Lucius Cornelius Sulla

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Sulla, Lucius Cornelius


Born 138 B.C.; died 78 B.C. Roman soldier and statesman.

Sulla was born into an impoverished patrician family. He distinguished himself in the Jugurthine War of 111–105 B.C., and from 104 to 102 he served in the war against the Teutoni and the Cimbri. In 93 B.C., he was a praetor, and in 92 B.C., propraetor of Cilicia; he fought against Mithridates VI Eupator for influence in neighboring Cappadocia. In 88 B.C. he was elected consul. With Sulla’s loss of both the province of Asia that had fallen to him by lot and of the command of the First Mithridatic War of 89–84 B.C. (a tribune of the populares, Sulpicius Rufus, had the command transferred to Marius), Sulla fled to his army in Nola, Campania, and marched on Rome. After taking the city, he dealt harshly with his opponents (Marius had fled) and passed laws favorable to the optimates.

In 86 B.C., Sulla seized Athens after gaining a victory over Mithridates and concluding a peace with him in 84 B.C. He assessed an indemnity on the province of Asia and turned against the Marian party, which was independently waging war against Mithridates. In 83 B.C., Sulla landed in Italy and defeated the consular armies of C. Norbanus, Marius the Younger, and Papirius Carbo.

Sulla’s victories gave him complete control over Rome, which he ruled under the old form of a dictator’s magistracy. However, contrary to custom, Sulla was made dictator for an unlimited time “for the writing of the laws and establishing the republic.” Sulla’s dictatorship was accompanied by terror on a scale never before known to Rome: about 4,700 Roman citizens were victims of the proscription and entire tribes were exterminated, including the Samnites and Etruscans. Sulla was supported first and foremost by the professional soldiery. His legislation, however, reflected the interests of the senatorial oligarchy, which were alien to the soldiers’ interests; he tried to block the political activity of the populares, as well as any new attempts at military takeovers. Tribunes were deprived of nearly all rights and of the chance to pursue a political career. The court was placed entirely in the hands of the senators. Laws were issued to abolish the public sale of grain, to deprive individuals and whole cities of civil rights, and to enlarge the colleges of priests and augurs. An important buttress of the regime were the veteran soldiers (27 legions) who had settled throughout Italy in settlements located on lands acquired through confiscation (and in particular, in all the cities that offered Sulla resistance). Nearly 10,000 slaves of disgraced citizens were set free.

Sulla’s dictatorship revealed a deep crisis in the republic’s structure; objectively, it effected the evolution of new forms of government. In 79 B.C., Sulla resigned his power, but he continued to influence the political scene.

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