Sallust in Historical Writings Thesis

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In his historical writings, such as Bellum Jugurthinum, Caius Sallustius Crispus (Sallust) strongly criticizes avarice and ambition and the erosion of the Roman Republic and its earlier strong values. In fact, Sallust admits that he, too, was guilty of corruption and greed. By the time he retires from the political life, he says he recognizes his valueless and vain ways and has cast them aside to bring to light the same negative traits in others. Is this not a case of "doth protest too much?" Sallust rightly so goes down in history as being the first true historian, writing a concise record of the times and establishing a template for other historians to come. On the other hand, it should not be forgotten how Sallust was able spend his retirement years living in luxury because of his political savvy and subsequent gains from Caesar.


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Sallust's was born in the county of Sabines in 86 B.C., in the midst of a major transition in Roman politics. The Romans had established a government of checks and balances when they overthrew the monarchy in 510 B.C. It was democratic, in the general view with its executive branch of elected magistrates, a Senate that earlier consisted of heads of patrician families and later evolved into prior magistrates, and a hierarchal legislative branch. The senators were naturally positive about the role that they played and the governmental structure. They called the Roman Republican government a perfect model with its corresponding branches, consuls acting for the monarchy, a Senate of noblemen, and a democratic voice executed by electoral assemblies. They praised their government, yet, according to Earl, "The vast majority of Roman citizens had not fallen into the modern error of supposing that political systems were important to anyone but the politicians. They looked on government as a service, the chief purpose…to provide internal stability and freedom from interference so that the important business of life could proceed unhindered."[footnoteRef:2] [2: Donald Earl.The Moral and Political Tradition of Rome. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1967), 23]

TOPIC: Thesis on Sallust in His Historical Writings, Such as Assignment

In this Senate, the ex-magistrates served for life and it was made up of officers from the cavalry class that was divided into a number of various groups that was based on their military office rather than property owned. In ascending order, these positions were quaestorian, tribunitial, aedilician, praetorian and consular. The consulars had the ultimate power. When a Senator wished to speak, it was necessary to wait until the consular asked and answered a question. Then, the praetorians could respond, downward to the quaestorians, who rarely were able to say anything in the Senate. [footnoteRef:3]" Praetors could become a consul for three years, and every noble craved this highly competitive position. "It was, moreover, fraught with personal danger, for rivals or their adherents were continually bringing suit in the courts in order to eliminate, through exile or removal from the senate, an opponent who seemed likely to win."[footnoteRef:4] The favorite was extortion, which Sallust would experience in his later years. [3: L. Ross Taylor. Party Politics in the Age of Caesar. (Berkley: University of California Press, 1966), 3] [4: Ibid., 31-32.]

As the Romans extended their empire, the country's internal troubles worsened. The optimates, who consisted of those from very well-to-do plebeian families joined forces with the old patrician families and prohibited everyone but themselves to be higher magistracies and the Senate. It is this aristocratic ruling class, which Sallust later recognizes as what exemplified the worst of what Rome: Selfish and egotistical men who lived in luxury and had lost sight of the values that had led them to where they were today.

Many argue that Sallust was born at the apex of the decline of the Roman Republic, when the country and its government had become "turbulent, corrupt, immoral. And some even speak of decadence[footnoteRef:5]." However, there are also those such as Dorey who point out that these were also times of "splendor and brilliance."[footnoteRef:6] It is Sallust, himself, notes Dorey, who painted this time in such a negative light in his later writings. "His attempt to portray a society in decay is not wholly convincing; corrupt in many respects it may have been…"[footnoteRef:7] [5: Ronald Syme. Sallust. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964), 16] [6: T.A. Dorey. Latin Historians. (New York: Basic Books, 1966), 85] [7: Ibid. ]

Admittedly, when Sallust was born, the Roman Republic was undergoing much strife and was seeing the political intrigue and corruption that he later denounced. Trouble was growing between Clodius Pulcher, who denounced the popularists, and Marcus Tullius Cicero. Clodius instigated more turbulence as a tribune by passing a law to ensure that his rival, Cicero, would lose his position of strength. The law stipulated that anyone who killed a Roman citizen without a trial would be exiled. Naturally, it just happened that Cicero had executed several Catiline conspirators.[footnoteRef:8] [8: Taylor, Party Politics, 60]

This all occurred under the bidding of Caesar who did not want to leave affairs in the hands of two such unqualified political leaders as Pompey and Crassus, while Cato and Cicero were in Rome. Clodius took care of Cicero, but what about Cato? It was conveniently decided that Cato would become senator of the newly annexed Cyprus.[footnoteRef:9] While Cicero went off to his exile, Clodius' power started going to his head. He enacted another law stipulating that Cicero [9: Ibid, 138.]

had to stay at least 400 miles away from Italy and all his property would be usurped. Believing that he was fooling others of his treachery, Clodius had someone else purchase Cicero's property for him. He then continued to pass laws that made him well liked by the masses and enhanced his political power.

As happens in such political infighting, a tribune requested that Cicero be recalled in 57 B.C. "The Italians -- particularly, of course, the richest of them, who valued Cicero's tireless defense of private property -- came in throngs." [footnoteRef:10] Cicero bragged that it was not only the merchants, but also the entire municipalities who had chosen him consul and who now favored his restoration. Clodius attempted to thwart this decree, but Milo restrained him with armed support. [10: Ibid, 61]

In return, Clodius assaulted Cicero, burned down his brother's house and impeached Milo for inciting riots, but to no avail as the decree went forward. Milo, still angered by this confrontation ran for consulship as Clodius did the same for the praeorship, the two men literally fought it out in the streets of Rome with armed troops. Clodius was either accidentally killed or purposely assassinated. The Senate elected Pompey to take Caesar's place, but the tribunes blocked the vote.


Needless to say, the young Sallust was living in turbulent, yet exciting times, and he warns of the growth of greed. "Avarice is an immoderate desire of riches, which never any wise man hunted after: being so incorporated with unseen poisons, that it corrupts the body and alters the mind."[footnoteRef:11] [11: Thomas Heywood. Sallust: The Conspiracy of Catiline and the War of Jugurtha. (London: Constable and Co., 1924), 68]

.Sallust's early adult years took place amidst the three decades of unsettled times under Sulla's oligarchic system, and Sallust actually was following similar questionable ways at this time. It is even said by some of Sallust's rivals, that his wild ways were too much for his father to bear, and he passed away. In Catiline,[footnoteRef:12] Sallust tones these days down, arguing that it was only ambition that motivated him, and contrary to what people said, he was studying diligently at this time. While Sallust was going to school in Rome in the 70s and 60s B.C., the times were turbulent. Popeius and Crassus overthrew some of Sulla's laws and prosecution, and later there was great rivalry for the elections and a mounting concern of violence. This was followed by the Catilina conspiracy, Popeius' return, the dynasts' agreement, and finally the consulship of Caesar.[footnoteRef:13] [12: Ibid, 58] [13: Syme, Sallust, 20 ]

Sallust was not sitting still during these times, but was caught up in his own desire to move upward in the political structure. He explained said that he entered Roman politics while he was still young, attaining a quaestorship and then becoming tribune of the commons, where he joined those against Cicero and Milo when Clodius was killed.[footnoteRef:14] This support of Clodius, and thus Caesar in abstentia, will be noticeable in Sallust's writings when he pays tribute to Caesar. Two years later, Sallust was expelled from the Senate for charges that apparently were not that serious, but rather political in nature,[footnoteRef:15]" and he continued working on behalf of his own rise to power. He was successful enough in this power play that Caesar reappointed him to a questorship, and he returned to the Senate. Now, in the good graces of Caesar, he commanded a legion in Illyicum and then was sent to quiet the rebelling legions in Campania. His success ratings, however, were poor. [14: Ibid,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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