Cato the Younger Biography


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

Article abstract: Areas of Achievement: Government and politics; philosophy Roman philosopher{$I[g]Roman Republic;Cato the Younger} Cato the Younger was a Stoic philosopher who represented the conservative Senatorial Party in Roman politics. He sought to preserve the dying Roman Republic at a time of rising military dictatorships.

Early Life

Cato (KAY-toh) the Younger, also known as Cato Uticensis from the place of his death, was born in Rome in 95 b.c.e. He was the great-grandson of Cato the Censor, who remained an inspiration for the younger Cato throughout his life. Cato the Younger was orphaned at an early age and grew up in the household of his maternal uncle Marcus Livius Drusus. Cato idealized the early Republic. He cultivated the old Roman virtues of simplicity and frugality, in contrast to the materialism of his own day. He studied the philosophy of Stoicism, from which he came to believe that true freedom comes from within. According to the Stoics, the human body was merely a shell, and whatever happened to it was without consequence in the great world order.

Cato was known for the austerity of his life. He accustomed his body to labor and hard exercise. He traveled on foot everywhere. In taking journeys with friends who rode on horseback, he would remain on foot, conversing with one, then another, along the way. He bore illnesses with patience. He seldom laughed. He learned the art of oratory and spoke in a deep, full voice without refinements.

Cato first saw military service in 72 b.c.e., serving in the ranks against the slave revolt led by Spartacus. He distinguished himself to the extent that his commander wished to bestow a prize on him, but Cato refused, saying that he did no more than others. In 67-66 b.c.e. he served as a military tribune in Macedonia. As commander of a legion, he shared the hardships with his troops. He ate the same food, wore the same clothing, and marched on foot with the soldiers in the ranks, even when his staff rode on horseback. After completing his term of military service, Cato traveled through the cities of Asia and brought back the Stoic philosopher Athenodorus with him when he returned to Rome.

Life’s Work

At the outset of his political career, Cato was elected to the office of quaestor, or finance minister, in 64 b.c.e. During his year in office, he kept exact records of accounts, collected old debts, and dismissed and prosecuted clerks in the treasury who for years had been stealing from the public funds. The following year, Cato won the election for tribune. As tribune-elect, he made a powerful speech in the senate denouncing the Catilinarian conspirators, whose plot to overthrow the government had been uncovered by the consul Cicero. Cato’s speech, which called for the death penalty for the conspirators, carried the day despite a plea by Julius Caesar for a lesser punishment. In the same year, Cato prosecuted the consul-elect Lucinius Murena for bribery in winning the election to the consulship for 62 b.c.e., but Murena was acquitted.

In subsequent years, Cato became the leader of the conservative senatorial faction that opposed any threat to the established order. When Pompey the Great returned from the East at the end of 62 b.c.e. seeking ratification for his treaties and land for his veterans, Cato rigidly opposed Pompey’s requests. Cato also prevented the passage of a bill that would have revised the tax codes for Asia. In opposing this measure, Cato antagonized both the equestrian class that stood to profit by the new tax revisions as well as Marcus Licinius Crassus, who had invested heavily in the publican tax companies. The equestrians withdrew their support from the Senatorial Party, and Cicero’s hope that the equestrian class would act in harmony with the Senatorial Party was destroyed.

When Caesar returned from Spain in 60 b.c.e. seeking a triumph, he asked permission to run for the consulship in absentia while he remained with the army outside the city. The senate refused, with Cato speaking all day to prevent approval. Caesar gave up his triumph and entered the city as an ordinary citizen to stand for the consulship. Pompey, Caesar, and Crassus now joined forces, and the First Triumvirate was born. The three men agreed to work together toward their common goals.

With the support of Pompey and Crassus, Caesar won the consulship for the year 59 b.c.e. Caesar soon paid off his political debts with proposals for the ratification of Pompey’s treaties in the east, a land-distribution bill for Pompey’s veterans and some of the poor in Rome, and a revision of the tax codes for Asia. Cato vigorously opposed all these measures...

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