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