Why Men Should Read The Works Of Sallust

Men read historical works for many reasons.  Sometimes they want to be instructed; at other times, they prefer entertainment.  But when a work can combine both of these things in a compelling and evocative style, the reward is that much greater.  Caius Sallustius Crispus, known simply as Sallust, is one of those rare historians whose works have achieved a timeless relevance through their matchless balance of entertainment and instruction.

Who Was Sallust?

Caius Sallustius Crispus was born in 86 B.C. at the town of Amiternum, which was located northeast of Rome.  His family seems to have been of modest means, and he was able to receive a decent education in Rome.  We know very little about his early life; but his non-aristocratic origins may provide a clue in explaining the historian’s seething antagonism towards the nobility.

Judging from the accusations of moral looseness made against him by his political enemies, we may guess that he enjoyed himself as a youth.  He was fully embroiled in the turbulent—and brutal—factional politics of his era.  The end result of his forays into politics was that Sallust was expelled from the senate in 50 B.C. for alleged moral turpitude.

Cicero denounces Catiline in the Roman senate

His star rose with Julius Caesar’s.  In 47 B.C.—after the Battle of Pharsalia, the event that clinched Caesar’s victory in the civil war—Sallust was able to return to the senate.  From this point his loyal service to Caesar continued to the very end.  He went with him to Africa in 46 B.C. to mop up the remnants of Pompey’s forces.  Sallust remained there as governor of Numidia when Caesar left.  Nevertheless, Sallust’s time in Numidia was marred by controversy; he is said to have engaged in corruption and extortion.

When he returned to Rome about 45 B.C., formal charges were filed against him; the intervention of his patron Caesar apparently saved him from conviction.  He retired from public life in 44 B.C. and thereafter devoted himself to literary pursuits.  His only completed surviving works are the two historical monographs The Conspiracy of Catiline and The War of Jugurtha.

What Did He Write About?

The Conspiracy of Catiline tells the story of a failed coup d’état by a renegade senator named Lucius Catiline.  While we cannot be certain of the year of its composition, a date sometime between 44 and 40 B.C. is probably correct.  It is likely that the work was intended for a popular audience that would have hungered for a racy, lurid account of the events leading up to the attempted takeover.  But like every great historian, Sallust manages to take a relatively minor episode and elevate it to supreme moral significance.  Catiline manages to be both an exciting drama and a supremely relevant study of the pathology of moral corruption.

The War of Jugurtha (Bellum Jugurthinum) is a longer, more complex, and richly layered work.  It was probably composed in 41 B.C., but Sallust must have begun collecting source material for the book during his time in Numidia.  The work describes the origin and conduct of Rome’s war against the wily Numidian king Jugurtha.  Jugurtha is, in some ways, also a sorely neglected manual of counter-insurgency in a North African setting.

What are Sallust’s themes?

The opening passages of both works brilliantly set the tone in a way that really must be read to be believed.  Three Sallustian motifs appear repeatedly in his works:  moral corruption, fortune, and virtue.  He is passionately concerned with the moral decay brought on by excessive wealth.  As the prologue to Catiline makes very clear (X-XIII), Sallust believed that the expanding Roman empire’s military acquisitions had set in motion a process of moral corruption and political decay.

But this process of decay could be reversed by implementing the mores and virtues of “our ancestors” (mos maiorum).  While fortune seems to have the final say in human affairs (Cat. VIII), it can still be very much influenced by a man’s virtue (virtus).  Virtus for Sallust meant manliness, valor, or strength of character.  For Sallust, an adverse change in fortune is usually the result of degenerate behavior caused by corrupted morals.  If so, then the reverse was also true:  a man could turn fortune to his favor by exercising his masculine virtue.

His anger and sorrow at the failure of his countrymen to preserve the character and moral qualities of their ancestors are expressed in the opening chapters of Jugurtha (I—IV).  For Sallust, character is everything.  Without it, a man is of no consequence; he will forever remain a useful pawn in the service of the rich and powerful.

“Jugurtha’s Table” in Tunisia

His writing style is bold, masculine, rhetorically luminous, and brief.  Every sentence, every clause, has a purpose.  He does not waste time giving too much background information in his narratives.  The rudimentary ethnographic information he gives about North Africa in Jugurtha (XVII—XIX) is only as long as it has to be, and no more.  He does not fulminate against or denounce the characters in his histories; he lays out his own value system, describes the actions of the principals, and expects his readers to draw their own conclusions from what they read.

What remain are historical accounts of stark but surpassing beauty.  Among the many unforgettable passages in Sallust, the following stand out:  the opening paragraphs of both works; the indictment of Roman corruption in Cat. XXXVI et. seq.; the fearsome description of the blood-soaked battlefield in Jug. CI; the fighting death of Catiline and the lamentation of the survivors in Cat. LXI; the brilliant speeches of Caesar, Cato, and Marius; the gyrating spectators of the cavalry battle in Jug. LX; the slaughter of the trapped Roman garrison at Vaga in Jug. LXVII; the fall of Capsa and its brutal aftermath in Jug. XCI; and the strange legend of the Philaeni brothers in Jug. LXXIX.  Once read, these passages are never forgotten.

Why Is Sallust So Relevant Today?

Central to Sallust’s worldview was the idea that a man’s character would ultimately determine his fate.  Small flaws, over time, could very much become large flaws.  He had seen and experienced first-hand how greed, corruption, and self-delusion could prove to be the ruin of men, armies, and nations.  Who today, looking at the landscape of current events, can doubt that our culture has paid far too little attention to this eternal truth?

Sallust’s lessons resonate more powerfully today than they ever have, precisely because our culture is literally drowning in hubris, arrogance, and corruption.  This was one of the driving forces that let me to publish a new translation of his works that was specifically designed for the modern reader, one that would include detailed footnotes, maps, diagrams, tables, topical charts, and other special features.  Unless we wish to follow the same roads to ruin laid out by men like Catiline and Jugurtha, Sallust warns us, we must do our best to master and discipline ourselves.  The choice is up to us. Click here to learn more about the book.

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42 thoughts on “Why Men Should Read The Works Of Sallust”

  1. Every man should read up on Roman history in order to understand and hopefully not repeat the mistakes of how great civilizations falter and die.
    When a civilization starts emphasizing a penchant for male-to-male butt sex, wife swapping, female fighting, and other degenerate initiatives and behaviors then the civilization exposes itself to innumerable outside dangers and territorial collapse.
    We are seeing this in the West with the inability to control illegal immigration and unwanted migrants, along with the rise of pro-homosexuality laws, Female mixed martial arts blood sports, and polyamory probably being legalized within the next 10 years.
    It’s just a matter of time before it all comes tumbling down…

    1. “We are seeing this in the West with the inability to control illegal immigration ”
      Not the inability to control immigration – but rather the globalists / political elites intentionally destroying a civilization by voluntarilly bringing in migrant insurgents as Trojan Horses. And this did happen in the Roman Empire as well.

    2. From the comparisons I can see, America will probably be okay when it tumbles down. America the England to the Fall of Rome (in respect to relative distance of cultural communication).

    1. Yes, the days before Eve ate the forbidden fruit. Those were the days, running around nude, free stuff to eat, excellent weather, you could do the craziest stuff and not worry about dying….those were the days. But then God allowed evil to come into the world and some people thought it would be peachy to rule over others against their will.

        1. I read an interesting article about how “nakedness” was also dealing with sexual relations depending on the context and that’s why Noah cursed Canaan and not Ham who was the one to find him. The theory was while Noah was passed out drunk Canaan had done something he shouldn’t have and that’s why he was cursed for it and not Ham since Ham found him and spread the word to the others which coulda caused embarrassment in itself.

        2. I found the story more as Caanan should’ve manned up: covered Noah and not said a word. You know, show respect for his elders. Yet he instead ran to tell his brothers and have them do it.
          Biblical interpretation is interesting. I mean, some think that “know” is a euphanism for sex, but it is usually in the phrase “[a woman] knowing a man”, which was used similarly legal definition of rape as “carnal knowledge” until a few years back. When Joseph met his brothers after their seperation the phrase was used “he knew them” in the context of recognition, showing versitility of the vernacular… (King James bible)
          Frankly interpretation reveals a lot more about the interpreter than the material. If you’re obsessed with sex, you’ll find it everywhere.

        3. But Canaan wasn’t the the one to find him Ham was and that’s why it seems it could imply something other than Ham finding him just naked in his own house cause he curses Canaan and not Ham. All it says it that Ham found him and ran to his brothers.

        4. I’ve read many theories on this one! For example, some of the ancient Jewish commentators held that Ham had emasculated Noah, and thus prevented him from fathering a fourth son. Accordingly, Ham’s punishment was that his own fourth son, Canaan, would be cursed.
          Perhaps the simplest explanation is that Biblically, looking at another man’s genitals was actually a serious matter (see the “woe” — i.e. curse — in Habakkuk 2:15), and since Ham had been blessed by God Himself in Genesis 9:1, the punishment had to fall not on him but on one of his sons (i.e. on Canaan).

      1. God gave Man the opportunity to never allow evil to enter actually.

    1. Glad to know I’m not the only big dummy here.
      But I don’t suppose these Busch Lights are making me any smarter…..

      1. Wrong!
        You see, in evolution, the slower and weaker are the first killed off by predators. For obvious reasons. When you drink, alcohol attacks the weak and feeble brain cells like wolves attacking a sick deer, they destroy the deer leaving the breeding stock of strong deer to procreate which ultimately, creates a better deer. So in drinking Busch Light, you are actually helping your brain become more evolved, quicker, and smarter!

        1. I think you should work as a marketer for big alcohol – and maybe tobacco (got something like this for the lung cells too?)

      2. Ok, well since the crickets are chirping, I guess I’ll tell a story. I’m tinkering in the garage and I’ve had a few drinks. This is for all of you who think being a single mom is so fucking cool. Last week I had a trip. The flight attendant was a 27 year old single mom. My guess is she’s collecting child support and alimony, as usual, from some poor old sap, so she thought she’d have some fun, leave the kids behind, enjoy travel benefits and fuck pilots (responsible gal). She was between a 5 and a 6. She had nice eyes and a pretty smile but that was about it. The body was, ehhh, not good. So, we had a long day but a long layover. They come beating on my door, “let’s go to the pool, come out!” Ok, why the hell not, I get to sleep in. Fast forward a couple of hours, it’s about 2am, not too late, we are all feeling a little loose, cracking jokes. The flight attendant is falling into us as she’s laughing. I look at the other pilot and smirk as it immediately became apparent that this chick was ready for a pig roast. We’re in a hotel room and I’m preparing myself for the inevitable (go to my room and go to sleep because nothing good is going to happen). The flight attendant works up some courage and decides to show us her tits. She takes her shirt off. I look down at her deflated tea bags, look her in the eye and say, “those are lookin a little worn out…. alright, I’m going to bed…” I walk out the door.
        Next morning, waiting for the shuttle. Her head straight at the floor. I’m thinking, “looks like the other guy didn’t give in either.” The shame. I was cool. I know she was waiting for an ice breaker. No way was I going to give it to her. Clearly she felt like ten pounds of shit in an eight pound sack and I wasn’t about to offer any relief.
        We sit down in the cockpit, I look at the other pilot and I say, “so?…..” he replies, “haha.. no….” And we both laugh…

  2. Rare that someone drops one of the oldies that the kneeman hasn’t been through. Way to go obscure quint. will check it out.

    1. Usque tandem? Oh mores!..
      Good for you, I was already questioning your natural cultural deficiencies and with them, whether you were an actual human being.

      1. By the way, I am not an actual human being. I am at the next level of evolution.

        1. The japs been trying for decades
          The chicks still trying to master peepee in Coke

        2. Dangerous, perilous state of existence… At least when all the others are trying so hard to bring us back to the chimp era…

  3. Since this is basically an ad for your book I feel obliged to mention Kratom.
    Take Kratom it saves western civilization!!

  4. Fresh roadkill goose tastes like frog, I found out tonight. Beware Asian Woman.
    Hello Roosh: I would like a ROK forum. That would be a great Christmas present!

  5. This article is one perspective, here is another:
    I encourage anyone who actually cares about “draining the swamp” to read the above analysis. Because that is what Cataline was actually trying to do. His mistake was that he allowed his zeal for liberty and hatred for injustice to draw him into a conflict with the system.
    Remember guys, this was the era of Sparticus. Where atrocities against enslaved populations were so terrible that the slaved revolted, preferring to fight against roman legions rather than continue to submit. The republic itself was showing more and more corruption and eventually degenerated into the Imperial era.
    As nationalists of our countries, we have to recognize that sometimes the only victory you can have is keeping yourself alive and influencing people in the long run. This is something every single one of us must learn from Catlines tragedy. We might not be able to beat the system, and we might have to live with injustice, but in some cases it can be better to be alive than nobly dead. Although God knows I definitely understand the impulse to go down fighting.

    1. “Horatio:
      He waxes desperate with imagination.
      Let’s follow. ‘Tis not fit thus to obey him.
      Have after. To what issue will this come?
      Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
      Heaven will direct it.
      Nay, let’s follow him. [Exeunt.]”
      Hamlet Act 1, scene 4, 87–91

    2. ” This is something every single one of us must learn from Catlines tragedy. We might not be able to beat the system, and we might have to live with injustice, but in some cases it can be better to be alive than nobly dead. Although God knows I definitely understand the impulse to go down fighting.”
      True. This is a crossroads every man has to decide on eventually.

  6. Nice article Quint. I am still reading your On Duties translation, and so far, enjoying it very much. I’m sure there are more than a few of us who would like to learn about your journey to learn Latin. Obviously Law School + Study hard, but you’ve taken it to a very high level. Please keep a “How I learned Latin” article in mind for the language-learners in the group.

  7. Another work to add to my ever growing list of works I wish to read. Not that I’m complaining, the more the better.

  8. Inherited wealth, intellect or physical strength are useless if a Man refuses to DISCIPLINE himself and leverage his gifts.

  9. Quintus, IMO you submit the best articles on roK. I had never heard about Sallust, thanks for bringing the light to this glorious man. Recently I was enjoying Seneca’s letters to Lucillius, a treasure of wisdom. These romans walked the walk and talked the talk, quite fascinating indeed. A propos for roK readers, mens sana in corpore sano.

  10. Quintus sent me a review copy and I’ve finished the Conspiracy of Catiline. It’s well worth the read so far. Aside from the style, Caesar’s and Cato’s speeches are good studies in rhetoric and persuasion, and the degeneration and factionalism of the era isn’t exactly irrelevant in this day and age.

  11. Interesting article. I myself struggle with those powers. It looks like you have to be corrupted to be successful, cunning, nietzschean and ruthless in achieving your goals in todays day. Being nice? Noble? Nobody gives a fuck about that in society full of masks, disgusting people looking for how to fuck you over. I grew up believing in christian god, with values, treating people with respect and dignity. And what do I get for all of that? You pay the price for nobility and most of the time its not worth it. On the other hand anyone here please tell me with what people do you associate with to not lose those values, with nobility? I noticed that even those super noble ppl are secretely, privately corrupted too. Maybe I overdosed the red pill. I dunno.

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