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Cato the Younger

(95—46 bc)


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‘of Utica’ (‘Uticensis’) (95–46bc), greatgrandson of Cato the Elder (see preceding entry), nephew of Livius Drusus (2), and brought up in the Livian household with the children of his mother's marriage to Gnaeus Servilius Caepio. Quaestor probably in 64, in 63 he became tribune-designate in order to check Quintus Caecilius Metellus Nepos, supported Lucius Licinius Murena's prosecution, and intervened powerfully in the senate to secure the execution of the Catilinarians (see CATILINE). As tribune he conciliated the mob by increasing the numbers eligible to receive cheap corn, but in all else remained uncompromising; Cicero (Att. 1. 18. 7; 2. 1. 8) deplores his lack of realism which prevented revision of the Asian tax-contracts (61)—thus alienating the equites (knights)—and which frustrated every overture of Pompey until the coalition between Pompey, Julius Caesar, and Crassus was formed. In 59 he opposed Caesar obstinately and was temporarily imprisoned, but next year Clodius removed him by appointing him to undertake the annexation of Cyprus. Though King Ptolemy of Cyprus (an illegitimate son of Ptolemy IX and brother of Ptolemy XII Auletes) killed himself and Cato's accounts were lost on the voyage home, his reputation for fairness remained unimpaired. After Luca (see POMPEY) he persuaded his brother-in-law Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus not to give up hope of being elected consul for 55, but Domitius' candidature collapsed because of physical intimidation by the supporters of Pompey and Crassus. Publius Vatinius defeated Cato for the praetorship by bribery, but Cato was eventually praetor in 54. In 52, abandoning his constitutional principles, he supported Pompey's election as sole consul; he himself stood for 51 but failed. In the war he tried to avoid citizen bloodshed but resolutely followed Pompey: he served in Sicily, but was expelled from there by Gaius Scribonius Curio. Then he served in Asia, and held Dyrrachium during the campaign of Pharsalus. After Pompey's defeat, Cato joined the quarrelling Pompeians in Africa and reconciled them; he had Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio made general. During the war he governed Utica with great moderation, and was honoured by the city's inhabitants when after Thapsus in April 46 he committed suicide rather than accept pardon from Caesar, an act which earned him the undying glory of a martyr.

Cato's constitutionalism, a mixture of Stoicism and old Roman principles, was genuine. After death he was more dangerous than ever to Caesar, who in his Anticato, a reply to Cicero's pamphlet Cato, pitched the hostile case too high, and allowed the fame of Cato's life and death to give respectability to the losing side, and to inspire later political martyrs: ‘the victors had their cause approved by the gods, the vanquished by Cato’ (Lucan 1. 128).

Guy Edward Farquhar Chilver; Miriam T. Griffin

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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