Roman political leader
Marcus Porcius Cato, also called Cato the Younger, was a steadfast supporter of the Roman Republic* during its final years. He unsuccessfully tried to block Julius Caesar’s rise to power. Cato’s stand against Caesar made him a hero to those who glorified the Roman Republic and its ideals, especially after his death. The later historian Livy called Cato “the conscience of Rome,” and he was greatly admired by the Roman poet Lucan.
Cato entered political life as a quaestor* in 64 B.C. and soon became tribune*. Like his great-grandfather, Cato the Elder, the younger man was a conservative who believed strongly in Roman tradition. His views were also shaped by his belief in Stoicism, a philosophy that emphasized control over one’s thoughts and emotions. As a politician, Cato was uncompromising in his principles and stubbornly resisted change. He blocked severed attempts by Pompey and Julius Caesar, two popular generals, to gain favors for their armies and increase their power. However, his inflexibility eventually backfired. Cato’s rigid opposition led Pompey, Caesar, and Marcus Crassus to form the First Triumvirate* in 60 B.C. and seize the Senate’s power. Cato’s enemies soon sent him on a lengthy mission to annex* the island of Cyprus.
* Roman Republic Rome during the period from 509 B.C. to 31 B.C., when popular assemblies annually elected their governmental officials
* quaestor Roman financial officer who assisted a higher official such as a consul or praetor
In 54 B.C., Cato won election as praetor*, but he failed in any further attempts to unseat the triumvirate. Two years later, in an attempt to overthrow Caesar, Cato reversed his stand. He threw his support behind Pompey, who had become Caesar’s bitter rival. When this rivalry erupted into civil war, Cato fought in Pompey’s forces. After Pompey’s defeat, Cato joined a group of republican supporters in the North African city of Utica. In April of 46 B.C., facing certain defeat by Caesar’s army, Cato committed suicide rather than surrender to Caesar. (See also Caesar, Gaius Julius; Cato the Elder; Cicero, Marcus Tullius; Civil Wars, Roman; Crassus, Marcus Licinius; Pompey; Rome, History of; Triumvirates, Roman.)
* tribune in ancient Rome, the official who protected the rights of plebeians from arbitrary actions by the patricians, or upper classes
* triumvirate ruling body of three
* annex to add a territory to an existing state
* praetor Roman official, just below the consul in rank, in charge of judicial proceedings and of governing overseas provinces