Cicero Denouncing Catiline by Cesare Maccari.
Detail of Catiline in Maccari's fresco in Palazzo Madama

Lucius Sergius Catilina (108 BC – 62 BC), known in English as Catiline, was a Roman politician of the 1st century BC who is best known for the Catiline (or Catilinarian) conspiracy, an attempt to overthrow the Roman Republic, and in particular the power of the aristocratic Senate.[1]



Family background

Catiline was born in 108 BC to one of the oldest patrician families in Rome. Although his family was of consular heritage, they were then declining in both social and financial fortunes. Virgil later gave the family an ancestor, Sergestus, who had come with Aeneas to Italy, presumably because they were notably ancient; but they had not been prominent for centuries. The last Sergius to be consul had been Gnaeus Sergius Fidenas Coxo in 380 BC.[2] Later, these factors would dramatically shape Catiline's ambitions and goals as he would desire above all else to restore the political heritage of his family along with its financial power.[3]

Life Before The Conspiracy

An able commander, Catiline had a distinguished military career.[4] He served in the Social War with Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus and Cicero, under Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo in 89 BC. During Gaius Marius, Lucius Cornelius Cinna and Gnaeus Papirius Carbo's regime, Catiline played no major role, but he remained politically secure. He later supported Lucius Cornelius Sulla in the civil war of 84 BC–81 BC. It was during Sulla's proscriptions that he allegedly tortured, maimed and then killed and beheaded his brother-in-law, Marcus Marius Gratidianus, at the tomb of Catulus, he then carried the head throgh the streets of Rome and deposited it at Sulla's feet at the Temple of Apollo. He is also accused of murdering his first wife and son so that he could marry the wealthy and beautiful Aurelia Orestilla, daughter of the Consul of 71BC, Gnaeus Aufidius Orestes. In the early 70s BC he served abroad, possibly with Publius Servilius Vatia in Cilicia. In 73 BC he was brought to trial for adultery with the Vestal Virgin, Fabia,[5] who was a half-sister of Cicero's wife, Terentia, but Quintus Lutatius Catulus, the principal leader of the Optimates, testified in his favor, and eventually Catiline was acquitted.[6]

He was praetor in 68 BC and for the following 2 years was the propraetorian governor for Africa.[7] Upon his return home in 66 BC, he presented himself as a candidate for the consular elections but a delegation from Africa appealing to the Senate, indicting him for abuses, prevented this as the incumbent consul, Lucius Volcatius Tullus, disallowed the candidacy.[8][9] He was finally brought to trial in 65 BC, where he received the support of many distinguished men, including many consulars.[7] Even one of the consuls for 65 BC, Lucius Manlius Torquatus, demonstrated his support for Catiline.[10] Cicero also contemplated defending Catiline in court.[11] Eventually, Catiline was acquitted. The author of Commentariolum Petitionis, possibly Cicero's brother, Quintus Cicero, suggests that Catiline was only acquitted by the fact that: "he left the court as poor as some of his judges had been before the trial,"[12] implying that he bribed his judges.

First Catilinian Conspiracy

Comic depiction of Cicero denouncing Catiline. (Note anachronisms, such as top hats and other Victorian clothing.)

In all likelihood, Catiline was not involved in the so-called First Catilinian Conspiracy, although several historical sources implicate him in it. There does not seem to be a single account that is represented in all of the sources: rather, it seems that the accounts represent a collection of rumors accusing different political figures in attempts to tarnish their names. As it pertains to Catiline, much of the information originates in Cicero’s speech In Toga Candida which was given during his election campaign in 64 BC. Only fragments of this speech still exist.

The consuls-designate, Publius Autronius Paetus and Publius Cornelius Sulla, were prevented from entering office because of ambitus, electoral corruption, under the lex Calpurnia.[13] Thus, the two other leading candidates, Lucius Manlius Torquatus and Lucius Aurelius Cotta, were elected in a second election and were to enter office on January 1, 65 BC. Supposedly, Catiline, incensed because he was not allowed to stand for the consulship, conspired with Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso and the former consuls-designate to slaughter many of the senators and the new consuls the day they assumed office. Then they would name themselves the consuls for 65 BC and then Piso would have been sent to organize the provinces in Spain.[14] Alternatively, Suetonius claims that Julius Caesar and Marcus Licinius Crassus directed the conspiracy, but he fails to mention Catiline's involvement. Instead of assuming the consulship, Crassus is accused of planning to become dictator and intending to name Caesar magister equitum.[15]

In 62 BC, after Catiline's death, Cicero defended Publius Sulla in court after he was indicted for being a member of the second conspiracy. In order to free his client of implication in the First Catilinian Conspiracy, he places the blame solely on Catiline who, conveniently, had waged war against the Republic in the previous months.[16] In the end, Publius Sulla was acquitted, Catiline's name was further tarnished, and Cicero received a large loan to purchase a home.[17] It is not clear who participated in this alleged conspiracy, as the different accounts accuse different people, but Catiline's association with it appears to have been developed after the Second Catilinian Conspiracy. Cicero's accusations prior to 63 BC are likely unfounded,[citation needed] since Rome had no penalty for libel.[clarification needed] Furthermore, Catiline had little motive to participate in this conspiracy, especially since he had been denied very little. He still held the aspiration of obtaining the consulship legitimately the next year, and the conspiracy involved the murder of the consul, Manlius Torquatus, who supported Catiline. It is unlikely that Catiline would have been involved in the First Catilinian Conspiracy or if, indeed, it even existed at all.[citation needed]

Intervening years

Catilina propaganda cup for the election to 62 BC consulate (right cup). These cups, filled with food or drinks, were distributed to the electors to support the candidates.

During 64 BC Catiline was officially accepted as a candidate in the consular election for 63 BC. He ran alongside Gaius Antonius Hybrida whom some[who?] suspect may have been a fellow conspirator. Nevertheless, Catiline was defeated by Cicero and Antonius Hybrida in the consular election, largely because the Roman aristocracy feared Catiline and his economic plan.[18] The Optimates were particularly repulsed because he promoted the plight of the urban plebs along with his economic policy of tabulae novae, the universal cancellation of debts.[19]

He was brought to trial later that same year, but this time it was for his role in the Sullan proscriptions. At the insistence of Cato the Younger, then quaestor, all men who had profited during the proscriptions were brought to trial. For his involvement, Catiline was accused of killing his former brother-in-law Marcus Marius Gratidianus,[20] carrying this man’s severed head through the streets of Rome and then having Sulla add him to the proscription to make it legal. Other allegations claimed that he murdered several other notable men.[21] Despite this, Catiline was acquitted again, though some surmise that it was through the influence of Caesar who presided over the court.

Catiline chose to stand for the consulship again in the following year.[22] However, by the time of the consular election for 62 BC, Catiline had lost much of the political support he had enjoyed during the previous year's election. He was defeated by two other candidates, Decimus Junius Silanus and Lucius Licinius Murena, ultimately crushing his political ambitions. The only remaining chance of attaining the consulship would be through an illegitimate means, conspiracy or revolution.[23]

Second Catilinian Conspiracy

Composition of the conspiracy

But at power or wealth, for the sake of which wars, and all kinds of strife, arise among mankind, we do not aim; we desire only our liberty, which no honorable man relinquishes but with life.
From Manlius' message to an approaching army as recorded in Sallust's Bellum Catilinae (XXXIII)

Catiline began to attach many other men of senatorial and equestrian rank to his conspiracy, and like him many of the other leading conspirators had faced similar political problems in the Senate.[24] Publius Cornelius Lentulus Sura, the most influential conspirator after Catiline, had held the rank of consul in 71 BC, but he had been cast out of the senate by the censors during a political purge in the following year on the pretext of debauchery.[25] Autronius was also complicit in their plot, since he was banned from holding office in the Roman government. Another leading conspirator, Lucius Cassius Longinus who was praetor in 66 BC with Cicero, joined the conspiracy after he failed to obtain the consulship in 64 BC along with Catiline. By the time that the election came around, he was no longer even regarded as a viable candidate. Gaius Cethegus, a relatively young man at the time of the conspiracy, was noted for his violent nature. His impatience for rapid political advancement may account for his involvement in the conspiracy.[26] The ranks of the conspirators included a variety of other patricians and plebeians who had been cast out of the political system for various reasons. Many of them sought the restoration of their status as senators and their lost political power.

Promoting his policy of debt relief, Catiline initially also rallied many of the poor to his banner along with a large portion of Sulla’s veterans.[27] Debt had never been greater than in 63 BC since the previous decades of war had led to an era of economic downturn across the Italian countryside.[28] Numerous plebeian farmers lost their farms and were forced to move to the city, where they swelled the numbers of the urban poor.[29] Sulla's veterans had spent and squandered the wealth they acquired from their years of service. Desiring to regain their fortunes, they were prepared to march to war under the banner of the "next" Sulla. Thus, many of the plebs eagerly flocked to Catiline and supported him in the hope of the absolution of their debts.

Course of the conspiracy

Catiline sent Gaius Manlius, a centurion from Sulla’s old army, to manage the conspiracy in Etruria where he assembled an army. Other men were sent to take other important locations throughout Italy, and even a small slave revolt began in Capua. While civil unrest was felt throughout the countryside, Catiline made the final preparations for the conspiracy in Rome.[30] Their plans included arson and the murder of a large portion of the senators, after which they would join up with Manlius’ army. Finally, they would return to Rome and take control of the government. To set the plan in motion, Gaius Cornelius and Lucius Vargunteius were to assassinate Cicero early in the morning on November 7, 63 BC, but Quintus Curius, a senator, who would eventually become one of Cicero's chief informants warned Cicero of the threat through his mistress Fulvia. Fortunately for Cicero, he escaped death that morning by placing guards at the entrance of his house who scared the conspirators away.[31]

On the following day, Cicero convened the Senate in the Temple of Jupiter Stator and surrounded it with armed guards.[32] Much to his surprise, Catiline was in attendance while Cicero denounced him before the Senate; however, the senators adjacent to Catiline slowly moved away from him during the course of the speech, the first of Cicero's four Catiline Orations. Incensed at these accusations, Catiline exhorted the Senate to recall the history of his family and how it had served the republic, instructing them not to believe false rumors and to trust the name of his family. He finally accused them of placing their faith in a "homo novus", Cicero, over a "nobilis", himself. Supposedly, Catiline violently concluded that he would put out his own fire with the general destruction of all.[33] Immediately afterward, he rushed home and the same night ostensibly complied with Cicero's demand and fled Rome under the pretext that he was going into voluntary exile at Massilia because of his "mistreatment" by the consul; however, he arrived at Manlius’ camp in Etruria to further his designs of revolution.[34]

Besides, soldiers, the same exigency does not press upon our adversaries, as presses upon us; we fight for our country, for our liberty, for our life; they contend for what but little concerns them, the power of a small party. Attack them, therefore, with so much the greater confidence, and call to mind your achievements of old.
From Catiline's speech to his army as recorded in Sallust's Bellum Catilinae (LVIII)

While Catiline was preparing the army, the conspirators continued with their plans. The conspirators observed that a delegation from the Allobroges were in Rome seeking relief from the oppression of their governor. So, Lentulus Sura instructed Publius Umbrenus, a businessman with dealings in Gaul, to offer to free them of their miseries and to throw off the heavy yoke of their governor. He brought Publius Gabinius Capito, a leading conspirator of the equestrian rank, to meet them and the conspiracy was revealed to the Allobroges.[35] The envoys quickly took advantage of this opportunity and informed Cicero who then instructed the envoys to get tangible proof of the conspiracy. Five of the leading conspirators wrote letters to the Allobroges so that the envoys could show their people that there was hope in a real conspiracy. However, a trap had been laid. These letters were intercepted in transit to Gaul at the Mulvian Bridge.[36] Then, Cicero had the incriminating letters read before the Senate the following day, and shortly thereafter these 5 conspirators were condemned to death without a trial despite an eloquent protest by Julius Caesar. Fearing that other conspirators might try to free Lentulus and the rest, Cicero had them strangled in the Tullianum immediately. He even escorted Lentulus to the Tullianum personally.[37] After the executions, he announced to a crowd gathering in the Forum what had occurred. Thus, an end was made to the conspiracy in Rome.

The failure of the conspiracy in Rome was a massive blow to Catiline. Upon hearing of the death of Lentulus and the others, many men deserted his army, reducing the size from about 10,000 to a mere 3,000. He and his ill-equipped army began to march towards Gaul and then back towards Rome several times in vain attempts to avoid a battle. Inevitably, Catiline was forced to fight when Quintus Caecilius Metellus Celer with three legions in the north blocked his escape. So, he chose to engage Antonius Hybrida’s army near Pistoria (now Pistoia) hoping that he would lose the battle and dishearten the other Republican armies. Catiline also hoped that perhaps he would have an easier time battling Antonius whom he assumed would fight less determinedly, as he was once allied with Catiline.[38] Catiline may have still believed that Antonius Hybrida was conspiring with him, which may have been true as Antonius Hybrida claimed to be ill on the day of the battle.[39] Nevertheless, Catiline himself bravely fought as a soldier on the front lines of the battle. Once he saw that there was no hope of victory, he threw himself into the thick of the fray. When the corpses were counted, all Catiline’s soldiers were found with frontal wounds, and his corpse was found far in front of his own lines.


Catiline was found far away from his own soldiers among the corpses of his enemies. It would have been a glorious death if he had thus fallen fighting for his country.
—From Florus' Epitome de Tito Livio (II.xii)

After Catiline’s death, many of the poor still regarded him with respect and did not view him as the traitor and villain that Cicero claimed he was.[40] However, the aristocratic element of Rome certainly viewed him in a much darker light. Sallust wrote an account of the conspiracy that epitomized Catiline as representative of all of the evils festering in the declining Roman republic. In his account, Sallust attributes countless crimes and atrocities to Catiline, but even he refuses to heap some of the most outrageous claims on him, particularly a ritual that involved the drinking of blood of a sacrificed child.[41] Later historians such as Florus and Dio Cassius, far removed from the original events, recorded the claims of Sallust and the aforementioned rumors as facts.[42] Up until the modern era Catiline was equated, as Sallust described, to everything depraved and contrary to both the laws of the gods and men.

Nevertheless, many Romans still viewed his character with a degree of respect. Well after Catiline's death and the end of the threat of the conspiracy, even Cicero reluctantly admitted that Catiline was an enigmatic man who possessed both the greatest of virtues and the most terrible of vices.

He had many things about him which served to allure men to the gratification of their passions; he had also many things which acted as incentives to industry and toil. The vices of lust raged in him; but at the same time he was conspicuous for great energy and military skill. Nor do I believe that there ever existed so strange a prodigy upon the earth, made up in such a manner of the most various, and different and inconsistent studies and desires.
From Cicero's Pro Caelio (V)

Catiline spoke with an eloquence that demanded loyalty from his followers and strengthened the resolve of his friends. Without doubt Catiline possessed a degree of courage that few have, and he died a particularly honorable death in Roman society. Unlike most Roman generals of the late republic, Catiline offered himself to his followers both as a general and as soldier on the front lines.

While history has viewed Catiline through the lenses of his enemies, some modern historians have reassessed Catiline, such as Michael Parenti, in "The Assassination of Julius Caesar".[43] To some extent Catiline’s name has been freed from many of its previous associations, and even to some the name of Catiline has undergone a transformation from a traitor and villain to a heroic agrarian reformer. Thus, some view Catiline as a reformer such as the Gracchi who met similar resistance from the government. However, many place him somewhere in between, a man who used the plight of the poor to suit his personal interests and a politician of the time no more corrupt than any other. Interestingly in parts of Italy up until the Middle Ages the legend of 'Catellina' continued to exist and was favourable to him.[44] Still other scholarly texts, such as H E Gould and J L Whietely's Macmillan edition of Cicero's In Catilinam, dismiss Catiline as a slightly deranged revolutionary, concerned more with the cancellation of his own debts, accrued in running for so many consulships, and in achieving the status he believed his by birthright due to his family name.

Title page of Ben Jonson's tragedy (1611) from the Folio of 1692


  • At least two major dramatists have written tragedies about Catilina: Ben Jonson, the English Jacobean playwright, wrote Catiline His Conspiracy in 1611; Catiline was the first play by the Norwegian 'father of modern drama' Henrik Ibsen, written in 1850.
  • Antonio Salieri wrote an opera tragicomica in two acts on the subject of the Catiline Conspiracy entitled Catilina to a libretto by Giambattista Casti in 1792, the work was left unperformed until 1994 due to its political implications during the French Revolution. Here serious drama and politics were blended with high and low comedy; the plot centered on a love affair between Catiline and a daughter of Cicero as well as the historic political situation.
  • Steven Saylor has written the novel Catilina's Riddle, where the plot evolves around the intrigue between Catilina and Cicero in 63 BC.
  • Catilina's conspiracy and Cicero's actions as Consul figure prominently in the novel Caesar's Women by Colleen McCullough as a part of her Masters of Rome series.
  • SPQR II: The Catiline Conspiracy, by John Maddox Roberts discusses Catiline's conspiracy.
  • Robert Harris' book Imperium, based on Cicero's letters, covers the developing career of Cicero with many references to his increasing interactions with Catiline. The sequel, Lustrum, deals with the five years surrounding the Catiline Conspiracy.
  • The Roman Traitor or the Days of Cicero, Cato and Catiline: A True Tale of the Republic by Henry William Herbert originally published in 1853 in two volumes.
  • A Pillar of Iron by Taylor Caldwell, published in 1965, tells of the life of Cicero, especially in relation to Catilina and his conspiracy against Rome.

See also


  1. ^ Winningham, Brandon (March 19, 2007) [2007] (in English). Catiline. iUniverse, Inc.. ISBN 978-0595424160. 
  2. ^ Sallust, De coniuratione Catilinae V.1; Vergil, Aeneid V.121
  3. ^ Sallust, Bellum Catilinae V.3
  4. ^ Cicero, Pro Caelio XII
  5. ^ She was later to become the Chief Vestal and to marry Publius Cornelius Dolabella as his first wife, per McCullough.
  6. ^ Cicero, "In Catilinam" III.9; Asconius 91C
  7. ^ a b Cicero, Pro Caelio IV
  8. ^ Sallust, Bellum Catilinae XVIII.3
  9. ^ Asconius 85-87, 89C
  10. ^ Cicero, Pro Sulla LXXXI
  11. ^ Cicero, Epistulae Ad Atticam I.2
  12. ^ Commentariolum Petitionis, 3
  13. ^ Cicero, Pro Sulla XLIX; Sallust, Bellum Catilinae XVIII.2
  14. ^ Sallust, Bellum Catilinae XVIII.5; Asconius 92C; Dio Cassius XXXVI.44.3
  15. ^ Suetonius, Divus Julius IX
  16. ^ Cicero, Pro Sulla LXVIII
  17. ^ Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae XII.12.2-4
  18. ^ Sallust, Bellum Catilinae XXIII.5-XIV.1
  19. ^ Sallust, Bellum Catilinae XXI.2
  20. ^ The evidence is only sketchy that Catiline early in his life was married to a sister of Gratidianus, and some scholars, notably B.A. Marshall, have doubted Catiline's role in the killing. For further discussion, see Marcus Marius Gratidianus.
  21. ^ Asconius 84C
  22. ^ Sallust, Bellum Catilinae XXVI.1
  23. ^ Sallust, Bellum Catilinae XXVI.5
  24. ^ Sallust, Bellum Catilinae XVII
  25. ^ Dio Cassius XXXVII.30.4; Plutarch, Cicero 17.1
  26. ^ Cicero, In Catilinam III.16 IV.11
  27. ^ Cicero, In Catilinam II.8 IV.6; Cicero, Pro Murena LXXVIII-LXXIX; Sallust, Bellum Catilinae XXXVII.1
  28. ^ Cicero, De Officiis II.84
  29. ^ Sallust, Bellum Catilinae XXXVII
  30. ^ Sallust, Bellum Catilinae XXVII.1-2 XXX.1-2; Cicero, Pro Murena XLIX
  31. ^ Sallust, Bellum Catilinae XXVII.3-XXVIII.3
  32. ^ Cicero, In Catilinam I.21
  33. ^ Sallust, Bellum Catilinae XXXI.5-9
  34. ^ Sallust, Bellum Catilinae XXXII.1 XXXIV.2; Cicero, In Catilinam II.13
  35. ^ Cicero, In Catilinam III.4; Sallust, Bellum Catilinae XL
  36. ^ Cicero, In Catilinam III.6; Sallust, Bellum Catilinae XLV
  37. ^ Sallust, Bellum Catilinae LV.5-6
  38. ^ Sallust, Bellum Catilinae LVI-LXI
  39. ^ Sallust, Bellum Catilinae LIX
  40. ^ Cicero, Pro Flacco XXXVIII
  41. ^ Sallust, Bellum Catilinae XX
  42. ^ Florus, Epitome de Tito Livio II.xii; Dio Cassius XXXVII.30.3
  43. ^ Michael Parenti, The Assassination of Julius Caesar; A People's History of Ancient Rome, The New Press, New York, 2004, ISBN 1-56584-797-0
  44. ^ L.P Wilkinson, Letters of Cicero, Hutchinson University Library, London, 1966


  • Appian, Roman History
  • Dio Cassius Cocceianus, Roman History
  • Gaius Sallustius Crispus, Bellum Catilinae
  • Marcus Tullius Cicero, In Catilinam
  • Marcus Tullius Cicero, Pro Caelio
  • Marcus Tullius Cicero, Pro Murena
  • Marcus Tullius Cicero, Pro Sulla
  • Quintus Tullius Cicero, Commentariolum Petitionis
  • Duane A. March, "Cicero and the 'Gang of Five'," Classical World, volume 82 (1989) 225-234

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Catiline — from Lucius Sergius Catilina, Roman official who plotted an uprising 63 B.C.E. and was exposed by Cicero in a famous oration, taken since 1590s as a type of a reckless conspirator …   Etymology dictionary

  • Catiline — [kat′ l īn΄] (born Lucius Sergius Catilina) 108? 62 B.C.; Rom. politician & conspirator …   English World dictionary

  • Catiline — /kat l uyn /, n. (Lucius Sergius Catilina) 108? 62 B.C., Roman politician and conspirator. * * * orig. Lucius Sergius Catilina born с 108 died 62 BC, Pistoria, Etruria [Italy] Roman aristocrat turned demagogue who sought to overthrow the republic …   Universalium

  • Catiline — biographical name circa 108 62 B.C. Lucius Sergius Catilina Roman politician & conspirator …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • CATILINE —    or LUCIUS SERGIUS CATILINA    a Roman patrician, an able man, but unscrupulously ambitious; frustrated in his ambitious designs, he formed a conspiracy against the State, which was discovered and exposed by Cicero, a discovery which obliged… …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Catiline — Cat•i•line [[t]ˈkæt lˌaɪn[/t]] n. anh big (Lucius Sergius Catilina) 108?–62 b.c., Roman politician and conspirator …   From formal English to slang

  • catiline — /ˈkætəlaɪn/ (say katuhluyn) noun a base political conspirator. {from Lucius Sergius Catilina, 108?–62 BC, Roman politician and conspirator} …   Australian-English dictionary

  • Catiline — /ˈkætəlaɪn/ (say katuhluyn) noun (Lucius Sergius Catilina /ˈlusiəs ˈsɜdʒiəs kætəˈlinə/ (say loohseeuhs serjeeuhs katuh leenuh)), 108?–62 BC, Roman politician and conspirator …   Australian-English dictionary

  • Catiline — /kat l uyn /, n. (Lucius Sergius Catilina) 108? 62 B.C., Roman politician and conspirator …   Useful english dictionary

  • Catiline His Conspiracy — is a Jacobean tragedy written by Ben Jonson. It is one of the two Roman tragedies that Jonson hoped would cement his dramatic achievement and reputation, the other being Sejanus His Fall (1603)..As its title indicates, the play recounts the story …   Wikipedia

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