"Sallust undertook to write on special
periods of Roman history. As these [the works that we have from him] are closely related
to each other, it may have been his plan ultimately to weld them together so as to make a
connected account of the century in which Rome gradually changed from a republic into an
His first effort was the Bellum Catilinae, a subject with which he must have been thoroughly familiar, because as a young man, twenty-three years old, he was an eyewitness of the exciting events which took place in B.C. 63, and because he was personally acquainted with many who were concerned in the conspiracy. The work is especially valuable for the light it throws on the politics and morals of the time. In Sallust's view the plot may be regarded as the natural outgrowth of widespread debt and great corruption among the Romans."
"Sallust was unusually painstaking in his search
after the truth. For example, before writing the Bellum Iugurthinum, he took care
to have many Carthaginian documents translated for him. To insure greater accuracy he is
said to have commissioned a Greek secretary to prepare a complete synopsis of Roman
history for use in his daily work.
It would be idle to claim that Sallust as a historian had no faults. But in considering these, it is only fair to remember that our conception of history differs widely from that of the ancients. In Sallust's time, and for several centuries afterward, history was regarded as merely a branch of rhetoric, i.e. greater emphasis was to be laid on the language and style of the history than on the facts. We must not be surprised, therefore, that Sallust, in common with other Greek and Roman historians who regarded history from this point of view, wrote elaborate introductions, put imaginary speeches into the mouths of his principal characters, and dared to portray their secret motives and thoughts as minutely as any realistic novelist of our own day would do. We may even understand how the stress laid on the rhetorical side of history would tend to produce that occasional neglect of geography and chronology, which we find, but cannot excuse, in Sallust's writings.
There are, besides, several inaccuracies in his version of Catiline's conspiracy, for which he has been severely criticised[sic]. But in this connection it should be remembered that although it was, in one sense, an advantage to treat of a period which came under his personal observation, on the other hand it was a distinct disadvantage to write before sufficient time had elapsed to enable obscure details to clear up, and the whole truth to be thoroughly sifted out. Yet, when against Sallust's faults we balance his virtues, when we consider his broad philosophy, his freedom from superstition, his respect for the truth, his absolute impartiality, his powerful descriptions of Roman politics and society, his cleverness in character sketching, it is not surprising that he left a profound impression on his age. He was for a time overshadowed by Livy. But the development of a school of historians who took Sallust for their model attests the triumph of his genius over that of his rival, and warrants us in accepting Martial's estimate of him as primus Romana Crispus in historia.
-- Excerpts from "Introduction", Sallust's Catiline, ed. Jared W. Scudder, Allyn & Bacon: Boston, 1900.
Visitors may also read a historical introduction which briefly summarizes the events surrounding Catiline.
|Bellum Catilinae||Latin Text||The source of the Latin text and translation notes is Sallust's Catiline, ed. Jared W. Scudder, Allyn & Bacon: Boston, 1900.|
|The source of the English text is The Catiline and Jugurtha of Sallust, trans. Alfred W. Pollard, MacMillan & Co.: London, 1882.|
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