Julius Caesar, His Rise as a Politician, and Cicero, Cato and Catiline

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20120224-331px-Giulio-cesare-enhanced_1-800x1450.jpg Early in his career Caesar was known as Rome's most efficient rabble-rouser. Steven Coats wrote in the New York Times, “His debts, and a proclivity for demagoguery, lent him an air of desperation, and the conservative elements in the Senate feared him as a revolutionary long before he illegally brought troops across the Rubicon, His great charm was a signature political asset, but in the fashion of the day he also had a knack for bribery, intimidation and — and some said — murder."

Caesar's biggest problem was he had no money. To earn money he organized gangs of street toughs that went to forum and extorted money and roughed up the opposition. He also knew how to kiss the ass of the right people. Caesar's money problems were eventually solved when Crassus, who was the richest man in Rome and needed Caesar's help in a fight with his rival Pompey, payed off Caesar's debts [about $50 million in today's money].

To gets his legislation passed Caesar used to fill the Senate with "roughnecks" and "moonlighting gladiators" who made note of those who voted against Caesar (there usually weren't many). It also wasn't uncommon for senators to pull the text of a bill out of the hands of its sponsor while he was reading it. And if that didn't work they put their hand over the speakers mouth. Caesar himself didn't bother with such niceties. he simply had the man pulled down from the dais and imprisoned. [Source: Lionel Casson, Smithsonian]

Some have said that Caesar was motivated by a strong sense of purpose: he saw decay and corruption around him and concluded that he was the only person who could set Rome on a path to greatness. The first phase of Rome becoming a major empire and Caesar become ruler of the known world was the creation of a power-sharing arrangement called the Triumvirate with Caesar, the popular general Pompey and Crassus, the richest man in Rome, as the money man. In 60 B.C., with Crassus's money and help, Caesar was elected consul, a move which allowed him to take command of Rome's armies for his campaign in Gaul, which in turn helped him ultimately gain control of the entire Roman empire.

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; Lacus Curtius penelope.uchicago.edu; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org The Roman Empire in the 1st Century pbs.org/empires/romans; The Internet Classics Archive classics.mit.edu ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review bmcr.brynmawr.edu; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors roman-emperors.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library web.archive.org ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame /web.archive.org ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History unrv.com

Caesar’s Mercy and Restraint

Suetonius wrote: “Even in avenging wrongs he was by nature most merciful, and when he got hold of the pirates who had captured him, he had them crucified, since he had sworn beforehand that he would do so, but ordered that their throats be cut first. He could never make up his mind to harm Cornelius Phagites, although when he was sick and in hiding the man had waylaid him night after night, and even a bribe had barely saved him from being handed over to Sulla. The slave Philemon, his amanuensis, who had promised Caesar's enemies that he would poison him, he merely punished by death, without torture. When summoned as a witness against Publius Clodius, the paramour of his wife Pompeia, charged on the same count with sacrilege, Caesar declared that he had no evidence, although both his mother Aurelia and his sister Julia had given the same jurors a faithful account of the whole affair; and on being asked why it was then that he had put away his wife, he replied: "Because I maintain that the members of my family should be free from suspicion, as well as from accusation." [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius” (“The Lives of the Caesars, The Deified Julius”), written A.D. c. 110, Suetonius, 2 vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 3-119]

“He certainly showed admirable self-restraint and mercy, both in his conduct of the civil war and in the hour of victory. While Pompeius (Pompey) announced that he would treat as enemies those who did not take up arms for the government, Caesar gave out that those who were neutral and of neither party should be numbered with his friends. He freely allowed all those whom he had made centurions on Pompeius' recommendation to go over to his rival. When conditions of surrender were under discussion at Ilerda, and friendly intercourse between the two parties was constant, Afranius and Petreius, with a sudden change of purpose, put to death all of Caesar's soldiers whom they found in their camp; but Caesar could not bring himself to retaliate in kind. At the battle of Pharsalus he cried out, "Spare your fellow citizens," and afterwards allowed each of his men to save any one man he pleased of the opposite party. And it will be found that no Pompeian lost his life except in battle, save only Afranius and Faustus, and the young Lucius Caesar; and it is believed that not even these men were slain by his wish, even though the two former had taken up arms again after being pardoned, while Caesar had not only cruelly put to death the dictator's slaves and freedmen with fire and sword, but had even butchered the wild beasts which he had procured for the entertainment of the people.

“At last, in his later years, he went so far as to allow all those whom he had not yet pardoned to return to Italy, and to hold magistracies and the command of armies: and he actually set up the statues of Lucius Sulla and Pompey, which had been broken to pieces by the populace. After this, if any dangerous plots were formed against him, or slanders uttered, he preferred to quash rather than to punish them. Accordingly, he took no further notice of the conspiracies which were detected, and of meetings by night, than to make known by proclamation that he was aware of them; and he thought it enough to give public warning to those who spoke ill of him, not to persist in their conduct, bearing with good nature the attacks on his reputation made by the scurrilous volume of Aulus Caecina and the abusive lampoons of Pitholaus.”

Caesar’s Arrogance, Abuse of Power and Contempt for the Senate

Suetonius wrote: “Yet after all, his other actions and words so turn the scale, that it is thought that he abused his power and was justly slain. For not only did he accept excessive honors, such as an uninterrupted consulship, the dictatorship for life, and the censorship of public morals, as well as the forename Imperator, the surname of Pater Patriae ['Father of his Country'], a statue among those of the kings, and a raised couch in the orchestra [Source: the theater]; but he also allowed honors to be bestowed on him which were too great for mortal man: a golden throne in the Senate and on the judgment seat; a chariot and litter [for carrying his statues among those of the gods] in the procession at the circus; temples, altars, and statues beside those of the gods; a special priest, an additional college of the Luperci, and the calling of one of the months by his name. In fact, there were no honors which he did not receive or confer at pleasure. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius” (“The Lives of the Caesars, The Deified Julius”), written A.D. c. 110, Suetonius, 2 vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 3-119]

“He held his third and fourth consulships in name only, content with the power of the dictatorship conferred on him at the same time as the consulships. Moreover, in both years he substituted two consuls for himself for the last three months, in the meantime holding no elections except for tribunes and plebeian aediles, and appointing praefects instead of the praetors, to manage the affairs of the city during his absence. When one of the consuls suddenly died the day before the Kalends of January, he gave the vacant office for a few hours to a man who asked for it. With the same disregard of law and precedent he named magistrates for several years to come, bestowed the emblems of consular rank on ten ex-praetors, and admitted to the Senate men who had been given citizenship, and in some cases half-civilized Gauls. He assigned the charge of the mint and of the public revenues to his own slaves, and gave the oversight and command of the three legions which he had left at Alexandria to a favorite of his called Rufo, son of one of his freedmen.

“No less arrogant were his public utterances, which Titus Ampius records: that the state was nothing, a mere name without body or form; that Sulla did not know his ABC's when he laid down his dictatorship; that men ought now to be more circumspect in addressing him, and to regard his word as law. So far did he go in his presumption, that when a soothsayer once reported of a sacrifice direful innards without a heart, he said: "They will be more favorable when I wish it; it should not be regarded as a portent, if a beast has no heart" [playing on the double meaning of cor ('heart')--which was also regarded as the seat of intelligence].

“But it was the following action in particular that roused deadly hatred against him. When the Senate approached him in a body with many highly honorary decrees, he received them before the temple of Venus Genetrix without rising. Some think that when he attempted to get up, he was held back by Cornelius Balbus; others, that he made no such move at all, but on the contrary frowned angrily on Gaius Trebatius when he suggested that he should rise. And this action of his seemed the more intolerable, because when he himself in one of his triumphal processions rode past the benches of the tribunes, he was so incensed because a member of the college, Pontius Aquila by name, did not rise, that he cried: "Come then, Aquila, take back the republic from me, you tribune"; and for several days he would not make a promise to any one without adding, "That is, if Pontius Aquila will allow me."

Caesar’s First Political Position

Suetonius wrote: “While serving as military tribune, the first office which was conferred on him by vote of the people after his return to Rome, he ardently supported the leaders in the attempt to re-establish the authority of the tribunes of the commons, the extent of which Sulla had curtailed. Furthermore, through a bill proposed by one Plotius [70 B.C.], he effected the recall of his wife's brother Lucius Cinna, as well as of the others who had taken part with Lepidus in his revolution and after the consul's death had fled to Sertorius; and he personally spoke in favor of the measure. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius” (“The Lives of the Caesars, The Deified Julius”), written A.D. c. 110, Suetonius, 2 vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 3-119]

“When quaestor [67 B.C.], he pronounced the customary orations from the rostra in praise of his aunt Julia and his wife Cornelia, who had both died. And in the eulogy of his aunt he spoke in the following terms of her paternal and maternal ancestry and that of his own father: "The family of my aunt Julia is descended by her mother from the kings, and on her father's side is akin to the immortal Gods; for the Marc Reges (her mother's family name) go back to Ancus Marcius, and the Jul, the family of which ours is a branch, to Venus. Our stock therefore has at once the sanctity of kings, whose power is supreme among mortal men, and the claim to reverence which attaches to the Gods, who hold sway over kings themselves." In place of Cornelia he took to wife Pompeia, daughter of Quintus Pompeius and granddaughter of Lucius Sulla. But he afterward divorced her [62 B.C.], suspecting her of adultery with Publius Clodius; and in fact the report that Clodius had gained access to her in woman's garb during a public religious ceremony was so persistent, that the senate decreed that the pollution of the sacred rites be judicially investigated.

“As quaestor it fell to his lot to serve in Hispania Ulterior. When he was there, while making the circuit of the towns, to hold court under commission from the praetor, he came to Gades, and noticing a statue of Alexander the Great in the temple of Hercules, he heaved a sigh, and as if out of patience with his own incapacity in having as yet done nothing noteworthy at a time of life when Alexander had already brought the world to his feet, he straightway asked for his discharge, to grasp the first opportunity for greater enterprises at Rome. Furthermore, when he was dismayed by a dream the following night (for he thought that he had offered violence to his mother) the soothsayers inspired him with high hopes by their interpretation, which was that he was destined to rule the world, since the mother whom he had seen in his power was none other than the earth, which is regarded as the common parent of all mankind.

“Departing therefore before his term was over, he went to the Latin colonies which were in a state of unrest and meditating a demand for citizenship [those towns beyond the Po River, such as Verona, Comum, and Cremona, wished to obtain the rights of citizenship, which had been given to many of the Italian towns at the close of the Social War of 90-88 B.C.] and he might have spurred them on to some rash act, had not the consuls, in anticipation of that very danger, detained there for a time the legions which had been enrolled for service in Cilicia.”

Cato, Cicero, and the Growing Influence of Caesar

During the absence of Pompey in the East (67-61 B.C.) the politics of the capital were mainly in the hands of three men—Marcus Porcius Cato, Marcus Tullius Cicero, and Caesar. Cato was the grandson of Cato the Censor; and like his great ancestor he was a man of firmness and of the strictest integrity. He was by nature a conservative, and came to be regarded as the leader of the aristocratic party. He contended for the power of the senate as it existed in the days of old. But lacking the highest qualities of a statesman, he could not prevent the inroads which were being made upon the constitution. On the other hand, Julius Caesar was coming to the front as the leader of the popular party. Though born of patrician stock, he was related by family ties to Marius and Cinna, the old leaders of the people. He was wise enough to see that the cause of the people was in the ascendancy. He aroused the sympathies of the Italians by favoring the extension of the Roman franchise to cities beyond the Po. He appealed to the populace by the splendor of the games which he gave as curule aedile. He allied himself to Crassus, whose great wealth and average ability he could use to good advantage. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~]


Plutarch wrote in “Lives”:“At this time, Metellus, the high priest, died, and Catulus and Isauricus, persons of the highest reputation, and who had great influence in the senate, were competitors for the office, yet Caesar would not give way to them, but presented himself to the people as a candidate against them. The several parties seeming very equal, Catulus, who, because he had the most honour to lose, was the most apprehensive of the event, sent to Caesar to buy him off, with offers of a great sum of money. But his answer was, that he was ready to borrow a larger sum than that to carry on the contest. Upon the day of election, as his mother conducted him out of doors with tears after embracing her, "My mother," he said, "to-day you will see me either high priest or an exile." When the votes were taken, after a great struggle, he carried it, and excited among the senate and nobility great alarm lest he might now urge on the people to every kind of insolence. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120), Life of Caesar (100-44 B.C.), written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden, MIT]

Cicero, who, in spite of his vanity, was a man of great intellect and of excellent administrative ability; but being a moderate man, he was liable to be misjudged by both parties. He was also what was called a “new man” (novus homo), that is, the first of his family to obtain the senatorial rank. Cicero was made consul, and rose to the highest distinction during the absence of Pompey. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~]

If Cicero had done nothing else, he would have been entitled to the gratitude of his country for two acts—the impeachment of Verres and the defeat of Catiline. Cicero stood for law and order, and generally for constitutional government. By his impeachment of Verres, the corrupt governor of Sicily, he brought to light, as had never been done before, the infamous methods employed in the administration of the provinces. He not only brought to light this corruption; he also brought to justice one of the greatest offenders. Then by the defeat of Catiline during his consulship Cicero saved Rome from the execution of a most infamous plot. \~\


Another major political figure at this time was Roman senator Lucius Sergius Catilina (or Catiline). Catiline was a man of great influence with a certain class, and had already become quite a politician. He had been a partisan of Sulla; had held the office of praetor; and had twice been defeated for the consulship. But if one half of the accounts of him are true, he was a man of most abandoned and depraved character. When Cato threatened to prosecute him, he said that if a fire were kindled against him he would put it out, not with water, but by a general ruin. Ruined himself in fortune, he gathered about him the ruined classes—insolvent debtors, desperate adventurers, and the rabble of Rome. It is said that his plot involved the purpose to kill the consuls, massacre the senators, and to burn the city of Rome. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~]


William Stearns Davis wrote: “Catiline's anarchistic conspiracy of 63 B.C. was, of course, only possible in a society in which there were a great number of depraved and desperate men, ready for any enterprise, however villainous. For such spirits Catiline was an ideal leader. In this quotation from Sallust we see how it became possible for him to find a large following, and what manner of man he was personally. [Source:William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. 135-138]

Sallust (prob.86-35 B.C.) wrote in “:Life in Rome in the Late Republic” Conspiracy of Catiline, chs. 11-16 (63 B.C.): “After Sulla had recovered the government by force of arms, everybody became robbers and plunderers. Some set their hearts on houses, some on lands. His victorious troops knew no restraint, no moderation, but inflicted on the citizens disgraceful and inhumane outrages. The whole period was one of debauched tastes and lawlessness. When wealth was once counted an honor, and glory, authority, and power attended it, virtue lost her influence, poverty was thought a disgrace, and a life of innocence was regarded as a life of mere ill nature. From the influence of riches, accordingly, luxury, avarice, pride came to prevail among the youth. They grew at once rapacious and prodigal. They undervalued what was their own; they set at nought modesty and continence; they lost all distinction between sacred and profane, and threw off all consideration and self-restraint.

“It is a serious matter for reflection, after viewing our modern mansions and villas, extended to the veritable size of cities, to contemplate the temples which our ancestors a most devout race of men, erected to the gods. But our forefathers adorned the fanes of the deities with devotion, and their homes with their own glory, and took nothing from what they conquered but the power of doing harm; their descendants on the contrary have even wrested from their allies, with rank injustice, whatever their brave and victorious ancestors had left to their vanquished enemies — as if the only use of power was to inflict injury. Why should I mention these displays of extraordinary luxury which now set in, which can be believed only by those who have seen them; as, for example, how mountains have been leveled, and seas actually built over with edifices by many a private citizen — men whom I deem to have made a sport of their wealth, since they were impatient to squander disreputably what they might have enjoyed with honor.

“But the love of irregular gratification, open debauchery, and all kinds of luxury had spread abroad with no less force. Men and women alike threw off all restraints of modesty. To gratify appetite they sought for every kind of production by land or sea. They slept before there was any natural inclination to sleep. They no longer waited to feel hunger, thirst, or fatigue, but anticipated them all by luxurious indulgence. Such propensities drove young men, when their patrimonies were run through, to criminal practices; for their minds, impregnated with evil habits, could not easily abstain from gratifying their passions, and were thus the more inordinately devoted in every way to rapacity and extravagance.

“In so populous and corrupt a city Catiline easily kept about him, as a bodyguard, crowds of the lawless and desperate. All the shameless libertines and profligate rascals were his associates and intimate friends — the men who had squandered their paternal estates by gaming, luxury, sensuality, and all too who had plunged heavily into debt to buy immunity for crimes; all assassins or sacrilegious persons from every quarter, convicted, or dreading conviction for their misdeeds; all, likewise, for whom their tongue or hand won a livelihood by perjury or bloodshed; all, in short, whom wickedness, poverty, or a guilty conscience goaded were friends to Catiline.

Oath of Catiline

“If any man of character as yet unblemished fell into his society, he presently rendered him by daily intercourse and temptation like to and equal to the rest. But it was the young whose acquaintance he chiefly courted and easily ensnared. For as the passions of each, according to his years, were aroused, he furnished mistresses to some, bought horses and dogs for others, and spared, in a word, neither his purse nor his character, if he could make them his devoted and trustworthy supporters.

“Catiline was alleged to have corrupted a Vestal Virgin, and wrought many vile crimes; at last, smitten with a passion for a certain Aurelia, he murdered his own grown-up son, because she objected to marrying him and having in the house a grown-up stepson. And this crime seems to me to have been the chief cause of hurrying forward his conspiracy. For his guilty mind, at peace neither with gods nor men, found no comfort either waking or sleeping, so utterly did conscience desolate his tortured spirit. His complexion, in consequence, was pale, his eyes haggard, his walk sometimes quick and sometimes slow, and distraction was plainly evident in every feature and look.

“The young men he enticed by various methods into evil practices. From among them he furnished false witnesses and forgers of signatures; and he taught them all to regard with equal unconcern property and danger. At length when he had stripped them of all character and shame he led them to other and greater iniquities. When there was no ready motive for crime, he nevertheless stirred them up to murder quite inoffensive persons, just as if they had injured him, lest their hand or heart should grow torpid for want of employment. Trusting to such confederates and comrades, and knowing that the load of debt was everywhere great, and that the veterans of Sulla, having spent their money too freely, now were longing for a civil war, remembering their spoils and former victory, Catiline accordingly formed the design of overthrowing the government.”

Catiline Conspiracy

The Catiline conspiracy was a plot devised by Catiline, with the help of a group of fellow aristocrats and disaffected veterans of Lucius Cornelius Sulla, to overthrow the consulship of Marcus Tullius Cicero and Gaius Antonius Hybrida. In 63 B.C., Cicero exposed the plot, forcing Catiline to flee from Rome. The conspiracy was chronicled by Sallust in his work “The Conspiracy of Catiline,” and this work remains an authority on the matter. [Source: Wikipedia]

When Cato threatened to prosecute Catiline, Catiline said that if a fire were kindled against him he would put it out, not with water, but by a general ruin. Ruined himself in fortune, he gathered about him the ruined classes—insolvent debtors, desperate adventurers, and the rabble of Rome. It is said that his plot involved the purpose to kill the consuls, massacre the senators, and to burn the city of Rome. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~]

The plot was discovered by Cicero, and was foiled. Cicero delivered in the senate an oration against Catiline, who was present and attempted to reply; but his voice was drowned with the cries of “Traitor,” and he fled from the senate to his camp in Etruria. Here a desperate battle ensued; and Catiline was defeated and slain, with three thousand of his followers (62 B.C.). Five of his fellow-conspirators were condemned to death by the senate; and Cicero put the judgment into execution. This act afterward exposed Cicero to the charge of executing Roman citizens without a proper trial. But the people hailed Cicero as the savior of Rome, the Father of his Country. \~\

Caesar and Catiline Conspiracy


It was charged that Caesar was implicated in the plot of Catiline; but this charge was answered when Cicero declared that Caesar had done all that a good citizen could do to crush it. The great success of Cicero gave to the senate and the moderate party a temporary advantage. But the senate under the leadership of Cato and Lucullus had not the skill to retain this advantage. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~]

Suetonius wrote: “When the conspiracy of Catiline was detected [63 B.C.], and all the rest of the senate favored inflicting the extreme penalty on those implicated in the plot, Caesar, who was now praetor elect, alone proposed that their goods be confiscated and that they be imprisoned each in a separate town. Nay, more, he inspired such fear in those who favored severer measures, by picturing the hatred which the Roman commons would feel for them for all future time, that Decimus Silanus, consul elect, was not ashamed to give a milder interpretation to his proposal (since it would have been humiliating to change it) alleging that it had been understood in a harsher sense than he intended. Caesar would have prevailed too, for a number had already gone over to him, including Cicero, the consul's brother, had not the address of Marcus Cato kept the wavering senate in line. Yet not even then did he cease to delay the proceedings, but only when an armed troop of Roman knights that stood on guard about the place threatened him with death as he persisted in his headstrong opposition. They even drew their swords and made such passes at him that his friends who sat next him forsook him, while a few had much ado to shield him in their embrace or with their robes. Then, in evident fear, he not only yielded the point, but for the rest of the year kept aloof from the House. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius” (“The Lives of the Caesars, The Deified Julius”), written A.D. c. 110, Suetonius, 2 vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 3-119]

“On the first day of his praetorship [62 B.C.] he called upon Quintus Catulus to render an account to the people touching the restoration of the CapitoI, proposing a bill for turning over the commission to another [namely, Gnaeus Pompeius]. But he withdrew the measure, since he could not cope with the united opposition of the optimates, seeing that they had at once dropped their attendance on the newly elected consuls and hastily gathered in throngs, resolved on an obstinate resistance.

Plutarch wrote in “Lives”: Piso and Catulus found fault with Cicero for having let Caesar escape, when in the conspiracy of Catiline he had given the government such advantage against him. For Catiline, who had designed not only to change the present state of affairs, but to subvert the whole empire and confound all, had himself taken to flight, while the evidence was yet incomplete against him, before his ultimate purposes had been properly discovered. But he had left Lentulus and Cethegus in the city to supply his place in the conspiracy, and whether they received any secret encouragement and assistance from Caesar is uncertain; all that is certain is, that they were fully convicted in the senate, and when Cicero, the consul, asked the several opinions of the senators, how they would have them punished, all who spoke before Caesar sentenced them to death; but Caesar stood up and made a set speech, in which he told them that he thought it without precedent and not just to take away the lives of persons of their birth and distinction before they were fairly tried, unless there was an absolute necessity for it; but that if they were kept confined in any towns of Italy Cicero himself should choose till Catiline was defeated, then the senate might in peace and at their leisure determine what was best to be done. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120), Life of Caesar (100-44 B.C.), written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden, MIT]

“This sentence of his carried so much appearance of humanity, and he gave it such advantage by the eloquence with which he urged it, that not only those who spoke after him closed with it, but even they who had before given a contrary opinion now came over to his, till it came about to Catulus's and Cato's turn to speak. They warmly opposed it, and Cato intimated in his speech the suspicion of Caesar himself, and pressed the matter so strongly that the criminals were given up to suffer execution. As Caesar was going out of the senate, many of the young men who at that time acted as guards to Cicero ran in with their naked swords to assault him. But Curio, it is said, threw his gown over him, and conveyed him away, and Cicero himself, when the young men looked up to see his wishes, gave a sign not to kill him, either for fear of the people or because he thought the murder unjust and illegal. If this be true, I wonder how Cicero came to omit all mention of it in his book about his consulship. He was blamed, however, afterwards, for not having made use of so fortunate an opportunity against Caesar, as if he had let it escape him out of fear of the populace, who, indeed, showed remarkable solicitude about Caesar, and some time after, when he went into the senate to clear himself of the suspicions he lay under, and found great clamours raised against him, upon the senate in consequence sitting longer than ordinary, they went up to the house in a tumult, and beset it, demanding Caesar, and requiring them to dismiss him. Upon this, Cato, much fearing some movement among the poor citizens, who were always the first to kindle the flame among the people, and placed all their hopes in Caesar, persuaded the senate to give them a monthly allowance of corn, an expedient which put the commonwealth to the extraordinary charge of seven million five hundred thousand drachmas in the year, but quite succeeded in removing the great cause of terror for the present, and very much weakened Caesar's power, who at that time was just going to be made praetor, and consequently would have been more formidable by his office.

Cicero denounces Catiline

Caesar’s Defense and Escape from the Catiline Conspiracy

Suetonius wrote: “When Caecilius Metellus, tribune of the commons, brought forward some bills of a highly seditious nature in spite of the veto of his colleagues, Caesar abetted him and espoused his cause in the stubbornest fashion, until at last both were suspended from the exercise of their public functions by a decree of the senate. Yet in spite of this Caesar had the audacity to continue in office and to hold court, but when he learned that some were ready to stop him by force of arms, he dismissed his lictors, laid aside his robe of office, and slipped off privily to his house, intending to remain in retirement because of the state of the times. Indeed, when the populace on the following day flocked to him quite of their own accord, and with riotous demonstrations offered him their aid in recovering his position, he held them in check. Since this action of his was wholly unexpected, the senate, which had been hurriedly convoked to take action about that very gathering, publicly thanked him through its leading men; then summoning him to the House and lauding him in the strongest terms, they rescinded their former decree and restored him to his rank.

“He again fell into danger by being named among the accomplices of Catiline, both before the commissioner [quaesitor] Novius Niger by an informer called Lucius Vettius and in the senate by Quintus Curius, who had been voted a sum of money from the public funds as the first to disclose the plans of the conspirators. Curius alleged that his information came directly from Catiline, while Vettius actually offered to produce a letter to Catiline in Caesar's hand writing. But Caesar, thinking that such an indignity could in no wise be endured, showed by appealing to Cicero's testimony that he had of his own accord reported to the consul certain details of the plot, and thus prevented Curius from getting the reward. As for Vettius, after his bond was declared forfeit and his goods seized, he was roughly handled by the populace assembled before the rostra, and all but torn to pieces. Caesar then put him in prison, and Novius the commissioner went there too, for allowing an official of superior rank to be arraigned before his tribunal.

“Being allotted the province of Hispania Ulterior [61 B.C.] after his praetorship, Caesar got rid of his creditors, who tried to detain him, by means of sureties and contrary both to precedent and law was on his way before the provinces were provided for [i.e., without waiting for the decrees of the senate which formally confirmed the appointments of the new governors, and provided them with funds and equipment]; possibly through fear of a private impeachment or perhaps to respond more promptly to the entreaties of our allies for help. After restoring order in his province, he made off with equal haste, and without waiting for the arrival of his successor, to sue at the same time for a triumph and the consulship. But inasmuch as the day for the elections had already been announced and no account could be taken of Caesar's candidacy unless he entered the city as a private citizen, and since his intrigues to gain exemption from the laws met with general protest, he was forced to forgo the triumph, to avoid losing the consulship.

Caesar Allies Himself with Crassus

Cato and Catiline propaganda cups

Caesar furthered his career by allying himself with Crassus, the richest man in Rome. Plutarch wrote in “Lives”: “Caesar, in the meantime, being out of his praetorship, had got the province of Spain, but was in great embarrassment with his creditors, who, as he was going off, came upon him, and were very pressing and importunate. This led him to apply himself to Crassus, who was the richest man in Rome, but wanted Caesar's youthful vigour and heat to sustain the opposition against Pompey. Crassus took upon him to satisfy those creditors who were most uneasy to him, and would not be put off any longer, and engaged himself to the amount of eight hundred and thirty talents, upon which Caesar was now at liberty to go to his province. In his journey, as he was crossing the Alps, and passing by a small village of the barbarians with but few inhabitants, and those wretchedly poor, his companions asked the question among themselves by way of mockery, if there were any canvassing for offices there; any contention which should be uppermost, or feuds of great men one against another. To which Caesar made answer seriously, "For my part, I had rather be the first man among these fellows than the second man in Rome."[Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120), Life of Caesar (100-44 B.C.), written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden, MIT]

“It is said that another time, when free from business in Spain, after reading some part of the history of Alexander, he sat a great while very thoughtful, and at last burst out into tears. His friends were surprised, and asked him the reason of it. "Do you think," said he, "I have not just cause to weep, when I consider that Alexander at my age had conquered so many nations, and I have all this time done nothing that is memorable." As soon as he came into Spain he was very active, and in a few days had got together ten new cohorts of foot in addition to the twenty which were there before. With these he marched against the Calaici and Lusitani and conquered them, and advancing as far as the ocean, subdued the tribes which never before had been subject to the Romans. Having managed his military affairs with good success, he was equally happy, in the course of his civil government. He took pains to establish a good understanding amongst the several states, and no less care to heal the differences between debtors and creditors. He ordered that the creditor should receive two parts of the debtor's yearly income, and that the other part should be managed by the debtor himself, till by this method the whole debt was at last discharged. This conduct made him leave his province with a fair reputation; being rich himself, and having enriched his soldiers, and having received from them the honourable name of Imperator.

Caesar Becomes Consul in 60 B.C.


In 60 B.C., with Crassus's money and help, Caesar was elected consul, a move which allowed him to take command of Rome's armies for his campaign in Gaul, which in turn helped him ultimately gain control of the entire Roman empire. [Source: Lionel Casson , Smithsonian]

Suetonius wrote: “Of the two other candidates for this office, Lucius Lucceius and Marcus Bibulus, Caesar joined forces with the former, making a bargain with him that since Lucceius had less influence but more funds, he should in their common name promise largess to the electors from his own pocket. When this became known, the optimates authorized Bibulus to promise the same amount, being seized with fear that Caesar would stick at nothing when he became ohief magistrate, if he had a colleague who was heart and soul with him. Many of them contributed to the fund, and even Cato did not deny that bribery under such circumstances was for the good of the commonwealth. So Caesar was chosen consul with Bibulus. With the same motives the optimates took care that provinces of the smallest importance should be assigned to the newly elected consuls; that is, mere woods and pastures” [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius” (“The Lives of the Caesars, The Deified Julius”), written A.D. c. 110, Suetonius, 2 vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 3-119]

It seems to designate provinces where the duties of the governor would be confined to guarding the mountain-pastures and keeping the woods free from bandits. The senate would not run the risk of letting Caesar secure a province involving the command of an army. “Thereupon Caesar, especially incensed by this slight, by every possible attention courted the goodwill of Gnaeus Pompeius (Pompey), who was at odds with the senate because of its tardiness in ratifying his acts after his victory over king Mithridates [in the Third Mithridatic War]. He also patched up a peace between Pompeius and Marcus Crassus, who had been enemies since their consulship, which had been one of constant wrangling. Then [60 B.C.] he so made a compact with both of them, that no step should be taken in public affairs which did not suit any one of the three.

Consulship of Caesar (59 B.C.)

On his election Caesar went faithfully to work to fulfill his obligations to Pompey, and to strengthen his hold upon the people. He obtained, in the first place, the passage of an agrarian law which provided for the veterans of Pompey, and which also gave estates in Campania to the needy citizens of Rome. In the next place, he secured a law confirming all the acts of Pompey in the East. Finally, he obtained the passage of a law which pleased and conciliated the equites. The tax collectors had made a high offer for the privilege of collecting the taxes of Asia, and afterward concluded that they had made a bad bargain. Accordingly, Caesar took their part, and succeeded in remitting one third of what they had agreed to give. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~]

These laws were bitterly opposed by the senators, but without success. Pompey was now satisfied; the people were pleased; and the capitalists were reconciled. The senate under its bad management was thus outgeneraled by Caesar; and it lost the temporary advantage it had gained during the consulship of Cicero. So completely did Julius Caesar overshadow his weak colleague, Bibulus, who was a partisan of the senate, that this term of office was humorously called the consulship of Julius and Caesar. At the close of his consulship Caesar obtained the government of Cisalpine Gaul and Illyricum, to which was added Transalpine Gaul (Narbonensis). This power was granted for five years. Caesar was thus furnished with an opportunity for the exercise of his military talents, and the building up of a powerful army devoted to his cause. \~\

Suetonius wrote: “Caesar's very first enactment after becoming consul was, that the proceedings both of the senate and of the people should day by day be compiled and published. He also revived a by-gone custom, that during the months when he did not have the fasces an orderly should walk before him, while the lictors followed him. He brought forward an agrarian law too, and when his colleague announced adverse omens [Business could be interrupted or postponed at Rome by the announcement of an augur or a magistrate that he had seen a flash of lightning or some other adverse sign; sometimes an opponent merely announced that he would 'watch the skies' for such omens], he resorted to arms and drove him from the Forum; and when next day Bibulus made complaint in the senate and no one could be found who ventured to make a motion, or even to express an opinion about so high-handed a proceeding (although decrees had often been passed touching less serious breaches of the peace), Caesar's conduct drove him to such a pitch of desperation, that from that time until the end of his term he did not leave his house, but merely issued proclamations announcing adverse omens. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius” (“The Lives of the Caesars, The Deified Julius”), written A.D. c. 110, Suetonius, 2 vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 3-119]

“From that time on Caesar managed all the affairs of state alone and after his own pleasure; so that sundry witty fellows, pretending by way of jest to sign and seal testamentary documents, wrote "Done in the consulship of Julius and Caesar," instead of 'Bibulus and Caesar," writing down the same man twice, by name and by surname. Presently too the following verses were on everyone's lips: "In Caesar's year, not Bibulus', an act took place of late; /For naught do I remember done in Bibulus' consulate." The plain called Stellas, which had been devoted to public uses by the men of by-gone days, and the Campanian territory, which had been reserved to pay revenues for the aid of the government, he divided without casting lots [through a special commission of twenty men] among twenty thousand citizens who had three or more children each. When the publicans asked for relief, he freed them from a third part of their obligation, and openly warned them in contracting for taxes in the future not to bid too recklessly. He freely granted everything else that anyone took it into his head to ask, either without opposition or by intimidating anyone who tried to object.”

Caesar Appoints Clodius, the Man Who Tried to Seduce His Wife

Before Caesar departed for his provinces, he was careful to see that his interests would be looked after during his absence. He chose as his agent P. Clodius, an unscrupulous politician whose personal character was not above reproach, but whose hostility to the senate could be depended upon.

On Clodius attempt to seduce Caesar’s wife, Pompeia, Plutarch wrote in “Lives”: “ Publius Clodius was a patrician by descent, eminent both for his riches and eloquence, but in licentiousness of life and audacity exceeded the most noted profligates of the day. He was in love with Pompeia, Caesar's wife, and she had no aversion to him. But there was strict watch kept on her apartment, and Caesar's mother, Aurelia, who was a discreet woman, being continually about her, made any interview very dangerous and difficult. The Romans have a goddess whom they call Bona, the same whom the Greeks call Gynaecea. The Phrygians, who claim a peculiar title to her, say she was mother to Midas. The Romans profess she was one of the Dryads, and married to Faunus. The Grecians affirm that she is that mother of Bacchus whose name is not to be uttered, and, for this reason, the women who celebrate her festival cover the tents with vine-branches, and, in accordance with the fable, a consecrated serpent is placed by the goddess. It is not lawful for a man to be by, nor so much as in the house, whilst the rites are celebrated, but the women by themselves perform the sacred offices, which are said to be much the same with those used in the solemnities of Orpheus. When the festival comes, the husband, who is either consul or praetor, and with him every male creature, quits the house. The wife then taking it under her care sets it in order, and the principal ceremonies are performed during the night, the women playing together amongst themselves as they keep watch, and music of various kinds going on. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46-c.120), Life of Caesar (100-44 B.C.), written A.D. 75, translated by John Dryden, MIT]

“As Pompeia was at that time celebrating this feast, Clodius, who as yet had no beard, and so thought to pass undiscovered, took upon him the dress and ornaments of a singing woman, and so came thither, having the air of a young girl. Finding the doors open, he was without any stop introduced by the maid, who was in the intrigue. She presently ran to tell Pompeia, but as she was away a long time, he grew uneasy in waiting for her, and left his post and traversed the house from one room to another, still taking care to avoid the lights, till at last Aurelia's woman met him, and invited him to play with her, as the women did among themselves. He refused to comply, and she presently pulled him forward, and asked him who he was and whence he Clodius told her he was waiting for Pompeia's own maid, Abra, being in fact her own name also, and as he said so, betrayed himself by his voice. Upon which the woman shrieking, ran into the company where there were lights, and cried out she had discovered a man. The women were all in a fright. Aurelia covered up the sacred things and stopped the proceedings, and having ordered the doors to be shut, went about with lights to find Clodius, who was got into the maid's room that he had come in with, and was seized there. The women knew him, and drove him out of doors, and at once, that same night, went home and told their husbands the story. In the morning, it was all about the town, what an impious attempt Clodius had made, and how he ought to be punished as an offender, not only against those whom he had offended, but also against the public and the gods. Upon which one of the tribunes impeached him for profaning the holy rites, and some of the principal senators combined together and gave evidence against him, that besides many other horrible crimes, he had been guilty of incest with his own sister, who was married to Lucullus. But the people set themselves against this combination of the nobility, and defended Clodius, which was of great service to him with the judges, who took alarm and were afraid to provoke the multitude. Caesar at once dismissed Pompeia, but being summoned as a witness against Clodius, said he had nothing to charge him with. This looking like a paradox, the accuser asked him why he parted with his wife. Caesar replied, "I wished my wife to be not so much as suspected." Some say that Caesar spoke this as his real thought, others, that he did it to gratify the people, who were very earnest to save Clodius. Clodius, at any rate, escaped; most of the judges giving their opinions so written as to be illegible that they might not be in danger from the people by condemning him, nor in disgrace with the nobility by acquitting him.

Banishment of Cicero

Clodius, who held the position of tribune, was given the task, first, of keeping hold of the populace; and, next, of getting out of the way as best he could the two most influential men in the senate, Cicero and Cato. The first part of this task he easily accomplished by passing a law that grain should hereafter be distributed to the Roman people free of all expense. To carry out the second part of his task was not so easy—to remove from the senate its chief leaders. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~]

Cato was disposed of, however, by a law annexing Cyprus to the Roman dominion, and appointing him as its governor. Cicero was also got rid of by a law which Clodius succeeded in passing, and which provided that any magistrate who had put a Roman citizen to death without a trial should be banished. Cicero knew that this act was intended for him, and that it referred to his execution of the Catilinian conspirators. After vainly attempting to enlist sympathy in his own behalf, Cicero retired to Greece (58 B.C.) and devoted himself to literary pursuits. With their leaders thus removed, the senate was for a time paralyzed. \~\

Suetonius wrote:“ Marcus Cato, who tried to delay proceedings [by making a speech of several hours' duration; Gell. 4.10.8. The senate arose in a body and escorted Cato to prison, and Caesar was forced to release him], was dragged from the House by a lictor at Caesar's command and taken off to prison. When Lucius Lucullus was somewhat too outspoken in his opposition, he filled him with such fear of malicious prosecution [for his conduct during the Third Mithridatic War] that Lucullus actually fell on his knees before him. Because Cicero, while pleading in court, deplored the state of the times, Caesar transferred the orator's enemy Publius Clodius that very same day from the patricians to the plebeians [59 B.C.], a thing for which Clodius had for a long time been vainly striving; and that too at the ninth hour [That is, after the close of the business day, an indication of the haste with which the adoption was rushed through] Finally taking action against all the opposition in a body, he bribed an informer to declare that he had been egged on by certain men to murder Gnaeus Pompeius , and to come out upon the rostra and name the guilty parties according to a pre-arranged plot. But when the informer had named one or two to no purpose and not without suspicion of double-dealing, Caesar, hopeless of the success of his over-hasty attempt, is supposed to have had him taken off by poison.. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum, Divus Iulius” (“The Lives of the Caesars, The Deified Julius”), written A.D. c. 110, Suetonius, 2 vols., translated by J. C. Rolfe, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, and London: William Henemann, 1920), Vol. I, pp. 3-119]

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “The 50s B.C. at Rome is the decade of anarchy in the capital at Rome, of gangs and of chaos. Some of the blame for this rests with Pompey, who was notoriously inept at domestic administration, and unfortunately the only of the triumvirs continually present in the city (as his provinces were being governed by proxy). In 58 B.C. the unscrupulous P. Clodius, tool of Caesar and sworn enemy of Cicero (ever since the latter had prosecuted him for an embarrassing youthful peccadillo), was tribune. Among his laws was one directed against poor old Cicero who, inflated with a false sense of his own importance, had foolishly refused to cooperate with the new lords and was thrown to the wolves. Clodius' law (which had to do with the way Cicero had proceeded in the execution of the Catilinarian conspirators) sent the orator into exile. By the summer of 57 B.C. Cicero had decided that maybe he could find it in himself to support Pompey after all, and he was recalled from exile amid great celebrations. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^] “At this point Cicero still believed that he could play Pompey off against Caesar, and at the same time there was friction between Pompey and Crassus, who had never gotten along very well, so the coalition of the triumvirs looked fragile. A crisis was also brewing over a possible legal challenge to one of the founding acts of the triumvirate, the Lex Julia by which Caesar had settled many of Pompey's veterans in Campania, and also there were the first rumblings of a movement to deprive Caesar of his command in Gaul. Caesar managed to head off disaster by calling the faithful to a conference at Luca in 56 B.C., where the solidarity of the junta was confirmed, giving Caesar some breathing space for the conquest of Gaul. At Luca we hear little of Campania; the focus was on the future status of the triumvirs. Pompey and Crassus were to be consuls again in 55, and Pompey was to get a military command in Spain, while Crassus (who longed to compete with his partners in military honours) was to go to the eastern edge of the Roman empire and defeat the mighty Parthians. It is worth noting that although the Senate was compliant on this occasion (even Cicero supported the new dispositions in a speech which survives titled On the Consular Provinces) the decisions were ratified by the comitia tributa directly, which shows that the trend was towards bypassing the Senate.” ^*^

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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