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Catilinarian conspiracy

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

In the years 67–62 BCE, when the Pompey gained great fame by conquering and looting in the East, Marcus Crassus took advantage of his absence in Rome by manipulating the clientele and using all means to gain primacy in political life.

He thought he could achieve his goal in the absence of a rival, an opponent whom he was very jealous of, especially when he was successful in the East.

First Conspiracy of Catiline

At the end of 66 BCE, Crassus secretly endorsed the conspiracy, which aimed to remove mid-term consuls in 65 BCE, seeing this as a possibility of some benefits. In the mess that arose then, he assumed full dictatorial power. The driver of the plot was Lucius Sergius Catiline, a member of an impoverished old patrician family who had enriched himself on the Sullian massacres and blackmail in the province of Africa. The plot for their happiness did not have major consequences, and this is because few information was coming out. And although the Senate supported the investigation, Crassus was able to discontinue it through his influence.

Second Conspiracy of Catiline

In 64 BCE, Catiline presented his candidacy for the consulate of 63 BCE, with the support of Crassus. To ensure a favorable reception, he created a reform program focused on radical debt reduction. Those interested were mainly nobly born lossees, fallen equites and people with big financial problems. The Senate, concerned about the radical reform plan and the first triumvirate between Caesar and Crassus in 65 BCE, opposed Catylin’s candidacy to Cicero . He was so-called homo novus, meaning a “new man” who interrupted the repeated and continuous holding of the consul’s office from 94 BCE by noblemen (he was from the equites).
Thanks to his oratory skills, eloquence and appropriate support, he obtained a political mandate and took the office of consul. This did not mean, however, that Cicero had an easy life. Caesar and Crassus regularly obstructed his political activities, proposing many liberal reforms.

However, Catiline did not give up his chance to take office. Supported, as usual, by Caesar and Crassus in hiding, he again put forward his candidacy for the consulate, this time for 62 BCE. Again, he based his campaign on total debt relief, seeking support among the poor, artisans and particularly vulnerable layers. People lacked water and bread, and there was no room for baking in the apartments. Again, however, Catiline suffered a defeat with Cicero, who explained that the implementation of this social reform would violate traditional property relations. Once again, Cicero proved his genius and oratory skills and dragged the assembly to his side.

Engraving showing Catiline before Cicero.

Defeated Catiline, who appeared in the streets with the entourage of veterans Sulla and peasants ruined by veterans and now united by misery, again put forward a plan to overthrow legal power, which assumed the killing of officials consuls, among them Cicero. In Etruria, Catiline had many supporters who grouped their forces at Fiesole, heading for the march on Rome. He learned about a coup d’état that was being prepared from one of the conspirators. Despite the lack of evidence, Cicero did not hesitate in the presence of the entire senate to attack Catiline with the first of his famous speeches.

How far will you (continue to) abuse our patience, Catiline? For how much longer will that rage of yours make a mockery of us? To what point will your unbridled audacity show itself? Did the nocturnal garrison on the Palatine, the watch patrols of the city, the fear of the people, the assemblies of all the good men, this most fortified place of holding the senate, the faces and expressions of all these people [the senators] not move you at all? Do you not realise that your plans lie revealed? Do you not see that your plot is already held in check by the knowledge of all these people? Do you think that any of us do not know what you did last night, what you did the night before, where you were, who you summoned, and what plans you made? O what times (we live in)! O what customs (we pursue)!

Cicero, In Catilinam, I, 1-2

In this situation, Catiline left Rome and went to Etruria to gather troops. At the same time, five conspirators were strangled in Rome based on written evidence. The Senate sent consular army to Etruria after Catiline. Openly called a rebel and traitor, he sought help among the Gaul Allobrogs, who were dissatisfied with the abuses committed by the governor of Narboa of Fontaius Gaul. Eventually, Catiline himself stifled their rebellion. The skirmish between the consular army and supporters of Catiline occurred around Pistoria, where the rebellion was suppressed, and Catiline himself died valiantly on the battlefield.

Cicero after the victorious battle was greeted as the savior of the homeland. The danger was obviously considerable, as Salustius testifies, the conspiracy historian (although he did not have great sympathy for Cicero). The very conspiracy of Catiline was the beginning of the future civil war, especially since Caesar himself, the future liquidator of the republic, had his fingers in the plot.

  • Beard Mary, SPQR. Historia starożytnego Rzymu, Poznań 2016
  • Krawczuk Aleksander, Gajusz Juliusz Cezar, Warszawa 1972
  • Sallustius, De coniuratione Catilinae
  • Wolski Józef, Historia Powszechna – Starożytność, Warszawa 2007
  • Ziółkowski Adam, Historia Rzymu, Poznań 2008

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