Sculpture of Sallust


Historian, Politician




Gaius Sallustius Crispus, usually anglicised as Sallust was a Roman historian and politician from an Italian plebeian family. Sallust was born at Amiternum in the country of the Sabines and was a popularis, an opponent of the old Roman aristocracy, throughout his career, and later a partisan of Julius Caesar. Sallust is the earliest known Latin-language Roman historian with surviving works to his name, of which Catiline's War (about the conspiracy in 63 BC of L. Sergius Catilina), The Jugurthine War (about Rome's war against the Numidian King Jugurtha from 111 to 105 BC), and the Histories (of which only fragments survive) are still extant. Sallust was primarily influenced by the Greek historian Thucydides and amassed great (and ill-gotten) wealth from his governorship of Africa.

Sallust was probably born in Amiternum in Central Italy, though Eduard Schwartz takes the view that Sallust's birthplace was Rome. His birth date is calculated from the report of Jerome's Chronicon. But Ronald Syme suggests that Jerome's date has to be adjusted because of his carelessness, and suggests 87 BC as a more correct date. However, Sallust's birth is widely dated at 86 BC, and the Kleine Pauly Encyclopedia takes 1 October 86 BC as the birthdate. Michael Grant cautiously offers 80s BC.

There is no information about Sallust's parents or family, except for Tacitus' mention of his sister. The Sallustii were a provincial noble family of Sabine origin. They belonged to the equestrian order and had full Roman citizenship. During the Social War Sallust’s parents hid in Rome, because Amiternum was under threat of siege by rebelling Italic tribes. Because of this Sallust could have been raised in Rome. He received a very good education.

After an ill-spent youth, Sallust entered public life and may have won election as quaestor in 55 BC. However, there is no conclusive evidence about this, and some scholars suppose that Sallust did not become a quaestor — the practice of violating the cursus honorum was common in the last years of the Republic. 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 the Senators' opposition to the triumvirate, for his support of Milo. Syme suggests that Sallust, because of his position in Milo's trial, did not originally support Caesar. Theodor Mommsen states that Sallust acted in Pompey's interests (according to Mommsen, Pompey was preparing to install his own dictatorship).

According to one inscription, some Sallustius (with unclear praenomen) was a proquaestor in Syria in 50 BC under Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus. Mommsen identified this Sallustius with Sallust the historian, though T. R. S. Broughton argued that Sallust the historian could not have been an assistant to Julius Caesar's adversary.

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 was not significant, so his name is not mentioned in the dictator's Commentarii de Bello Civili. It was reported by Plutarch that Sallust dined with Caesar, Hirtius, Oppius, Balbus and Sulpicius Rufus on the night after Caesar's famous crossing of the Rubicon river into Italy on 10 January. In 49 BC Sallust was moved to Illyricum and probably commanded at least one legion there after the failure of Publius Cornelius Dolabella and Gaius Antonius. This campaign was unsuccessful. In 48 BC he was probably made quaestor by Caesar to re-enter the Senate. However, the last statement is based on the "Invective against Sallust" ascribed to Cicero, which is probably a later forgery. In late summer 47 BC a group of soldiers rebelled near Rome, demanding their discharge and payment for service. Sallust, as praetor designatus, with several other senators, was sent to persuade the soldiers to abstain, but the rebels killed two senators, and Sallust narrowly escaped death. 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 did not participate in military operations directly, but he commanded several ships and organized supply through the Kerkennah Islands. As a reward for his services, Sallust was appointed governor of the province of Africa Nova — it is not clear why: Sallust was not a skilled general, and the province was militarily significant, with three legions deployed there. Moreover, his successors as governor were experienced military men. However, Sallust successfully managed the organization of supply and transportation, and these qualities could have determined Caesar's choice. As governor he committed such oppression and extortion that only Caesar's influence 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 developed his Gardens, upon which he spent much of his accumulated wealth. According to Hieronymus Stridonensis, Sallust later became the second husband of Cicero's ex-wife Terentia. However prominent scholars of Roman prosopography such as Ronald Syme refute this as a legend. According to Procopius, when Alaric's invading army entered Rome they burned Sallust's house.

Books by Sallust

The Catiline Conspiracy and the Jugurthine War Cover image

The Catiline Conspiracy and the Jugurthine War

Non-Fiction War
Classics Conspiracy Antiquity

The Catiline Conspiracy and the Jugurthine War are the two separate surviving works of the historian commonly known as "Sallust". Nearly contemporary to the events he describes, he is supposed to have been a retired officer of Caesar's army.