Metus Hostilis”: Africa in Sallust’s Bellum Jugurthinum

By Sarah Ellery

Sallust, a historian regarded by many as one of Rome’s finest, was also in the position to be one of the most valuable literary witnesses of early Roman colonization in Northern Africa. Having served as the first governor of Africa Nova (map), he undoubtedly drew his interest in Jugurtha from his personal experience of Numidia. He lived among its people and learned its history, though he remained, of course, ever Roman in his attitudes toward the people he governed. He also exploited from the province the extensive wealth that would later allow him to retire from public life and to write the very work his tenure in Africa likely inspired him to write. Sallust’s own career, then, owes a great deal to Northern Africa, since it helped him achieve the fame as a historian that prompted St. Augustine to praise him and Tacitus to imitate him.[1] For all these good reasons, we would expect him to be our eyes and ears in Roman Africa, and to undertake his history of a war completely set there with an enthusiasm for the land and its people. Yet, as we shall see, Sallust’s Bellum Jugurthinum conveys more information about the author’s own outlook on the state of the Republic in its waning years than it does about the romanization of Africa as seen through Roman eyes.

The Author in Africa

Born Gaius Sallustius Crispus in 86 BCE, Sallust was alive at a time when the Jugurthine War (summary) was within a generation of living memory. As for his professional development, his first documented office was that of tribune of the plebs, which office he held in 52 BCE. He was firmly on the side of the
populares throughout his career. Caesar was his staunch advocate and seems to have done a great deal to support his career, making him an officer in his civil war against Pompey. After some unsuccessful attempts at proving himself militarily, Sallust facilitated Caesar’s ultimate victory in the war by seizing supplies from enemy forces at Circina in 46.[2] For his good service, Caesar placed Sallust in Africa Nova (Numidia) as its first governor for 45 BCE. Cassius Dio relates the following description of Sallust’s tenure there:

taking over the Numidians, reduced them to the status of subjects, and delivered them to Sallust, nominally to rule, but really to harry and plunder. At all events this officer took many bribes and confiscated much property, so that he was not only accused but incurred the deepest disgrace, inasmuch as after writing such treatises as he had, and making many bitter remarks about those who fleeced others, he did not practice what he preached. Therefore, even if he was completely exonerated by Caesar, yet in his history, as upon a tablet, the man himself has chiseled his own condemnation all too well.[3]

Dio cannot resist pointing out that Sallust’s exploitation of the province is out of alignment with Sallust’s own attack on the weakened morals and, specifically, on the greed of wealth that he appears to have perpetrated himself. We know that, upon his return to Rome, Sallust had the wealth sufficient for his lavish gardens, the
Horti Sallustiani,[4] which would appear to be another strike against Sallust’s complete moral rectitude in his governance of Africa Nova.

Structure and Purpose

In retirement Sallust set about composing the
Bellum Jugurthinum in a literary form called monograph, or history addressing a single subject, as opposed to a more annalistic approach.[5] The monographic form allows him to weave a narrative that emphasizes characterization rather than merely offering an unbiased recounting of events. His tendency to employ rather loose time constructions like “interea” and “paucos post annos[6] , combined with his rearrangement of the sequence of events in some instances[7] , might lead us to question his method. Yet, in employing the monographic form Sallust is already predisposed to emphasize the drama of a scene instead of merely preserving the play-by-play sequence events for posterity. Furthermore, it is possible that since Roman history was contextualized as having its roots in the poetic works of Ennius and Naevius, rather than as being set apart as dry-as-dust factual accounting, his audience would certainly have apprehended the elements of tragedy that Sallust brings to bear in his characterizations.[8] Sallust, as we shall see, has a tragic theme in mind—to highlight the “degenerate days”[9] in which he found himself and to lament the corruption of Roman character he saw around him.
In his
Bellum Catilinae, probably published before the Jugurthinum,[10] he had already established to what source this misplaced Roman avarice flowed.[11] He describes it again here:

For before the destruction of Carthage the people and senate of Rome together governed the republic peacefully and with moderation. There was no strife among the citizens either for glory or for power; fear of the enemy preserved the good morals of the state. But when the minds of the people were relieved of that dread, wantonness and arrogance naturally arose, vices which are fostered by prosperity.[12]

For Sallust, Rome’s avarice flowed back to Carthage. The sack of Carthage after the last Punic War, the moment when the
metus hostilis, or fear of the enemy, was at last destroyed, signaled, for Sallust, the death knell of Roman virtus, a term he uses repeatedly to mean “moral uprightness” as well as “bravery”. Sallust’s chief point, that the degeneration of morality in Rome is the direct result of placing ambitio, or the desire for personal gain, over virtus, or manliness in the service of the public good, will surprise no one who has studied the last century of the Republic. However, a student of Roman history who has examined Rome’s long power struggle with Carthage should be acutely interested in Sallust’s rationale in making his point: that it is in Cato’s incessant cry of “Carthago delenda est” that we hear, as a result, the destruction of Rome’s moral integrity.

Searching for Africa and Finding Rome

Sallust turns to the eponymous character of his
Bellum Jugurthinum only after four chapters spent on a discourse about the age in which he, Sallust, lived, at a time over half a century after the Jugurthine War ended in 104. Clearly, the introductory remarks are not germane to the task of conveying the mere facts of the war, so right away Sallust has established his particular angle. Once he does pick up the story of Jugurtha’s life, it does not take him long to give several examples depicting Jugurtha as the victim of Rome’s depravity. Turning Rome’s great foe, a man who indiscriminately killed many Romans in an eight-year struggle to grab power for himself, would have seemed to anyone reading his history to be the most unlikely thing Sallust could have attempted. Yet, although Sallust never overtly labels him as such, Jugurtha stands out as a kind of protagonist, a foreign king of great talent, and it is the Romans who induce him to act in a manner that is contrary to his nature and that leads to his demise. Early on Sallust describes the young Jugurtha as an appealing youth, “with a vigorous intellect, (who) did not allow himself to be spoiled by luxury or idleness.”[13] These last two nouns jump right off the page as being synonymous with the very complaints Sallust has of the Romans. In a later scene, Jugurtha has distinguished himself with valor in assisting Scipio Africanus against the Numantians in Spain. The Roman commander is so taken with the Numidian prince, and Sallust describes the qualities Scipio admires. “Therefore Scipio relied upon Jugurtha for almost all difficult undertakings, treated him as a friend, and grew more and more attached to him every day, since the young Numidian failed neither in judgment nor in any enterprise.”[14] Sallust takes every opportunity to remind us that Jugurtha is valiant and prudent by nature and that he tends toward friendship with Rome early on, which will serve in the remainder of the history as evidence of Rome’s corrupting influence on him. We then come across a foreboding passage signaling that Jugurtha’s fatal flaw will emerge soon enough:

At that time there were a great many in our army, both new men and nobles, who cared more for riches than for self-respect… These men fired Jugurtha’s spirit by holding out hopes that if king Micipsa should die he might gain sole power in Numidia… while in Rome anything could be bought.[15]

Scipio, in the role of a mentor to Jugurtha, exhorts him to avoid bribery, for, he says, it is “dangerous… to buy from a few what belongs to the many.”[16] If only the prince had heeded the sage advice of his friend, the one voice of reason in a sea of Roman vices! Instead, bribery soon becomes Jugurtha’s chief strategy in dealing with the Romans, who first arbitrate the dispute between him and his brothers and then become entangled in war with him. Even here we find Sallust depicting Jugurtha’s redeeming qualities only to point back to Rome, to the extent that Jo-Marie Claassen concludes, “It is clear that (Sallust) was not much interested in Jugurtha for his own sake.”[17]

The Destruction of Carthage

But Sallust was interested in Jugurtha and Africa for a different reason. If we look for Sallust to describe for us colonial Africa through Roman eyes, based on his first-hand experience of it, we find him somewhat disappointing. He occasionally expounds on various topical points of interest and customs of the people, though Sallust is by no means thorough in providing a complete impression. Perhaps, then, he is intent on using the African setting of the war to a different purpose. Interestingly, each of his three authorial digressions on Africa deals in some way with Carthage, which has already been mentioned as being critical to his overall point of view but which is unnecessary for the narration of the history.[18] None of the fighting actually occurs there, whereas Sallust could have elaborated on any number of the cities—Cirta, for example—that do see action. Kraus and Woodman summarize the digressions by saying, “Each time (Carthage) is mentioned, the city stabilizes actual or political disorder: paradox within paradox, as its own composite nature—the virtuous enemy, the danger that makes safe—ought to keep it from producing unity.”[19] Clearly, since Sallust has no narrative need for Carthage, he is doing something else by bringing it up so often. Perhaps he is merely using the city as a reference point for his Roman audience who had never been to Africa but certainly knew of Carthage. However, since he certainly has the verbal skill required to paint the varied lands and people he might have depicted, it is more likely that he finds Carthage a useful and necessary image for his authorial agenda. His preoccupation with Carthage, as Comber and Balmaceda note, creates “the impression… that Sallust presents the Jugurthine Wars as a debased version of the Punic Wars.”[20] This interpretation is fascinating in light of Sallust’s view that Rome owed its rampant corruption to the misuse of its victory over Carthage.

Finality Forestalled

The war ends at last when Jugurtha is betrayed by his kinsman to Sulla and is taken to Rome by Marius, and here we might expect Sallust to end with a climactic celebration over Rome’s vanquished enemy after almost a decade of struggle. Yet, he writes no such thrilling ending, nor does he even mention Jugurtha’s torture and death. D. S. Levene interprets this glaring omission as a kind of “anti-closure” intended to create the feel of a fragment.[21] In the last line, Sallust leaves us with Marius, newly elected as consul, with “the hopes and welfare of our country… in his hands.”[22]We know the ultimate outcome of both Marius and Sulla’s rise to power, and, writing around 40 BCE, so did Sallust. The final chapter of the
Bellum Jugurthinum is as unresolved as the political struggles occurring in Rome at the time Sallust was writing. In the last, seemingly abrupt lines, he reminds us to place the messy civil wars, and all the events leading through the death of Caesar in 44, firmly within their context as being byproducts of Rome’s victory over—and, ironically, its destruction by—Carthage.

Sallust’s objective in the
Bellum Jugurthinum was scrupulously achieved, for his Jugurtha is essentially a mirror, always directed at the Roman people, always reminding them that the true cost of empire is the loss of the very virtue that once led them to conquer Carthage. We will probably never fully understand Jugurtha or the Africa he inhabited, but the voice of Sallust has never rung clearer than in the narration of his life. Sallust fears that the “metus hostilis” that kept the Romans from complacency and vice is gone for good; in the end he asks if anything will emerge to take its place.

Primary Sources:

Dio. Roman History. Trans. Earnest Cary. LacusCurtius.1927. Web. <>.

LacusCurtius presents many classical works in translation with an introduction to each, making it a practical resource for scholarship on the go. Dio’s
History, included in its entirety from the Loeb Classical Library, provides a provocative, if perhaps exaggerative, account of Sallust’s exploitation of Africa Nova. The clarity of language provided in the translation offers both students and teachers the opportunity to explore the history of Rome that took Dio over two decades to complete.

Rolfe, John Carew.
Sallust. Cambridge, Mass.; London: Harvard Univ. Press; W. Heinemann, 1980. Print.

Also part of the Loeb Classical Library, Rolfe’s
Sallust is an accessible version of both Bellum Catilinae and Bellum Juguthinum with side-by-side Latin text and English translation. In addition, Rolfe has prepared a brief but thorough introduction to provide the reader with useful background material on Sallust’s life and works. The text is equally accessible for both teachers and students of Sallust who want to gain insight into the complexities of Catiline and Jugurtha.

Web Resources:

Dio. Roman History. Trans. Earnest Cary. LacusCurtius.1927. Web. 30 June 2010. <>.

See above.

Lendering, Jona. “Jugurtha.” n.d. Web. 29 June 2010. <>. offers succinct articles with suggestions of primary resources on a variety of topics pertaining to the classics. “Jugurtha” is among the thirty or so that deal with Carthage, and Lendering is careful to supply the pertinent details of the war in a simplified way that also preserves the complexity of it. For anyone beginning the study of Sallust, especially for anyone who is unfamiliar with the war, this well-written account is certainly a useful starting point.

Shephard, William. "Historical Atlas: Plan of Republican Rome". University of Texas Libraries, 1926. Web. 29 June 2010. <>.

The University of Texas has compiled a useful array of maps geared toward classical studies, with tools that allow the viewer high visibility of intricate detail. This version of Republican Rome is especially helpful in visualizing both the city context for Sallust’s Gardens and their immense size. The maps are suitable for anyone studying the ancient world and should be vastly beneficial in any classroom.

Secondary Sources for Students:

Platner, Samuel Ball, and Thomas Ashby.
A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. London: Oxford University Press, H. Milford, 1929. Print.

Though it is now a bit dated, Platner and Ashby’s immense dictionary is still a
sine qua non for anyone wishing to study the archaeological material of Rome in depth. The breadth of research is impressive, with hundreds of entries on sites throughout the city. The Gardens of Sallust prove a bit difficult to research given little evidence remaining in situ, but Platner and Ashby provide a summary of the gardens as well as information on the history of scholarship on the site. Students may find the absence of images daunting, so teachers will want to supplement with visual material.

Secondary Sources for Teachers:

Canter, H. V. "The Chronology of Sallust's Jugurtha." The Classical Journal 6.7 (1911): 290-5. Print.

Canter’s argument is not a new one; he writes in light of much scholarship on the subject of the problematic dates Sallust gives for the war. Mommsen is the preeminent voice in the debate and argues, via Canter, that the year missing from Sallust’s account must be interpreted as an authorial oversight on the part of the historian. This comprehensive summary of Mommsen’s (and others’) rearrangement of dates plays well into the argument that Sallust was more interested in the overall arc of the narrative than he was in preparing a meticulous chronology.

Claassen, Jo-Marie. "Sallust's Jugurtha: Rebel Or Freedom Fighter? on Crossing Crocodile-Infested Waters." The Classical World 86.4 (1993): 273-97. Print.

This paper is a must-read for anyone interested in tapping into the “real” Jugurtha. Claassen reverses the truism that “history repeats itself” and applies modern resistance figures to the discussion of Jugurtha as represented by Sallust. Claassen’s practice of deliberately reading the
Bellum Jugurthinum through a postcolonial lens helps to contextualize Jugurtha and to stimulate lively discussion, though it is likely beyond the scope of the secondary classroom.

Comber, Michael, and Catalina Balmaceda. The War Against Jugurtha. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2009. Print.

Comber and Balmaceda’s parallel Latin and English
Jugurtha is supplemented with ample introductory notes and commentary. Their introduction delves into Sallust’s life and works and comes out on the other end with a concise theory about “what Sallust thought he was doing,” namely that he is calling for a new form of virtus to replace the old form that had been lost. The thoughtful analysis they provide is fertile ground for discussion and further research into Sallust’s command of language in conveying his message.

Dué, Casey. "Tragic History and Barbarian Speech in Sallust's "Jugurtha"." Harvard Studies in Classical Philology100 (2000): 311-25. Print.

Dué compares the tragic, or “desparation,” speeches in Sallust to similar examples in Euripedes’
Medea and Catullus 64, among others. Adherbal’s tragic monologue has interesting comparisons with and raises important questions about why Sallust chose to employ pathos and poetic allusion in his portrayal of the barbarian prince. The obvious connection forged here between Sallust’s history and the realms of tragedy and poetry heighten the enjoyment and understanding of the Bellum Jugurthinum.

Kraus, Christina Shuttleworth, and A. J. Woodman. New Surveys in the Classics: Latin Historians. 27 Vol. Oxford ; New York: Published for the Classical Association by Oxford University Press, 1997. Print.

Kraus and Woodman’s volume on Latin historians includes a generous chapter on Sallust as well as on Livy, the first century C.E., and Tacitus. In the chapter on Sallust, they divide their overview of the
Bellum Jugurthinum into two parts: first, a survey of its structure and purpose, and second, an intriguing discussion of the attention Sallust gives to Carthage. The introduction to this volume is a rewarding look at the how Roman historians as a whole “saw their past and their present.”

Levene, D. S. "Sallust's Jugurtha: An 'Historical Fragment'." The Journal of Roman Studies 82 (1992): 53-70. Print.

Levene explores the question of Sallust’s structure, specifically what purpose there may be in crafting the
Bellum Jugurthinum without a clear climax. According to Levene, is that it is the very lack of closure in the work, a deliberate choice by Sallust, that creates an overall sense that the history is meant to be read as continuing in the contemporary events of Sallust’s Rome. Though the article is highly readable it is clearly intended for the older student or teacher who wants to examine Sallust’s style.

Additional Resources:

Scudder, Jared W. “Gaius Sallustius Crispus.” The Society for Ancient Languages. 1900. Web. 29 June 2010. <>

This introduction to the biography of Sallust is reprinted in full from its original print edition. It gives an excellent overview of Sallust’s life, writings, and style, and it has the authority of publication to back up its data. Students would certainly benefit from reading this summary before starting the study of Sallust, and teachers will enjoy its sound and readable approach.

“Sallust’s Style.” The Latin Library. n.d. Web. 29 June 2010. <>

The Latin Library offers free, printable handouts for Latin classrooms on a variety of topics. Here, the reader can benefit from knowing in advance all of Sallust’s “oddities” before difficulty with the Latin ruins the thrill of translating his works. This one-page précis of Sallust’s style is invaluable for students who are reading him for the first time or for the older student or teacher who wants a refresher on Sallust’s method.

Kiepert, Heinrich. “Iberia and North Africa; Carthage; Carthaginian Territories.”
Atlas Antiquus: Twelve Maps of the Ancient World for the use of Schools and Colleges, 5th ed. 1869. Web. 30 June 2010. <>.

The twelve Kiepart maps at include a zoom feature that allows a close reading of the geographical locations throughout the Roman world. This map in particular offers a detailed view of Africa and Numidia that will help students get their bearings as they read the Bellum Jugurthinum. Taken as a whole, these high-quality maps serve an essential purpose in orienting students to the far-flung places in the Roman world.

  1. ^ Rolfe, x-xviii.

  1. ^ From Bellum Africanum, a work spuriously attributed to Caesar; Rolfe, xiii.

  1. ^ Type your reference here. Dio, History of Rome 43. 9; trans. Carey.
  2. ^ Platner- Ashby, 271.
  3. ^ Burrow, 66.

  1. ^ Rolfe, xv.

  1. ^ See Canter, who investigates Mommsen’s detailed study of the problems with Sallust’s chronology.

  1. ^ Due, 325.

  1. ^ Bellum Jugurthinum (BJ) 4.7; trans. Rolfe, which version I have used throughout.

  1. ^ See Rolfe, xiii, for uncertainty in the date of its publication.

  1. ^ See also Bellum Catilinae 10.1-3.

  1. ^ BJ 41.2-3.

  1. ^ BJ 6.1.

  1. ^ BJ 7.6.

  1. ^ BJ 8.1.

  1. ^ BJ 8.2.

  1. ^ Claassen, 276.

  1. ^ See BJ 18.11- 19.2; 41.2; 79.1; Comber and Balmaceda, 25.

  1. ^ Kraus and Woodman, 28.

  1. ^ Comber and Balmaceda, 25.

  1. ^ Levene, 53.

  1. ^ BJ 114.4.