O tempora, O mores! The Catiline Conspiracy suceeds

Part I
In 63 BC, a bankrupt aristocrat called Catiline attempted (possibly) to overthrow the Roman Republic (maybe). After his plots were revealed, he fled Rome, raised a rebel army, and died in battle shortly thereafter. Cicero, the famous statesman, got most of the credit for stopping this; he had previously warned against Catiline's plots; although his rapid execution of many of Catiline's (supposed) co-conspirators led to him being exiled a few years later. Cicero got the 'smoking gun' he needed on October 20, when letters were delivered to his house, supposedly written by Catiline, in which the plotter urged various prominent Romans to leave town rather quickly for the sake of their health.

As might be expected, finding out exactly what happened in a shadowy plot 2000 years ago is almost impossible. Catiline never left his side of the story, Cicero had a vested interest in making the plot as hair-raising as possible and undoubtedly employed dirty tricks of his own, and exactly who was involved, and to what degree, is somewhat obscure. (Crassus and Caesar both, for instance, were suspected of knowing rather more than they let on).

But, with that in mind, I started to wonder - what if Catiline's mad gamble had actually paid off?

Part I: The City Falls

Lucius Catiline, scion of a noble family, had great vigour both of mind and body, but an evil and depraved nature. From youth up he revelled in civil wars, murder, pillage, and political dissension, and amid these he spent his early manhood. His body could endure hunger, cold and want of sleep to an incredible degree; his mind was reckless, cunning, treacherous, capable of any form of pretence or concealment. Covetous of others' possessions, he was prodigal of his own; he was violent in his passions. He possessed a certain amount of eloquence, but little discretion. His disordered mind ever craved the monstrous, incredible, gigantic – Sallust; the Wars of Catiline

On the 28th of October, 63 BC, a man by the name of Lucius Sergius Catilina – a bankrupt aristocrat hailing from one of the oldest families in the Republic, recent champion of the poor, and accused murderer – appeared in the Roman Forum.

Striding up to the Rostra – that platform, decorated with the prows of ships captured almost three centuries ago, that served as perhaps the central point of Roman public affairs – he was escorted, so Cicero tells us, by well over three hundred men.

Many, no doubt, deserved Cicero’s description of them as ‘hirelings, criminals, cut-throats, bandits, gladiators, slaves of the lowest sort’ – but others almost certainly did not. For with him marched scions of some of the oldest and most important families in Rome. True, many were on the margins of respectability - Publius Autronius Paetus, for example, had been elected to the highest office in the Republic, the Consulship, before his bribes, obscene even by the standards of the time, had served to void his election; whilst Publius Cornelius Lentulus Sura, Catiline's right hand man, had managed to get himself expelled from the Senate for ‘immorality’. But others were quite respectable, albeit with careers that rarely measured up to their glory of their ancient names - Gaius Cornelius Cethegus and Lucius Bestia, for instance, both had had unimpressive, but unmarked, magistracies – indeed, Bestria had just been elected to the powerful office of Tribune, whilst Lucius Cassius Longinus was a former Praetor – albeit one whose climb up the Cursus Honorum was considered to have come to a grinding halt.

The stink of smoke was likely in Cataline’s nostrils; and the Forum would have been eerily quiet. Dawn was still breaking over the city, but even by that point, many citizens would have known something terrible had happened during the night. For, in a single, coordinated stroke, at least twelve houses, belonging to some of the most powerful and richest men in Rome, had been broken into that night. Their inhabitants had been put to the sword, their women – so Sallust informs us– raped, before joining their menfolk. The screams and shouts, the tramp of groups of men sprinting through the streets, and the clash of steel would have been audible through the night.

The list of dead was extensive. Cato the Younger, a fiery, young, conservative Senator, was amongst them, as was Lucius Licinius Murena and Decimus Junius Silanus, the Consul-elects. Quintus Marcius Rex, a military leader who was awaiting his Triumph outside the city, was likewise killed, as was the Praetor Quintus Pompeius Rufus. Senior senators, magistrates, tribunes and Equites were all, reportedly, amongst the slaughtered. Some men, it was rumoured, had been slain by their own sons.

As Catalina approached the Rostra, according to Sallust, he saw Gaius Julius Caesar there – the young, aristocratic, debt-ridden, reckless and famously debauched newly elected Pontiff Maximus. Surrounded by his priests, Caesar had already, it seemed, understood the will of the Gods in this matter, and he had hurried to make sure other members of Rome’s priesthood understood it too. Certainly, the auguries, when they were taken just before Catalina’s speech, were reportedly beyond reproach; the Gods tracing no signs of coming disaster in the flights of birds or the feeding of chickens.

Forty five years old, Catiline would have cut an imposing figure as he mounted the Rostrum and began to speak. All sources agree on his leanness, his height, his hardness of body and his harsh, yet hypnotic, voice. One of the witnesses, a man named Marcus Terentius Varro who would later write the only at least slightly pro-Catiline history, On Cataline; described him as speaking clearly, confidently, without a trace of doubt, for well over an hour.

The Republic, Catiline claimed, had been stolen. Money lenders and greedy aristocrats, clever lawyers and corrupt magistrates, had conspired together, to steal the birth right of every Roman citizen. Their land had been taken from them, they had been cast into debt, they were forced to grovel at the feet of their equals for scraps from the table. Even men of the oldest and noblest blood, he said, had been brought low by the machinations of this shadowy cabal. Just as had happened during the old days of Tarquin the Proud, the Roman people had been the subjects of tyrants. And, just as had happened centuries ago, eventually the patience of the Roman people had snapped. New liberators had arisen, led by the new Brutus – Catiline. In a single night, so he said, the tyrants had been killed, liberty restored, and the glory of Rome regained.

So, at any rate, Catiline was pleased to claim. And with gangs of armed men prowling the city, the burnt out shells of what had been the homes of some of the greatest men in the Republic still smouldering, and the memories of last night’s screams still fresh, it is unlikely that anyone was in the mood to publicly dispute him, no matter how vague, or vaunting, his claims.

But as he spoke, was he as self assured as he appeared to be? Did he honestly believe that, in a single night, he had made him and his cohorts the undisputed masters of Rome? Or, buried beneath his undeniable bravery, his recklessness and his almost obscene sense of his own superiority, feel a kernel of fear?

For not all his enemies had been killed. One, in particular, had escaped the fate planned for him, and was already far outside the city walls, heading towards the relative safety of his hometown of Arpinium. Marcus Tullius Cicero – rightful Consul, famed orator and possessed of an ego almost as enormous as Catiline's, a man who had repeatedly accused Catiline of plotting against the state – had survived.
 
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Skallagrim

Banned
This is a very promising start. As this is only the very beginning, there's not yet much to comment, but I'll be watching this with interest.
 
Thanks. Next post should be up this week, real life permitting, on what poor Cicero gets up to. Part III will likely be on what exact role Crassus is playing in all this.

As an aside, just read your Hellenistic TL and absolutely love the writing style. Really captures the archaic, almost judgemental style of those old translations.
 
Part II
Thanks for all the interest so far! This update, the focus shifts a hundred or so miles to the south, to the small town of Arpinium, where Cicero is currently lurkin, wondering what to do, and rather wishing people had bothered to actually listen to him.

Part II: Cicero in Arpinium

But the conspirators were unbalanced men who seldom met together without wine and women, while Cicero was following their schemes industriously, with sober judgement and surpassing sagacity; he also had many men outside of their conspiracy who kept watch upon their doings and helped him track them down, and he conferred secretly and confidentially with many who were supposed to belong to the conspiracy. Yet in spite of this men refused to believe Cicero, for these testimonies which were true, indeed, were not sufficient for the conviction of a man of reputation and great power like Catiline, and indeed Cicero by his repeated testimony on this point began to make himself odious to those very men he was trying to warn - Plutarch; The Life of Cicero.

As the chill November wind howled through the hills of Italy, Marcus Tullius Cicero sat, impotent , in his small hometown, abandoned by all but his own household. Tiro, Cicero’s secretary, notes that he rarely saw his master so despondent, for so long – and somewhat waspishly noted that Cicero was ‘not, perhaps, able to bear adversity with as much fortitude as one might wish’.

Cicero's escape alone was a miracle, as he himself acknowledged. For the rest of his life, the normally indiscreet Cicero, who delighted in being the centre of attention, refused to reveal the name of his saviour, saying he was bound by the most terrible oaths a Roman might swear. This man, on that dark night of the 27th, with a troop of what Cicero delicately termed ‘hired men’ (likely either a gang of toughs recruited for the task, a group of sturdy slaves hired for the purpose, or a rented troop of gladiators – or indeed some combination thereof) had intercepted the death squads aimed at Cicero’s house. Taking Catalina’s men by surprise as they broke into Cicero’s mansion, his rescuers had fought off, by Tiro’s estimate, fifty armed men.

Their commander of this sally had swept into Cicero’s house, explained the situation to him, and managed to convince the panicked politician that Catalina’s coup was not only in progress, but had already succeeded. Spirited through the alley ways of a rioting Rome, lit by flames and with screams echoing through the streets, Cicero and his household had reached the Celimontana gate, where carts and horses were already waiting for them.

Although Cicero never revealed the identity of his saviour – at, he said, the man’s own request –scholarship, both ancient and modern, is virtually unanimous at naming Marcus Caelius Rufus.

If true this would be a testament to the closely knit, almost incestuous world of the Roman elite. For Rufus had originally come to Rome and studied under Cicero, before falling into the circle of the fabulously rich Marcus Lincinius Crassus – and thereafter into the orbit of Catiline himself. As for his motives, we can only speculate. Simply loyalty to his old mentor, Roman honour, or indeed self-interest – not wanting to entirely cut his ties with the old regime should Catiline’s plans falter – have all been suggested over the years. The historian Valerian Calenius, writing five centuries later, even went so far as to speculate that the attempt was approved of by Catiline himself; as a means of ensuring Cicero fled the city, ‘so that he could prove to all the Roman people that the Consul was but a coward; who rather than fighting and dying in the cause of the constitution of the Republic, where his example might inspire the enemies of the arch-traitor, had instead fled Rome and abandoned her to the Tyrant; by sparing Cicero’s life he intended to kill his spirit’. However, if true, this would be, to say the least, a marked departure from Catiline’s normal, rather more ruthless, problem-solving procedure.

However he had come to be there, for most of November, Cicero stayed, paralysed by his typical indecision, in his villa in Arpinium, desperately pining for news of Rome, occupying himself by firing letters to notables across the Republic – his friend Titus Pomponius Atticus alone was sent at least a dozen.

Sunk in a morass of despair, self-pity and bitterness, Cicero is not at his most attractive in these private missives; although his output gives us almost a day-by-day insight into the unfolding situation – and overall his predictions prove to be mostly accurate.

He fulminates against the ‘disloyal and unpatriotic’ poor, who are described as little better than animals, taken in by Catiline’s lies, and against the rich, whom are described as self-seeking, short sighted, fools and traitors, going along with a notorious villain for their own advancement, heedless of the anarchy and slaughter Catiline’s revolt will inevitably cause. The lack of an immediate counter-coup is ascribed purely to either greed, cowardice or sloth. Desperate promises, veiled threats and grovelling mix as he tries to persuade someone – anyone – to take action. In between all this, he bemoans the lack of creature comforts and intellectual conversation in Arpinium, gloomily notes that ‘the Republic will be drowned in blood; and we drowned with it, within a year’ amidst other, equally cheerful prophecies, and nurses a sense of sour vindication.

This latter sentiment was not unjustified – although doubtless he could have phrased it more tactfully. Cicero had, during his consulship, tirelessly – and no doubt tediously – warned of the threat posed by Cataline, and not without reason. Men known to be in his circle were widely reported to be stirring up unrest and recruiting manpower in the countryside, Cataline himself had started to make inflammatory statements and veiled threats in the Senate House itself, and it is likely that Cicero had heard, through his position at the heart of Roman society, even more ominous rumours.

But his warnings had come to nothing; dismissed as nothing more than dark conspiracy theories aimed to shore up his own position – and despite his somewhat sinister and dubious reputation, Cataline’s birth and influence- as well as his fellow conspirators within the Senate itself - served to protect him. During the recent Consular elections, when Silanus and Murena were elected as consuls for the following year, Cicero had claimed an assassination attempt would be made on him at the Campus Martius; and had gone to the trouble of wearing a highly visible breastplate. No attempt was made, however, and Cicero’s reputation had sunk lower at what was widely seen as a bizarre political stunt that had proved the opposite of Cicero’s intent. With no internal security or intelligence agency as we would understand it, and, as it soon transpired, more than a few senior members of the Roman establishment either actively involved in, or turning a conveniently blind eye to, the unfolding conspiracy, Cicero’s accusations had rung increasingly hollow. By the time they were proved to be all too true, Cataline had launched his coup.

By the middle of November, it was obvious to Cicero that Cataline’s control over the city, at least in the short term, was relatively stable. The expected immediate massacres and quasi-trials which Cicero predicted had failed to materialise (although, as we shall see, a number of prominent Romans had either being quietly put to death or forced to flee), armies had not spontaneously arisen to march on and liberate Rome, and nor was there any sign of what we might term a ‘provisional government’ , opposed to Catiline, forming.

It became apparent to Cicero who was, at his heart and despite appearances, a brave patriot, that he was of no use stuck a hundred miles from Rome in a small town. It was also becoming evident that his safety was not guaranteed; for on the 21st of November, Cicero received a letter from a friend, still in Rome, that he had been found guilty in absentia of a number of grimly ironic charges, including murder, making common cause with the enemies of Rome and conspiring to overthrow the state, leading to his famously sardonic quip to Tiro: “I seem rather to have put Catiline in the shade with my infamy; I do hope the poor fellow is not too jealous”.

But what probably decided his decision to flee the peninsula altogether was the news that reached him on the 23rd. For on the 20th of November, Marcus Lincinius Crassus – ex-consul, business magnate, plutocrat, and one of the richest men on the planet – who had hitherto being keeping an uncharacteristically and somewhat suspicious low profile in his villa at Baiae, re-entered Rome, clasped Catiline by the hand, and called him ‘brother’.
 
Interesting. If I would guess could be probable that Cicero would have chosen to flee/exiled in the home of some of his 'pen pals'. Also, would seem that Catilina's Coup/regime was financed/supported by Crassus money...
 
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Interesting. If I would guess could be probable that Cicero would have chosen to flee/exiled in the home of some of his 'pen pals'. Also, would seem that Catilina's Coup/regime was financed/supported by Crassus money...
That is very true - of course, right now he's rather desperately trying to stay as near Rome as possible (whilst realising, legitimate Consul or not, if he actually goes there he'll likely be killed). As he sees it, seeing the rightful co-ruler scuttle off into obscure exile will send entirely the wrong message to the mob.

And as for Crassus...all will be revealed. IOTL, its probably Cicero heavily suspected he at the very least knew something was up; and at worst was a central figure in it. But without hard evidence, Cicero was reluctant to move against Crassus - either out of a desire to spare the Republic the horrors of a political purge or simply, in the words of Tom Holland in the excellent Rubicon, "he had no wish to see a man like Crassus backed into a corner".

For my money, I think its highly unlikely that only Catiline and his named co-conspirators were the only members of his conspiracy - after it failed it was in everyone's interests to pretend the Conspiracy was less widespread than it was.
 
A succesful Catilinarian conspiracy is a great subject for a timeline, it'll be interesting to see where the story goes next. I guess that the hope of Cicero and other likeminded opponents of Catilina would be that Pompey returns from the east and imitates Sulla by marching on Rome. Of course, knowing Pompey, there's no guarantee he'll do that.
 
That is very true - of course, right now he's rather desperately trying to stay as near Rome as possible (whilst realising, legitimate Consul or not, if he actually goes there he'll likely be killed). As he sees it, seeing the rightful co-ruler scuttle off into obscure exile will send entirely the wrong message to the mob.

And as for Crassus...all will be revealed. IOTL, its probably Cicero heavily suspected he at the very least knew something was up; and at worst was a central figure in it. But without hard evidence, Cicero was reluctant to move against Crassus - either out of a desire to spare the Republic the horrors of a political purge or simply, in the words of Tom Holland in the excellent Rubicon, "he had no wish to see a man like Crassus backed into a corner".

For my money, I think its highly unlikely that only Catiline and his named co-conspirators were the only members of his conspiracy - after it failed it was in everyone's interests to pretend the Conspiracy was less widespread than it was.
Well men like Crassus and Caesar likely knew more than enough about that conspiracy but were surely NOT involved in it as neither was stupid or foolish enough...

A succesful Catilinarian conspiracy is a great subject for a timeline, it'll be interesting to see where the story goes next. I guess that the hope of Cicero and other likeminded opponents of Catilina would be that Pompey returns from the east and imitates Sulla by marching on Rome. Of course, knowing Pompey, there's no guarantee he'll do that.
Pompey? At this point of the story? He is much more likely to get a deal with Catilina, if the latter will give to him and his men why he ask, than with Cicero and the Optimates who would deny him that...
 
Pompey? At this point of the story? He is much more likely to get a deal with Catilina, if the latter will give to him and his men why he ask, than with Cicero and the Optimates who would deny him that...
That's why I said it was what Cicero would hope for, not necessarily what would happen.
 
Well men like Crassus and Caesar likely knew more than enough about that conspiracy but were surely NOT involved in it as neither was stupid or foolish enough...
Quite possibly. I imagine it was a case of hedging their bets, to a degree - but then again, Ceasar was fairly impulsive and rash, albeit his gambles almost always paid off. (But then, according to Mary Beard, there are some historians who hold the whole thing never happened at all; which to be honest I think takes revisionism too far. But it does show the difficulty of figuring out what actually happened.)
 
That's why I said it was what Cicero would hope for, not necessarily what would happen.
Yes and no, to both. The Roman aristocracy were wary of Pompey (as they were with all 'great men') for fear he'd overshadow the rest of them in perpetuity; if not decide to launch at outright military bid for power. I can see Cicero being very worried about Pompey coming in, 'restoring order', and never leaving. (That said, from what I understand of Pompey's character, he did want to be 'loved' by the People and accepted by the Senate; which did put *some* brakes on his ambition.) But at the very least Cicero hardly wants the Senate to be utterly dependent on a man most Senators already think is already too powerful.

As for Pompey intervening...I have some ideas in this direction, but again, it might not be so simple. Cicero was never a staunch ally of the man, and, if Plutarch is reliable, the conspirators made plot to seize his children against exactly such an eventuality.
 
Part III
And in this update, we're back in Rome; with Catiline starting to consolidate his power - and Crassus deciding to throw his wealth, his power and his influence behind Catiline.

(For my money, the POD of departure in this timeline was that Crasuss, in the end, decided NOT to give the letter he had received, warning him to flee the city, to Cicero. Without that, Cicero lacked hard proof, and Catiline's initial plot was free to take its course; with Rome off its guard he manages to take command quickly and relatively bloodlessly, without the need for a violent bloodbath or setting fire to Rome.

The timeline of actual events (supposedly) is that Crassus gave the letters to Cicero, who then had hard proof something was happening. The date of the planned strike was on the 27th - IOTL nothing happened. Afterwards, with Catiline still in the city, he plotted to murder Cicero, a fate Cicero escaped. Cicero then denounced Catiline to the Senate, who fled to take command of his 'army'. His co-conspirators then seem to have continued plotting; and tried to involve a delegation of Gauls; the idea being to set fire to the city and led Catiline and his troops him, sacking the place. Once it became known that the plot had shifted to effectively sacking Rome, Catiline and his confederates lost what little support they might have had.)


Part III: Crasuss and Catiline: Deal with the Devil

The Romans, it is true, say that the many virtues of Crassus were obscured by his sole vice of avarice; and it is likely that the one vice which became stronger than all the others in him weakened the rest. The chief proofs of his avarice are found in the way he got his property and in the amount of it. The greatest part of this, if one must tell the scandalous truth, he got together out of fire and war, making the public calamities his greatest source of revenue - Plutarch; The Rule of Catiline and his Confederates

Marcus Lincinius Crassus is nowadays mostly remembered for his vast wealth, but to his fellow Romans he was a man who excited fear, admiration, hatred and wary respect in perhaps equal proportions. Exceedingly rich – one of his maxims was that no man could call himself rich until he could afford an army; a saying he had lived up to during the Third Servile War when he bankrolled his own legions to crush the forces of Spartacus – he had parlayed his money into an extensive net of debts, obligations and gifts, giving him enormous, if shadowy, influence within the Republic. Catiline, certainly, had had his campaigns for Consul supported by Crassus’ treasury; and many of his contemporaries were, likewise, heavily indebted to Crassus, such as Caesar.

All of this has led many historians to question whether Crassus was, indeed, a member of the conspiracy, pointing out that Crassus, with his vast wealth and influence, stood to potentially lose everything with the political turmoil that Catiline was bound to unleash.

Certainly it is unlikely that Crassus was some scheming mastermind behind the entire plot – Catiline’s towering ego, for a start, would hardly have let him play the role of dutiful lieutenant to any man, no matter how exalted. Neither it is easy to conceive of the pitiless, logical Crassus having staked everything on a gamble by a man widely regarded as, at best, skirting the edge of sanity.

But nor is it likely that Crassus was utterly ignorant – reports of unrest in the countryside, and rumours of trouble brewing in Rome itself, would certainly have reached him. A seasoned operator, as ruthless as Crassus, might instead have reasoned that it would do no harm to at the very least hedge his bets, on the chance that Catiline’s mad scheme.

Certainly, it is not difficult to imagine the thoughts of Crassus as he pondered the actions of Catiline in that fretful, anxious summer of 63 BC. Should Catiline somehow succeed, there would be no advantage to have been seen publicly opposing him. Catiline’s rise to power would, inevitably, remove some men who likewise stood in the way of Crassus. The chaos unleashed might, in the short term, harm his fortune – but it would also bring with it opportunities; the unrest of the civil war, and his fruitful alliance with Sulla, had been the foundation for Crassus’ own superlative fortune. If, on the other hand, Catiline failed – or Crassus determined he would fail – Crassus could simply plead ignorance.

We do not know, of course, what Crassus was thinking – unlike Cicero, he declined to commit his thoughts on the unfolding political situation in letters to his friends. It is, however, perhaps significant that Crassus, a week before Catiline’s strike, had discreetly left Rome for Baiae – much like a number of other important Romans, such as Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio Nasica and Marcus Marcellus, whom likewise it seemed had discovered important business that took them out of the city on that day. Whether, indeed, they were part of, or at least had knowledge of the plot; whether Catiline warned them for his own reasons (perhaps to gain their gratitude, or to remove potential stumbling blocks whilst he consolidated power over the city, or indeed out of a genuine desire to ensure the safety of noble Romans), or whether it was indeed diabolical coincidence, we will never know.

At any event, whilst Crassus had left, he was also the first to arrive back – showing, at least, an intriguing lack of concern that one might otherwise have expected. Landing in Ostia on the 12th of November, he – along with a large escort, that no doubt was armed – met Catiline on the Campus Martius approximately a fortnight later; his somewhat leisurely progress likely explained by discreet reconnaissance of conditions inside Rome itself.

These conditions were doubtless tense but not, according to Varro, chaotic. Many richer citizens had of course fled, and, in the absence of Cicero, his co-Consul Gaius Antonius Hybrida (memorably described by Cicero, not one of life’s natural hedonists, as ‘a man whose taking of bribes was interrupted only by drunkenness’ and ‘a man distinguished only by his infamies with slavegirls, his love of wine and his aptitude for corruption’) was, in theory, in sole charge.

In reality, of course, Catiline was now calling the shots, and he had secured his position ruthlessly. The Senate was ‘suspended’, large gatherings prohibited, and a curfew was in effect – measures put into effect by the new Urban Praetor, Lucius Cassius Longinus . Likely of more importance was the creation of a paramilitary gang, loyal to the new regime, soon nicknamed by the citizenry as ‘Sicarii’ – which literally translates to ‘knifemen’ but with connotations of criminality, brigandage and murder.

Cataline’s lieutenant, a former Sullan centurion named Gaius Manlius, had recruited a large following throughout Italy of poor peasants, disaffected veterans and outright brigands; detachments of which were sent to Rome to provide the regime with much needed muscle. Added to these men were members of urban criminal gangs as well as, in all likelihood, individual mercenaries and thugs. The Sicarii were commanded by Cethegus, one of the younger conspirators, and armed from his own personal armoury,in defiance of Roman law prohibiting the bearing of weapons within the city. By mid November Varro estimated that Catiline had a force of at least 20,000 of these men inside the city. Even allowing for considerable exaggeration, this would have been a formidable force in a city which numbered several hundred thousand people, with no police force or resident garrison.



However, despite the later writings of Cicero, Sallust and virtually every other ancient historian since, it does not appear that there was an instant reign of terror and bloodshed. Varro, who was living in the city at the time, indeed mentions that for a time the streets were safer than they had been before. However, he does admit that several men were murdered during this time, all of them known opponents of Catiline – and it cannot be denied that for every citizen killed many more were frightened into silence. Paticuarly notable, and gruesome, is that fate of the Tribune of the Plebs by the name of Titus Ampius Balbus. According to Varro, he attempted to organise a mass ‘gathering’ in the Forum, presumably to demonstrate against the new regime. However, the Sicarii were waiting; and en masse charged the assembly. Dozens were killed, and Balbus himself was abducted – his body later turning up in several different locations on the Aventine.

However, to Crassus, this was all likely irrelevant. Catiline was now the master of Rome, at least for the moment. Cicero, his immediate opponent, was huddled in Arpinium. The nobility were hiding in their county villas, keeping a low profile in the city itself, or themselves discreetly accommodating themselves with the new regime – in other words, an impotent source of resistance. True, in the distant east was Crassus’ arch-rival, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, but he was many months travel away, and in any case absorbed in his current wars.

On the 20th of November Crassus and Catiline both appeared in the Forum, clasped each others arms, and called each other brother. Catiline gushed over Crassus- the plutocrat was reimagined as a champion of the poor, the banker as a great commander, the famously self-serving Senator as a selfless statesman. Crassus, in rather less flattering terms, praised Catiline, expressing hope for an end to civil strife. Catiline received the boom of Crassus’ influence, his web of contacts – and of course, his fortune. Crassus received the possibility of almost limitless wealth and power – for with a new order in Rome, with old traditions and political players swept away, who could say what was now possible?

These formalities over, the real business could begin. That night, Catiline, Crassus, Lentulus Sura, Paetus, Cethegus and the famously radical tribune Servilius Rullus dined at the house of Cassius, to celebrate their new alliance – and to carve up the Republic between them.
 
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Part IV
Part IV - Catiline's Rome

O Catiline; do you not understand that all men now despise you? Do you not realise the depths of your infamy; the blackest treachery you have resorted to, the filth you have piled upon your family’s name? Do you not know that for eternity all men will curse you as traitor; that all men will account you a murderer; that all men will raise their hands against you?

You are a beast drunk on blood, a reckless madman consumed with hate; a man lost to all reason, to all piety, and to all hope! Go! Go to you ill-gotten palace upon the City – your mother City – which you have raped and taken! Go there, to your nefarious and impious rule, and await your deserved misfortune and the destruction of all those who have joined themselves with you. Go, and know your death is near and your punishment and shame eternal. For you have proved yourself without honour, without scruple, without virtue and without reason –
Cicero, First Denunciation of Catiline.



Crassus’ open endorsement of the new regime in Rome, as might be expected, proved a substantial boost to the new, shaky government of Catiline. Reassured that the proscriptions of Sulla were not about to repeat themselves, that death-squads would not hack down opponents of Catiline with impunity, that mass property confiscation was not a policy of the new administration, most of the leading men in Italy began to, however gradually, soften towards Catiline.

Of course, there were some who were implacable. Cicero, for instance, pausing only to write a masterpiece of invective directed straight at Catiline (the First Denunciation of Catiline) promptly disappeared from Arpinium with his family; only days ahead of a squadron of cavalry despatched from Rome. Likewise, Quintus Caecilius Metellus Celer, a Praetor and connected by marriage to the fabulously rich and powerful Claudian clan, denounced Catiline in the Forum and, before the Sicarii could fully respond, escaped Rome, along with his infamous brother in law (and his wife’s rumoured lover) Publius Clodius Pulcher, whom as this stage of events was most well known for organising the military mutinies that had ended the career of Lucius Licinius Lucullus in the East and his replacement with Pompey; as well as for formerly being part of Cicero’s unofficial bodyguard. Cicero reached Brundisium by late December, where he was joined by Celer and Clodius. Clodius, to Cicero’s mingled horror and admiration, soon began raising an impressive – and thoroughly illegal – private army.

However, many of the Optimates did nothing so risky. Most, safely in their villas, appear to have spent the next couple of months after Catiline’s coup keeping their heads down and doing their best not to burn any bridges. Metellus Scipio, for instance, a man whose unpleasant, hedonistic and vicious character was held to be a poor match for his superlative aristocratic pedigree, himself started recruiting a sizable army near Neapolis, - all the while, a disgusted Cicero reported to Atticus, sending letters of friendship both to him and Catiline, whilst Quintus Caecilius Metellus Nepos, the brother of Celer, decided that just as discretion was the better part of valour, distance was the better part of discretion, and headed to Leptis Magna in North Africa. Several leading Optimates did, indeed, start to return to Rome, where the new government welcomed them warmly – including an ex-consul, and cousin to the Pontiff Maximus, Lucius Julius Caesar, and two members of the fabulously well connected Metelli, Marcus Caecilius Metellus and Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus. Indeed, the former had presided over Cicero’s laughable ‘trial’ less than three weeks after Catiline seized power – in revenge, Sallust suggests, for Cicero’s role in the conviction of his friend Verres, the famously corrupt former governor of Sicily. Taking at most the better part of a week, with no one allowed to speak in his defence and with a jury no doubt anxiously eyeing the Sicarii, Cicero was found guilty in absentia of a host of crimes, and declared a public enemy – essentially allowing him to be killed on sight.

By December, Catiline’s regime appeared, at least initially, secure. Immediately after his coup, Catiline had endeavoured to hold a Tribal Assembly; a gathering of the people of Rome which could pass a law. With the aid of his well-connected fellow conspirators, his tame tribunes Servilius Rullus and Lucius Caecilius Rufus and, no doubt, a mixture of bribery and intimidation by the Sicarii, the Lex Catalina was passed in less than a day.

Its provisions were, to put it mildly, utterly unprecedented – although, in a technique still known to politicians, couched in vague language. The Consulship, Praetorship and Tribunate were abolished for a period of five years. In its place was to be a committee of ten men – the Decemviri– with powers to annul, pass or alter any laws they saw fit, appoint officials, raise taxes, make treaties and declare war.

Catiline, in theory, was just one of these ten men – in actuality nine, for Catiline had reserved the tenth seat for Pompey, in deference to his power, influence and popularity. It is likely that the bloody memory of Sulla’s time as Dictator dissuaded him from formally obtaining that office. However, in practice, he was primus inter pares – first amongst equals. Perhaps second in power was Crassus, who was rewarded with the governorship of both Spanish provinces, Sicily, and Macedon; all provinces with the potential to make him enormously rich. Even more lucrative was Crassus’ new relationship with the publicani – the private enterprises that operated mines, constructed buildings, provided supplies, and collected taxes on behalf of the state. Armed with the power to cancel or alter any contracts as he saw fit, Crassus was, as might be expected, soon negotiating an extremely profitable relationship with the cannier publicani. Both Ceasars also joined the Decemviri, as did Cethegus, Cassius, Sura, Rullus and Paeta.

To appease his poorer supporters, Catiline engineered the passing of the so-called ‘Law of Debt and Land’. In it, all debts owed to non-citizens were immediately cancelled, without appeal or compensation. All land owned by non-citizens in Italy was subject to confiscation, again without appeal or compensation, and publicly owned land, which in many cases had been regarded by their rich as effectively their own property, was divided up for distribution. Presided over by Paeta and Rullus, a new court started apportioning new tracts of farmland to citizens – and, as might be expected, it soon became known that professing loyalty to the new order in Rome could bring substantial rewards.

Even more ominous was the ‘Law of Confiscations’, passed a few weeks later. Overseen by Cassius and intentionally left vague, it allowed for the confiscation of property owned by ‘thieves from the state’ – which in practice could mean anyone wealthy enough to attract attention, unpopular enough to lack support, and unwise enough to disapprove of Rome’s new management. Within days of its passing, several prominent men had been hauled before Cassius, stripped of their property, and effectively bankrupted; their wealth gifted to key Catilinite supporters.

With this combination of bribery, thuggery and charm, Catiline consolidated his hold over Rome and the surrounding regions; the poor convinced he was their friend, the rich somewhat assured that their own power and wealth was secure.

However, in early December, disturbing news reached Rome. An emissary from Rome and minor member of the conspiracty, Lucius Vargunteius, sent to secure the allegiance of the legions in Cisalpine Gaul, had been abducted, tortured and murdered by the man he was sent to replace. After the unfortunate Vargunteius had confessed all he knew his mutilated corpse was, Sallust informs us, not honourably burnt but instead crucified in the centre of Mutina.

Unsurprisingly so. The acting governor of Transalpine Gaul was the brother of the actual governor, who had gone to Rome to campaign for the Consulship – and, having won it, had been hacked down in October by Cataline’s men.

And now Gaius Murena, brother to a murdered Consul-elect, was marching south, with four legions at his back.
 

Skallagrim

Banned
Indeed, let it be known that all timelines are improved by the presence of Clodius Pulcher. And of course, he was recently a friend of the now-murdered Lucius Licinius Murena, so it may well be expected that if Clodius Pulcher is raising an army, he'd aim to join forces with Gaius Murena and his forces.
 
Indeed, let it be known that all timelines are improved by the presence of Clodius Pulcher. And of course, he was recently a friend of the now-murdered Lucius Licinius Murena, so it may well be expected that if Clodius Pulcher is raising an army, he'd aim to join forces with Gaius Murena and his forces.
I was actually unaware that Clodius was an ally of Murena - you learn something new every day! But you're right, that does give him a very, very good reason to want to take down Catiline.

(He was also, I'm informed, formerly a good friend of Cicero - before Cicero made the rather vainglorious decision to prosecute him).
 
I was actually unaware that Clodius was an ally of Murena - you learn something new every day! But you're right, that does give him a very, very good reason to want to take down Catiline.

(He was also, I'm informed, formerly a good friend of Cicero - before Cicero made the rather vainglorious decision to prosecute him).
And Cicero’s decision to attack Clodius was the first step on the road of his OTL death... Clodius’ widow NEVER forgave him for that and strong attacks against her and her successive husband only reinforced her hate
 
Part V
Part V: The Battle of Claterna

In the days of our forefathers Aulus Manlius Torquatus, while warring with the Gauls, ordered the execution of his own son, because he had fought against the enemy contrary to orders, and the gallant young man paid the penalty for too great valour with his life. Do you, then, hesitate what punishment to inflict upon the most ruthless traitors? Do you hesitate to march against these conspirators? Do you shudder to avenge your city, your fatherland, your murdered kinsmen, your dishonoured womenfolk? Do you shrink from your manly duty?

Or will you, soldiers, prove the equal of your ancestors? Will you join with me? Will you march with me, to Rome, and put Catiline and all his traitors to the sword?


Gaius Murena, ‘The Mutina Oration’.

The news that perhaps thirty thousand soldiers were marching on Rome, under the commander of a man who had publicly sworn to feed Catiline’s body to wild dogs, regardless of whether or not he was still alive, no doubt cheered Cicero up immediately. However, there was, in point of fact, little he, or the scattered loyalist forces in Italy, could do to help.

It is likely that Murena knew about Catiline’s coup within days; certainly it seems likely that the conspirators would have sought to have remove the brother of a man marked for death from command of four legions extremely quickly after their seizure of power.

Incidentally, why the luckless Lucius Vargunteius failed in his mission to supplant Murena is not known; sadly there appears to be no truth in the romantic tale of a slavegirl who, cruelly raped by Lucius, went to Murena and told him of Lucius’ plans, nor in the popular account, first mentioned six centuries after his death, that Lucius came across wine and women of ill-repute in Murena and partook so liberally of both that Murena’s men simply seized him whilst sleeping.

For most of November, Murena gathered his forces near Mutina, stripping his province bare of troops in the process and, it seems, making no attempt to form a common cause with the other loyalist forces in Italy. Indeed, Cicero in a later letter to Atticus, remarked, in terms of some pique, that Murena never saw fit to even return the ‘more than a dozen’ missives Cicero had sent him. However, it seems hard to blame Murena for this; his own brother had been murdered by his fellow patricians and Rome had been seized by a man who already had a reputation for depravity, as well as murder. Many of his fellows were starting to make common cause with Catiline, and Cicero was in no position to assist. Answering letters from a now powerless politician probably was low on his list of priorities.

On the 27th of November, Murena gave his famous ‘Mutina Oration’ to the centurions, tribunes and legates of his army, and then formally pronounced the death sentence upon Catiline ‘and all who follow him’. The following morning, his army started to march down the Via Aemilia towards Ariminum.

As might be expected, the reaction amongst the Decemvirate was one of some confusion. How much they had known of Murena’s actions we can only guess. It seems unlikely that the cold-blooded Crassus would have so openly joined with the conspirators had he known that, barely a month’s march from Rome, four-battle hardened legions lurked, commanded by a man who had a personal vendetta against Catiline. Perhaps, as Cicero acidly remarked:

“It seems to me, my dear Tiro, that Catiline acted rather as a naughty child might. You witnessed, of course, my daughter Tullia when she was young; and how brazenly she would lie; even with evidence absolutely opposed to her words within sight. I rather think that Catiline, desirous of Crassus’ wealth and influence, led him to believe Cisalphine Gaul had joined the traitors. Crassus was a man of half truths; I rather think it never entered his mind that Catiline might lie so purely, to such a degree, about so great a matter.”

However, Cicero’s words here should probably be taken with caution; no doubt it amused his sense of irony to compare Catiline to a young girl and mock Crassus for being gullible. In the confusion of the takeover, and given the slowness of communications, it could have been a genuine mistake on the part of the Conspirators to assume Murena was no longer a threat. We might also credit Crassus with some appetite for risk; he may have been cautious, but he was hardly a coward. Facing Murena’s wrath might have struck him as a gamble worth taking if the stake was mastery of the world.

A scratch force of militia – mostly poorer, desperate citizens but stiffened by several hundred of Sulla’s veterans - was assembled under Manlius and raced towards Arminum, reaching it by mid-December. However, the commander of the Arminum garrison refused to open the gates. After an abortive attempt to storm the town, Manlius, aware that he had four legions marching south towards him, decided to meet them, head on. Turning his own army north, he marched, along the via Aemilia, towards Murena’s forces.

What exactly he hoped to achieve by this no one quite knows. It is possible that he was overconfident and ignorant of the true size of Murena’s forces, which were not only superior to his but rather more numerous- Plutarch states that ‘his lust for glory was insatiable; like his master he reckoned recklessness to be bravery and prudence cowardice’.

. Others, more indulgently, credit him with trying to delay Murena, buying time for a larger, better equipped force to be raised. On the tenth of December, the two armies met, near the town of Claterna.

The result was a predictable slaughter. Farmers, ex-slaves and civilians armed with scythes, knives and makeshift weaponry met thirty thousand well equipped, well trained soldiers – and were cut down. Manlius’ army was almost utterly annihilated in the span of a single morning – ninety nine men, so Sallust tells us, in every hundred dying, and Manlius losing fifty men to every one Murena lost. Manlius himself was horribly wounded – ‘losing an eye, an ear, much of his cheek and whatever looks he might once have had’, according to Cicero – and only escaped death thanks to the efforts of his bodyguard, made up of Sullan veterans, who charged into the thickest fighting to rescue their hapless commander. Dragging their wounded leader to safety, they escaped into the hills – leaving behind the vast bulk of the army to either die or surrender.

Murena, in no mood to show mercy and in defiance of Roman custom, which held crucifixion to be a punishment so awful it should not be applied to citizens, ordered all of his prisoners, stripped naked, scourged and then crucified, on the pretext that they were all either rebellious slaves or traitors. Despite protests from even some of his own commanders, this was done. When one, more pragmatically, objected that the crucifixions would take too long, he sardonically agreed – and instead ordered the remaining six hundred prisoners nailed to trees in a nearby olive grove. A former centurion, being dragged to his fate, supposedly broke down in tears upon seeing the twisted bodies of his comrades. Turning, he screamed out to Murena for mercy.

Murena, it is said, replied that compared to the fate awaiting Catiline, crucifixion was truly merciful.

After this grisly task, his army resumed his southwards march, and by the end of December had reached Arminum, which met him with open gates. In no mood to pause in his pursuit of vengeance, Murena allowed his troops just two days of rest, before leaving the city and heading west – towards Rome.
 
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