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Cato the younger

Marcus Porcius Cato Uticencis (95 BC-46 BC), known as Cato the younger to distinguish him from his great-grandfather Cato the Elder, was a Roman politician and statesman, follower of the Stoic philosophy. He is remembered for his legendary stubbornness and tenacity, especially when applied to Julius Caesar his main political enemy, and immunity to bribes.

Table of contents
1 Early life
2 Political beginnings
3 Cato and the Optimates
4 Cato against the triumvirate
5 Cato in Cyprus
6 Cato in the Civil War
7 After Cato
8 Cato's descendants and marriages
9 Chronology
10 References

Early life

Cato was born in 95 BC in Rome, as the son of Marcus Porcius Cato by his wife Livia Drusa. He lost both of his parents very early and was educated by his maternal uncle Marcus Livius Drusus. He was not the only orphan the widow Drusus had to take care of. Along with Cato were Quintus Servilius Caepio and Servilia Caepionis from Livia's first marriage, Porcia Catones (Cato's blood sister) and Drusus Nero (Marcus Livius' adopted son).

The legend of his 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 difficult. A story told by Plutarch gives a good example of the man Cato was going to be. When Popaedius Silo, leader of the Marsii and then involved in a highly controversial business in the Roman forum, made a visit to his friend Marcus Livius he 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 hanged him by the feet out of the window. Even then, Cato would not say anything. Being a friend of the family, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, the dictator, liked to talk with Cato and his inseparable half-brother Caepio, and appreciated his company even when the teenager defied his opinions in public.

Political beginnings

After receiving his inheritance, Cato moved from his uncle's house and began to study Stoic philosophy, moral and political doctrine. He began to live in a very modest way, like his great-grandfather Cato the Elder was famous for. 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 in the market. This was entirely for philosophical reasons, since 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.

Although Cato was promised Aemilia Lepida, a patrician woman, she married Cornelius Scipio instead. He threatened to sue them both in the courts of law, but then his friends convinced him to step aside and marry a woman called Atilia. By her, he had a son, Marcus Porcius Cato, and a daughter, Porcia Catones, who would become the second wife of Brutus.

As a military tribune, Cato was sent to Macedon in 67 BC and given command of one 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 ended being loved by his legionaries. While Cato was in service in Macedon, he received the news that his beloved half-brother was dying in Thrace. He immediately set off to see him and got there in time to watch Caepio expire. Cato was overwhelmed by grief and, for once in his life, he spared no expense to organize a superb funeral for his brother. Caepio was the richest man in Rome; and left his fortune to be divided between his daughter Servilia and Cato.

At the end of his military commission in Macedon, Cato went on a private journey through the Roman provinces of the Middle East.

Cato and the Optimates

On his return to Rome in 65 BC, he was elected to the position of quaestor. Like everything else in his life, he took great 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 his tyranny. They 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 but never ceased to keep an eye on the Treasure, always looking for irregularities.

As senator, Cato was scrupulous and determined. He never missed a session of the senate and publicly criticized the ones who did so. From day one he aligned himself with the Optimates, the conservative faction of the senate. He had, though, some strange habits, excused by his supporters as extravagances, such as appearing sometimes in public with no shoes, no underwear or both; or drinking unwatered wine, which, to the Roman mind, was a very distasteful and inelegant thing to do.

In 63 BC, he was elected tribune of the plebs and assisted Marcus Tullius Cicero, the junior consul of the year, in his office, especially in dealing with the Catiline conspiracy. 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 and sentenced them to death (a very unusual thing for a Roman citizen). In the public discussion on the subject, Julius Caesar defended a sentence of exile.

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 . Moreover, he accused him of conspiracy and suggested that he was working on Catilina's behalf. Caesar replied that it was only a love letter. Not believing the poor excuse, Cato took the paper from his hands and read it. Unfortunately for him, Caesar was right: it was indeed a love letter from his mistress Servilia Caepionis, Cato's half-sister. This proved to be a huge scandal. Servilia was divorced from her husband and the Roman senators started to look out for their households, since Caesar was notorious for liking to sleep with his political enemies' wives. Cato was one of the victims. Discovering the adultery of his wife Atilia with the man himself, he divorced her immediately.

He then married Marcia Phillipa, the daughter of Lucius Marcius Phillipus. This union has a curious history. After a few years, his friend Quintus Hortensius, an old man, known for his rhetorical skills, asked for his daughter's hand. But at the time, Porcia Catones was married to Calpurnius Bibulus who was unwilling to let her go. Then, Cato took the surprising step of divorcing his Marcia and giving her to Quintus Hortensius. After his death, Cato married her for the second time, taking possession of part of Hortensius' inheritance.

Cato against the triumvirate

After the Catilina conspiracy and the scandal about his wife, Cato turned all his political skills to sabotaging everything that Caesar and his triumvirate allies (Pompey and Crassus) wanted to do. In 61 BC, Pompey returned from his Mithridatic campaign with two ambitions: to celebrate a triumph and become consul for the second time. In order to achieve both things, 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 made such a scandal about the issue that the senate forced Pompey to choose. The result was his third triumph, one of the most magnificent ever seen in Rome. The next year he played the same trick on Caesar, returning from Hispania Ulterior, but Caesar chose to loose the right to the triumph and run for the consulship (which he got).

When Caesar became consul, Cato opposed every law he suggested, especially the agrarian laws that established farmlands for the poor Roman citizens and Pompey's veterans. On one occasion, Caesar lost his patience and ordered Cato arrested when he was making another speech against him at the rostra. Later Cato was released and continued his stern opposition, specifically against Caesar's coming governorship in Gaul and Illyricum. In vain, as the Caesar's Gallic wars prove.

Cato in Cyprus

Cato made such a nuisance of himself that Caesar and his triumvirate allies resolved that the best thing was to get him out of town. The incentive was too good to refuse: the governorship of the new province of Cyprus. Cato accused them of trying to get rid of him, but eventually accepted the honour of being governor above being praetor.

This task would show the world how much a Stoic philosopher he was. The province was rich both in gold and opportunities for extortion. Against common practice, Cato took none and prepared immaculate accounts for the senate. According to Plutarch, he 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 were lost at sea with the freedman carrying it. Only Cato's untainted reputation saved him from extortion charges.

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 an unlawful honour.

Cato in the Civil War

The triumvirate of Caesar, Pompey and Crassus was broken in 54 BC, at the same time as Cato's election as praetor. Feeling his enemy in trouble, Cato and the conservative faction of the senate spent the coming years trying to force the recall of Caesar from Gaul. It was a time of political turmoil, when demagogues like Publius Clodius Pulcher tried to make their political careers by wooing the crowds and resorting to violence. Cato fought them all and ended as Pompey's ally and political advisor.

In 49 BC, Caesar crossed the Rubicon accompanied by his thirteenth legion to fight for his right to run for a second consulship. The conservators, now led by Pompey, abandoned the city and ran to Greece, Cato, an utter enemy of Caesar, among them. The Optimates army is defeated by Caesar in the battle of Pharsalus (48 BC) and Pompey himself is killed shortly afterwards. Cato and Metellus Scipio do not concede defeat yet and escape to the province of Africa to continue resistance from Utica. Due to his presence in this city, Cato is sometimes referred to as Cato Uticensis (from Utica). Caesar went after them and, in February 46 BC, defeated their army at the Battle of Thapsus.

Being in Utica, Cato did not participate in the battle, but, unwilling to live in a world led by Caesar, committed suicide.

After Cato

Cato is remembered as a Stoic philosopher and one of the most active paladins of the decaying Republic. His high moral standards and incorruptible virtue gained him praise even from his political enemies. After his death, Cicero wrote a manifest eulogizing these qualities, to which Caesar (who never forgave him for all the obstructions) answered with his Anti-Cato letter.

Cato's life is immortalized in Joseph Addison's play, which George Washington often quoted.

Cato's descendants and marriages



Cato the Younger, by Plutarch