Sallust In His Historical Writings, Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :


In 46 B.C., once again Sallust was given an opportunity to shine or fail, as he was made a practor and sailed to Circina where he proved himself by stealing the enemies' stores. In return, Caesar rewarded Sallust with the title of proconsular governor of all of the province of Numidia and Africa. Others with a much stronger background were expecting this position, but it may have just been that Sallust showed a greater skill at organization. Sallust, however, takes advantage of this situation and when returning to Rome was cited for extortion. [footnoteRef:16] Caesar quickly acquitted Sallust, but that was the end of his political career. It appears that Caesar may have made a deal with Sallust that if he quietly disappears, he would not be tried. [16: Ibid.]

At this point in Sallust's life, he says he made the decision to give up his political career. Or, as noted, he may have been requested to do so by Caesar. Regardless, Sallust did not leave in bad straits. Caesar apparently fulfilled his end of the bargain. "Sallust became very wealthy" and was "the owner of the magnificent estate that was later the property of such notables as Nero, Vespasian, Nerva and Aurelian.[footnoteRef:17] Sallust says that his political ambition had come to an end and it was time to pursue his interest of writing. [17: Ibid.]

This, in itself was unusual, since others retired to hunt or extend their farm, but this was not to be Sallust's lot. "It was for slaves to devote themselves utterly to such things," he said in disdain.[footnoteRef:18] His pursuit of spending most of his time writing was seen as unusual, at best. Even a historiography was not to consume an entire gentleman's time. "It was not fit for a public man completely to withdraw from public life to devote himself to the writing of history at an age when office was still attainable" [footnoteRef:19] In his defense, Sallust responded to the critics that his histories were his way of doing public service. His writing of history would be his way of providing service to the state and stated that the state will gain more advantage from his otium than from the negotium of contemporary politicians. [footnoteRef:20] [18: Earl.,Moral and Political Tradition, 23] [19: Ibid.] [20: Dorey. Latin Historians, 91]


Although it is known that Sallust wrote a number of different historical works, Bellum Catilinae and the Bellum Jugurthinum are the only two remaining intact. In addition are four speeches, a few letters and 500 parts of his Historiae to be published in five books. Laistner speaks for other historians when he praises Sallust for his historical writings. Despite the fact that Sallust's moral tone now turns readers off, his overall ability as a historical artist should not be denied. Sallust's value is due his interpretation of Roman history during the late Republic, which frequently differs from other interpretations and opposed to the optimate viewpoint.[footnoteRef:21] [21: M.L.W. Laistner, The Greater Roman Historians. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963), 64]

Syme questions Sallust's ultimate purpose in writing these histories. On the one hand, it is as if Salust is writing biographical works on the achievements of Caesar. He cannot refrain from bringing in his political opinion. He also uses Cato as his double-edged sword: Cato, is a man of integrity, "scourged the nobles of his day for vice, inertia, incompetence. Sallust exploits him for style, but also as a precedent and a weapon…" [footnoteRef:22]G.M. Paul (in Dorey[footnoteRef:23]) adds that "For Sallust, the pursuit of gloria was a fact of human experience, natural, self-evident and unquestioned…" When his career came to an end, he was most likely disappointed "though at the same time, his desire for distinction spurred him to pursue it in another field, namely historiography." Sallust's writings are also autobiographical. He may be writing about the history around him, but he is also the protagonist in the story. In. Bellum Catilinae 3.3 Sallust apologizes that his prior occurrence with public life was not fortunate. He continues that once he set his mind to leave politics behind for good, he set the goal to dedicate himself to the writing of impartial and accurate historical monographs. [22: Syme, Sallust 125] [23: Dorey. Latin Historians, 85]

Yet, are they impartial? It to see these comments...
...He retired in luxury founded on unethical gains received from involved with Caesar's in group. He was Caesar's "yes man" for quite some time. His writings were also biased toward Caesar, painting him in a much more positive light than others. Readers should also question why would Sallust continue being pro-Caesar after he died? Why did Sallust make it so clear that he was never going back into public life?

It is necessary to look at Sallust's life in relationship to the political and historical indications of the time. From when he was a young man, Sallust, as noted by his own comments, was politically inclined. He had continued to forge on, despite his on-again, off-again position, and not performing as well as he or Caesar expected him to do during the civil wars. When he came back to Rome and was, as many others were over the years, charged with extortion, it was most likely the last straw with Caesar. Most likely, Sallust did not rate high enough for a consulship. Also, Caesar did not need any more blemishes on his track record, which was quickly sliding. Given a choice of ending his days in luxury and being remembered by his histories, or sticking around for what he most likely saw as the upcoming demise of Caesar's leadership, Sallust took the easier road.

War with Jugurtha, or Bellum Iugurthinum is one of Sallust's two completed books that can still be read today. It not only provides insights into the times in Sallust's role as a historian, but it also gives readers insights into the author, himself. It is said that he most likely wrote about Jugurtha since he was closely involved with the action and had seen what happened firsthand. Sallust states that he chose this historical event "because of its perilous nature and shifting fortunes, and because it marked the beginning of successful resistance to the dominant power of the nobles." He saw what was happening there as a way for him to further is ultimate theme of moral values and against greed and power.


Historians agree that Sallust's book War of Jugurtha provides a relatively objective view of what was occurring at the time. Syme, for example, states "In spite of many things either inadequate or peculiar, the military operations as narrated in Bellum Jugurthinum do not appear to have been distorted by prejudice against persons or by party animus" [footnoteRef:24]. However, it is also understood that Sallust is not only writing this because of the war, itself, but also due to another agenda he has, his moral views about the aristocracy. [24: Syme, Sallust, 157]

It also appears that Sallust is using the Jugurthine War to continue his political agenda and to demonstrate his own history of ambition. Perhaps he has not retired completely afterall. During his years in politics, Sallust served a number of different Republic positions, including a quaestor and a tribune. When he was a tribune, he joined others to condemn Milo for murder and attacked Cicero for defending him. Since this was in support of Caesar, this action marked Sallust as a supporter of the populares, the anti-senatorial group of politicians…"[footnoteRef:25] Sallust became a quaestor for a second time, taking the next step of serving Julius Caesar as an officer during the civil war, was praetor, and was installed by Caesar as proconsular governor of the Province of Africa Nova…" [25: S.A. Handford, S.A., translator, The Jugurthine War; the Conspiracy of Catiline. Harmondsworth, (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1963).]

Ancient historians, comparable to some historians today, used their books not only to offer the facts, but also to forward their own theme or agenda. Handford attests that his Jugurthine War "provided Sallust with an excellent opportunity to set the selfish, incompetent, corrupt noblemen against the brilliant plebian who rescued his country from the dire peril into which they had let it fall"[footnoteRef:26]. Many of the nobles sent against Jugurtha were as Sallust noted: "selfish, incompetent, [and] corrupt…." Lucius Calpurnius Bestia, was the first noble to be sent against Jugurtha militarily, for example. Sallust says that Bestia, "no novice in the art of war," had "great power of endurance and a keen and far-seeing intellect…," and "admirable courage" But, "although the consul had many good qualities, they were all rendered useless by his avarice" [26: Ibid, 10]

Aemilius Scaurus, who had been consul, who was a Bestia's lieutenant is described by Sallust as an enterprising nobleman who had an appetite for power and money, as well as being cunning enough to hide his faults. He only…

Sources Used in Documents:


Dorey, T.A. (Ed) Latin Historians. New York: Basic Books, 1966

Earl, Donald C. The Political Thought of Sallust. Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, 1966

Handford, S.A. translator (1963) The Jugurthine War Middlesex: Penguin Books.

Laistner, M.L.W. The Greater Roman Historians. Berkeley: University California Press, 1963

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