Is the saying, "What comes around, goes around," correct? Just look at the times described by historian Caius Sallustius Crispus (Sallust) during the last years of the Roman Republic, and it is easy to see -- "History repeats itself over and over again." The events he describes could easily have happened anytime throughout American history, up to the present. The political infighting, the figurative and literal backstabbing, corruption and even assassination has occurred repeatedly in the United States. Due to Sallust's historical writings, such as Bellum Jugurthinum, which surpassed any other similar literary work at the time, a record exists of this period and all that took place. Sallust left a written heritage that still is as noteworthy today as it was in early Rome, but apparently no one is any the wiser.
In order to understand what was occurring politically during Sallust's lifetime, it is necessary to go back in history before he was born in the county of Sabines in 86 B.C. Anyone who wrote about this time was from the senatorial class rather than the common people. Therefore, they described the Roman republican government as ideal with its checks and balances, monarchy represented by the consuls, aristocracy embodied in the senate, and democracy exercised by the popular assemblies. They all believed that "there had been a strong bond of common interest between aristocrats and people, and in spite of constant strife between the orders in the state, the sword was said not to have been carried into the Roman assembly until the tribunate of Tiberius Gracchus in 133 B.C.1
According to Taylor
, during this period, Rome was a society where some measure of personal liberty existed for the freeborn, "but not equality." The citizens were divided and subdivided into classes that were based on how much land they owned. Property ownership also determined military service and the citizen vote that was predominantly based on military standing. A major rift existed between the foot soldiers and those who had enough money to ride on horseback, and a man very rarely was able to rise from being a common soldier to becoming an officer.
The Senate of ex-magistrates, who served for life, consisted of officers in the cavalry class and was divided into several different groups based on military office rather than property; in descending order these positions were: consular, praetorian, aedilician, tribunitial, and quaestorian. It was not possible for any senator to speak for himself. Rather, when the residing consul raised a question, the consulars first answered it, and then the praetorians, and so forth. The quaestorians rarely were able to say anything in the Senate
According to Syme,
many people believe that when Sallust was born, the Roman Republic was "turbulent, corrupt, immoral. And some even speak of decadence." Yet, it was nothing like this, argues Syme. It was an era of liberty and vitality and innovation. Political strife resulted in excellent oratory, and the Romans were enjoying prosperity. Syme adds that "Sallust himself is partly to blame" for this negative view, because "he interpreted a process of economic change and political adjustment in terms of morals; and he fell easy prey to conventional notions about old Roman virtue"
Syme does admit that there was political strife when Sallust was growing up. This was during the First Tivirate of Pompey, Crassus and Caese, when a feud was brewing between the politician Clodius Pulcher, who was recognized for his attacks against the popularists, and Titus Annius Milo and Marcus Tullius Cicero. When Clodius was a tribune, he introduced a law that would exile any person who killed a Roman citizen without a trial. Cicero had executed several Catiline members because of a conspiracy. There was no doubt that Clodius enacted this law specifically because of Cicero
Although Cicero said that he was exempt from punishment, he lost support, even from Pompey, and was sent into exile. Then Clodius proposed another law that said Cicero could not come within 400 miles of Italy, and that all his property would be confiscated. Clodius purchased this property in someone else's name. He also enacted several laws that increased his political standing.
In 57 B.C., the tides turned again, and a tribune proposed that Cicero be recalled. "The Italians -- particularly, of course, the richest of them, who valued Cicero's tireless defense of private property -- came in throngs"
. Cicero boasted that it was not only shops, but also- municipalities who had elected him consul that now voted for his restoration. Clodius tried to prevent this decree, but Milo held him back with armed support. Clodius assaulted Cicero, set fire to his brother's house and impeached Milo for inciting riots. Clodius was not able to follow through on his threats about the decree, because of the violence, but Milo continued to hold a grudge. When Milo was running for the consulship and Clodius for the praeorship, the two men fought in the Roman streets with armed gangs. Clodius died/was assassinated depending on who relates the history. The Senate then voted to have Pompey take Julius Caesar's place, but the tribunes blocked the vote.
In the meantime, Sallust was apparently living a very wild youth that some say ended his father's life. In Catiline (iii.3-5),
Sallust said it was only ambition that drove him, and that he had eagerly applied himself to his studies during this time. Rolfe writes that many of the accusations made about Sallust were "gossip" because of Sallust's later criticisms of Pompey
(x). Sallust's young adulthood passed during the 30 years of shaky peace that took place under the oligarchic system that Sulla had restored.
During his education in Rome, Sallust possibly witnessed the quasi-peaceful revolution of 70B.C. when the consuls Popeius and Crassus overthrew some of the ordnances of Sulla. Sallust also probably saw the ups and downs in the 60s B.C., which included the tribunes' bills and prosecution of the tribunes, harsh competition at the elections and the threat of violence. Then came the Catilina conspiracy, the return of Popeius Magnus from the east, the dynasts' compact in 60B.C. And the consulship of Caesar.
Sallust said that he entered Roman politics at an early age. He attained the quaestorship and then in 52 B.C., became tribune of the commons and joined those against Cicero and Milo when Clodius was killed.
Two years later, Sallust was expelled from the Senate for "charges made against him which, on that occasion need not be taken too seriously.
" Sallust was working behind the scenes for his own rise to power. Caesar reappointed him to a questorship, and he was back in the Senate again. In 48 B.C., he commanded a Caesar legion in Illyicum and then was sent to quiet the rebelling legions in Campania; both times he was unsuccessful.
In 46B.C., Sallust became a practor, successfully sailed to Circina and stole the enemies' stores. Caesar rewarded Sallust with the title of proconsular governor of the entire province of Numidia and Africa.
Although other men with more experience were in line for this position, "the motives behind Caesar's choice are a theme to tempt speculation, and perhaps to baffle enquiry. He must have discerned ability in Sallust…Sallust, though nowhere signalized in the field, proved his value in supply and transport. The first governor of Africa Nova needed some capacity for organization.
Sallust returned back home to an embarrassing situation for Caesar. He was charged with extortion for giving Caesar a bribe of two million sesterces. Although the case was acquitted and hushed up, the damage was done.
At this point in Sallust's life, he decided to give up (or was encouraged to give up) his Senate involvement. "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
Whether it was due to the extortion problems or he just considered it a good time to turn to his desire for writing is unknown. Normally, when someone has held an office and been bestowed with honors, "it will be expedient for him to signify his retreat gracefully -- no rancor, but motives above reproach"
His ambition had come to an end, and he could now follow his other interest of writing.
Yet when Sallust gave up his career to write history, he went on the defensive for doing so. While others retired to hunt or for agriculture, these activities could not fill his whole attention. "It was for slaves to devote themselves utterly to such things," he said.
(Earl 23). Even a historiography could not take up 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" (Early 23).
Sallust thus equated writing his histories as a form of public service. He believed that his history-writing, which would soothe his bruised ambitions and win him…