Marcus Porcius Catō Uticensis (95 BC - 46 BC), known as Cato the Younger (Cato Minor) to distinguish him from his great-grandfather (Cato the Elder), was a politician and statesman in the late Roman Republic, and a follower of the Stoic philosophy. He is remembered for his legendary stubbornness and tenacity (especially in his lengthy conflict with Gaius Julius Caesar), as well as his immunity to bribes, his moral integrity, and his famous distaste for the ubiquitous corruption of the period.
Cato was born in 95 BC in Rome, the son of Marcus Porcius Cato and his wife Livia Drusa. He lost both of his parents very early and moved into the household of his maternal uncle Marcus Livius Drusus, who also looked after Quintus Servilius Caepio the Younger, Servilia Caepionis Maior, and Servilia Caepionis Minor from Livia's first marriage (though Quintus Servilius Caepio was generally known to be Cato's full brother), as well as Porcia (Cato's full sister), and Marcus Livius Drusus Claudianus (Livius' adopted son). Drusus was murdered when Cato was 4 years old.
Cato's stubbornness began in his early years. Sarpedon, his tutor, reports a very obedient and questioning child, although slow in being persuaded of things and sometimes very difficult to retrain. A story told by Plutarch tells of Quintus Poppaedius Silo, leader of the Marsi and involved in a highly controversial business in the Roman Forum, who made a visit to his friend Marcus Livius and met the children of the house. In a playful mood, he asked the children's support for his cause. All of them nodded and smiled except Cato, who stared at the guest with most suspicious looks. Silo demanded an answer from him and, seeing no response, took Cato and hung him by the feet out of the window. Even then, Cato would not say anything.
Plutarch also recounts a few other stories as well. One night, as some children were playing a game in a side room of a house during a social event, they were having a mock trial with judges and accusers as well as a defendant. One of the children, supposedly a good-natured and pleasant child, was convicted by the mock accusers and was being carried out of the room when he cried out desperately for Cato. Cato became very angry at the other children and, saying nothing, grabbed the child away from the "guards" and carried him away from the others.
Plutarch also tells a story about Cato's peers' immense respect for him, even at a young age, during the Roman ritual military game, called "Troy", in which all aristocratic teenagers participated as a sort of "coming of age" ceremony, involving a mock battle with wooden weapons performed on horseback. While the child of one of Sulla's surrogates was chosen by the adult organizers to lead one of the "teams," the team refused to follow him because of his character, and when they were finally asked who they would follow, the boys unanimously chose Cato.
Lucius Cornelius Sulla, the Roman dictator, liked to talk with Cato and his half-brother Caepio, and often requested the child's presence even when the boy openly defied his opinions and policies in public. According to Plutarch, at one point during the height of the civil strife, as respected Roman nobles were being led to execution from Sulla's villa, Cato, aged about 14, asked his tutor why no one had yet killed the dictator. Sarpedon's answer was thus: "They fear him, my child, more than they hate him." Cato replied to this, "Give me a sword, that I might free my country from slavery." After this, Sarpedon was careful not to leave the boy unattended around the capital, seeing how firm he was in his republican beliefs.
After receiving his inheritance, Cato moved from his uncle's house and began to study Stoic philosophy and politics. He began to live in a very modest way, as his great-grandfather Marcus Porcius Cato the Elder had famously done. Cato subjected himself to violent exercise, and learned to endure cold and rain with a minimum of clothes. He ate only what was necessary and drank the cheapest wine on the market. This was entirely for philosophical reasons; his inheritance would have permitted him to live comfortably. He remained in private life for a long time, rarely seen in public. But when he did appear in the forum, his speeches and rhetorical skills were most admired.
Cato was first engaged to Aemilia Lepida, a patrician woman, but she was married instead to Quintus Caecilius Metellus Scipio, to whom she had been betrothed. Incensed, Cato threatened to sue for her hand, but his friends mollified him, and Cato was contented to compose Archilochian iambics against Scipio in consolation. Later, Cato was married to a woman called Atilia. By her, he had a son, Marcus Porcius Cato, and a daughter, Porcia, who would become the second wife of Marcus Junius Brutus. Cato later divorced Atilia for unseemly behavior.
In 72 BC, Cato volunteered to fight in the war against Spartacus, presumably to support his brother Caepio, who was serving as a military tribune in the consular army of Lucius Gellius Poplicola. Gellius is often remembered as an indifferent commander, but his army inflicted the greatest of any defeats on Spartacus before Crassus raised his six legions and ultimately defeated Spartacus.
As a military tribune, Cato was sent to Macedon in 67 BC at the age of 28 and given command of a legion. He led his men from the front, sharing their work, food and sleeping quarters. He was strict in discipline and punishment but was nonetheless loved by his legionaries. While Cato was in service in Macedon, he received the news that his beloved half-brother (from whom he was nearly inseparable) was dying in Thrace. He immediately set off to see him but was unable to see his brother before he died. Cato was overwhelmed by grief and, for once in his life, he spared no expense to organize lavish funeral ceremonies for his brother (as Caepio had wished). Caepio left his fortune to be divided between his daughter Servilia and Cato.
On his return to Rome in 65 BC, Cato was elected to the position of quaestor. Like everything else in his life, Cato took unusual care to study the background necessary for the post, especially the laws relating to taxes. One of his first moves was to prosecute former quaestors for illegal appropriation of funds and dishonesty. Cato also prosecuted Sulla's informers, who had acted as head-hunters during Sulla's dictatorship, despite their political connections among Cato's own party and despite the power of Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, who had been known as the "teenage butcher" for his service under Sulla. The informers of Sulla were accused first of illegal appropriation of treasury money, and then of homicide. At the end of the year, Cato stepped down from his quaestorship amid popular acclaim, and he never ceased to keep an eye on the treasury, always looking for irregularities.
As senator, Cato was scrupulous and determined. He never missed a session of the Senate and publicly criticized ones who did so. From the beginning, he aligned himself with the Optimates, the conservative faction of the Senate. Many of the optimates at this time had been personal friends of Sulla, whom Cato had despised since his youth, yet Cato attempted to make his name by returning his faction to its pure republican roots.
In 63 BC, he was elected tribune of the plebs for the following year, and assisted the consul, Marcus Tullius Cicero, in dealing with the Catiline conspiracy. Lucius Sergius Catilina, a noble patrician, was leading a rebellion inside Rome, with the purpose of becoming king. Cicero and Cato annihilated the danger and prosecuted all the men involved, proposing to execute them without trial (an unconstitutional act). In the senate discussion on the subject, Gaius Julius Caesar agreed that the conspirators were guilty, argued against a public trial for them, yet advocated a sentence of life exile for the conspirators while their comrades were still in arms. In contrast, Cato argued that a capital punishment would have the effect of making examples of the traitors and would thereby safeguard the laws by preserving the state itself. The senate was convinced by Cato's argument, and after the traitors had been executed, the greater portion of Catiline's army quit the field, much as Cato had predicted.
Cato's political and personal differences with Caesar date from this day. In a meeting of the Senate dedicated to the Catilina affair, Cato harshly reproached Caesar for reading personal messages while the senate was in session to discuss a matter of treason. Cato accused Caesar of involvement in the conspiracy and suggested that he was working on Catilina's behalf, which might explain Caesar's otherwise odd stance that the conspirators should receive no public hearing yet be shown clemency. Caesar replied that it was only a love letter. Not believing the excuse, Cato took the paper from his hands and read it. Caesar was right: it was indeed a love letter from his mistress Servilia Caepionis, Cato's half-sister. This quickly turned into a minor personal scandal. Servilia was divorced from her husband and the Roman senators started to look out for their households, since Caesar was as notorious for liking to sleep with his political enemies' wives as he was notorious for purportedly sleeping with the king of Bithynia.
After divorcing Atilia, Cato married Marcia, daughter of Lucius Marcius Philippus, who bore him two or three children. While married to Marcia, the renowned orator Q Hortensius Hortalus, who was an admirer and friend of Cato, desired a connection to Cato's family and asked for the hand of Porcia, Cato's eldest daughter. Cato refused because the potential match made little sense: Porcia was already married to Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus, who was unwilling to let her go, and being nearly 60 years old, Hortensius was almost 30 years senior to Porcia. Having recently lost his own wife, Hortensius immediately suggested that he take Marcia, on the grounds that she had already given Cato heirs. On the condition that Marcia's father consented to the match, Cato agreed to divorce Marcia, who then married Hortensius. Between Hortensius' death in 50 BC and Cato's leaving Italy with Pompey in 49 BC, Cato took Marcia and her children into his household again. Ancient sources differ on whether they were remarried.
After the Catilina conspiracy, Cato turned all his political skills to oppose the designs of Caesar and his triumvirate allies (Pompey and Marcus Licinius Crassus), who had among them held the reins of power in a finely balanced near-monopoly. Caesar gained influence over the Senate through Pompey and Crassus. Pompey gained influence over the legions of Rome through Crassus and Caesar. Crassus enjoyed the support of the tax-farmers and was able to gain a fortune by exploitation of the provinces controlled by Caesar and Pompey.
Cato's opposition took two forms. First, in 61 BC, Pompey returned from his Asian campaign with two ambitions: to celebrate a Triumph, and become consul for the second time. In order to achieve both goals, he asked the Senate to postpone consular elections until after his Triumph. At first, due to Pompey's enormous popularity, the Senate was willing to oblige him. Then Cato intervened and convinced the Senate to force Pompey to choose. The result was Pompey's third Triumph, one of the most magnificent ever seen in Rome.
When faced with the same request from Caesar, Cato used the device of filibuster, speaking continuously until nightfall, to prevent the Senate from voting on the issue of whether or not Caesar would be allowed to stand for consul in absentia. Thus Caesar was forced to choose between a Triumph or a run for the consulship. Caesar chose to forgo the Triumph and entered Rome in time to register as a candidate in the 59 BC election (which he won). Caesar's consular colleague was Marcus Bibulus, the husband of Cato's daughter Porcia.
When Caesar became consul, Cato opposed the agrarian laws that established farmlands for Pompey's veterans on public lands in Campania, from which the republic derived a quarter of its income. Caesar responded by having Cato dragged out by lictors while Cato was making a speech against him at the rostra. Many senators protested this extraordinary and unprecedented use of force by leaving the forum, one senator proclaiming he'd rather be in jail with Cato than in the Senate with Caesar. Caesar was forced to relent but countered by taking the vote directly to the people, bypassing the Senate. Bibulus and Cato attempted to oppose Caesar in the public votes but were harassed and publicly assaulted by Caesar's retainers. Eventually, Bibulus confined himself to his home and pronounced unfavorable omens in an attempt to lay the legal groundwork for the later repeal of Caesar’s consular acts.
Cato did not relent in his opposition to the triumvirs, unsuccessfully attempting to prevent Caesar's 5-year appointment as governor of Illyria and Cisalpine Gaul or the appointment of Crassus to an Eastern command.
Clodius (who worked closely with the triumvirate) desired to exile Cicero, and felt that Cato's presence would complicate his efforts. He, with the support of the triumvirs, proposed to send Cato to annex Cyprus. Plutarch recounts that Cato saw the commission as an attempt to be rid of him, and initially refused the assignment. When Clodius passed legislation conferring the commission on Cato "though ever so unwillingly," Cato accepted the position in compliance with that law. His official office while in Cyprus was Quaestor pro Praetore (an extraordinary Quaestorship with Praetorian powers)
Cato appeared to have two major goals in Cyprus. The first was to enact his foreign policy ideals, which--as expressed in a letter to Cicero--called for a policy of "mildness" and "uprightness" for governors of Roman-controlled territories. The second was to implement his reforms of the quaestorship on a larger scale. This second goal also provided Cato with an opportunity to burnish his Stoic credentials: the province was rich both in gold and opportunities for extortion. Thus, against common practice, Cato took none, and he prepared immaculate accounts for the senate, much as he had done earlier in his career as quaestor. According to Plutarch, Cato ultimately raised the enormous sum of 7,000 talents of silver for the Roman treasury. He thought about every unexpected event, even to tying ropes to the coffers with a big piece of cork on the other end, so they could be located in the event of a shipwreck. Unfortunately, luck played him a trick. Of his perfect accounting books, none survived: the one he had was burnt, the other was lost at sea with the freedman carrying it. Only Cato's untainted reputation saved him from charges of extortion.
The Senate of Rome recognized the effort made in Cyprus and offered him a reception in the city, an extraordinary praetorship, and other privileges, all of which he stubbornly refused as unlawful honours.
The triumvirate of Caesar, Pompey and Crassus was broken in 54 BC at the same time as Cato's election as praetor. Judging their enemy in trouble, Cato and the optimates faction of the Senate spent the coming years trying to force a break between Pompey and Caesar. It was a time of political turmoil, when demagogues like Publius Clodius tried to make their political careers by wooing crowds with bribery and resorting to violence, going so far as abandoning his patrician status to be converted to a pleb. As a leading spokesman for the optimate cause, Cato fought them all.
In 52 BC, Cato ran for the office of consul for the following year, unsuccessfully. In a time of rampant bribery and electoral fraud, he ran a scrupulously honest campaign, and, unsurprisingly, lost to his less conscientious opponents. Cato accepted the loss with unusual equanimity, but refused to run a second time.
In 49 BC, Cato called for the Senate to formally relieve Caesar of his expired proconsular command and to order Caesar's return to Rome as a civilian and thus without proconsular legal immunity. In all previous attempts, Pompey had blocked such attempts, but Pompey was now concerned with Caesar's widespread bribery and support for political violence. With the tacit support of Pompey, Cato successfully passed a resolution ending Caesar's proconsular command. Caesar made numerous attempts to negotiate, at one point even conceding to give up all but one of his provinces and legions. This concession satisfied Pompey, but Cato, along with the consul Lentulus, refused to back down. Faced with the alternatives of returning to Rome for the inevitable trial and retiring into voluntary exile, Caesar crossed into Italy with only one legion, implicitly declaring war on the Senate.
Caesar crossed the Rubicon accompanied by the thirteenth legion to take power from the Senate in the same way that Sulla had done in the past. Formally declared an enemy of the State, Caesar pursued the senatorial party, now led by Pompey, who abandoned the city to raise arms in Greece, with Cato among his companions. After first reducing Caesar's army at the battle of Dyrrhachium (where Cato commanded the port), the army led by Pompey was ultimately defeated by Caesar in the battle of Pharsalus (48 BC). Cato and Metellus Scipio, however, did not concede defeat and escaped to the province of Africa to continue resistance from Utica. Due to his presence in this city and command of the port there, Cato is sometimes referred to as Cato Uticensis (from Utica). Caesar pursued Cato and Metellus Scipio after installing the queen Cleopatra VII on the throne of Egypt, and in February 46 BC the outnumbered Caesarian legions defeated the army led by Metellus Scipio at the Battle of Thapsus. Acting against his usual strategy of clemency, Caesar had Scipio and all his troops slaughtered upon their surrender.
In Utica, Cato did not participate in the battle and, unwilling to live in a world led by Caesar and refusing even implicitly to grant Caesar the power to pardon him, he committed suicide. According to Plutarch, Cato attempted to kill himself by stabbing himself with his own sword, but failed to do so due to an injured hand. One of Cato's slaves found him on the ground and called for a physician to stitch up and bandage Cato's wounds. Cato waited until they left him and then tore off the bandages and the stitches with his fingers and pulled out his own intestines, thereby ending his life.
Cato is remembered as a follower of Stoicism and was one of the most active paladins of the Republic. One should remember, however, that the Roman interpretation of Stoicism was somewhat at odds with the Greek philosopher's ideas, for instance, he argued against participation in public affairs; the Romans however were able to incorporate his teachings within the Roman framework. Cato's high moral standards and incorruptible virtue gained him praise even from his political enemies, such as Sallust (one of our sources for the anecdote about Caesar and Cato's sister). Sallust also wrote a comparison between Cato and Caesar (Cato's long-time rival - Caesar was praised for his mercy, compassion, and generosity, while Cato for his discipline, rigidity, and moral integrity). One should however consider which of these men Sallust found the more appealing. After Cato's death, both pro- and anti-Cato treatises appeared; amongst them Cicero wrote a panegyric, entitled Cato, to which Caesar (who never forgave him for all the obstructions) answered with his Anti-Cato. Cicero's pamphlet has not survived, but some of its contents may be inferred from Plutarch's Life of Cato, which also repeats many of the stories that Caesar put forward in his Anti-Cato. Plutarch specifically mentions the accounts of Cato's close friend Munatius Rufus and that of the later Neronian senator Thrasea Paetus as references used for parts of his biography of Cato. The important thing to remember within the context of the time, was that whilst Caesar proclaimed clemency towards all, he never forgave Cato. This stance was something that others in the anti-Caesarian camp would remember, including Cato's nephew and posthumous son-in-law Brutus.
Republicans under the Empire remembered him fondly, and the poet Virgil, writing under Augustus, made Cato a hero in his Aeneid. Whilst it was not particularly safe to praise Caesar, Augustus did tolerate and appreciate Cato. Whilst one might argue that heaping posthumous praise on Cato highlights one's opposition to the new shape of Rome without directly challenging Augustus, it was actually later generations who were more able to embrace the role model of Cato without the fear of prosecution. Certainly under Nero, the resurgence of republican ambitions with Cato as their ideal, ended in death for such figures like Seneca and Lucan, but Cato continued nevertheless as a righteous ideal for generations to come.
Lucan, writing under Nero, also made Cato the hero of the fragmentary later books of his epic, the Pharsalia. From the latter work originates the epigram, "Victrix causa diis placuit sed victa Catoni" ("The conquering cause pleased the gods, but the conquered cause pleased Cato"). Other Imperial authors such as Horace, the Tiberian authors Velleius Paterculus and Valerius Maximus along with Lucan and Seneca in the 1st century AD and later authors such as Appian and Dio celebrated the historical importance of Cato the Younger in their own writings.
I saw close by me a solitary old man, worthy, by
his appearance, of so much reverence that never
son owed father more.
Long was his beard and mixed with white hair,
similar to the hairs of his head, which fell to his
breast in two strands.
The rays of the four holy lights so adorned his
face with brightness that I saw him as if the sun
had been before him.
Cato was also lionized during the republican revolutions of the Enlightenment. Joseph Addison's play, Cato, a Tragedy (first staged on April 14, 1713) celebrated Cato as a martyr to the republican cause. The play was a popular and critical success: it was staged more than 20 times in London alone, and it was published across 26 editions before the end of the century. George Washington often quoted Addison's Cato and had it performed during the winter at Valley Forge, in spite of a Congressional ban on such performances. The death of Cato (La mort de Caton d'Utique) was also a popular theme in revolutionary France, being sculpted by Philippe-Laurent Roland (1782) and painted by Bouchet Louis André Gabriel, Bouillon Pierre, and Guérin Pierre Narcisse in 1797. The sculpture of Cato by Jean-Baptiste Roman and François Rude (1832) stands in the Musee du Louvre.
Novels: Cato is a major character in several novels of Colleen McCulllough's Masters of Rome series. He is portrayed as a bigoted drunk of little or no moral value. Cato also appears in Thornton Wilder's highly-fictionalized "fantasia" Ides of March, where Cato is described by Caesar as one of "four men whom I most respect in Rome" but who "regard me with mortal enmity". Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick refers to Cato in the first paragraph: "With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship."
Plays: In 1712, Joseph Addison wrote his most famous work of fiction, a play entitled Cato, a Tragedy. Based on the last days of Cato the younger, it deals with such themes as individual liberty vs. government tyranny, Republicanism vs. Monarchism, logic vs. emotion and Cato's personal struggle to cleave to his beliefs in the face of death. It had a great influence on George Washington.
Poetry: Cato appears as a character in Dante's Purgatorio. He is in charge of guarding the souls that arrive in Purgatory.
Television: In the television series Rome, Cato, played by actor Karl Johnson, is a significant character, although he is shown as quite older than his actual age (mid-forties) at the time. In the 2002 miniseries Julius Caesar, Cato is played by Christopher Walken.