(Historic Lives: The Ancient World, Prehistory-476)

Article abstract: Roman statesman{$I[g]Roman Republic;Catiline} In an attempt to overthrow the Roman government in 63 b.c.e., Catiline led an unsuccessful conspiracy.

Early Life

Modern understanding of the life and career of Lucius Sergius Catilina, or Catiline (CA-tuh-lin), is hampered by a lack of reliable historical sources. Two prominent Roman authors recount many details of his life, yet the integrity of their comments is suspect. The Roman politician Cicero wrote of Catiline in several speeches, vilifying his political rival. The historian Sallust provides important information about Catiline, but his account is hostile. For Sallust, Catiline was the embodiment of Rome’s moral decay. Despite these problems, however, modern scholarship has pieced together the main details of Catiline’s career.

Catiline was born to an aristocratic family in approximately the year 108 b.c.e. Although his ancestors included prominent politicians and distinguished military leaders, in recent years his family had fallen into obscurity. Little is know of his parents or his childhood, other than a suggestion that his father had to face financial difficulties.

The first public mention of Catiline occurs in 89 b.c.e. when he served in the army of Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo. Like many other young Roman aristocrats, Catiline served as a junior officer in order to receive military experience, normally a prerequisite for a successful political career. Among his fellow officers were Strabo’s son, Pompey, who would go on to become one of the preeminent generals in Roman history, and Cicero, who would later contend with Catiline for political office. As one of the two Roman consuls for the year 89 b.c.e., Strabo led a successful campaign on Italian cities rebelling against the domination of Rome.

Catiline’s activities for the next several years are uncertain, but he reappears in 83 b.c.e., when he supported Sulla in his confrontation with the senate. As a lieutenant in Sulla’s army, Catiline apparently shared the general’s propensity toward violence, participating in the systematic assassinations of Sulla’s opponents. Various authors provide details about Catiline’s activities, but their comments cannot always be accepted as credible. One commonly accepted story indicates that he murdered several individuals, most notably Marcus Marius Gratidianus, a relative of Cicero and perhaps his own brother-in-law. Catiline is also said to have decapitated Gratidianus and carried his head throughout the city before delivering it to Sulla at the temple of Apollo. Other authors claimed that Catiline murdered his own brother.

In addition to persistent tales of the youthful Catiline’s eagerness for violence, sources provide several stories about his sexual indiscretions. He was accused of violating the chastity of the Vestal Virgin Fabia, the half sister of Cicero’s wife (Fabia was brought to trial in 73 b.c.e. and acquitted of the charge; it is unknown whether Catiline was also brought to trial). Catiline was also accused of marrying his own daughter, the product of an adulterous affair. This young woman was probably Aurelia Orestilla, around whom a second story was told. Orestilla refused to marry Catiline because she did not want to live with a grownup stepson (the product of Catiline’s previous marriage). Consequently, Catiline is said to have murdered his son to win her hand.

Life’s Work

Despite the scandalous stories that surrounded him, Catiline pursued an active political career in his adulthood. Along with other ambitious Roman senators, he aspired to a series of political offices that would culminate in his being chosen as one of the year’s two consuls. This goal became a directing force in his life. After serving abroad in the early 70’s, in 69 b.c.e. he was elected praetor, one of the eight officials who oversaw the law courts in Rome. After he completed his one-year term, he followed tradition by leaving the city to rule as governor in one of the provinces conquered by Rome. For the following two years he remained in northern Africa, ensuring Roman interests in the region and preparing to stand for the consulship in 66 b.c.e.

Even while he was serving as governor in Africa, delegates from his province traveled to Rome and accused Catiline of extortion. When he returned to declare his candidacy, charges were brought against him for his behavior, and election officials barred him from standing as consul. He stood trial and was eventually acquitted, having received the support of several eminent politicians who spoke on his behalf. However, his acquittal came too late for him to stand as consul in the following year, so he set his...

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