Sallust

Sallust

Life

Gaius Sallustius Crispus (Sallust in English) was born in 86 BCE at  Amiternum (near mod. San Vittorino).

He came to Rome, as most do, to rise through the cursus honorum, and in 55 he became quaestor. He then aligned himself with the populares faction, and became a tribune of the plebs in 52. He was removed from the Senate in 50 by Appius Claudius Pulcher, brother of the infamous Publius Clodius Pulcher, on grounds of immorality. However, as a partisan to Caesar, he was reinstated in the following year, and won praetorship in 47 BCE. Caesar then granted him proconsulship of Numidia, of which he took full advantage to make himself rich. Upon returning home, he was charged with embezzlement, and to prevent his removal again, he retired to private life writing histories instead.

Works

Only two works of Sallust’s survive whole: De Coniuratione Catilinae) (“On the Catiline Conspiracy”) and De Bello Iugurthino (“On the Jugurthine War”). We also have fragments of his Historiae, an annalist account of Rome from 78; the fragments do not progress further than 67 BCE, although the fragments remain a crucial source for history of the era.

There are also spurious works attributed to Sallust: the “Letters to the Aged Caesar on the Republic” (Epistulae ad Caesarem Senem de Republica), and the “Invective against Cicero” (Invectiva in Ciceronem), both of which are likely Principate creations.

The De Coniuratione Catilinae is a condemnation of Catiline, but in doing so, Sallust both removes Caesar from any connection, and furthermore downplays Cicero’s role in the suppression of the conspiracy, instead raising up Cato the Younger as the opposite of Caesar.

Following his populist ideals, Sallust’s Bellum Iugurthinum portrays the war as the first time Romans “dared to oppose the insolence of the nobility”. His praise for Memmius and Marius, populist magistrates, emphasized Rome’s strife among its two chief factions, the populares, populists who relied on the voting power of the masses, and the optimates, the wealthy, Senatorial elite. This strife primarily came out of the defeat of Carthage. External threats served to unite the Roman populace, but once vanquished, the people became lazy and adopted vices in a new prosperity. This ultimately led to people turning on each other and set the stage for civil war. Sallust would repeat these ideas at length in his De Coniuratione Catilinae, too.

In antiquity, Sallust was accused of plagiarizing Cato, though more because of his style, which was modeled off Cato’s prose, than specific content. Like Cato, the hero in Sallust’s works is Rome itself, though names of individuals are merely downplayed and not entirely absent. Sallust also draws on the archaic language of Cato, and the typical features of Sallustian style—namely inconcinnitas, a lack of parallelism—appear to be derived from Cato’s work.

Memorable Quotes

Nam ante Carthaginem deletam populus et senatus Romanus placide modesteque inter se rem publicam tractabant, neque gloriae neque dominationis certamen inter civis erat: metus hostilis in bonis artibus civitatem retinebat. Sed ubi illa formido mentibus decessit, scilicet ea quae res secundae amant, lascivia atque superbia incessere. Ita quod in advorsis rebus optaverant otium postquam adepti sunt, asperius acerbiusque fuit. Namque coepere nobilitas dignitatem, populus libertatem in lubidinem vortere, sibi quisque ducere, trahere, rapere. Ita omnia in duas partis abstracta sunt, res publica, quae media fuerat, dilacerata. (Bellum Iugurthinum 2.41.2–5)

For before the destruction of Carthage the people and senate of Rome together governed the republic peacefully and with moderation. There was no strife among the citizens either for glory or for power; fear of the enemy preserved the good morals of the state. But when the minds of the people were relieved of that dread, wantonness and arrogance naturally arose, vices which are fostered by prosperity. Thus the peace for which they had longed in time of adversity, after they had gained it proved to be more cruel and bitter than adversity itself. For the nobles began to abuse their position and the people their liberty, and every man for himself robbed, pillaged, and plundered. Thus the community was split into two parties, and between these the state was torn to pieces. (Edited and translated by John C. Rolfe, 1921.)

Texts Online

Latin: PHI Latin Texts
English: Lacus Curtius

Further Reading

  1. Ronald Syme 1964. Sallust. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  2. Ann Thomas Wilkins 1994. Villain or Hero: Sallust’s Portrayal of Catiline. New York: Peter Lang.