Origines ("Origins") is the title of a historical work by Marcus Porcius Cato.

History of the Text

This highly original work was the first prose history in Latin, and among the very first Latin prose works in any genre. Along with Livius Andronicus, Naevius, Ennius and Plautus, Cato helped to found a new literature.

According to Cato's biographer Cornelius Nepos, the Origines consisted of "seven books. Book I is the history of the early kings of Rome; books II and III the beginnings of each Italian city. This seems to be why the whole work is called Origines."[1] The city histories in books II and III of the work were apparently treated on an individual basis, drawing on their own local traditions.[2] The last four books dealt with Rome's later wars and the growth in the city's power; they "outweighed the rest", according to one later reader.[3]

There were two existing historical works in Latin, by Naevius and Ennius, but they were in verse, not prose. There were two existing prose histories by Romans, Q. Fabius Pictor and Lucius Cincius Alimentus, but they were written in Greek. All four of these existing works focused on Rome throughout; moreover, the two poems wove Roman history inextricably into the adventures of the Graeco-Roman gods. In Origines, Cato evidently chose to do it differently.[4] He felt no need to follow precedent, Roman or otherwise:

I do not care to copy out what is on the High Priest's tablet: how many times grain became dear, how many times the sun or moon were obscured or eclipsed.
Cato, Origines.[5]

Cato's own achievements were not downplayed: he was "not the man to minimize his own achievements".[6] The Origines included several of his own speeches verbatim. He made it a rule not to mention military commanders by name, yet the surviving fragments give the impression that Cato's campaigns were highlighted.

Origines no longer survives as a complete text, but substantial fragments are known because they were quoted by later Latin authors.[7]



  1. Cornelius Nepos, Life of Cato 3.
  2. (Cornell 1972).
  3. Festus, On the Meanings of Words p. 198 M.
  4. (Dalby 1998, pp. 14–15)
  5. (Chassignet 1986, fragment 4.1)
  6. Livy, Ab Urbe Condita 34.15.9.
  7. Cornell 1988, p. 211


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