Catiline's anarchistic conspiracy of 63 B.C. was, of course, only possible in a
society in which there were a great number of depraved and desperate men, ready for any
enterprise, however villainous. For such spirits Catiline was an ideal leader. In this
quotation from Sallust we see how it became possible for him to find a large following,
and what manner of man he was personally.
Conspiracy of Catiline, chs. 11-16:
After Sulla had recovered the government by force of arms, everybody became robbers and
plunderers. Some set their hearts on houses, some on lands. His victorious troops knew no
restraint, no moderation, but inflicted on the citizens disgraceful and inhumane outrages.
The whole period was one of debauched tastes and lawlessness. When wealth was once counted
an honor, and glory, authority, and power attended it, virtue lost her influence, poverty
was thought a disgrace, and a life of innocence was regarded as a life of mere ill nature.
From the influence of riches, accordingly, luxury, avarice, pride came to prevail among
the youth. They grew at once rapacious and prodigal. They undervalued what was their own;
they set at nought modesty and continence; they lost all distinction between sacred and
profane, and threw off all consideration and self-restraint.
It is a serious matter for reflection, after viewing our modern mansions and villas,
extended to the veritable size of cities, to contemplate the temples which our ancestors a
most devout race of men, erected to the gods. But our forefathers adorned the fanes of the deities with devotion, and their homes with their own glory, and took nothing from
what they conquered but the power of doing harm; their descendants on the contrary have
even wrested from their allies, with rank injustice, whatever their brave and victorious
ancestors had left to their vanquished enemies---as if the only use of power was to
inflict injury. Why should I mention these displays of extraordinary luxury which now set
in, which can be believed only by those who have seen them; as, for example, how mountains
have been leveled, and seas actually built over with edifices by many a private
citizen---men whom I deem to have made a sport of their wealth, since they were impatient
to squander disreputably what they might have enjoyed with honor.
But the love of irregular gratification, open debauchery, and all kinds of luxury had
spread abroad with no less force. Men and women alike threw off all restraints of modesty.
To gratify appetite they sought for every kind of production by land or sea. They slept
before there was any natural inclination to sleep. They no longer waited to feel hunger,
thirst, or fatigue, but anticipated them all by luxurious indulgence. Such propensities
drove young men, when their patrimonies were run through, to criminal practices; for their
minds, impregnated with evil habits, could not easily abstain from gratifying their
passions, and were thus the more inordinately devoted in every way to rapacity and
In so populous and corrupt a city Catiline easily kept about him, as a bodyguard,
crowds of the lawless and desperate. All the shameless libertines and profligate rascals
were his associates and intimate friends---the men who had squandered their paternal
estates by gaming, luxury, sensuality, and all too who had plunged heavily into debt to
buy immunity for crimes; all assassins or sacrilegious persons from every quarter,
convicted, or dreading conviction for their misdeeds; all, likewise, for whom their tongue
or hand won a livelihood by perjury or bloodshed; all, in short, whom wickedness, poverty,
or a guilty conscience goaded were friends to Catiline.
If any man of character as yet unblemished fell into his society, he presently rendered
him by daily intercourse and temptation like to and equal to the rest. But it was the
young whose acquaintance he chiefly courted and easily ensnared. For as the passions of
each, according to his years, were aroused, he furnished mistresses to some, bought horses
and dogs for others, and spared, in a word, neither his purse nor his character, if he
could make them his devoted and trustworthy supporters.
Catiline was alleged to have corrupted a Vestal Virgin, and wrought many vile crimes;
at last, smitten with a passion for a certain Aurelia, he murdered his own grown-up son,
because she objected to marrying him and having in the house a grown-up stepson. And this
crime seems to me to have been the chief cause of hurrying forward his conspiracy. For his
guilty mind, at peace neither with gods nor men, found no comfort either waking or
sleeping, so utterly did conscience desolate his tortured spirit. His complexion, in
consequence, was pale, his eyes haggard, his walk sometimes quick and sometimes slow, and
distraction was plainly evident in every feature and look.
The young men he enticed by various methods into evil practices. From among them he
furnished false witnesses and forgers of signatures; and he taught them all to regard with
equal unconcern property and danger. At length when he had stripped them of all character
and shame he led them to other and greater iniquities. When there was no ready motive for
crime, he nevertheless stirred them up to murder quite inoffensive persons, just as if
they had injured him, lest their hand or heart should grow torpid for want of employment.
Trusting to such confederates and comrades, and knowing that the load of debt was
everywhere great, and that the veterans of Sulla, having spent their money too freely, now
were longing for a civil war, remembering their spoils and former victory, Catiline
accordingly formed the design of overthrowing the government.