Conspiracy in Rome: Catiline The Eternal Villian?
L. Sergius Catilina (106 BC to 62 BC) was a Roman soldier and politician who attempted unsuccessfully to overthrow the Roman Republic following his second defeat for consul due to the efforts of his nemesis, M. Tullius Cicero. Catiline had been born into an ancient noble family whose luster had faded a century before his birth. He was probably trained from childhood to restore his family’s ancient glory by attaining the ultimate goal every Roman nobleman aspired to - the consulship. In the first century BC almost every individual who attained the consulship was a member of a family whose ancestors had attained the consulship in recent times. The odds of Catiline succeeding in his goal were not good.
Bowls containing food distributed in electoral canvasses. The bowl to the right was commissioned by Lucius Cassius Longinus and distributed in support of Catiline's consular candidacy in 63 BC. The bowl on the left was distributed by Marcus Porcius Cato in a coeval campaign for the plebeian tribunate (CC BY-SA 1.0)
Catiline, like almost all Roman nobles of his generation, was an experienced solder who apparently spent his early adulthood in the military service where he acquired a reputation as an able soldier and a charismatic leader. After leaving the army, Catiline became aligned with M. Licinius Crassus, the wealthiest Roman of his generation, who used his wealth to support upcoming politicians such as Catiline and Caesar. Catiline easily won elections for the first two offices- quaestor and praetor- which had to be held before the consulship. Winning such elections was relatively easy since each year there were 20 quaestors and eight praetors elected. The consulship was a different cup of tea. There were only two consuls elected annually.
Fulvia revealing the conspiracy to Cicero by Francesco Filippini (1879) (Public Domain)
Seeds of Conspiracy
In 64 BC Catiline ran against Cicero for the consulship and lost. He tried again in 63 BC to attain the consulship but lost in large part due to Cicero’s opposition. Believing that he had been wrongfully deprived of an office to which he felt entitled to by birth and cognizant of popular discontent, Catiline formed a conspiracy to overthrow the Republic. He fomented an armed insurrection in Etruria and planned to have the forces there march on Rome and join an insurrection in the city, which he would lead.
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James T. Carney is graduate of Yale College and the Yale Law School. In his semi- retirement, he has returned to his first love- history with a specialization in the American Civil War and the Last Century of the Roman Republic. He is the author of a biography of L. Sergius Catilina entitled Catiline; Rebel of the Roman Republic
Top Image: Cicero Denounces Catiline in the Roman Senate by Cesare Maccari (1889) (Public Domain)
By: James Carney