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Cato Uticensis, Propraetor, committed suicide in 46 B.C.

Cato preferred to die with the Republic rather than outlive it. Defeated at Utica, Africa by Caesar he committed suicide in 46 B.C.


Roman Republic, Marcus Cato Porcius Uticensis, gens Porcia
Silver (AR) quinarius, 1.94g, 13.8mm
Minted: Utica, North Africa, 47-46 B.C.
Obverse: M.CATO.PRO.PR, Head of youthful Bacchus right, wreathed with ivy
Reverse: Victoria Virgo seated right, patera in right hand, palm branch over left shoulder, VICTRIX (TR ligate) in exergue
References: Crawford 462/2; Sydenham 1054a; RSC I Porcia 1
Comments: Rare

by Hans Joachim Hoeft

Marcus Porcius Cato was the great-grandson of Cato the Elder, known for his perpetual warning that Carthage must be destroyed ("Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam!"). To distinguish him from his great-grandfather, he was named Cato the Younger. The name Cato Uticensis was given to him posthumously after his death at Utica.

This coin was struck by permission of the Roman Senate in Utica, North Africa, in 47 or 46 B.C. The reverse is a copy of a denarius (Crawford 343) struck by another M. Cato in 89 B.C. These reverses almost certainly depict Victoria Virgo from her shrine dedicated in 193 B.C. by Cato the Elder, on the Palentine, adjacent to the Temple of Victory.

During a military stay in Macedonia, Cato the Younger visited Pergamon to meet the Stoic philosopher Athenodoros Kordylion. The philosopher was so impressed by the young Roman that he followed Cato to Rome and lived in Cato's house for the rest of his life. Cato was so impressed by the philosopher that he followed his teachings and lived by the Stoic philosophy for the rest of his life.

Politically Cato was an exponent of the optimates and therefore an adversary of the populares like Julius Caesar. He believed in complete and exact obedience to the law and, in 65 B.C. when he was quaestor, demanded the repayment of the head-money which Sulla was paid during his proscriptions. It's clear that this didn't make friends. Together with Cicero, he fought against the Catilinarians (for whom Caesar had sympathy) and argued for the execution of the conspirators. He became an opponent of Pompey when Pompey wanted to get the a posteriori agreement of the Senate for his activities against Mithridates. Cato fought to reestablish the Roman constitution. His understanding of duty often was seen as excessive. He was a man without compromises. His dignitas was, however, respected by all.

After Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon on 11 January 49 B.C., beginning the Civil War, in his concern for the Republic, Cato took the side of Pompey. Pompey and Cato fled Italy and the overwhelmingly superior forces of Caesar, hoping they could raise arms in Greece and defeat him later at Dyrrhachium. Soon after, however, they were thoroughly beaten by Caesar at Pharsalus and Pompey was killed in Egypt. Cato and Metellus Scipio took their armies to North Africa. When Caesar crossed over to Africa in 46 B.C., he completely defeated the discordant army leaders at Thapsus. Then there was no hope at all, particularly because the inhabitants of Utica were adherents of Caesar.

Caesar offered Cato safe conduct but Cato refused. He committed suicide as the Stoic philosophy demanded for his situation. Cato preferred to die with the Republic rather than outlive it. According to Plutarch, he read Platon's Phaidon before dying.

The historical assessment of Cato the Younger is controversial. He is accused of having been overly legalistic, having set the law over all else. He is said to have been pig-headed, someone who today we would call a fundamentalist. Some have charged him with hypocrisy for his alliance with Pompey, but others believe he was the last upright Republican. One could say that from the beginning he stood for a lost cause and that he fought a battle he knew he could not win. In this sense, there are some similarities with the much later Don Quichote. He failed because of the viciousness, corruption, and power-mad tyranny which characterized his time. Lukan (Parsalia I, 128) said about Cato: "Victrix causa diis placuit, sed victa Catoni (the victorious cause pleased the gods, but the conquered cause pleased Cato)."

Despite all of his contradictions, his attitude and particularly his death in Utica have made him a bright example of the libera res publica.

Sources:
[1] Der kleine Pauly
[2] Plutarch, Cato Minor, online (English) under http://www.greektexts.com/library/Plutarch/Cato_The_Younger/eng/index.html
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cato_the_Younger



Dictionary or Roman Coins




Please add updates or make corrections to the NumisWiki text version as appropriate.

CATO
Obverse: M CATo PRO PR. A female head, behind which is ROMA. Reverse: VICTRIX. Victory seated, holds out a patera in her right hand, and a palm branch in her left.

There is a quinarius (illustrated at the head of this column) similar to the denarius described above, but without the word ROMA; and doubtless struck by the same person, i.e. Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis.

P LAECA. - The winged head of Roma; in the field of the coin, X and above the head, ROMA. On the reverse, a man in military dress, standing and placing his right hand on the head of a togate citizen; near him stands a lictor with rods; below, PROVOCO.

 This remarkable silver coin recalls the memory of the Porcian Law carried by Porcius Laeca in favor of Roman citizens, to whom it gave, on appeal (provocatio), exemption from the ignominious punishment of scourging. Porcia Lex, says Cicero, virgas ab omnium civium Romanorum corpore amovit; hic misericors flagella retulit. - Orat. pro C. Rabirio. This exemption, however, was confined in its operation to towns and cities. Soldiers on duty were still left entirely dependant on the will of their commander-in-chief. - See PROVOCO.

 The bronze pieces of the Porcia family were struck in Cyrenaica (Barca) in Africa.

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