In 63 BC, Cicero exposed a conspiracy to have himself murdered and to revolt against the state that was led by Lucius Sergius Catilina. Catiline had been up for election as consul in a very weak field, which Cicero had beaten easily. Disheartened by his third loss in the race for consulship, the head conspirator decided to champion the cause of the poor and the disheartened of the state (aimless aristocrats and bankrupt Sullan veterans). Catiline organized a group of people in and out of Rome that would murder the consul of 62 and cancel the debts of all Roman citizens.
Thanks to the loose tongue of one of the conspirators who bragged to his mistress about the plans, Cicero was made aware of the threat to his life. He lacked evidence however, but this was soon remedied after his spies intercepted messages from Catiline, who was now raising an army in Etruria (Cicero had scared him out of Rome). The leaders still in Rome were then arrested and executed after a long debate in the Senate, where the Senatus Consultum Ultimum was decreed upon Cicero. An army was then sent after Catiline and he was killed in battle amid an army of 10,000 men armed and trained at Faesulae (a town in Etruria). It is interesting to note that, in the deliberations of the Senate, Caesar spoke out against the death penalty for the conspirators (arguing that death was to lenient a punishment for them) and almost swayed the entire body until Cato (long the opponent of Caesar) spoke in favor of the poena ultima and won the debate.
As the prisoners made their way to their incarceration, Cicero had them strangled and infamously announced to the crowd, “Vixerunt.” It is only after this dramatic display of emergency authority that Catiline’s supporters in Etruria lost heart and Catiline was killed.
Cicero was hailed temporarily as the savior of the
state and escorted home after the prisoners’ executions amid a parade of
torches and cheers. Cicero, however, was rather arrogant and continued
to laud himself much to the annoyance of others. This arrogance worked
against him later on.
Possible Discussion Topics:
- Senatus Consultum Ultimum (the first use and intention of)
- Poena ultima??
- Changing attitudes of religion and afterlife
- Caesar vs. Cato
- The three in Catilina (when, where, why?)
- Evolution of violence (how could Catiline so easily gain allies in his quest?)
- Life of Cicero
Scene I: The Curia; November 7, 63 BC
The senators, including Catiline, are all sitting in their seats waiting for Cicero to speak. Cicero is off to the side of the stage. There are three chairs on the right side of the stage, in which Catiline, and the two senators sit. Catiline is on the end.
Senator (speaking to another senator sitting next to him): So what is this about?
2nd Senator: I’m told that Cicero is going to reveal who is responsible for that conspiracy we’ve been hearing about.
Senator (throws his hands up in the air): Finally! Things have been so strange around here lately, everyone has been acting so paranoid since Cicero was elected consul for next year. What a horrible lot of candidates to choose from! What is our great Republic coming to?
Cicero walks to center-stage and faces the senators
2nd Senator: Shh!! Quiet – he’s about to begin!
Cicero: Quo usque tandem abutere, Catilina, patentia nostra?!
All of the Senators suddenly look over to Catiline. Catiline shrinks down in his seat.
Cicero (looking at Catiline and growing angrier): Quid? Did you think that I would not find out? I know how you and your fellow conspirators met at night and laid out your plan of attack! I know how you plan to raise an army in Etruria! I know everything, Catiline!
Each of the Senators sitting near Catiline takes hold of their chairs and hops away from Catiline so that he is sitting alone.
Cicero: Why are you even here? How can you be so audacious as to sit here and look into the very eyes of the people that you would have killed? Get out of here! Leave the city! The gates lie open! Your friends in Etruria are calling you name! Go to them Catiline, and rid us of your presence!
Catiline gets up from his seat
Catiline (in a very upset and angry voice): Who are you to charge me with these things, you upstart resident alien! You, a novus homo charging me, a patrician, with conspiracy! You will rue the day Chic-Pea! You will not see the last of me!
Catiline storms out of the Curia and off stage
Cicero (addressing the Senate): My fellow Senators – do you need any more evidence? We must act now if we are to save the state!
Cicero and the Senators exit the stage
Scene II: The Curia; December 5, 63 BC
Senator 1 brings in two of the conspirators in chains and sits them down on the floor off to the side.
The senators, including Caesar and Cato come in and sit down in their chairs. Cicero again takes center stage.
Cicero: My fellow Senators, on October 21st, you decreed upon me the Senatus Consultum Ultimum – the final decree of the senate. Now, we must decide how we are best to use it and what to do with the conspirators captured here in Rome. It is my opinion that we should put them to death – the poena ultima. Exile is simply not a suitable punishment for this lot.
Caesar: Cicero, I agree that we must execute the poena ultima, but should that really be interpreted as the execution of these prisoners in this case? I think that execution is far too lenient for these men. They have upset the very foundation of our state and, if killed, will be punished only for a second – for the moment of death. The Gods are wise and true, honorable men, but we have evolved past the ancient belief that men will truly suffer in the afterlife. On the other hand, life imprisonment in various towns across Italy will force them to feel the effects of their unjust acts for the rest of their life, until old age offers them the solace and comfort of death.
Cato: I disagree whole-heartedly! We must rid the earth
of this scum! These criminals deserve the
ultimate punishment, and how can there be a worse punishment than death? How many of you would rather die than live out your life in another town in Italy? None! Why? Because all of us know exactly what we would do in those towns! Criminal or not, we would still be from Rome, we would still be famous, we would still be noble. The town, whichever it may be, would smother us with praise and wealth. Any one of us could live better as an exile in some Italian town than we do here now, as Senators in Rome! We must execute the prisoners!
2nd Senator: Here here!!
Senator: Here here!!
Cicero: Then it is agreed, the prisoners will be executed.
Scene III: The Mamertine Prison
Cicero leads the conspirators to the prison and as they reach center stage. Cicero faces the prisoners.
Cicero: A trial will be too good for you!!
Cicero and Senator 1 strangle each prisoner (Senator I puts his hands around 1 prisoner, the prisoner falls dead to the ground. Cicero puts his hands around the second prisoner and he falls dead to the ground)
Cicero turns and addresses the class.
Cicero (triumphantly): Amici! Vixerunt!