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The Destructive Power of Material Wealth in Rome: Luxury and Avarice as Negative Values in Sallust and Livy

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  1. Introduction
  2. The discussion presented by Sallust
    1. The decline of Roman morals
    2. The greed for praise
  3. The Conspiracy of Cataline and the Roman victory at Carthage
    1. The price of the victory
    2. The return of Sulla's army from Asia
  4. Sallust's The Jugurthine War
    1. Elaborating on the types of luxury that had infected the city
    2. The desirability of employments involving the application of one's mind
    3. Jugurtha and his cause against his brother
    4. The speech by Caius Memmius
  5. The writings of Livy
    1. Cchos of Sallust's ideas
    2. The condemnation of luxury and its degenerative effect on morality
  6. The similarities between the works of Sallust and Livy
  7. Sources

The Roman conquest of foreign nations in the East resulted in a dramatic increase of material wealth in Rome, brought back as the spoils of war from the conquered nations. This increase in wealth had a corruptive influence on Roman society, as it signified the advent of luxury, or extravagance, and of avarice into that society. The emergence of these negative values or vices in Roman society played a major causative role in the disintegration and decay of Roman society that eventuated in its decline and destruction. Rome was able to prosper only so long as it embodied the virtues and positive values that characterized its earlier history, and the introduction of luxury into Rome overwhelmed and eventually precluded Roman virtue as it seeped into all aspects of Roman life. Sallust addresses this topic in his works, The Conspiracy of Catiline and The Jugurthine War. Livy also treats the corruptive influence of wealth on morality and the resultant decline of Rome in his History of Rome.

[...] Those that are being oppressed are not as concerned with preserving their freedom as their oppressors are with increasing their power, and are conferring the favor and power on those who are the least deserving because of their lack of spirit and fear of those in power. These crimes of the powerful few must be suppressed and punished, for they will only increase, and the resultant indigence and loss of liberty visited on the people will also continue to worsen. [...]


[...] The inception of this lust for and worship of wealth and its attendant power, privilege, and recognition, which was a result of Rome's prosperity and the influx of wealth and luxury from foreign nations, resulted in the repudiation of poverty and the diminishment of honesty in favor of extravagant living and self-interest. Moneyed citizens began to display their wealth in an excessively decadent manner, ?turn[ing] mountains upside down and deck[ing] over the (Cataline sec.13), making a sport of their assets by their eagerness to shamefully squander that which they might have enjoyed honorably. [...]


[...] Sallust believes that the current state of public morality is distasteful, especially in regards to the pursuit and exercise of public office, which has been corrupted from its former nobility, and is now a matter of money and power rather than virtue. Furthermore, men are too often willing to sacrifice their virtue to the advancement of their political party, men to whom wealth is far more attractive than honor and who are attached to certain political parties. He elaborates on these themes at several points in the text. [...]

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