1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cotta, Gaius Aurelius

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COTTA, GAIUS AURELIUS (c. 124-73 B.C.), Roman statesman and orator. In 92 he defended his uncle P. Rutilius Rufus, who had been unjustly accused of extortion in Asia. He was on intimate terms with the tribune M. Livius Drusus, who was murdered in 91, and in the same year was an unsuccessful candidate for the tribunate. Shortly afterwards he was prosecuted under the lex Varia, directed against all who had in any way supported the Italians against Rome, and, in order to avoid condemnation, went into voluntary exile. He did not return till 82, during the dictatorship of Sulla. In 75 he was consul, and excited the hostility of the optimates by carrying a law that abolished the Sullan disqualification of the tribunes from holding higher magistracies; another law de judiciis privatis, of which nothing is known, was abrogated by his brother. In 74 Cotta obtained the province of Gaul, and was granted a triumph for some victory of which we possess no details; but on the very day before its celebration an old wound broke out, and he died suddenly. According to Cicero, P. Sulpicius Rufus and Cotta were the best speakers of the young men of their time. Physically incapable of rising to passionate heights of oratory, Cotta's successes were chiefly due to his searching investigation of facts; he kept strictly to the essentials of the case and avoided all irrelevant digressions. His style was pure and simple. He is introduced by Cicero as an interlocutor in the De oratore and De natura deorum (iii.), as a supporter of the principles of the New Academy. The fragments of Sallust contain the substance of a speech delivered by Cotta in order to calm the popular anger at a deficient corn-supply.

See Cicero, De oratore, iii. 3, Brutus, 49, 55, 90, 92; Sallust, Hist. Frag.; Appian, Bell. Civ. i. 37.

His brother, Lucius Aurelius Cotta, when praetor in 70 B.C. brought in a law for the reform of the jury lists, by which the judices were to be eligible, not from the senators exclusively as limited by Sulla, but from senators, equites and tribuni aerarii. One-third were to be senators, and two-thirds men of equestrian census, one-half of whom must have been tribuni aerarii, a body as to whose functions there is no certain evidence, although in Cicero's time they were reckoned by courtesy amongst the equites. In 66 Cotta and L. Manlius Torquatus accused the consuls-elect for the following year of bribery in connexion with the elections; they were condemned, and Cotta and Torquatus chosen in their places. After the suppression of the Catilinarian conspiracy, Cotta proposed a public thanksgiving for Cicero's services, and after the latter had gone into exile, supported the view that there was no need of a law for his recall, since the law of Clodius was legally worthless. He subsequently attached himself to Caesar, and it was currently reported that Cotta (who was then quindecimvir) intended to propose that Caesar should receive the title of king, it being written in the books of fate that the Parthians could only be defeated by a king. Cotta's intention was not carried out in consequence of the murder of Caesar, after which he retired from public life.

See Cicero, Orelli's Onomasticon; Sallust, Catiline, 18; Suetonius, Caesar, 79; Livy, Epit. 97; Vell. Pat. ii. 32; Dio Cassius xxxvi. 44, xxxvii. 1.