Historical Figures


Gaius Sallust Crispus was a direct witness to the transformation of the small Roman republic into the vast empire we remember today. He saw how the republican constitution collapsed by not being able to articulate a system adapted to the conquests that were taking place. The hegemony of the Senate gave way to the glory of great figures such as Caesar, Pompey or Cicero. Sallustio's life runs parallel to that of these great men and many times they intermingle.

Sallust's date of birth is known to us thanks to Saint Jerome and his study of the historians who preceded him. We thus know that Sallust was born in the year 86 B.C. in the city of Amiterno, located in the country of the Sabines, and that he came from a plebeian but well-off family, owners of a house in Rome. Little more news has reached us about Sallust's youth, although if we pay attention to the rumours, his life in Rome was marked by debauchery and the influence exercised on him by Niguro Figulo, a Neopythagorean who cultivated mysticism and magic.

The first record of his political life places him as quaestor in 55 BC. Two years later he was elected tribune of the plebs and actively participated in the political struggles caused by the assassination of the leader of the democratic party, Clodius, carried out by the followers of Milo and Cicero. Along with other tribunes of the plebs he incited the people to turn against Milo, which resulted in burning and looting that ended with the handover of power to Pompey. We do not know to what extent Sallust was involved in these affairs, nor the role he played in them, although we do know that years later he would reconcile with both Milo and Cicero.

His appointment as quaestor opened the doors of the Senate for him, a role he held until 50 BC. when the censors Lucius Capurnius and Appius Claudius expelled him from it, for reasons that are not clear. The "official" version was the immoral life he led, but many scholars have wanted to see in his expulsion a political purge of the Senate to eliminate figures related to the popular party. Whatever the reason, Sallust, persecuted, approached Julius Caesar, who was already in the north of the Italian peninsula, seeking his protection.

The following news we have of Sallust places him in Illyria, commanding a legion fighting Pompey's troops, a mission in which he failed. From those years we only know loose fragments of his life:in the year 47 BC, already as praetor, he was assigned the task of quelling a mutiny of the army stationed in Campania (he had to flee, pursued by the soldiers); and in the year 46 B.C. he regained his seat in the Senate and participated in the North African campaigns. Following Caesar's victory at the Battle of Thapsos, Sallust was rewarded with the government of the province of Africa Nova. Such was the looting to which he subjected the population that he had to return to Rome accused “ of repetundis “And without Caesar's intervention he probably would have been damned. From the year 45 B.C. (Caesar will die a year later) until the date of his death, in the year 35 BC,. he retired from active political life and devoted himself to writing.

We are certain that Sallust wrote three works:The conspiracy of Catherine , The War of Jugurtha and Stories (the latter has only partially reached us). We cannot be sure of the date they were written, but due to the evolution of the style and its structure, as well as the allusions they contain to some characters, we presume that the chronological order is the one we have used to list them.

Catherine's conspiracy recounts the events that took place in Rome during the last years of 60 B.C. between the followers of Catilina and Cicero, a conspiracy that was about to unleash a civil war (Cicero will also capture them in his Catilinarias ). Salustio, who must have known first-hand what happened, recounts the events although he makes some gross errors. He has been accused of being biased in favoring the figure of Julius Caesar.

The War of Jugurtha goes back a few years and narrates the wars against the Numidians between 112 and 105 BC. Sallust tells us both the military campaigns that ended in Roman victory and the internecine conflicts in Rome, where tensions between plebeians and patricians were still latent. He takes the opportunity to make some moral observations on the situation of contemporary Rome and the virtues of the old republic.

From Stories only one fragment has come down to us covering the years 78 to 67 B.C. whose most outstanding events are the war against Sertorio, the revolt of Spartacus, the war against the pirates and the third war against Mitriadres. Since we do not have all the books, we cannot know what Sallust's intention was (although it is speculated that he may have followed the work of Lucius Sisena on the figure of Sulla) or the limits he wished to place on the work. Q>

Finally, there are three minor works, (Invective against Cicero and two letters to César) whose authorship was attributed to him, although today there is a certain consensus in discarding it.

Sallust is considered the first Latin historian, a title that is largely due to the loss of the works of other authors who may have preceded him, such as the Origins of M. Porcio Cato. The truth is that before him we only have evidence of “narratores rerum ” and annals, brief and that do not delve into the events or the characters.

The characteristics that stand out the most in Sallustio are its ability to penetrate the soul of the characters and the strong moralizing content of his work. As for those, those who appear in his books are subjected to a deep psychological study. Our historian is not resigned to ignoring the causes that motivate the actions of the characters, whether they are main or secondary, for which purpose he resorts to his most recognized instrument, the portrait, in which he collects the main features of the human figures described and the grouped into a synthetic and living unity. He accompanies the portrait with speeches and letters to reflect the inner life of the character and the reasons that lead him to act. Like Thucydides, he tries to faithfully reproduce the delivered speech but his goal is to capture the emotion of the moment, so he does not mind making the necessary alterations to achieve it.

Salustio's life, beyond rumours, was not exactly a compendium of virtues. His books, however, are permeated with the exaltation of the virtus roman, as reflected in the proems that precede them (although it is disputed whether or not they are linked to the rest of the story). In them he exposes the reasons that lead him to write, develops his moral principles and defends his historical work against the prevailing politics and oratory at that time. The vigor of action, the search for the good of the country and political impartiality are the principles most defended by Sallustio.

As for his style, he denotes a reactionary position against the prevailing Ciceronian prose. Salustio, who resorts to conciseness, variety in lexicon and syntax and disdains the cadence imposed by Cicero, imposes a sober style that leads him to delete unnecessary words and use archaic and vulgar terms when he deems it appropriate. All this translates into tight and direct, colorful and strong prose.

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