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Catiline (ca. 108-62 B.C.), or Lucius Sergius Catilina, was a Roman politician and revolutionary. Cicero blocked his attempt to overthrow the government in 63 B.C.

Although Catiline traced his patrician lineage to Sergestus, a companion of Aeneas, no member of the family had held the consulship in Rome for several generations. His early life and career are shrouded in obscurity and misrepresentation. He may have served as military tribune in the Social War in 89 B.C. When Sulla returned to Rome in 83, Catiline joined him.

Catiline held the praetorship in 68 B.C. For the next 2 years he served as governor of Africa. When he returned to Rome in 66, he attempted to run for the consulship, but his candidacy was refused because he was under indictment for extortion in his province. Acquitted of extortion in 65 and of the charge of murder during the proscriptions in 64, Catiline ran for the consulship of 63 with financial support from M. Licinius Crassus. But senatorial leaders rallied behind Cicero, and Catiline lost. He campaigned again in 63, making a broad appeal on a platform of cancellation of debts. Again he failed because of the opposition of Cicero and heavy bribery by his senatorial competitors.

Disappointed and disgruntled, Catiline turned to revolution. With a small group of senatorial backbenchers and equestrians, he made plans to recruit an army in Etruria, march on Rome, and take control of the state after murdering Cicero and other leading senators.

Cicero learned of the plot from one of the conspirators and obtained concrete evidence of it from Crassus. On Oct. 21, 63 B.C., Cicero exposed Catiline's plans in the Senate, which declared a state of emergency and voted Cicero full power to deal with the conspiracy; his defensive measures in Rome and elsewhere in Italy foiled Catiline's plans on October 27. On November 7 Cicero denounced Catiline in the Senate in the first of his four Catilinarian orations. Catiline promptly left Rome to join his troops in Etruria. Early in December, Cicero arrested four of the conspirators left in Rome, and they were put to death on his orders. This action broke the back of the conspiracy. In January 62 B.C., two senatorial armies trapped Catiline at Pistoria in northern Etruria as he tried to flee to Gaul, and he died fighting at the head of his troops.

Though ambitious for power, Catiline saw himself as the champion of the poor and oppressed against an entrenched and unresponsive oligarchy. His economic program attracted small landholders in many parts of Italy, especially Etruria, who had been ruined in the Sullan confiscations.

Further Reading

Ancient sources on Catiline include Cicero, Plutarch, and Sallust. E.G. Hardy, The Catiline Conspiracy in Its Context (1924), and Arthur Kaplan, Catiline: The Man and His Role in the Roman Revolution (1968), offer good analyses of the problems connected with the conspiracy. Lester Hutchinson, The Conspiracy of Catiline (1966), is a well-written but uncritical account of Catiline's life.

Additional Sources

Beesly, Edward Spencer, Catiline, Clodius, and Tiberius, Tustin, Calif.: American Reprint Service, 1985. Zullino, Pietro, Catilina, Milano: Rizzoli, 1985. □

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Catiline (Lucius Sergius Catilina) (kăt´Ĭlīn), c.108 BC–62 BC, Roman politician and conspirator. At first a conservative and a partisan of Sulla, he was praetor in 68 BC and governor of Africa in 67 BC The next year he was barred from candidacy for the consulship by false accusations of misconduct in office. Feeling that he had been cheated, he concocted a wild plot to murder the consuls. He and the other conspirators were acquitted (65 BC). In 63 BC he ran again for consul, but was defeated by the incumbent, Cicero, and the conservative party. He then attempted to take the consulship by force; he sent money for the troops in Etruria and spread lavish promises in Rome. Cicero became alarmed and on Nov. 8, with facts gained from Catiline's mistress, accused him in the senate (First Oration against Catiline). Catiline fled to Etruria. The remaining conspirators did not cease activities but even approached some ambassadors of the Allobroges, who reported the whole plot to Cicero. The conspirators were arrested and arraigned in the senate on Dec. 3. On Dec. 5 they were condemned to death and executed, in spite of a most eloquent appeal from Julius Caesar for moderation. Cicero's haste and summary behavior led to a charge by Clodius that these Roman citizens were denied due process of law and Cicero was exiled. Catiline did not surrender; he fell in battle at Pistoia a month later. The prime sources for Catiline's conspiracy are Cicero's four orations against him and Sallust's biography of him, but both of these are prejudiced and unreliable. The affair did little credit to any concerned, except for the honest and patriotic Cato the Younger and possibly for Julius Caesar, who made a daring plea to a vindictive and ruthless majority on behalf of the conspirators whom he scorned.

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Catiline (c.108–62 bc), Roman nobleman and conspirator. In 63 bc his planned uprising was discovered by Cicero, and Catiline fled from Rome. In the suppression of the uprising his fellow conspirators were executed and Catiline himself died in battle in Etruria.