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Classics 201:  The Oratory of Cicero
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Anatomy of a conspiracy
 
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The seeds of conspiracy
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   68 BCE
   67 BCE
   66 BCE
   65 BCE
   64 BCE
   63 BCE
   References

O tempora!  O mores!  
Diary of a conspiracy
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Before the Catilinarian conspiracy of 63, Cicero rose swiftly through the Roman cursus honorum, while Catiline saw his efforts to gain power—including a first abortive conspiracy in the year 65—thwarted at every turn.  In order to understand the events of 63, then, it is necessary to take a closer look at the years immediately prior.

What follows is the fruit of student research into the movements of both men in the years 68-63 BCE.  The sections are arranged side by side until the year 64, in which Cicero and Catiline both ran for the consulship of 63.

The sections on Cicero were written by D. Benincasa, L. Berenson, A. Cencini, M. Mucha, and S. Stuart.  Those on Catiline were written by C. Dunn, E. Levy, H. Liverant, and B. Vancik.

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68 BCE
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Cicero
Catiline
Marcus Tullius Cicero held several public offices prior 63 BCE.  As a new man (listed under novi homines in the registers of the Senate), not of Senatorial roots, Cicero spent time as a politician and lawyer, and made haste in progressing through the Roman cursus honorum.  While the quantity of positions occupied by Cicero between 68 and 64 may not be very large, the events of the time to which he is connected politically are very significant.

The year 68 seems to have been a quiet one for Cicero.  He had just finished his aedileship in 69.  Usually the aedile was a very rich person who could pay for games and entertainment out of his own account.  Cicero was not as wealthy as previous aediles but he was still well liked by the public.  He already had the reputation of an influential orator because of the pro Roscio Amerino and his Verrines.

In 68 Cicero became a quaestor to Pompey, with whom he would form a strong political alliance in the future, benefitting his own career by supporting many of Pompey's military and political achivements.  Also in this year Cicero began writting to Atticus, who lived in Athens at the time.  These letters have been invaluable in learning about the Roman republic, as well as Cicero's own life.

Lucius Sergius Catiline spent the majority of his lifetime striving to achieve political power. The period of his life between 68 and 64 BCE was his most politically productive, during which he successfully climbed the Roman political ladder almost to its pinnacle, the consulship, despite allegations of extortion and infidelity.

After having risen through the ranks of Sulla’s army Catiline’s desire for political power and wealth increased, and he began to strive for political power.  Although sources are not completely clear on all of Catiline's political posts, they are sure that at the age of 39 he held a praetorship in 68;  this suggests that beforehand he also served as a quaestor c. 77 and an aedile c. 71 (as per the cursus honorum).

It is important to note that the office of praetor is the last before the consulship.  There was ostensibly nowhere for Catiline to go but up.

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67 BCE
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Cicero
Catiline
Cicero served as an orator before the Senate through 67, speaking often in various cases.  For instance, he promoted Gabinius's bill to rid the Mediterranian of pirates—when the bill came to include that Pompey should comand this mission.  Cicero's support of the bill illustrates his political differences with politicians such as Crassus and Caesar, who opposed the bill as they thought it would give too much power to Pompey.

Also in this year there was an influx of corruption throughout the government, especially among the pauci—an elite but corrupt group of Roman politicians who used bribery and coercion as a means of accomplishing their goals.  Cicero was openly against the pauci and sided with Gaius Cornelius,who proposed legislation to penalize corrupt politicians.  Once again Cicero found himself against Crassus and Caesar, whose own corrupt acts made them the targets of Cornelius' legislation.  Yet he remained very popular among the people due to his novus homo status.

Last, in 67 Cicero was elected praetor for 66.  This position was usually the precursor to consulship, a position which Cicero definitely had set his sights on obtaining.

In 67 Catiline won a term as governor of Rome’s colony in Africa, despite the fact that he abandoned his wife and child so that he could marry the wealthy heiress Aurelia Orestilla.  This accusation was one of many to come that were derived from Catiline’s extreme desire for wealth and power.  He served in Africa until his return to Rome in 66.
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66 BCE
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Cicero
Catiline
During his praetorship, Cicero became involved in many issues that caused his division from other powerful Roman politicians, but gained him support from the Roman public.  Two famous speeches during this year were the pro lege Manilia and de imperio Gnaei Pompeii.

The former regarded a piece of legislation proposed by the senator Manilius that would allow Pompey to have full power in order to wage war against the king Mithridates.  The latter was a laudatory speech about Pompey, which in turn raised Cicero in the eyes of the great general.

It was at this time that Marcus Caelius, a young patrician, came under the tutelage of Cicero.

Shortly after his return, the party with which he affiliated himself, the populares, sought to place itself in a position to win the next consular race.  Catiline became leader of this party and announced his intention to run for the consulship of the year 65.  However, representatives from the African province had also come to Rome, and they accused Catiline of extortion—of fleecing the provincials in an effort to fill his personal accounts. 

On the one hand, it appears that Catiline was indeed cash-poor, having spent his last dollars in his campaign for the praetorship.  On the other hand, the charges may have been trumped up by his enemies to prevent him from running for office.  Whatever the case, the accusations of extortion led to an indictment.  Since candidacy was illegal if announced while charges were pending, Catiline was forbidden to run in 66 and in the following year, 65.

Interestingly, in 65 Cicero would offer to defend Catiline in this suit.  He apparently sensed that Catiline would be hard to defeat in the elections of 64, and hoped to make him a political ally.  Catiline refused.

About this time, Gnaeus Piso confronted Catiline and his partner Autronius with the idea of overthrowing the government by force.  Catiline accepted the leadership of  what became known as The First Catilinarian Conspiracy.

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65 BCE
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Cicero
Catiline
In 65 Cicero joined the optimates in successful opposition to the proposals of Crassus, who wanted to annex the country of Egypt into the Republic.  The last king of Egypt had left the country to Rome in his will, but the people of the country opposed it.  Cicero gave his speech de Rege Alexandrino against Crassus’ proposal. 

Also in this year he successfully defended Cornelius against a charge of inciting revolution (maiestas).

Finally, Cicero campaigned for and was elected consul designatus in the summer of this year, which meant that he was one of the finalists selected to run for the consulship in the next year.

In the conspiracy of 65, the plan was to murder the newly appointed consuls on 25 January, which would have left a power vacuum that the conspirators could fill.  The end intention of this assassination plot was to incite a coup against the Roman government at large.

Unfortunately for Catiline, the plan had to be pushed back until 5 February for fear of being exposed.  Despite having another month to get ready, Catiline and his conspirators failed due to miscommunication.

It is has been doubted whether this first conspiracy, like the extortion charges, was real or a creation of Catiline’s enemies.  One reason for this was that in 65 Catiline was still involved in his African lawsuit, and  was acquitted by those whom he was supposedly plotting to kill, including one Senator Torquatus.

Whatever the case, the conspiracy never came to fruition and Catiline was never convicted of any charges involved with it.

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64 BCE
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The close of 64 brought on the fast, furious, mudslinging elections for the 63 consulship with Cicero and Catiline as the principal candidates.

Both Catiline and another candidate, Antonius, were considered corrupt.  Cicero exploited this in his political rhetoric to emphasize what a breath of fresh air, so to speak, he would be to the republic.  Cicero eventually formed an alliance with Antonius, with the understanding that they would serve as co-consuls.

Meanwhile, Catiline and Gaius Antonius Hibrida ran on the same ticket against Cicero and Antonius, and spent a lot of money bribing the voters—despite anti-bribery legislation under consideration in the Senate.  Moreover, Catiline had allied himself with Crassus and Caesar, who were trying to pass their Rullan land reform bill.

As the fight for the consulship continued, hostility grew not only between Cicero and Catiline, but between the elder generation of politicians and the reformers.  In the end Cicero was elected consul, the first novus homo to gain the position in nearly 30 years.

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63 BCE
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In 63 Catiline canvassed vigorously for the consulship of 62, this time on a revolutionary platform that endeared him to the plebs.  His platform included debt cancellation, which won the votes of farmers who would otherwise have lost their crops to debtors.  Yet Catiline was also able to gain some political support from the noble class, despite a proposal to proscribe wealthy citizens.

Cicero, however, used his consular position to oppose Catiline's bid, including postponing the elections to confuse the voters.  He was successful, and Catiline lost the consulship a second time.

The end of 63 left Catiline desperate and power-hungry.  The stage was set for the second Catalinarian conspiracy.

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References.

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Last modified 21 March 1999