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Quintus Lutatius Catulus

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Quintus Lutatius Catulus Known For

Quintus Lutatius Catulus (149–87 BC) was a consul of the Roman Republic in 102 BC, and the leading public figure of the gens Lutatia of the time. His colleague in the consulship was Gaius Marius. During their consulship the Cimbri and Teutones marched south again and threatened the Republic. While Marius marched against the Teutones in Gaul, Catulus had to keep the Cimbri from invading Italy. In this he failed; the Cimbri succeeded in invading the Po Valley. In 101 BC, as proconsul, he helped Marius defeat the Cimbri at Vercellae. After Vercellae the two feuded and Catulus sided with Sulla in the civil war of 88–87 BC. When the Marians regained control of Rome in 87 BC, Catulus committed suicide rather than face prosecution.

Quintus Lutatius Catulus As general

During Catulus’ consulship, the Romans found out the wandering Cimbri and Teutones were planning to invade Italy. Catulus, as junior consul, was sent to defend the passes through the Alps from Noricum against the Cimbri while the senior consul, Gaius Marius, campaigned against the Teutones and their allies the Ambrones in Gaul. While he was up in the Alps, Catulus pacified much of the territory’s tribes with the help Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who served Catulus as a legate. Catulus found his task impractical, because there were multiple passes and he would have to divide and weaken his army; he decided to retreat to a more defensible position. During the retreat Catulus became worried the Cimbri would corner his army, therefore he decide to attempt to score a minor victory in order to extricate his troops from the region. He led his army onto a mountain, which overlooked the Cimbri camp, he then ordered his men to remain ready for battle while he had a camp raised in view of the barbarians. When night fell Catulus attacked the Cimbri then used the chaos this caused to cross a stream and continue his march southwards. Catulus marched until he reached the Atesis River; there he ordered his men to construct fortifications on both sides of the river with a bridge between them. When the Cimbri arrived, they made camp and investigated Catulus’ defences. Their scouts reported, they could not cross the river anywhere in the immediate area, so they decided to dam the Atesis by throwing earth, rocks and trees into the stream creating a makeshift dam. Unnerved by the diminishing water flow the Romans started to break camp. Catulus unsuccessfully tried to get his troops back to their stations. When the Cimbri finally launched their assault they found just one cohort defending the camp on the far side of the river. These men fought with courage and somehow managed to escape. Catulus had retreated in the face of the enemy twice, but he had kept his army intact. The following year (101) his command was prolonged and he was given proconsular powers.

The Cimbri, who had advanced into the Po Valley, were eventually defeated on the Raudine plain, near Vercellae, by the combined armies of Catulus and Gaius Marius. Catulus commanded the Roman centre during the battle and redeemed himself by leading his men to victory. For his part in the victory over the Cimbri he was awarded a Triumph. Despite their joint success, the two commanders regarded each other as bitter rivals and after the war built competing temples to demonstrate divine favour.

When the chief honour for victory over the Cimbri was given to Marius, Catulus turned vehemently against his former co-commander and sided with Sulla to expel Marius, Cornelius Cinna and their supporters from Rome. When Cinna and Marius regained control of the city in 87 BC, Catulus was prosecuted by Marius’s nephew, Marcus Marius Gratidianus. Rather than accept the inevitable guilty verdict, he committed suicide.

Quintus Lutatius Catulus As author

Catulus was a distinguished orator, poet and prose writer, and was well versed in Greek literature. He wrote a history of his consulship (De consulatu et de rebus gestis suis) in the manner of Xenophon. A non-extant epic on the Cimbrian War, sometimes attributed to him, was more likely written by Archias. Catulus’s contributions to Latin poetry are considered his most significant literary achievements. He is credited with introducing the Hellenistic epigram to Rome and fostering a taste for short, personal poems that comes to fruition with the lyric oeuvre of Valerius Catullus in the 50s BC. Among his circle of literary friends, who ranged widely in social position and political sympathies, were Valerius Aedituus, Aulus Furius, and Porcius Licinius.

Pliny lists him among distinguished men who wrote short poems that were less than austere (versiculi parum severi). Only two epigrams by Catulus have been preserved, both directed at men. Cicero preserves one of Catulus’s couplets on the celebrated actor Roscius, who is said to make an entrance like a sunrise: “though he is human, he seems more beautiful than a god.”

The other epigram, modelled directly after Callimachus, is quoted by Aulus Gellius and may be paraphrased in prose as follows:

“The willingness of a member of the highest Roman aristocracy to toss off imitations of Hellenistic sentimental erotic poetry (homosexual at that),” notes Edward Courtney, “is a new phenomenon in Roman culture at this time.”

Quintus Lutatius Catulus As builder

Catulus was a man of great wealth, which he spent in beautifying Rome. Two buildings were known as Monumenta Catuli: the Temple of Fortuna Huiusce Diei (the “Fortune of This Day”), to commemorate the day of Vercellae, and the Porticus Catuli, built from the sale of the Cimbrian spoils.

Quintus Lutatius Catulus Marriage and descendants

Three wives are attested for Catulus:

An approximate chronology of the marital affairs of Catulus:

  • c.126 BC: Married Domitia
  • 125 or 124 BC: Birth of Catulus Capitolinus
  • c.111 BC: Death or divorce of Domitia
  • c.109 BC: Praetor, married Servilia. She was probably eldest daughter (born around 124 BC) of his coeval, and colleague as praetor, Q. Servilius Caepio (cos. 106). The latter’s apparently promiscuous daughters were harshly abused as whores by Timagenes of Alexandreia.
  • c.108 BC: Birth of Lutatia (mother of Hortensia Oratrix and Quintus Hortensius, the poet and Caesarian)
  • 105 BC: Arausio disaster, and disgrace and imprisonment of Quintus Caepio
  • 104 BC: Caepio escaped into exile and Catulus discarded[clarification needed] his daughter Servilia
  • 103 BC: Catulus married Claudia (probably of the Marcelli, daughter of Marius’ friend and legate M. Marcellus, praetor in c. 105 BC) and finally elected consul for 102BC after three previous defeats. About the same year the discarded Servilia married M. Livius Drusus (tribune of the plebs, 91 BC; c. 127-91 BC) and Caepio filius (q.urb. 100; c. 127-90 BC) wed Livia, the sister of his close friend Drusus.
  • Hortensius (Cicero)

Quintus Lutatius Catulus References

Quintus Lutatius Catulus Sources

  • Plutarch, Life of Marius and Life of Sulla
  • Appian, Bellum Civile i. 74
  • Velleius Paterculus ii. 21
  • Florus iii. 21
  • Valerius Maximus vi. 3, ix. 13
  • Cicero, De Oratore iii. 8 and Brutus 35
  • Aulus Gellius, i, 11, 16 and xix, 9, 10
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). “Catulus”. Encyclopædia Britannica. 5 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 545.




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