian allies, or socii. The war was brought on by
the assasination of the tribune Marcus Livius Drusus. Drusus, elected
tribune for the year 90, had an extensive reform program with two major
objectives—strengthen the senate and give citizenship to the Italian allies.
In order to accomplish the goal of increasing citizenship, Drusus met with
the heads of the Italian states and formed an association with them. Many
considered this association to be treasonous, causing Drusus' eventual
Since Drusus was assasinated by his own party, the democrats, which
supposedly was the pro-Italian party in Rome, the Italians lost hope that
they would ever gain citizenship through legislation. Also, after
Drusus’ death the senate declared that his association had in fact been
treasonous and that all people involved would be arrested and executed
for conspiracy. This decision of the senate forced the Italian leaders
to act quickly in starting a revolt to save their lives.
The revolt began at Asculum in Picenum and spread through central Italy
and Samnium. The rebel headquarters were at Corfinium which they
renamed Italia. The rebel army was powerful, because many of the
rebels were professional soldiers who had served in the Roman army. Individually
the Italians were generally considered better soldiers than the Romans.
However, the rebels were at a disadvantage because they had no generals
with experience in commanding large armies.
The two consuls during the war were Lucius Caesar and Rutilius Lupus.
One went to wage war in the north and the other in the south. The
Romans had success in the north and even beseiged Asculum where the revolt
had started. However, they did poorly in the south with the rebels
capturing Apulia and Lucania and invading Campania. Shortly after,
Etruria and Umbria joined the revolt and the Romans were forced to make
concessions. At the end of 90 they passed lex Julia, which
gave citizenship to all Italian states which had remained loyal or immediately
returned to loyalty. This law brought back most of Etruria and Umbria,
but the war continued.
In 89 both the consuls waged war in the north with the legate Sulla
given command over the troops in the south. They were succesful in
both areas but needed to make a final concession to end the war. This concession
was lex Plautia Papiria which granted citizenship to any Italian
who immediately stopped fighting and went to a magistrate to enroll.
Although the Samnites still held out, this law brought the war to an end.
Sulla, by E. Levy.
Sulla, or Lucius Cornelius Sulla, was born into a very old Roman
aristocratic family in 138 BCE. Sulla was not the first "famous" man from
his family; other ancestors of his also had held consul-dictator
positions before him, and many of those were well-liked. Although it is
not exactly known, historians postulate that Sulla's father lost most of
his money shortly before his death. Sulla still received the traditional
Roman education, Greek, Latin, etc., but he also received nothing in his
father's will. While he was not reduced to slumming in the
streets, Sulla led enough of an impoverished life that he was a nothing
in relation to his previous aristocratic peers. The most unfortunate
element of this recent impoverishment was that Sulla could not enter the
public life (cursus honorum) that his class dictated he take.
So how did he become such a reforming politician?
Sulla landed himself in the military, and by 83 found himself allied
with Metellus and Crassus and leading an army towards Italy to overthrow
Cinna, the present consul, and his supporters. They eventually reached
the gates of Rome itself, whereupon they fought valiantly in the
face of imminent defeat; Sulla became the victor. Directly after
his victory, Sulla gave orders for all hostile forces to be herded
up and slaughtered—over 3000 of these men were murdered within hearing
of the Senate, which Sulla was addressing at the time. His
proscriptions continued, and while tales vary, only after several
weeks of nearly random slaughtering by his soldiers did he draw up his
first "official" proscription list. While this was apparently unheard
of before Sulla, some claim his centurion had done it before.
Three days after the first 80 names, there were over 500 more, all to
be killed by a set date. Penalties involved death, land seizures, fines,
and wall destruction. Incidentally, C. Julius Caesar belonged to
one of the lists before the Vestal Virgins removed him. After the
major tumult faded away, the Senate not only re-recognized his present
authority as pro-consul (which he'd held before the march on Rome),
but it also named him dictator legibus faciendis et reipublicae constituendae.
Thus, after an encouraging letter to the present princeps senatus,
Sulla practically named himself dictator—the first in 120 years.
This new title gave Sulla ultimate power in the Roman world; he
controlled everything. One of his new powers-duties was to re-draft
the constitution. He thus began his reformation of the Roman legal
system from the top down. The most specific areas of reform involved
increasing the number of senators in Senate, adding equites (a class
which previously was too low to be involved in the political spheres) and
all ex-quaestors to the Senate, enforcing the hierarchy of the cursus
honorum, including age restrictions on certain positions, extending
the legal definition of treason to include marching upon Rome from the
provinces (as he had done), and improving the lower judicial system.
This last reform involved forming permanent courts to try offenses from
bribery and forgery to treason and murder as well as eliminating the tribunes'
power to propose and pass or veto laws independently of the Senate. All
of Sulla's reforms sought to establish a legal and political hierarchy
which could soon exist independently of a dictator's presence).
Keaveney, A. (1982) Sulla: The Last Republican. London.
Pompey, by S. Stuart.
Gnaeus Pompius Magnus (106-48 BCE) was always a good general and soldier,
but he always longed to be a great politician. He was born into a
senatorial class family, his father achieving the position of consul in
89 BCE. Pompey was given command of an army during the Civil War
after allying himself with Sulla. The Civil War was
of great benefit to Pompey because his two stunning victories in Sicily
and Africa won him much fame. This fame was helpful in winning him the
position of consul when he returned to Rome.
This was the beginning of Pompey's political career, a time when Cicero
was head of the Senate and Julius Caeser and Marcus Crassus were
in power. Marcus Crassus actually shared the consulship with Pompey in
the year 70.
After his consulship he decided to go abroad with the pretense of strengthening
his political connections, all the while increasing his personal fame.
Some accomplishments that he made while abroad was to rid the Mediterranean
of pirates, as well as capture the city of Jerusalem and become friends
with the king of Armenia. Unfortunately, while abroad, he also made
a critical mistake: he neglected his friendship with Marcus Crassus.
When Pompey returned to Rome he found out first hand what had happened.
The city of Rome was divided into supporters of Pompey and supporters of
Crassus. Cicero had allied himself with Pompey,
but he was not a very usuful ally when Crassus was about to attack.
Had it not been for Julius Caesar, there would have been a second Civil
Caesar did want to see either man die or lose power, because he saw
that he needed them, and that they all needed each other. They formed what
is now known as the first Triumvirate. Each man brought something
different to the alliance, but they all wanted the same thing:
power. Crassus brought wealth and connections, Caesar the support of the
democrats, and Pompey the support of the knights, or equites. Each
man was in control of a mighty army, and together they became even more
powerful than the senate.
In 53 Crassus was killed by the Parthians. This made Pompey uneasy
because he feared the power Caesar had gained in the republic from his
victories in Gaul. In 49 Caesar did in fact try to take Rome for
himself. Pompey was ordered by the Senate to attack Caesar first,
which he knew was a bad idea, and the two armies fought in Parsalus, Greece.
Caesar's army was successful, but not at killing Pompey. Pompey escaped
to the kingdom of King Ptolemy in Africa, but Pompey never left alive;
Ptolemy ordered his assassination as soon as he heard that Caesar was on
his way. Pompey died in 48.
Cicero's education, by A. Cencini.
Marcus Tullius Cicero was born on January 3, 106 BCE, in the town of
Arpinum of the Volscian highlands. Arpinum, which was located 70 miles
southeast of Rome, was similar to older English villages. The political
system of the town was centered around an oral vote; allowing people
like Cicero's grandfather (who maintained the oral vote in Arpinum even
after it was widely abandoned in Italy) to continuously hold their political
positions by "ensuring" that all of the people of the town voted properly.
Arpinum was referred to as a civitas sine suffragio, where the local
politics of the town were handled by the residents; however, the
Roman government dictated all foreign policy, and commanded the local army.
David Stockton refers to Arpinum as "a society at once rigid and
flexible: while distinctions of caste were clear-cut, movement
from one class to another was always possible, and on occasions encouraged."
Cicero was referred to as a "new man," illustrating his ascent in the
caste system from a more lowly position, to a spot in the political
elite. He came from a family that was based in the trades,
particularly the trade of fulling, but his family was of some local
importance. Cicero, starting at a young age, was infatuated and
enamored with the city of Rome, and referred to himself as a Roman
instead of an Arpinumian. Later on, Catiline would refer to
the lawyer as a "naturalized immigrant," insulting Cicero's origins
and lineage, claiming him to be the equivalent of a modern-day country
"bumpkin." One can see how tensions may have arisen between these two men.
Cicero was educated in Arpinum and Rome, which he spent under
the observation of great political and philosophical men. The Greek
Archias was an early influence on Cicero, whom he later defended
in 62 BCE. His other teachers were Molon (from Rhodes), who taught
him rhetorical skills; Philo; and Diodotus, who later became
a close personal friend. Cicero was referred to by Plutarch as a
"child prodigy," and was probably not as excruciatingly bad a poet
as modern-day classicists tend to construct him.
Cicero spent much of his time in Rome with the great Lucius Crassus
and Marcus Antonius, where he learned how to perfect his rhetorical
and oratory skills. Marcus Tullius Cicero was the poster child
of the Roman Education, and learned much from observing other great
men at work. As a "new man," he climbed the ranks of the Roman caste
system, and put to work his legendary skills as a lawyer and politician,
which have been inspirational to classicists and lawyers (among others)
Baldson, J. P. V. D. (1965) "Cicero the Man"
in Cicero, ed. T. A. Dorey. London.
Catiline's education, by H. Liverant.
Lucius Sergius Catiline (d. 62 BCE) was born into a poor family of the
noble class. The family’s name had, over the years, fallen into relative
obscurity as they experienced financial troubles. The tight budget of Catiline’s
family made a huge impression on him as he grew up and began his trial
to raise his family’s name up again. As a youth he was said to have possessed
violent ambitions, some even went so far as to say that he was a born conspirator.
Catiline appears to have no formal education; rather he put his
natural abilities to use by joining the Roman military. These "natural
abilities" included his passion for harsh conditions and struggles, as
well as his interest in war, especially the Roman civil wars. L.
Sergius Catiline also had developed a desire for wealth and luxury as a
result of his poor upbringing. He was also said to have possessed
great strength, as well as a gift for oratory; though he was not
brilliant, he was a successful motivation speaker.
When Catiline was old enough he left home and joined the army of Sulla.
Catiline’s military talent was quickly recognized and he rose up through
the ranks. Soon Catiline’s talents were even recognized by Sulla,
who used Catiline as one of his personal assassins. To demonstrate that
his conversion to Sulla’s movement was genuine, Catiline
even killed his own brother-in-law, and after having done so paraded his
head through the streets.
Catiline’s time in the military was essentially his education; during
this period his natural talents were promoted, and he adopted Sulla’s
beliefs about the state of the Republic and its constitution. He
also became indifferent to human life as is seen later in his life.
As a result of Catliline’s "education" in the military he was moved to
seek political power, believing that it would not only quench his thirst
for wealth, but also allow him to fulfill Sulla’s quest to correct the
problems of the Republic. The talents that the military nursed would
lead him to seize power in any manner possible, when it did not come to
Cicero and Catiline: early politics,
by L. Berenson (Cicero) and M. Mucha (Catiline).
Cicero's political career began in 89 BCE when
he served under Consul Pompieus Strabo in the Social War. After his
military service, Cicero began publicly pleading cases. In 80 BCE
he pleaded a case for Sextus Roscius, which resulted in Cicero's gaining
a reputation for being a great orator. In this case, Sextus Roscius
was accused of killing his father, when in fact he was framed for the murder
by two of his own family members. The guilty parties were associates
of Lucius Cornelius Chrysagonus, who had ordered the murder. He also
happened to be a powerful and favored freedman of Sulla. Roscius was killed
because Chrysogonus wanted to put his name on a proscription list enabling
him to acquire his land at a low cost.
Problems arose because Cicero had to implicate Chrysogonus since he
was the ringleader of the operation. However, if Chrysogonus became
publicly entangled in this mess, it was sure to put Sulla
in the middle also. Sulla was a very powerful
man and Cicero was told not to get him involved. Cicero felt that he had
no choice but to involve Sulla because he was genuinely
disgusted with the practice of proscription lists. Cicero was a very
strong believer in ending this type of injustice and he became a spokesperson
against proscriptions. Cicero ended up winning this case, and became
well known and respected as an orator.
In 79 Cicero left Rome to study philosophy in Asia and Greece and rhetoric
in Rhodes. Some even think that he left to avoid any backlash that
might have stemmed from his pro Roscius case. In 77 he returned to
Rome, and then in 75 he became the quaestor of Western Sicily. The
quaestor was the lowest ranking regular magistrate in Rome, whose traditional
responsibility was dealing with the treasury. Each provincial government
had a quaestor.
In 70 Cicero was asked by the Sicilian government to handle the prosecution
of their ex-governor, Verres. Verres was greedy, and had taken advantage
of his province and drained it for his own finanical needs. At the
trial, Cicero was only able to deliver his first action against Verres
because, after only a few days of the trial, Verres realized that he was
doomed and would almost certainly be found guilty. He fled Italy
and was sentenced by default. This case won Cicero the respect and
admiration of most of Rome. He now had the reputation of being Rome's
greatest orator. As a result of not being able to present all of
his information on Verres in the trail, Cicero decided to publish his works
in a 5 volume series entitled Actio Secunda in Verrem.
In 69 Cicero became an aedile. This position entailed the care of the
city, the charge of the provision markets, control of weights and measurements,
and the distribution of grain. The aedile also had judicial power with
the right to fine. There were some privileges that went along with being
an aedile, for instance, one received a fringed toga, a curule chair, and
the right to ancestral masks.
After Cicero's duty as aedile, he became a praetor in 66. This
position was the stepping stone to consulship. The praetor presided over
litigation between citizens in the city of Rome. They served annual tenure,
had to be of 30 years in age or older, and were elected by the Roman citizens.
The next logical step in Cicero's career would be to become consul.
In 63 he achieved this goal. With the backing of most of Rome, this
man of "new blood" was elected consul.
Lucius Sergius Catiline first came to the public
scene in 80 BCE, during the proscriptions of Sulla. He served as a Lieutenant
legate of Rome under Sulla at this time, assisting as one of Sulla’s assassins.
He continued his military service until 68, when Catiline was elected as
praetor. After serving in this position for one year, he was elected
as promagistrate of North Africa, where he served from 67-66. He
was removed from office due to his corruption, for he would often give
and accept bribes, among other illegal activities.
The accusations against him during his promagistracy blocked him from
running for consul in 65. He then proceeded to make alliances with
the other men who were not elected to the position, and created a scheme
to kill the two men who were elected. The plan, however, was discovered,
and the men were forced to give it up. Catiline then allied himself with
the rich senator Crassus, who saw in Catiline a man who would be able to
stand up to his rival, Pompey, in a military engagement. Catiline
once again ran for consul in 64, but was defeated due to the efforts of
Cicero. Catiline tried once again for the consulship in 63 BCE, but
lost again, which led to Catiline to take actions that led Cicero to retaliate
Top | Syllabus
| Resources | Home
Last modified 19 March 1999