Quo usque tandem abutere, Catilina, patientia nostra?
How long, Catiline, will you abuse our patience?
Lucius Sergius Catilina, or Cataline, was a Roman senator who came from one of the oldest families in Rome. But he had just lost the consular election of 62 BC to Marcus Tullius Cicero and Gaius Antonius Hybrida. This was the third time that he had lost the election for Rome’s most coveted office.
So Cataline gathered the discontented aristocrats and conspired to overthrow the Republic to establish himself as the sole ruler of Rome and to carry out drastic socioeconomic reforms. He bribed them. He promised to forgive their large debts. He promised to give them land.
Cicero discovered the conspiracy. He then exposed it via a public speech to the senate, “The First Oration,” on November 7th, 63 BC. Cataline was present and asked the people to not trust Cicero because was a self-made man without a family heritage.
Cataline left Rome in exile. Cicero delivered three more orations. He presented the evidence and gathered the public opinion.
Cataline and his conspirators were eventually captured. In the last oration, Cicero argued for execution. (He did this indirectly through his oration since, as consul, he was not able to participate directly in the proceeding). Julius Caesar (then praetor-elect) argued for life imprisonment.
The conspirators were executed without trial due to their significant public popularity. This later caused problems for Cicero. In 58 BC, a law was passed that retroactively made it illegal to execute Roman citizens without a trial. Cicero went into exile himself.
Fellow senators and the general public thought that Cicero’s exile was unjustified. Cicero wrote extensively during his exile. Influential allies like Pompey the Great and Titus Annius Milo helped arrange his return. But he would not have been able to return without widespread public support.
After Cicero returned to Rome, he focused on his writing. He went on to produce many of his best works and continued to play a large role in politics.