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M. Porcius Cato

Symptoms Of The Triumvirate Not The Republic

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P.P., your commentary was well thought out, to the point, factual and concise. It boiled all the twaddle on the thread down to something usable. I am sure that my pseudo- enemy will agree with me on this. M.P.C., maybe I learned something sans your harrasment, but because of your harrasment. Do I get your absolution now?

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I agree with PP's post almost in its entirety.

 

I do to, talk about cut through the crap - mine included. Excellent post PP.

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However, with the exception of Sulla (who failed to conquer all his enemies, btw), the Roman army proved capable of disposing of every traitor who raised his sword against Rome, including Cinna, Lentulus, and Catiline.

 

Consider the career of Pompey. It was far less conventional than that of Caesar, and he was a supporter of the 'traitor' Sulla.

 

Yet Cato was willing to side with this man against Caesar. Why? Pragmatism of course, he needed Pompey's legions. So he was willing to be pragmatic and support one man whose entire career had been founded on illegality and pursued through extraordinary appointments and laws, yet he would not be pragamtic and seek compromise with Caesar. Why? Because he had a personal grudge (how humiliated he must have been by the notorious love-letter incident in the Catiline debate).

 

The weakness of the senate is clearly shown by their inability to separate Pompey from his armies, leading to one extraordinary command against another. You might object that as the senate could pass extraordinary laws, and give retrospective sanction to otherwise illegal acts that this meant the constitution was working just fine.

 

But the careers of Marius, Sulla, Lepidus, Sertorius, Pompey, Catiline etc etc pointed the way for Caesar.

 

You say bribery was not widespread, yet clearly vast sums were spent on elections and those were surely spent on lining the pockets of prospective voters. The fact that few were prosecuted shows up thr hypocrisy of the system. Whilst I agree with much of PPs excellent post, I must take issue with the statement that

 

it is the failure of individuals to be blamed and not the system itself

 

It is niaf in the extreme to expect ambitious men, who have examples of previous illegal actions being unpunished and no real constitutional safeguards that can be brought against them, not to exploit the system to their own advantage. That is a failing of the morality of individuals (which is commonplace and to be expected) and of the system of government.

 

Apologies for the somewhat 'bitty' post but I'm pressed for time.

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It is niaf in the extreme to expect ambitious men, who have examples of previous illegal actions being unpunished and no real constitutional safeguards that can be brought against them, not to exploit the system to their own advantage. That is a failing of the morality of individuals (which is commonplace and to be expected) and of the system of government.

 

Yes, it appears we all agree with PPs post, with conditions. I like this paragraph of yours Furius.

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it is the failure of individuals to be blamed and not the system itself

 

It is niaf in the extreme to expect ambitious men, who have examples of previous illegal actions being unpunished and no real constitutional safeguards that can be brought against them, not to exploit the system to their own advantage. That is a failing of the morality of individuals (which is commonplace and to be expected) and of the system of government.

 

Apologies for the somewhat 'bitty' post but I'm pressed for time.

 

I do agree that the system had its problems which included the inability to safeguard its own law from the corruption of individuals, but I maintain that the system itself, despite its flaws, worked for 5 centuries and could've continued to work if not for extreme ambitions. I agree that reversing the trend would have been an enormous task even in the best possible circumstance, but the system did have a working track record.

 

Again, my assertion is not that the system failed even in this circumstance but that the people who were responsible for upholding the system failed to do so. The law was in place... its the failure of individuals and factions for failing to uphold the law that existed or applying constitutional means to modify the law. This may be a semantical argument perhaps, but all the mechanisms did exist to allow the system to punish those who broke the law. There were eventualities built in to allow for growth and governing of provinces even if these eventualities did allow far too much individual discretion.

 

At any rate, I suppose the main point is not that the Republic was a blameless system but that it was in essence a far better alternative to singular authority. I'm not talking about the ideological freedom of the Roman masses vs the pseudo oligarchic patrician families. The masses were essentially governed by the same laws and customs and controlled by the same means under the Principate as in the Republic. Can we really see a marked improvement in the lot of the common Roman in the imperatorial or principate periods? Laws were enacted to create a placebo effect and to create a fervor of popular support, but many of the populist laws were hardly enforced (ie the replacement of agricultural slave labor with poor citizenry). There were temporary changes while the dying days of the Republic forced change due to political necessity, and clearly we see new military opportunity afforded by earlier circumstances under Marius and the later formation of a standing army, but this of itself does not equate to true better circumstances for the people. Sure there was the later alimenta as an example and the grain dole had always been there in some form or another, but I don't personally equate social welfare as an improvement to the overall status of the populus anyway.

 

I suppose what it comes down to for me whether the system itself was a failure or not, is that if all else is essentially equal, at least the Republic afforded the opportunity for choice even if those choices were not always of the greatest benefit.

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Consider the career of Pompey. It was far less conventional than that of Caesar, and he was a supporter of the 'traitor' Sulla. Yet Cato was willing to side with this man against Caesar. Why?

 

Firstly, Cato had opposed Pompey his entire career, including rebuffing a marriage alliance with Pompey. The reason for this opposition was obviously due to the constitutional issues at stake and not to any personal grudge. (Cato also didn't hold grudges against Cicero and Murena, despite opposing them bitterly in the courts and despite Cicero's completely amoral speech on behalf of Murena.) I suspect Cato viewed Pompey as the lesser of two evils. Unlike Caesar, Pompey by this point simply didn't have the "killer instinct" that Caesar did (a point Caesar made himself).

 

The love letter incident strikes me as another one of those moral tales that historians love to tell. It's funny; you don't need to know anything about the Roman constitutional issues at stake to grasp the reason for the Cato-Caesar conflict, so it has a broad appeal. It's a simple tale for the simple-minded, but it's not credible. Again, look at the history of Cato's conflicts and allies. He was willing to let bygones be bygones in many cases, so I doubt very much that his whole conflict with Caesar was over something so trivial. If you're wiling to believe it though, I suppose you're also willing to believe that Marcus Brutus Junius founded the republic to avenge the dishonored Lucretia, that Rome salted Carthage, and that Caesar was born a Marian populare instead of an ordinary indebted aristocrat.

 

It is niaf in the extreme to expect ambitious men, who have examples of previous illegal actions being unpunished and no real constitutional safeguards that can be brought against them, not to exploit the system to their own advantage.

 

So then you would have supported the punishment of Caesar as well? And Pompey? And Marius? Good to see we're in agreement then.

Edited by M. Porcius Cato

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So why did the 'great pragmatist' Cato oppose Caesar so bitterly? Where is the evidence that Caesar would have taken military action had he been allowed to stand for consul in absentia (which was precedented and hence 'constitutional'). A 'domination of Caesar', similar to the 'domination of Pompey' would have left the form of the Republic intact. So why did Cato take action that was highly likely to bring about horrendous civil war (and also possibly proscriptions etc, though Caesar of course did not go down that road).

 

So then you would have supported the punishment of Caesar as well? And Pompey? And Marius? Good to see we're in agreement then.

 

Indeed. And of course the prosecution of Cicero for killing Roman citizens without trial (Cato of course was blameless in that act I'm sure).

 

But as the whole system was hopelessly undermined post-Marius, it's all rather academic.

Edited by Furius Venator

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So why did the 'great pragmatist' Cato oppose Caesar so bitterly?

Well obviously Caesar was the lynchpin in the Triumvirate. If Caesar were removed from the equation, Pompey and Crassus would never have gotten along. If you wanted to undermine the triumvirate, there was no other way.

 

Where is the evidence that Caesar would have taken military action had he been allowed to stand for consul in absentia (which was precedented and hence 'constitutional').

Standing for consul in absentia had never been allowed by the Senate, if I'm not mistaken, and it's bad policy in any case. The evidence for Caesar's willingness to use force was provided by his own conduct as consul, when he had used political violence against his co-consul and effectively kept the rest of the senate locked up in their homes lest they be murdered by his mobs. Caesar's use of political violence accurately predicted the course he was later to take, which Cato had the foresight to see long before anyone else (as Cicero himself acknowledged after it was all too late).

 

A 'domination of Caesar', similar to the 'domination of Pompey' would have left the form of the Republic intact.

The form of the Republic is not what is at stake here, but the substance. As early as Caesar's consulship, there was evidence of Caesar's willingness to use force to have his will: his very opening act as consul was to have Cato arrested for arguing against one of his bills; he ignored popularly-elected quaestors in presenting the case for the agrarian bill and instead had Pompey and Crassus (who were simply privati at this point) deliver the case for them; he had his thugs beat up his co-consul and smash the consular fasces; one of Caesar's henchmen, the tribune Vitinius, successfully abducted Caesar's consular colleague and placed him in the carcer without trial; at least one legal case that affected Caesar's position was also disrupted due to the political violence that Caesar sponsored.

 

And of course the prosecution of Cicero for killing Roman citizens without trial (Cato of course was blameless in that act I'm sure).

You do realize that it was Cato who convinced Cicero to go into exile for this, don't you? Also, if you suspect Cato had been behind the expited penalty phase in the hearing of the Catilinarian traitors, I really wonder whether you've checked a time line recently. Cato was merely a very young quaestor at the time, who had just finished opposing Cicero in the courts (where Cato was fulfilling his pledge to prosecute everyone who benefitted from the Sullan proscriptions). The notion that a quaestor could twist the arm of a consul is simply too fantastic to treat seriously. Re-read Pro Murena: the tone that Cicero takes towards Cato at this point is so patronizing that I seriously doubt Cicero would have needed any prodding from Cato re: the Catilinarians; quite the contrary, part of Cicero's case AGAINST Cato's prosecution was that the threat by the Catilinarians was so great that the republic couldn't be bothered with violations of the election laws. Cato in contrast claimed that Cicero was exaggerating the threat for effect. Rather than Cato leading Cicero against the Catlinarians, it was very obviously the reverse.

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Standing for consul in absentia had never been allowed by the Senate, if I'm not mistaken

 

Actually, Marius was the precedent for this, like so much else.....

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Standing for consul in absentia had never been allowed by the Senate, if I'm not mistaken

Actually, Marius was the precedent for this, like so much else.....

OK--so both times, this was the spark of civil war.

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Well obviously Caesar was the lynchpin in the Triumvirate

 

Tish tosh! Mere opinion. Further by the time Caesar wished to stand for his second consulship, Crassus (and hence the triumvirate) was long dead. Cato merely pursued his feud with Caesar (as any 'good' Roman would have done). I order to 'save' the republic he destroyed it by his petty vendetta. Where is the evidence that Caesar wished to be anything more than 'leading citizen', the hero of the mob and envy of his peers as Pompey (and others, even pre Marius) had been before him.

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Cato merely pursued his feud with Caesar (as any 'good' Roman would have done). I order to 'save' the republic he destroyed it by his petty vendetta.

If Cato were the type to hold a grudge, how would you explain his relations with the rest of Rome? He quarreled with nearly everyone at one point or another, so you have a lot of explaining to do.

 

Where is the evidence that Caesar wished to be anything more than 'leading citizen', the hero of the mob and envy of his peers as Pompey (and others, even pre Marius) had been before him.

First, why the shudder quotes? Do you really mean leading citizen (like Catulus) or tyrant (like Sulla)?

Second, I presented evidence of Caesar's proclivities for violence above, especially against his co-consul. If you're going to ignore the evidence I present with no response, there's no point in my providing still more evidence for you. Or: let me put it differently--what *would* convince you that a senator (other than Caesar) was aiming at dictatorship?

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Come now, what evidence is there that he wished to be dictator pre-Rubicon? Or even sought civil war? Cato presented him with the choice of civil war or political extinction. The weakness of the post-Marius republican system had delivered the ability to choose civil war into Caesar's hands. What on earth was he exected to do?

 

Sure, Caesar used violence, I've never disputed it. But the 'boni' did too. In fact violence was used quite often, even in the 'good old days' of the republic pre-Marius. The use of thugs in the forum is hardly clear evidence of a wish to rule as a tyrant.

 

But why would Caesar wish tyranny? Surely it fits more with his character for him to lord it over his 'equals' as the constitution encouraged then to destroy them. Why else his aversion to proscription or his policy of clemency to captured senators in the Civil War? Sure, he wished to be seen as a defender of the constitution not its destroyer for propoganda purposes, but that doesn't mean that his underlying agenda was to destroy it.

 

Really, the man was an unscrupulous rogue with a genius for intrigue and generalship. There seems little evidence that his ambitions exceeded that of Pompey, dominance within the constitution (such as it was) rather than tyranny.

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Well I could answer 'ditto'.

 

Let's take your question. Cato reached accomodation with nearly everyone but Caesar. Okay, we'll take that as read. So why did he not seek a peaceful resolution with Caesar? after all, one was offered and the majority of the senate were for it, only Cato's hardline faction of 22 (IIRC) opposing. We must presume either personal feud (beyond repair) or that he felt Caesar was genuinely going to overthrow the state once he became consul for the second time. Yet Caesar would be no greater (arguably less) threat as consul than rebellious proconsul with a dozen legions at his back. Why do you so stubbornly refuse to believe that Cato was as short sighted and stubborn as Caesar was ambitious and unscrupulous?

 

After all, had the faction of Cato not opposed all attempts at settling Pompey's veterans on Italian soil then the whole triumvirate might have never come about. His later alliance with Pompey merely shows the levels of hypocrisy to which he would stoop in pursuit of his feud with Caesar.

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