Marcus Porcius Cato (the Younger)

Marcus Porcius Cato (the Younger)

The great-grandson of the legendary Marcus Porcius Cato (the Censor), the younger Cato, orphaned at an early age, received his education through his maternal uncle, Marcus Livius Drusus, and steeped his mind in Stoicism and politics.

As a good practitioner of Stoic philosophy, he subjected himself to the most rigorous of physical disciplines, ate sparingly, and lived simply.

Cato’s military career began with his service in 72 b.c.e. during the Servile War against Spartacus and his followers. As a military tribune in Macedonia in 67 b.c.e., he served alongside his men and shared in their hardships and sacrifices.

While in Macedonia, his brother Caepio died, and he journeyed to the Middle East, probably in an attempt to assuage his grief. When Cato returned to Rome in 64 b.c.e. he won election as a quaestor, dealing with the financial interests of the Roman state.

Known for his honesty and integrity, Cato discovered that former quaestors had participated in fraud and murder, and he responded to the revelations by promptly bringing the offenders to justice. He left office amid much public praise and gratitude.

In 63 b.c.e. Cato won election to the tribune of the plebs, an office devised to protect the plebeians (the less privileged) from arbitrary treatment by the patrician (privileged) class. Once in office Cato fought Julius Caesar at every opportunity, disliking Casear’s morals and actions.

Caesar, in turn, had Cato arrested for obstructionism. Once released, Cato attempted to stop Caesar from receiving a five-year appointment as a provincial governor, but to no avail.

Pompey also stood in opposition to Cato, but rather than continually battle his adversary, Pompey proposed an alliance through marriage to one of Cato’s relatives. Cato, believing it was simply a way for Pompey to gain political influence, would not permit the marriage.

It may have been, as Plutarch implies in his brief biography of Cato, a fatal mistake, because Pompey then married Caesar’s daughter, Julia, a union that cemented the relationship between the two leaders—a relationship that eventually destroyed constitutional government in Rome.

In 58 b.c.e. Clodius, a tribune, hoping to rid Rome of the troublesome Cato, appointed him governor of Cyprus. As governor, Cato was meticulous in his record keeping and was fiscally responsible.

He returned to Rome two years later amid great accolades for his service in Cyprus. In 54 b.c.e., as the First Triumvirate disintegrated, Cato became a praetor, an official in charge of judicial affairs, and used his office to halt Caesar’s schemes.

In 53 b.c.e. Cato lost an election for one of the two consulships and then retired from public service. When one of the consuls, Crassus, died at Carrhae that summer, Cato chose to accept Pompey as sole consul of the state.

Civil war ensued in 49 b.c.e., and Caesar’s army crossed the Rubicon bound for Rome. Cato took command of the Republican forces in Sicily, but outnumbered, he left the island without fighting a battle and then chose to follow Pompey to Greece.

Caesar defeated Pompey’s forces at Pharsalus on August 9, 48 b.c.e., and shortly after the debacle, the Egyptians assassinated Pompey as he disembarked on their shores. Cato and the military commander, Quintus Caecilius Metellius Pius Scipio, fled to Africa and continued to resist Caesar from Utica.

Caesar pursued Cato and his allies; in February 46 b.c.e., Caesar defeated Scipio’s forces at the Battle of Thapsus. When Cato received word of Scipio’s defeat in 46 b.c.e., he chose to commit suicide rather than live under the rule of Caesar.

Remembered for his Stoic lifestyle, integrity, and Republican ideals, Cato fought until the day of his death to preserve the Roman Republic and remains for many a model of virtue in public service.