In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sallust

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Biography
  • Themes and Topoi
  • Politics
  • Manuscript Tradition
  • English Translations

Classics Sallust
Abram Ring
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 August 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 April 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0110


Gaius Sallustius Crispus (86–35? BCE) was born at Amiternum, about 93 kilometers northeast of Rome. He may have been the first senator in his family, which was no doubt of local importance. He was probably quaestor around 55 BCE and certainly tribune of the plebs in 52 BCE—one of those who opposed Cicero and Milo that year. In 50 BCE, he was expelled from the Senate, allegedly for immorality. As a partisan of Julius Caesar, he was active in the Roman Civil War (49–46 BCE). He and other Caesarians were defeated by Marcus Octavius in the summer of 49 BCE. In 47 BCE, he nearly got killed when trying to suppress a mutiny in Campania. However, as praetor in 46 BCE, he aided the Caesarian party during the African campaign by capturing enemy supplies at Cercina and was subsequently made proconsular governor of the province of Africa Nova in Numidia (modern Algeria). He allegedly acquired tremendous personal wealth from this office, which he used to purchase a mansion and rich gardens in Rome, and only escaped charges of corruption through Caesar’s intervention. Around the time of Caesar’s death in 44 BCE, Sallust retired from political pursuits—whether willingly or compelled by anxiety—to write history, beginning with two short monographs, Bellum Catilinae (War with Catiline) and Bellum Iugurthinum (Jugurthine War), probably from the late 40s. Respectively, they treated events from 63 BCE and 111–105 BCE. His ultimate work, the Historiae (Histories), which covered Roman history from 78 BCE, has survived only in a series of fragments, though a few of these are lengthy, complete speeches. The authenticity of the “Invective against Cicero” and the “Letters to Caesar” has remained a source of debate, though the invective has had fewer defenders than the letters.

General Overviews

Syme 1964 is still a good starting point for the study of Sallust and his works, especially with the 2002 edition including an extensive introduction by Mellor. Shorter narrative treatments include Kraus and Woodman 1997 and a chapter in Mellor 1999. Büchner 1982 provides a full overview in German, but Schmal 2001 is the most thorough and best-organized German introduction. Two recent encyclopedic articles by Schmidt 2008 and Levene 2010 offer concise overviews, Schmidt being the longer and more schematic piece, while Levene offers a good but more impressionistic introduction.

  • Büchner, Karl. 1982. Sallust, 2d ed. Heidelberg: Winter.

    First edition published in 1960. A magisterial overview in German, more concerned with historiographic and literary aspects and less intent on historical background than is Syme.

  • Levene, D. S. 2010. Sallust. In The Oxford encyclopedia of ancient Greece and Rome, vol. 6. Edited by Michael Gagarin and Elaine Fantham, 200–202. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press

    Concise introduction to Sallust and his works, more impressionistic and less methodical than Schmidt.

  • Kraus, Christina Shuttleworth, and A. J. Woodman. 1997. Latin historians. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Includes a concise overview for Sallust, pp. 10–50.

  • Mellor, Ronald. 1999. The Roman historians. London and New York: Routledge.

    Contains a chapter on Sallust, pp. 30–47, as well as useful general discussions of Roman historiographic practice.

  • Schmal, Stephan. 2001. Sallust. Hildesheim, Germany: Olms.

    An excellent German introductory text on Sallust and his historical writing.

  • Schmidt, Peter Lebrecht. 2008. Sallust. In Brill’s encyclopedia of the ancient world: New Pauly, vol. 12. Edited by Hubert Cancik and Helmuth Schneider; English edition edited by Christine F. Salazar, 890–894. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    Original German publication, 1996–2003. Excellent concise introduction to Sallust’s life and works.

  • Syme, Ronald. 1964. Sallust. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    An indispensable English treatment of Sallust and his works, discussing his biography, personality, purpose, style, historical background, fame as a historian, and relationship to contemporaries—as well as critical examinations of each of his three historical works and an appendix on the dubious works. Note that there is a revised 2002 edition.

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