An Exploration of Sallust's and Plutarch's View of the
For: L. Foley
Class. 111.3 (08)
Though there are varied dates as to the time that the Roman Republic stood, it is agreed upon as lasting approximately 500 years. During the last century of its existence (133 BC -27 BC) there were the many violent years of The Civil Wars and much social strife. Though the end result of these final years of the res publica was the adoption of an Emperor and the birth of the Roman Empire, the focus of this paper will be the presentation of the nature of tensions at the end of the res publica using selections from Sallust and Plutarch as a basis.
Sallust and Plutarch, while coming from different worlds and living different lives were very much alike in the thoughts that they presented in their writing on the fall of the Roman Republic. Sallust was an active individual in Roman politics during the Republic's decline. He was a tribune in 52 BC who was kicked out of the Senate amid allegations of immorality. In 49 BC Sallust was in command of one of Julius Caesar's legions and was elected to Praetor in 47 BC. Taking part in the African Campaign earned him the governorship of Numidia in. Upon his return to Rome in the early 40's BC however he was charged with extortion, only to be released by Caesar. At this point in his life he decided to become a writer of history and lived a quiet life doing that. Plutarch's life was very much different form Sallust's. Born in Chaeronea he remained there for much of his life. His last 30 years he spent as a Priest at Delphi. There he was a devout believer in the ancient pieties and a profound student of its antiquities. The only involvement in politics at the time were stories that he was a man of influence and rumors of a governmental office being bestowed upon him by both Hadrian and Trajan. Despite the differences in their lives and backgrounds, their surviving literature has a basic underlying similarity; that being morality. To be more specific, the lack of morality on the part of the rulers of Rome during the last century of the Republic. In the following essay I will show examples of how Sallust and Plutarch point out again and again the lack of morality in the characters about whom they write in reference to the decline of the Roman Republic.
Sallust begins his Bellum Catalinae by telling us how the Roman Republic was built. He shows us that the people put aside their differences and kept their common goal, peace, in mind. According to the version I have heard, in the beginning the Trojans who were wandering in exile without a fixed home under the leadership of Aeneas founded and controlled the city of Rome as a free and independent Republic along with the indigenous people, A primitive tribe of men without laws or organized government. It is remarkable how easily these two peoples united after they had been gathered together in one community in the light of their differences in race and in language and the disparity in the way in which each of them lived: in a short time a diverse and nomadic mass of people was transformed by harmony into a Republic. Later after the Republic had grown in population, institutions and territory and seemed to be sufficient in prosperity and strength then, as happens in most human affairs, envy grew out of success.1
Clearly Sallust is setting up some contrast from what was good and right to what will become the Republic's demise. At the end of the passage above Sallust points out "as happens in most human affairs, envy grew out of success." This idea is presented again later when Sallust writes: "... the rule of the Kings of which the original purpose had to protect the liberty and to strengthen the Republic turned into pride and tyranny ..."2 He is reiterating the fact that the agenda of the Kings had changed over time from one that was morally good...
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