Sulla, Lucius Cornelius

Sulla, Lucius Cornelius

(lo͞o`shəs kôrnē`lyəs sŭl`ə), 138 B.C.–78 B.C., Roman general. At the height of his career he assumed the name Felix. He served under MariusMarius, Caius
, c.157 B.C.–86 B.C., Roman general. A plebeian, he became tribune (119 B.C.) and praetor (115 B.C.) and was seven times consul. He served under Scipio Africanus Minor at Numantia and under Quintus Metellus against Jugurtha.
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 in Africa and became consul in 88 B.C., when Mithradates VI of Pontus was overrunning Roman territory in the east. Sulla and Marius both wanted the command against Mithradates—Marius as a popular leader, Sulla as a senatorial favorite. Sulla got the office by marching (88 B.C.) his soldiers on Rome. By 85 B.C. he had driven Mithradates' armies back to Asia; Sulla's exploits had included a bloody sack of Athens (86 B.C.). After Marius' death in 86 B.C., his party (led by CinnaCinna
(Lucius Cornelius Cinna) , d. 84 B.C., Roman politician, consul (87 B.C.–84 B.C.), and leader of the popular party. Shortly after Cinna's first election, Sulla left Rome to fight against Mithradates VI of Pontus, having received from Cinna and Cinna's colleague
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) sent another army to Greece, designed to supplant Sulla's, but the other Marian commander, Fimbria, fought independently. Mithradates was defeated (84 B.C.); then Sulla defeated Fimbria. Sulla came back to Italy (83 B.C.) with 40,000 men. The ensuing civil war lasted about a year in Italy (SertoriusSertorius, Quintus
, d. 72 B.C., Roman general. He was a general under Marius but did not take part in Marius' proscriptions. Sertorius was appointed governor of Farther Spain in 83 B.C. but fled to Africa to escape the reprisals of Sulla. He later was summoned (80 B.C.
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 continued it in Spain); Sulla's chief opponent was Cnaeus Papirius CarboCarbo, Cneius Papirius
, d. 82 B.C., Roman political leader. He was consul three times (85 B.C., 84 B.C., 82 B.C.) and one of the leaders of the party of Marius. After the death of Marius he and his colleague, Cinna, gathered (84 B.C.) an army to oppose Sulla in Italy.
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. The war ended just after the battle of the Colline Gate, a last desperate foray by Marians from Samnium; Sulla captured and massacred 8,000 prisoners. He had himself named dictator (82 B.C.) and began the systematic butchery of his enemies; this proscription, done with public lists, soon surpassed all Roman precedents. As the murders were legalized, the property of the victims, naturally including many very rich men, went to Sulla's friends. The dictator reorganized the government with measures, suggested by the MetellusMetellus
, ancient Roman family of the plebeian gens Caecilia. Lucius Caecilius Metellus, d. c.221 B.C., consul (251 B.C.), fought in the First Punic War. He was pontifex maximus (from 243) and was said to have been blinded (241) in rescuing the Palladium from the burning
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 faction, which would remove any popular check on the senate. Sulla also founded a number of colonies for his veterans. In 80 B.C. he retired. His so-called reforms did not last. Sulla's dictatorship was notorious for its cruelty and lack of legality.


See biography by A. Keaveney, Sulla: The Last Republican (1987); study by P. O. Spann, Quintus Sertorius and the Legacy of Sulla (1987).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

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.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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