Marcus Porcius Cato (Latin: M?PORCIVS?M?F?CATO) (234 BC, Tusculum–149 BC) was a Roman statesman, surnamed the Censor (Censorius), the Wise (Sapiens), the Ancient (Priscus), or the Elder (Maior), to distinguish him from Cato the Younger (his
He came of an ancient Plebeian family who all were noted for some military service but
not for the discharge of the higher civil offices. He was bred, after the manner of his Latin
forefathers, to agriculture, to which he devoted himself when not engaged in military
service. But, having attracted the notice of Lucius Valerius Flaccus, he was brought to Rome, and successively held the offices of Cursus Honorum: Tribune (214 BC), Quaestor (204 BC), Aedile (199 BC), Praetor (198 BC), Consul (195 BC) together with his old patron,
and finally Censor (184 BC).
; 1 Biography
1.1 Cognomen Cato
1.2 Deducing the year of birth
1.3.1 On the Punic Wars
1.3.2 Between the wars
1.3.3 Follower of the old Roman strictness
1.3.4 Path to magistracies
1.4 Early military career
1.4.2 Aedile and praetor
1.5.1 Repeal of the Oppian law
1.5.2 Post in Hispania Citerior
1.5.3 His Roman triumph
1.5.4 End of his consulship
1.6 Late military career
1.6.1 Battle of Thermopylae
1.6.2 A doubtful visit to Athens
1.7 Influence in Rome
1.8 Later years
; 2 Cato's writings
; 3 Other influences
; 4 Quotes
; 5 See also
; 6 Notes
; 7 References
; 8 External links
Cato the Elder was born in Tusculum, a municipal town of Latium, to which his ancestors
had belonged for some generations. His father had earned the reputation of a brave soldier, and his great-grandfather had received a reward from the state for five horses killed under him in battle. However the Tusculan Porcii had never obtained the privileges
of the Roman magistracy. Cato the Elder, their famous descendant, at the beginning of his career in Rome, was regarded as a novus homo (new man), and the feeling of his
unsatisfactory position, working along with the belief of his inherent superiority, contributed to exasperate and stimulate his ambition. Early in life, he so far exceeded the previous deeds of his predecessors that he is frequently spoken of, not only as the leader, but as the founder, of the Porcia Gens.
 Cognomen Cato
His ancestors for three generations had been named Marcus Porcius, and it is said by
Plutarch that at first he was known by the additional cognomen Priscus, but was
afterwards called Cato—a word indicating that practical wisdom which is the result of natural sagacity, combined with experience of civil and political affairs. However, it may well be doubted whether Priscus, like Major, were not merely an epithet used to
distinguish him from the later Cato of Utica, and there is no precise information as to the
date when he first received the title of Cato, which may have been given in childhood as a symbol of distinction. The qualities implied in the word Cato were acknowledged by the plainer and less outdated title of Sapiens, by which he was so well known in his old age,
that Cicero says, it became his virtual cognomen. From the number and eloquence of
his speeches, he was styled orator, but Cato the Censor (Cato Censorius), and Cato
the Elder are now his most common, as well as his most characteristic names, since he carried out the office of Censor with extraordinary standing, and was the only Cato who ever accomplished it.
 Deducing the year of birth
In order to determine the date of Cato's birth, we consider the records as to his age at the time of his death, which is known to have happened 149 BC. According to the coherent
chronology of Cicero Cato was born in 234 BC, in the year before the first Consulship of Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, and died at the age of 85, in the consulship of
Lucius Marcius Censorinus and Manius Manilius. Pliny agrees with Cicero. Other
authors exaggerate the age of Cato. According to Valerius Maximus he survived his 86th
year; according to Livy and Plutarch he was 90 years old when he died. The
exaggerated age, however, is inconsistent with a statement recorded by Plutarch on the
asserted authority of Cato himself.
Cato is represented to have said, that he served his first campaign in his 17th year, when Hannibal was overrunning Italy. Plutarch, who had the works of Cato before him, but was careless in dates, did not observe that the estimation of Livy would take back Cato's 17th year to 222, when there was not a Carthaginian in Italy, whereas the computation of
Cicero would make the truth of Cato's statement in harmony with the date of Hannibal's first invasion.
 On the Punic Wars
When Cato was a very young man, the death of his father put him in possession of a small hereditary property in the Sabine territory, at a distance from his native town. It was here that he passed the greater part of his childhood, hardening his body by healthful exercise, overseeing and sharing the operations of the farm, learning the way in which business was conducted, and studying the rules of rural economy. Near his lands was a modest hut which had been inhabited, after three triumphs, by its owner Manius Curius Dentatus,
whose military feats and rigidly simple character were fresh in the memory of the old, and were often talked of with admiration in the neighborhood. The memory of this hero inspired Cato, who decided to imitate the character, and hoped to match the glory of Dentatus. Soon an opportunity came for a military campaign in 217 BC, during the Second
Punic War against Hannibal Barca. There is some discrepancy among experts as to the
events of Cato's early military life. In 214 BC he served at Capua, and the historian
Wilhelm Drumann imagines that already, at the age of 20, he was a military tribune.
Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus had the command in Campania, during the year of
his fourth consulship, and admitted the young soldier to the honour of intimate friendship. While Fabius communicated the valued results of military experience, he omitted not to inculcate his own personal and political partialities and dislikes into the ear of his attached follower. At the siege of Tarentum, 209 BC, Cato was again at the side of Fabius. Two
years later, Cato was one of the select group who went with the consul Claudius Nero on his northern march from Lucania to check the progress of Hasdrubal Barca. It is recorded
that the services of Cato contributed to the decisive victory of Sena on the Metaurus,
where Hasdrubal was slain. He later gave several vehement speeches which may have contributed to the destruction of Carthage in the Third Punic War. His personal motto became "Carthago delenda est," or "Carthage Must be Destroyed".
 Between the wars
In the pauses between campaigns, Cato returned to his Sabine farm, using a simple dress, and working and behaving like his laborers. Young as he was, the neighboring farmers liked his tough mode of living, enjoyed his old-fashioned and concise proverbs, and had a high regard for his abilities. His own active personality made him willing and eager to employ his powers in the service of his neighbors. He was selected to act, sometimes as an arbitrator of disputes, and sometimes as a supporter in local causes, which were probably tried in front of recuperatores (the judges for causes of great public interest).
Consequently he was enabled to strengthen by practice his oratorical abilities, to gain self-confidence, to observe the manners of men, to analyze the diversity of human nature,
to apply the rules of law, and practically to investigate the principles of justice.  Follower of the old Roman strictness
In the surrounding area of Cato's Sabine farm were the lands of Lucius Valerius Flaccus, a
young nobleman of significant influence, and high patrician family. Flaccus could not help remarking the energy of Cato, his military talent, his eloquence, his frugal and simple life, and his traditional principles. Flaccus himself was member of that purist faction who displayed their adherence to the stricter virtues of the ancient Roman character. Within the Roman society there was a transition in progress: from Samnite rusticity to Grecian
civilization and oriental voluptuousness. The chief magistracies of the state had become
almost the patrimony of a few distinguished families, whose wealth was correspondent with their upper-class birth. Popular by acts of graceful but corrupting generosity, by charming manners, and by the appeal of hereditary honours - they collected the material power granted by a multitude of clients and followers, and the intellectual power provided by the monopoly of philosophical education; their taste in the fine arts, and their knowledge of stylish literature. Nevertheless, the reaction to them was strong. The less fortunate nobles, jealous of this exclusive oligarchy, and openly watchful of the decadence and disorder associated with luxury, placed themselves at the head of a party which showed its determination to rely on purer models and to attach much importance to the ancient ways. In their eyes, rusticity, austerity, and asceticism were the marks of Sabine robustness and religion, and of the old Roman inflexible integrity and love of order. Marcus Claudius Marcellus, Scipio Africanus and his family, and Titus Quinctius
Flamininus, may be taken as instances of the new civilization; Cato's friends, Fabius and Flaccus, were the leading men in the faction defending the old plainness.  Path to magistracies
Part of the Roman Forum. The arch was erected by Septimius Severus
Flaccus was a perceptive politician who looked for young and emergent men to support him. He had observed Cato's martial spirit and eloquent tongue. He knew how much courage and persuasiveness were valued at Rome. He also knew that the merits of the battlefield opened the way to achievements in the higher civil offices. Finally, Flaccus knew too that for a stranger like Cato, the only way to the magisterial honors was success
in the Roman Forum. For that reason, he suggested to Cato that he shift his ambition to
the fruitful field of Roman politics. The advice was keenly followed. Invited to the townhouse of Flaccus, and ratified by his support, Cato began to distinguish himself in the forum, and became a candidate for assuming a post in the magistracy.
 Early military career
In 205 BC, Cato was appointed Quaestor, and in the next year (204 BC) he entered upon
the duties of his place of work, following Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Major to Sicily.
When Scipio, acting on the consent which, after much opposition, he had obtained from the senate, transported the armed forces from Sicily into Africa, Cato and Gaius Laelius
were appointed to escort the baggage ships. There was not the friendliness of cooperation between Cato and Scipio which ought to exist between a quaestor and his proconsul.
This bust of Scipio Africanus the Elder is at the National Museum in Naples, Italy. Fabius had opposed the permission given to Scipio to carry out the attack into the enemy's home, and Cato, whose appointment was intended to monitor Scipio's behavior, adopted the views of his friend. It is reported by Plutarch, that the lenient discipline of the troops under Scipio's command, and the exaggerated expense incurred by the general, provoked the protest of Cato; that Scipio immediately afterwards replied angrily, saying he would give an account of victories, not of money; that Cato left his place of duty after the dispute with Scipio about his alleged extravagance, and returning to Rome, condemned the uneconomical activities of his general to the senate; and that, at the joint request of Cato and Fabius, a commission of tribunes was sent to Sicily to examine the behavior of Scipio, who was found not guilty upon the view of his extensive and careful arrangements
for the transport of the troops. This version is barely consistent with the narrative of Livy, and would seem to attribute to Cato the wrongdoing of quitting his post before his time. If Livy be correct, the commission was sent because of the complaints of the inhabitants of Locri, who had been harshly oppressed by Quintus Pleminius, the legate of Scipio. Livy
says not a word of Cato's interference in this matter, but mentions the bitterness with which Fabius blamed Scipio of corrupting military discipline and of having illegally left his
province to take the town of Locri.
The author of the abridged life of Cato which is commonly considered as the work of Cornelius Nepos, asserts that Cato, after his return from Africa, put in at Sardinia, and
brought the poet Quintus Ennius in his own ship from the island to Italy; but Sardinia was rather out of the line of the trip to Rome, and it is more likely that the first contact of Ennius
and Cato happened at a later date, when the latter was Praetor in Sardinia.
 Aedile and praetor
In 199 BC Cato was chosen aedile, and with his colleague Helvius, restored the Plebeian
Games, and gave upon that occasion a banquet in honor of Jupiter. In 198 BC he was
made praetor, and obtained Sardinia as his province, with the command of 3,000 infantry and 200 cavalry. Here he took the earliest opportunity of demonstrating his main beliefs by the practice of his strict public morality. He reduced official operating costs, walked his trips with a single assistant, and, by the studied lack of ceremony, placed his own frugality in striking contrast with the oppressive magnificence of ordinary provincial magistrates. The rites of religion were celebrated with reasonable thrift; justice was administered with strict impartiality; usury was controlled with deep severity, and the usurers were banished. Sardinia had been for some time completely calmed, but if we are to believe the
improbable and unsupported testimony of Aurelius Victor, a revolt in the island was
subdued by Cato, during his Praetorship.
 Repeal of the Oppian law
In 195 BC he was elected Consul with his old friend and patron Flaccus. Flaccus gave Cato his wife as a gift for his creation of money. Cato was thirty-nine years old. During his Consulship an odd scene took place, noticeably expounding of Roman manners. In 215 BC, at the height of the Second Punic War, a law —the Oppian Law, (Lex Oppia)— had
been passed at the request of the Tribune of the People Gaius Oppius, to restrict luxury and extravagance on the part of women. The law specified that no woman should own more than half an ounce of gold, nor wear a garment of several colours, nor drive a carriage with horses at less distance than a mile from the city, except for the purpose of attending the public celebration of religious rites. With Hannibal defeated and Rome
resplendent with Carthaginian wealth, there was no longer any need for women to
contribute towards the exigencies of an impoverished treasury the savings spared from their ornaments and pleasures. Consequently, the Tribunes Marcus Fundanius and Lucius Valerius thought it was time to propose the abolition of the Oppian law; but they were opposed by their colleagues, Tribunes Marcus Junius Brutus and Titus Junius Brutus. Curiously, this particular challenge spawned far more interest than the most important affairs of state. The middle-aged married women of Rome crowded the streets, denied access to every avenue to the forum, and intercepted their husbands as they approached, demanding them to restore the ancient ornaments of the Roman matrons. Even more, they had the boldness to approach and beg the Praetors, Consuls and other magistrates. Even Flaccus hesitated, but his colleague Cato was inflexible, and made an impolite and characteristic speech, the substance of which, remodelled and modernized, is given by
Livy. Finally, the women got what they wanted. Tired of the women's persistent demanding, the dissenting tribunes withdrew their opposition. The hated law was repealed by the vote of all the tribes, and the women made clear their joy and success by going in procession through the streets and the forum, dressed up with their then legitimate
Just had this important affair been concluded when Cato, who had maintained during its progress a severe and determined firmness without, perhaps, any very serious damage to his popularity, set sail for his appointed province, Hispania Citerior.
 Post in Hispania Citerior
In his campaign in Hispania, Cato behaved in keeping with his reputation of untiring hard work and alertness. He lived soberly, sharing the food and the labours of the common soldier. Wherever it was possible, he personally superintended the execution of his requisite orders. His movements were reported as bold and rapid, and he never was negligent in pushing the advantages of victory. The sequence of his operations and their combination in agreement with the schemes of other generals in other parts of Hispania appear to have been carefully designed. His stratagems and manoeuvres were accounted as original, talented, and successful; and the plans of his battles were arranged with expert skill. He managed to set tribe against tribe, benefited himself of native deceitfulness, and took native mercenaries into his pay.
Hispania in 197 BC
The details of the campaign, as related by Livy, and illustrated by the incidental
anecdotes of Plutarch, are full of horror and they make clear that Cato reduced Hispania
Citerior to subjection with great speed and little mercy. We read of multitudes who, after they had been stripped of all their arms, put themselves to death because of the dishonour; of extensive massacres of surrendered victims, and the frequent execution of harsh plunders. The phrase bellum se ipsum alet - the war feeds itself - was coined by Cato
during this period. His proceedings in Hispania were not at discrepancy with the received idea of the fine old Roman soldier, or with his own firm and over-assertive temper. He claimed to have destroyed more towns in Hispania than he had spent days in that
 His Roman triumph
When he had reduced the whole area of land between the River Iberus and the Pyrenees
to a hollow, resentful, and temporary obedience, he turned his attention to administrative reforms, and increased the revenues of the province by improvements in the working of the iron and silver mines. On account of his achievements in Spain, the senate decreed a thanksgiving ceremony of three days. In the course of the year, 194 BC, he returned to Rome, and was rewarded with the honor of a Roman triumph, at which he exhibited an
extraordinary quantity of captured brass, silver, and gold, both coin and lingots. In the distribution of the monetary prize to his soldiery, he was more liberal than might have been
expected from him, a so vigorous professor of parsimonious economy.
 End of his consulship
The return of Cato seems to have accelerated the enmity of Scipio Africanus, who was
Consul, 194 BC and is said to have desired the command of the province in which Cato was harvesting notoriety. There is some disagreement between Nepos (or the
pseudo-Nepos), and Plutarch, in their accounts of this topic. The former asserts that
Scipio was unsuccessful in his effort to obtain the province, and, offended by the rejection, remained after the end of his consulship, in a private capacity at Rome. The latter relates that Scipio, who was disgusted by Cato's severity, was actually appointed to succeed him, but, not being able to secure from the senate a vote of censure upon the administration of
his rival, passed the time of his command in total inactivity. From the statement in Livy,
that in 194 BC, Sextus Digitius was appointed to the province of Hispania Citerior, it is probable that Plutarch was mistaken in assigning that province to Scipio Africanus. The notion that Africanus was appointed successor to Cato in Spain may have arisen from a double confusion of name and place, due to the fact that Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica
was chosen, 194 BC, to the province of Hispania Ulterior.
However the true facts may be, Cato successfully proved himself by his eloquence, and by the production of detailed financial accounts, against the attacks made on his behavior while consul; and the existing fragments of the speeches, (or the same speech under different names), made after his return, attest the strength and boldness of his arguments.
Plutarch affirms that, after his Consulship, Cato accompanied Tiberius Sempronius
Longus as legatus to Thrace, but here there seems to be a mistake, for though Scipio
Africanus was of opinion that one of the Consuls should have Macedonia, we soon find
Sempronius in Cisalpine Gaul, and in 193 BC, we find Cato at Rome dedicating to
Victoria Virgo a small temple which he had vowed two years before.
 Late military career
 Battle of Thermopylae
The military career of Cato was not yet ended. In 191 BC, he was appointed Military
Tribune (some affirm legatus), under the Consul Manius Acilius Glabrio, who was
dispatched to Greece to oppose the invasion of Antiochus III the Great, King of the
Seleucid Empire. In the decisive Battle of Thermopylae (191 BC), which led to the
downfall of Antiochus, Cato behaved with his usual valor, and enjoyed good fortune. By a daring and difficult advance, he surprised and removed a body of the enemy's Aetolian
auxiliaries, who were posted upon the Callidromus, the highest peak of the range of Mount Oeta. He then began a sudden descent from the hills above the royal camp, and the panic caused by this unexpected movement promptly turned the day in favor of the Romans, and signaled the end of the Seleucid invasion of Greece. After the action, the General hugged Cato with the greatest warmness, and attributed to him the whole credit of the victory. This fact rests on the authority of Cato himself, who, like Cicero, often
indulged in the habit, offensive to modern taste, of sounding his own praises. After an interval spent in the pursuit of Antiochus and the pacification of Greece, Cato was sent to Rome by the Consul Glabrio to announce the successful outcome of the campaign, and he performed his journey with such celerity that he had started his report in the senate before the arrival of Lucius Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus, the later conqueror of Antiochus,
who had been sent off from Greece a few days before him.
 A doubtful visit to Athens
It was during the campaign in Greece under Glabrio, and, as it would appear from the account of Plutarch, (rejected by the historian Wilhelm Drumann) before the Battle of Thermopylae, that Cato was chosen to keep Corinth, Patrae, and Aegium, from siding
with Antiochus. It was then too that he visited Athens, and, to prevent the Athenians from
listening to the propositions of the Seleucid king, addressed them in a Latin speech, which
was explained to them by an interpreter. Already perhaps he had a basic knowledge of Greek, for, it is said by Plutarch, that, while at Tarentum in his youth, he became in close
friendship with Nearchus, a Greek philosopher, and it is said by Aurelius Victor that while
praetor in Sardinia, he received instruction in Greek from Ennius. It was not so much, possibly, taking into account his still confessed disdain for everything Greek. Nevertheless because his speech was an affair of state, it is probable that he used the Latin language, in compliance with the Roman norm, which was observed as a diplomatic mark of Roman
 Influence in Rome
His reputation as a soldier was now established; henceforth he preferred to serve the state at home, scrutinizing the conduct of the candidates for public honours and of generals in the field. If he was not personally engaged in the prosecution of the Scipiones (Africanus and Asiaticus) for corruption, it was his spirit that animated the attack upon them. Even Scipio Africanus, who refused to reply to the charge, saying only, "Romans, this is the day on which I conquered Hannibal," and was absolved by acclamation, found it necessary to retire, self-banished, to his villa at Liternum. Cato's enmity dated from the
African campaign when he quarrelled with Scipio for his lavish distribution of the spoil amongst the troops, and his general luxury and extravagance.
Cato was also opposed to the spread of Hellenic culture, which he believed threatened to destroy the rugged simplicity of the conventional Roman type. It was in the discharge of the censorship that this determination was most strongly exhibited, and hence that he
derived the title (the Censor) by which he is most generally distinguished. He revised with unsparing severity the lists of Senators and Knights, ejecting from either order the men whom he judged unworthy of it, either on moral grounds or from their want of the prescribed means. The expulsion of L. Quinctius Flamininus for wanton cruelty was an
example of his rigid justice.
His regulations against luxury were very stringent. He imposed a heavy tax upon dress and personal adornment, especially of women, and upon young slaves purchased as favourites. In 181 BC he supported the lex Orchia (according to others, he first opposed its
introduction, and subsequently its repeal), which prescribed a limit to the number of guests at an entertainment, and in 169 BC the lex Voconia, one of the provisions of which
was intended to check the accumulation of an undue proportion of wealth in the hands of women.
Amongst other things he repaired the aqueducts, cleansed the sewers, prevented private
persons drawing off public water for their own use, ordered the demolition of houses which encroached on the public way, and built the first basilica in the Forum near the
Curia (Livy, History, 39.44; Plutarch, Marcus Cato, 19). He raised the amount paid by the
publicani for the right of farming the taxes, and at the same time diminished the contract prices for the construction of public works.
 Later years
From the date of his Censorship (184) to his death in 149 BC, Cato held no public office, but continued to distinguish himself in the senate as the persistent opponent of the new ideas. He was struck with horror, along with many other Romans of the graver stamp, at the licence of the Bacchanalian mysteries, which he attributed to the influence of Greek
manners; and he vehemently urged the dismissal of the philosophers (Carneades,
Diogenes, and Critolaus), who came as ambassadors from Athens, on account of the
dangerous nature of the views expressed by them.
He had a horror of physicians, who were chiefly Greeks. He procured the release of Polybius, the historian, and his fellow prisoners, contemptuously asking whether the Senate had nothing more important to do than discuss whether a few Greeks should die at Rome or in their own land. It was not till his eightieth year that he made his first acquaintance with Greek literature, though some think after examining his writings that he may have had a knowledge of Greek works for much of his life.
In his last years he was known for strenuously urging his countrymen to the Third Punic
War and the destruction of Carthage. In 157 BC he was one of the deputies sent to
Carthage to arbitrate between the Carthaginians and Massinissa, king of Numidia. The
mission was unsuccessful and the commissioners returned home. But Cato was so struck by the evidences of Carthaginian prosperity that he was convinced that the security of Rome depended on the annihilation of Carthage. From this time, in season and out of season, he kept repeating the cry: "Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam."
(Moreover, I advise that Carthage must be destroyed.) (The expression was also at
times phrased more compactly "Carthago delenda est" or "delenda Carthago"). He was
known for saying this at the conclusion of each of his speeches, regardless of the topic.