Download Lucius Sergius Catilina (usually called Catiline in English)

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Lucius Sergius
Our villain--or at least Cicero’s!
Who was Catiline?
The detailed history of Catiline and his
conspiracy is a topic for a semester college
course, not a week in Latin 3. But with no
background at all, you will be lost, and the
reading will be intolerably boring.
Catiline bio
Lucius Sergius Catilina (usually called Catiline in
English) was a Roman senator from an old
family who had gone through the cursus
Catiline’s family had lost both money and
prestige by his time (their last consul had served
380 BC). This was a potently embarrassing
situation for many ambitious young Romans.
Catiline’s Career
Catiline had served a distinguished (if in some ways scandalous) military
career, and had also governed the province of Tunisia. He would have
entered his first consular election in 66BC, when he came home, but he
was prosecuted for financial misconduct overseas.
(Bizarrely, Cicero’s letters indicate that he seriously considered
defending Catiline in this trial, and imply that he knew Catiline was guilty
but suspected the judge was open to corruption. Cicero didn’t actually
participate in the trial, but still, the discovery of this letter in the
Renaissance horrified many lovers of Cicero’s public writing. You will
read some of Cicero’s personal letters at the end of the course.)
The Election
Catiline did manage to run for consul in 64BC (to serve in 63BC). It was
a three-candidate election in which the other two were Cicero and
Antonius Hybrida. He proposed a populist platform, including a blanket
erasure of all debts.
Though Cicero was not himself an ideal candidate for the Optimates,
since his family had never had a consul (i.e. he was a novus homo), his
platform was moderate, so with the support of the bloc that got to vote
first Cicero and Hybrida got the consulships for 63BC, with Catiline in
third place.
He ran again the following year but again came third.
The Conspiracy
At this point, Catiline was out of legal options for
achieving power (and any ideological ends he
may have had).
To make a long story very short, Catiline
planned a two-part violent coup: a terrorist
attack by a cell in Rome, and a conventional
armed assault in North Italy.
What did he want?
Scholars differ on what motivated Catiline and his upper-class followers. Some possibilities:
A desire to restore family glory.
Desperately needing the debt relief policy themselves. Just like today, not only the poor in
Rome could go into debt. Catiline and his friends liked to live well, and they often lived on a
great deal of credit they could never repay.
Some respectable historians have believed that Catiline was also a good-faith revolutionary
for the interests of the poor, rehabilitating him from our negative ancient sources. He has
also been convincingly argued to have been a standard politician manipulating the poor for
his own interests, mentally deranged, or even a pawn for Julius Caesar whom Caesar threw
under the bus when he got out of hand.
Our Ancient Sources
In addition to Cicero’s orations against Catiline (there are a total of three;
we are reading the beginning of the first one), there is a short historical
text about the conspiracy by the historian Sallust, which gives us
valuable context for the speeches and another view of Catiline’s
The work is not particularly long and is available in English translation, of
a sort, in the public domain online, but I hesitate to give a link even for
reference since the translation is from the late 1800’s, and sounds like it.
Further sources
Again, the whole Catilinarian conspiracy is a
semester-long college topic. However, if you are
interested, some worthwhile secondary sources