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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces
The Letter to Caesar


published in the Loeb Classical Library,
1921 (revised 1931)

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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 p463  Letter to Caesar on the State,
(attributed to Sallust)

1 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] I fully realize how difficult and dangerous a task it is to give counsel to a king or to a ruler, indeed, to anyone who possesses supreme authority; for such men have an abundance of counsellors, and besides, no one can be sufficiently clever and sufficiently wise with regard to the future. 2 Nay, more, bad counsel often has a better result than good, since Fortune commonly directs the course of events according to her own caprice.

3 In my early youth​1 I had a desire to embark upon a political career and in preparing for it I spent long and diligent labour, hoping not merely to be elected to office, which many had attained through dishonourable means, but also to make myself familiar with the administration of public business at home and abroad and with the resources of our country in arms, men, and money. 4 In consequence of this I have determined, after much counsel with myself, to subordinate my own reputation and modesty to your honour, and to venture upon anything whatever, provided only that it will contribute something to your glory. 5 And I have come to this decision, not lightly or from regard for your fortune, but because in you I found, in addition to other qualities, one unusually admirable, that your spirit was always greater in adversity than in prosperity. 6 But that  p465 is made more manifest by the rest of the world, because men are sooner wearied in praising and admiring your munificence than you are in doing deeds worthy of praise.

2 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] For my own part, I am convinced that nothing so deep can be found that your thoughts cannot easily grasp it; 2 and I have written you my views upon public affairs, not because I thought more highly than is proper of my own counsel and my own ability, but because it seemed to me that during the toil of war, amid battles, victories and the duties of a commander, you ought to be reminded of the interests of our city. 3 For if you have in your heart this consideration only, how you may protect yourself against the assaults of your enemies and retain the favours of the people​2 in opposition to a hostile consul,​3 your thoughts are unworthy of your manhood. 4 But if you have in you the spirit which has from the very beginning dismayed the faction of the nobles, which restored the Roman commons to freedom after a grievous slavery, which in your praetor­ship routed your armed enemies without resort to arms,​4 which has achieved so many and such glorious deeds at home and abroad that not even your enemies dare to make any complaint except of your greatness: if you have that spirit, pray give ear to what I shall say about our country's welfare. You will assuredly find it either true or at all events not far from the truth.

3 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Now, since Gnaeus Pompeius, either from perversity of spirit or because he desired above all  p467 things to injure you, has fallen so low as to put arms into the hands of the enemy, you must restore the government by the same means by which he has overthrown it. 2 To begin with, he gave a few senators the absolute power of regulating the revenues, the expenditures and the courts, leaving the commons of Rome, who once held the supreme power, in slavery, under laws which are not even alike for all. 3 For even though the courts, as before, have been entrusted to the three orders,​5 yet that same faction controls them, gives and takes away whatever it pleases, defrauds the innocent, elevates its members to high positions. 4 Neither crime nor shame nor disgrace bars them from holding office. They rob and pillage where it suits them; finally, just as if they had taken the city captive, they regard their own will and caprice as law. 5 And so far as I am concerned, I should feel but moderate resentment, if they had won by valour that victory which, according to their custom, they are making an instrument of slavery. 6 But these most cowardly men, whose whole power and courage lies in the tongue, are insolently exercising a tyranny which they have acquired by chance and through the incapacity of another. 7 For what rebellion or civil dissension has utterly destroyed so many illustrious families? Or who ever had in victory a spirit so frenzied and so unbridled?

4 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Lucius Sulla, to whom the laws of war allowed unrestrained power in his victory, although he knew that by the execution of his foes he could strengthen his party, yet put but few to death, preferring to  p469 hold the rest by kindness rather than by intimidation. 2 But, by Heaven! Marcus Cato, Lucius Domitius, and the others of that faction, have butchered forty senators and many young men of excellent promise like so many sacrificial victims; and yet meanwhile the blood of so many wretched citizens has not been enough to sate those most ruthless of men. Not orphans and aged parents, not the gift and lamentation of men and women, could turn them from their inhuman purpose; nay, harsher in deed and word day by day, they have deprived some of their rank,​6 others of their citizen­ship.​7 3 What shall I say of you, whose humiliation, if it were possible, those basest of creatures would buy at the cost of their own lives? And they do not feel so much pleasure in their supremacy, although it is more than they had hoped for, as they do chagrin at your glory. 4 Nay, they would prefer to endanger liberty by your downfall, rather than that through you the empire of the Roman people from being merely great should become the greatest. Therefore it behooves you again and again to consider by what means you may strengthen and fortify your country. 5 For myself, I shall not hesitate to utter what my mind prompts, but it will be for your judgment to determine which of my suggestions you think wise and helpful.

5 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] I believe, as I have learned from our forefathers, that our commonwealth is divided into two bodies, the patricians and the plebeians. In days of old the patricians had the chief authority, but the commons by far the greatest numerical strength. 2 Therefore secessions occurred on several occasions8  p471 and the power of the nobles was constantly curtailed, while the privileges of the commons were extended. 3 But in those days the reason why the commons enjoyed freedom was because no man's power was superior to the laws, and because the noble surpassed the commoner, not in riches or ostentation, but in good repute and valiant deeds; while the humblest citizen lacked nothing for which he could honourably wish either in the fields or in military service, but was sufficient for himself and for his country.

4 When, however, idleness and poverty gradually drove the commons from the fields and forced them to live without a fixed abode, they began to covet the riches of other men and to regard their liberty and their country as objects of traffic. 5 Thus little by little the people, which had been sovereign and had exercised authority over all nations, became degenerate, and each man bartered his share of the common sovereignty for slavery to one man.​a 6 Hence this population of ours, at first acquiring evil habits and then divided by different employments and modes of life, since it has no bond of union, seems to me quite unfitted to govern the state. 7 But if new citizens should be added to their number, I have high hopes that all would be aroused to a sense of freedom; for the new citizens will feel a desire to retain their liberty, those who are already citizens will long to throw off the yoke of slavery. 8 I therefore advise you to settle these newcomers, along with the earlier citizens, in colonies; for in this way our military power will be the greater, and the commons, being occupied with useful occupations, will cease to work public mischief.

 p473  6 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] I am not, however, ignorant or unaware what rage and what tempests the execution of this project will rouse among the nobles, who will cry out that the very foundations of society are being undermined, that this is the same thing as enslaving the original citizens; in short, that a free state will be transformed into a monarchy, if citizen­ship is conferred upon a great multitude through the bounty of one man. 2 But while it is my firm conviction that he commits a crime who tries to win popular favour at the cost of his country's welfare, yet when a public service is at the same time to the advantage of one man, to hesitate on that account to undertake it I consider a mark of folly and cowardice.

3 Marcus Drusus​9 always intended to exert his every power during his tribunate for the nobles, and at first he took no step without their sanction. 4 But a faction to whom treachery and dishonesty were dearer than honour perceived that the greatest of benefits​10 was being conferred upon many by one man; and just because all of them were conscious of having evil and disloyal minds, they judged Marcus Drusus to be like themselves. 5 Fearing therefore that by conferring such a favour he might acquire supreme power, they strove to prevent it and thus ruined his plans and their own as well. 6 With this example before you, my general, it behooves you the more carefully to surround yourself with loyal friends and with many defences.

7 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] An enemy in front can be overthrown without difficulty by a stout-hearted man, but hidden snares  p475 are not commonly laid or readily avoided by the honourable. 2 Since therefore by the introduction of new citizens into the commonwealth the commons will be regenerated, you should devote particular attention to the problem of fostering good morals and establishing harmony between the old and the new burgesses. 3 But by far the greatest blessing which you can confer upon your country and fellow citizens, upon yourself and your children, in short, upon all mankind, will be either to do away with the pursuit of wealth or to reduce it so far as circumstances permit. Otherwise, neither public nor private affairs can be regulated at home or abroad. 4 For wherever the desire for riches has penetrated, neither education, nor good qualities, nor talents, can prevent the mind from at last yielding to it sooner or later. 5 Often before this I have heard how kings, how cities and nations have lost mighty empires through opulence, which they had won through valour when in poverty; and such a loss is not at all surprising. 6 For when the good sees the baser by riches made more renowned and more beloved, at first he boils with anger and feels much perplexed; but when more and more each day vainglory prevails over honour, opulence over merit, his mind turns to pleasure and forsakes the truth. 7 In fact, endeavour feeds upon glory; take that away, and virtue by itself is bitter and harsh. 8 Finally, wherever riches are regarded as a distinction, there honour, uprightness, moderation, chastity and all the virtues are lightly rated. 9 For the only path to virtue is steep; to riches one may mount whenever one chooses, and they may be won by means either honourable or dishonourable.

 p477  10 First of all then, deprive money of its importance. Let no one be given greater or less opportunity according to his wealth to serve as a juror in cases involving life or honour; just as no consul or praetor should be chosen because of his riches, but because of his worth. 11 In the case of a magistrate, however, the people can easily decide; but for jurors to be selected by a faction is tyranny, for them to be chosen on the basis of money is shameful. It therefore seems to me fitting that all citizens of the first class​11 should be eligible as jurors, but that they should serve in somewhat greater numbers than at present. 12 Neither the Rhodians nor the citizens of any other state have ever had occasion to be ashamed of their courts, where rich and poor alike, according to the fortune of the lot, decide indiscriminately matters of greatest or of slight importance.

8 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] As regards the election of magistrates, I for my part very naturally approve of the law which Gaius Gracchus proposed in his tribunate, that the centuries should be called up by lot​12 from the five classes without distinction. 2 In this way money and worth are put on an equality​13 and each man will strive to outdo his fellow in merit. 3 These are the great safeguards which I have to propose against the power of riches; for everything is valued and sought for according to the advantages which it offers. Wickedness is practised for gain; take that away, and no one at all is wicked for nothing. 4 But avarice is a wild beast, monstrous and irresistible; wherever it goes, it devastates town and country, shrines and homes, and lays low everything human and divine; no army and no walls can withstand it; it robs all  p479 men of their repute, their chastity, their children, country and parents. 5 Yet if you take away the honour paid to money, the power of avarice, great as it is, will readily yield to good morals. 6 But although all men, just and unjust alike, admit the truth of this, yet your struggle with the nobles will be no light one. If, however, you avoid their snares, all else will be easy; 7 for if merit made them strong enough, they would emulate the virtuous instead of envying them. It is because sloth and indolence, dullness and torpor, have taken possession of their minds, that they resort to abuse and slander and consider the glory of others a disgrace to themselves.

9 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] But why should I say more of the nobles, as if you did not know them well. It was Marcus Bibulus' courage and force of character that landed him in the consul­ship:​14 dull of speech, rather wicked than clever by nature. 2 What would a man dare to do who found in the consul­ship, the supreme power, his supreme disgrace? Has Lucius Domitius​15 great strength? A man whose every member is stained with disgrace or crime, of lying tongue, blood-stained hands, fleeing feet, most dishonourable in those parts which cannot honourably be named.

3 There is one of them, however, Marcus Cato, whose versatile, eloquent and clever talents I do not despise. Training such as his comes from the Greeks; but among that people manliness, vigilance and industry are wholly lacking. Pray do you think that a government can be upheld by the precepts of those who through incapacity have lost their freedom at home?

 p481  4 In addition to those whom I have mentioned the party consists of nobles of utter incapacity, who, like an inscription, contribute nothing but a famous name. Men like Lucius Postumius and Marcus Favonius​16 seem to me like the superfluous deckload of a great ship. When they arrive safely, some use can be made of them; if any disaster occurs, they are the first to be jettisoned because they are of least value.

10 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Having now, as it seems to me, said enough about the regeneration and reformation of the commons, let me tell you what I think you ought to do about the senate. 2 Ever since years have matured my mind, I have seldom exercised my body with arms and horses, but I have busied my mind with reading, 3 thus employing the part of my being which was by nature the stronger. Spending my life in that way, I have learned by abundant reading and instruction that all kingdoms, as well as states and nations, have enjoyed prosperity and power for so long a time as wise counsel has reigned among them; but just so soon as this was vitiated by favour, fear or pleasure, their strength rapidly waned, then their supremacy was wrested from them, and finally they were reduced to slavery.

4 Personally, I have made up my mind that whenever a man has in his own state a higher and more conspicuous position than his fellows, he takes a great interest in the welfare of his country. 5 For to other citizens the safety of the state merely assures their personal liberty; but those who by their talents have won riches, respect and renown are filled with  p483 manifold anxiety and trouble if the state begins to decline and totter ever so little. He flies to the defence of his repute, or his freedom, or his property; he is to be seen everywhere and makes haste; the more prosperous he was in prosperity, the more cruelly is he harried and worried in adversity.

6 Therefore, since the commons submit to the senate as the body does to the soul, and carry out its decrees, the fathers ought to be strong in counsel, but for the people cleverness is superfluous. 7 Accordingly our forefathers, when they were harassed by the most difficult wars, although they suffered loss of horses, men and money, never wearied in their efforts to maintain their supremacy by arms. Not a depleted treasury, no strength of their enemies, no disaster could daunt their great souls or prevent them, while they had breath, from defending what they had won by their valour. 8 And their success was due rather to firmness in the council-chamber than to victories in the field; for in their day the commonwealth was united, for its welfare all citizens had regard; leagues were formed only against the enemy, each man exerted body and mind for his country, not for his own power. 9 To‑day, on the contrary, certain of the nobles, whose minds are possessed by indolence and cowardice, although they are ignorant of hardship, of the enemy, and of military life, have formed a faction within the state and arrogantly claim sovereignty over all nations.

11 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Thus the Fathers, by whose wisdom the wavering state was formerly steadied, are over­powered and tossed to and fro according to the caprice of others; they decree now one measure and now another, determining what is helpful or  p485 harmful to the public from the enmity or favour of their masters.

2 But if all the senators had equal freedom of action, or if their voting were done less openly, the state would have greater strength and the nobles​17a less power. 3 Now, since it is not easy to make the influence of all equal (for the prowess of their ancestors has left the nobles​17b a heritage of glory, prestige and patronage, while the rest are for the most part grafted upon the state), at least free the votes of the latter from the effects of fear; thus each man, if assured of secrecy, will value his own judgment more highly than the authority of another. 4 Independence is desirable alike to good and bad, to hero and coward; but many men, most foolish of mortals, sacrifice independence to fear, and are led by cowardice to accept defeat, when a struggle would make the issue doubtful.

5 There are then, in my judgment, two ways by which the senate may be given greater strength: by an increase in its numbers and by permission to vote by ballot. The ballot will serve as a screen, giving courage to act with more independence, while the increase in numbers will furnish greater protection and an opportunity for larger usefulness. 6 As a matter of fact, in these days some of the senators are habitually occupied with the public courts and others with their own business and that of their friends, and hence they do not attend deliberations on matters of public moment; although in reality it is the insolence of power which has kept them away, rather than outside interests. Hence certain of the nobles, in conjunction with a  p487 few men of senatorial rank who support their faction, approve, censure, or decree whatever their caprice suggests. 7 But when the number of the senators is increased and the voting is done by ballot, these men will surely lay aside their insolence when they shall be forced to obey those over whom they formerly exercised a merciless sway.

12 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] Perhaps, my general, after reading this letter you may wish to know what number of senators I would recommend and in what way their many varied duties should be distributed; also, since I believe that jury duty should be entrusted to all the members of the first class, how I would apportion them and what number there should be in each division. 2 It would not be at all difficult for me to go into all these details, but it has seemed to me that I ought first to work out the general plan and convince you that it is a reasonable one. If you decide to follow the course which I have suggested, the rest will be easy. 3 For my own part, I desire my plans to be wise and above all practicable; for wherever you carry them out successfully, I shall gain fame. 4 But the strongest desire which actuates me is that somehow or other, and as soon as possible, our country may be helped. 5 I hold freedom dearer than glory, and I beg and implore you, illustrious general that you are, after subduing the Gallic nation not to allow the great and unconquered dominion of the Roman people to waste away through decay and fall asunder through excess of negligence. 6 If that should happen, you surely could not escape remorse either by day or by night, but tormented with sleeplessness, mad and beside yourself, you would fall a victim to frenzy. 7 As for me, I am firmly convinced that a divine power  p489 watches over the life of all mortals; that no one's good or evil action is over­looked, but that by a law of nature their different rewards await the good and the bad. 8 Meanwhile, retribution and reward, if they are slow in coming, are held up to each man's mind by his own conscience.

13 [Legamen ad paginam Latinam] If your country and your forefathers could address you, this would assuredly be their language: "We, bravest of men, have begotten you, O Caesar, in the most excellent of cities, to be our glory and defence and a terror to our enemies. 2 What we had won at the cost of great hardship and peril we transmitted to you at your birth along with the breath of life: a fatherland the mightiest in the world, a house and family the most distinguished in that fatherland, and in addition, eminent talents, honourable riches, in short, all the rewards of peace and all the prizes of war. 3 In return for these splendid gifts we ask of you, not disgrace or crime, but the restoration of our prostrate freedom. 4 This accomplished, the fame of your prowess will surely wing its way to all nations. 5 At present, although your exploits are brilliant at home and abroad, yet your glory is but on a par with that of many a hero. But if you rescue almost from the brink of ruin the most famous and powerful of cities, who upon the face of this earth will be more famous than you, who will be greater? 6 For if this empire should succumb to decay or to fate, can anyone doubt but that all over the world devastation, wars, and bloodshed would ensue? But if you are inspired by the noble passion of showing gratitude to your forefathers and your fatherland, in days to come you will tower above all men in glory as the saviour of  p491 your country, and you alone of all mortals will enjoy greater fame after death than was yours during your lifetime. 7 For the living are sometimes harried by fortune, often by envy; but when the debt of nature has been paid, detraction is silent and merit lifts its head higher and higher."

8 I have written in the fewest possible words what I thought it helpful for you to do, and what I believed would be to your advantage. It remains to implore the immortal gods that whatever you decide, the result may be propitious to you and to your country.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Cf. Cat. iii.

2 In particular, the extension of his military command and the privilege of becoming a candidate for the consul­ship in his absence from Rome.

3 Referring to Lucius Cornelius Lentulus Crus, consul in 49 B.C., or his colleague Gaius Claudius Marcellus. This seems to be the time assumed by the writer of the letter.

4 See Suet. Jul. 16.

5 The senators, knights, and tribuni aerarii; cf. Suet. Jul. 41.2.

6 Referring to the kinship of Appius Claudius, to which Sallust fell a victim; see Introd. p. x.º

7 By driving them into exile.

8 See p56, note 2.

9 Tribune in 91 B.C. He attempted to carry out reforms which would have been advantageous both to the nobles and to the people, and to extend the franchise to all the Italians; but he fell victim to an unknown assassin.

10 Namely, citizen­ship; see the preceding note.

11 See Jug. lxxxvi.2, and the note.

12 To give their votes; instead of having all the centuries of the first-class vote first, and so on.

13 Text and meaning are uncertain.

14 Ironical, of course. He was Caesar's colleague in 59 B.C. Wags referred to it as the consulate of Julius and Caesar (Suet. Jul. 20.2). For erupit in cf. Ter. Phorm. 324 f.

15 Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, brother-in‑law of Cato Uticensis and consul in 54 B.C.

16 Famous as an imitator of Cato; see Suet. Aug. 13.2. Postumius is unknown except for this reference.

17a 17b That is, the faction of the nobles mentioned in x.9.

Thayer's Note:

a The barter of freedom for security is perennial; so is the slippage by insensible degrees from a desire for security to greed for the dole. In the United States in our own time, for example, individual and states' rights in many areas have been sold for the mess of pottage euphemistically called "welfare" and "federal funds" — as if these monies were not raised on the backs of the taxpayer in the first place.

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