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Here I am, re-reading books I still have from college, with faint hope that anyone would ever read a review of it, but here goes:

The two tales in this were hugely influential historical essays more or less up to the early 20C; they served as models of moralistic writing as well as clear exposition in Latin. In the Jugurthine War, you get wonderful details on the rise of the great generals, Marius and Sulla, who were friends and then deadly rivals in a struggle that essentially sowed the seeds of the end of the Roman Republic in the next generation.

While the plot covers a war in Northern Africa on a ruthless rebel King, Jugurtha, the most important aspects of the work are on the transformation of the Roman army from amateur farmer landowners to a professional corps that admitted anyone. While a necessity to maintain the expansion of the Roman empire as the population of traditional army recruits dwindled, this led directly to rise of powerful generals, who could rely on the personal loyalty of their troops to grab power in civil war, which had been avoided for centuries. First, there was Sulla's dictatorship, then Julius Caesar. But the story takes place before that, when the military genius Marius was transforming the army and mentoring the ambitious Sulla. The reader can study the organization of the army as well as the changing mores of Roman society that this reflected. It is a great masterpiece and fun read, with wonderfully quirky details. In many ways, it is about the end of the aristocratic oligarchy that ruled the Republic for so long, as exemplified by the failure of Metellus and how Marius, who was not a aristocrat and knew no Greek, took over from him and triumphed.

The story on Cataline's conspiracy is more about Rome's civil society and governance. It is a far more openly moralistic tale of an attempted coup by a disgraced aristocrat, who was opposed by Cicero; in the background Julius Caesar and Pompey are also present, as are a number of lesser known Senators such as Scaurus. While this adds crucial detail to the historical picture, its preachiness and one-sided portrait - and many sloppy mistakes - make it a fairly boring read, i.e. for scholars. It is a tale of decadence and ruffians who are tempted by power in the promises of a fool, Cataline.

So, while rather recondite, this is a truly great volume of one of antiquity's most influential writers. Recommended.
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Sallust is one of only two contemporary sources to have survived on the politics of the late Roman Republic (the other one is Cicero). All the rest was written later, sometimes much later. Another reason to read Sallust is that he was highly held in his own time for his style and clarity of expression - indeed, that is partly why this has survived.

Sallust is believed to have lived 86-34BC, he achieved senatorial rank, and he was a Caesarean (unlike Cicero, who was an optimate). His works include a history of the Jugurthine war (a late second-century BC African conflict that punctuated Rome's own internal struggles), an account of the Catilinarian conspiracy, and fragments of a history that once described the 70s and 60s BC. A lot of this is almost certainly made up. Stock descriptions of sieges and battles in the war against Jugurtha, which took place before Sallust was born, are unlikely to fit any close reality. The books contain the inevitable set speeches, all of course the author's interpretation of what might have been said. Even the Catilinarian account may well have been drawn from Cicero: Sallust was too young to have been in the senate in 63BC. Yet Sallust's books are invaluable. At least he would have been in Rome, and since Cicero was judge and party on Catiline, this second, corroborative account is priceless. And even the speeches and the fragmentary histories are of value, providing a strong flavour of the ideological conflicts that divided the Roman Republic, how they were expressed, and what the public response may have been.

Sallust is essential reading for students of the period. It also is a good alternative or complement to the host of trashy novels and movies that have recently come out about Rome.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 9 November 2013
In these biting texts Sallust lays bare the real purpose of the political (national and international) and social scheming of the Roman elites, together with in depth personal portraits (Jugurtha, Sulla), a dark picture of the war scene and an outspoken vision on the nature of mankind. His remarkable analyses are still very relevant today.

Mankind
For Sallust, `false is the complaint that the human nature is weak and ruled by chance. It is the mind which is the leader and the commander of life. When it proceeds along the path of prowess, it does not need fortune. But, if the mind has been taken captive by perverse desires (and) when strength and intellect have ebbed away, those responsible transfer the blame from themselves to `events'.'

Rome
As Jugurtha characterized it mercilessly, Rome `was a city for sale and soon to be doomed - if only it found a buyer.'

National politics (the few and the many)
For Sallust, the many have been the plaything of the haughty few. The conduct of war and of domestic matter (the laws, the courts, the treasury, the provinces) rested solely in their hands. They flaunted `their priesthoods and consulships, and some their triumphs, as if these possessions were an honor, not plunder. Who are those who have taken the commonwealth? The most criminal of beings with gory hands and monstrous avarice, for whom loyalty, dignity, devotion and everything honorable and dishonorable is a source of profit.'
With Sulla, all the power of the few fell in the hands of one man.

International policies
In a letter in the name of Mithridates, Sallust lambasts the Romans to be `the world's bandits', having `only a single reason for making war on all nations, peoples and kings: a profound desire for empire and for riches.' He reminds them that they were `themselves former migrants without fatherland'. Now, they `are prevented by nothing human or divine from looting and destroying allies and friends, peoples distant and nearby and from regarding everything which is not subservient as their enemy. (They) keep their arms directed at everyone, the sharpest against those, when conquered, who afford the greatest spoils. It is by seeding wars from wars, that they have been great.'

The terrible war scene
The barbarous internecine battles for political power ended in ghastly horror scenes: `As for the many who had emerged from the camps for the purposes of viewing or plundering and were turning on the many corpses, some discovered a friend, other a guest or a relative.'
But there is more, `meanwhile the parents or small children of every soldier, whose neighbor was more powerful, were driven from their abode. So avarice accompanied by powerfulness attacked without limit or restraint, it tarnished and devastated everything.'

Sallust wrote a damning verdict of the Roman builders and exploiters of an empire. They killed relentlessly all those blocking their way to unlimited power and riches, enslaved whole populations and, if necessary, committed genocides. Sallust published his most outspoken violent condemnations in his nearly fully lost masterpiece (R. Syme) `Histories'.
Sallust's texts are brilliantly translated by Anthony J. Woodman, a formidable authority in matters of Latin classical texts (see his introduction and comments).
These texts are a must read for all those interested in the `real' history of Rome and of mankind.
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on 12 December 2014
The other reviews adequately cover most aspects of this book: this is just to flag a quite extraordinarily irritating feature of the translation, which is that - almost invariably - 'virtus' is translated as 'prowess'. This frequently makes little sense. Whereas in Latin 'virtus' is usually a self-evident concept needing no expansion, in English 'prowess' is almost always qualified by an explanation of what someone shows prowess at doing.

The result is that every time the native English reader comes across the dreaded 'p' word (and virtus is a central concept in Sallust) the gears of the translation crunch and you will wish you were reading a different one.

A great pity. Not so bad in most other respects...
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 December 2009
Sallust wrote his `history' of the `conspiracy' of Catilina between c.44 and c.35 BCE, 20 to 30 years after the events and he probably relied on Cicero's published speeches against Catilina. But whereas Cicero wanted to portray himself in the heroic role of the consul who foiled the conspiracy, Sallust was more interested reflecting on the past and present and applying the lessons from one to the other.

Here he is particularly interested in the concept of decadence, the anti-Roman values of Catilina's time which, in numerous Roman narratives, leads to the fall from past Roman austerity and virtue to present moral decline.

As well as being of intrinsic interest in itself, Sallust's prose is far more literary than Cicero's oral speeches. Ben Johnson used Sallust as the basis for his play Catiline (1611) and it might also have influenced Shakespeare's Roman plays: Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, and Antony & Cleopatra (though he also relied on Livy and Plutarch). Well worth reading and the Latin's not too difficult.
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This is a classic study of events in the late Roman Republic and is good background for anyone interested in the period.
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