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M. Po'rcius Cato or Cato the Censor

1. M. Porcius Cato Censorius, was born at Tusculum, a municipal town of Latium, to which his ancestors had belonged for some generations. His father had earned the reputation of a brave soldier, and his great-grandfather had received an honorary compensation from the state for five horses killed under him in battle. The haughtiest patrician of Rome never exulted in the splendour of the purest nobility with a spirit more proud than Cato's when he remembered the warlike achievements and the municipal respectability of his family, to which he ascribed extreme antiquity. Yet the Tusculan Porcii had never obtained the honours of the Roman magistracy. Their illustrious descendant, at the commencement of his career in the great city, was regarded as a novus homo, and the feeling of his unmeet position, working along with the consciousness of inherent superiority, contributed to exasperate and stimulate his ambitious soul. Early in life, he so far eclipsed the previous glimmer of his race, that he is constantly spoken of, not only as the leader, but as the founder, of the Porcia Gens.

His ancestors for three generations had been named M. Porcius, and it is said by Plutarch (Cato Maj. 1), that at first he was known by the additional cognomen Priscus, but was afterwards called Cato--a word denoting that practical wisdom which is the result of natural sagacity, combined with experience of civil and political affairs. However, it may well be doubted whether Priscus, like Major, were not merely an epithet used to distinguish him from the later Cato of Utica, and we have no precise information as to the date when he first received the appellation of Cato, which may have been bestowed in childhood rather as an omen of eminence, than as a tribute to past desert. The qualities implied in the word Cato were acknowledged by the plainer and less archaic title of Sapiens, by which he was so well known in his old age, that Cicero (Amic. 2) says, it became his quasi cognomen. From the number and eloquence of his speeches, he was styled orator (Justin, 33.2; Gel. 17.21), but Cato the Censor, or Cato Censorius, is now his most common, as well his most characteristic appellation, since he filled the office of censor with extraodinary repute, and was the only Cato who ever filled it.

In order to ascertain the date of Cato's birth, we have to consider the testimony of ancient writers as to his age at the time of his death, which is known to have happened B. C. 149. How far we are to go back from this date is a question upon which the authorities are not unanimous. According to the consistent chronology of Cicero (Senect. 4), Cato was born B. C. 234, in the year preceding the first consulship of Q. Fabius Maximus, and died at the age of 85, in the consulship of L. Marcius and M. Manilius. Pliny (Plin. Nat. 29.8) agrees with Cicero. Other authors exaggerate the age of Cato. According to Valerius Maximlus (8.7.1) he survived his 86th year; according to Livy (39.40) and Plutarch (Plut. Cat. Ma. 15) he was 90 years old when he died. The exaggerated age, however, is inconsistent within a statement recorded by Plutarch (Cat. Aaj. 1) on the asserted authority of Cato himself.

Cato is represented to have said, that he served his first campaign in his 17th year, when Hannibal was over-running Italy. Plutarch, who had the works of Cato before him, but was careless in dates, did not observe that the reckoning of Livy would take back Cato's 17th year to B. C. 222, when there was not a Carthaginian in Italy, whereas the reckoning of Cicero would make the truth of Cato's statement reconcileable with the date of Hannibal's first invasion.

When Cato was a very young man, the death of his father put him in possession of a small hereditary estate in the Sabine territory, at a distance from his native town. It was here that he passed the greater part of his boyhood, hardening his body by healthful exercise, superintending and sharing the operations of the farm, learning the manner in which business was transacted, and studying the rules of rural economy. Near his estate was an humble cottage which had been tenanted, after three triumphs, by its owner M. Curius Dentatus, whose warlike exploits and rigidly simple character were fresh in the memory of the old, and were often talked of with admiration in the neighbourhood. The ardour of the youthful Cato was kindled. He resolved to imitate the character, and hoped to rival the glory, of Dentatus. Opportunity was not wanting : in the school of Hannibal he took his first military lessons, namely in the campaign of B. C. 217. There is some discrepancy among historians as to the events of Cato's early military life. In B. C. 214 he served at Capua, and Drumann (Gesch. Rows, v. p. 99) imagines that already, at the age of 20, he was a military tribune. Fabius Maximus had now the command in Campania, during the year of his fourth consulshlip. The old general admitted the young soldier to the honour of intimate acquaintance. While Fabius communicated the valued results of military experience, he omitted not to instil his own personal and political partialities and dislikes into the ear of his attached follower. At the siege of Tarentum, B. C. 209, Cato was again at the side of Fabius. Two years later, Cato was one of the select band who accompanied the consul Claudius Nero on his northern march from Lucania to check the progress of Hasdrubal. It is recorded that the services of Cato contributed not a little to the decisive victory of Sena on the Metaurus, where Hasdrubal was slain.

In the intervals of war, Cato returned to his Sabine farm, using the plainest dress, and working and faring like his labourers. Young as he was, the neighbouring farmers liked his hardy mode of living, relished his quaint and sententious sayings, and recognized his abilities. His own active temperament made him willing and anxious to employ his powers in the service of his neighbours. He was engaged to act, sometimes as an arbiter of disputes, and sometimes as an advocate, in local causes, which were probably tried before recuperatores in the country. Thus was he enabled to strengthen by practice his oratorical faculties, to gain self-confidence, to observe the manners of men, to dive into the springs of human nature, to apply the rules of law, and practically to investigate the principles of justice.

In the vicinity of Cato's Sabine farm was the estate of L. Valerius Flaccus, a young nobleman of considerable influence, and high patrician family. Flaccus could not help remarking the energy of Cato, his military talent, his eloquence, his frugal and simple life, and his old-fashioned principles. Flaccus himself was one of that old-fashioned party who professed their adherence to the severer virtues of the ancient Roman character. There was now in progress a transition from Samnite rusticity to Grecian civilization and oriental voluptuousness. The chief magistracies of the state had become almost the patrimony of a few distinguished families, whose wealth was correspondent with their illustrious birth. Popular by lavish expenditure, by acts of graceful but corrupting munificence, by winning manners, and by the charm of hereditary honours, they united with the influence of office the material power conferred by a numerous retinue of clients and adherents, and the intellectual ascendancy which the monopoly of philosophical education, of taste in the fine arts, and of acquaintance with elegant literature, could not fail to bestow. Nevertheless, the reaction was strong. The less fortunate nobles, jealous of this exclusive oligarchy, and keenly observant of the degeneracy and disorder which followed in the train of luxury, placed themselves at the head of a party which professed its determination to resort to purer models and to stand upon the ancient ways. In their eyes, rusticity, austerity, and asceticism were the marks of Sabine hardihood and religion, and of the old Roman unbending integrity and love of order. Marcellus, the family of Scipio, and the two Flaminini, may be taken as types of the new civilization ; Cato's friends, Fabius and Flaccus, were leading men in the party of the old plainness.

Flaccus was one of those clear-sighted politicians who seek out and patronize remarkable ability in young and rising men. He had observed Cato's martial spirit and eloquent tongue. He knew how much courage and eloquence were prized at Rome. He knew that the distinctions of the battle-field opened the way to the successes of the gown; and that, for a municipal stranger like Cato, forensic success was almost the only possible avenue to magisterial honours. Accordingly, he recommended Cato to transplant his ambition to the fitter soil and ampler field of home. The advice was eagerly followed. Invited to the town-house of Flaccus, and countenanced by his support, Cato began to distinguish himself in the forum, and became a candidate for office.

We have dwelt upon the accidents of his early history, since they affected the whole tenor of Cato's life. We have seen a youth, indomitably active and strong-minded--the fellow-workman and oracle of rustics--not suffered to droop from want of practice or encouragement, but befriended by opportunity and always equal to the exigencies of his position, disciplined in the best school of arms, the favourite of his general, listened to with applause in the courts of Rome, and introduced at once into a high political circle. What wonder if, in such scenes, the mind of Cato received a better training for wide command and worldly success than could have been supplied by a more regular education ? What wonder if his strength and originality were tinged with dogmatism, coarseness, harshness, vanity, self-sufficiency, and prejudice,--if he had little sympathy with the pursuits of calm and contemplative scholars,--if he disdained or hated or disparaged the accomplishments which he had no leisure to master,--if he railed and rebelled against the conventional elegancies of a more polished society to which he and his party were opposed,--if he confounded delicacy of sentiment with unmanly weakness, and refinement of manners with luxurious vice ?

In B. C. 205, Cato was designated quaestor, and in the following year entered upon the duties of his office, and followed P. Scipio Africanus to Sicily. When Scipio, acting on the permission which, after much opposition, he had obtained from the senate, transported the army from the island into Africa, Cato and C. Laelius were appointed to convoy the baggage-ships. There was not that cordiality of co-operation between Cato and Scipio which ought to subsist between a quaestor and his proconsul. Fabius had opposed the permission given to Scipio to carry the attack into the enemy's home, and Cato, whose appointment was intended to operate as a check upon Scipio, adopted the views of his friend. It is reported by Plutarch, that the lax discipline of the troops under Scipio's command, and the extravagant expense incurred by the general, provoked the remonstrance of Cato ; that Scipio thereupon retorted haughtily, saying he would give an account of victories, not of pelf : that Cato, returning to Rome, denounced the prodigality of his general to the senate; and that, at the joint instigation of Cato and Fabius, a commission of tribunes was despatched to Sicily to investigate the conduct of Scipio, who was acquitted upon the view of his extensive and judicious preparations for the transport of the troops. (Plut. Cat. Ma. 3.) This account is scarcely consistent with the narrative of Livy, and would seem to attribute to Cato the irregularity of quitting his post before his time. If Livy be correct, the commission was sent upon the complaint of the inhabitants of Locri, who had been cruelly oppressed by Pleminius, the legate of Scipio. Livy says not a word of Cato's interference in this transaction, but mentions the acrimony with which Fabius accused Scipio of corrupting military discipline, and of having unlawfully left his province to take the town of Locri. (Liv. 29.1.9, &c.)

The author of the abridged life of Cato which commonly passes as the work of Cornelius Nepos, states that Cato, upon his return from Africa, touched at Sardinia, and brought the poet Ennius in his own ship from the island to Italy; but Sardinia was rather out of the line of the voyage to Rome, and it is more likely that the first acquaintance of Ennius and Cato occurred at a subsequent date, when the latter was praetor in Sardinia. (Aur. Vict. de Vir. III. 47.)

In B. C. 199, Cato was aedile, and with his colleague Helvius, restored the plebeian games, and gave upon that occasion a banquet in honour of Jupiter. In the following year he was made praetor, and obtained Sardinia as his province, with the command of 3,000 infantry and 200 cavalry. Here he took the earliest opportunity of illustrating his principles by his practice. He diminished official expenses, walked his circuits with a single attendant, and, by the studied absence of pomp, placed his own frugality in striking contrast with the oppressive magnificence of ordinary provincial magistrates. The rites of religion were solemnized with decent thrift; justice was administered with strict impartiality; usury was restrained with unsparing severity, and the usurers were banished. Sardinia had been for some time completely subdued, but if we are to believe the improbable and unsupported testimony of Aurelius Victor (de Vir. Ill. 47), an insurrection in the island was quelled by Cato, during his praetorship.

Cato had now established a reputation for pure morality, and strict old-fashioned virtue. He was looked upon as the living type and representative of the ideal ancient Roman. His very faults bore the impress of national character, and humoured national prejudice. To the advancement of such a man opposition was vain. In B. C. 195, in the 39th year of his age, he was elected consul with his old friend and patron L. Valerius Flaccus.

During this consulship a strange scene took place. peculiarly illustrative of Roman manners. In B. C. 215, at the height of the Punic war, a law had been passed on the rogation of the tribune Oppius, that no woman should possess more than half an ounce of gold, nor wear a garment of divers colours, nor drive a carriage with horses at less distance than a mile from the city, except for the purpose of attending the public celebration of religious rites. Now that Hannibal was conquered; that Rome abounded with Carthaginian wealth; and that there was no longer any necessity for women to contribute towards the exigencies of an impoverished treasury the savings spared from their ornaments and pleasures, the tribunes T. Fundanius and L. Valerius, thought it time to propose the abolition of the Oppian law; but they were opposed by their colleagues, M. Brutus and T. Brutus. The most important affairs of state excited far less interest and zeal than this singular contest. The matrons poured forth into the streets, blockaded every avenue to the forum, and intercepted their husbands as they approached, beseeching them to restore the ancient ornaments of the Roman matrons. Nay, they had the boldness to accost and implore the praetors and consuls and other magistrates. Even Flaccus wavered, but his colleague Cato was inexorable, and made an ungallant and characteristic speech, the substance of which, remodelled and modernized, is given by Livy. Finally, the women carried the day. Worn out by their importunity, the recusant tribunes withdrew their opposition. The hated law was abolished by the suffrage of all the tribes, and the women evinced their exultation and triumph by going in procession through the streets and the forum, bedizened with their now legitimate finery.

Scarcely had this important affair been brought to a conclusion when Cato, who had maintained during its progress a rough and sturdy consistency without, perhaps, any very serious damage to his popularity, set sail for his appointed province, Citerior Spain.

In his Spanish campaign, Cato exhibited military genius of a very high order. He lived abstemiously, sharing the food and the labours of the common soldier. With indefatigable industry and vigilance, he not only gave the requisite orders, but, whereever it was possible, personally superintended their execution. His movements were bold and rapid, and he never was remiss in reaping the fruits and pushing the advantages of victory. The sequence of his operations and their harmonious combination with the schemes of other generals in other parts of Spain appear to have been excellently contrived. His stratagems and manoeuvres were original, brilliant, and successful. The plans of his battles were arranged with consummate skill. He managed to set tribe against tribe, availed himself of native treachery, and took native mercenaries into his pay.

The details of the campaign, as related by Livy (lib. xxxiv.), and illustrated by the incidental anecdotes of Plutarch, are full of horror. We read of multitudes who, after they had been stript of their arms, put themselves to death for very shame; of wholesale slaughter of surrendered victims, and the frequent execution of merciless razzias. The political elements of Roman patriotism inculcated the maxim, that the good of the state ought to be the first object, and that to it the citizen was bound to sacrifice upon demand natural feelings and individual morality. Such were the principles of Cato. He was not the man to feel any compunctious visitings of conscience in the thorough performance of a rigorous public task. His proceedings in Spain were not at variance with the received idea of the fine old Roman soldier, or with his own stern and imperious temper. He boasted of having destroyed more towns in Spain than he had spent days in that country.

When he had reduced the whole tract of land between the Iberus and the Pyrenees to a hollow, sulky, and temporary submission, he turned his attention to administrative reforms, and increased the revenues of the province by improvements in the working of the iron and silver mines. On account of his achievements in Spain, the senate decreed a thanksgiving of three days. In the course of the year, B. C. 194, he returned to Rome, and was rewarded with a triumph, at which he exhibited an extraordinary quantity of captured brass, silver, and gold, both coin and bullion. In the distribution of prize-money to his soldiery, he was more liberal than might have been expected from so strenuous a professor of parsimonious economy. (Liv. 34.46.)

The return of Cato appears to have been accelerated by the enmity of P. Scipio Africanus, who was consul, B. C. 194, and is said to have coveted the command of the province in which Cato was reaping renown. There is some variance between Nepos (or the pseudo-Nepos), and Plutarch (Plut. Cat. Ma. 11), in their accounts of this transaction. The former asserts that Scipio was unsuccessful in his attempt to obtain the province, and, offended by the repulse, remained after the end of his consulship, in a private capacity at Rome. The latter relates that Scipio, who was disgusted by Cato's severity, was actually appointed to succeed him, but, not being able to procure from the senate a vote of censure upon the administration of his rival, passed the time of his command in utter inactivity. From the statement in Livy (34.43), that B. C. 194, Sex. Digitius was appointed to the province of Citerior Spain, it is probable that Plutarch was mistaken in assigning that province to Scipio Africanus. The notion that Africanus was appointed successor to Cato in Spain may have arisen from a double confusion of name and place, for P. Scipio Nasica was appointed, B. C. 194, to the Ulterior province.

However this may be, Cato successfully vindicated himself by his eloquence, and by the production of detailed pecuniary accounts, against the attacks made upon his conduct while consul; and the existing fragments of the speeches, (or the same speech under different names,) made after his return, attest the vigour and boldness of his defence.

Plutarch (Plut. Cat. Ma. 12), states that, after his consulship, Cato accompanied Tib. Sempronius Longus as legatus to Thrace, but here there seems to be some error, for though Scipio Africanus was of opinion that one of the consuls ought to have Macedonia, we soon find Sempronius in Cisalpine Gaul (Liv. 34.43, 46), and in B. C. 193, we find Cato at Rome dedicating to Victoria Virgo a small temple which he had vowed two years before. (Liv. 35.9.)

The military career of Cato was not yet ended. In B. C. 191, he was appointed military tribune (or legatus ? Liv. 36.17, 21), under the consul M'. Acilius Glabrio, who was despatched to Greece to oppose the invasion of Antiochus the Great, king of Syria. In the decisive battle of Thermopylae, which led to the downfall of Antiochus, Cato behaved with his wonted valour, and enjoyed the good fortune which usually waits upon genius. By a daring and difficult advance, he surprised and dislodged a body of the enemy's Aetolian auxiliaries, who were posted upon the Callidromus, the highest summit of the range of Oeta. He then commenced a sudden descent from the hills above the royal camp, and the panic occasioned by this unexpected movement at once turned the day in favour of the Romans. After the action, the general embraced Cato with the utmost warmth, and ascribed to him the whole credit of the victory. This fact rests on the authority of Cato himself, who, like Cicero, often indulged in the habit, offensive to modern taste, of sounding his own praises. After an interval spent in the pursuit of Antiochus and the pacification of Greece, Cato was despatched to Rome by the consul Glabrio to announce the successful result of the campaign, and he performed his journey with such celerity that he had commenced his report in the senate before the arrival of L. Scipio, (the subsequent conqueror of Antiochus,) who had been sent off from Greece a few days before him. (Liv. 36.21.)

It was during the campaign in Greece under Glabrio, and, as it would appear from the account of Plutarch, (rejected by Drumann,) before the battle of Thermopylae, that Cato was commissioned to keep Corinth, Patrae, and Aegium, from siding with Antiochus. It was then too that he visited Athens, and, to prevent the Athenians from listening to the overtures of the Syrian king, addressed them in a Latin speech, which was explained to them by an interpreter. Already perhaps he had a smattering of Greek, for, it is said by Plutarch, that, while at Tarentum in his youth, he became intimately acquainted with Nearchus, a Greek philosopher, and it is said by Aurelius Victor that while praetor in Sardinia, he received instruction in Greek from Ennius. It was not so much, perhaps, on account of his still professed contempt for everything Greek, as because his speech was an affair of state, that he used the Latin language, in compliance with the Roman custom, which was observed as a diplomatic mark of Roman majesty. (V. Max. 2.2.2.)

After his arrival at Rome, there is no certain proof that Cato was ever again engaged in war. Scipio, who had been legatus under Glabrio, was consul B. C. 190, and the province of Greece was awarded to him by the senate. An expression occurs in Cicero (pro Muren. 14), which might lead to the opinion that Cato returned to Greece, and fought under L. Scipio, but, as to such an event, history is silent. " Nunquam cum Scipione esset profectus [M. Cato], si cum mulierculis bellandum esse arbitraretur." That Cicero was in error seems more likely than that he referred to the time when Cato and L. Scipio served together under Glabrio, or that the words " cum Scipione," as some critics have thought, are an interpolation.

In B. C. 189, M. Fulvius Nobilior, the consul, obtained Aetolia as his province, and Cato was sent thither after him, as we learn from an extract (preserved by Festus, s. v. Oratores), from his speech " de suis Virtutibus contra Thermum." It seems that his legation was rather civil than military, and that he was sent to confer with Fulvius on the petition of the Aetolians, who were placed in an unfortunate situation, not sufficiently protected by Rome if they maintained their fidelity, and yet punished if they were induced to assist her enemies.

We have seen Cato in the character of an eminent and able soldier: we have now to observe him in the character of an active and leading citizen. If Cato were in B. C. 190 with L. Scipio Asiaticus (as Cicero seems to have imagined), and in B. C. 189 in Aetolia with Fulvius, he must still have passed a portion of those years in Rome. We find him in B. C. 190 most strenuous in resisting the claims of Q. Minucius Thermus to a triumph. Thermus had been displaced by Cato in the command of Citerior Spain, and was afterwards engaged in repressing the incursions of the Ligurians, whom he reduced to submission, and now demanded a triumph as his reward. Cato accused him of fabricating battles and exaggerating the numbers of the enemy slain in real engagements, and declaimed against his cruel and ignominious execution of ten magistrates (decemviri) of the Boian Gauls, without even the forms of justice, on the pretext that they were dilatory in furnishing the required supplies. (Gel. 13.24, 10.3.) Cato's opposition was successful; but the passage of Festus already referred to shews that, after his return from Aetolia in 189, he had to defend his own conduct against Thermus, who was tribune B. C. 189, and died in battle, B. C. 188.

In B. C. 189, Cato and his old friend L. Valerius Flaccus were among the candidates for the censorship, and, among their competitors, was their former general M'. Acilius Glabrio. Glabrio, who did not possess the advantage of nobility, determined to try what the influence of money could effect. In order to counteract his endeavours, he was met by an accusation of having applied the treasures of Antiochus to his own use, and was ultimately obliged to retire from the contest. Cato was active in promoting the opposition to his old general, and declared that he had seen vessels of gold and silver among the royal booty in the camp, but had not seen them displayed in the parade of Glabrio's triumph. Neither Cato nor Flaccus was elected. The choice fell upon two of the opposite party, T. Flamininus and M. Marcellus.

Cato was not to be daunted by a failure. In B. C. 187, M. Fulvius Nobilior returned from Aetolia, and sought the honour of a triumph. Again, Cato was found at his post of opposition. Fulvius was indulgent to his soldiers. He was a man of literary taste, and patronized Ennius, who was his companion in hours not devoted to military duty. All this was repugnant to the old Roman principles of Cato, who, among other charges, found fault with Fulvius for keeping poets in his camp (Cic. Tusc. 1.2), and impairing military discipline, by giving crowns to his soldiers for such mighty services as digging a well with spirit, or valorously throwing up a mound. (Gel. 5.6.) Again, Cato was unsuccessful, and Fulvius obtained the triumph he sought for.

When P. Scipio Africanus was charged with having received sums of money from Antiochus, which had not been duly accounted for to the state, and with having allowed the unfortunate monarch to come off too leniently, Cato is said to have been the instigator of the accusation. (Liv. 38.54.) Every one has read how the proud conqueror of Africa tore with his own hands the books of account which his brother Lucius was producing to the senate; and how, on the day of his own trial, he bade the people follow him from the rostra to the Capitol to return thanks to the immortal gods on the anniversary of the battle of Zama. Unused to submit to question, and conscious of his great benefits to the state, he deemed himself almost above the law. Though Cato devolved upon others the obloquy of accusing Africanus, he hesitated not openly to speak in favour of a proposition which was calculated to prepare the way for the successful prosecution of a similar charge against L. Scipio Asiaticus. By his influence a plebiscitum was carried, referring it to the senate to appoint a commissioner to inquire into the charge concerning the money of Antiochus. The result was, that Lucius and others were condemned. As to the dates and details of these transactions, there is the utmost variance in the early authorities. [SCIPIO.]

Cato was now again a candidate for the censorship, with his old friend L. Valerius Flaccus and six others, among whom were the patricians P. and L. Scipio, and the plebeian L. Fulvius Nobilior. He was loud in his promises or threats of reform, and declared that, if invested with power, he would not belie the professions of his past life. The dread of his success alarmed all his personal enemies, all who were notorious for their luxury, and all who derived profit from the mismanagement of the public finances. Notwithstanding the combined opposition of the six other candidates, he obtained the censorship, B. C. 184, bringing in by his own influence L. Valerius Flaccus as his colleague.

This was a great epoch in Cato's life. He applied himself strenuously to the duties of his office, regardless of the enemies he was making. He repaired the watercourses, paved the reservoirs, cleansed the drains, destroyed the communications by which private individuals illegally drew off the public water to supply their dwellings and irrigate their gardens, raised the rents paid by the publicani for the farm of the taxes, and diminished the contract prices paid by the state to the undertakers of public works. It may be doubted whether he did not go too far in his reforms, from considering rather the cheapness of an offer than the security which was afforded by the character and circumstances of the applicant; but there can be no doubt that great abuses existed, with which nothing but the undaunted courage and extraordinary administrative faculties of Cato could have successfully grappled. He was disturbing a nest of hornets, and all his future life was troubled by their buzz and their attempts to sting. After his censorship, he was prosecuted by some of the tribunes, at the instigation of T. Flamininus, for misconduct in this department of his office, and condemned to pay a fine of two talents (Plut. Cat. Ma. 10), or in Roman money 12,000 asses. Though he was accused no fewer than forty-four times during the course of his life, this is the only recorded instance in which his enemies prevailed against him.

The provisions against luxury, contained in his censorial edict, were severe and stringent. He directed unauthorized statues erected to the honour of unworthy men to be removed from the public places, and declaimed against the unceremonious indecency and want of religious feeling with which the images of gods taken from the temples of conquered countries were used, like ordinary household furniture, to ornament the mansions of the nobles. In the lustral census, young slaves, purchased at 10,000 asses and upwards, were valued at ten times their cost, and then taxed, upon this fictitious value at the rate of three, instead of one, per 1000--a circuitous mode of imposing a rate of three per cent. The same course was pursued in rating the dress, furniture, and equipage of the women, when their real value amounted to 15,000 asses. (Liv. 39.44.) Whether or not the rating were anciently or usually confined to res mancipi, such was clearly not the case upon the present occasion. In the exercise of the tremendous power of the nota censoria, he was equally uncompromising. He most justly degraded from the senate L. Quintius Flamininus (the brother of Titus, his former successful opponent in the canvas for the censorship), for having committed (whatever version of the story we accept) an act of the most abominable cruelty, accompanied by circumstances of the most disgusting profligacy (Liv. 39.42, 43; Plut. Cat. Ma. 17; Cic. Senect. 12); yet such was already the low state of morals at Rome, that a mob could be procured to invite the degraded wretch to resume his former place at the theatre in the seats allotted to the consulars. He degraded Manilius, a man of praetorian rank, for having kissed his wife in his daughter's presence in open day. Whether Cato's strange statement as to his own practice (Plut. Cato, 17) is to be taken as a hyperboiical recommendation of decent reserve, or to be explained as Balzac (cited by Bayle, s. v. Porcius) explains it, we cannot stop to inquire. He degraded L. Nasica (or, as some conjecturally read, L. Porcius Laeca) for an unseasonable and irreverent joke in answer to a solemn question. (Cic. de Orat. 2.64.) In order to detect that celibacy which it was the duty of the censors to put an end to or to punish, men of marriageable age were asked, " Ex tui animi sententia, tu uxorem habes ?" " Non hercule," was the answer of L. Nasica, " ex mei animi sententia." At the muster of the knights, he deprived L. Scipio Asiaticus of his horse for having accepted the bribes of Antiochus. L. Scipio was a senator, but senators, not beyond the age of service, still retained the public horse of the knight, and took their place at the muster. (Dict. Ant. s. v. Equites.) He deprived L. Vetnrius of his horse for having omitted a stated sacrifice, and for having grown too corpulent to be of use in battle. (Fest. s. v. Stata.) Several others he degraded and deprived of their horses, and, not content with this, he publicly exposed, with bitter vehemence. the vices of his victims.

It does not appear that, in the exercise of the theoretically exorbitant and anomalous power of the censorship, Cato acted unfairly, although personal motives and private enmities or party dislikes may sometimes have conspired with his views of political and moral duty.

The remarkable censorship of Cato was rewarded by a public statue, with a commemorative and laudatory inscription.

Henceforward the public life of Cato was spent chiefly in forensic contests, senatorial debates, and speeches to the people. The fragments of his orations show his unceasing activity, and the general consistency of his career. He pursued his political opponents with relentless animosity, for with him, true Italian as he was, revenge was a virtue. In his own words, the most honourable obsequies which a son could pay to the memory of his father were the condemnation and tears of that father's foes. With greenish-gray eyes and sandy hair, an iron frame, and a stentorian voice, he gave utterance to such bitter invectives as to provoke the pungent Greek epigram recorded by Plutarch. (Cato, 1)

Πυρρὸν, πανδακέτην, γλαυκόμματον, οὐδὲ θανόντα
Πόρκιον εἰς ἀΐδην Περσεφόνη δέχεται

His resistance to luxury continued. In B. C. 181, he urged the adoption of the Lex Orchia for restricting the number of guests at banquets. In B. C. 169 (according to Cicero, Senect. 5, or several years earlier, according to the epitomizer of Livy Epit. xli.) he supported the proposal of the Lex Voconia, the provisions of which were calculated to prevent the accumulation of wealth in the hands of women.

In some questions of foreign policy we find him taking the side of the oppressed. The proconsular governors of both Spains compelled the provincial inhabitants to pay their corn-assessments in money at a high arbitrary commutation, and then forced the provincial farmers to supply the Romans with corn at a greatly reduced price. When the Spanish deputies came to Rome, B. C. 171, to complain of such unjust exaction, Cato was chosen advocate of his former province, Citerior Spain, and conducted the prosecution with such spirit as to draw down upon himself powerful enmity, although the guilty governors, M. Matienus and P. Furius Philus, escaped condemnation by voluntary exile. (Liv. 43.2.)

Again, when the Rhodians besought the senate not to punish the whole island for the unauthorized acts of a few factious individuals, on the charge of general disaffection towards the Roman arms in the wars with Antiochus and Perseus, Cato pleaded the cause of Rhodes before the senate in an able and effective speech. The minute and artificial criticisms of Tiro, the freedman of Cicero, upon parts of this speech, are reported and refuted by Gellius (7.3). Cicero himself speaking by the mouth of Atticus (Brutus, 85), was scarcely able sufticiently to appreciate the sturdy, rugged, sententious, passionate, racy, oratory of Cato. It was tinged with some affectations of striking expressions -- with quaintnesses, vulgarisms, archaisms, and neologisms, but it told--it worked--it came home to men's business and bosoms. If we may judge of Cato by his fragments, he possessed the living fiery spirit and intense earnestness of Demosthenes, without the elevation of thought, the harmony of language, and the perfection of form which crowned the eloquence of the Athenian.

The strong national prejudices of Cato appear to have diminished in force as he grew older and wiser. He applied himself in old age to the study of Greek literature, with which in youth he had no acquaintance, although he was not ignorant of the Greek language. Himself an historian and orator, the excellences of Demosthenes and Thucydides made a deep impression upon his kindred mind. In many important cases, however, throughout his life, his conduct was guided by prejudices against classes and nations, whose influence he deemed to be hostile to the simplicity of the old Roman character. It is likely that he had some part in the senatusconsultum which, upon the appearance of Eumenes, king of Pergamus, at Brundisium, B. C. 166, forbade kings to enter Rome, for when Eumenes, upon his former visit, after the war with Antiochus, was received with honour by the senate, and splendidly entertained by the nobles, Cato was indignant at the respect paid to the monarch, refused to go near him, and declared that, " kings were naturally carnivorous animals." He had an antipathy to physicians, because they were mostly Greeks, and therefore unfit to be trusted with Roman lives, inasmuch as all Greeks looked upon the barbarians, including the Romans, as natural enemies. He loudly cautioned his eldest son against physicians, and dispensed with their attendance. He was not a bad physician himself in recommending as a peculiarly salutary diet, ducks, geese, pigeons, and hares, though hares, he tells us, are apt to produce dreams. With all his antipathy, there is no ground in ancient authors for the often-repeated statement that he carried a law for the expulsion of physi cians from the city. When Athens sent Carneades, Diogenes, and Critolaus to Rome in order to negotiate a remission of the 500 talents which the Althenians had been awarded to pay by way of compensation to the Oropians, Carneades excited great attention by his philosophical conversation and lectures, in which he preached the pernicious doctrine of an expediency distinct from justice, and illustrated his doctrine by touching on a dangerous and delicate subject--the example of Rome herself. " If Rome were stript of all that she did not justly gain, the Romans might go back to their huts." Cato, offended with these principles, and jealous of the attention paid to this Greek, gave advice which the senate followed--" Let these deputies have an answer, and a polite dismissal as soon as possible." Upon the conquest of Perseus, the leading men of the Achaian union, to the number of nearly 1,000, including the historian Polybius, were brought to Rome, B. C. 167, as hostages for the good behaviour of the Achaians, and, afterwards, without any proof of disaffection, were detained in exile from their country, and distributed among the colonize and municipia of Italy. When their numbers were reduced to about 300, by an exile of 16 years, the intercession of the younger Africanus, the friend of Polybius, prevailed with Cato to vote that they should be permitted to return to their country. The conduct of the old senator--he was now eighty-three---was kinder than his words. He did not interpose until the end of a long debate, and then assented to the proposal on the ground, that it was a matter of perfect indifference. " Have we nothing better to do than to sit here all day long debating whether a parcel of worn-out Greeks shall be carried to their craves here or in Achaia ?" When the exiles further besought the senate that they might be restored to their former status and honours in their own country, Cato intimated that they were fools for going home, and were much better off as they were. He said with a smile, that Polybius was like Ulysses returning to the cave of the Cyclops for his hat and sash. The active powers of Cato had been so much more educated than his affections, that he appears to have been nearly devoid of sympathy with fine and tender feelings, though some allowance may be made for a little assumed ungraciousness of demeanour, in order to keep up his Catonian character. Nowhere in his writings or his speeches do we meet with generous and elevating sentiments. His strong will and powerful passions of anger and ambition were guided by a keen and cold intellect, and a practical, utilitarian, common sense.

Even in the closing years of his protracted life, Cato had no repose. In his 81st year, B. C. 153, he was accused by C. Cassius of some capitale crimen (the nature of which is not recorded), and defended himself in person with unbroken strength, with unfaltering voice, and with unshaken memory. " How hard it is," he said, " for one whose life has been past in a preceding generation, to plead his cause before the men of the present!" (V. Max. 8.7.1; Plut. Cato, 15.)

In the very year before his death, he was one of the chief instigators of the third Punic war. The anxiety of the senate had been excited by the report that a large army, under Ariobarzanes, was assembled on the Carthaginian territory. Cato recommended an instant declaration of war against the Carthaginians, on the ground that their real object in procuring the assistance of the Numidians was hostility to Rome, although their nominal object was the defence of their frontier against the claim of Masinissa to part of their dominions. Scipio Nasica thought that no casus belli had arisen, and it was arranged that an embassy should be sent to Africa to gain information as to the real state of affairs. When the ten deputies, of whom Cato was one, came to the disputed territory, they offered their arbitration, which was accepted by Masinissa, but rejected by the Carthaginians, who had no confidence in Roman justice. The deputies accurately observed the warlike preparations, and the defences of the frontier. They then entered the city, and saw the strength and population it had acquired since its conquest by the elder Africanus. Upon their return home, Cato was the foremost in asserting that Rome would never be safe, as long as Carthage was so powerful, so hostile, and so near. One day he drew a bunch of early ripe figs from beneath his robe, and throwing it upon the floor of the senate-house, said to the assembled fathers, who were astonished at the freshness and fineness of the fruit, " Those figs were gathered but three days ago at Carthage; so close is our enemy to our walls." From that time forth, whenever he was called upon for his vote in the senate, though the subject of debate bore no relation to Carthage, his words were " I vote that Carthage no longer be," or, according to the more accepted version of Florus (2.15) " Delenda est Carthago." Scipio Nasica, on the other hand, thinking that Carthage in its weakened state was rather a useful check than a formidable rival to Rome, always voted to " let Carthage be." (Liv. Epit. xlviii. xlix.; Appian, de Bell. Pun. 69; Plin. Nat. 15.17.) This story must appear strange to those who know not that, during the republic, it was a Roman custom for senators, when called upon for their votes, to express--no matter what the question--any opinion which they deemed of great importance to the welfare of the state. (Tac. Ann. 2.33.)

In the very last year of his life, Cato took a conspicuous part in the righteous but unsuccessful prosecution of S. Sulpicius Galba. This perfidious general, after the surrender of the Lusitanian army, in flagrant breach of faith, put to death some of the soldiers, and sold others as slaves in Gaul, while a few escaped by flight, among whom was Viriathus, the future avenger of his nation. Galba pretended to have discovered that, under cover of the surrender, the Lusitanians had concerted an attack; but he obtained his acquittal chiefly through the compassion excited by the theatrical parade of his young weeping sons and orphan ward. Cato made a powerful speech against Galba, and inserted it in the 7th book of his Origines, a few days or months before his death, B. C. 149, at the age of 85. (Cic. Brutus, 23.)

Cato was twice married; first to Licinia, a lady of small property but noble birth, who bore a son, M. Porcius Cato Licinianus, the jurist, and lived to an advanced age. After her death he secretly cohabited with a female slave; for, though he was a faithful husband, and as a widower was anxious to preserve his reputation, the well-known " sententia dia Catonis" proves that he set but little value upon the virtue of chastity. When his amour was discovered by his son, he determined to marry again, and chose the young daughter of his scribe and client, M. Salonius. The way in which a patron could command his client, and a father dispose of his daughter, is disagreeably exemplified in Plutarch's graphic account of the interview between Cato and Salonius which decided the match. The vigorous old man had completed his eightieth year when Salonia bore him a son, M. Porcius Cato Salonianus, the grandfather of Cato of Utica. To his eldest son he behaved like a good father, and took the whole charge of his education. To his slaves he was a rigid master. His conduct towards them (if not represented in too dark colours by Plutarch) was really detestable. The law held them to be mere chattels, and he treated them as such, without any regard to the rights of humanity. " Lingua mali pars pessima servi ;" so he taught them to be secret and silent. He made them sleep when they had nothing else to do. In order to prevent combination and to govern them the more easily, he intentionally sowed enmities and jealousies between them, and allowed the males to purchase out of their peculium the liberty of sexual intercourse with the females of his household. In their name he bought young slaves, whom they trained, and then sold at a profit for his benefit. After supping with his guests, he often severely chastised them with thong in hand for trifling acts of negligence, and sometimes condemned them to death. When they were worn out and useless, he sold them or turned them out of doors. He treated the lower animals no better. His war-horse which bore him through his campaign in Spain, he sold before he left the country, that the state might not be charged with the expenses of its transport. These excesses of a tyrannous and unfeeling nature shocked no scruples of his own conscience, and met no reprehension from a public opinion which tolerated gladiatorial shows. They were only specimens of the wholesome strictness of the good old Sabine paterfamilias. In youth the austerity of his life was much greater than in age, and perhaps his rigour would have been further relaxed, had he not felt that he had a character to keep up, and had not his frugal simplicity been found to conduce to the acquisition of wealth. As years advanced, he sought gain with increasing eagerness; though, to his honour be it spoken, in the midst of manifold temptations, he never attempted to profit by the misuse of his public functions. He accepted no bribes, he reserved no booty to his own use ; but, no longer satisfied with the returns of agriculture, which varied with the influences of Jupiter, he became a speculator, not only in slaves, but in buildings, artificial waters, and pleasure-grounds. The mercantile spirit was strong within him. He who had been the terror of usurers in Sardinia became a lender of money at nautical interest on the security of commercial ventures, while he endeavoured to guard against the possibility of loss by requiring that the risk should be divided, and that his own agent should have a share in the management.

To those who admitted his superiority he was affable and social. His conversation was lively and witty. He liked to entertain his friends, and to talk over the historical deeds of Roman worthies.

The activity of this many-sided man found leisure for the composition of several literary works. He lived at a time when the Latin language was in a state of transition, and he contributed to enrich it. “Cum lingua Catonis et Enni
Sermonem patrium ditaverit, et nova rerum
Nomina protulerit.

He was contemporary with some of the earliest writers of eminence in the adolescence of classical literature. Naevius died when he was quaestor under Scipio, Plautus when he was censor. Before his own death the more cultivated muse of Terence, who was born in his consulship, had appeared upon the stage.


The work De Re Rustica, which we now possess under the name of Cato, is probably substantially his, though it is certainly not exactly in the form in which it proceeded from his pen. It consists of very miscellaneous materials, relating principally to domestic and rural economy. There we may find rules for libations and sacrifices; medical precepts, including the sympathetic cure and the verbal charm; a receipt for a cake; the form of a contract; the description of a tool; the mode of rearing garden flowers.


The best editions of this work are those which are contained in the collected Scriptores Rei Rusticae of Gesner (Lips. 1773-4) and Schneider. (Lips. 1794-7.)

Cato's instructions to his eldest son, published in the form of letters, treated of various subjects suited to the education of a Roman youth. They were divided into books, which, being quoted by various names, have been counted as separate treatises. The Apophthegmata, for example, may have formed one of the books of the general collection.


Of Cato's instructions to his son a few fragments remain, which may be found in H. Alb. Lion's Catoniana, Gött. 1826, a work of small critical merit.


The fragments of the orations are best given in H. Meyer's Oratorum Romanorum Fragmenta, Turici, 1842.

Juridical Fragments

The few passages in the Digest where Cato is cited are commented upon by Majansius (ad XXX JCtos); but it is probable that the citations in the Digest refer not to the Censor, but to his elder son, who confined himself more exclusively to jurisprudence than his father.


Other juridical fragments of Cato are given by Dirksen in his " Bruchstücke aus den Schriften der Römischen Juristen," p. 44, &c.

Cato, when he was already advanced in life, commenced an historical work entitled " Origines," of which many fragments have been preserved. It was probably published in parts from time to time as the several books were completed. Livy (34.5), in a speech which he puts into the mouth of the tribune Valerius during the consulship of Cato, makes Valerius quote the Origines in reply to their author; but this is generally thought to be an anachronism. The first book contained the history of the Roman kings; the second and third treated of the origin of the Italian towns, and from these two books the whole work derived its title. There was a blank in the history from the expulsion of the kings to the commencement of the first Punic war, which formed the subject of the fourth book. The events of the second Punic war were related in the fifth book, and the sixth and seventh continued the narrative to the year of Cato's death. (Nepos, Cato, 3.) It is said, by Nepos, Gellius, and Pliny (Plin. Nat. 8.5), that he suppressed the names of the generals who carried on the wars which he relates; but the remaining fragments show that he made at least some exceptions to this practice. He is unanimously acknowledged by the ancients to have been an exceedingly industrious and learned antiquary; but Livy, in his early decads, makes no use of the Origines. According to Dionysius (1.74) Cato placed the building of Rome in the 132nd year after the Trojan war, or in the first of the 7th Olympiad, B. C. 751.


The best collection of the remains of the Origines in Krause's Vitae et Fragmenta Vet. Hist. Rom. Berlin, 1833.

Lives of Cato

The life of this extraordinary man was written by Cornelius Nepos, Plutarch, and Aurelius Victor. Many additional particulars of his history are to be collected from Livy, who portrays his character in a splendid and celebrated passage (39.40). Some facts of importance are to be gleaned from Cicero, especially from his Cato Major or de Senectute, and his Brutus. By later writers he was regarded as a model of Roman virtue, and few names occur oftener in the classics than his. Much has been written upon him by the moderns. There are some Latin verses upon Cato in the Juvenilia of Theodore Beza. Majansius (ad XXX JCtos) composed his life with remarkable diligence, collecting and comparing nearly all the ancient authorities, except a few which were discreditable to his hero.

Further information

See also Wetzel's Excursus in his edition of Cic. de Senect. p. 256, &c.; De M. Porcii Catonis Vita Studiis et Scriptis, in Schneider's " Scriptores Rei Rusticae," vol. i. pars ii. init.; Bayle, Dict. s. v. Porcius ; Krause, Vitae et Fragm. &c. pp. 89-97; G. E.Weber, Commentatio de M. Porvii Catonis Censorii Vita et Moribus, Bremae, 1831; and Gerlach, Scipio und Cato, in Schweitzerisches Museum für historische Wissenschaften, 1837; above all, Drumann, Gesch. Roms, v. pp. 97-148.)

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hide References (31 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (31):
    • Tacitus, Annales, 2.33
    • Cicero, On Oratory, 2.64
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 15.17
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 29.8
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 8.5
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 43, 2
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 39, 40
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 39, 42
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 39, 43
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 39, 44
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 34, 43
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 34, 46
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 34, 5
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 35, 9
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 38, 54
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 29, 1.9
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 36, 17
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 36, 21
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 10.3
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 13.24
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 17.21
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 5.6
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 7.3
    • Plutarch, Marcus Cato, 10
    • Plutarch, Marcus Cato, 11
    • Plutarch, Marcus Cato, 12
    • Plutarch, Marcus Cato, 15
    • Plutarch, Marcus Cato, 17
    • Plutarch, Marcus Cato, 3
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 2.2.2
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 8.7.1
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