Famous Men of Rome - John Haaren

Cato the Censor


On a farm near Tusculum, a little town about fifteen miles from Rome, there once lived a boy named Marcus Porcius Cato. His father and his grandfather before him had been farmers and he, too, expected to be one.

When he was about seventeen Hannibal's army crossed the Alps into Italy, and young Cato became a Roman soldier. When the war ended the country boy had become a man, stern and forceful. He attracted the attention of a neighbor, a rich man, who persuaded him to go to Rome and practice law.

In time he was elected to office, and he did his duty so well that he rose higher and higher, until he became one of the consuls. That same year a rebellion arose in Spain, and Cato led an army against the Spaniards. It is said that in four hundred days he captured four hundred villages. On his return to Rome he was honored with a triumph.

Shortly after this he was sent to Greece, where Antiochus was attacking Greek cities that were friendly to Rome. He defeated Antiochus in the Pass of Thermopylae and won great fame as a soldier.

Cato was a very hard man; hard on himself, hard on his friends. And although he was rich and held office in a great city, he lived a hard life, taking no pleasures and saving his money. He ate the plainest food and drank the same cheap wine that he bought for his slaves.

He thought that the luxury and extravagance of the rich were taking away the strength of Rome. In order to put a stop to these things Cato asked the people of Rome to elect him censor. The patricians opposed him bitterly, but he was elected by a large majority. One of the first things he did was to expel from the senate several senators who were leading improper lives. He had a heavy tax put on carriages so as to compel people to walk. He also placed a tax on jewels, handsome dresses, carpets, and fine furniture. So well did he do his work that he is always known in history as Cato the Censor, just as if he were the only man who ever held the office. A statue erected in his honor says nothing about his victories in Spain or at Thermopylae, but only that, "When the Roman Republic was degenerating, Cato restored it by strict discipline."


In the later years of his life Cato was sent to Carthage to look into a certain matter for Rome. The trouble was this: You will remember that Carthage had agreed to make war upon no nation without the consent of the Roman Senate. A few years later, Masinissa, who was a friend of Rome, attacked the Carthaginians, and they appealed to Rome for protection. This was refused, and the people of Carthage took up arms to defend themselves against Masinissa.

Cato was sent to Carthage to find out who was to blame. When he arrived in the city he was surprised to find it large and strong and flourishing. Only twenty-six years had passed since Scipio Africanus had conquered Carthage, and yet Cato saw crowds of young men on the street, stacks of arms in the arsenals, and a forest of masts in the harbor. The city itself was rich and prosperous.

Cato returned to Rome and warned his countrymen that Carthage must be destroyed. From that time forward whenever he made a speech in the senate, no matter upon what subject, he always ended it by saying, "And my opinion is that Carthage must be destroyed." In time, the words of Cato had their effect, and war was declared against Carthage.

The troops had already embarked when envoys from Carthage reached Rome and offered to do whatever might be asked. The Roman Senate promised that the laws and liberties of Carthage should not be touched, but demanded hostages. So three hundred children of the leading families of Carthage were sent to Rome. When the Roman army reached Carthage the consuls insisted that the Carthaginians should give up their arms. This was done and the Carthaginians asked if the Romans required anything more.

Then one of the consuls said, "Your city must be destroyed, and you must move ten miles inland from the sea." The Carthaginians now saw that they had been deceived. They closed their gates and determined to defend themselves to the last. They asked an armistice of thirty days, so that an embassy might go to Rome. It was granted, and thus a month of time was gained. During this time men, women, and children went to work to make arms to defend their homes. The women even cut off their hair to furnish strings for the bows of the war machines with which stones were hurled at the enemy.

The embassy failed in its mission to Rome and the siege of Carthage began. It lasted three years.

The son of Paulus Æmilius had been adopted by the son of Scipio Africanus and had taken the name Scipio. He was sent to Carthage and about a year after his arrival forced an entrance into the city and captured it (146 B.C.). The walls were torn down and the buildings set on fire. Cato who was so largely responsible for the war did not live to see its end. He died almost two years before the city was destroyed.

The Senate honored Scipio with the title Africanus, which the older conqueror of Carthage had borne.

The young Scipio won fame not only in Africa but also in Spain, where he was sent against the Numantians. These brave people had defeated two Roman armies, but Scipio soon succeeded in shutting them within the walls of Numantia. Around its walls he built walls of his own behind which his soldiers were safe from attack. Food soon became scarce in Numantia. At the end of fifteen months the citizens were starving. They were willing to lose their lives, but Scipio stayed behind his own walls and refused to fight. Rather than trust to the mercy of Rome the Numantians killed themselves.

Defense of Numantia


In time all Spain was forced to submit and become a Roman province.