Sallust’s The Conspiracy of Catiline

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Gaius Sallustius Crispus (86-35 BC) was born in the Sabine highlands of central Italy. In his youth, Sallust became a quaestor, and in 52 BC he became tribune of the plebs. In the year 50 BC, he was expelled from the Senate, but a year later he was reelected and reentered the Senate under the persuasion of Julius Caesar. He was an officer in the various campaigns of Caesar’s civil wars from 49-45 BC, and he was eventually appointed governor of Numidia by Caesar as well. Sallust has been labeled as a corrupt governor on many accounts for so excessively enriching himself that only Caesar could save him from prosecution. After Caesar’s death, he retired from public life and spent the rest of his life in literary composition. His two surviving works on the Conspiracy of Catiline and the Jurguthine War (written between 44-40 BC) were much admired in antiquity. Sallust also wrote a history of Rome in five books, covering the period from Sulla’s death in 78 to 67 BC, but only fragments survive.

Sallust’s account of Catiline and his alleged conspiracy in 63 BC are the heart of modern study regarding the late Roman Republic and the rise of individuals like Caesar and Cicero to the forefront of Roman politics. The decisions made by the Senate, Cicero, Caesar, and Catiline set events in motion that many argue lead to the fall of the Republic. As you read Sallust’s account of these events, consider the following:

  • What is Sallust’s take on the subject? Does the author portray Catiline as guilty, innocent, or is he neutral on the subject? Why do you believe this is the case?
  • What motivates Catiline to do these things? Does Sallust disclose his intentions, or is he ambiguous regarding Catiline’s motives? (Keep in mind that Catiline supported Sulla’s party, which Sallust opposed.)
  • Does Sallust portray what could be considered moral decline in Rome? In what instances do you witness this, and why does he feel this way?
  • According to Sallust’s description of Catiline, what still makes the alleged conspirator a noble Roman?
  • Is Catiline courageous or cowardly in his final battle? What makes you feel this way?
  • Does Cicero or Caesar come off as the more valiant Roman and convincing politician? Why?
  • What arguments from Cicero do you question, and which do you uphold as viable arguments?
  • What arguments from Caesar do you question, and which do you uphold as viable arguments?
  • Ultimately, do you think the punishment passed down on Catiline and the conspirators was right according to the circumstances and Roman law? Why?
  • Would you support the arguments of Caesar or Cicero concerning the conspirators’ ultimate punishment? Why?

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