. He had the rare distinction of holding the office of consul
twice, as well as that of dictator
. He was one of the canonical great men of Roman history, included in the biographical collections of leading generals and politicians, originating in the biographical compendium of famous Romans, published by Marcus Terentius Varro
I forgive the many for the sake of the few, the living for the dead.
No friend ever served me, and no enemy ever wronged me, whom I have not repaid in full.
. He had the rare distinction of holding the office of consul
twice, as well as that of dictator
. He was one of the canonical great men of Roman history, included in the biographical collections of leading generals and politicians, originating in the biographical compendium of famous Romans, published by Marcus Terentius Varro
. In Plutarch
's Sulla, in the famous series - Parallel Lives
, Sulla is paired with the Spartan general and strategist Lysander
Sulla's dictatorship came during a high point in the struggle between optimates
, the former seeking to maintain the power of the oligarchy in the form of the Senate while the latter resorted in many cases to naked populism, culminating in Caesar
's dictatorship. Sulla was a highly original, gifted and skillful general, never losing a battle; he remains the only man in history to have attacked and occupied both Athens and Rome. His rival, Gnaeus Papirius Carbo
, described Sulla as having the cunning of a fox and the courage of a lion - but that it was the former attribute that was by far the most dangerous. This mixture was later referred to by Machiavelli
in his description of the ideal characteristics of a ruler.
Sulla used his armies to march on Rome twice
, and after the second he revived the office of dictator, which had not been used since the Second Punic War
over a century before. He used his powers to enact a series of reforms to the Roman constitution
, meant to restore the balance of power between the Senate
and the tribunes; he then stunned the Roman World (and posterity) by resigning the dictatorship, restoring normal constitutional government, and after his second Consulship, retiring to private life.
Early yearsSulla was born into a branch of the patrician gens
Cornelia, but his family had fallen to an impoverished condition at the time of his birth. Lacking ready money, Sulla spent his youth amongst Rome’s comics, actors, lute-players, and dancers. Sulla retained an attachment to the debauched nature of his youth until the end of his life; Plutarch
mentions that during his last marriage – to Valeria – he still kept company with "actresses, musicians, and dancers, drinking with them on couches night and day".
It seems certain that Sulla received a good education. Sallust
declares him well-read and intelligent, and he was fluent in Greek, which was a sign of education in Rome. The means by which Sulla attained the fortune which later would enable him to ascend the ladder of Roman politics, the Cursus honorum
, are not clear, although Plutarch refers to two inheritances; one from his stepmother and the other from a low-born, but rich, unmarried lady.
In older sources, his name may be found as Sylla. This is a Hellenism, like sylva for classical Latin silva, reinforced by the fact that our two major sources, Plutarch
, wrote in Greek, and call him Σύλλα.
Capture of JugurthaIn 107 BC, Sulla was nominated quaestor
to Gaius Marius
, who had been elected consul
for that year. Marius was taking control of the Roman army in the war against King Jugurtha
in northern Africa.
The Jugurthine War
had started in 112 BC, but Roman legions under Quintus Caecilius Metellus
had been unsuccessful. Gaius Marius, a lieutenant of Metellus, saw an opportunity to usurp his commander and fed rumors of incompetence and delay to the publicani (tax gatherers) in the region. These machinations caused calls for Metellus's removal; despite delaying tactics by Metellus, Marius returned to Rome to stand for the consulship and took over the campaign.
, a nearby kingdom, to betray Jugurtha, who had fled to Mauretania for refuge. It was a dangerous operation from the first, with King Bocchus weighing up the advantages of handing Jugurtha over to Sulla or Sulla over to Jugurtha. The publicity attracted by this feat boosted Sulla's political career. Much to the annoyance of Marius, a gilded equestrian statue of Sulla donated by King Bocchus was erected in the Forum to commemorate his accomplishment.
Cimbri and the TeutonesIn 104 BC, the migrating Germanic
-Celtic alliance headed by the Cimbri
and the Teutones seemed headed for Italy. As Marius
was the best general Rome had, the Senate allowed him to lead the campaign against them. Sulla served on Marius' staff as tribunus militum during the first half of this campaign. Finally, with those of his colleague, proconsul
Quintus Lutatius Catulus
, Marius' forces faced the enemy tribes at the Battle of Vercellae
in 101 BC. Sulla had by this time transferred to the army of Catulus to serve as his legatus
, and is credited as being the prime mover in the defeat of the tribes (Catulus being a hopeless general and quite incapable of cooperating with Marius). Victorious at Vercellae, Marius and Catulus were both granted triumphs
as the co-commanding generals.
Cilician governorshipReturning to Rome, Sulla was Praetor urbanus for 97 BC. The next year he was appointed pro consule
to the province of Cilicia
). While in the East, Sulla was the first Roman magistrate to meet a Parthia
n ambassador, Orobazus
, and by taking the seat between the Parthian ambassador and the ambassador from Pontus
(the center seat being the place of honour), he sealed, perhaps unintentionally, the Parthian ambassador's fate. Orobazus was executed upon his return to Parthia for allowing Sulla to outmanoeuver him. It was at this meeting he was told by a Chaldea
n seer that he would die at the height of his fame and fortune. This prophecy was to have a powerful hold on Sulla throughout his lifetime. In 96 BC Sulla repulsed Tigranes the Great
. Later in 96 BC Sulla left the East and returned to Rome, where he aligned himself with the Optimates
in opposition to Gaius Marius.
Social WarThe Social War (91–88 BC) resulted from Rome's intransigence regarding the civil liberties of the Socii, Rome's Italian allies. The Socii are a separate entity to the 'Latins' who all remained loyal to Rome except for Venusia. The Socii were old enemies of Rome that submitted, (such as the Samnites) whereas the Latins were confederates of longer standing with Rome; therefore the Latins were treated with more respect and received better treatment. Subjects of the Roman Republic, these Italian provincials might be called to arms in its defence or might be subjected to extraordinary taxes, but they had no say in the expenditure of these taxes or in the uses of the armies that might be raised in their territories. The Social War was, in part, caused by the continued rebuttal of those that sought to extend Roman citizenship to the Socii and to address various injustices inherent in the Roman system. The Gracchi, Tiberius and Gaius, were successively killed by Optimate reactionaries who sought to maintain the status quo. Finally the assassination of Marcus Livius Drusus the Younger
was the last straw. His reforms were intended to grant Roman Citizenship to the allies, which would have given them a say in the external and internal policies of the Roman Republic
. When Drusus was assassinated, most of his reforms addressing these grievances were declared invalid. This greatly angered the Socii, and in consequence, most allied against Rome.
At the beginning of the Social War, the Roman aristocracy and Senate were beginning to fear Gaius Marius
's ambition, which had already given him 6 consulships (including 5 in a row, from 104 BC to 100 BC). They were determined that he should not have overall command of the war in Italy. In this last rebellion of the Italian allies, Sulla served with brilliance as a general. He outshone both Marius and the consul Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo (the father of Pompey Magnus). In 89 BC Sulla captured Aeclanum
, the chief town of the Hirpini
, by setting the wooden breastwork on fire. As a result of his success in bringing the Social War to a successful conclusion, he was elected consul
for the first time in 88 BC, with Quintus Pompeius Rufus
(soon his daughter's father-in-law) as his colleague.
Sulla served not only with brilliance as a general during the Social War, but also with immense personal bravery. At Nola
he was awarded a Corona Obsidionalis (Obsidional or Blockade Crown), also known as a Corona Graminea (Grass Crown
). This was the highest Roman military honor, awarded for personal bravery to a commander who saves a Roman legion or army in the field. Unlike all other Roman military honors, it was awarded by acclamation of the soldiers of the rescued army, and consequently very few were ever awarded. The crown, by tradition, was woven from grasses and other plants taken from the actual battlefield.
First march on RomeAs consul, Sulla prepared to depart once more for the East, to fight the first Mithridatic War
, by the appointment of the Senate. But he would leave trouble behind him. Marius was now an old man, but he still wanted to lead the Roman armies against King Mithridates VI of Pontus
. Before leaving for the East, Sulla and his colleague Q. Pompeius Rufus blocked legislation of the tribune
Publius Sulpicius Rufus
to ensure the rapid organisation of the Italian Allies within the Roman citizenship. When Sulpicius found an ally in Marius who would support the bill, he had his supporters riot. Sulla returned to Rome from the siege at Nola
to meet with Pompeius Rufus, however Sulpicius' followers attacked the meeting, forcing Sulla to take refuge in Marius' house, who then forced him to support Sulpicius' pro-Italian legislation. Sulla's own son-in-law was killed in those riots. After Sulla left Rome again for Nola, Sulpicius (after receiving a promise from Marius to wipe out his enormous debts) called an assembly
to reverse the Senate's decision on Sulla's command, transferring it to Marius. Sulpicius also used the assemblies to eject Senators from the Roman Senate
until there were not enough senators to form a quorum. Violence in the Forum ensued, some nobles tried to lynch Sulpicius (as had been done to the brothers Gracchi
, and to Saturninus
) but failed in the face of his bodyguard of gladiator
Sulla received news of this at the camp of his victorious Social War veterans, waiting in the south of Italy to cross to Greece. He announced the measures that had been taken against him, and his soldiers stoned the envoys of the assemblies who came to announce that the command of the Mithridatic War had been transferred to Marius. Sulla then took six of his most loyal legion
s and marched on Rome. This was an unprecedented event. No general before him had ever crossed the city limits, the pomoerium
, with his army. Most of his commanders (with the exception of his kinsman through marriage Lucullus
) refused to accompany him. Sulla justified his actions on the grounds that the Senate had been neutered and the mos maiorum
("the way of the elders"/"the traditional way", which amounted to a Roman constitution though none of it was codified as such) had been offended by the Senate's negation of the rights of the year's consuls to fight the year's wars. Armed gladiators were unable to resist organized Roman soldiers; and although Marius offered freedom to any slave that would fight with him against Sulla (an offer which Plutarch says only three slaves accepted) he and his followers were forced to flee the city.
Sulla consolidated his position, declared Marius and his allies hostes (enemies of the state), and addressed the Senate in harsh tones, portraying himself as a victim, presumably to justify his violent entrance into the city. After restructuring the city's politics and strengthening the Senate's power, Sulla returned to his camp and proceeded with the original plan of fighting Mithridates in Pontus
Sulpicius was betrayed and killed by one of his slaves, whom Sulla subsequently freed and then executed. Marius, however, fled to safety in Africa. With Sulla out of Rome, Marius plotted his return. During his period of exile Marius became determined that he would hold a seventh consulship, as foretold by the Sibyl
decades earlier. By the end of 87 BC Marius returned to Rome with the support of Lucius Cornelius Cinna
and, in Sulla's absence, took control of the city. Marius declared Sulla's reforms and laws invalid and officially exiled Sulla. Marius and Cinna were elected consuls for the year 86 BC. Marius died a fortnight after, and Cinna was left in sole control of Rome.
First Mithridatic War
. Asia was occupied by the forces of Mithridates
under the command of Archelaus
. Sulla’s first target was Athens
, ruled by a Mithridatic puppet; the tyrant Aristion
. Sulla moved southeast, picking up supplies and reinforcements as he went. Sulla’s chief of staff was Lucullus
, who went ahead of him to scout the way and negotiate with Bruttius Sura, the existing Roman commander in Greece. After speaking with Lucullus, Sura handed over the command of his troops to Sulla. At Chaeronea, ambassadors from all the major cities of Greece (except Athens) met with Sulla, who impressed on them Rome's determination to drive Mithridates from Greece and Asia Province. Sulla then advanced on Athens.
Siege of AthensOn arrival, Sulla threw up siege works encompassing not only Athens but also the port of Piraeus
. At the time Archelaus had command of the sea, so Sulla sent Lucullus to raise a fleet from the remaining Roman allies in the eastern Mediterranean. His first objective was Piraeus, as without it Athens could not be re-supplied. Huge earthworks were raised, isolating Athens and its port from the land side. Sulla needed wood, so he cut down everything, including the sacred groves of Greece, up to 100 miles from Athens. When more money was needed he “borrowed” from temples and Sibyl
s alike. The currency minted from this treasure was to remain in circulation for centuries and prized for its quality.
Despite the complete encirclement of Athens and its port, and several attempts by Archelaus to raise the siege, a stalemate seemed to have developed. Sulla, however, patiently bided his time. Soon Sulla's camp was to fill with refugees from Rome, fleeing the massacres of Marius and Cinna. These also included his wife and children, as well as those of the Optimate party who had not been killed.
Athens by now was starving, and grain was at famine levels in price. Inside the city, the population was reduced to eating shoe leather and grass. A delegation from Athens was sent to treat with Sulla, but instead of serious negotiations they expounded on the glory of their city. Sulla sent them away saying: “I was sent to Athens, not to take lessons, but to reduce rebels to obedience.”
His spies then informed him that Aristion was neglecting the Heptachalcum (part of the city wall). Sulla immediately sent sappers to undermine the wall. Nine hundred feet of wall was brought down between the Sacred and Piraeic gates on the southwest side of the city. A midnight sack of Athens began, and after the taunts of Aristion, Sulla was not in a mood to be magnanimous. Blood literally flowed in the streets, it was only after the entreaties of a couple of his Greek friends (Midias and Calliphon) and the pleas of the Roman Senators in his camp that Sulla decided enough was enough. He then concentrated his forces on the Port of Piraeus, and Archelaus, seeing his hopeless situation, withdrew to the citadel and then abandoned the port to join up with his forces under the command of Taxiles. Sulla, as yet not having a fleet, was powerless to prevent Archelaus’ escape. Before leaving Athens, he burnt the port to the ground. Sulla then advanced into Boeotia to take on Archelaus's armies and remove them from Greece.
Battle of ChaeroneaSulla lost no time in intercepting the Pontic army, occupying a hill called Philoboetus that branched off Mount Parnassus, overlooking the Elatean plain, with plentiful supplies of wood and water. The army of Archelaus, presently commanded by Taxiles, had to approach from the north and proceed along the valley towards Chaeronea
. Over 120,000 strong, it outnumbered Sulla's forces by at least 3 to 1. Archelaus was in favor of a policy of attrition with the Roman forces, but Taxiles had orders from Mithridates to attack at once. Sulla got his men digging, and occupied the ruined city of Parapotamii, which was impregnable and commanded the fords on the road to Chaeronea. He then made a move that looked to Archelaus like a retreat. He abandoned the fords and moved in behind an entrenched palisade
. Behind the palisade were the field artillery from the siege of Athens.
Archelaus advanced across the fords and tried to outflank Sulla’s men, only to have his right wing hurled back, causing even more confusion. Archelaus’s chariots then charged the Roman center, only to be destroyed on the palisades. Next came the phalanxes: they too found the palisades impassable, and received withering fire from the Roman field artillery. Then Archelaus flung his right wing at the Roman left; Sulla, seeing the danger of this maneuver, raced over from the Roman right wing to help. Sulla stabilized the situation, at which point Archelaus flung in more troops from his right flank. This destabilized the Pontic army, slewing it towards its right flank. Sulla dashed back to his own right wing and ordered the general advance. The legions, supported by cavalry, dashed forward and Archelaus’ army folded in on itself, like closing a pack of cards. The slaughter was terrible, and some reports estimate that only 10,000 men of Mithridates' original army survived. Sulla had defeated a vastly superior force in terms of numbers; it was also the first recorded time that battlefield entrenchments were used.
Battle of OrchomenusThe government of Rome (i.e., Cinna) then sent out Lucius Valerius Flaccus
with an army to relieve Sulla of command in the east. Flaccus' second in command was Gaius Flavius Fimbria
, who had few virtues. (He was to eventually agitate against his commanding officer and incite the troops to murder Flaccus). The two Roman armies camped next to each other; and Sulla, not for the first time, encouraged his soldiers to spread dissension among Flaccus’ army. Many deserted to Sulla before Flaccus packed up and moved on north to threaten Mithridates’ northern dominions. In the meantime, Sulla moved to intercept the new Pontic army.
He chose the site of the battle to come — Orchomenus, a town in Boeotia
that allowed a smaller army to meet a much larger one, due to its natural defences, and was ideal terrain for Sulla's innovative use of entrenchment. This time the Pontic army was in excess of 150,000, and it encamped itself in front of the busy Roman army, next to a large lake. It soon dawned on Archelaus what Sulla was up to. Sulla had not only been digging trenches but also dikes, and before long he had the Pontic army in deep trouble. Desperate sallies by the Pontic forces were repulsed by the Romans and the dikes moved onward.
On the second day, Archelaus made a determined effort to escape Sulla’s web of dikes—the entire Pontic army was hurled at the Romans—but the Roman legionaries were pressed together so tightly that their short swords were like an impenetrable barrier, through which the enemy could not escape. The battle turned into a rout, with slaughter on an immense scale. Plutarch notes that two hundred years later, armor and weapons from the battle were still being found. The battle of Orchomenus was another of the world's decisive battles. It determined that the fate of Asia Minor lay with Rome and her successors for the next millennium.
Sulla's Victory and settlementIn 86 BC, after Sulla's victory in Orchomenos, he initially spent some time re-establishing Roman authority. His legate soon arrived with the fleet he was sent to gather, and Sulla was ready to recapture lost Greek islands before crossing into Asia Minor. The second Roman army under the command of Flaccus meanwhile moved through Macedonia and into Asia Minor. After the capture of Philippi
, remaining Mithridatic forces crossed the Hellespont to get away from the Romans. The Romans under Fimbria were encouraged to loot and create general havoc as it went, creating problems between Flaccus and Fimbria. Flaccus was a fairly strict disciplinarian and the behavior of his lieutenant led to discord between the two.
At some point as this army crossed the Hellespont while giving chase to Mithridates' forces, Fimbria seems to have started a rebellion against Flaccus. While seemingly minor enough to not cause immediate repercussions in the field, Fimbria was relieved of his duty and ordered back to Rome. The return trip included a stop at the port city of Byzantium
, however, and here Fimbria took command of the garrison, rather than continue home. Flaccus, hearing of this, marched his army to Byzantium to put a stop to the rebellion, but walked right into his own undoing. The army preferred Fimbria (not surprising considering his leniency in regard to plunder) and a general revolt ensued. Flaccus attempted to flee, but was captured shortly after and the Consular commander was executed. With Flaccus out of the way, Fimbria took complete command.
The following year (85 BC) Fimbria took the fight to Mithridates while Sulla continued to operate in the Greek Islands of the Aegean. Fimbria quickly won a decisive victory over remaining Mithridatic forces and moved on the capital of Pergamum. With all vestige of hope crumbling for Mithridates, he fled Pergamum to the coastal city of Pitane. Fimbria, in pursuit, laid siege to the town, but had no fleet to prevent Mithridates' escape by sea. Fimbria called upon Sulla's legate, Lucullus to bring his fleet around to block Mithridates in, but it seems that Sulla had other plans.
Sulla apparently had been in private negotiation with Mithridates to end the war. He wanted to develop easy terms and get the ordeal over as quickly as possible. The quicker it was dealt with, the faster he would be able to settle political matters in Rome. With this in mind, Lucullus and his navy refused to help Fimbria, and Mithridates 'escaped' to Lesbos. Later at Dardanus, Sulla and Mithridates met personally to negotiate terms. With Fimbria re-establishing Roman hegemony over the cities of Asia Minor, Mithridates position was completely untenable. Yet Sulla, with his eyes on Rome, offered uncharacteristically mild terms. Mithridates was forced to give up all his conquests (which Sulla and Fimbria had already managed to take back by force), surrender any Roman prisoners, provide a 70 ship fleet to Sulla along with supplies, and pay a tribute of 2,000 to 3,000 gold talents. In exchange, Mithridates was able to keep his original kingdom and territory and regain his title of "friend of the Roman people."
But things in the east weren't yet settled. Fimbria was enjoying free rein in the province of Asia and led a cruel oppression of both those who were involved against Romans, and those who were now in support of Sulla. Unable to leave a potentially dangerous army in his rear, Sulla crossed into Asia. He pursued Fimbria to his camp at Thyatira where Fimbria was confident in his ability to repulse an attack. Fimbria, however, soon found that his men wanted nothing to do with opposing Sulla and many deserted or refused to fight in the coming battle. Sensing all was lost, Fimbria took his own life, while his army went over to Sulla.
To ensure the loyalty of both Fimbria's troops and his own veterans, who weren't happy about the easy treatment of their enemy, Mithridates, Sulla now started to penalize the province of Asia. His veterans were scattered throughout the province and allowed to extort the wealth of local communities. Large fines were placed on the province for lost taxes during their rebellion and the cost of the war.
As the year 84 BC began, Cinna
, still Consul in Rome, was faced with minor disturbances among Illyrian tribes. Perhaps in an attempt to gain experience for an army to act as a counter to Sulla's forces, or to show Sulla that the Senate also had some strength of its own, Cinna raised an army to deal with this Illyrian problem. Conveniently the source of the disturbance was located directly between Sulla and another march on Rome. Cinna pushed his men hard to move to position in Illyria
and forced marches through snow covered mountains did little to endear Cinna to his army. A short time after departing Rome, Cinna was stoned to death by his own men. Hearing of Cinna's death, and the ensuing power gap in Rome, Sulla gathered his forces and prepared for a second march on the capital.
Second March on RomeIn 83 BC Sulla prepared his 5 legions and left the 2 originally under Fimbria to maintain peace in Asia Minor. In the spring of that year, Sulla crossed the Adriatic with a large fleet from Patrae, west of Corinth, to Brundisium and Tarentum
in the heel of Italy. Landing uncontested, he was given ample opportunity to prepare for the coming war.
In Rome, the newly elected consuls, L. Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus
and C. Norbanus
levied and prepared armies of their own to stop Sulla and protect the Republican government. Norbanus marched first with the intention of blocking a Sullan advance at Canusium. Seriously defeated, Norbanus was forced to retreat to Capua where there was no respite. Sulla followed his defeated adversary and won another victory in a very short time. Meanwhile Asiagenus was also on the march south with an army of his own. Asiagenus or his army, however, seemed to have little motivation to fight. At the town of Teanum Sidicinum, Sulla and Asiagenus met face to face to negotiate and Asiagenus surrendered without a fight. The army sent to stop Sulla wavered in the face of battle against experienced veterans, and certainly along with the prodding of Sulla's operatives, gave up the cause, going over to Sulla's side as a result. Left without an army, Asiagenus had little choice but to cooperate and later writings of Cicero
suggest that the two men actually discussed many matters regarding Roman government and the Constitution.
Sulla let Asiagenus leave the camp, firmly believing him to be a supporter. He was possibly expected to deliver terms to the Senate but immediately rescinded any thought of supporting Sulla upon being set free. Sulla later made it publicly known that not only would Asiagenus suffer for opposing him, but that any man who continued to oppose him after this betrayal would suffer bitter consequences. With Sulla's three quick victories, though, the situation began to rapidly turn in his favor. Many of those in a position of power, who had not yet taken a clear side, now chose to support Sulla. The first of these was Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius who governed Africa. The old enemy of Marius, and assuredly of Cinna as well, led an open revolt against the Marian forces in Africa. Additional help came from Picenum and Spain. Two of the three future triumvirs joined Sulla's cause in his bid to take control. Marcus Licinius Crassus
marched with an army from Spain, and would later play a pivotal role at the Colline Gates. The young son of Pompeius Strabo
(the butcher of Asculum
during the Social War), raised an army of his own from among his father's veterans and threw his lot in with Sulla. At the age of 23, and never having held a Senatorial office, Pompey forced himself into the political scene with an army at his back.
Regardless, the war would continue on with Asiagenus raising another army in defense. This time he moved after Pompey, but once again, his army abandoned him and went over to the enemy. As a result, desperation followed in Rome as the year 83 came to a close. The Senate re-elected Cinna's old co-Consul, Papirius Carbo
, to his third term, and Gaius Marius
the Younger, the 26 year old son of the great general, to his first. Hoping to inspire Marian supporters throughout the Roman world, recruiting began in earnest among the Italian tribes who had always been loyal to Marius. In addition, possible Sullan supporters were murdered. The urban praetor L. Junius Brutus Damasippus led a slaughter of those Senators who seemed to lean towards the invading forces, yet one more incident of murder in a growing spiral of violence as a political tool in the late Republic.
As the campaign year of 82 BC opened, Carbo took his forces to the north to oppose Pompey while Marius moved against Sulla in the south. Attempts to defeat Pompey failed and Metellus with his African forces along with Pompey secured northern Italy for Sulla. In the South, young Marius gathered a large host of Samnites who assuredly would lose influence with the anti-popular Sulla in charge of Rome. Marius met Sulla at Sacriportus
and the two forces engaged in a long and desperate battle. In the end, many of Marius' men switched sides over to Sulla and he had no choice but to retreat to Praeneste. Sulla followed the son of his arch-rival and laid siege to the town, leaving a subordinate in command. Sulla himself moved north to push Carbo, who had withdrawn to Etruria to stand between Rome and the forces of Pompey
Indecisive battles were fought between Carbo and Sulla's forces but Carbo knew that his cause was lost. News arrived of a defeat by Norbanus in Gaul, and that he also switched sides to Sulla. Carbo, caught between three enemy armies and with no hope of relief, fled to Africa. It was not yet the end of the resistance however, those remaining Marian forces gathered together and attempted several times to relieve young Marius at Praeneste. A Samnite force under Pontius Telesinus joined in the relief effort but the combined armies were still unable to break Sulla. Rather than continue trying to rescue Marius, Telesinus moved north to threaten Rome.
On November 1 of 82 BC, the two forces met at the battle of the Colline Gate, just outside of Rome. The battle was a huge and desperate final struggle with both sides certainly believing their own victory would save Rome. Sulla was pushed hard on his left flank with the situation so dangerous that he and his men were pushed right up against the city walls. Crassus' forces, fighting on Sulla's right however, managed to turn the opposition's flank and drive them back. The Samnites and the Marian forces were folded up and broke. In the end, over 50,000 combatants lost their lives and Sulla stood alone as the master of Rome.
Dictatorship and Constitutional Reforms
legibus faciendis et reipublicae constituendae causa ("dictator for the making of laws and for the settling of the constitution"). The decision was subsequently ratified by the "Assembly of the People", with no limit set on his time in office. Sulla had total control of the city and republic of Rome, except for Hispania
(which Marius's general Quintus Sertorius
had established as an independent state). This unusual appointment (used hitherto only in times of extreme danger to the city, such as the Second Punic War
, and then only for 6-month periods) represented an exception to Rome's policy of not giving total power to a single individual. Sulla can be seen as setting the precedent for Julius Caesar
's dictatorship, and the eventual end of the Republic under Augustus
In total control of the city and its affairs, Sulla instituted a program of executing those whom he perceived to be enemies of the state. This was akin to (and in response to) those killings which Marius and Cinna had implemented while they were in control of the Republic during Sulla's absence. Proscribing
or outlawing every one of those whom he perceived to have acted against the best interests of the Republic while he was in the east, Sulla ordered some 1,500 nobles (i.e., senators and equites
) executed, although it is estimated that as many as 9,000 people were killed. The purge went on for several months. Helping or sheltering a person who was proscribed was also punishable by death. The State confiscated the wealth of the outlawed and then auctioned it off, making Sulla and his supporters vastly rich. The sons and grandsons of the proscribed were banned from future political office, a restriction not removed for over 30 years.
The young Caesar, as Cinna's son-in-law, was one of Sulla's targets and fled the city. He was saved through the efforts of his relatives, many of whom were Sulla's supporters, but Sulla noted in his memoirs that he regretted sparing Caesar's life, because of the young man's notorious ambition. The historian Suetonius
records that when agreeing to spare Caesar, Sulla warned those who were pleading his case that he would become a danger to them in the future, saying "In this Caesar there are many Mariuses."
Sulla, who had observed the violent results of radical popularis reforms (in particular those under Marius and Cinna), was naturally conservative; his conservatism was more reactionary when dealing with the Tribunate and legislative bodies, while more visionary when reforming the court system and membership of the Senate. As such, he sought to strengthen the aristocracy, and thus the Senate. Sulla retained his earlier reforms, which required senatorial approval before any bill could be submitted to the Plebeian Council
(the principal popular assembly), and which had also restored the older, more aristocratic ("Servian
") organization to the Century Assembly
(assembly of soldiers). Sulla, himself a Patrician and thus ineligible for election to the office of Plebeian Tribune
, thoroughly disliked the office, having grown up during the turmoil of the Gracchi era. As Sulla viewed the office, the Tribunate was especially dangerous, which was in part due to its radical past, and so his intention was to not only deprive the Tribunate of power, but also of prestige. The reforms of the Gracchi Tribunes were one such example of its radical past, but by no means the only examples; Sulla himself had been officially deprived of his eastern command through the underhand activities of a tribune. Over the previous three hundred years, the tribunes had been the officers most responsible for the loss of power by the aristocracy. Since the Tribunate was the principal means through which the democracy of Rome had always asserted itself against the aristocracy, it was of paramount importance to Sulla that he cripple the office. Through his reforms to the Plebeian Council, tribunes lost the power to initiate legislation. Sulla then prohibited ex-tribunes from ever holding any other office, so ambitious individuals would no longer seek election to the Tribunate, since such an election would end their political career. Finally, Sulla revoked the power of the tribunes to veto acts of the Senate, although he left intact the tribunes' power to protect individual Roman citizens.
Sulla then increased the number of magistrates who were elected in any given year, and required that all newly elected quaestor
s be given automatic membership in the Senate. These two reforms were enacted primarily to allow Sulla to increase the size of the Senate from 300 to 600 senators. This also removed the need for the censor to draw up a list of senators, since there were always more than enough former magistrates to fill the senate. To further solidify the prestige and authority of the Senate, Sulla transferred the control of the courts from the equites, who had held control since the Gracchi reforms, to the senators. This, along with the increase in the number of courts, further added to the power that was already held by the senators. He also codified, and thus established definitively, the cursus honorum
, which required an individual to reach a certain age and level of experience before running for any particular office. Sulla also wanted to reduce the risk that a future general might attempt to seize power, as he himself had done. To reduce this risk, he reaffirmed the requirement that any individual wait for ten years before being reelected to any office. Sulla then established a system where all consuls and praetors served in Rome during their year in office, and then commanded a provincial army as a governor for the year after they left office.
Finally, in a demonstration of his absolute power, he expanded the "Pomerium
", the sacred boundary of Rome, untouched since the time of the kings. Many of Sulla's reforms looked to the past (often re-passing former laws), but he also regulated for the future, particularly in his redefinition of maiestas
(treason) laws and his reformation of the Senate.
Near the end of 81 BC, Sulla, true to his traditionalist sentiments, resigned his dictatorship, disbanded his legions and re-established normal consular government. He also stood for (with Metellus Pius) and was elected consul for the following year, 80 BC. He dismissed his lictors and walked unguarded in the Forum, offering to give account of his actions to any citizen. In a manner that the historian Suetonius
thought arrogant, Julius Caesar would later mock Sulla for resigning the Dictatorship.
Retirement and deathAfter his second consulship, he withdrew to his country villa near Puteoli
to be with family. From this distance, he remained out of the day-to-day political activities in Rome, intervening only a few times when his policies were involved (e.g., The Granius episode).
Sulla's goal now was to write his memoirs, which he finished in 78 BC, just before his death. They are now largely lost, although fragments from them exist as quotations in later writers. Ancient accounts of Sulla's death indicate that he died from liver failure or a ruptured gastric ulcer (symptomised by a sudden haemorrhage from his mouth followed by a fever from which he never recovered) caused by chronic alcohol abuse. His funeral in Rome (at Roman Forum, in the presence of the whole city) was on a scale unmatched until that of Augustus
in AD 14. His epitaph reads "No friend ever served me, and no enemy ever wronged me, whom I have not repaid in full".
Sulla's legacyEven though Sulla's laws concerning qualification for admittance to the Senate
, reform of the legal system and regulations of governorships, among others, remained on Rome's statutes long into the Principate, some of his legislation was repealed less than a decade after his death. The veto
power of the tribunes and their legislating authority were soon reinstated, ironically during the consulships of Pompey
and Crassus. However, Sulla failed to frame a settlement whereby the army (following the Marian reforms allowing non-landowning soldiery) remained loyal to the Senate rather than to generals such as himself. That he tried shows he was well aware of the danger. He did pass laws to limit the actions of generals in their provinces (laws that remained in effect well into the imperial period), however, they did not prevent determined generals such as Pompey and Julius Caesar
from using their armies for personal ambition against the Senate. This highlighted the weakness of the Senate in the late republican period and its inability to control its most ambitious members.
Sulla is generally seen to have provided the example that led Caesar to cross the Rubicon, and also provided the inspiration for Caesar's eventual Dictatorship. Cicero
comments that Pompey once said "If Sulla could, why can't I?. Sulla's example proved that it could be done, and therefore inspired others to attempt it; and in this respect, he has been seen as another step in the Republic's fall.
Sulla's descendants continued to be prominent in Roman politics into the imperial period. His son, Faustus Cornelius Sulla, issued denarii bearing the name of the dictator, as did a grandson, Quintus Pompeius Rufus. His descendants among the Cornelii Sullae would hold four consulships during the imperial period: Lucius Cornelius Sulla in 5 BC, Faustus Cornelius Sulla in AD 31, Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix in AD 33, and Faustus Cornelius Sulla Felix
(the son of the consul of 31) in AD 52. The latter was the husband of Claudia Antonia
, daughter of the emperor Claudius
. His execution in AD 62 on the orders of emperor Nero
would make him the last of the Cornelii Sullae.
- The dictator is the subject of two Italian operas, both of which take considerable liberties with history: Lucio SillaLucio SillaLucio Silla, K. 135, is an Italian opera in three acts composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The libretto was written by Giovanni de Gamerra.It was first performed on 26 December 1772 at the Regio Ducal Teatro in Milan....
by Wolfgang Amadeus MozartWolfgang Amadeus MozartWolfgang Amadeus Mozart , baptismal name Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart , was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. He composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music...
and the little-known Silla by Georg Friederich Handel. In each he is portrayed as a bloody, womanizing, ruthless tyrant who eventually repents his ways and steps down from the throne of Rome.
- Sulla is an important character in the first three Masters of RomeMasters of RomeMasters of Rome is a series of historical fiction novels by author Colleen McCullough set in ancient Rome during the last days of the old Roman Republic; it primarily chronicles the lives and careers of Gaius Marius, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, Pompeius Magnus, Gaius Julius Caesar, and the early...
novels of Colleen McCulloughColleen McCulloughColleen McCullough-Robinson, , is an internationally acclaimed Australian author.-Life:McCullough was born in Wellington, in outback central west New South Wales, in 1937 to James and Laurie McCullough. Her mother was a New Zealander of part-Māori descent. During her childhood, her family moved...
. Sulla is depicted as ruthless and amoral, very self-assured, personally brave, and charming, especially with women. His charm and ruthlessness make him a valuable aide to Gaius MariusGaius MariusGaius Marius was a Roman general and statesman. He was elected consul an unprecedented seven times during his career. He was also noted for his dramatic reforms of Roman armies, authorizing recruitment of landless citizens, eliminating the manipular military formations, and reorganizing the...
. Sulla’s desire to move out of the shadow of aging Marius eventually leads to civil war. Sulla softened considerably after the birth of his son and was devastated when he died at a young age. The novels depict Sulla full of regrets about having had to put aside his homosexual relationship with a Greek actorMetrobiusMetrobius was a Roman tragic actor of Greek birth, widely known in his time. He was considered the most revered female impersonator in Rome.He gave up the stage to accompany the former dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla into retirement in the year 79 BC. Sulla acknowledged Metrobius as his lover in...
to take up his public career.
- Sulla is played by Richard HarrisRichard HarrisRichard St John Harris was an Irish actor, singer-songwriter, theatrical producer, film director and writer....
in the 2002 miniseries Julius CaesarJulius Caesar (TV miniseries)Julius Caesar is a 2002 mini-series about the life of Julius Caesar. It was directed by Uli Edel, and written by Peter Pruce and Craig Warner. It is a dramatization of the life of Julius Caesar through 82 BC to his death in 44 BC...
- Lucius Cornelius Sulla is also a character in the first book of the Emperor (novel series), which is centered around the lives of Gaius Julius Caesar and Marcus Brutus.
- Empire EarthEmpire EarthEmpire Earth, also known as EE, is a real-time strategy computer game developed by Stainless Steel Studios and released on November 23, 2001. It is the first game in the Empire Earth series...
, a computer game/RTS based somewhat on historical accounts, has battles depicting the second march on Rome. In this game Sulla loses.
Marriages and children
- First wife, "Ilia" (according to Plutarch). If Plutarch's text is to be amended to "Julia", then she is likely to have been one of the Julias related to Julius CaesarJulius CaesarGaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....
, most likely Julia CaesarisJulia CorneliaJulia Caesaris or more commonly known as Julia Cornelia, was the daughter of consul Lucius Julius Caesar II and Poppilia. She was the sister of Lucius Julius Caesar III and Gaius Julius Caesar Strabo Vopiscus. She later became the first wife of future dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla...
, Caesar's first-cousin once-removed.
- CorneliaCornelia SullaCornelia was one of the few Roman women mentioned in Roman Republican sources. She was the eldest daughter of Dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla and his first wife, an Ilia or Julia....
, married first Quintus Pompeius Rufus the Younger and later Mamercus Aemilius Lepidus LivianusMamercus Aemilius Lepidus LivianusMamercus Aemilius Lepidus Livianus, was a Roman politician and military commander who was consul in 77 BC.-Biography:Livianus was a well connected and influential figure in Late Republican politics. A member of the aristocratic party, brother of the tribune Marcus Livius Drusus and son of Marcus...
; mother of Pompeia (second wife of Julius CaesarJulius CaesarGaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....
) with the former.
- Lucius Cornelius Sulla, died young
- Second wife, Aelia. Sulla divorced her due to sterility.
- Third wife, Caecilia Metella
- Faustus Cornelius Sulla
- Cornelia Fausta, married Titus Annius MiloTitus Annius MiloTitus Annius Milo Papianus was a Roman political agitator, the son of Gaius Papius Celsus, but adopted by his maternal grandfather, Titus Annius Luscus...
(praetor in 54 BC)
- Fourth wife, Valeria
- Cornelia Postuma (born after Sulla's death)
AppearanceAccording to Erik Hildinger, Sulla was blonde, blue eyed, and had a "wine marked" white face covered with red marks. Plutarch
, the ancient historian, notes that Sulla considered that "his golden head of hair gave him a singular appearance."
- c. 138 BC – Born in Rome
- 107-05 BC – QuaestorQuaestorA Quaestor was a type of public official in the "Cursus honorum" system who supervised financial affairs. In the Roman Republic a quaestor was an elected official whereas, with the autocratic government of the Roman Empire, quaestors were simply appointed....
and pro quaestore to Gaius MariusGaius MariusGaius Marius was a Roman general and statesman. He was elected consul an unprecedented seven times during his career. He was also noted for his dramatic reforms of Roman armies, authorizing recruitment of landless citizens, eliminating the manipular military formations, and reorganizing the...
in the war with Jugurtha in Numidia
- 106 BC – End of Jugurthine WarJugurthine WarThe Jugurthine War takes its name from the Berber king Jugurtha , nephew and later adopted son of Micipsa, King of Numidia.-Jugurtha and Numidia:...
- 104 BC – legatus to Marius cos.II in Gallia Transalpina
- 103 BC – tribunus militum in army of Marius cos.III in Gallia Transalpina
- 102-01 BC – legatus to Quintus Lutatius CatulusQuintus Lutatius CatulusQuintus Lutatius Catulus was consul of the Roman Republic in 102 BC, and the leading public figure of the gens Lutatia of the time. His colleague in the consulship was Gaius Marius, but the two feuded and Catulus sided with Sulla in the civil war of 88–87 BC...
consul and pro consule in Gallia Cisalpina
- 101 BC – took part in the defeat of the Cimbri at the battle of VercellaeBattle of VercellaeThe Battle of Vercellae, or Battle of the Raudine Plain, in 101 BC was the Roman victory of Consul Gaius Marius over the invading Germanic Cimbri tribe near the settlement of Vercellae in Cisalpine Gaul....
- 97 BC – Praetor urbanusPraetorPraetor was a title granted by the government of Ancient Rome to men acting in one of two official capacities: the commander of an army, usually in the field, or the named commander before mustering the army; and an elected magistratus assigned varied duties...
- 96 BC – Commander of CiliciaCiliciaIn antiquity, Cilicia was the south coastal region of Asia Minor, south of the central Anatolian plateau. It existed as a political entity from Hittite times into the Byzantine empire...
province pro consule
- 90-89 BC – senior officer in the Social War as legatus pro praetore
- 88 BC –
- Holds the consulship (for the first time) with Quintus Pompeius Rufus as colleague
- Invades Rome and outlaws Caius Marius the elder
- 87 BC – Command of Roman armies to fight King Mithridates of Pontus
- 86 BC – Sack of Athens, Battle of Chaeronea, Battle of Orchomenus
- 85 BC – Liberation of Macedonia, Asia and Cilicia provinces from Pontic occupation
- 84 BC – Reorganization of Asia province
- 83 BC – Returns to Italy and undertakes civil war against the factional Marian government
- 83-82 BC – War with the followers of Caius Marius the younger and Cinna
- 82 BC – Victory at the Battle of the Colline GateBattle of the Colline GateThe battle of the Colline Gate, fought in November of 82 BC, was the final battle by which Sulla secured control of Rome following the civil war against his rivals. The Samnites led by Pontius Telesinus attacked Sulla's army at the Colline Gate on the northeastern wall, and fought all night before...
- 82/1 BC – Appointed "dictator legibus faciendis et rei publicae constituendae causa"
- 81 BC – Resigns the dictatorship before the end of the year
- 80 BC – Holds the consulship (for the second time) with Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius as colleague
- 79 BC – Retires from political life, refusing the post consulatum provincial command of Gallia Cisalpina he was allotted as consul, but retaining the curatio for the reconstruction of the temples on the Capitoline Hill
- 78 BC – Dies, perhaps of an intestinal ulcer. Funeral held in Rome