Cato the Elder

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Marcus Porcius Cato
Marco Porcio Caton Major.jpg
The Patrician Torlonia bust thought to be of Cato the Elder
Consul of the Roman Republic
In office
195 BC – 195 BC
Serving with Lucius Valerius Flaccus
Preceded by Lucius Furius Purpuero and Marcus Claudius Marcellus
Succeeded by Tiberius Semprionius Longus and Scipio Africanus
Personal details
Born 234 BC
Tusculum, Roman Republic
Died 149 BC (age 85)
Roman Republic
Spouse(s) Licinia
Children Marcus Licinianus
Cato Salonianus
Religion Roman polytheism
Military service
Allegiance Roman Military banner.svg Roman Republic
Rank General
Battles/wars Second Punic War
Roman-Syrian War

Cato the Elder (Latin: Cato Major; 234 BC – 149 BC), born Marcus Porcius Cato[n 1] and also known as Cato the Censor (Cato Censorius), Cato the Wise (Cato Sapiens), and Cato the Ancient (Cato Priscus), was a Roman senator and historian known for his conservatism and opposition to Hellenization.[1] He was the first to write history in Latin.

He came of an ancient Plebeian family who were noted for their military but not civil service. Like his forefathers, Cato was devoted to agriculture when not serving in the army. Having attracted the attention of Lucius Valerius Flaccus, he was brought to Rome and began to follow the cursus honorum: he was successively military tribune (214 BC), quaestor (204 BC), aedile (199 BC), praetor (198 BC), junior consul (195 BC) together with Flaccus, and censor (184 BC). As praetor, he expelled usurers from Sardinia. As censor, he tried to preserve Rome's ancestral customs and combat "degenerate" Hellenistic influences.[1] His epithet "Elder" distinguishes him from his equally famous great-grandson Cato the Younger, who opposed Julius Caesar.


The theatre at Tusculum

Cato the Elder was born in Tusculum, a municipal town of Latium like some generations of his ancestors. His father had earned the reputation of a brave soldier, and his great-grandfather had received a reward from the state for five horses killed under him in battle. However the Tusculan Porcii had never obtained the privileges of the Roman magistracy. Cato the Elder, their famous descendant, at the beginning of his career in Rome, was regarded as a novus homo (new man), and the feeling of his unsatisfactory position, working along with the belief of his inherent superiority, aggravated and drove his ambition. Early in life, he so far exceeded the previous deeds of his predecessors that he is frequently spoken of, not only as the leader, but as the founder, of the Porcia Gens.

Cognomen Cato[edit]

His ancestors for three generations had been named Marcus Porcius, and it is said by Plutarch that at first he was known by the additional cognomen Priscus, but was afterwards called Cato—a word indicating that practical wisdom which is the result of natural sagacity, combined with experience of civil and political affairs.[2] Priscus, like Major, may have been merely an epithet used to distinguish him from the later Cato of Utica. There is no precise information as to when he first received the title of Cato, which may have been given in childhood as a symbol of distinction. The qualities implied in the word Cato were acknowledged by the plainer and less outdated title of Sapiens, by which he was so well known in his old age, that Cicero says, it became his virtual cognomen.[3] From the number and eloquence of his speeches, he was styled orator,[4][5] but Cato the Censor (Cato Censorius), and Cato the Elder are now his most common, as well as his most characteristic names, since he carried out the office of Censor with extraordinary standing, and was the only Cato who ever accomplished it.

Deducing the year of birth[edit]

In order to determine the date of Cato's birth, we consider the records as to his age at the time of his death, which is known to have happened in 149 BC. According to the coherent chronology of Cicero,[n 2] Cato was born in 234 BC, in the year before the first Consulship of Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, and died at the age of 85, in the consulship of Lucius Marcius Censorinus and Manius Manilius. Pliny[7] agrees with Cicero. Other authors exaggerate the age of Cato. According to Valerius Maximus[8] he survived his 86th year; according to Livy[9] and Plutarch[10] he was 90 years old when he died. The exaggerated age, however, is inconsistent with a statement recorded by Plutarch[11] on the asserted authority of Cato himself.

Cato is represented to have said that he served his first campaign in his 17th year, when Hannibal was overrunning Italy. Plutarch, who had the works of Cato before him but was careless in dates, did not observe that the estimation of Livy would take back Cato's 17th year to 222, when there was not a Carthaginian in Italy, whereas the computation of Cicero would make the truth of Cato's statement in harmony with the date of Hannibal's first invasion.


On the Punic Wars[edit]

When Cato was very young, after his father's death, he inherited a small property in the Sabine territory, at a distance from his native town. There, he spent most of his childhood hardening his body by exercise, overseeing and sharing the operations of the farm, learning business and the rural economy. Near this land was a small hut abandoned after the triumphs of its owner Manius Curius Dentatus, whose military feats and rigidly simple character were remembered and admired in the neighborhood. Cato was inspired to imitate that character, hoping to match the glory of Dentatus.

Soon, an opportunity came for a military campaign in 217 BC, during the Second Punic War against Hannibal Barca. There is some disagreement among experts about Cato's early military life. In 214 BC, he served at Capua, and the historian Wilhelm Drumann[12] imagines that already, at the age of 20, he was a military tribune. Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus had the command in Campania, during the year of his fourth consulship, and admitted the young soldier to the honour of intimate friendship. While Fabius communicated the valued results of military experience, he chose not to inculcate Cato with his personal and political values and preferences. At the siege of Tarentum, 209 BC, Cato was again at the side of Fabius. Two years later, Cato was one of the select group who went with the consul Claudius Nero on his northern march from Lucania to check the progress of Hasdrubal Barca. It is recorded that the services of Cato contributed to the decisive victory of Sena on the Metaurus, where Hasdrubal was slain. He later gave several vehement speeches which he often ended by saying "Carthago delenda est", or "Carthage must be destroyed".[13]

Between the wars[edit]

In the pauses between campaigns Cato returned to his Sabine farm, where he dressed simply, working and behaving like his laborers. Young as he was, the neighboring farmers liked his tough mode of living, enjoyed his old-fashioned and concise proverbs, and had a high regard for his abilities. His own active personality made him willing and eager to employ his powers in the service of his neighbors. He was selected to act, sometimes as an arbitrator of disputes, and sometimes as a supporter in local causes, which were probably tried in front of recuperatores (the judges for causes of great public interest). Consequently, he was enabled to strengthen by practice his oratorical abilities, to gain self-confidence, to observe the manners of men, to analyze the diversity of human nature, to apply the rules of law, and practically to investigate the principles of justice.

Follower of the old Roman strictness[edit]

In the surrounding area of Cato's Sabine farm were the lands of Lucius Valerius Flaccus, a young nobleman of significant influence, and high patrician family. Flaccus could not help remarking the energy of Cato, his military talent, his eloquence, his frugal and simple life, and his traditional principles. Flaccus himself was a member of that purist faction which displayed its adherence to the stricter virtues of the ancient Roman character. Within Roman society there was a transition in progress: from Samnite rusticity to Grecian civilization and oriental voluptuousness. The chief magistracies of the state had become almost the patrimony of a few distinguished families, whose wealth corresponded to their upper-class birth. Popular by acts of graceful but corrupting generosity, by charming manners, and by the appeal of hereditary honours - they collected the material power granted by a multitude of clients and followers, and the intellectual power provided by the monopoly of philosophical education; their taste in the fine arts, and their knowledge of stylish literature. Nevertheless, the reaction to them was strong. The less fortunate nobles, jealous of this exclusive oligarchy, and openly watchful of the decadence and disorder associated with luxury, placed themselves at the head of a party which showed its determination to rely on purer models and to attach much importance to the ancient ways. In their eyes, rusticity, austerity, and asceticism were the marks of Sabine robustness and religion, and of the old Roman inflexible integrity and love of order. Marcus Claudius Marcellus, Scipio Africanus and his family, and Titus Quinctius Flamininus, may be taken as representative of the new civilization; Cato's friends, Fabius and Flaccus, were the leading men in the faction defending the old plainness.

Path to magistracies[edit]

Part of the Roman Forum. The arch was erected by Septimius Severus.

Flaccus was a perceptive politician who looked for young and emergent men to support him. He had observed Cato's martial spirit and eloquent tongue. He knew how much courage and persuasiveness were valued at Rome. He also knew that the merits of the battlefield opened the way to achievements in the higher civil offices. Finally, Flaccus knew too that for a stranger like Cato, the only way to the magisterial honors was success in the Roman Forum.[n 3] For that reason, he suggested to Cato that he shift his ambition to the fruitful field of Roman politics. The advice was keenly followed. Invited to the townhouse of Flaccus, and ratified by his support, Cato began to distinguish himself in the forum, and became a candidate for assuming a post in the magistracy.

Early military career[edit]


In 205 BC, Cato was appointed Quaestor, and in the next year (204 BC) he entered upon the duties of his place of work, following Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Major to Sicily. When Scipio, after much opposition, obtained from the senate permission to transport armed forces from Sicily to Africa, Cato and Gaius Laelius were appointed to escort the baggage ships. There was not the friendliness of cooperation between Cato and Scipio which ought to exist between a quaestor and his proconsul.

Fabius had opposed the permission given to Scipio to carry out the attack into the enemy's home, and Cato, whose appointment was intended to monitor Scipio's behavior, adopted the views of his friend. It is reported by Plutarch, that the lenient discipline of the troops under Scipio's command, and the exaggerated expense incurred by the general, provoked the protest of Cato; that Scipio immediately afterwards replied angrily, saying he would give an account of victories, not of money; that Cato left his place of duty after the dispute with Scipio about his alleged extravagance, and returning to Rome, condemned the uneconomical activities of his general to the senate; and that, at the joint request of Cato and Fabius, a commission of tribunes was sent to Sicily to examine the behavior of Scipio, who was found not guilty upon the view of his extensive and careful arrangements for the transport of the troops.[15] This version is barely consistent with the narrative of Livy, and would seem to attribute to Cato the wrongdoing of quitting his post before his time. If Livy is correct, the commission was sent because of the complaints of the inhabitants of Locri, who had been harshly oppressed by Quintus Pleminius, the legate of Scipio. Livy says not a word of Cato's interference in this matter, but mentions the bitterness with which Fabius blamed Scipio of corrupting military discipline and of having illegally left his province to take the town of Locri.[16]

The author of the abridged life of Cato which is commonly considered as the work of Cornelius Nepos, asserts that Cato, after his return from Africa, put in at Sardinia, and brought the poet Quintus Ennius in his own ship from the island to Italy; but Sardinia was rather out of the line of the trip to Rome, and it is more likely that the first contact of Ennius and Cato happened at a later date, when the latter was Praetor in Sardinia.[17]

Aedile and praetor[edit]

In 199 BC Cato was chosen aedile, and with his colleague Helvius, restored the Plebeian Games, and gave upon that occasion a banquet in honor of Jupiter. In 198 BC he was made praetor, and obtained Sardinia as his province, with the command of 3,000 infantry and 200 cavalry. Here he took the earliest opportunity to demonstrate his main beliefs by practicing his strict public morality. He reduced official operating costs, walked his trips with a single assistant, and, by the studied lack of ceremony, placed his own frugality in striking contrast with the oppressive opulence of provincial magistrates. The rites of religion were celebrated with reasonable thrift; justice was administered with strict impartiality; usury was controlled with deep severity, and the usurers were banished. Sardinia had been for some time completely calmed, but if we are to believe the improbable and unsupported testimony of Aurelius Victor,[17] a revolt in the island was subdued by Cato, during his Praetorship.


Enactment of the Porcian Laws[edit]

Main article: Porcian Laws

In 195 BC, Cato was elected junior consul to his old friend and patron Flaccus. Cato was 39 years old. During his consulship, he enacted the first two of the Porcian Laws, which expanded the protections of Roman citizens against degrading or capricious punishment under the Republic's Valerian Law.

Repeal of the Oppian Law[edit]

Main article: Oppian Law

In 215 BC, at the height of the Second Punic War, the Oppian Law (Lex Oppia) had been passed at the request of the tribune of the plebs Gaius Oppius, to restrict luxury and extravagance of women in order to save money for the public treasury. The law specified that no woman can own more than half an ounce of gold, nor wear a garment of several colours, nor drive a carriage with horses closer than a mile to the city, except to attend public celebrations of religious rites.

After Hannibal was defeated and Rome resplendent with Carthaginian wealth, Tribunes Marcus Fundanius and Lucius Valerius proposed to abolish the Oppian law. But Tribunes Marcus Junius Brutus and Titus Junius Brutus opposed this. This conflict spawned far more interest than the most important state affairs. Middle-aged married Roman women crowded the streets, blocked access to the forum, and intercepted their approaching husbands, demanding to restore the ancient ornaments of Roman matrons. They even begged the Praetors, Consuls and other magistrates. Even Flaccus hesitated, but his colleague Cato was inflexible, and made an impolite and characteristic speech, which was later retold by Livy.[18] Finally, the dissenting tribunes withdrew their opposition and the Oppian law was repealed by vote of all tribes. Women went in procession through the streets and the forum, dressed up with their now legitimate finery.[19]

Just had this important affair been concluded when Cato, who had maintained during its progress a severe and determined firmness without, perhaps, any very serious damage to his popularity, set sail for his appointed province, Hispania Citerior.

Post in Hispania Citerior[edit]

In his campaign in Hispania, Cato behaved in keeping with his reputation of untiring hard work and alertness. He lived soberly, sharing the food and the labours of the common soldier. Wherever it was possible, he personally superintended the execution of his requisite orders. His movements were reported as bold and rapid, and he never was negligent in pushing the advantages of victory. The sequence of his operations and their combination in agreement with the schemes of other generals in other parts of Hispania appear to have been carefully designed. His stratagems and manoeuvres were accounted as original, talented, and successful; and the plans of his battles were arranged with expert skill. He managed to set tribe against tribe, benefited himself of native deceitfulness, and took native mercenaries into his pay.

Hispania in 197 BC

The details of the campaign, as related by Livy,[20] and illustrated by the incidental anecdotes of Plutarch, are full of horror and they make clear that Cato reduced Hispania Citerior to subjection with great speed and little mercy. We read of multitudes who, after they had been stripped of all their arms, put themselves to death because of the dishonour; of extensive massacres of surrendered victims, and the frequent execution of harsh plunders. The phrase bellum se ipsum alet - the war feeds itself - was coined by Cato during this period.[21] His proceedings in Hispania were not at discrepancy with the received idea of the fine old Roman soldier, or with his own firm and over-assertive temper. He claimed to have destroyed more towns in Hispania than he had spent days in that country.

Roman triumph[edit]

After he reduced the area between the River Iberus and the Pyrenees to a resentful (and temporary) obedience, Cato turned his attention to administrative reforms, and increased the revenues of the province by improvements in the working of the iron and silver mines.

For his achievements in Hispania, the senate decreed a thanksgiving ceremony of three days. In the course of the year, 194 BC, he returned to Rome, and was rewarded with the honor of a Roman triumph, at which he exhibited an extraordinary quantity of captured brass, silver, and gold, both coin and ingots. Cato distributed the monetary prize to his soldiery, and was more liberal than might have been expected from his vigorous parsimony.[22]

End of consulship[edit]

The return of Cato seems to have accelerated the enmity of Scipio Africanus, who was Consul, 194 BC and is said to have desired the command of the province in which Cato was harvesting notoriety. There is some disagreement between Nepos (or the pseudo-Nepos), and Plutarch,[23] in their accounts of this topic. Nepos claims that Scipio failed to obtain the province, and, offended by the rejection, remained after his consulship, in a private capacity at Rome. Plutarch claims that Scipio, who was disgusted by Cato's severity, was appointed to succeed him, but could not convince the senate to censure Cato's administration, and so passed his consulship in inactivity. Plutarch was probably mistaken, judging by the statement in Livy,[24] that in 194 BC, Sextus Digitius was appointed to the province of Hispania Citerior. The notion that Scipio was appointed successor to Cato in Hispania may have arisen from a double confusion of name and place, due to the fact that Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica was chosen, 194 BC, to the province of Hispania Ulterior.

However true this account, Cato used his eloquence, produced detailed financial accounts to successfully defend against criticism of his consulship; the known fragments of the speeches (or one speech under different names), made after his return, attest the strength and boldness of his arguments.

Plutarch[25] affirms that, after his Consulship, Cato accompanied Tiberius Sempronius Longus as legatus to Thrace, but this seems incorrect, because although Scipio Africanus believed that one Consul should have Macedonia, Sempronius was soon in Cisalpine Gaul,[26] and in 193 BC Cato was in Rome dedicating a small temple to Victoria Virgo.[27]

Late military career[edit]

Battle of Thermopylae[edit]

The military career of Cato was not yet ended. In 191 BC, he was appointed military tribune (some affirm legate[28]), under the Consul Manius Acilius Glabrio, who was dispatched to Greece to oppose the invasion of Antiochus III the Great, King of the Seleucid Empire. In the decisive Battle of Thermopylae (191 BC), which led to the downfall of Antiochus, Cato behaved with his usual valor, and enjoyed good fortune. By a daring and difficult advance, he surprised and removed a body of the enemy's Aetolian auxiliaries, who were posted upon the Callidromus, the highest peak of the range of Mount Oeta. He then began a sudden descent from the hills above the royal camp, and the panic caused by this unexpected movement promptly turned the day in favor of the Romans, and signaled the end of the Seleucid invasion of Greece. After the action, the General hugged Cato with the greatest warmness, and attributed to him the whole credit of the victory. This fact rests on the authority of Cato himself, who, like Cicero, often indulged in the habit, offensive to modern taste, of sounding his own praises. After an interval spent in the pursuit of Antiochus and the pacification of Greece, Cato was sent to Rome by the Consul Glabrio to announce the successful outcome of the campaign, and he performed his journey with such celerity that he had started his report in the senate before the arrival of Lucius Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus, the later conqueror of Antiochus, who had been sent off from Greece a few days before him.[29]

Doubtful visit to Athens[edit]

During the campaign in Greece under Glabrio, Plutarch's account (albeit rejected by historian Wilhelm Drumann) suggests that before the Battle of Thermopylae, Cato was chosen to prevent Corinth, Patrae, and Aegium, from siding with Antiochus. During this period, Cato visited Athens where, in trying to prevent the Athenians from listening to the propositions of the Seleucid king, Cato addressed them in a Latin speech, which required an interpreter to be understood by the audience. Whether this was out of necessity, or merely a choice by Cato remains unclear, however, as the assertion that he might very well have already known Greek at the time can be made from anecdotal evidence. For example, Plutarch said that while at Tarentum in his youth he had developed a close friendship with Nearchus, who was himself a Greek philosopher. Similarly, Aurelius Victor stated he had received instruction in Greek from Ennius while praetor in Sardinia. Nevertheless, because his speech was an affair of state, it is probable that he complied with the Roman norms of the day in using the Latin language, which was observed as a diplomatic mark of Roman dignity.[30]

Influence in Rome[edit]

His reputation as a soldier was now established; henceforth he preferred to serve the state at home, scrutinizing the conduct of the candidates for public honours and of generals in the field. If he was not personally engaged in the prosecution of the Scipiones (Africanus and Asiaticus) for corruption, it was his spirit that animated the attack upon them. Even Scipio Africanus, who refused to reply to the charge, saying only, "Romans, this is the day on which I conquered Hannibal," and was absolved by acclamation, found it necessary to retire, self-banished, to his villa at Liternum. Cato's enmity dated from the African campaign when he quarrelled with Scipio for his lavish distribution of the spoil amongst the troops, and his general luxury and extravagance.

Cato was also opposed to the spread of Hellenic culture, which he believed threatened to destroy the rugged simplicity of the conventional Roman type. It was in the discharge of the censorship that this determination was most strongly exhibited, and hence that he derived the title (the Censor) by which he is most generally distinguished. He revised with unsparing severity the lists of Senators and Knights, ejecting from either order the men whom he judged unworthy of it, either on moral grounds or from their want of the prescribed means. The expulsion of L. Quinctius Flamininus for wanton cruelty was an example of his rigid justice.

His regulations against luxury were very stringent. He imposed a heavy tax upon dress and personal adornment, especially of women, and upon young slaves purchased as favourites. In 181 BC he supported the lex Orchia (according to others, he first opposed its introduction, and subsequently its repeal), which prescribed a limit to the number of guests at an entertainment, and in 169 BC the lex Voconia, one of the provisions of which was intended to check the accumulation of an undue proportion of wealth in the hands of women.

Public works[edit]

Amongst other things he repaired the aqueducts, cleansed the sewers, and prevented private persons drawing off public water for their own use. The Aqua Appia was the first aqueduct of Rome. It was constructed in 312 BC by Appius Claudius Caecus, the same Roman censor who also built the important Via Appia. Unauthorised plumbing into Rome's aqueducts was always a problem, as Frontinus records much later. Cato also ordered the demolition of houses which encroached on the public way, and built the first basilica in the Forum near the Curia (Livy, History, 39.44; Plutarch, Marcus Cato, 19).[31] He raised the amount paid by the publicani for the right of farming the taxes, and at the same time diminished the contract prices for the construction of public works.

Later years[edit]

From the date of his Censorship (184 BC) to his death in 149 BC, Cato held no public office, but continued to distinguish himself in the senate as the persistent opponent of the new ideas. He was struck with horror, along with many other Romans of the graver stamp, at the licence of the Bacchanalian mysteries, which he attributed to the influence of Greek manners; and he vehemently urged the dismissal of the philosophers (Carneades, Diogenes, and Critolaus), who came as ambassadors from Athens, on account of the dangerous nature of the views expressed by them.

He had a horror of physicians, who were chiefly Greeks. He procured the release of Polybius, the historian, and his fellow prisoners, contemptuously asking whether the Senate had nothing more important to do than discuss whether a few Greeks should die at Rome or in their own land. It was not till his eightieth year that he made his first acquaintance with Greek literature, though some think after examining his writings that he may have had a knowledge of Greek works for much of his life.

In his last years, he was known for strenuously urging his countrymen to the Third Punic War and the destruction of Carthage. In 157 BC, he was one of the deputies sent to Carthage to arbitrate between the Carthaginians and Massinissa, king of Numidia. The mission was unsuccessful and the commissioners returned home, but Cato was so struck by Carthage's growing prosperity that he was convinced that the security of Rome depended on its annihilation. From that time, he began concluding his speeches—on any topic whatsoever—with the cry "Moreover, I advise that Carthage must be destroyed" (Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam).[32] Other times, "Carthage must be destroyed" was put more compactly as Carthago delenda est or delenda est Carthago. Cicero's dialogue Cato the Elder on Old Age also depicted Cato's antipathy to Carthage.[n 4]

To Cato the individual life was a continual discipline, and public life was the discipline of the many. He regarded the individual householder as the germ of the family, the family as the germ of the state. By strict economy of time he accomplished an immense amount of work; he exacted similar application from his dependents, and proved himself a hard husband, a strict father, a severe and cruel master. There was little difference apparently, in the esteem in which he held his wife and his slaves; his pride alone induced him to take a warmer interest in his sons, Marcus Porcius Cato Licinianus and Marcus Porcius Cato Salonianus.

To the Romans themselves there was little in this behavior which seemed worthy of censure; it was respected rather as a traditional example of the old Roman manners. In the remarkable passage (xxxix. 40) in which Livy describes the character of Cato, there is no word of blame for the rigid discipline of his household.

Physical appearance[edit]

Plutarch wrote that Cato's appearance was characterized by reddish hair and keen grey eyes.[35]

Cato's writings[edit]

Cato is famous not only as statesman or soldier, but also as author. He was a historian, the first Latin prose writer of any importance, and the first author of a history of Italy in Latin. Some have argued that if it were not for the impact of Cato's writing, Latin might have been supplanted by Greek as the literary language of Rome. He was also one of the very few early Latin authors who could claim Latin as a native language.[36]

  • His manual on running a farm (De Agri Cultura or "On Agriculture") (ca. 160 BC) is his only work that survives completely. It is a miscellaneous collection of rules of husbandry and management, including sidelights on country life in the 2nd century BC. Adopted by many as a textbook at a time when Romans were expanding their agricultural activities into larger scale and more specialized business ventures geared towards profitability, De Agri Cultura assumes a farm run and staffed by slaves. Cato advises on hiring gangs for the olive harvest,[37] and was noted for his chilling advice on keeping slaves continually at work, on reducing rations for slaves when sick, and on selling slaves that are old or sickly.[38] Intended for reading aloud and discussing with farm workers, De Agri Cultura was widely read and much quoted (sometimes inaccurately) by later Latin authors.[39] Cato the Elder ranked the vineyard as the most important aspect when judging a farm. This was because of the profitability of the wine trade during that time. Grain pastures were ranked sixth due to the grain crisis.[40]
  • Probably Cato's most important work, Origines, in seven books (ca. 168 BC), related the history of the Italian towns, with special attention to Rome, from their legendary or historical foundation to his own day. Written to teach Romans what it means to be Roman, Cato the Elder wrote ab urbe condita (from the founding of the city), and the early history is filled with legends illustrating Roman virtues. The Origines also spoke of how not only Rome, but the other Italian towns were venerable, and that the Romans were indeed superior to the Greeks. The text as a whole is lost, but substantial fragments survive in quotations by later authors.[41]
  • Under the Roman Empire a collection of about 150 political speeches by Cato existed. In these he pursued his political policies, fought verbal vendettas, and opposed what he saw as Rome's moral decline. Not even the titles of all of these speeches are now known, but fragments of some of them are preserved. The first to which we can give a date was On the Improper Election of the Aediles, delivered in 202 BC. The collection included several speeches from the year of his consulship, followed by a self-justifying retrospect On His Consulship and by numerous speeches delivered when he was Censor. It is not clear whether Cato allowed others to read and copy his written texts (in other words, whether he "published" the speeches) or whether their circulation in written form began after his death.[42]
  • On Soldiery was perhaps a practical manual comparable to On Farming.[43]
  • On the Law Relating to Priests and Augurs was a topic that would follow naturally from some of the sections of On Farming. Only one brief extract from this work is known.[44]
  • Praecepta ad Filium, "Maxims addressed to his son",[45] from which the following extract survives:

In due course, my son Marcus, I shall explain what I found out in Athens about these Greeks, and demonstrate what advantage there may be in looking into their writings (while not taking them too seriously). They are a worthless and unruly tribe. Take this as a prophecy: when those folk give us their writings they will corrupt everything. All the more if they send their doctors here. They have sworn to kill all barbarians with medicine—and they charge a fee for doing it, in order to be trusted and to work more easily. They call us barbarians, too, of course, and Opici, a dirtier name than the rest. I have forbidden you to deal with doctors.

— Quoted by Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia 29.13–14.
  • A history of Rome from which Cato taught his son to read.
  • Carmen de moribus ("Poem on morality"), apparently in prose in spite of the title.[46]
  • A collection of Sayings, some of them translated from Greek.

The two surviving collections of proverbs known as Distichs of Cato and Monosticha Catonis, in hexameter verse, probably belong to the 4th century AD. They are not really by Cato.


The wrinkle ridge system Dorsa Cato on the Moon is named after him.

The comune of Monte Porzio Catone, one of the Castelli Romani and close to the ruins of Tusculum, is named in honor of the Porcius Cato family.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Properly, Marcus Porcius Marci filius Cato: "Marcus Porcius Cato Junior".
  2. ^ Cicero, speaking from the perspective of Cato: "I myself saw Livius Andronicus when he was an old man, who, though he brought out a play in the consulship of Cento and Tuditanus [i.e., 240 BC], six years before I was born, yet continued to live until I was a young man."[6]
  3. ^ Compare that conception with the opinion stated by Montesquieu about the subsequent corruption of Rome during the civil wars between Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla's factions: "But, in general, the Romans knew only the art of war, which was the sole path to magistracies and honors. Thus, the martial virtues remained after all the others were lost."[14]
  4. ^ "...I enjoin upon the Senate what is to be done, and how. Carthage has long been harbouring evil designs, and I accordingly proclaim war against her in good time. I shall never cease to entertain fears about her till I hear of her having been levelled with the ground."[33]
    ...Senatui quae sint gerenda praescribo et quo modo, Carthagini male iam diu cogitanti bellum multo ante denuntio, de qua vereri non ante desinam, quam illam excissam esse cognovero.[34]



  1. ^ a b "Marcus Porcius Cato". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved 29 November 2012. 
  2. ^ Plutarch, Life of Cato the Elder, 1.
  3. ^ Cicero, Laelius On Friendship, 2.
  4. ^ Justinus, xxxiii. 2
  5. ^ Gellius, xvii. 21.
  6. ^ Cicero, Marcus Tullius. "Section 50". On old age. .
  7. ^ Pliny, Natural History, xxix. 8.
  8. ^ Valerius Maximus, viii. 7. § 1.
  9. ^ Livy, History of Rome, xxxix. 40.
  10. ^ Plutarch, Life of Cato the Elder, 15.
  11. ^ Plutarch, Life of Cato the Elder, 1.
  12. ^ Wilhelm Drumann, Geschichte Roms (History of Rome), v. p. 99, 6 Bde. Königsberg 1834-1844.
  13. ^ Plutarch, Life of Cato the Elder, 27.
  14. ^ Montesquieu (1734), Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and their Decline, Ch. X .
  15. ^ Plutarch, Life of Cato the Elder, 3.
  16. ^ Livy, History of Rome, xxix. 19, etc.
  17. ^ a b Aurelius Victor, On famous Roman men, 47.
  18. ^ Livy, History of Rome, xxxiv. 1, 8.
  19. ^ Valerius Maximus, ix. 1. §3.
  20. ^ Livy, History of Rome, book xxxiv.
  21. ^ Lautenbach, Ernst (2002). Latein - Deutsch: Zitaten-Lexikon (in German). Berlin-Hamburg-Münster: LIT Verlag. p. 101. ISBN 3-8258-5652-6. Retrieved 2009-09-09. 
  22. ^ Livy, History of Rome, xxxiv. 46.
  23. ^ Plutarch, Life of Cato the Elder, 11.
  24. ^ Livy, History of Rome, xxxiv. 43.
  25. ^ Plutarch, Cato the Elder, 12.
  26. ^ Livy, History of Rome, xxxiv. 43, 46.
  27. ^ Livy, History of Rome, xxxv. 9.
  28. ^ Livy, History of Rome, xxxvi. 17, 21.
  29. ^ Livy, History of Rome, xxxvi. 21.
  30. ^ Valerius Maximus, ii, 2. § 2.
  31. ^ Greg Woolf (7 November 2013). Rome: An Empire's Story. Oxford University Press. pp. 295–. ISBN 978-0-19-967751-1. 
  32. ^ Plutarch, Life of Cato .
  33. ^ Tullius Cicero, Marcus (44 BC), On Old Age, Five Foot Shelf of Classics, Vol. IX, Pt. 2, New York: translated for P.F. Collier & Son by Evelyn Shirley Shuckburgh in 1909, §15.
  34. ^ Tullius Cicero, Marcus (44 BC), Cato Maior de Senectute [Cato the Elder on Old Age], Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries, № 28, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, published 1988, vi, 18, ISBN 0-521-60704-3. (Latin)
  35. ^ Plutarch, Life of Cato the Elder, 1.
  36. ^ (Dalby 1998, pp. 7–8).
  37. ^ Cato, De Agri Cultura ch. 64-68.
  38. ^ Cato, De Agri Cultura ch. 2.
  39. ^ (Dalby 1998, pp. 22–28).
  40. ^ E.M. Jellinek, "Drinking and Alcohilics in Ancient Rome". Journal of Studies on Alcohol. Vol 7, No 11, 1976.
  41. ^ (Chassignet 1986).
  42. ^ (Malcovati 1955); (Dalby 1998, p. 13).
  43. ^ (Astin 1978, pp. 184–185).
  44. ^ (Astin 1978, p. 185).
  45. ^ (Astin 1978, pp. 332–340).
  46. ^ (Astin 1978, pp. 185–186).


  • Astin, A. E. (1978), Cato the Censor, Oxford: Clarendon Press 
  • Chassignet, M. (1986), Caton: Les Origines. Fragments, Paris: Collection Budé, Les Belles Lettres 
  • Dalby, Andrew (1998), Cato: On Farming, Totnes: Prospect Books, ISBN 0-907325-80-7 
  • Malcovati, H. (1955), Oratorum romanorum fragmenta liberae rei publicae, Turin: Paravia 
  • This entry incorporates public domain text originally from: William Smith (ed.), Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, 1870.
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Forde, Nels W. (1975). Cato the Censor. New York: Twayne. 
  • Scullard, H. H. (1973). Roman Politics, 220-150 BC (2nd ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. 
  • Smith, R. E. (1940). "Cato Censorius". Greece and Rome 9: 150–165. doi:10.1017/s0017383500006987. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Lucius Furius Purpureo and Marcus Claudius Marcellus
Consul of the Roman Republic
with Lucius Valerius Flaccus
195 BC
Succeeded by
Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus and Tiberius Sempronius Longus