1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Catiline
CATILINE [Lucius Sergius Catilina] (c. 108–62 B.C.), a member of an ancient but impoverished patrician family of Rome, the prime mover in the conspiracy known by his name. He appears in history first as a supporter of Sulla, and during the proscription he was conspicuous for his greed and cruelty. He slew his inoffensive brother-in-law with his own hand, and tortured and mutilated the much-loved Marius Gratidianus. He was believed to have made away with his wife and his son to win the profligate and wealthy Aurelia Orestilla; it was even suspected that he had been guilty of an intrigue with the Vestal Fabia. In 77 he was quaestor, in 68 praetor, and in 67–66 governor of Africa. His extortions and subsequent impeachment by P. Clodius Pulcher having disqualified him as a candidate for the consulship, he formed a conspiracy, in which he was joined by young men of all classes, even Crassus and Caesar, according to rumour, being implicated. The new consuls were to be murdered on the 1st of January; but the plot—the execution of which was deferred till the 5th of February—failed in consequence of the impatience of Catiline, who gave the signal too hastily. Soon after, Catiline, having bribed both judges and accuser, was acquitted in the trial for extortion. His scheme was forthwith immensely widened. The city was to be fired, and those who opposed the revolution were to be slain; all debts were to be cancelled; and there was to be a proscription of all the wealthy citizens. Among the conspirators were many men of the first rank and influence. Arms and money were collected, soldiers were enlisted, and the assistance of the slaves was sought. But Catiline’s hopes were again disappointed; once more he failed to obtain the consulship (64); and, moreover, it soon became apparent that one of the new consuls, Cicero, was mysteriously able to thwart all the schemes of the conspirators. He was, in fact, informed of every detail, through Fulvia, the mistress of Curius, one of the plotters, who was himself soon persuaded to turn informer. The other consul, C. Antonius, in whom Catiline hoped to find a supporter, was won over and got out of the way by Cicero, who resigned the province of Macedonia in his favour. Before the next comitia consularia assembled, the orator had given so impressive a warning of the danger which was impending, that Catiline was once more rejected (63), and the consuls were invested with absolute authority. Catiline now resolved upon open war; preparations were set on foot throughout Italy, especially in Etruria, where the standard of revolt was raised by the centurion C. Manlius (or Mallius), one of Sulla’s veterans. A plan to murder Cicero in his own house on the morning of the 7th of November was frustrated. On the next day Cicero attacked Catiline so vigorously in the senate (in his first Catilinarian oration) that he fled to his army in Etruria. Next day Cicero awoke the terror of the people by a second oration delivered in the forum, in consequence of which Catiline and Manlius were declared public enemies, and the consul Antonius was despatched with an army against them. Meanwhile the imprudence of the conspirators in Rome brought about their own destruction. Some deputies from the Allobroges, who had been sent to Rome to obtain redress for certain grievances, were approached by P. Lentulus Sura, the chief of the conspirators, who endeavoured to induce them to join him. After considerable hesitation, the deputies decided to turn informers. The plot was betrayed to Cicero, at whose instigation documentary evidence was obtained, implicating Lentulus and others. They were arrested, proved guilty, and on the 5th of December condemned to death and strangled in the underground dungeon on the slope of the Capitol. This act, which was opposed by Julius Caesar and advocated by Cato Uticensis (and, indirectly, by Cicero), was afterwards vigorously attacked as a violation of the constitution, on the ground that the senate had no power of life and death over a Roman citizen. Thus a heavy blow was dealt to the cause of Catiline, who, in the beginning of 62, saw his legions, only partially armed and diminished by desertion, shut in between those of Metellus Celer and C. Antonius. Near Pistoria he hazarded battle with the forces of the latter, but was completely defeated in a desperate encounter. He himself, fighting with the utmost bravery, rushed into the ranks of the enemy and met his death.
Such was the conspiracy of Catiline and the character of its author, as we find them in the speeches of Cicero, and the histories of Sallust and Dio Cassius (see also Plutarch, Cicero; Vell. Pat. ii. 35; Florus iv. 1; Appian, B.C. ii. 6; Eutropius vi. 15). It must not be forgotten, however, that our authorities were all members of the aristocratic party. Some of the incidents given as facts by Dio Cassius are manifest absurdities; and Cicero paid more regard to the effect than to the truthfulness of an accusation. We find him at one time admitting that Catiline had almost persuaded him of his honesty and merit, and even seeking a political union with him; at another, when his alliance had been rejected and an election was at hand, declaiming against him as a murderer and a profligate. Lastly, though Sallust’s vivid narrative is consistent throughout, it is obvious that he cherished very bitter feelings against the democratic party. Nevertheless, we cannot regard Catiline as an honest enemy of the oligarchy, or as a disinterested champion of the provincials. It is held by some historians that there was at the time on the part of many of the Roman nobles a determination to raise themselves to power, despite the opposition of the senate: others with greater probability maintain that Catiline’s object was simply the cancelling of the huge debts which he and his friends had accumulated. Catiline, by his bravery, his military talents, his vigorous resolution, and his wonderful power over men, was eminently qualified as a revolutionary leader. He is the subject of tragedies by Ben Jonson and P. Crébillon, and of the Rome sauvée of Voltaire.
See P. Mérimée, Études sur la guerre sociale et la conjuration de Catiline (1844); E. Hagen, Catilina (1854), with introductory discussion of the authorities; E. S. Beesley, “Catiline as a Party Leader” (Fortnightly Review, June 1865), in defence of Catiline; C. John, Die Entstehungsgeschichte der catilinarischen Verschwörung (1876), a critical examination of Sallust’s account; E. von Stern, Catilina und die Parteikämpfe in Rom 66-63 (1883), with bibliography in preface; C. Thiaucourt, Étude sur la conjuration de Catiline (1887), a critical examination of Sallust’s account and of his object in writing it; J. E. Blondel, Histoire économique de la conjuration de Catiline (1893), written from the point of view of a political economist; Gaston Boissier, La Conjuration de Catiline (1905), and Cicero and his Friends (Eng. trans.); Tyrrell and Purser’s ed. of Cicero’s Letters (index vol. s.v. “Sergius Catilina”); J. L. Strachan Davidson, Cicero (1894), ch. v.; Warde Fowler’s Caesar (1892); see also art. Rome: History, The Republic.