"Punic Faith"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Sallust, after service under Caesar in the Civil War and after holding the governorship of Numidia, returned to Rome to devote himself to writing. Two of his works are extant–De Coniuratione Catilinae, an account of the Catiline conspiracy, and Bellum Jugurthinum, a record of Rome's war with Jugurtha. His most significant work, Historiae, a description of Rome from 78–67 B.C., is almost entirely lost. Bellum Jugurthinum relates the empire's struggles with the Numidian prince, an event chosen, as the author tells us, "because of its perfidious nature and shifting fortunes, and because it marked the beginning of successful resistance to the dominant power of the nobles." Sallust in his approach to history professes complete objectivity, and his fairness in the delineation of Metellus and Marius in Jugurtha supports his claim. Even so, by modern standards, the account reads more like Sir Walter Scott's historical novels than pure history. Chronology, locations, even the sequence of events the author does not hesitate to alter for the sake of a more effective narrative. As a result, if Jugurtha is second-rate history, it is first-rate narrative. The author's style, quite unlike that of Caesar of Cicero, is modeled after Thucydides; the chief features are highly rhetorical language, archaisms, and brevity of expression. At one point in the account, Jugurtha and his forces are encamped within two miles of the Roman forces. Bocchus, a Numidian who claims fidelity to Rome, acts as a mediator between Jugurtha and Sulla, the Roman leader, in establishing a conference between the chiefs. Bocchus reported that he "was ready to do what the Roman people wished," but actually he was carefully weighing which side to betray. Hence, the phrase "Punic faith,"–which to the Romans, with their memory of the Punic Wars, had come to mean "perfidy"–is used.

I believe it was rather with Punic faith than for the reasons which he made public that Bocchus beguiled both the Roman and the Numidian with the hope of peace, and that he pondered for a long time whether to betray Jugurtha to the Romans or Sulla to Jugurtha; that his inclination counselled against us, but his fears in our favour.