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Statue of Sallust in L'Aquila

Gaius Sallustius Crispus, usually anglicised as Sallust (/ˈsæləst/; 86 – c. 35 BC[1]) was a Roman historian, politician, and novus homo from a provincial plebeian family. Sallust was born at Amiternum in the country of the Sabines and was a popularis, opposer of the old Roman aristocracy throughout his career, and later a partisan of Julius Caesar. Sallust is the earliest known Roman historian with surviving works to his name, of which we have Catiline's War (about the conspiracy in 63 BC of L. Sergius Catilina), The Jugurthine War (about Rome's war against the Numidians from 111 to 105 BC), and the Histories (of which only fragments survive). Sallust was primarily influenced by the Greek historian Thucydides and amassed great (and ill-gotten) wealth from his governorship of Africa.[2]

Life and career[edit]

Gardens of Sallust

Sallust was probably born in Amiternum in Central Italy,[3][4][5] though Eduard Schwartz takes the view that Sallust's birthplace was Rome.[3] His birthdate is calculated from the report of Jerome's Chronicon.[6] But Ronald Syme suggests that Jerome's date has to be adjusted because of his carelessness.[6] The British historian offers 87 BC as a more correct date.[6] However, dating Sallust's birth as 86 BC is widely used,[4][7][8] and the Kleine Pauly Encyclopedia uses 1 October 86 BC as the birthdate.[9] Michael Grant cautiously offers 80s BC.[5]

There is no information about Sallust's parents.[10] The only exception is Tacitus' mention of his sister.[11] Sallustii was a provincial noble family of Sabine origin.[4][5][12] They belonged to the equestrian order and had a full Roman citizenship.[4] During the Social War Gaius' parents could hide in the capital, because Amiternum was under threat of siege by rebelled Italic tribes.[13] Due to this Sallust could have been raised in Rome[10] The historian received very good education.[4]

After an ill-spent youth, Sallust entered public life and may have won election as quaestor in 55 BC. However, there is no strict evidence about this, and some scholars suppose that Sallust hadn't been a quaestor — the practice of violating cursus honorum was common in the last years of the Republic.[5][14][15] He became a Tribune of the Plebs in 52 BC, the year in which the followers of Milo killed Clodius in a street brawl. Sallust then supported the prosecution of Milo. Sallust, Titus Munatius Plancus and Quintus Pompeius Rufus also tried to blame Cicero, one of the leaders of senators' opposition to triumvirate, for his support of Milo.[16] Because of his position in Milo's trial R. Syme suggests that originally Sallust didn't support Caesar.[17] T. Mommsen states that Sallust acted in Pompey's interests (according to Mommsen, Pompey was preparing to install his own dictatorship).[18]

From the beginning of his public career, Sallust operated as a decided partisan of Julius Caesar, to whom he owed such political advancement as he attained. In 50 BC, the censor Appius Claudius Pulcher removed him from the Senate on the grounds of gross immorality (probably really because of his opposition to Milo and Cicero). In the following year, perhaps through Caesar's influence, he was reinstated.

During the Civil War of 49–45 BC Sallust acted as Caesar's partisan, but his role wasn't significant, so his name isn't mentioned in dictator's Commentarii de Bello Civili.[19] It was reported[by whom?] that Sallust dined with Caesar, Hirtius, Oppius, Balbus and Sulpicus Rufus on the night after his famous crossing over the Rubicon river into Italy January 10.[20] In 49 BC Sallust was moved to Illyricum and probably commanded at least one legion there against Publius Dolabella and Gaius Antonius.[9][19] This campaign was unsuccessful, and, [19] in the late summer 47 BC a group of soldiers rebelled near Rome, demanding for previously promised rewards and discharging. Sallust as praetor designatus was sent to persuade soldiers with several other senators, but the rebels killed two senators, while Sallust narrowly escaped death.[21][22] In 46 BC, he served as a praetor and accompanied Caesar in his African campaign, which ended in the decisive defeat of the remains of the Pompeian war party at Thapsus. Sallust didn't participate in military operations directly, but he commanded several ships and organized supply through Kerkennah islands.[23] As a reward for his services, Sallust gained appointment as governor of the province of Africa Nova. The reason of his designation is unclear: Sallust wasn't a skilled general, while the province was military significant with three legions deployed there.[23] Moreover, governors after him were experienced military.[23] However, Sallust successfully managed with organizing of supply and transportation, and these qualities could determine Caesar's choice.[23] In the capacity of governor he committed such oppression and extortion that only the influence of Caesar enabled him to escape condemnation. On his return to Rome he purchased and began laying out in great splendour the famous gardens on the Quirinal known as the Horti Sallustiani or Gardens of Sallust. These gardens would later belong to the emperors.

Sallust then retired from public life and devoted himself to historical literature, and further developing his Gardens of Sallust, upon which he spent much of his accumulated wealth. According to Anthony Everitt, Sallust later became the second husband of Cicero's ex-wife Terentia.[24]


Sallust's account of the Catiline conspiracy (De coniuratione Catilinae or Bellum Catilinae) and of the Jugurthine War (Bellum Iugurthinum) have come down to us complete, together with fragments of his larger and most important work (Historiae), a history of Rome from 78 to 67 BC, intended as a continuation of Cornelius Sisenna's work.

The Conspiracy of Catiline[edit]

The Conspiracy of Catiline (Sallust's first published work) contains the history of the memorable year 63. Sallust adopts the usually accepted view of Catiline, and describes him as the deliberate foe of law, order and morality, and does not give a comprehensive explanation of his views and intentions. (Note that Catiline had supported the party of Sulla, which Sallust had opposed.) Mommsen's suggestion—that Sallust particularly wished to clear his patron (Caesar) of all complicity in the conspiracy—may have contained some truth.

In writing about the conspiracy of Catiline, Sallust's tone, style, and descriptions of aristocratic behavior show that he was deeply troubled by the moral decline of Rome. While he inveighs against Catiline's depraved character and vicious actions, he does not fail to state that the man had many noble traits, indeed all that a Roman man needed to succeed. In particular, Sallust shows Catiline as deeply courageous in his final battle.

This subject gave Sallust the opportunity to show off his rhetoric at the expense of the old Roman aristocracy, whose degeneracy he delighted to paint in the blackest colours.

The work probably was written between 44 and 40 BC,[25] or between 42 and 41 BC according to Der Kleine Pauly.[9] However, Louis MacKay proposed a different dating. According to him, The Conspiracy was prepared by Sallust in 50 BC as a political pamphlet, but wasn't published; after the civil war Sallust reviewed it and finally published.[26]

The work doesn't have any traces of personal experience, and the most common explanation is Sallust's military service during this period.[27] The main source for this work is De Consulatu Suo by Cicero.[28]

Jugurthine War[edit]

Sallust's Jugurthine War is a brief monograph recording the war against Jugurtha in Numidia from c. 112 BC to 105 BC. Its true value lies in the introduction of Marius and Sulla to the Roman political scene and the beginning of their rivalry. Sallust's time as governor of Africa Nova ought to have let the author develop a solid geographical and ethnographical background to the war; however, this is not evident in the monograph despite a diversion on the subject because Sallust's priority in the Jugurthine War, as with the Catiline Conspiracy, is to use history as a vehicle for his judgement on the slow destruction of Roman morality and politics.

Other works[edit]

The extant fragments of the Histories (some discovered in 1886) show sufficiently well the political partisan, who took a keen pleasure in describing the reaction against Sulla's policy and legislation after the dictator's death. Historians regret the loss of the work, as it must have thrown much light on a very eventful period, embracing the war against Sertorius (died 72 BC), the campaigns of Lucullus against Mithradates VI of Pontus (75-66 BC), and the victories of Pompey in the East (66-62 BC).

Two letters (Duae epistolae de republica ordinanda), letters of political counsel and advice addressed to Caesar, and an attack upon Cicero (Invectiva or Declamatio in Ciceronem), frequently attributed to Sallust, are thought by modern scholars to have come from the pen of a rhetorician of the first century C.E., along with a counter-invective attributed to Cicero. At one time Marcus Porcius Latro was considered a candidate for the authorship of the pseudo-Sallustian corpus, but this is no longer commonly held.[29]


The style of works written by Sallust was well known in Rome. His style differs from the writings of his contemporaries — Caesar and especially Cicero. It is characterized by brevity and by the use of rare words and turns of phrase. As a result, his works are very far from the conversational Latin of his time.[30]

The most famous feature of his style is the use of archaic words. According to Suetonius, Lucius Ateius Praetextatus (Philologus) helped Sallust to collect them.[31] R. Syme suggests that Sallust's choice of style and even particular words was influenced by his antipathy to Cicero, his rival, but also one of the trendsetters in Latin literature in the 1st century BC.[32] "The Conspiracy of Catiline" reflects many features of style that were developed in his later works.[33]

Sallust avoids common words from public speeches of contemporary Roman political orators, such as honestas, humanitas, consensus.[34] In several cases he uses rare forms of well-known words: for example, lubido instead of libido, maxumum instead of maximum, the conjunction quo in place of more common ut. He also uses rare endings -ere instead of common -erunt in the third-person plural in perfectum (for example, coepere «[they] have started» instead of coeperunt) and -is instead of -es in the third declension in accusative case for adjectives and nouns (for example, montis «mountains» instead of montes). Some words used by Sallust (for example, antecapere, portatio, incruentus, incelebratus, incuriousus), are not known in other writings before him. They are believed to be either neologisms or intentional revival of archaic words.[35] Sallust also often uses antithesis, alliterations and chiasmus.[36]


On the whole, antiquity looked favourably on Sallust as an historian. Tacitus speaks highly of him (Annals, iii. 30); and Quintilian does not hesitate to put him on a level with Thucydides (x.1), and declares that he is a greater historian than Livy (ii.5).

Sallust struck out for himself practically a new line in literature, his predecessors having functioned as little better than mere dry-as-dust chroniclers, whereas he endeavoured to explain the connection and meaning of events and successfully delineated character. The contrast between his early life and the high moral tone adopted by him in his writings has frequently made him a subject of reproach, but history gives no reason why he should not have reformed.

In any case, his knowledge of his own former weaknesses may have led him to take a pessimistic view of the morality of his fellow-men, and to judge them severely. He took as his model Thucydides, whom he imitated in his truthfulness and impartiality, in the introduction of philosophizing reflections and speeches, and in the brevity of his style, sometimes bordering upon obscurity. Some readers have ridiculed[citation needed] his fondness for old words and phrases (in which he imitated Cato the Elder) as an affectation, but this very affectation and his rhetorical exaggerations made Sallust a favourite author in the 2nd century and later.

Nietzsche credits Sallust in Twilight of the Idols[37] for his epigrammatic style: "My sense of style, for the epigram as a style, was awakened almost instantly when I came into contact with Sallust" and praises him for being "compact, severe, with as much substance as possible, a cold sarcasm against 'beautiful words' and 'beautiful sentiments'."


Several manuscripts of his works survived due to his popularity in Antiquity and Middle Ages.

All manuscripts with his writings are usually divided into two groups — mutili (mutilated) and integri (whole; not wrecked). The classification is based on the existence of the lacuna between 103.2 и 112.3 of "Jugurthine War". The lacuna exists in the mutili scrolls, while integri manuscripts have the text there. The most ancient scrolls survived are Codex Parisinus 16024 and Codex Parisinus 16025, known as "P" and "A" respectively. They were created in the 9th century and both belong to the mutili group.[38] Both these scrolls include only "Catiline" and "Jugurtha", while some other mutili manuscripts also include "Invective" and Cicero's answer.[39] The oldest integri scrolls were created in the 11th century.[40] The probability that all these scrolls came from one more ancient manuscript is discussed.[41]

There is also a unique scroll Codex Vaticanus 3864, known as "V". It includes only speeches and letters from "Catiline", "Jugurtha" and "Histories".[38] The creator of this manuscript changed the original word order and replaced archaisms with more familiar words.[38] The "V" scroll also includes two anonymous letters to Caesar probably from Sallust,[38] but their authenticity is discussed (see above).

Several fragments of Sallust's works survived in papyri of 2nd—4th centuries. Many ancient authors cited Sallust, and sometimes their citations of "Histories" are the only source for reconstruction of this work. But its significance for the reconstruction is uncertain, because occasionally the authors cited Sallust from memory, and some distortions were possible.[42]



  1. ^ Woodman, A.J. (2007). Catiline's War, the Jugurthine War, Histories. London: Penguin. p. xxvii. ISBN 0140449485. "When Sallust died, probably in 35" .
  2. ^ Woodman, Catiline's War, the Jugurthine War, Histories, p. xxvii
  3. ^ a b Syme, R. (1964) Sallust. University of California Press. P. 7
  4. ^ a b c d e Mellor, R. J. (1999) The Roman historians. Routledge. P. 30
  5. ^ a b c d Grant, M. (1995) Greek and Roman historians: information and misinformation. Routledge. P. 13
  6. ^ a b c Syme, R. (1964) Sallust. University of California Press. P. 13
  7. ^ (Russian) Альбрехт, М. (2002) История римской литературы, Т. 1. Греко-латинский кабинет. С. 480
  8. ^ (Russian) Горенштейн, В. О. (1981) Гай Саллюстий Крисп. Сочинения. Наука. С. 148
  9. ^ a b c Schmidt, P. L. "Sallustius. 4" In Der Kleine Pauly. Bd. IV. Sp. 1513
  10. ^ a b Syme, R. (1964) Sallust. University of California Press. P. 14
  11. ^ Tacitus. Annales, III, 30, 3
  12. ^ Syme, R. (1964) Sallust. University of California Press. P. 9
  13. ^ Syme, R. (1964) Sallust. University of California Press. P. 12
  14. ^ Syme, R. (1964) Sallust. University of California Press. P. 28
  15. ^ Earl D. C. The Early Career of Sallust in Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte. Vol. 15, No. 3. 1966. P. 306
  16. ^ (Asc. Mil., 20 (37)) Asconius Pedianus. Commentary on Pro Milone, 20 (37)
  17. ^ Syme, R. (1964) Sallust. University of California Press. P. 29
  18. ^ Моммзен, Т. (2005) История Рима. Т. 3. Наука. С. 223
  19. ^ a b c Syme, R. (1964) Sallust. University of California Press. P. 36
  20. ^ Dando-Collins, Stephan (2002). The Epic Saga of Julius Caesars Tenth Legion and Rome. p. 67. ISBN 0-471-09570-2. 
  21. ^ (App. B. C., II, 92) Appian. Roman history. Civil wars, II, 92
  22. ^ (Cass. Dio, XLII, 52) Cassius Dio. Roman history, XLII, 52
  23. ^ a b c d Syme, R. (1964) Sallust. University of California Press. P. 37
  24. ^ Everitt, Anthony, Cicero. The life and times of Rome's greatest politician, Random House, 2001
  25. ^ Mellor, R. (1999) The Roman historians. Routledge. P. 32
  26. ^ MacKay, L. A. Sallust’s "Catiline": Date and Purpose // In: Phoenix, Vol. 16, No. 3 (Autumn, 1962). P. 190
  27. ^ Earl D. C. The Early Career of Sallust // In: Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte. Vol. 15, No. 3. 1966. P. 307-309
  28. ^ MacKay, L. A. Sallust’s "Catiline": Date and Purpose // In: Phoenix, Vol. 16, No. 3 (Autumn, 1962). P. 183
  29. ^ Smith, William (1867), "Latro, M. Porcius", in Smith, William, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology 2, Stefano Ciufferpebble, p. 726 
  30. ^ (Russian) Альбрехт, М. (2002) История римской литературы, Т. 1. Греко-латинский кабинет. С. 494
  31. ^ (Suet. Gram. 10) Suetonius. On Famous Grammarians and Rhetoricians, 10
  32. ^ Syme, R. (1964) Sallust. University of California Press. P. 257
  33. ^ Syme, R. (1964) Sallust. University of California Press. P. 266
  34. ^ (Russian) Альбрехт, М. (2002) История римской литературы, Т. 1. Греко-латинский кабинет. С. 493
  35. ^ McGushin, P. Bellum Catilinae: A Commentary. Brill Archive, 1977. P. 19
  36. ^ (Russian) Горенштейн, В. О. (1981) Гай Саллюстий Крисп. Сочинения. Москва: Наука. С. 161
  37. ^ Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, s. 13.1
  38. ^ a b c d Ramsey, J. T. (2007) Sallust’s Bellum Catilinae. 2nd Ed. New York—Oxford: Oxford University Press. P. 14
  39. ^ Rolfe J. C. (1921-1931) Introduction. // In: Sallust. Loeb Classical Library. P. XVIII
  40. ^ Ramsey J. T. (2007) Sallust’s Bellum Catilinae. 2nd Ed. New York—Oxford: Oxford University Press. P. 26
  41. ^ (Russian) Альбрехт, М. (2002) История римской литературы, Т. 1. Греко-латинский кабинет. С. 502
  42. ^ Ramsey J. T. (2007) Sallust’s Bellum Catilinae. 2nd Ed. New York—Oxford: Oxford University Press. P. 15


Further reading[edit]

Latin with English translation
Latin only