Catiline's War, 29–39

Sallust  translated by J. C. Rolfe

« Sal. Cat. 17–28 | Sal. Cat. 29–39 | Sal. Cat. 40–49 | About This Work »

29When these events were reported to Cicero, he was greatly disturbed by the twofold peril, since he could no longer by his unaided efforts protect the city against these plots, nor gain any exact information as to the size and purpose of Manlius’s army; he therefore formally called the attention of the senate to the matter, which had already been the subject of popular gossip. 2Thereupon, as is often done in a dangerous emergency, the senate voted “that the consuls should take heed that the commonwealth suffer no harm.” 3The power which according to Roman usage is thus conferred upon a magistrate by the senate is supreme, allowing him to raise an army, wage war, exert any kind of compulsion upon allies and citizens, and exercise unlimited command and jurisdiction at home and in the field; otherwise the consul has none of these privileges except by the order of the people.

30A few days later, in a meeting of the senate, Lucius Saenius, one of[*] its members, read a letter which he said had been brought to him from Faesulae, stating that Gaius Manlius had taken the field with a large force on the twenty-seventh day of October. 2At the same time, as is usual in such a crisis, omens and portents were reported by some, while others told of the holding of meetings, of the transportation of arms, and of insurrections of the slaves at Capua and in Apulia.

3Thereupon by decree of the senate Quintus Marcius Rex was sent to Faesulae and Quintus Metellus Creticus to Apulia and its neighbourhood. 4Both these generals were at the gates in command of their armies, being prevented from celebrating a triumph by the intrigues of a few men, whose habit it was to make everything, honourable and dishonourable, a matter of barter. 5Of the praetors, Quintus Pompeius Rufus was sent to Capua and Quintus Metellus Celer to the Picene district, with permission to raise an army suited to the emergency and the danger. 6The senate also voted that if anyone should give information as to the plot which had been made against the state, he should, if a slave, be rewarded with his freedom and a hundred thousand sesterces, 7and if a free man, with immunity for complicity therein, and two hundred thousand sesterces; further, that the troops of gladiators should be quartered on Capua and the other free towns according to the resources of each place; that at Rome watch should be kept by night in all parts of the city under the direction of the minor magistrates.

31These precautions struck the community with terror, and the aspect of the city was changed. In place of extreme gaiety and frivolity, the fruit of long-continued peace, there was sudden and general gloom. 2Men were uneasy and apprehensive, put little confidence in any place of security or in any human being, were neither at war nor at peace, and measured the peril each by his own fears. 3The women, too, whom the greatness of our country had hitherto shielded from the terrors of war, were in a pitiful state of anxiety, raised suppliant hands to heaven, bewailed the fate of their little children, asked continual questions, trembled at everything, and throwing aside haughtiness and self-indulgence, despaired of themselves and of their country.

4But Catiline’s pitiless spirit persisted in the same attempts, although defences were preparing, and he himself had been arraigned by Lucius Paulus under the Plautian law. 5Finally, in order to conceal his designs or to clear himself, as though he had merely been the object of some private slander, he came into the senate. 6Then the consul Marcus Tullius, either fearing his presence or carried away by indignation, delivered a brilliant speech of great service to the state, which he later wrote out and published. 7When he took his seat, Catiline, prepared as he was to deny everything, with downcast eyes and pleading accents began to beg the Fathers of the Senate not to believe any unfounded charge against him; he was sprung from such a family, he said, and had so ordered his life from youth up, that he had none save the best of prospects. They must not suppose that he, a patrician, who like his forefathers had rendered great service to the Roman people, would be benefited by the overthrow of the government, while its saviour was Marcus Tullius, a resident alien in the city of Rome. 8When he would have added other insults, he was shouted down by the whole body, who called him traitor and assassin. 9Then in a transport of fury he cried: “Since I am brought to bay by my enemies and driven desperate, I will put out my fire by general devastation.”

32With this he rushed from the senate-house and went home. There after thinking long upon the situation, since his designs upon the consul made no headway and he perceived that the city was protected against fires by watchmen, believing it best to increase the size of his army and secure many of the necessities of war before the legions were enrolled, he left for the camp of Manlius with a few followers in the dead of night. 2However, he instructed Cethegus, Lentulus, and the others whose reckless daring he knew to be ready for anything, to add to the strength of their cabal by whatever means they could, to bring the plots against the consul to a head, to make ready murder, arson, and the other horrors of war; as for himself, he would shortly be at the gates with a large army.

3While this was going on at Rome, Gaius Manlius sent a delegation from his army to Marcius Rex with this message:

33“We call gods and men to witness, general, that we have taken up arms, not against our fatherland nor to bring danger upon others, but to protect our own persons from outrage; for we are wretched and destitute, many of us have been driven from our country by the violence and cruelty of the moneylenders, while all have lost repute and fortune. None of us has been allowed, in accordance with the usage of our forefathers, to enjoy the protection of the law and retain our personal liberty after being stripped of our patrimony, such was the inhumanity of the moneylenders and the praetor. 2Your forefathers often took pity on the Roman commons and relieved their necessities by senatorial decrees, and not long ago, within our own memory, because of the great amount of their debt, silver was paid in copper with the general consent of the nobles. 3Often the commons themselves, actuated by a desire to rule or incensed at the arrogance of the magistrates, have taken up arms and seceded from the patricians. 4But we ask neither for power nor for riches, the usual causes of wars and strife among mortals, but only for freedom, which no true man gives up except with his life. 5We implore you and the senate to take thought for your unhappy countrymen, to restore the bulwark of the law, of which the praetor’s injustice has deprived us, and not to impose upon us the necessity of asking ourselves how we may sell our lives most dearly.”

34To this address Quintus Marcius[*] made answer, that if they wished to ask anything of the senate, they must lay down their arms and come to Rome as suppliants; that the senate of the Roman people had always been so compassionate and merciful that no one had ever asked it for succour and been refused.

2But on the way Catiline sent letters to many of the consulars and to the most prominent of the other nobles, saying that since he was beset by false accusations and unable to cope with the intrigues of his personal enemies, he bowed to fate and was on his way to exile at Massilia; not that he confessed to the dreadful crime with which he was charged, but in order that his country might be at peace and that no dissension might arise from a struggle on his part. 3A very different letter was read in the senate by Quintus Catulus, who said that it had been sent him in Catiline’s name. The following is an exact copy of this letter:

35“Lucius Catilina to Quintus Catulus. Your eminent loyalty, known by experience and grateful to me in my extreme peril, lends confidence to my plea. 2I have therefore resolved to make no defence of my unusual conduct; that I offer an explanation is due to no feeling of guilt, and I am confident that you will be able to admit its justice. 3Maddened by wrongs and slights, since I had been robbed of the fruits of my toil and energy and was unable to attain to a position of honour, I followed my usual custom and took up the general cause of the unfortunate; not that I could not pay my personal debts from my own estate (and the liberality of Orestilla sufficed with her own and her daughter’s resources to pay off even the obligations incurred through others), but because I saw the unworthy elevated to honours, and realized that I was an outcast because of baseless suspicion. 4It is for this reason that, in order to preserve what prestige I have left, I have adopted measures which are honourable enough considering my situation. 5When I would write more, word comes that I am threatened with violence. 6Now I commend Orestilla to you and entrust her to your loyalty. Protect her from insult, I beseech you in the name of your own children. Farewell.”

36Catiline himself, after spending a few days with Gaius Flaminius in the vicinity of Arretium, where he supplied arms to the populace, which had already been roused to revolt, hastened to join Manlius in his camp, taking with him the fasces and the other emblems of authority. 2As soon as this became known at Rome, the senate pronounced Catiline and Manlius traitors and named a day before which the rest of the conspirators might lay down their arms and escape punishment, excepting those under sentence for capital offences. 3It was further voted that the consuls should hold a levy and that Antonius with an army should at once pursue Catiline, while Cicero defended the capital.

4At no other time has the condition of imperial Rome, as it seems to me, been more pitiable. The whole world, from the rising of the sun to its setting, subdued by her arms, rendered obedience to her; at home there was peace and an abundance of wealth, which mortal men deem the chiefest of blessings. Yet there were citizens who from sheer perversity were bent upon their own ruin and that of their country. 5For in spite of the two decrees of the senate not one man of all that great number was led by the promised reward to betray the conspiracy, and not a single one deserted Catiline’s camp; such was the potency of the malady which like a plague had infected the minds of many of our countrymen.

37This insanity was not confined to those who were implicated in the plot, but the whole body of the commons through desire for change favoured the designs of Catiline. 2In this very particular they seemed to act as the populace usually does; 3for in every community those who have no means envy the good, exalt the base, hate what is old and established, long for something new, and from disgust with their own lot desire a general upheaval. Amid turmoil and rebellion they maintain themselves without difficulty, since poverty is easily provided for and can suffer no loss. 4But the city populace in particular acted with desperation for many reasons. 5To begin with, all who were especially conspicuous for their shamelessness and impudence, those too who had squandered their patrimony in riotous living, finally all whom disgrace or crime had forced to leave home, had all flowed into Rome as into a cesspool. 6Many, too, who recalled Sulla’s victory, when they saw common soldiers risen to the rank of senator, and others become so rich that they feasted and lived like kings, hoped each for himself for like fruits of victory, if he took the field. 7Besides this, the young men who had maintained a wretched existence by manual labour in the country, tempted by public and private doles had come to prefer idleness in the city to their hateful toil; these, like all the others, battened on the public ills. 8Therefore it is not surprising that men who were beggars and without character, with illimitable hopes, should respect their country as little as they did themselves. 9Moreover, those to whom Sulla’s victory had meant the proscription of their parents, loss of property, and curtailment of their rights, looked forward in a similar spirit to the issue of a war. 10Finally, all who belonged to another party than that of the senate preferred to see the government overthrown rather than be out of power themselves. 11Such, then, was the evil which after many years had returned upon the state.

38For after the tribunician power had been restored in the consulship of Gnaeus Pompeius and Marcus Crassus, various young men, whose age and disposition made them aggressive, attained that high authority; they thereupon began to excite the commons by attacks upon the senate and then to inflame their passions still more by doles and promises, thus making themselves conspicuous and influential. 2Against these men the greater part of the nobles strove with might and main, ostensibly in behalf of the senate but really for their own aggrandizement. 3For, to tell the truth in a few words, all who after that time assailed the government used specious pretexts, some maintaining that they were defending the rights of the commons, others that they were upholding the prestige of the senate; but under pretence of the public welfare each in reality was working for his own advancement. 4Such men showed neither self-restraint nor moderation in their strife, and both parties used their victory ruthlessly.

39When, however, Gnaeus Pompeius had been dispatched to wage war against the pirates and against Mithridates, the power of the commons was lessened, while that of the few increased. 2These possessed the magistracies, the provinces and everything else; being themselves rich and secure against attack, they lived without fear and by resort to the courts terrified the others, in order that while they themselves were in office they might manage the people with less friction. 3But as soon as the political situation became doubtful, and offered hope of a revolution, then the old controversy aroused their passions anew. 4If Catiline had been victor in the first battle, or had merely held his own, beyond a doubt great bloodshed and disaster would have fallen upon the state; nor would the victors have been allowed for long to enjoy their success, but when they had been worn out and exhausted, a more powerful adversary would have wrested from them the supreme power and with it their freedom. 5Yet even as it was, there were many outside the ranks of the conspiracy who, when hostilities began, went to join Catiline. Among them was Fulvius, a senator’s son, who was brought back and put to death by order of his father.

6All this time at Rome Lentulus, following Catiline’s directions, was working, personally or through others, upon those whom he thought ripe for revolution by disposition or fortune—and not merely citizens, but all sorts and conditions of men, provided only that they could be of any service in war.

« Sal. Cat. 17–28 | Sal. Cat. 29–39 | Sal. Cat. 40–49 | About This Work »


  • [*] [The word "of" is absent from the text that serves as the basis for this digital copy. — Lexundria Editor]

  • [*] [The text that serves as the basis for this digital copy reads "Mucius," but this is a case of plain error. — Lexundria Editor]