Sallust's “Histories” and triumviral historiography

Jennifer Gerrish, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation explores echoes of the triumviral period in Sallust's Histories and demonstrates how, through analogical historiography, Sallust presents himself as a new type of historian whose “exempla” are flawed and morally ambiguous, and who rejects the notion of a triumphant, ascendant Rome perpetuated by the triumvirs. Just as Sallust's unusual prose style is calculated to shake his reader out of complacency and force critical engagement with the reading process, his analogical historiography requires the reader to work through multiple layers of interpretation to reach the core arguments. In the De Legibus, Cicero lamented the lack of great Roman historians, and frequently implied that he might take up the task himself. He had a clear sense of what history ought to be: encomiastic and exemplary, reflecting a conception of Roman history as a triumphant story populated by glorious protagonists. In Sallust's view, however, the novel political circumstances of the triumviral period called for a new type of historiography. To create a portrait of moral clarity is, Sallust suggests, ineffective, because Romans have been too corrupted by ambitio and avaritia to follow the good examples of the past. In the Histories, Sallust offers new “anti- exempla” for the triumviral period: morally ambiguous characters who refuse to show readers a clear portrait of “good” or “bad”. Sallust's new historiography also forces readers to look beyond the claims of Roman peace and glory which were perpetuated by Cicero and the triumvirs. By alluding to the triumviral period in his dark narrative of the 70s and 60s, Sallust suggests that the pretext of concordia perpetuated by the triumvirs is specious, and that underneath this flimsy pretext is a Rome as troubled by civil strife as were the years of the late republic.

Subject Area

Classical studies|Classical Studies

Recommended Citation

Gerrish, Jennifer, "Sallust's “Histories” and triumviral historiography" (2012). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3509063.