Sallust, (Gaius Sallustius Crispus), born 86 BCE, in the Sabine Hills of central Italy, senator and historian.
Elected to a quaestorship around 55 BCE, Sallust progressed to hold the position of Tribune of the Plebs in 52 BCE. In criticising Cicero for defending Milo for the murder of Clodius, Sallust marked himself out as a member of the anti-senatorial faction of politicians, the populares. Clodius had been a hench-man for Julius
Caesar, who was renowned for his anti-senatorial attitude. This relationship was to prove valauble for Sallust in the coming years. In 50 BCE, he was ejected from the Senate for alleged immorality. This claim was somewhat spurious and most probably based on gossip. Consequently, Sallust joined Caesar's troops to fight for him during the Civil Wars of 49-45 BCE, was elected to a praetorship in 46 BCE, before assuming the Governorship of Numidia (Northern Africa) in 45 BCE. Here, he amassed a significant fortune through ruthless means, for which he relied on Caesar's protection from prosecution.
Sallust was certainly a wealthy man by this point, with the purchase of a villa at Tivoli and the Gardens of Sallust in Rome (which later became property of the Emperors) indicative of this. Sallust retired from public life in 44 BCE, following the assassination of Julius Caesar, and proceeded to write histories until his death in 35 BCE.
Sallust wrote with an unequivocal, dramatic tone, a style which conformed well to the Roman concept of writing history. For the Romans, history was about recording an
event and using it as an example of tradition or principle, not so much the probing and testing inquiry of modern research. Of Sallust's work, the Conspiracy of
Catiline (Catilinae Conuiratio) and the Jugurthine War (Bellum Iugurthinum) survive complete, whilst there are fragments of a history of Rome from 78 BCE to 67 BCE.
It is interesting to note, given Sallust's own colourful history, that he chose to document the Catiline Conspiracy for its "unexampled wickedness". Sallust depicts the moral decline of Rome, and in particular its obsession with luxuria (luxury) and avaritia (greed), as the propellant factor behind Catiline's attempts to seize control of the state. Furthermore, the introduction of a mysterious female character, known only as Sempronia, added to the sense of debauchery and corruption pervading Rome.
Sallust's time as governor of Numidia probably inspired his selection of the Jugurthine War for his second history. In addition, the rollercoaster nature of the conflict (victory alternating with defeat) was complementary to Sallust's style, whilst the threat that the rising posed to Rome's aristocracy corresponded to his political ideology.
The survival of Sallust's histories perhaps owes much to his inclusion in the Quadriga, or group of four Latin writers whose work formed the basis of a classical education for hundreds of years.