Gaius Sallustius Crispus (Sallust in English) was born in 86 BCE at Amiternum (near modern 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.
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 an inverted 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 populist v. elite factional strife.
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.
One other notable feature of both the De Coniuratione Catilinae and the Bellum Iugurthinum is Sallust’s bellicose view: war with external enemies was good, because it united the citizenry, but without foreign enemies, the people turn in on each other, and civil strife is born.
- Ronald Syme 1964. Sallust. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- Ann Thomas Wilkins 1994. Villain or Hero: Sallust’s Portrayal of Catiline. New York: Peter Lang.