Lucius Sergius Catilina was a member of the loyal family and a patrician in the Roman Empire. His family had not made it in the Roman consul for more than three hundred years. Catiline’s determination was to break this historical family legacy and revive its membership in the consul. He had great military talents and had participated in numerous battles in his youth. He lived at a time when Rome’s wealth was in the hands of the rich who were members of the upper class in the society. The population only owned 1% of the wealth in the Empire. Every individual in Rome struggled to control the abundant wealth of the Empire. This period had numerous troubles in the society where emphasis is only on the rich without a record on the lives of the poor. Catiline was one of the individuals who took the extremist approach to acquire power through political competition and hence the catilinarian conspiracy.
This essay tries to prove the hypothesis that Catiline presents a perfect example of an ambitious Roman who sought power using unconstitutional means. It will use the methodology of explanation and narration as present in historical records of the ancient Roman Empire.
Order of Presentation
The essay provides a list the complaints which the conspirators had against Rome. It also gives their different views on the enemies they had before, during and after the conspiracy. It also outlines the behavior of the conspirators on the basing its arguments on the Sullan veterans and the urban mob.
Presentation of Evidence
P. Cornelius Sulla and P. Autronius Paetus vied and won in the consular elections of 66 B.C. They were later unseated due to bribery allegations in their electoral campaign. Catiline appeared in the next consular elections after his controversial rule in Africa. He did not participate in the elections of 66 due to threats of charges arising from his previous maladministration. The unseating of Sulla and Paetus made them plan to murder Torquatus, Cotta and some other senators who in collaboration with Catiline and Calpurnius Piso. They planned to take over the fasces of the consuls after they had killed them and send Piso to Spain as the governor. Their plot leaked due to the premature signal of the uprising by Catiline which led to the abandonment of the plan immediately (Dryden 54).
Catiline first decided to seek for the top consular seats in 66 by use of proper constitutional procedure. Consul Lucius Volcanius Tullus denied Catiline the chance to vie for the seat in 65 B.C. due to the alleged extortions in Africa. The case came to the court in 65 B.C. but was acquitted due to the support by the majority of the consulares. The next chance to vie was in 63 B.C. whereby Cicero thought that they would join in the campaign. However, Antonius and Catiline received support from Caesar and Crassus to defeat Cicero. They used bribery extensively to try and defeat Cicero. The senate proposed a bill against this act but a tribune rejected it. Cicero took advantage of this and gave a speech condemning the act by the tribune. This increased Cicero’s support and many regarded his as the best among his competitors. Cicero won as the senior consul regardless of the many challenges he faced during the campaigns. Catiline came third after Antonius with a narrow margin.
Catiline suffered defeat again in 63 B.C. after surviving a prosecution. This prosecution involved charges against benefit of bribes and murders that arose from the Sullan proscriptions. These men faced murder charges. Catiline survived the prosecution due to the support of the men from the jury. The murder court, Quaesitio de Scicariis was among the seven that were reconstituted or established by Sulla. In this case, the praetors were in charge of presiding over the trials with assistance from the aediles. The loss in 63 was the last for Catiline. This left only one path open for him to make it to the top seats; organizing a coup d’ etat. He planned on preparing an insurrection in the neighboring Italy. He decided not to use constitutional means any more in order to realize his political ambitions.
There is no solid evidence that links Catiline to the first Catilinarian conspiracy. Several historians try to show some evidence of his involvement. The collection, however, presents rumors of his involvement. This rumor, according to Catiline, has an intention of tarnishing the names of several politicians. Most of the information regarding this conspiracy comes from Cicero’s speech after Catiline’s death. Cicero gave the speech ‘In Toga Candida’ during his campaign in the 64 B.C. consulate elections. The only vague evidence incriminating Catiline is his involvement with Publius Autronius Paetus and Publius Cornelius Sulla in previous election campaigns. Cicero defends Sulla in the senate and courts regarding his involvement in the second catilinarian conspiracy (Hardy 34). Sulla is acquitted and all the blame goes to Catiline. The first conspiracy, however, is important for Catiline in his quest to organize an army. This is because his defense regarding the Sulla’s veterans who are charged with murder assists him in gaining the confidence of the other former Sulla’s army who assist him in the second conspiracy.
To strengthen his following in creating a successful rebellion, Catiline had to come up with several policies. One of his main policy was tabulae novae. This was the cancellation of debts to assist the citizens during the hard economic times that the empire was facing. This was one of the policies that attracted the veterans of the Sulla. The burden of debt was greatest in the Roman Empire in 63 B.C. The slave revolt in the early 70s, the fighting in late 70s and the war in the 80s had led to an economic and social crisis. There was also devastation and violence in the Italian mainland. The cast of the Mithridates’ war and pirates’ destruction had made the crisis worse. Food prices were high as well as reduction in the money available for credit. The bills in the senate to cancel debts did not pass due to the influence of wealthy money lenders. Catiline promised to cancel these debts and attracted a large following especially those who were previously soldiers.
The veterans of Sulla’s army were those members who had settled in colonies. They had lived beyond their means. They now wanted to recover their fortunes desperately and hence the need for new proscriptions. These individuals were simply the failure and misfits of the Roman society. Among them was Publius Cornelius Lentulus Sulla. He had faced expulsion from the Senate in 70 B.C. This was after he had had numerous accusations about his conduct. He was a praetor and therefore used his position to influence the leaders in the revolution. Catiline also used some knights from the Sullan colonists such as Publius Furius who was from Faesulae. These men were very loyal to Catiline but exhibited questionable conduct during the revolution which was the main cause of their failure (Hutchinson 47).
A large portion of Sulla’s veterans were ready to march behind Catiline. They were ready to recognize them as their next Sulla. This is because they had squandered and spent all the wealth they had acquired in their years of service. They believed that a march to war would help them regain their previous fortunes. They were bitter with the current rule. This is because it had sent them to the colonies after they conquered in the wars making them live beyond their means away from their homes. Catiline used a centurion from Sulla’s army, Gaius Manlius. He was to manage and assemble an army in Etruria. He used Sulla’s army men to conduct murders of the senators, begin a slave revolt in Capua and plan attacks against Cicero’s army.
Catiline failed in his quest after dying in a war with Antonius in Pistoria. Many of the poor people and the urban folk regarded him respectfully. They differed with Cicero on the allegation that Catiline was a villain and a traitor. However, the records in history do not clearly show the perspectives of the population but rather those of the leaders. Sallust only explains the view of the general population only from assumptions but not from the available manuscripts. These are the views of the historians such as Florus and Dio Cassius (Odahl 16). Nevertheless, even Cicero himself admitted reluctantly that Catiline was enigmatic and had great virtues. He also described him as having terrible vices which threatened the social balance. Many Romans also shared these views and considered Cicero as an individual who would achieved great success had he followed the constitutional and democratic processes.
The essay proves fully the hypothesis that Catiline presents a perfect example of an ambitious Roman who sought power using unconstitutional means. This is because Catiline uses methods such as raising up a rebellion and a coup d’ etat against the Roman Empire. However, some argue that Catiline was a hero whose main concern was the rights of the general citizen population. This is not the case according the evidence in the essay. Catiline could have struggled to secure the top consular position constitutionally without rebellion if the wish of the people was at heart. However, the essay shows that he joined with selfish individuals who wanted to acquire the wealth themselves.