IN CATILINAM ORATIONES.
The four speeches against Catilina
were delivered during the latter part of the year b.c. 63, when
Cicero was Consul.
L. Sergius Catilina, the author of
the conspiracy against which they were directed, was descended from
one of the oldest patrician families of Rome, though for many years
no one of his house had held any public office. He was a man of
ambitious and energetic disposition, distinguished among his
contemporaries for great powers both of mind and body, which
him to exercise a remarkable degree of influence over others. At
the same time he was notorious for the dissoluteness and
of his life, which were excessive even in an age when such
characteristics were common; he was, moreover, suspected of grave
crimes, such as the murder of his wife and son. But as these
rest to a great extent upon the authority of his opponent Cicero,
is possible that they have been exaggerated.
He was born probably about b.c. 108,
though the exact date is unknown. His first appearance in public
was during the dictatorship of Sulla (b.c. 82-79). When the latter
issued his proscription list, Catilina was among those who took an
active part in carrying out the work of bloodshed and confiscation.
This, however, was from personal motives, and not from any sympathy
with the Senatorial party which had triumphed under Sulla; for he
subsequently attached himself entirely to the popular side.
In b.c. 68 he filled the office of
Praetor in Rome; the following year he governed the province of
Africa as Propraetor. Immediately on his return home he became a
candidate for the Consulship for the year 65. He was obliged,
however, to withdraw, as an indictment for extortion in his
was brought against him, and Roman law did not allow a citizen
against whom a legal suit was pending to be a candidate for any
magistracy. It so happened that the Consuls elect for 65, Autronius
Paetus and Cornelius Sulla, were convicted of bribery. Their
consequently became void, and L. Aurelius Cotta and L. Manlius
Torquatus were declared Consuls in their stead. Enraged at his
disappointment, Autronius entered into communication with Catilina,
and the two, in conjunction with Cn. Piso and others, formed a
sometimes known as the 'First Catilinarian conspiracy.' The
was, it is said, to murder Cotta and Torquatus on the day of their
entering upon office (January 1, 65). Catilina and Autronius were
then to proclaim themselves Consuls, while they were to be
by an army which Piso was to raise on their behalf in Spain. The
execution of this plot was postponed, however, until February 5,
it failed, as we are told, through Catilina's impatience in giving
the signal too soon, before the armed bands on which he relied had
collected in sufficient number. It is to this conspiracy that
alludes in Cat. 1. §15. It was asserted that both Caesar and
were concerned in it, but the facts are surrounded by a great deal
mystery. Whatever the design was, it came to nothing, and the
did not take steps against anyone in consequence.
During this year (65) Catilina was
acquitted on the charge of extortion. The trial had, however, been
postponed long enough to prevent him from standing for the
for the year 64.
He was obliged, therefore, to
postpone his candidature till the next year, when he had among his
competitors M. Tullius Cicero and C. Antonius Hybrida, of whom the
latter was believed to be partly in sympathy with him. He was known
to entertain revolutionary designs of the most sweeping character,
which he hoped as Consul to carry out. Prominent among these was a
declaration of novae tabulae, or general cancelling of debts,
a wholesale confiscation of property. Many of the Roman aristocracy
were hopelessly in debt, and he thus collected round him a numerous
body of adherents, partly composed of those to whom his designs
seemed to promise relief from their embarrassments, partly also of
wild and turbulent spirits to whom any prospect of revolution was
welcome. Alarmed at these schemes, the Optimates threw their
influence upon the side of Cicero, overcoming their natural
of a novus homo, that is, one whose ancestors had never held any
curule office. He was also strongly supported by the Equites,
as the wealthiest class in Rome, were naturally most opposed to any
general attack upon property. Accordingly, he was elected by a
majority. Antonius was returned as his colleague by a small
Defeated in his immediate object,
Catilina began to entertain the idea of carrying out his designs by
force. The time was eminently favourable for an armed insurrection
against the government. Seventeen years before, Sulla had rewarded
the soldiers of his victorious army by establishing them in
in various parts of Italy, and assigning them allotments of land.
Unsuited for an agricultural life, these men had for the most part
mismanaged their farms and exhausted their resources. Accordingly
they were restless and discontented, and desired nothing so much as
return of the civil wars, with fresh chances of plunder. From among
these and other discontented spirits, Catilina began secretly to
recruit and organize an army, selecting as his leader one Manlius,
who had served with distinction under Sulla as centurion. At the
time he opened secret negotiations with the schools of gladiators
different parts of Italy. Thus prepared, he again stood for the
Consulship for the year 62; his intention being to bring about a
general rising if he should be once more defeated.
The situation of the government was
dangerous in the extreme, for there was no regular army in Italy,
the only general of distinction, Cn. Pompeius, was absent in the
East, where after bringing the third Mithridatic war to a close
he was occupied in settling the affairs of Syria, and could not be
expected to return for some time.
Cicero, however, was kept accurately
informed of the progress of the conspiracy. One of its members, Q.
Curius, had talked of the plot to his mistress Fulvia. She had not
kept the secret; and Cicero, employing her as his agent, had
Curius by large promises to reveal to him all the details. The
consular elections were this year postponed somewhat beyond their
usual time. On the day before they should have been held, Cicero
induced the Senate to resolve that they should on the next day,
instead of holding the election, take into consideration the state
public affairs. He thereupon revealed to them what he knew of the
conspiracy, and invited Catilina to clear himself of the charges
against him. The latter replied in threatening language; but,
notwithstanding his violence, the Senate took no decisive
resolution. Shortly afterwards the elections were held; Cicero
appearing with a cuirass under his toga, and surrounded by a guard
his friends, to testify to the designs upon his life. Catilina
again defeated, and D. Junius Silanus and L. Licinius Murena
as Consuls for 62.
Thus once more foiled, Catilina
resolved to proceed to active measures. Alarmed at the news that an
army was actually collecting in Etruria, and roused by further
disclosures from Cicero, the Senate, on October 21, passed what
was known as the 'Ultimum Decretum;' 'videant consules ne quid
detrimenti respublica capiat.' This, the usual formula in cases of
emergency, declared the State to be in danger, and called on the
Consuls as the executive magistrates to take measures for its
Whether it actually conferred any additional powers upon them, is
certain. At the same time they placed the gladiatorial schools
under strict surveillance, established patrols in the city, and
offered large rewards for information. The praetors, Q. Pompeius
Rufus and Q. Metellus Celer, were sent to Capua and Picenum
respectively to raise what troops they could. Cicero had already
detached his colleague Antonius from the conspiracy, and induced
to support the cause of order, by ceding to him the lucrative
province of Macedonia.
On October 27 Manlius set up his
standard at Faesulae in Etruria. Catilina proposed to go thither
himself shortly; he was anxious however to conceal his designs as
long as possible, and having been indicted for inciting to riot (de
vi) by L. Paullus, he had offered to place himself in free
custody under the charge of some citizen of reputation in order
to disarm suspicion.
On the night of November 6, he
assembled his partisans in the house of M. Porcius Laeca. There he
disclosed his plans, and declared it to be essential to success
Cicero should be removed before his own departure. Two of his
adherents, C. Cornelius and L. Vargunteius, undertook the duty of
visiting Cicero's house in the early morning, under pretence of
giving the customary salutation, and there murdering him.
The attempt was actually made,
though probably not until the morning of November 8. But
who was informed of the plot through the agency previously
refused his visitors admittance. He immediately summoned the Senate
to meet, for the sake of safety, in the temple of Jupiter Stator on
the Palatine. The equites thronged the hill in large numbers, to
secure the safety of the Consul, and to protest against the designs
of the conspirators. Catilina did not scruple to attend, whereupon
Cicero rose, and delivered the speech known as the First
Oration. He revealed to the Senate all the particulars of the plot,
including the attempt upon his own life, denounced Catilina as a
public enemy, and called upon him to leave the city. His adversary
attempted a few words of exculpation, but the feeling roused by the
Consul's address was too strong, and finding himself assailed on
sides by reproaches, he left the Senate abruptly, declaring that
enemies were driving him to ruin, but that if he was to fall he
involve others in his overthrow. The same evening he left the city
for Etruria, travelling by the Via Aurelia, which was the coast
in order to create the impression that he was going into exile at
Massilia. He left in the city a large number of adherents, the
of whom was Cornelius Lentulus Sura, with directions to prosecute
plans previously agreed upon. Cicero on the following day assembled
the people in the Forum, and in the Second Catilinarian Oration
recounted to them what had taken place in the Senate, explaining
justifying his own action.
In a few days the news arrived that
Catilina had joined the camp of Manlius at Faesulae. Upon this the
Senate declared them both public enemies. At the same time they
issued a proclamation promising immunity to those of their
who should lay down their arms before a fixed date. Meanwhile the
Consul Antonius was directed to take such military measures as
be necessary against the insurgents, Cicero being retained for the
protection of the city.
The proclamation did not have any
effect in reducing the number of Catilina's forces, nor did the
rewards previously offered lead to any disclosures. Cicero had
that the effect of his speeches would be to drive all the
conspirators into open rebellion, as they would thus be more easily
dealt with. In this he was disappointed, for though the chief had
left the city, his agents had remained in Rome, and Cicero could
venture to proceed against them without direct evidence. It was not
long, however, before their carelessness put into his hands the
proofs he desired.
The Allobroges, a tribe of
Transalpine Gaul, had sent delegates to petition the Senate for
relief from certain exactions to which they were subjected. Knowing
that these men, from their desperate condition, were likely to
a revolution, Lentulus opened negotiations with them, with a view
securing the aid of their countrymen for the conspirators. They
counsel however of their 'patronus' Q. Fabius Sanga, and by his
advice revealed the whole affair to Cicero. Acting under his
directions they pretended to enter heartily into the schemes of
Lentulus, and obtained from him letters written and sealed by
and his friends, addressed to their nation, stating and confirming
oath the rewards they were to receive for their assistance. A
was also given them for Catilina, whose camp they were to visit on
their way home. With these letters they set out from Rome on the
night of December 2, accompanied by T. Volturcius, the agent of
Lentulus. Cicero, as previously agreed upon, posted two Praetors
an armed force at the Mulvian Bridge, on the Via Flaminia, a few
miles to the north of Rome. They there arrested the whole party,
carried them, with the compromising papers, to the Consul. He at
summoned the chief conspirators to his presence. One, Caeparius,
his escape, though he was eventually recaptured; but Lentulus,
Cethegus, Statilius, and Gabinius came unsuspectingly, and were at
once conveyed by Cicero to the presence of the Senate, which he had
convoked at the Temple of Concord. There Volturcius, under promise
impunity, made a full disclosure, and the conspirators were further
confronted with the evidence of the Allobroges, and their own
letters, the authenticity of which they were compelled to
acknowledge. Lentulus, who was Praetor at the time, was obliged to
abdicate his office, and he and his companions were placed in free
custody under the charge of several prominent citizens. Rewards
voted to the informers, and a 'supplicatio' or thanksgiving for the
averted danger decreed in honour of Cicero, who after leaving the
Senate addressed to the people assembled in the Forum the Third
Catilinarian Oration, giving a full account of what had just taken
Two days later (December 5) the
Senate was once more convened, and Cicero as Consul put to them the
formal question, 'what was their advice with respect to the
conspirators actually in custody?'
The Consul elect, D. Silanus, who
was first asked for his vote, proposed that they should be put to
death. The other consulars supported him. When it came to the turn
Caesar, who was praetor elect, he proposed as an alternative that
their property should be confiscated, and that they should be
imprisoned for life in some of the provincial towns of Italy. These
two proposals were before the Senate when Cicero intervened with
Fourth Catilinarian Oration. It does not pronounce a formal
sententia, for the Consul, as president, would not himself vote,
places the alternative proposals before the house for their
consideration; indicating, however, a preference for that of
But Caesar's speech had made a great impression, and Silanus
announced that he would agree to a motion for a postponement of the
decision, which had been suggested as a compromise. The matter was
eventually decided by a speech of M. Cato, who was tribune elect.
attacked the conspirators with great vigour, and proposed that they
should be summarily put to death more maiorum. His words produced
such an effect that his proposal was carried forthwith. Lentulus,
Cethegus, Statilius, Gabinius and Caeparius were at once conducted
the Tullianum, the prison underneath the slopes of the Capitol, and
This summary proceeding effectually
checked the plans of Catilina. From this moment he received no
reinforcements, and his original adherents began to leave him. The
retreat of his army into Gaul was blocked by the Praetor Metellus
Celer, while M. Petreius, acting as the legate of Antonius,
against him from the south. Early in the following year (62) the
opposing forces met at Pistoria in Etruria, where Catilina and his
followers, after fighting with desperate courage, were defeated and
slain to a man.
 See 3. §§16, 17 and Cic. pro
Caelio, ch. 5.
 The Consuls were elected by the
Comitia Centuriata, generally in July. They entered on their office
on the succeeding first of January. Thus the Consuls for 65 would
elected in July 66; during the interval they were called 'Consules
 See note on 2. §18.
 See note on bonorum, 1. §1.
 The 'equites' were all those
citizens, not senators, who had property to the amount of 400,000
sesterces (£3,200). They were so called from the fact that in
earlier times, all who had sufficient property were obliged to
in the citizen cavalry, but they had long ceased to have any
connection with the army. They were now the mercantile class in
having most of the trading operations in their hands, and forming a
body intermediate between the aristocracy and the populace.
 See Cic. pro Murena, chs. 25,
26. This is often identified with the meeting in the Senate on Oct.
21; but Cicero, after describing his speech and Catilina's answer
this occasion, says expressly 'neque tamen (senatus) satis severe
rei indignitate decrevit' which he could not have said had they
passed the 'ultimum decretum' (see page 11).
 1. §11.
 1. §7.
 On this question see below Note
 See on 4. §23.
 See on 1. §19.
 There is some uncertainty about
the dates here. Cicero (pro Sulla §52) says the meeting in Laeca's
house took place nocte ea quae consecuta est posterum diem Nonarum
Novembrium; this (if genuine) fixes it to the night of Nov. 6. At
this meeting his assassination was resolved upon. We should
suppose that the attempt was made on the morning of Nov. 7; and
agrees with Sallust Cat. 28 and Cic. in Cat. 1. §9 (illa ipsa
nocte). But elsewhere (see esp. 1. §1, 1. §8, 2. §13) Cicero seems
to distinguish between what had happened on the 'night before last'
(superiore or priore nocte), i.e. the meeting in Laeca's house; and
'last night' (proxima nocte), i.e. the attempt on his own life.
it seems better to assume that there was an interval of a day
the meeting and the attempted murder.
 On the whole question as to the
jurisdiction of the Senate and the legality of the execution, see
below Note B.
The above sketch follows in the main
the traditional account of the Catilinarian conspiracy, which has
been generally accepted by later historians. It is fair to add that
some writers have adopted a different view, which may be thus
stated. They believe that historians have been mistaken in
Catilina as the leader of a mere band of desperadoes; that his
so-called 'conspiracy' was really an act of revolt against the
authority of the Senate on the part of the whole democratic party,
which he was the recognized leader (a similar movement, in fact, to
those which had been organized by Gaius Gracchus in 123 b.c., by
Saturninus in 100 b.c., by M. Lepidus in 78 b.c., and others); that
he was driven to use force by the opposition of the Optimates to
schemes, and that Cicero, as the spokesman of the latter, purposely
misrepresented him as the leader of an anarchist conspiracy, whose
sole object was confiscation and plunder.
The received account is derived
almost entirely from two sources; the speeches and writings of
Cicero; and the 'History of the Catilinarian Conspiracy' by
written probably about 44 b.c. The former is undoubtedly a
witness, and statements resting on his authority alone must be
received with caution. Sallust, however, was a partisan of Caesar,
and a member of the democratic party. He had consequently no motive
to represent the character of Catilina as worse than it really was,
especially as his patron Caesar was commonly supposed to have been
implicated in the first conspiracy (66 b.c.), if not the second
also. He certainly hints that the worst charges against Catilina,
which he repeats, rested on very doubtful authority; but as to the
main features of the conspiracy, he confirms Cicero on every point;
and this is a strong argument in favour of the received account.
question is too large to be fully discussed within the limits of
book; those who wish to see the contrary view maintained with great
spirit and ability should read the very interesting article in
'Catiline, Clodius and Tiberius,' by Professor E. S. Beesly.
 See page 8.
 See also the criticism on this
in the Introduction to Capes' Sallust, pp. 24-27.
On the Legality of the Execution.
On account of his action in this
matter, Cicero was afterwards attacked by Clodius, who, as tribune
58 b.c., carried a law enacting that 'any one who had put Roman
citizens to death without trial should be forbidden fire and
As Clodius was supported by Caesar and Pompeius, Cicero did not
any resistance, but retired temporarily into exile.
Had his action been really illegal
or not? The Valerian, Porcian, and Sempronian laws certainly
that no citizen should be put to death except by vote of the
after a formal trial before them. Cicero justifies his apparent
violation of these laws on two grounds—
(1) That the conspirators, having
become hostes by their own act, and having been recognised as such
resolution of the Senate, had ipso facto forfeited the rights of
citizens (1. §28; 4. §10).
As regards this, we may remark that,
though the conduct of the conspirators might justify the adoption
active measures against them, it could not legally be held to
them, when arrested, of the benefit of trial. For the question,
whether they had acted as hostes or not, would be exactly the point
which the law-court would have to decide. The argument is, in fact,
from the legal point of view, a petitio principii.
(2) That the 'ultimum decretum' of
the Senate (see Introduction, page 11) invested the Consul with
dictatorial powers, including the right of summary execution. (1.
habemus senatus consultum, etc.)
In support of this he recalls the
fact that C. Gracchus (121) and Saturninus (100) had been killed by
the Consuls Opimius and Marius respectively, acting under a similar
decree. It is certain that a party in the Senate claimed the right
thus arming the Consul with exceptional powers in cases of
and Sallust (Cat. 29) distinctly says that they possessed it. On
other hand, the right had never been admitted by the popular
who had, as a protest, brought Opimius to trial for the murder of
Gracchus, though they had not secured a conviction. They had,
moreover, during this year (63) accused of murder one C. Rabirius,
who had been concerned in the death of Saturninus thirty-seven
before. The trial was avowedly instituted for the purpose of
contesting the right of the Senate to invest the Consul with
dictatorial powers. Cicero, who defended Rabirius, claimed that the
'ultimum decretum' acquitted his client of all liability. But it
seems probable that he would have been condemned, had not his
supporters found means to prevent the trial from coming to a
It is on this point that the
question of legality or illegality really turns, and as the Romans
were not themselves agreed upon it, we can scarcely pronounce a
decision. If the Consul did possess dictatorial powers in virtue of
the 'ultimum decretum,' then the execution was legal; if (as seems,
perhaps, the more reasonable view) he did not, then it was illegal.
In any case, it is clear that the Senate, as such, could not order
the execution of any citizen. They could only arm the Consul, and
though he was at liberty to consult them on this, as on any matter
importance, the responsibility of the particular measures taken
rested with him alone.
Unconstitutional actions may,
however, sometimes be justified on the ground of the necessities of
the case; and Cicero might fairly plead that the executions had
proved efficacious in checking the spread of the conspiracy, (a
result which the measures previously taken had entirely failed to
secure,) and that it was very doubtful whether, if the prisoners
been kept for trial, a general rising could have been avoided.
The position of Caesar is somewhat
hard to understand. As a popular leader, he must have held the view
that neither the Consul nor the Senate had the right of dealing
summarily with the accused; yet by proposing the alternative
punishment of imprisonment he seems to admit their jurisdiction.
Possibly he took this course as the best means of saving their
for the moment, but if so it is not clear why he should have added
the provision that their property should be confiscated.
The first and fourth speeches are
orationes pro senatu habitae, the second and third are contiones ad