Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Iris Samotta, Das Vorbild der Vergangenheit: Geschichtsbild und Reformvorschläge bei Cicero und Sallust. Historia Einzelschriften, 204. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2009. Pp. 506. ISBN 9783515091671. €78.00.
Reviewed by M. Weiskopf

It is somewhat surprising that Iris Samotta's work, already a required text in one German Sallust seminar, was not selected for review until February 2010, and then by one not adept in the intricacies of politics in the final manifestation of the Roman res publica. It is the French State which created my interest in her work. Following a decay accelerated by the so-called "Popular Front", with the resulting military demoralization and ignominy of alien occupation, the men and women of the French State look to their own past to find moral and political exemplars by which to undertake a national renovation, one illustrated in the "Principles of Community" (1941) and the constitutional drafts of the early 1940s. How did Roman statesmen of the later first century BC, confident in the ability of their res publica to be renovated (pp. 5, 402-405), examine their past and draw exemplars by which to place public affairs on a solid base?

Samotta establishes as the basis for her inquiry a comparative analysis of Cicero's and Sallust's conception of history, and the influence of that conception on their proposals for renovation (pp. 9-18, 388-403--a useful summary of views). Focus falls on the years after 55, the time Cicero wrote his monographs on the state (de oratore, de re publica, de legibus, de officiis), and Sallust served as plebeian tribune before a relegation and the taking up of history. Both men came from the municipal aristocracy and functioned with a republican orientation: they offered correctives, did not view the republic's collapse as inevitable, and were confident in the future success of their proposals--even if carried out by the generation after theirs. A violent, alternative structure was never postulated. Samotta documents well her arguments, in notation, bibliography, and indices. Reconstruction is not easy: de re publica and de legibus are fragmentary; little direct evidence remains for Sallust's political career; the Echtheitsdebatte over Sallust's letters to Caesar (containing reform proposals) remains (cf. p. 18). I recommend readers consult the Oxford texts of the works under consideration.

The first chapter of her work treats the Staatsschriften composed by Cicero (pp. 19-58). Emphasis falls on the transmission of historical exemplars from living memory to living memory. The figure of Laelia represents the link between the Scipionic circle and the L. Licinius Crassus circle, and thus Cicero, in de oratore. De re publica, set in 129, offers Scipio Aemilianus as the exemplar, tied to living memory (Cicero's) by the figure of P. Rutilius Rufus, met by Cicero in 78. While in his other writings Cicero overestimates his own importance (he is destined to follow the archetype Scipio as rector et gubernator rei publicae), his views are more measured in the Staatsschriften. The concept of rector et gubernator was not one applicable to other states. De legibus, a product of the 40s, was designed, with the use of archaizing language, to stabilize and set in order the Roman community. And the principles therein were transferable to other peoples (de legibus 1.35, 37; 2.35). But it would remain to the generation after Cicero to effect them (p. 46). De officiishas a special position in Samotta's inquiry. Written as a guide to Cicero's son and focusing on matters relevant to the political situation in Rome following the dictatorship and death of Caesar, de officiis darkens Cicero's perception of Romulus as an exemplar while defending the salutary efforts of private individuals (Octavian) acting on behalf of the Republic's safety. Cicero expresses his confidence in the restorative power of the libera res publica.

The second chapter (pp. 59-175) discusses the view of history held by the two authors. For Cicero, it is the vir optimus (de oratore 1.37: consilio et sapientia singulari) who brings the elements of state into concord. Romulus (pp. 59-85) is the exemplar, adapted from Ennius' portrait, an ideal magistrate for Cicero, self-restraining in personal and religious spheres. In the discussion of the succeeding kings emphasis is placed on the senate as the selector of the vir optimus, who, after the degeneration of the kingship, may be a privatus (de re publica 2.46). Unlike Cicero, Sallust (pp. 98-132) highlights the dualistic structure of Roman citizenship, one defined by social, economic, and sacral differences, i.e., patres and plebs (ep. II 5). The ideal republic is a balance between auctoritas senatus and imperium Quiritium (e.g., Iug. 31.25); there is no Romulan nomothetes nor a privatus--a tyrant-killer--acting on behalf of the Republic's safety. Factio, i.e., dominatio paucorum, exists as the destabilizing force, and is never completely tamed (p. 118). For Sallust the Marian period, marked by the debilitating influence of fortuna, represents the high point of discord. Greater emphasis is placed in de officiis on the exempla mala of Sulla's and Caesar's autocracy, which derailed the patrocinium iustum. Sallust, too, holds Sulla as the paramount exemplum malum, a defective imitation of Romulus (p. 151). The Republic's falling away from the waging of bella iusta (cf. Hist. 4 fr. 69 Maurenbrecher) diminished the value of individual virtue and community closeness. Cicero's darkening view of events, and hence of his perception of Romulus as exemplum optimum, in de officiis leads him to evoke the tyrannicide, whether magistrate or private individual, as one acting in concert with the exempla maiorum. Both authors accept the central importance of the senate and a timocratic social structure, but the ideal republic for Sallust is a cooperative effort of two equally-weighted blocks, but for Cicero one lead by a nomothetic chief, a vir optimus.

Chapter Three (pp. 177-388), the longest piece, discusses the proposals made by both authors concerning national renovation. (I accept the authenticity of Sallust's letters to Caesar, important sources for Samotta's analysis.) The first of the offices discussed is the Volkstribunat. Samotta begins by examining the reason that this post is missing from Sallust's proposals to Caesar (pp. 177-217). She presents a strong case, based on the limited extant evidence (including Asconius), that Sallust, while tribune, although like his colleagues dependent on the will of other prominent figures for his political future, functioned in a more moderate fashion and was capable of working with the senate. For the dismayed Sallust the ius et libertas populi was not dependent upon the Volkstribun, but on the concord between patres et plebs (ep. II 5). The Gracchi (Iug. 42) represented the last chance to maintain concord threatened by the nobility incited by greed: self-sacrificing men in an unworthy office. The vis tribunicia represented a destructive force, divisive and self-interested, feeding on permanent agitation, an instrument unfit for state building. Cicero, in his Staatsschriften, is able to assign the tribunate a measure of respect (pp. 217-256), if one separates the office itself from those disorder-provokers wrongfully holding it (de legibus 3.19ff, 3.23ff). So long as the tribunes work with the senate, the tribunate can be placed among the magistratus maiores (de legibus 3.9-10).

Proposals for the development of agrarian land (pp. 257-308) are examined next. Sallust's plans, designed to increase the value of Roman citizenship, a topic of discussion since the mid-second century B.C. (p. 259), offer real hope for renovating the plebs (ep. II 2, Cat. 9ff, Iug. 41.9). Roman citizenship is to be expanded by means of mixed settlements of old and new citizens, a means of nourishing the boni mores of both. Libertini were to be included, in hopes that newly received citizenship would increase the recipients' contribution to the civic good. The idea of mixed settlements, in Italia proper and regions beyond, parallels Sallust's view that Trojan and native came together in establishing Rome and concord. Subventions of grain, viewed by Sallust as a source of corruption, are placed instead under the heading of assisting veterans, a payment for service rendered to the Republic. Fuersorgepolitik, as manifested in the present century, was alien to the Roman way of thinking, as Cicero's proposals prove as well (pp. 272-308). His was a more restrictive concept of Roman citizenship. Agrarian reform was rejected as the exemplum malum set by those whose false eloquence worked to destroy the ideal state (cf. de oratore 3.55). Protection of individual citizens was meant to be protection of private property. Equality under the law did not mean equality in personal resources (p. 299).

Just as agrarian proposals were motivated as a response to moral decay, so, too, proposals for the reform of law courts. Sallust (pp. 309-313), apparently influenced in part by Ser. Sulpicius Rufus (cos. 51), and in admiration of the Rhodians' example (ep. II 7.12), was anxious to break the auctoritas pecuniae. Cicero (pp. 314-317), whose thought process is difficult to follow because of lacunae in de legibus, seems to hold a more restricted view. If judges are economically independent, chances for bribery are diminished. Similar tacks are taken in the proposals for magistrate reform. Sallust (pp. 318-340), again in reaction to the auctoritas pecuniae, proposes changes in voting procedure, including a secret ballot in the senate, a view partially opposed by Cicero's emphasis on gradus dignitatis (de legibus 3.9). Overall, Cicero (pp. 340-361, de legibus 3.6ff) emphasizes the senate as the body providing leadership: magistratus minores subject to senatorial control, a ten year gap for the same senator holding another consulship, special magistrates dependent upon the senate, and magistrates in general to be held liable for their disruptive and violent behavior.

Both authors want the senate to provide initiative and exemplary behavior (pp. 363-380). Sallust, suspicious of frequent absences on the part of senators, wished to expand the senate as a means of breaking factions and enhancing individual responsibility while preserving the influence exercised by the principes senatus. Cicero presents the senate as the central point of political and societal organization. His proposals in the de legibus are designed to improve the senate's functioning and diminish senatorial ignorance of matters to be considered. He does not wish the expansion of the senatorial class. Finally, Sallust does not discuss the censorship per se, but viewed Caesar, warned about the Sullan exemplum malum, as a sort of curator morum (ep. II 7). Cicero (de legibus 3.7ff, pp. 381-388) focuses instead on the office: it is to be a microcosm of the senate. Two censors (a five year term renewable once) not only are to watch over the laws, but must be obedient to them.

Samotta has treated her topic with intelligence and precision, hopefully creating renewed interest in Cicero's and Sallust's writings on the state. None of the proposals analyzed by Samotta can be characterized as useless nova sapientia, but rather should be assigned the German press-term "hoch aktuell". It may be said of each author that une Republique "peut changer les mots et les vocables . . . Elle ne pourra construire que sur les bases qu'il a posées."

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