Playing the Tyrant

“The nobles had played the tyrant often enough in the past; but now the proletariat was on top and showed itself as arrogant as they had been.” Sallust, Chap. 5 in The Jugurthine War, trans. S. A. Handford (London: Penguin, 1963), p. 77.

Sallust often lamented the social divisions of the late Roman Republic.  This sentence summarized how various factions used power against the other.  Both arrogantly asserted their power by legally repressing their political opponents.  He believed these divisions emerged from Rome’s military victories and prosperity.  Sallust explained:

“The division of the Roman state into warring factions, with all its attendant vices, had originated some years before, as a result of peace and of that material prosperity which men regard as the greatest blessing.  Down to the destruction of Carthage the people and Senate shared the government peaceably and with due restraint, and the citizens did not compete for glory or power; fear of its enemies preserved the good morals of the state.  But when the people were relieved of this fear, the favourite [sic] vices of prosperity–licence [sic] and pride–appeared as a natural consequence.  Thus the peace and quiet which they had longed for in time of adversity proved, when they obtained it, to be even more grievous and bitter than the adversity.” Ibid.

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