The Catiline conspiracy

Oct 2019
Hi! I just registered and this is my first post. I was hoping that someone could explain the Cateline cospiracy for me in a simple and easy way to understand it. I have come across it several times when reading up on ancient republican Rome but I never really understood it and it seems awefully complicated. The more I dig into it the less I understand. And was there two conspiracies? I have read from someone that there was no conspiracy at all and everything is really hard to grasp... I am no historian but I have read some about ancient Rome so I know the players (Caesar, Cicero, Crassus, Cato).

Appreciate it!
Oct 2015
Unfortunately there is no simple, easy way to understand it. Have you tried the "Wikipedia" article(s)? They are actually pretty good.

Sallust and Cicero paint Catilina as a monster of depravity, and that is the image that has come down to us due to the survival of their works and Cicero's modern good image. But both Sallust and Cicero had biases and agendas, defamation of character was a traditional rhetorical method, and Catilina was not indicted or convicted of any of the enormities (murdering his first wife and son, killing his brother-in-law, defiling a vestal virgin etc) of which Cicero and Sallust accuse him.

As to the "First Conspiracy", there is no real evidence anything happened at all, or that Catiline was involved.

Is it possible Catilina was an "outed" aristocrat running for the consulship on a "platform" of a "clean slate" (novae tabulae -cancelling debts, redistributing land etc) an even more radical plan than the Gracchi? And that he was dealt with by the aristocracy in the same way as they dealt with the Gracchi? (senatus consultum ultimum - execution without trial). Is it credible that Catilina and the "conspirators" (most of whom were also aristocrats that had been expelled from the political mainstream for one reason or another) believed they could overthrow the Republic and seize power by incendiarism and murder of the leading senators? Or were they using a radical platform to push their way back into the mainstream?
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Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
In any event, the conspiracy was a doomed and overhyped affair. Even if his ragtag bunch army been formed, and even if it had seized Rome, he would have soon been crushed by one of the provincial governors (if not before then). Cicero liked to be called the "savior of his country" for his role in the affair, but it's perhaps the most overhyped title ever given to anyone in the history of Rome. He accused some people, executed a few people on trial, and the rest of the conspirators took the plan over and watched it fall apart (as it would have even if Cicero had done nothing, never mind executed people without trial; remind me what the urgency of doing that was again?)
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Oct 2015
If you're interested in a somewhat radical (modern leftist?) rejection of the traditional account, there is M Parenti's "Assassination of Julius Caesar", which depicts the episode as part of "popular resistance to entrenched power".(?)
Sep 2013
Ontario, Canada
Catiline was a Senator and Patrician of the late Republic, one who had a limitless desire for political power and the highest office in the land. Nothing was going to stop this guy from attaining the Consulship. He's reputed to have murdered his brother-in-law and had Sulla add his name to the proscription registers so he could collect cash to further his ambitions. He was also suspected of having murdered his first wife and son to be able to quickly remarry to a wealthy woman in an effort to get more funds, too. He was constantly acquitted, usually through interventions of powerful people and vast sums of cash.

The first Catiline conspiracy probably never happened, or if it did, that supposed action against the Consuls of 65 BCE, it had nothing to do with him. However the second Catiline conspiracy from 63 to 62 BCE was triggered when he lost to Decimus Junius Silanus and Lucius Licinius Murena in the consular elections. He was faced with the end of his political ambitions. However instead of accepting the results he chose to enact a conspiracy involving veterans of Sulla's legions and powerful supporters to topple the Republican government.

He had gathered the support of about 10,000 men under arms when the conspiracy was pointed out by Cicero. This caused the denounced Catiline to flee from Rome, and by the time he reached his forces he discovered they had heard the news with many of them deserting, leaving him with just 3,000. But rather than face the judgement of the Senate (which almost certainly would've been death) he chose to fight to the death with all of his supporters, who all knew they faced the same fate, the latter perhaps by being enslaved and worked to death in the mines.