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Cato the Younger
Cato HBO.jpg
Name Cato the Younger
Portrayed by Karl Johnson
Class Plebeian
Family Servilia of the Junii (half-sister)
Marcus Junius Brutus (nephew)

Cato the Younger is a historical figure who features as a character in the HBO/BBC2 original television series Rome, played by actor Karl Johnson. He is depicted as an extreme traditionalist, against political and social decay, and a staunch defender of the Roman Republic. The real Cato the Younger was a Roman orator, author, and politician.


Stubborn and proud, Cato first appears in the series at the senate meeting demanding to know from Pompey Magnus why Caesar was still in Gaul saying, "his illegal war is over!"

At the beginning of the series, Cato believes that the republic lives as long as people like him are prepared to fight for it, however he appears to despise non-aristocratic Romans viewing them as cattle: indirectly undermining the democracy he values replying to Metellus Scipio's: "What a dreadful noise Plebs make when they're happy..." by saying: "This is music. Wait until Caesar starts them howling for our blood - then you'll hear something dreadful."

When the civil wars begin, Marcus Junius Brutus, Marcus Tullius Cicero and Metellus Scipio try to persuade Pompey accept a truce with Caesar. Cato is the only one who refuses to end the war, seeing right through Caesar's "truce" saying: "Don't you see? He's trying to put a wedge between us!"

After the battle of Pharsalus, Cato is one of the few remaining patricians who is willing to fight on against Caesar. Eventually towards the end of the series, following his and Scipio's defeat at Utica, he begins to lose faith in his belief and even asks Scipio to try and make peace with Caesar. He appears very different from the stubborn and proud Cato from earlier in the series, and even speaks fairly humorously to Scipio. For example, when Scipio states that where there is life, there is hope, Cato replies: "I think, if anything, we have disproved that proverb, old friend". Determined not to surrender, Cato proves to be honourable and brave, as he kills himself in order to that Caesar won't have the chance of humiliating him.

Character history

In the series Cato is the most prominent of the conservative division of the Roman Senate. He is portrayed as a defender of the republic and implacably opposed to Caesar's populism and potentially illegal war in Gaul, which he perceives as part of Caesar's plan to "buy himself a crown." He is also the only one of the senators who will stand up and oppose Caesar openly, demanding that he be called back to stand trial for treason. He wins Pompey over to the Senate's cause by persuading him that Caesar has stolen the love of the people from him.

During the civil war, Cato and Scipio assume leadership of the Republican forces following the murder of Pompey in Egypt, but they are defeated at Thapsus in the province of Africa (roughly modern Tunisia), and Cato commits suicide in Utica.

Comparison to the historical Cato

Cato was, in reality as in the series, a staunch traditionalist and Julius Caesar's most implacable political opponent. He was known, in a time when electoral corruption was rife, as a man of great integrity and probity. Philosophically he was a Stoic. He lived an austere lifestyle, avoiding luxury and modern fashions- which is reflected in the series by his wearing the toga pulla, favored by workmen and mourners. He was a defender of the ideals of the Roman Republic and fierce opponent of those he saw as overly ambitious.

Servilia, Caesar's lover, was his half-sister. In 63 BC, during the crisis caused by Catiline's conspiracy to overthrow the state, Caesar was passed a note in the Senate. Cato, believing Caesar was sympathetic to Catiline, accused him of corresponding with the conspirators and seized the letter, only to discover, to his great embarrassment, that it was a love letter from Servilia.

The real Cato was much younger than his fictional counterpart appears: in 52 BC, the year the series opens, he was 43, seven years younger than Caesar. He was also not as contemptuous of plebeians as the series makes him: he established a provision of state-subsidised grain to poor Romans, and Cato was himself a plebeian.

Cato was not actually present at the Battle of Thapsus - he was holding the town of Utica. He did commit suicide by stabbing himself following Scipio's defeat, supposedly to deny Caesar the power to pardon him. A surgeon attempted to save him by stitching up the wound, but Cato was determined to die, and pulled out the stitches and his own intestines.

He was the father of two children by his first wife Atilia; a son, Marcus Porcius Cato, who died in the battle of Philippi, and a daughter, Porcia Catonis, who was the second wife of Marcus Junius Brutus. His wife and his two children are omitted from the series.

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