Roman historian and politician, Gaius Sallustius Crispus, to many known as Sallust, wrote Bellum Catilinae or the War of Catiline around 42 B.C. as a chronicle of the conspiracy to overthrow the government by the aristocrat Lucius Sergius Catilina in 63 B.C. Bellum Catilinae was Sallust’s first published work and one of the earliest historical monographs in Latin literature. The work is one of the main sources for the so-called Catiline conspiracy.
In, what can only be described as, the magnificent Bellum Catilinae Sallust relates in detail the sequence of events that conspired to undermine and ultimately thwart Catiline’s conspiracy. In the video lessons below I will retell these events based on Sallust’s work. The video relies on a number of chapters from Bellum Catilinae, mainly chapters 56–61 and I would suggest you read them afterwards. You will find them, along with an English translation, just below the video lessons.
If you are interested in reading and listening to Bellum Catilinae in its entirety, you can find it in our Latin learning / Latin library app called Legentibus.
You can learn more about Sallust and Bellum Catilinae in Chapter 9 of 2000 years of Latin prose and more about the conspiracy and Cicero in Chapter 5 of 2000 years of Latin prose. Cicero’s Catilinarian orations is another main source for what we know about the conspiracy. Cicero being targeted as part of it with the plan to have him killed. He did not take this lightly.
Latin Video Lesson: Part 1
Latin Video Lesson: Part 2
Latin text: G. Sallustius Crispus, Bellum Catilinae 56–61
56 Dum ea Romae geruntur, Catilina ex omni copia quam et ipse adduxerat et Manlius habuerat duas legiones instituit, cohortis pro numero militum complet; deinde, ut quisque voluntarius aut ex sociis in castra venerat, aequaliter distribuerat, ac brevi spatio legiones numero hominum expleverat, cum initio non amplius duobus milibus habuisset. Sed ex omni copia circiter pars quarta erat militaribus armis instructa, ceteri, ut quemque casus armaverat, sparos aut lanceas, alii praeacutas sudis portabant.
Sed postquam Antonius cum exercitu adventabat, Catilina per montis iter facere, modo ad urbem, modo Galliam vorsus castra movere, hostibus occasionem pugnandi non dare; sperabat prope diem magnas copias sese habiturum, si Romae socii incepta patravissent. Interea servitia repudiabat, cuius initio ad eum magnae copiae concurrebant, opibus coniurationis fretus, simul alienum suis rationibus existumans videri causam civium cum servis fugitivis communicavisse.
57 Sed postquam in castra nuntius pervenit, Romae coniurationem patefactam, de Lentulo et Cethego ceterisque quos supra memoravi supplicium sumptum, plerique, quos ad bellum spes rapinarum aut novarum rerum studium illexerat, dilabuntur, reliquos Catilina per montis asperos magnis itineribus in agrum Pistoriensem abducit eo consilio, uti per tramites occulte perfugeret in Galliam Transalpinam. At Q. Metellus Celer cum tribus legionibus in agro Piceno praesidebat, ex difficultate rerum eadem illa existumans quae supra diximus Catilinam agitare. Igitur ubi iter eius ex perfugis cognovit, castra propere movit ac sub ipsis radicibus montium consedit, qua illi descensus erat in Galliam properanti. Neque tamen Antonius procul aberat, utpote qui magno exercitu locis aequioribus expedito in fuga sequeretur. Sed Catilina, postquam videt montibus atque copiis hostium sese clausum, in urbe res advorsas, neque fugae neque praesidi ullam spem, optumum factu ratus in tali re fortunam belli temptare, statuit cum Antonio quam primum confligere. Itaque contione advocata huiuscemodi orationem habuit
58 “Compertum ego habeo, milites, verba virtutem non addere, neque ex ignavo strenuum neque fortem ex timido exercitum oratione imperatoris fieri. Quanta cuiusque animo audacia natura aut moribus inest, tanta in bello patere solet. Quem neque gloria neque pericula excitant, nequiquam hortere; timor animi auribus officit. Sed ego vos, quo pauca monerem, advocavi, simul uti causam mei consili aperirem.
“Scitis equidem, milites, socordia atque ignavia Lentuli quantam ipsi nobisque cladem attulerit quoque modo, dum ex urbe praesidia opperior, in Galliam proficisci nequiverim. Nunc vero quo loco res nostrae sint, iuxta mecum omnes intellegitis. Exercitus hostium duo, unus ab urbe alter a Gallia obstant. Diutius in his locis esse, si maxume animus ferat, frumenti atque aliarum rerum egestas prohibet. Quocumque ire placet, ferro iter aperiundum est. Qua propter vos moneo, uti forti atque parato animo sitis et, cum proelium inibitis, memineritis vos divitias, decus, gloriam, praeterea libertatem atque patriam in dextris vostris portare. Si vincimus, omnia nobis tuta erunt, commeatus abunde, municipia atque coloniae patebunt; si metu cesserimus, eadem illa advorsa fient, neque locus neque amicus quisquam teget quem arma non texerint. Praeterea, milites, non eadem nobis et illis necessitudo impendet; nos pro patria, pro libertate, pro vita certamus, illis supervacaneum est pro potentia paucorum pugnare. Quo audacius aggrediamini, memores pristinae virtutis.
“Licuit vobis cum summa turpitudine in exsilio aetatem agere, potuistis non nulli Romae, amissis bonis, alienas opes expectare; quia illa foeda atque intoleranda viris videbantur, haec sequi decrevistis. Si haec relinquere voltis, audacia opus est; nemo nisi victor pace bellum mutavit. Nam in fuga salutem sperare, cum arma, quibus corpus tegitur, ab hostibus avorteris, ea vero dementia est. Semper in proelio eis maxumum est periculum qui maxume timent, audacia pro muro habetur.
“Cum vos considero, milites, et cum facta vostra aestumo, magna me spes victoriae tenet. Animus, aetas, virtus vostra me hortantur, praeterea necessitudo, quae etiam timidos fortis facit. Nam multitudo hostium ne circumvenire queat, prohibent angustiae loci. Quod si virtuti vostrae fortuna inviderit, cavete inulti animam amittatis, neu capiti potius sicuti pecora trucidemini quam virorum more pugnantes cruentam atque luctuosam victoriam hostibus relinquatis.”
59 Haec ubi dixit, paululum commoratus signa canere iubet atque instructos ordines in locum aequum deducit. Dein remotis omnium equis, quo militibus exaequato periculo animus amplior esset, ipse pedes exercitum pro loco atque copiis instruit. Nam uti planities erat inter sinistros montis et ab dextra rupe aspera, octo cohortis in fronte constituit, reliquarum signa in subsidio artius collocat. Ab eis centuriones, omnis lectos et evocatos, praeterea ex gregariis militibus optumum quemque armatum in primam aciem subducit. C. Manlium in dextra, Faesulanum quendam in sinistra parte curare iubet. Ipse cum libertis et calonibus propter aquilam adsistit, quam bello Cimbrico C. Marius in exercitu habuisse dicebatur.
At ex altera parte C. Antonius, pedibus aeger, quod proelio adesse nequibat M. Petreio legato exercitum permittit. Ille cohortis veteranas, quas tumultus causa conscripserat, in fronte, post eas ceterum exercitum in subsidiis locat; ipse equo circumiens unum quemque nominans appellat, hortatur, rogat ut meminerint se contra latrones inermis pro patria, pro liberis, pro aris atque focis suis certare. Homo militaris, quod amplius annos triginta tribunus aut praefectus aut legatus aut praetor cum magna gloria in exercitu fuerat, plerosque ipsos factaque eorum fortia noverat; ea commemorando militum animos accendebat.
60 Sed ubi, omnibus rebus exploratis, Petreius tuba signum dat, cohortis paulatim incedere iubet. Idem facit hostium exercitus. Postquam eo ventum est unde a ferentariis proelium committi posset, maxumo clamore cum infestis signis concurrunt; pila omittunt, gladiis res geritur. Veterani, pristinae virtutis memores, comminus acriter instare, illi haud timidi resistunt; maxuma vi certatur. Interea Catilina cum expeditis in prima acie vorsari, laborantibus succurrere, integros pro sauciis arcessere, omnia providere, multum ipse pugnare, saepe hostem ferire; strenui militis et boni imperatoris officia simul exsequebatur.
Petreius ubi videt Catilinam, contra ac ratus erat, magna vi tendere, cohortem praetoriam in medios hostis inducit eosque perturbatos atque alios alibi resistentis interficit. Deinde utrimque ex lateribus ceteros aggreditur. Manlius et Faesulanus in primis pugnantes cadunt. Catilina postquam fusas copias seque cum paucis relictum videt, memor generis atque pristinae suae dignitatis in confertissumos hostis incurrit ibique pugnans confoditur.
61 Sed confecto proelio tum vero cerneres quanta audacia quantaque animi vis fuisset in exercitu Catilinae. Nam fere quem quisque vivus pugnando locum ceperat, eum amissa anima corpore tegebat. Pauci autem, quos medios cohors praetoria disiecerat, paulo divorsius sed omnes tamen advorsis volneribus conciderant. Catilina vero longe a suis inter hostium cadavera repertus est, paululum etiam spirans ferociamque animi, quam habuerat vivus, in voltu retinens. Postremo ex omni copia neque in proelio neque in fuga quisquam civis ingenuus captus est; ita cuncti suae hostiumque vitae iuxta pepercerant.
Neque tamen exercitus populi Romani laetam aut incruentam victoriam adeptus erat. Nam strenuissumus quisque aut occiderat in proelio aut graviter volneratus discesserat. Multi autem, qui e castris visundi aut spoliandi gratia processerant, volventes hostilia cadavera amicum alii pars hospitem aut cognatum reperiebant; fuere item qui inimicos suos cognoscerent. Ita varie per omnem exercitum laetitia, maeror, luctus atque gaudia agitabantur.
English translation: Sallust, The War of Caltiline, 56–61
56 While this was taking place in Rome, Catiline combined the forces which he had brought with him with those which Manlius already had, and formed two legions, filling up the cohorts so far as the number of his soldiers permitted. Then distributing among them equally such volunteers or conspirators as came to the camp, he soon completed the full quota of the legions, although in the beginning he had no more than two thousand men. But only about a fourth part of the entire force was provided with regular arms. The others carried whatever weapons chance had given them; namely, javelins or lances, or in some cases pointed stakes.
When Antonius was drawing near with his army, Catiline marched through the mountains, moved his camp now towards the city and now in the direction of Gaul, and gave the enemy no opportunity for battle, hoping shortly to have a large force if the conspirators at Rome succeeded in carrying out their plans. Meanwhile he refused to enroll slaves, a great number of whom flocked to him at first, because he had confidence in the strength of the conspiracy and at the same time thought it inconsistent with his designs to appear to have given runaway slaves a share in a citizens’ cause.
57 But when news reached the camp that the plot had been discovered at Rome, and that Lentulus, Cethegus, and the others whom I mentioned had been done to death, very many of those whom the hope of pillage or desire for revolution had led to take up arms began to desert. The remainder Catiline led by forced marches over rugged mountains to the neighbourhood of Pistoria, intending to escape secretly by cross-roads into Transalpine Gaul. But Quintus Metellus Celer, with three legions, was on the watch in the district of Pisa, an inferring from the difficulty of the enemy’s position that he would take the very course which I have mentioned. Accordingly, when he learned through deserters in what direction Catiline was going, he quickly moved his camp and took up a position at the foot of the very mountains from which the conspirator would have to descend in his flight into Gaul. Antonius also was not far distant, since he was following the fleeing rebels over more level ground with an army which, though large, was lightly equipped. Now, when Catiline perceived that he was shut in between the mountains and the forces of his enemies, that his plans in the city had failed, and that he had hope neither of escape nor reinforcements, thinking it best in such a crisis to try the fortune of battle, he decided to engage Antonius as soon as possible. Accordingly he assembled his troops and addressed them in a speech of the following purport:
58 “I am well aware, soldiers, that words do not supply valour, and that a spiritless army is not made vigorous, or a timid one stout-hearted, by a speech from its commander. Only that degree of courage which is in each man’s heart either by disposition or by habit, is wont to be revealed in battle. It is vain to exhort one who is roused neither by glory nor by dangers; the fear he feels in his heart closes ears. I have, however, called you together to offer a few words of advice, and at the same time to explain the reason for my resolution.
“You know perfectly well, soldiers, how great is the disaster that the incapacity and cowardice of Lentulus have brought upon himself and us, and how, waiting for reinforcements from the city, I could not march into Gaul. At this present time, moreover, you understand as well as I do in what condition our affairs stand. Two hostile armies, one towards Rome, the other towards Gaul, block our way. We cannot remain longer where we are, however much we may desire it, because of lack of grain and other necessities. Wherever we decide to go, we must hew a path with the sword. Therefore I counsel you to be brave and ready of spirit, and when you enter the battle to remember that you carry in your own right hands riches, honour, glory; yea, even freedom and your nature land. If we win, complete security will be ours, supplies will abound, free towns and colonies will open their gates; but if we yield to fear, the very reverse will be true: no place and no friend will guard the man whom arms could not protect. Moreover, soldiers, we and our opponents are not facing the same exigency. We are battling for country, for freedom, for life; theirs is a futile contest, to uphold the power of a few men. March on, therefore, with the greater courage, mindful of your former valour.
“You might have passed your life in exile and in utter infamy, at Rome some of you might look to others for aid after losing your estates; but since such conditions seemed base and intolerable to true men, you decided upon this course. If you wish to forsake it, you have need of boldness; none save the victor exchanges war for peace. To hope for safety in flight when you have turned away from the enemy the arms which should protect your body, is surely the height of madness. In battle the greatest danger always threatens those who show the greatest fear; boldness is a breastwork.
“When I think on you, my soldiers, and weigh your deeds, I have high hopes of victory. Your spirit, youth, and valour give me heart, not to mention necessity, which makes even the timid brave. In this narrow defile the superior numbers of the enemy cannot surround us. But if Fortune frowns upon your bravery, take care not to die unavenged. Do not be captured and slaughtered like cattle, but, fighting like heroes, leave the enemy a bloody and tearful victory.”
59 When he had thus spoken, after a brief pause he ordered the trumpets to sound and led his army in order of battle down into the plain. Then, after sending away all the horses, in order to make the danger equal for all and thus to increase the soldiers’ courage, himself on foot like the rest he drew up the army as the situation and his numbers demanded. Since, namely, the plain was shut in on the left by mountains and on the right by rough, rocky ground, he posted eight cohorts in front and held the rest in reserve in closer order. From these he took the centurions, all picked men and reservists, as well as the best armed of the ordinary soldiers, and placed them in the front rank. He gave the charge of the right wing to Gaius Manlius, and that of the left to a man of Faesulae. He himself with his freedmen and the camp-servants took his place beside the eagle, which, it was said, had been in the army of Gaius Marius during the war with the Cimbri.
On the other side Gaius Antonius, who was ill with the gout and unable to enter the battle, heº trusted his army to Marcus Petreius, his lieutenant. Petreius placed in the van the veteran cohorts which he had enrolled because of the outbreak, and behind them the rest of his army in reserve. Riding up and down upon his horse, he addressed each his men by name, exhorted him, and begged him to remember that he was fighting against unarmed highwaymen in defence of his country, his children, his altars, and his hearth. Being a man of military experience, who had served in the army with high distinction for more than thirty years as tribune, prefect, lieutenant, or commander, he personally knew the greater number of his soldiers and their valorous deeds of arms, and by mentioning these he fired the spirits of his men.
60 When Petreius, after making all his preparations, gave the signal with the trumpet, he ordered his cohorts to advance slowly; the army of the enemy followed their example. After they had reached a point where battle could be joined by the skirmishers, the hostile armies rushed upon each other with loud shouts, then threw down their pikes and took to the sword. The veterans, recalling their old-time prowess, advanced bravely to close quarters; the enemy, not lacking in courage, stood their ground, and there was a terrific struggle. Meanwhile Catiline, with his light-armed troops, was busy in the van, aided those who were hard pressed, summoned fresh troops to replace the wounded, had an eye to everything, and at the same time fought hard himself, often striking down the foe — thus performing at once the duties of a valiant soldier and of a skilful leader.
When Petreius saw that Catiline was making so much stronger a fight than he had expected, he led his praetorian cohort against the enemy’s centre, threw them into confusion, and slew those who resisted in various parts of the field; then he attacked the rest on both flanks at once. Manlius and the man from Faesulae were among the first to fall, sword in hand. When Catiline saw that his army was routed and that he was left with a mere handful of men, mindful of his birth and former rank he plunged into the thickest of the enemy and there fell fighting, his body pierced through and through.
61 When the battle was ended it became evident what boldness and resolution had pervaded Catiline’s army. For almost every man covered with his body, when life was gone, the position which he had taken when alive at the beginning of the conflict. A few, indeed, in the centre, whom the praetorian cohort had scattered, lay a little apart from the rest, but the wounds even of these were in front. But Catiline was found far in advance of his men amid a heap of slain foemen, still breathing slightly, and showing in his face the indomitable spirit which had animated him when alive. Finally, out of the whole army not a single citizen of free birth was taken during the battle or in flight, showing that all had valued their own lives no more highly than those of their enemies.
But the army of the Roman people gained no joyful nor bloodless victory, for all the most valiant had either fallen in the fight or come off with severe wounds. Many, too, who had gone from the camp to visit the field or to pillage, on turning over the body of the rebels found now a friend, now a guest or kinsman; some also recognized their personal enemies. Thus the whole army was variously affected with gladness and grief, lamentation and rejoicing.
Translation John C. Rolfe, 1921
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