Marcus Porcius Cato

Marcus Porcius Cato books and biography


Cato the Younger



A statue of Cato the Younger. The Louvre Museum. He is about to kill himself while reading the Phaedo, a dialogue of Plato which details the death of Socrates. It was started by Jean-Baptiste Roman (Paris, 1792 - 1835) using white Carrara marble. It was finished by François Rude (Dijon, 1784 - Paris, 1855).

 Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis (95 BC–46 BC), known as Cato the Younger to distinguish him from his great-grandfather Cato the Elder, was a politician and statesman in the late Roman Republic, and a follower of the Stoic philosophy. He is remembered for his legendary stubbornness and tenacity (especially in his lengthy conflict with Gaius Julius Caesar), as well as his immunity to bribes, moral integrity, and famous distaste for corruption




Early life

Cato was born in 95 BC in Rome, the son of Marcus Porcius Cato by his wife Livia Drusa. He lost both of his parents very early and moved to live in the house of his maternal uncle Marcus Livius Drusus, who also looked after Quintus Servilius Caepio and Servilia from Livia's first marriage, as well as Porcia (Cato's sister), and Marcus Livius Drusus Claudianus (Livius' adopted son). Drusus was assassinated when Cato was 4 years old.

The legend of Cato's stubbornness began in his early years. Sarpedon, his tutor, reports a very obedient and questioning child, although slow in being persuaded of things and sometimes difficult. A story told by Plutarch tells of Quintus Popaedius Silo, leader of the Marsi and involved in a highly controversial business in the Roman Forum, who made a visit to his friend Marcus Livius and met the children of the house. In a playful mood he asked the children's support for his cause. All of them nodded and smiled except Cato, who stared at the guest with most suspicious looks. Silo demanded an answer from him and seeing no response took Cato and hanged him by the feet out of the window. Even then, Cato would not say anything. Lucius Cornelius Sulla, a friend of the family and the Roman dictator, liked to talk with Cato and his inseparable half-brother Caepio, and appreciated his company even when the teenager defied his opinions in public.

Political beginnings

After receiving his inheritance, Cato moved from his uncle's house and began to study Stoic philosophy and politics. He began to live in a very modest way, as his great-grandfather Marcus Porcius Cato the Elder had famously done. Cato subjected himself to violent exercise, and learned to endure cold and rain with a minimum of clothes. He ate only what was necessary and drank the cheapest wine on the market. This was entirely for philosophical reasons, since his inheritance would have permitted him to live comfortably. He remained in private life for a long time, rarely seen in public. But when he did appear in the forum, his speeches and rhetorical skills were most admired.

Although Cato was promised Aemilia Lepida, a patrician woman, she married Quintus Caecilius Metellus Scipio instead. He threatened to sue them both in the courts, but his friends convinced him to step aside and marry a woman called Atilia. By her, he had a son, Marcus Porcius Cato, and a daughter, Porcia, who would become the second wife of Marcus Junius Brutus.

As a military tribune, Cato was sent to Macedon in 67 BC at the age of 28 and given command of a legion. He led his men from the front, sharing their work, food and sleeping quarters. He was strict in discipline and punishment but was nonetheless loved by his legionaries. While Cato was in service in Macedon, he received the news that his beloved half-brother was dying in Thrace. He immediately set off to see him but was unable to see his brother before he died. Cato was overwhelmed by grief and, for once in his life, he spared no expense to organize a lavish funeral for his brother. Caepio left his fortune to be divided between his daughter Servilia and Cato.

At the end of his military commission in Macedon, Cato went on a private journey through the Roman provinces of the Middle East.

Cato and the Optimates

On his return to Rome in 65 BC, Cato was elected to the position of quaestor. Like everything else in his life, he took great care to study the background necessary for the post, especially the laws relating to taxes. One of his first moves was to prosecute former quaestors for illegal appropriation of funds and dishonesty. Cato also prosecuted Sulla's informers, who had acted as head-hunters during Sulla's dictatorship, despite their political connections among Cato's own party and despite the power of Gnaeus Pompey Magnus, who had been known as the "teenage butcher" for his service under Sulla. The informers of Sulla were accused first of illegal appropriation of treasury money, and then of homicide. At the end of the year, Cato stepped down from his quaestorship but never ceased to keep an eye on the Treasury, always looking for irregularities.

As senator, Cato was scrupulous and determined. He never missed a session of the Senate and publicly criticized the ones who did so. From day one he aligned himself with the Optimates, the conservative faction of the Senate. Among the optimates, Cato was a young turk. Many of the optimates at this time had been personal friends of Sulla, whom Cato had despised since his youth, and Cato attempted to make his name by returning his faction to its pure republican roots.

Propaganda cup of Cato, for his election campaign for Tribune of the Plebs of 62 BC (left cup). These cups, filled with food or drinks, were distributed in the streets to the people, and bore an inscription supporting the candidate to the election.
Propaganda cup of Cato, for his election campaign for Tribune of the Plebs of 62 BC (left cup). These cups, filled with food or drinks, were distributed in the streets to the people, and bore an inscription supporting the candidate to the election.

In 63 BC, he was elected tribune of the plebs and assisted the consul, Marcus Tullius Cicero, in dealing with the Catiline conspiracy. Lucius Sergius Catilina, a noble patrician, was leading a rebellion inside Rome, with the purpose of becoming king. Cicero and Cato annihilated the danger and prosecuted all the men involved and sentenced them to death (a very unusual thing for a Roman citizen). In the public discussion on the subject, Julius Caesar agreed that the conspirators were guilty, argued against a public trial for them, yet advocated a sentence of life exile for the conspirators while their comrades were still in arms.

Cato's political, and personal, differences with Caesar date from this day. In a meeting of the Senate dedicated to the Catilina affair, Cato harshly reproached Caesar for reading personal messages while the senate was in session to discuss a matter of treason. Cato accused Caesar of involvement in the conspiracy and suggested that he was working on Catilina's behalf, which might explain Caesar's otherwise odd stance that the conspirators should receive no public hearing yet be shown clemency. Caesar replied that it was only a love letter. Not believing the poor excuse, Cato took the paper from his hands and read it. Unfortunately, Caesar was right: it was indeed a love letter from his mistress Servilia, Cato's sister. This quickly turned into a minor personal scandal. Servilia was divorced from her husband and the Roman senators started to look out for their households, since Caesar was as notorious for liking to sleep with his political enemies' wives as he was notorious for purportedly sleeping with the king of Bithynia. Some believe that Cato's wife Atilia was one of Caesar's conquests, but the matter is speculative at best.

After divorcing Atilia, Cato married Marcia, the daughter of Lucius Marcius Philippus. A few years later, however, his friend Quintus Hortensius, an old man known for his rhetorical skills, asked for the hand of Cato's daughter from his previous marriage. But at the time, Porcia was married to Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus, who was unwilling to let her go. Instead Cato took the surprising step of divorcing Marcia and giving her to Hortensius. After Hortensius' death, Cato married Marcia for the second time, taking possession of part of Hortensius' inheritance.

Cato against the triumvirate

After the Catilina conspiracy, Cato turned all his political skills to oppose the designs of Caesar and his triumvirate allies (Pompey and Marcus Licinius Crassus), who had among them a near-monopoly on the reins of the Roman state. From Caesar, Pompey and Crassus had access to the popular assembly. From Pompey, Crassus and Caesar had access to the legions of Rome. From Crassus, Caesar and Pompey had the support of the tax-farmers and a fortune gained at the expense of the provinces.

Cato's opposition took two forms. First, in 61 BC, Pompey returned from his Asian campaign with two ambitions: to celebrate a Triumph, and become consul for the second time. In order to achieve both goals, he asked the Senate to postpone consular elections until after his Triumph. At first, due to Pompey's enormous popularity, the Senate was willing to oblige him. Then Cato intervened and convinced the Senate to force Pompey to choose. The result was Pompey's third Triumph, one of the most magnificent ever seen in Rome. Next, Cato applied the same law in the following year to Caesar, who was returning from his governorship of Hispania Ulterior, but Caesar chose to lose the right to the Triumph and run for the consulship (which he won).

When Caesar became consul, Cato opposed every law he suggested, especially the agrarian laws that established farmlands for Pompey's veterans on public lands. Caesar responded by having Cato arrested when Cato was making a speech against him at the rostra. So many senators protested this extraordinary and unprecedented use of force by threatening to go to prison with Cato that Caesar finally relented. Cato was also closely allied to Caesar's consular colleague, his son-in-law Marcus Bibulus. After attempting to oppose Caesar, Bibulus and Cato were harassed and publicly assaulted by Caesar's retainers. Eventually, Bibulus confined himself to his home and pronounced unfavorable omens in an attempt to lay the legal groundwork for the later repeal of Caesar’s consular acts.

Cato did not relent in his opposition to the triumvirs, unsuccessfully attempting to prevent Caesar's 5-year appointment as governor of Illyria and Cisalpine Gaul.

Cato in Cyprus

Cato's opposition to Caesar and his triumvirate allies led them to get Cato out of town. The incentive was too good to refuse: the governorship of the new province of Cyprus. Cato accused them of trying to get rid of him, but eventually accepted the honour of being governor above being praetor.

Cato appeared to have two major goals in Cyprus. The first was to enact his foreign policy agenda, expressed in a letter to Cicero, which called for a policy of benevolence and justice to Roman-controlled territories. The second was to implement his reforms of the quaestorship on a larger scale. This second goal also provided Cato with an opportunity to burnish his Stoic credentials: the province was rich both in gold and opportunities for extortion. Thus, against common practice, Cato took none, and he prepared immaculate accounts for the senate, much as he had done earlier in his career as quaestor. According to Plutarch, Cato ultimately raised the enormous sum of 7,000 talents of silver for the Roman treasury. He thought about every unexpected event, even to tying ropes to the coffers with a big piece of cork on the other end, so they could be located in the event of a shipwreck. Unfortunately, luck played him a trick. Of his perfect accounting books, none survived: the one he had was burnt, the other were lost at sea with the freedman carrying it. Only Cato's untainted reputation saved him from charges of extortion.

The Senate of Rome recognized the effort made in Cyprus and offered him a reception in the city, an extraordinary praetorship, and other privileges, all of which he stubbornly refused as an unlawful honour.

Cato in the Civil War

The triumvirate of Caesar, Pompey and Crassus was broken in 54 BC at the same time as Cato's election as praetor. Judging their enemy in trouble, Cato and the optimates faction of the Senate spent the coming years trying to force the recall of Caesar from Gaul, whence Caesar had illegally crossed into Germania. It was a time of political turmoil, when patrician demagogues like Publius Clodius tried to make their political careers by wooing the crowds and resorting to violence. Cato fought them all, and he ended as Pompey's ally and political advisor.

In 51 BC, Cato ran for the office of consul, unsuccessfully. In a time of rampant bribery and electoral fraud, he ran a scrupulously honest campaign, and, unsurprisingly, lost to his less conscientious opponents. He accepted the loss with unusual equanimity, but refused to run a second time.

In 49 BC, Caesar crossed the Rubicon accompanied by his thirteenth legion to run for a second consulship while maintaining a military force that would protect him from prosecution. Formally declared an enemy of the State, Caesar pursued the senatorial party, now led by Pompey, who abandoned the city to raise arms in Greece, with Cato among them. After first reducing Caesar's army at the battle of Dyrrahecium (where Cato commanded the port), the army led by Pompey was ultimately defeated by Caesar in the battle of Pharsalus (48 BC). Cato and Metellus Scipio, however, did not yet concede defeat and escaped to the province of Africa to continue resistance from Utica. Due to his presence in this city and command of the port there, Cato is sometimes referred to as Cato Uticensis (from Utica). Caesar pursued Cato and Metellus Scipio after installing the queen Cleopatra VII in the throne of Egypt, and in February 46 BC he defeated the army led by Metellus Scipio at the Battle of Thapsus. Acting against his strategy of clemency, Caesar had Scipio and all his troops slaughtered upon their surrender.

In Utica, Cato did not participate in the battle and, unwilling to live in a world led by Caesar and refusing even implicitly to grant Caesar the power to pardon him, he committed suicide. According to Plutarch, Cato attempted to commit suicide by stabbing himself with his own sword, but failed to do so due to an injured hand. One of Cato's slaves found him on the ground and called for a physician to stitch up and bandage Cato's wounds. Cato waited until they left him and then tore off the bandages and the stitches with his fingers and pulled out his own intestines, thereby completing his suicide attempt.

After Cato


Cato is remembered as a Stoic philosopher and one of the most active paladins of the Republic. His high moral standards and incorruptible virtue gained him praise even from his political enemies, such as Sallust (one of our sources for the anecdote about Caesar and Cato's sister). Sallust also wrote a comparison between Cato and Caesar (Cato's long-time rival - Caesar was praised for his mercy, compassion, and generosity, while Cato for his discipline, rigidity, and moral integrity). After Cato's death, Cicero wrote a panegyric, entitled Cato, to which Caesar (who never forgave him for all the obstructions) answered with his Anti-Cato. Cicero's pamphlet has not survived, but some of its contents may be inferred from Plutarch's Life of Cato, which also repeats many of the stories that Caesar put forward in his Anti-Cato.

Republicans under the Empire remembered him fondly, and the poet Virgil, writing under Augustus, made Cato a hero in his Aeneid. Lucan, writing under Nero, also made Cato the hero of the fragmentary later books of his epic, the Pharsalia. From the latter work originates the epigram, "Victrix causa diis placuit sed victa Catoni" ("The conquering cause pleased the gods, but the conquered cause pleased Cato").[1]

A statue of Cato the Younger. The Louvre Museum. He is about to kill himself while reading the Phaedo, a dialogue of Plato which details the death of Socrates. It was started by Jean-Baptiste Roman (Paris, 1792 - 1835) using white Carrara marble. It was finished by François Rude (Dijon, 1784 - Paris, 1855).
A statue of Cato the Younger. The Louvre Museum. He is about to kill himself while reading the Phaedo, a dialogue of Plato which details the death of Socrates. It was started by Jean-Baptiste Roman (Paris, 1792 - 1835) using white Carrara marble. It was finished by François Rude (Dijon, 1784 - Paris, 1855).


In Dante's The Divine Comedy, Cato is portrayed as the guardian of the seaward approach to the island of purgatory. In Canto I, Dante writes of Cato:

I saw close by me a solitary old man, worthy, by
his appearance, of so much reverence that never
son owed father more.
Long was his beard and mixed with white hair,
similar to the hairs of his head, which fell to his
breast in two strands.
The rays of the four holy lights so adorned his
face with brightness that I saw him as if the sun
had been before him.


Cato was also lionized during the republican revolutions of the Enlightenment. Joseph Addison's play, Cato, A Tragedy (first staged on April 14, 1713) celebrated Cato as a martyr to the republican cause. The play was a popular and critical success: it was staged more than 20 times in London alone, and it was published across 26 editions before the end of the century. George Washington often quoted Addison's Cato and had it performed during the winter at Valley Forge, in spite of a Congressional ban on such performances. The death of Cato (la mort de Caton d'Utique) was also a popular theme in revolutionary France, being sculpted by Philippe-Laurent Roland (1782) and painted by Bouchet Louis André Gabriel, Bouillon Pierre, and Guérin Pierre Narcisse in 1797. The sculpture of Cato by Jean-Baptiste Roman and François Rude (1832) stands in the Musee du Louvre.

Cato's descendants and marriages

  • Engaged to


    Family tree

    • (1)=1st husband/wife
    • (2)=2nd husband/wife
    • x=assassin of Caesar
    Salonia (2)
    Cato the Elder
    Licinia (1)
    Marcus Porcius Cato Salonianus
    Marcus Porcius Cato Licinianus
    Marcus Livius Drusus
    Marcus Porcius Cato (2)
    Livia Drusa
    Quintus Servilius Caepio the Younger(1)
    Marcus Livius Drusus  
    Atillia (1)
    Cato the Younger
    Marcus Livius Drusus Claudianus, adoptive son
    Brutus (1)
    Servilia Caepionis
    Decimus Junius Silanus (2)
    another Servilia
    Quintus Servilius Caepio
    Porcia Catonis
    Marcus Junius Brutus x
    Junia Prima
    Junia Tertia
    Gaius Cassius Longinus x
    Marcus Porcius Cato (II)
    Junia Secunda
    Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (triumvir)
    Descendent of Pompey the Great and Lucius Cornelius Sulla
    Lepidus the Younger
    Manius Aemilius Lepidus
    Aemilia Lepida II


    • 95 BC – Birth in Rome
    • 67 BC – Military tribune in Macedon
    • 65 BC – Quaestor in Rome
    • 63 BC – Tribune of the Plebs, Catilina's conspiracy
    • 60 BC – Forces Caesar to choose between consulship and triumph
    • 59 BC – Opposes Caesar's laws
    • 58 BC – Governorship of Cyprus
    • 54 BC – Praetor
    • 49 BC – Caesar crosses the Rubicon and invades Italy; Cato goes with Pompey to Greece
    • 48 BC – Battle of Pharsalus, Pompey defeated; Cato goes to Africa
    • 46 BC – Defeated in the Battle of Thapsus; Cato commits suicide in Utica

    Fictional portrayals

    In the television series Rome, Cato, played by actor Karl Johnson, is a significant character, although he is shown as quite older than his actual age (mid-forties) at the time.

    In the 2002 miniseries Julius Caesar, Cato is played by Christopher Walken.


    1. ^ This phrase is also inscribed at the base of the memorial to the Confederate soldiers outside Arlington cemetery.


    • Hughes-Hallett, Lucy. Heroes: A History of Hero Worship. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, New York, 2004. ISBN 1-4000-4399-9.
    • Taylor, Lily Ross. "Party Politics in the Age of Caesar." University of California Press, Berkeley, California, 1971, ISBN 0-520-01257-7.
    • Plutarch. Cato the Younger.
    Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans
    Alcibiades and Coriolanus - Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar - Aratus & Artaxerxes and Galba & Otho - Aristides and Cato the Elder
    Crassus and Nicias - Demetrius and Antony - Demosthenes and Cicero - Dion and Brutus - Fabius and Pericles - Lucullus and Cimon
    Lysander and Sulla - Numa and Lycurgus - Pelopidas and Marcellus - Philopoemen and Flamininus - Phocion and Cato the Younger - Pompey and Agesilaus
    Poplicola and Solon - Pyrrhus and Gaius Marius - Romulus and Theseus - Sertorius and Eumenes
    Tiberius Gracchus & Gaius Gracchus and Agis & Cleomenes - Timoleon and Aemilius Paullus - Themistocles and Camillus

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