Catiline Orations

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The Catiline Orations or Catilinarian Orations were speeches given in 63 BC by Marcus Tullius Cicero, the consul of Rome, exposing to the Roman Senate the plot of Lucius Sergius Catilina and his friends to overthrow the Roman government.


The Catiline plot and the orations of Cicero

Catiline, who was running for the consulship a second time after having lost the first time around, tried to ensure his victory by resorting to outlandish, blatant bribery. Cicero, in indignation, issued a law prohibiting machinations of this kind.[1] It was obvious to all that the law was directed specifically at Catiline. Catiline, in turn, conspired with some of his cronies to murder Cicero and the key men of the Senate on the day of the election. Cicero discovered the plan and postponed the election to give the Senate time to discuss the attempted coup d'état.

The day after the election was supposed to be held, Cicero addressed the Senate on the matter and Catiline's reaction was immediate and violent. In response to Catiline's behavior, the Senate issued a senatus consultum ultimum, a kind of declaration of martial law invoked whenever the Senate and the Roman Republic were in imminent danger from treason or sedition. Ordinary law was suspended and Cicero, as consul, was invested with absolute power.

When the election was finally held, Catiline lost again. Anticipating the bad news, the conspirators had already begun to assemble an army, made up mostly of Sulla's veteran soldiers. The nucleus of conspirators was also joined by senators whose profligate tastes left them perennially without funds. The plan was to initiate an insurrection in all of Italy, put Rome to the torch and to kill as many senators as they could.

Through some crafty moves of his own, Cicero knew exactly what was being planned. On November 8, Cicero called for a meeting of the Senate in the Temple of Jupiter in the Capitol, which was used for this purpose only when great danger was imminent. Catiline had the temerity to attend as well. It was in this context that Cicero delivered one of his most famous orations.

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