Quote of the Week: The Disease that Brought Down the Roman Empire

May 11, 2008 Published under Democracy and Freedom (or lack of), Favorite Quotes

Avarice is different.  It means setting your heart on money, a thing that no wise man ever did.  It is a kind of deadly poison, which ruins a man’s health and weakens his moral fiber.  It knows no bounds and can never be satisfied.  He that has not, wants; and he that has, wants more.

- Sallust, In The Jugurthine War and the Conspiracy of Cataline, discussing how the Roman Empire was overtaken as ‘the disease [of

avarice] spread like a plague." He explains that "a government that was just and admirable… became harsh and unendurable.  At first it was not so much avarice but ambition that disturbed men’s minds, a fault which after all comes nearer to being a virtue, for distinction, preferment and power are the desire of good and bad alike, only the one strives to reach its goal by honorable means, while the other, being destitute of good qualities, falls back on craft and deceit.

He also writes:

Growing love of money and a lust for power which followed it, engendered every kind of evil. Avarice destroyed honor, integrity and every other virtue, and instead taught men to be proud and cruel, to neglect religion, and to hold nothing too sacred to sell.  Ambition tempted many to be false, to have one thought hidden in their hearts, another ready on their tongues, to become a man’s friend or enemy, not because they judged him worthy or unworthy, but because they thought it would pay them. And to put on the semblance of virtues which they had not.

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