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Mediterranean Chronology

Cato the Elder

234 - 149 BC


" Censer Carthaginem esse delendam"  or

"I declare that Carthage must be destroyed."

 These are the famous words of Marcus Porcius Cato, spoken at the end of his many speeches while he was Censor of the Roman state.  These words supposedly sparked the beginning of the Third Punic War that ended with the destruction of Carthage.

 Marcus Porcius Cato the Elder lived from 234 BC to 149 BC.  Born at Tusculum, but growing up in the country of Sabines as a farmer, Cato, from the very beginning of his life, established his thoughts and feelings about the "simple life."  With little formal education during his youth, Cato became a soldier, then tribune, then quaestor (treasurer) during the Second Punic War to fight against Hannibal and the Carthanians.  Because of  his bravery and success on the battle field his surname, originally Priscus, was changed to Cato.  Catus for the Romans meant "skilled man."

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 After already holding positions as a statesman and orator in Rome, on his return from the war, Cato was named the Censor in 184 BC.  A Censor is a political office that had election every five years to classify citizens for military service or to judge moral fitness of public functions. As Censor he reclaimed the Roman commonwealth when it was in a decline through his good discipline.

It was while holding this position that Cato did most of the work he is famous for. He prosecuted multiple officials for extortion and corruptions. He pushed his idea of simplicity and frugality on both the government and the people during a time when there was an increase in personal wealth and a desire for more. He did this by revising the roles of the Senate and Cavalry as well as inventing a way to tax luxurious items.  But the most popular thing that he did was promoting the final destruction of Rome's old enemy, Carthage, after discovering all of the agricultural prosperity that was existing there.

 Besides promoting his ideas through verbal speech, Cato also used written words to entice people to action.  As the first person to utilize Latin for historical writing, Cato wrote history, not as an epic poem as it had been done prior, but as an instruction that addressed politics and the moral standards of Rome's ancestors.

 Cato was a man of strong convictions.  Bold and Just, he was slow to anger, as well.  As stated before, his way was the simple life, and Plutarch stated that he: "cultivated the old habits of bodily labor; preferred a light supper, a cold breakfast, loved old clothes and a homely lodging."  Thus, he despised Hellenistic philosophy and even resolved to have all of the philosophers put out of the city.  This came from his conscious rejection of Greek influence and his convictions about the danger of Romans in Greece.

 His influence was great, and even though many, including Publius Scipio Nasica, disagreed with him about Carthage, the war was fought and Carthage was destroyed.  Cato contributed much more through his ideas to the Roman people; however, Cato will always be known as the one who began the pillage of Carthage and the instigator of the Third Punic War.


Cambridge Ancient History  Volume VIII: The Mediterranean to 133 B.C. Second Edition. 1989

Grun, Bernard. The Timetables of History: A Historical Linkage to People and Events. New York. 1982

Mellersh.  Chronology of World History Volume 1. Helicon Publishing Limited. 1999

Plutarch. Marcus Cato. AD 75

Edited, Researched and Written by:
Alicia VerHage
September 19, 1999

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