See studies by D. C. Earl (1961) and R. Syme (1964); bibliography by A. D. Leeman (rev. ed. 1965).
Gaius Sallustius Crispus, generally known simply as Sallust, (86-34 BC), a Roman historian, belonged to a well-known plebeian family, and was born at Amiternum in the country of the Sabines. Throughout his career Sallust always stood by his principle as a populares, an opposer of Pompey's party and the old aristocracy of Rome.
After an ill-spent youth, Sallust entered public life and won election as Quaestor 55 and one of the tribunes of the people in 52, the year in which the followers of Milo killed Clodius in a street brawl. Sallust then supported the following prosecution of Milo. He also had hostilities with the famous orator Cicero.
From the beginning of his public career, Sallust operated as a decided partisan of Caesar, to whom he owed such political advancement as he attained. In 50 the censor Appius Claudius Pulcher removed him from the Senate on the grounds of gross immorality (probably really because of his friendship with Caesar). In the following year, no doubt through Caesar's influence, he was reinstated.
In 46 he served as a praetor and accompanied Caesar in his African campaign, which ended in the decisive defeat of the remains of the Pompeian war party at Thapsus. As a reward for his services, Sallust gained appointment as governor of the province of Africa Nova. In this capacity he committed such oppression and extortion that only the influence of Caesar enabled him to escape condemnation. On his return to Rome he purchased and began laying out in great splendour the famous gardens on the Quirinal known as the Horti Sallustiani or Gardens of Sallust. These gardens would later belong to the emperors.
In writing about the conspiracy of Catiline, Sallust's tone, style, and descriptions of aristocratic behavior show him as deeply troubled by the moral decline of Rome. While he inveighs against Catiline's depraved character and vicious actions, he does not fail to state that the man had many noble traits — indeed all that a Roman man needed to succeed. In particular, Sallust shows Catiline as deeply courageous in his final battle.
This subject gave Sallust the opportunity of showing off his rhetoric at the expense of the old Roman aristocracy, whose degeneracy he delighted to paint in the blackest colours. On the whole, he does not treat Cicero unfairly.
Two letters (Duae epistolae de republica ordinanda), letters of political counsel and advice addressed to Caesar, and an attack upon Cicero (Invectiva or Declamatio in Ciceronem), frequently attributed to Sallust, are thought by modern scholars to have probably come from the pen of the rhetorician Marcus Porcius Latro, also the supposed author of a counter-invective attributed to Cicero.
Sallust struck out for himself practically a new line in literature, his predecessors having functioned as little better than mere dry-as-dust chroniclers, whereas he endeavoured to explain the connection and meaning of events and successfully delineated character. The contrast between his early life and the high moral tone adopted by him in his writings has frequently made him a subject of reproach, but history gives no reason why he should not have reformed.
In any case, his knowledge of his own former weaknesses may have led him to take a pessimistic view of the morality of his fellow-men, and to judge them severely. He took as his model Thucydides, whom he imitated in his truthfulness and impartiality, in the introduction of philosophizing reflections and speeches, and in the brevity of his style, sometimes bordering upon obscurity. Some readers have ridiculed his fondness for old words and phrases (in which he imitated his contemporary Cato the younger) as an affectation, but this very affectation and his rhetorical exaggerations made Sallust a favourite author in the 2nd century and later.
Nietzsche, in Twilight of the Idols (Section 13.1) credits Sallust for his epigrammatic style: "My sense of style, for the epigram as a style, was awakened almost instantly when I came into contact with Sallust." and praises him for being "compact, severe, with as much substance as possible, a cold sarcasm against 'beautiful words' and 'beautiful sentiments'."