Quintus Lutatius Catulus

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Quintus Lutatius Catulus Caesar (149–87 BC) was consul of the Roman Republic in 102 BC, and the leading public figure of the gens Lutatia of the time. His colleague in the consulship was Gaius Marius, but the two feuded and Catulus sided with Sulla in the civil war of 88–87 BC. When the Marians regained control of Rome in 87 BC, Catulus committed suicide rather than face prosecution.

Quintus Lutatius Catulus Caesar was born Sextus Julius Caesar. He was the biological son of Sextus Julius Caesar (the older brother of Gaius Julius Caesar, the grandfather of the famous Julius Caesar). Sextus Julius Caesar Senior had too many sons to advance through the cursus honorum, therefore he decided to give the oldest up for adoption. He arranged Sextus Junior to be adopted by the childless and fabulously wealthy Quintus Lutatius Catulus. From that point onward Sextus became known as Quintus Lutatius Catulus Caesar, or Catulus Caesar for short. This kind of adoption was nothing new in ancient Rome (Scipio Aemilianus being the most well known example).

As general[edit]

In the war against the Cimbri and Teutones, Catulus Caesar, as consul, was sent to defend the passage of the Alps but found himself compelled to retreat across the Po River, his troops having been reduced to a state of panic. Despite this, the following year (101) his command was extended, now a proconsul. The Cimbri, who had advanced into the Po Valley, were eventually defeated on the Raudine plain, near Vercellae, by the combined armies of Catulus Caesar and Gaius Marius. Catulus Caesar commanded the Roman centre during the battle and redeemed himself by leading his men to victory. For his part in the victory over the Cimbri he was awarded a Triumph. Despite their joint success, the two commanders regarded each other as bitter rivals and after the war built competing temples to demonstrate divine favour.[1]

When the chief honour for victory over the Cimbri was given to Marius, Catulus Caesar turned vehemently against his former co-commander and sided with Sulla to expel Marius, Cornelius Cinna and their supporters from Rome. When Cinna and Marius regained control of the city in 87 BC, Catulus was prosecuted by Marius's nephew, Marcus Marius Gratidianus. Rather than accept the inevitable guilty verdict, he committed suicide.[2]

As author[edit]

Catulus Caesar was a distinguished orator, poet and prose writer, and was well versed in Greek literature. He wrote a history of his consulship (De consulatu et de rebus gestis suis) in the manner of Xenophon. A non-extant epic on the Cimbrian War, sometimes attributed to him, was more likely written by Archias.[3] Catulus's contributions to Latin poetry are considered his most significant literary achievements. He is credited with introducing the Hellenistic epigram to Rome and fostering a taste for short, personal poems that comes to fruition with the lyric oeuvre of Valerius Catullus in the 50s BC. Among his circle of literary friends, who ranged widely in social position and political sympathies, were Valerius Aedituus, Aulus Furius, and Porcius Licinius.[4]

Pliny lists him among distinguished men who wrote short poems that were less than austere (versiculi parum severi).[5] Only two epigrams by Catulus have been preserved, both directed at men. Cicero preserves one of Catulus's couplets on the celebrated actor Roscius, who is said to make an entrance like a sunrise: "though he is human, he seems more beautiful than a god."[6]

The other epigram, modelled directly after Callimachus, is quoted by Aulus Gellius and may be paraphrased in prose as follows:[7]

My mind escapes me; I imagine it's decamped to the usual place: Theotimus. That's right, he runs the asylum. What if I don't outlaw it, and instead of letting the fugitive come to him inside, he prefers ejection? We'll go on a manhunt, but in truth I'm alarmed that we might be captured in the flesh ourselves. What to do? Venus, I need a plan.[8]

"The willingness of a member of the highest Roman aristocracy to toss off imitations of Hellenistic sentimental erotic poetry (homosexual at that)," notes Edward Courtney, "is a new phenomenon in Roman culture at this time."[9]

As builder[edit]

Catulus was a man of great wealth, which he spent in beautifying Rome. Two buildings were known as Monumenta Catuli: the Temple of Fortuna Huiusce Diei (the "Fortune of This Day"), to commemorate the day of Vercellae, and the Porticus Catuli, built from the sale of the Cimbrian spoils.

Marriage and descendants[edit]

Three wives are attested for Catulus:

  1. Domitia of the Ahenobarbi, the mother of his homonymous son Quintus Lutatius Catulus (consul 78, censor 65 BC).[10]
  2. Servilia of the Caepiones, who was mother of his daughter Lutatia Q. Hortensi, the wife of the great orator Quintus Hortensius Hortalus (consul 69).[11]
  3. Claudia, of uncertain family but probably of the Marian aligned branch of Claudi Marcelli. This was probably Catulus' longest marriage (c. 103-87 BC) if, as seems likely, he wed her to secure Marian support for his election as a consul, which he only belatedly achieved at the comitia in 103 for 102 BC. However, she is only attested as his wife at the time of his death at the end of 87 BC.[12] There is no record of any children by this match.

An approximate chronology of the marital affairs of Catulus:

  • c.126 BC: Married Domitia
  • 125 or 124 BC: Birth of Catulus Capitolinus
  • c.111 BC: Death or divorce of Domitia
  • c.109 BC: Praetor, married Servilia. She was probably eldest daughter (born around 124 BC) of his coeval, and colleague as praetor, Q. Servilius Caepio (cos. 106). The latter's apparently promiscuous daughters were harshly abused as whores by Timagenes of Alexandreia.[13]
  • c.108 BC: Birth of Lutatia (mother of Hortensia Oratrix and Quintus Hortensius, the poet and Caesarian)
  • 105 BC: Arausio disaster, and disgrace and imprisonment of Quintus Caepio
  • 104 BC: Caepio escaped into exile and Catulus discarded[clarification needed] his daughter Servilia
  • 103 BC: Catulus married Claudia (probably of the Marcelli, daughter of Marius' friend and legate M. Marcellus, praetor in c. 105 BC) and finally elected consul for 102BC after three previous defeats. About the same year the discarded Servilia married M. Livius Drusus (tribune of the plebs, 91 BC; c. 127-91 BC) and Caepio filius (q.urb. 100; c. 127-90 BC) wed Livia, the sister of his close friend Drusus.

See also[edit]

Ancient sources[edit]


  1. ^ See discussion by A. Clark, Divine Qualities: Cult and Community in Republican Rome (Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 127ff. online.
  2. ^ A.R. Dyck, A Commentary on Cicero, De officiis (University of Michigan Press, 1996), p. 598 online; Bruce Marshall, "Catilina and the Execution of M. Marius Gratidianus," Classical Quarterly 35 (1985), p. 125, note 8; Erich Gruen, Roman Politics and the Criminal Courts, 149–78 B.C. (Cambridge, Mass., 1968), pp. 232–234.
  3. ^ Suetonius, De Grammaticis 3; Edward Courtney, The Fragmentary Latin Poets (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), p. 75.
  4. ^ Gian Biaggio Conte, Latin Literature: A History (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), pp. 138–139 online.
  5. ^ Pliny, Epistula 5.3.5.
  6. ^ Mortalis visus pulchrior esse deo (Cicero, De Natura Deorum, 1.79).
  7. ^ Callimachus, Epigram 41 Pfeiffer (= 4 in the Gow-Page edition). The passage (Attic Nights 19.9) by Aulus Gellius is one of the sources for Catulus's literary associations with Valerius Aedituus and Porcius Licinius; see also Apuleius, Apologia 9.
  8. ^ Latin text in Courtney, The Fragmentary Latin Poets p. 70 online, with explication and discussion pp. 75–76. Catulus's shifts from first-person singular to first-person plural are preserved in this translation.
  9. ^ Courtney, The Fragmentary Latin Poets p. 75 online.
  10. ^ A fragment of Cicero pro C.Cornelio, quoted at Asconius 86-7G, calls Cn. Domitius (cos. 96) maternal uncle (avunculus) of Catulus Capitolinus (cos. 78). Therefore the mother of Catulus Capitolinus (born c.125) was a Domitia of the Ahenobarbi born c.141 and the first wife of Catulus the consul 102 (born 149)
  11. ^ Cicero, de Oratore III, 228 calls Q.Hortensius Hortalus the orator (cos. 69) Catulus' son-in-law and sodalis (companion in some college or religious association) at the dramatic date of September 91 BC. Then at the dramatic date of 70 BC Cicero, Verr.II 2.24 names Hortensius' mother-in-law as a Servilia femina primaria. Presuming that Hortensius' first wife, Lutatia, was still his wife in 70 BC then her mother was this Servilia who was, in turn, the second wife of Catulus cos. 102.
  12. ^ The Berne scholium on Lucan.II, 173 (p.62, ed.Usener).
  13. ^ cited by Strabo IV, 1.13 = Timagenes F11 ed. Jacoby (FGrH no. 88)
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Catulus". Encyclopædia Britannica. 5 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 545.
Political offices
Preceded by
Lucius Aurelius Orestes and Gaius Marius
Consul of the Roman Republic
with Gaius Marius
102 BCE
Succeeded by
Manius Aquillius and Gaius Marius