War and Peace in Sallust’s Bellum Catilinae
Throughout Sallust’s Bellum Catilinae, war and peace appear together as a unit, a binary intrinsic to the Roman identity. A close investigation of these terms, their locations in the text, and their relation to the narrative reveals that war and peace are fundamental to the structure of Sallust’s work and his understanding of Romanitas. The early chapters of the Bellum Catilinae, through the end of its Archaeology, present past Rome working as it should, balanced between war and peace, each characterized by different but complimentary types of struggle for glory, both for communal benefit. The fall of Carthage, prompting Rome’s inability to meaningfully wage war, breaks the balance, and war and peace become confused. Through the context of Rome’s past Sallust urges his contemporaries to end the strife and violence exacerbated by Catiline by restoring the old divisions between these two domains of Roman life.
Before turning to the glory of Rome’s past in his Archaeology, Sallust, speaking on a more general level, discredits the idea that humans, even the Romans for whom war had become essential to their historiography and self-understanding, can only harness their potential in warfare. Rather, he proposes early on that “if excellence of mind possessed by kings and commanders were strong in peace just as in war, human affairs would conduct themselves more uniformly and consistently, and you would not see things carried in different directions and everything changed and mixed up” (si regum atque imperatorum animi virtus in pace ita ut in bello valeret, aequabilius atque constantius sese res humanae haberent, neque aliud alio ferri neque mutari ac misceri omnia cerneres, 2.3). His phrasing of “in peace just as in war” implies that “excellence of mind” during peace has not been the historical norm, much to the detriment of societies. The contrary-to-fact construction leaves no doubt that Rome has joined these nations and is consequently reeling from a twisted culture focused only on warfare, an argument Sallust will continue to develop more pointedly. He goes on to argue against an implicit idea that only war can win glory and commemoration when he says that “one is permitted to become famous in either peace or war” (3.1) through exceptional “deeds” (facta, 3.1). Sallust is reacting against a Roman obsession with military achievement, not to the point of advocating pacifism but as a response to the perceived neglect of peace. Therefore, even before addressing Rome’s former greatness or present corruption, Sallust first suggests that the Romans must understand how to practice peace to the same degree that they understand the waging of war. The rest of Sallust’s narrative follows from this judgment.
Sallust frames his account of old, pure Rome through the repetition of the phrase “at home and in the field” (domi militiaeque). It occurs five times in the monograph, three here even before discussion of Catiline’s conspiracy begins. The phrase naturally brings to mind the concepts of peace and war through metonymy, as the home and the field are where peace and war are respectively conducted. The two words are opposite, the first signifying the home, the place of family life and the running of the Commonwealth, with the second marking confrontation with what is foreign and inimical to the Roman people. However, the double locative joined by the enclitic que enforces an intimate unity onto the two and suggests that these are the two domains of Romanitas.
Throughout his history of early Rome Sallust argues that both these domains defined Roman character. He introduces the people as, from the time of Aeneas onwards, men of action: “the Romans, focused at home and in the field, hurried, prepared, encouraged each other, went against the Enemy, with arms protected their liberty, homeland, and parents” (Romani domi militiaeque intenti festinare, parare, alius alium hortari, hostibus obviam ire, libertatem, patriam parentisque armis tegere, 6.5). In this passage, Sallust’s style creates a double unity of war and peace. The first phrase, “focused at home and in the field,” identifies that past Roman success followed from close attention to preserving the Commonwealth in war and peace, and it anticipates manners in which the Romans applied their focus. The rest of the sentence, five historical infinitives and their dependents in asyndeton, develops Sallust’s paradigm of the Roman lifestyle. The first three are peacetime activities in preparation for war while the last two describe the actual waging of war. In a single sentence, Sallust is able to paint a holistic picture of what made Rome great.
He then turns to how “good morals were being cultivated; greatest was harmony while avarice was least” (boni mores colebantur; concordia maxuma, minuma avaritia erat, 9.1) in his next use of “at home and in the field.” It is the next sentence that captures the entire thrust of Sallust’s argument: “they employed altercations, dissensions, and rivalries against the Enemy; citizens competed with citizens in excellence” (iurgia, discordias, simultates cum hostibus exercebant, cives cum civibus de virtute certabant, 9.2). With two grammatically separate but nearly parallel clauses, the historian delineates a definite cultural division between life at home and life in the field, here expressed as the targets of Roman action, “the Enemy” (cum hostibus) and “the citizens” (cum civibus).
In war, Sallust claims, the Romans exercised their “altercations, dissensions, and rivalries against the Enemy” (iurgia, discordias, simultates cum hostibus, 9.2). These are among the vices Sallust laments have taken over Rome, and only a few chapters before Sallust characterizes his villain Catiline as a man to whom “civil dissension was agreeable” (discordia civilis grata, 5.2). Here, though, these actions are examples of “good morals” (9.1), practiced properly and rightly in the context of warfare against foreign opponents and not against fellow Romans in peace. At the same time, “citizens competed with citizens in excellence” (cives cum civibus de virtute certabant, 9.2). Sallust underscores the necessity of this realm of Roman character through the relentless alliteration of the letter c, interrupted by the all-important word virtus. Although Sallust previously discussed how this competition inspired daring maneuvers in warfare (7.6), here he clearly sets competition into the realm of peace, even using the locative domi: “They were extravagant in offerings for the gods, frugal at home, faithful towards their friends” (in suppliciis deorum magnifici, domi parci, in amicos fideles erant, 9.2). Notable is the sentence’s complete aversion to the two core vices in Sallust, “luxury and avarice” (luxuria atque avaritia), as the Romans are “extravagant” in paying for the gods and hence selflessly supporting the civil cult as well as “frugal” in their own lives. Equally notable is that per Sallust’s understanding this civil competition is the Romans’ means for attaining “excellence” (cives cum civibus de virtute certabant, 9.2), a characteristic entirely lost in Sallust’s present except in the persons of Caesar and Cato (53.5). For Sallust, selflessness, moderation, and loyalty are then the results of the proper conducting of society from the household to the state.
He subsequently summarizes the cultivation of morality (9.1) in two arts, courage in war and justice in peace (9.3). He clearly returns to the active nature of the Romans over and over again, especially in peace, applying to it the words certo (9.2) and artes (9.3). By strictly demarcating their actions into martial and pacific categories, Sallust’s prelapsarian Romans cultivated a highly efficient and potent society in which raising arms against a fellow Roman was inconceivable.
Through a subtle yet dramatic choice in phrasing, Sallust demonstrates the seeds of Rome’s subsequent moral descent. He does not simply say “courage in war and justice in peace,” but rather “courage in war and, when peace had come to pass, justice” (duabus his artibus, audacia in bello, ubi pax evenerat, aequitate, 9.3). He does not allow a balance between the two domains of Roman life, and the inconcinnitas here suggests that war was by far the more constant state in which Rome found itself. While the dominance of warfare was by no means harmful per se to the cultivation of excellence, Rome’s reliance on warfare for excellence necessitated that if Rome ran out of enemies to defeat, the entire system would collapse. According to Sallust, that is exactly what happened: “But when the Commonwealth grew through work and justice, when great kings were subdued through war, when wild nations and mighty peoples were subjected through violence, when Carthage, the rival to Rome’s power, utterly perished, when all the seas and lands lay open, fortune began to rage and mix everything up” (Sed ubi labore atque iustitia res publica crevit, reges magni bello domiti, nationes ferae et populi ingentes vi subacti, Carthago, aemula imperi Romani, ab stirpe interiit, cuncta maria terraeque patebant, saevire fortuna ac miscere omnia coepit, 10.1).
This passage has been foundational to traditional readings of Sallust, claiming that “fear of the enemy” (metus hostilis) held the ambition of powerful Romans in check, and once their main rival fell, the Romans were quick to turn their knives upon each other, a reading that Sallust himself supports in a later monograph (Iug. 41.2-5). Much of scholarship has, in effect, superimposed Sallust’s remarks in his later Bellum Iugurthinum onto this passage (seeing as the phrase is absent in the Bellum Catilinae), such as Kapust in saying “for Sallust, it was collective fear – and especially the fear of foreigners – that might serve as a buttress of morality and foster social cohesion.” The metus hostilis approach clearly has its merits, but focusing too much on it without paying attention to the passage itself and its context obscures a core aspect of Sallust’s argument. Davies, for example, has severe doubts about this traditional reading, offering that “fear of an enemy (metus hostilis) was now a pervasive, self-destructive force, and the notion that it ever maintained a healthy balance either within individuals or the body politic was perhaps a legendary unicorn, a figment of the historical mind.” In Davies’ reading, the fall of Carthage empowers and proliferates metus hostilis, which, if that term must be invoked, is used much more appropriately in this context. By paying attention to Sallust’s paradigm of war and peace, it becomes clear that the causal relationship between the fall of Carthage and the corruption of Rome in the Bellum Catilinae is that the ceasing of warfare entailed the end of the war and peace divide that had defined Romanitas. Now out of worlds to conquer, Romans could no longer cultivate virtue “in the field” (militia), and, as Sallust has made clear, they had spent most of their time waging war (9.3). As a result, violence began to spill over into the Roman’s domestic identity, ending forever the strict cultural separation of war and peace.
Such a consequence emerges from the vague result Sallust offers: “fortune began to rage and mix everything up” (10.1). The motif of universal confusion points back to the introduction of Sallust’s war and peace motif where he writes “you would not see…everything mixed up” (2.3), connected through the words misceo and omnia. Gone was the compartmentalization of Roman action that had bred for them excellence and glory. Violence was now a feature of inner Roman society. To express this development, Sallust recounts the subsequent reign of Lucius Sulla, under whom “all his men ravished, plundered, coveted the one’s home and the other’s land, and the victors had neither limit nor restraint and performed detestable and cruel crimes against the citizens” (rapere omnes, trahere, domum alius, alius agros cupere, neque modum neque modestiam victores habere, foeda crudeliaque in civis facinora facere, 11.4). Sulla’s army exchanges the “competition” (9.2) meant for the citizenry with the “altercations, dissensions, and rivalries” (9.2) reserved for interaction with the Enemy. Sallust goes on to comment that when Sulla brought his troops into Asia, “the lovely, pleasant region had easily softened the courage of the savage man’s soldiers in leisure” (loca amoena, voluptaria facile in otio ferocis militum animos molliverant, 11.5). Emblematic of the larger problem in Rome, this account states that in their leisure the soldiers grew slack. Peace has evidently not made them lazy, since the following sentences express how fervently they begin to loot and plunder. The absence of war has softened their morals, and evils begin multiplying. Whereas Sallust’s original Romans marauded and plundered only hostile, foreign peoples, Sulla’s troops ruthlessly practice them against their fellow citizens. They have therefore obliterated the cultural barrier between war and peace that had empowered Rome in Sallust’s Archaeology by failing to distinguish between the citizenry and the Enemy. The civil strife that follows is a natural consequence, and the stage is set for Catiline’s entrance.
In the main narrative of the Bellum Catilinae, which Sallust devotes to the planning and execution of Catiline’s conspiracy, he occasionally returns to the Roman people’s relationship to war and peace. He records that, like Sulla’s troops, the young men Catiline draws to his side “preferred uncertainties instead of certainties, war rather than peace” (incerta pro certis, bellum quam pacem malebant, 17.6). Here, the danger of Rome’s historic inclination towards war manifests itself in the Roman youths’ desire to live recklessly and fight, a preference that Catiline exploits in his gamble to seize the city. Later in the narrative when the conspiracy’s shadow looms over the city, the people “hurried, trembled, did not sufficiently trust any place or person, neither waged war nor had peace, and each one measured the dangers with his own fear” (festinare, trepidare, neque loco nec homini cuiquam satis credere, neque bellum gerere neque pacem habere, suo quisque metu pericula metiri, 31.2). Now that war and peace have lost their meanings, the people of Rome cannot classify the conspiracy as war or peace. It is outside of their cultural framework; they do not know how to act. Reiterating Sulla’s crime, Catiline harnesses the confused and broken Roman identity by creating an insurgency bent on a violent uprising in Rome. Deciding whether the Commonwealth should treat the conspiracy as foreign invaders bringing war upon Rome or as citizens corrupting society then pits the last two men of excellence (53.6) against each other at the climax of the Bellum Catilinae.
In Sallust’s rendition of Caesar’s and Cato’s speeches (51-52) and in his comparative synkrisis of the two (53), these leaders of the Commonwealth become complex personifications of the dualism of Roman excellence. As for Caesar, he is on one hand firmly in the camp of war. He begins his speech with “it befits all men” (omnis homines…decet, 51.1), the first words of the monograph itself, clearly pointing back to Sallust’s introductory discourse on mind and body in battle (1-2). This section claims that excellence of mind (1.5; 2.2) rules best in warfare; the subtext of Caesar’s introduction, then, is that, if Rome is to approach the conspirators as enemy troops, the Senatorial body cannot let emotions weaken the mind (animus nihil valet, 51.3). Second, all the examples he draws upon are from the Macedonian (51.5) and Punic Wars (51.6). Then, in the synkrisis, Sallust characterizes Caesar as “craving for himself great power, an army, and a new war where his excellence could gleam” (sibi magnum imperium, exercitum, bellum novom exoptabat ubi virtus enitescere posset, 54.4). On the other hand, Caesar subverts expectation by arguing against the execution of the captured conspirators. However, Caesar’s role as the archetypal man of martial excellence must forbid him from waging war against fellow Romans. Much earlier, Sallust notes that morality followed when the horrors of war were unleashed “against the enemy” while “citizens competed with citizens” (9.2), and that the soldiers of Sulla, whom Caesar explicitly mentions (51.32), erred when they mixed the two (11.4). Therefore, Caesar is unwilling to spin the treacherous citizens as enemies of the state, as at its core the term hostis means “foreigner.” Consequently, he appeals to Roman laws to demonstrate that capital punishment is “foreign to our Commonwealth” (aliena a re publica nostra, 51.17) since by law Roman citizens may be exiled but not killed (51.22). Although his leniency towards the conspiracy at first appears to contradict Caesar’s association with martial excellence, Sallust suggests that Caesar’s understanding of proper Roman warfare is what sets him unflinchingly against the execution of Catiline’s conspirators.
Whereas Sallust paints Caesar as the proper consciousness of the Roman military, the historian characterizes Cato as the exemplar of proper peacetime activity. Throughout his speech, Catois focus lies strictly on the home front. Speaking “of those who have prepared war for their own homeland, parents, altars, and hearths” (eorum qui patriae, parentibus, aris atque focis suis bellum paravere, 52.3), Cato decries Catiline’s actions as an attack against the home. Though he argues for military action against Catiline, Cato denies the implication that the warfare is the sole and safe route for correcting Rome, as he tells the Senate not to think that “our ancestors made the Commonwealth great from small through weapons” (maiores nostros armis rem publicam ex parva magnam fecisse, 52.19) but through “activity at home” (domi industria, 52.19), among other things. Cato’s domestic outlook compels him to act as a national consciousness and rebuke his fellow Romans for their “luxury and avarice” (52.7) and the “ambition” that has replaced “excellence” (52.22). For Cato, then, two great crimes have been committed. Roman citizens have defected and made war upon Rome, but at the same time Romans have by and large given up on excellence. These judgments reflect the cultivation of excellence and the ban of violence that characterized Roman peace in the Archaeology (9).
Then in the synkrisis (53), Sallust further cements Cato’s connection to the civil competition of Rome before the fall of Carthage: “he did not compete in riches with the rich man nor in partisanship with the partisan, but he competed with the active man in excellence, with the moderate man in modesty, and with the blameless man in self-restraint” (non divitiis cum divite neque factione cum factioso, sed cum strenuo virtute, cum modesto pudore, cum innocente abstinentia certabat, 54.6). Here Sallust employs the language he had used in the Archaeology. Specifically, “he competed…with the active man in excellence” (cum strenuo virtute…certabat, 54.6) recalls “citizens competed with citizens in excellence” (cives cum civibus de virtute certabant, 9.2). Since the conspirators have corrupted this civic competition, Cato can no longer consider them true Romans and cannot share society with them. For their crimes Cato has revoked the conspirators’ citizenship and identity. Whereas Caesar emphasizes the conspirators’ Roman identity, Cato brands them as “the Enemy” (hostes) four times (52.10, 52.24, 52.25, 52.35) in his speech. For Cato, Catiline’s men have taken up arms against the State as opponents and have therefore become foreigners to Rome. He has pushed them into the domain of war; not truly Roman, the Senate cannot engage with them in peace, and the city must prepare for violence.
Since Caesar and Cato equally exemplify Roman excellences and both speak using Sallust’s own words, the task of establishing which orator is right becomes exceptionally difficult if not impossible. But, that might be the wrong question to ask. In an article on the synkrisis, William Batstone argues that the distinct virtues of the two are irresolvable, that “behind this conflict is a substantial failure on the part of Roman society to come to terms with virtus.” He is correct inasmuch as the boundary between war and peace is, as the Bellum Catilinae makes quite clear, fragile – Sulla’s, and then Catiline’s, conversion of the homeland into a battlefield demonstrates that once war and peace are confused virtus is hard to come by. The question then becomes whether or not there is hope for Rome. It is true that Sallust has used his powers as author to cleanly separate war and peace into his characters Caesar and Cato, and so has in a sense corrected the meshing of war and peace that has plagued the city. That one scene, though, stands in stark contrast with the monograph’s conclusion. Catiline’s defeat and death solve nothing; they just make clear how little has changed. Sallust solemnly concludes his account with “thus throughout the entire army delight, sorrow, grief, and joy were variously roused” (ita varie per omnem exercitum laetitia, maeror, luctus atque gaudia agitabantur, 61.9). The confusion and mixture remain within the citizenry, even in the moment of victory over Catiline. Though Rome is safe from the horrors of revolution upon revolution, as Sallust has warned, the city remains on its slower, but steady, path to moral collapse. At the same time, though, Sallust has infused the Bellum Catilinae with an implicit hope through his description of Rome before its moral fall in 146 BCE. The historian has unearthed civil competition as a relic of Rome’s past, the means by which the Romans cultivated “good morals” and “excellence” (9), and offered it as his solution to the problem of civil strife. Should the Romans compete with each other not with swords but in piety, moderation, and prestige like the great citizens of old, Rome may persevere.
In Catiline’s final appearance and speech, Sallust creates a character of mixed morals and complex allegiance, a characterization of the corrupt State itself. Catiline becomes much more than a distinctly vicious demagogue. He cannot be another Sulla or one of his war-crazed goons, or else Sallust would not call Catiline’s actions as “especially memorable in the novelty of its crime and danger” (in primis…memorabile…sceleris atque periculi novitate, 4.4). For Sallust, Catiline is the Roman identity crisis, the confusion of war and peace, come in the flesh. The first sentence of his speech before his troops mentions excellence directly, and the lack of power that words have over it (58.1). Then Catiline raises the question of “courage in the mind” (animo audacia, 58.2), one of the very skills that Sallust views as fundamental to the proper management of war and therefore the state (9.2). He mentions the noun audacia three more times in his speech, suggesting that, like Sulla’s troops and Caesar, warfare will characterize Catiline. By the end of the paragraph though, Catiline has, similarly to Cato (52.5-6), denounced those whom neither excellence (58.1) nor glory (58.2) can move. By Sallust’s own words (3.2), Catiline should be in the camp of the “good men” (bonorum). However, unlike Caesar, Catiline is quick to identify his opponents (here the Senate) as “the Enemy” (hostium) instead of countrymen. He then distances himself from Cato too in his goals: “riches, honor, and glory, not to mention liberty and the homeland” (divitias, decus, gloriam, praeterea libertatem atque patriam, 58.8). While the nouns decus and gloria are not in themselves immoral, they become tainted after the initial divitiae. Catiline throws his army’s liberty and country at the end, behind the wealth they can accrue, mixing the goals of his revolution with the buzzwords of traditional Roman morality. Catiline, then, speaks in the grand rhetoric of Rome but acts decisively against the State. He is the moral chaos whose corruption Sallust laments.
Not only does Catiline embody the blurring of war and peace, but he also threatens society with further breakdown. Catiline’s following remarks suspiciously recall – in Sallust’s opinion – the fall of Carthage: “If we win, all things will be safe for us; abundantly will provisions, towns, and colonies lay open. If we will have yielded due to fear, those same things will be against us…” (si vincimus, omnia nobis tuta erunt; commeatus abunde, municipia atque coloniae patebunt. Si metu cesserimus, eadem illa advorsa fient…, 58.9-10). The verb pateo links Catiline to the conquerors of Carthage, a connection enhanced by the noun metu, since Sallust utilizes both words in describing Rome’s fall into vice (9-10). Catiline implicitly likens the Senate to Carthage, and once this great enemy has been destroyed, everything under Rome’s sway will fall to Catiline and his men, much like the Mediterranean did to Rome after the conclusion of the Punic Wars (10.1). Despite the apparent patriotism of his words, Catiline’s actions can only invite further societal fragmentation. Then, Catiline rallies his men with the declaration “we compete for the homeland, for liberty, and for life” (nos pro patria, pro libertate, pro vita certamus, 58.11) He asks them to “be mindful of old-time excellence” (memores pristinae virtutis, 58.12) when they advance into battle, a sentiment echoed by Petreius to his Roman loyalists right before the battle (59.6). The verb certo loses its more common association with civil competition that it maintains throughout the bulk of the work, brought closer to its more bellicose meaning by Catiline’s mixed up nature. However, his focus on warfare is not complete since he tells his men that “nobody but the victor exchanges war for peace” (nemo nisi victor pace bellum mutavit, 58.15). Catiline’s use of the perfect is gnomic, suggesting that he intends the phrase as an aphorism to his men. Unlike the men of Catiline’s army who see war as an end in itself (17.6), Catiline himself desires to usher in peace upon his anticipated victory. In light of Sallust’s comments earlier in the monograph, though, Catiline’s faith in his ability to solve Rome’s strife is unfounded and foolish, because another strongman would then rise up and would lay Catiline’s government low in a new revolution (39.4). He can do nothing to save Rome; Catiline’s actions cannot bring peace, because war and peace do not actually mean what he thinks they mean.
In Douglas J. Stewart’s article “Sallust and Fortuna,” he underlines a recurring “obsession” Catiline has with fortune that appears for the last time here near the end of his speech. He concludes by telling his army to fight to the finish in the event that “fortune begrudges your excellence” (virtuti vostrae fortuna inviderit, 58.21) so that, in Stewart’s opinion, Sallust’s readers would see Catiline as attacking Roman excellence and fortune itself. This is a key point. Not only is Catiline, as the very problem that is wrong with Rome and its confusion, harmful, but his rebellion against fortune, ruler of all history (8.1) is the most vivid depiction of his self-destructiveness and the doom he will try to bring to the city.
In Sallust’s Bellum Catilinae, Catiline has the potential to magnify the moral collapse of Rome, wreaking more strife and chaos in his wake. At its core a decline narrative, the Bellum Catilinae laments the current state of Rome. Though Sallust suggests that the correct pursuit of courage and justice remains possible through his depictions of Caesar and Cato, these two men have become by and large the exception to the rule. Though Sallust does not offer much hope for his audience, he believes he has found the problem – Rome has forgotten the ancient boundaries between war and peace, and it must remember how to train moral men through civil competition, not strife.
Batstone, William W. “The Antithesis of Virtue: Sallust’s Synkrisis and the Crisis of the
Late Republic.” Classical Antiquity 7, no. 1 (1988): 1-29.
Davies, Sarah H. “Beginnings and Endings: 146 BCE as an Imperial Moment, from Polybius to Sallust.” EPEKEINA 4, no.1-2 (2014): 177-218.
Kapust, Daniel J. Republicanism, Rhetoric, and Roman Political Thought: Sallust, Livy, and Tacitus. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Stewart, Douglas J. “Sallust and Fortuna.” History and Theory3 (1968): 298-317.
 Kapust (2011) 39.
 Davies (2014), 206.
 Batstone (1988) 2.
 Ibid., 28.
 Stewart (1968) 307.