Known for her beauty and bold personality, as well as for her marriage to Marcus Junius Brutus, who famously took part in the assassination of Julius Caesar

Bust of Porcia of Cato

Porcia of Cato

Porcia Catonis (or Porcia “of Cato”) was the daughter of the renowned Roman Stoic philosopher Cato the Younger, an enemy of the dictator Julius Caesar, and his first wife, Atilia.

She was born between 73 BCE and 64 BCE and died by either suicide or illness around 42 BCE. Accounts of her possible suicide claim she killed herself by swallowing hot coals, but overall the circumstances of her death are still disputed.

Porcia of Cato was written about by Plutarch, a Greek essayist and biographer who later became a Roman citizen, and others, and has been portrayed many times in popular culture such as in Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, in books like The Ides of March, and in TV and movies adapting Shakespeare’s work.

Much of her life was only documented about Cato and Brutus, but within those accounts, we can gather that she was a daring and interesting woman who continues to fascinate historians and writers alike.

Marriage during Porcia’s time was quite a different arrangement than it is in modern days. Marriages were rarely for love but for more practical purposes, such as political gain or for children, and fathers were often the ones who married off their daughters or approved of their daughter’s marriages.

While Roman marriages were monogamous institutions, divorcing and remarrying were common occurrences, and men could and would ask for the hands of women even while either or both parties were still married. After the divorce or death of a spouse, women were expected to remarry quickly, particularly those in the upper class.

Cato the Younger, who, beyond being a Stoic philosopher, was a prominent Roman public figure and senator, married Porcia to one of his political allies, Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus, while she was only a young teenager. It’s reported that Porcia and Bibulus had a son together, Lucius, but this has been disputed, as considering Lucius and Porcia’s ages, she was likely too young to have birthed him. Lucius was more likely from Bibulus’s previous marriage.

While there’s not much mention of Porcia’s feelings toward Bibulus, he declared he was in love with her. So when Quintus Hortensius, an orator and man four times older than Porcia, wanted to become Cato’s ally and asked to marry Porcia, he refused. Hortensius argued, saying that it was selfish for Bibulus to keep Porcia and her childbearing to himself and that Hortensius could always return Porcia to Bibulus after she was done giving him children. This was not a rare proposal in Rome at the time—women of childbearing age would often divorce and remarry to give multiple powerful men heirs, and sometimes would return to previous partners after they’d done so.

Bibulus still refused, and Cato supported Bibulus’s refusal, partially because he did not want Porcia to marry someone quadruple her age. But it seems Cato still wanted Hortensius’s allyship because he divorced his second wife and allowed Hortensius to marry her instead. Cato later remarried his second wife after Hortensius died.

During Porcia’s marriage, Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars raged. Cato despised Caesar and opposed him in the Roman Senate. Caesar was defeated, but after the wars ended, he refused to return to Rome to face punishment. Cato disliked this, to say the least, and in 49 BCE he declared war—which became the Great Roman Civil War. Cato and Bibulus joined with Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, a Roman General more well known as Pompey, to oppose Caesar.

In 48 BCE, after Pompey’s defeat, Bibulus died and Porcia was widowed. Her father, Cato the Younger, committed suicide after he was defeated in battle in 46 BCE.

Porcia’s second marriage was her most famous and part of why she was a noted historical figure. It was to Marcus Junius Brutus, her first cousin, who had fought against Caesar with Pompey and was later one of Julius Caesar’s assassins.

After Bibulus died and Porcia was widowed, Brutus divorced his wife, Claudia Pulchra. While divorce and remarriage were common, they were often done after discussion with family and friends, with explanations as to why the marriage failed. However, Brutus divorced Claudia suddenly and without explaining his reasoning. The divorce was ill-received because there were no apparent problems, they’d been married a long while, and because Claudia was particularly well-regarded. In fact, Brutus’s own mother was

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Junius Rusticus

Seneca

Marcus Aurelius

Epictetus

Statue of Thrasea Paetus

Thrasea Paetus

Lucius Annaeus

Diotimus

Publius Rutilius Rufus

Porcia of Cato

Cicero

Posidonius

Panaetius of Rhodes