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3. Q. Lutatius Catulus, Q. F., consul B. C. 102 with C. Marius IV., having been previously defeated in three successive attempts, first by C. Atilius Serranus, who was consul in 106, secondly by Cn. Manlius (or Mallius, or Manilius), who was consul in B. C. 105, and thirdly by C. Flavius Fimbria, who was consul in B. C. 104. He either was not a candidate for the consulship of 103, or if unsuccessful, his disappointment is not alluded to by Cicero in the passage where the rest of his repulses are enumerated. (Pro Planc. 5.) At the time when Catulus entered upon office, the utmost consternation reigned at Rome. The Cimbri, who in their great migration westward had been joined by the Teutoni, the Ambrones, the Tigurini, and various other tribes, after sweeping the upper valley of the Danube and spreading over Southern Gaul and Northern Spain, after defeating four Roman consuls, Carbo (113), Silanus (109), Cassius (107), Manlius (105), together with the proconsul Caepio (105), and destroying five Roman armies, were now preparing to pour down on Italy. The invading host was divided into two vast columns. The Teutoni were marching through Provence with the intention of turning the Alps at Nice, and following the coast road along the shores of the Ligurian gulf, while the Cimbri were preparing to cross the passes from the Tyrol which lead down by Botzen and Trent to the plains of the Po. It was determined that Marius should oppose the Teutoni, and that Catulus with Sulla for his lieutenant should be ready to attack the Cimbri while their cumbrous array was entangled in the mountain defiles. How well the former executed his task by the great battle fought on the Rhone near Aix (Aquae Sextiae) is detailed elsewhere. [MARIUS.] Meanwhile the campaign of his colleague had been less glorious. Catulus, fearing to weaken his force by attempting to guard the passes, took up a position on the Adige (Athesis) where it begins to emerge from the rocky gorges which confine its waters near their source, and having thrown a bridge across the stream and erected forts on both sides, resolved there to await an attack. The Cimbri, pouring down from the higher ground along the left bank, attacked the Roman works with such fury, that the soldiers, dispirited probably by the timid defensive tactics of their general, were seized with a panic, abandoned their camp, and fled in confusion. Had it not been for the gallantry of the detachment who defended a redoubt which served as a téte du pont, the bridge would have at once been won, and the whole Roman army might have been destroyed. Catulus on this occasion, according to the construction which Plutarch thinks fit to put upon his conduct, like an able and excellent general, preferred the glory of his fellow-citizens to his own. For when he found himself unable to prevail upon his men to keep their ground, choosing that the dishonour should fall upon his own head, he ordered a retreat, and placing himself in front of the fugitives, fell back behind the Po, thus abandoning the whole of Transpadane Gaul to the ravages of the enemy. As soon as the news of this disaster, which happened in the spring of 101, reached Rome, Marius, who had recently returned to the city, instantly set forth to the assistance of his late colleague. The united armies of the consul and proconsul crossed the Po, and hastened in search of the Cimbri, whom they found to the westward of Milan, near Vercelli (Vercellae), searching, it would appear, for the Teutoni, of whose destruction they had not yet received intelligence. The account of the engagement, which was fought on the 30th of July, transmitted to us by Plutarch, savours not a little of the marvellous. The Roman forces amounted to about fifty thousand men, of whom twenty thousand under Catulus occupied the centre, while the remainder, commanded by Marius, were posted on the wings. When the battle was joined, a prodigious dust arose which hid the combatants from each other. Marius missed the enemy, and having passed beyond, wandered about seeking them in vain, while the chief brunt of the conflict fell upon Catulus, and to him therefore belonged the honour of the decisive victory which was gained. It must be remarked that this version of the story is confessedly derived from the commentaries of Sulla, and probably also from the historical work of Catulus himself, and since both of these authorities were not only inclined to make the most of their own exploits, but were also stimulated by violent hatred towards Marius, we cannot receive their testimony with any confidence. It is certain that great jealousy existed between the two armies; it is certain also that at Rome the whole merit of having saved his country was given to Marius, and, that the same feeling existed to a certain degree nearly two centuries afterwards is proved by the well-known line of Juvenal (8.253), “Nobilis ornatur lauro collega secunda.

Catulus was one of those who took an active share in the death of Saturninus; he served with distinction in the Social war, and having eagerly espoused the cause of Sulla in the civil strife which followed, his name was included among the list of victims in the great proscription of 87. As escape was impossible, he shut himself up in a newly-plastered chamber, kindled a (charcoal) fire, and was quickly suffocated by the vapours.

Catulus was a highly educated and generally accomplished man, deeply versed in Greek literature, and especially famed for the extreme grace and purity with which he spoke and wrote his own language. (Cic. de Orat. 3.8, Brut. 35.) He was the author of several orations, of an historical work on his own Consulship and the Cimbric war, composed in the style of Xenophon, and of poems ; but the whole of these have perished with the exception of a couple of epigrams, not remarkable for any peculiar ease or felicity of expression, one of which is given by Cicero (de Nat. Deor. 1.28), and the other by A. Gellius (19.9).

Two edifices in Rome are spoken of by ancient writers as " Monumenta Catuli"--the temple of " Fortune hujusce diei," vowed at the battle of Vercelli, and the " Porticus Catuli" on the Palatine, built with the proceeds of the Cimbric spoils. A portion of the latter edifice was destroyed by Clodius when he razed the house of Cicero. (The passages of Cicero referring to Catulus are given in Orelli, Onom. Tull. ii. p. 366, &c.; Plut. Mar. Sull. ; Appian, App. BC 1.74; Vell. 2.21; Flor. 3.21; V. Max. 6.3, 9.12; Plin. Nat. 34.19. Catulus is introduced in the De Oratore, and is represented as accompanying his half-brother, C. Julius Caesar Strabo, to the Tusculanum of Crassus. The mother of Catulus was Popillia, whose second husband was L. Julius Caesar, father of the above-named Caesar.) [Comp. CAESAR, Nos. 8, 10.]

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  • Cross-references from this page (6):
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 1.8.74
    • Cicero, On Oratory, 3.8
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 34.19
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 19.9
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 6.3
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 9.12
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