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Marcus Porcius Cato Licinianus – son-soldier of Cato the Elder

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Battle of Pydna
Battle of Pydna | Graphics: Peter Connolly

Marcus Porcius Cato Licinianus was one of the sons of the famous Cato the Elder known as the Censor, who became famous for his ruthless attitude towards Carthage and an extremely strict approach to life. Licinianus was born in 192 BCE and he an example of a young Roman who came from the upper classes of society. As his father was a distinguished soldier for the Republic, a Roman tradition called for his son to follow in his footsteps.

The father became the main tutor for the 5-7-year-old boy, teaching him to write, read, know history and law. His father taught him the basics of boxing, sword fighting, javelin throwing, archery, horse riding and swimming.

Cato the Elder required his son to become resistant to heat and frost and to be able to endure all adversities. When Cato turned 50 and was already released from military service, he was able to fully focus on the mental and physical development of his offspring. He wanted him to be a brave Roman, adhere to old customs, and faithfully serve his homeland. Due to his numerous military campaigns, he told his son stories from wars and gave advice on fighting in formation or everyday life in the camp.

Interestingly, Cato did not even allow learned slaves to teach his son.

As soon as the boy showed signs of understanding, his father took him under his own charge and taught him to read, although he had an accomplished slave, Chilo by name, who was a schoolteacher, and taught many boys. Still, Cato thought it not right, as he tells us himself, that his son should be scolded by a slave, or have his ears tweaked when he was slow to learn, still less that he should be indebted to his slave for such a priceless thing as education.

Plutarch, Cato the Elder, 20

Cato Licinianus certainly had a much better “start” in the legions thanks to his father, compared to people whose fathers did not serve in the army or came from the poorer social classes. At the age of 19 (173 BCE), young Cato enlisted in the legion in Liguria (northwest Italy), which was quickly disbanded, therefore he decided to join a new detachment and take part in the Third Macedonian War (172-168 BCE) led by consul Lucius Aemilius Paulus. He took part in the victorious battle of Pydna in 168 BCE, in which the Roman legions clashed with the Macedonian phalanx. Cato showed great courage, as Plutarch informs us:

On that occasion his sword either was smitten from his hand or slipped from his moist grasp. Distressed at this mishap, he turned to some of his companions for aid, and supported by them rushed again into the thick of the enemy. After a long and furious struggle, he succeeded in clearing the place, and found the sword at last among the many heaps of arms and dead bodies where friends and foes alike lay piled upon one another. Paulus, his commander, admired the young man’s exploit, and there is still extant a letter written by Cato himself to his son, in which he heaps extravagant praise upon him for this honourable zeal in recovering his sword.

Plutarch, Cato the Elder, 20

As mentioned, for his daring action, Cato “the younger” received praise from the consul, and after the battle, an order to go to the treatment of wounds. Interestingly, on the news of his son’s discharge from the fight, Cato the Elder forbade him from joining the army because, as he believed, he was no longer a soldier after being released from service1. Thus, his military career came to an end, however Cato Licinianus was remembered so well after the war with Macedonia that consul Paulus gave him the hand of his daughter Aemilia Tertia. Certainly, this gesture was partly due to respect for the young man and his father.

After his military service, Cato Licinianus devoted himself to a legal career and even wrote several treatises. In 152 BCE he received the office of praetor, however, he unhappily died earlier. The incident had overwhelmed father, who commissioned a modest burial consistent with his love of modesty.

  1. Plutarch, Cato the Elder, 20.7-8
  • Fred K. Drogula, Cato the Younger: Life and Death at the End of the Roman Republic
  • Ireneusz Łuć, Od fortes milites do muli Mariani – fenomen siły fizycznej żołnierzy wojsk rzymskich w okresie republiki rzymskiej, 2018

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