Quintus Lutatius Catulus (149–87 BC) was 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, but 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.
Based on the attested filiation of his son Quintus Lutatius Catulus, his father was also named Quintus Lutatius Catulus. Although the name of his grandfather is not recorded, Ernst Badian is certain that Catulus was descended from Gaius Lutatius Catulus, the consul of 242 BC.
In the war against the Cimbri and Teutones, Catulus was sent to defend the passage of the Alps but found himself compelled to retreat across the Po River, his troops having been reduced to a state of panic. But the Cimbri were defeated on the Raudine plain, near Vercellae, by the united armies of Catulus and Marius. 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.
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 two 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."
My mind escapes me; I imagine it's decamped to the usual place: Theotimus. That's right, he runs the asylum. What if I don't outlaw it, and instead of letting the fugitive come to him inside, he prefers ejection? We'll go on a manhunt, but in truth I'm alarmed that we might be captured in the flesh ourselves. What to do? Venus, I need a plan.
"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."
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.
Marriage and descendants
Three wives are attested for Catulus:
- Domitia of the Ahenobarbi, the mother of his homonymous son Quintus Lutatius Catulus (consul 78, censor 65 BC).
- Servilia of the Caepiones, who was mother of his daughter Lutatia Q. Hortensi, the wife of the great orator Quintus Hortensius Hortalus (consul 69).
- Claudia, of uncertain family but probably of the Marian aligned branch of Claudi Marcelli. This was probably Catulus' longest marriage (c. 103-87 BC) if, as seems likely, he wed her to secure Marian support for his election as a consul, which he only belatedly achieved at the comitia in 103 for 102 BC. However, she is only attested as his wife at the time of his death at the end of 87 BC. There is no record of any children by this match.
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 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.