The posterity remembers very well two of the Porcii Catones: the elder Cato and the younger Cato. However these were just two of the whole family of Porcii Catones. To understand their life one also has to understand their family and its connections to the other families.
The Porcii Catones, from which both of the great men grew, came from Sabine area of Tusculum. Indeed the city of Tusculum itself is a special one. It was the home of many very successfull republican era Roman noble families. It was near Rome and victory over it meant domination of the most of the Sabine area for Rome. From early on citizens of Tusculum were enrolled into Roman citizens as well, but still Tusculum rebelled often against Rome, even with arms. Ancient Romans themselves thought Sabinians though and difficult people, which might have reputation earned very well.
Porcii Catones lived up to this reputation. Especially Cato the elder (Censorius) was known for his harshness and anti-luxury stance. Many other Porcii Catones subscribed into these values and in many ways it was the hallmark of the whole family from generation to generation. This trait so much advertised already during the antiquity has also carried on to our times and very often one sees the name of Cato being used in the sense of traditional values and pureness.
However this image however well earned was just an image and if one really wants to understand and evaluate the Porcii Catones in their historical setting such romantised images should be set aside. The fact was that the Porcii Catones were a moderately successfull Roman noble family, not exactly small in numbers, but not large either. The three consulships they achieved during the last century of the republic places them not very high and not very low on the ranking of the families. And as typical for smallish families, the consulships were all within a couple of generations by close relatives, meaning that the source of their success was one successful individual, i.e. Cato the elder.
Catones were quite successful in forming marriage alliances. Most skillful of all was, perhaps as a surprise Cato the younger, whose own marriage arrangements came second only to the marriage arrangements for his children.
When examining the maritial connections of the Catones, one notes especially connections to the Junii Bruti and the Servilii Caepiones, which also had complicated relationships between themselves. Especially famous marriage is the marriage of younger Cato’s daughter Porcia to Brutus, which also probably was a love marriage at least from the part of Porcia. However the marriage had strong political implications as well, Brutus for example divorced his first wife Claudia Pulchra, daughter of his long time political ally, and this angered Brutus’ mother Servilia. Servilii had also numerous other indirect links to Porcii Catones.
The extraordinary personality of Cato the elder also brought him influence beyond to that of his family. For example famous speaker Q. Hortensius Hortalus admired Cato so much that wanted to marry Cato’s daughter. However at that time Porcia was married to M. Calpurnius Bibulus, who did not want to give up his wife and Cato himself too was not very enthusiastic about the idea. However Hortensius was very rich and politically very well connected with the aristocratic party and Pompeius. Thus Cato arranged his own wife Marcia, daughter of L. Marcius Philippus cos 56, to marry Hortensius making Hortensius happy. Hortensius and Marcia were married for 5 years until Hortensius died and left all his fortunes to Marcia. Marcia immediately re-married Cato, bringing the wealth of Hortensius to Cato and causing a major scandal in Rome. An arrangement perhaps quite far removed from the image of virtuous philosopher-statesman.
The skills of younger Cato were not a lone spark in the Porcii Catones family. The father of his had married with Livia Drusa, a former wife of Q. Servilius Caepio (a brother of Brutus’ mother, Servilia). Livia was daughter of cos 112 M. Livius Drusus and a Cornelia Scipiones. These connections ensured good fortunes for younger Cato in birth.
Also skillful was the elder Cato. He married twice and second time with Licinia Crassa, a member of the most influental plebeian family of Licinii Crassi. Also his son, Cato Licinianus, married well: his wife was Aemilia Paulla major, the elder daughter of L. Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus (cos 182 and 168). With Aemilia Paulla, Cato Licinianus ensured for his two sons the support of Aemilii Paulli and Cornelii Scipiones. This proved to be successful: both his sons reached consulship.
Survival of the Porcii Catones thus did not rely on philosophical skills or old Roman thoughness, but to the skills of political marriages, that raised the family from Sabine countryside into the center of Roman nobility. In this the Porcii Catones were much alike other aspiring new families, which wanted to have their place in the sunshine of Roman politics and society. It doesn’t take away anything from genuine uniqueness of both elder and younger Cato, but it puts their lives into a perspective.