Cato the Elder Biography

Marcus Porcius Cato, also known as Cato the Elder, was a renowned Roman soldier, historian, and political figure. He was the first to document historical facts in Latin and was highly regarded for his conservative views. Cato’s opposition to Hellenization and his dedication to preserving traditional customs made him a prominent figure in Roman society. Prior to his political career, Cato served as a soldier and engaged in farming during his time away from the battlefield. Introduced to the ‘Cursus Honorum’ by his friend Lucius Valerius Flaccus, Cato held various public offices and made significant contributions to the Roman community. Notably, as a praetor, he expelled usurers, and as a censor, he sought to protect the ancient customs of the land.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Marcus Porcius Cato
  • Died At Age: 85
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Licinia, Salonia
    • Children: Cato Salonianus, Marcus Licinianus
  • Born Country: Roman Empire
  • Historians
  • Ancient Roman Men
  • Died on: 149 BC
  • Place of death: Rome, Italy

Childhood & Early Life

Marcus Porcius Cato was born in 234 BC in Tusculum, Roman Republic, to a family of brave soldiers. His great-grandfather was a renowned soldier in his days and was awarded for killing five horses in a battle.

Military Campaigns

Cato the Elder received a sizeable property from his father after his death. He used it for cultivation and farming. It is believed that Cato was deeply motivated by the local hero Manius Curius Dentatus who had a great reputation in military operations.

During the Second Punic War, Cato the Elder received an opportunity to fight against Hannibal Barca. According to historians, Cato served at the city of Capua as a military tribune. He also became good friends with Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus when the latter was serving as a commander in Campania.

It is believed that Cato went along with Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus to the siege of Tarentum around 209 BC. He was later chosen by the consul Claudius Nero for supervising the development at Lucania. He was credited for his battle expertise for the success in the Battle of the Metaurus that resulted in Hasdrubal’s demise.

Public Office

Cato the Elder was appointed Quaestor in 205 BC and was given the charge of escorting the baggage ships from Sicily to Africa. He had some differences with his proconsul Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Major who had the responsibility to transport armed forces on that same route.

Cato brought a series of allegations against Scipio and left his post to return to Rome. He complained about various instances of mismanagement by Scipio to the senate. However, after an internal investigation, Scipio was cleared of all charges brought by Cato the Elder.

Cato became an aedile in 199 BC and was given charge of the Plebeian Games. He was tasked with the restoration of the games as well as the construction of a banquet in honor of Jupiter, the king of gods in the ancient Roman mythology.

Later, he became a praetor of Sardinia. He took charge of 3,000 infantry as well as 200 cavalry and immediately started to work on reconstructing the administrative policies. He brought a series of changes, including cutting down the operational costs and restoring a strict public policy.

He oversaw a change in religious celebrations, making them less extravagant, and reformed the justice system. He also ended the usury and banished all the usurers from the province.

Works as a Consul

Cato the Elder became the junior consul to his old friend Lucius Valerius Flaccus in 195 BC. His most important work as a junior consul was to implement the first two of the Porcian Laws which protected the Roman public from the Valerian Law and its erratic punishments.

During the Second Punic War, the Oppian Law was imposed which prevented all women from spending extravagantly on jewellery. People were forbidden from driving carriages with horses close to the city. They were also barred from many other extravagances such as wearing colorful clothes. The main aim was to preserve the public wealth and treasury.

At the end of the war, Rome eyed the Carthaginian wealth. The first thing the tribune proposed was to demolish the Oppian Law as it was no longer needed in the empire. However, there were a few who didn’t want to revoke the law just yet which sparked a huge uproar among the women population in the state.

Women took to the streets protesting against the law, making the tribune uncomfortable with their stand. Cato didn’t hold back at all and made a harsh speech. The tribune had to withdraw their stand and the law was revoked with immediate effect.

Upon his return to Hispania, Cato built on his reputation with his hard work and sober personality. He was selfless and helped the common soldiers as well as the common people. His tactics ensured victories in many battles and he was hailed for his swift actions whenever an opportunity arrived to make a difference in battle situations.

He not only settled the battle-related issues with his skills but also changed the state of the administration. He emphasized on revenue generation and in a bid to improve it, Cato prioritized the silver and iron mines. The results were obvious and he was rewarded once he returned to Rome in 194 BC.

The senate awarded him a “Roman Triumph” that earned him huge amounts of gold, silver, brass, and other valuables. Cato was known for his nonattachment to wealth and as a result of this characteristic, he distributed all of the awarded wealth to his soldiers.

Return to Military Service for the Last Time

In 191 BC, Cato the Elder stood side by side with his old friend Lucius Valerius Flaccus in the Battle of Thermopylae. Cato was appointed the lieutenant-general of Consul Manius Acilius Glabrio and opposed the invasion of the king of the Seleucid Empire, Antiochus III the Great.

In an unexpected and unorthodox move, Cato brought heavy damage upon the enemy posted on the Mount Oeta. He used the hills strategically to attack the royal forces and eventually turn the events in favor of Rome.

Family & Personal Life

Cato the Elder was married twice. The names of his wives were Licinia and Salonia. He had two children, Marcus Licinianus and Cato Salonianus. He died in 149 BC in the Roman Republic, at the age of 85.

Cato the Elder was honored with the wrinkle ridge system on the moon being named after him.

He was the great-grandfather of Cato the Younger who became popular for standing against Julius Caesar.

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