Marius, Sulla and Mithradate

Home | Category: Roman Republic (509 B.C. to 27 B.C.)


According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: For the most part, the early half of the 1st century B.C. “was a period of nearly non-stop violence: a time of civil wars, grueling overseas campaigns, political assassinations, massacres, revolts, conspiracies, mass executions, and social and economic chaos. Even a brief chronology of the times paints a grim picture of devastation, with each decade bearing witness to some new disturbance or uprising. [Source: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP)]

In 100 B.C., riots erupted “in the streets of Rome; two public officials, the tribune L. Appuleius Saturninus and praetor C. Servilius Glaucia, are murdered. 91 B.C. : the so-called Social War (between Rome and her Italian allies) breaks out. No sooner is this bitter struggle ended (88 B.C.) than Lucius Cornelius Sulla, a ruthless politician and renegade army commander, marches on Rome, and an even more convulsive and bloody Civil War begins. 82 B.C. : Sulla becomes dictator. His infamous proscription results in the arrest and execution of more than 4000 leading citizens, including 40 senators. In 71 B.C., Spartacus' massive slave revolt (involving an army of 90,000 former slaves and outlaws) is finally put down by Cassius and Pompey. More than 6000 of the captured rebels are crucified and their bodies left for display along the Appian Way. In 62 B.C. is the defeat and death of Catiline. By this point in his career this former lieutenant of Sulla had become a living plague upon Roman politics and a virtual byword for scandal, intrigue, conspiracy, demagoguery, and vain ambition.

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; Lacus Curtius; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; British Museum; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Factionalism After the Two Grachi

The troubles under the Gracchi had grown out of the attempts of two patriotic men to reform the inequalities of the state. The shedding of Roman blood had been limited to riots in the city, and to fights between the factions of the different parties. We now come to the time when the political parties seek the aid of the army; when the civil strife becomes in reality a civil war, and the lives of citizens seem of small account compared with the success of this or that political leader. To understand this second phase of the revolution, we must consider what was the condition of Rome after the fall of the Gracchi; how Marius came to the front as the leader of the popular party; and how he was overthrown by Sulla as the leader of the aristocratic party. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

After the fall of the Gracchi the rule of the aristocracy was restored, and the government became more corrupt than ever before. The senators were often incompetent, and they had no clearly defined policy. They seemed desirous only to retain power and to enrich themselves, while the real interests of the people were forgotten. The little farms which Tiberius Gracchus had tried to create were again swallowed up in large estates. The provincials were ground down with heavy taxes. The slaves were goaded into insurrection. The sea swarmed with pirates, and the frontiers were threatened by foreign enemies. \~\

death of Gaius Gracchus

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “The ancient sources see the political situation in the period between the death of Gaius Gracchus and the dictatorship of L. Cornelius Sulla, 120-81 BC. as ever more factionalized, with politicians belonging to one of two parties, optimates or populares. Quote Sallust, Jugurthine War 41-42. For the earlier, pre-Gracchan periods of Roman history we were quick to dismiss overly facile characterizations and labels as retrojection; for this period it becomes much more difficult. For a long time scholars were disposed to accept the characterization of the political scene in its broad outlines, not least because there was a tendency to read the modern concept of a political party back onto antiquity. This changed for ever in 1912 with the publication of M. Gelzer's Die Nobilität der Romischen Republik. Gelzer demonstrated the importance of prosopographical studies to Roman political history by proving that known relationships among members of the aristocracy, relationships (such as defending one another in court) which had been assumed to rest upon ideological kinship and which were taken as evidence for the membership of factions or parties, in fact often rested upon familial ties and intermarriage. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“When one gets down into the trenches and begins to try to reconstruct the makeup of the supposed oligarchic/conservative factions and the supposed popular faction, things get very sticky indeed; men who ought to be optimates are found supporting men who ought to be populares and vice-versa, and light only comes with recourse to the prosopographical tables. The view of the Roman nobility which emerges is one of a basically unified class, hostile to the infusion of new blood into its ranks, and committed to the perpetuation of the existing political structures; while the existence of populares and optimates is not to be denied, the extent of the division between them, on the one hand, and the division between the senators and everyone else, on the other hand, must not be lost sight of. In other words, with the exception of a few hot-headed revolutionaries such as the tribune L. Saturninus (103 and 100 BC), every popularis after Tiberius Gracchus should be suspected of less than sincere motives. It is helpful to think of the difference as being one of method rather than ideology; populares work through the popular assembly and are willing to have it legislate, preferably with (but if necessary without) the pre-approval of the Senate. But they are not really democrats. ^*^

“After the death of Gaius Gracchus, the optimate faction held sway, or at least, no new popular leaders leapt forward right away. The Romans were occupied by a wily and rebellious prince named Jugurtha, whose lands fell under Roman oversight as part of their inheritance of the Carthaginian empire. After a series of embassies to negotiate with him came to nothing, a number of members of the nobility fell under suspicion of bribery. Here the cracks in the social structure opened again: the battleground, as repeatedly during the period we are discussing here, was the composition of the courts. In 110 BC the court de rebus repetundis went back to the control of the equites, and that class flexed its muscles by condemning for bribery L. Opimius, the consul of 121 who had been the chief instrument of the violent reaction against Gaius Gracchus.

Jugurtha captured

The trial rekindled some of the smoldering animosities left over from the Gracchan episode. It seems to have gone briefly back into senatorial control in 106, but in 103 the tribune L. Saturninus responded by setting up a "permanent" court with a jury of equites to try cases of treason (lex Appuleia de maiestate). This was directed especially at the generals (Cn. Mallius Maximus and Q. Servilius Caepio) whose inept conduct of the resistance to the hordes of Germans (the Cimbri and Teutones) moving north to south had led to the disastrous and costly defeat at Arausio (Orange) in 106. ^*^

Jugurthine War and the Rise of Marius (111-105 B.C.)

The Jugurthine War (111-105 B.C.) was a war in North Africa. It is of no great interest for us, except that it shows how corrupt Rome was, and that it brought to the front a great soldier, who became for a time the leader of the people. \~\

The war in Africa grew out of the attempt of Jugurtha to make himself king of Numidia, which kingdom we remember was an ally of Rome. The senate sent commissioners to Numidia in order to settle the trouble; but the commissioners sold themselves to Jugurtha as soon as they landed in Africa. The Roman people were incensed, and war was declared against Jugurtha. The conduct of the war was placed in the hands of the consul, L. Calpurnius Bestia, who on arriving in Africa accepted Jugurtha’s gold and made peace. The people were again indignant, and summoned Jugurtha to Rome to testify against the consul. When Jugurtha appeared before the assembly, and was about to make his statement, one of the tribunes, who had also been bought by African gold, put a veto upon the proceedings; so that by the bribery of a tribune it became impossible to punish the bribery of a consul. Jugurtha remained in Rome until he caused one of his rivals to be murdered, when he was banished from the city. He expressed his private opinion of Rome when he called it “a venal city, ready to perish whenever it could find a purchaser.”

“The war in Numidia was continued under the new consul, Q. Caecilius Metellus, who selected as his lieutenant Gaius Marius, a rough soldier who had risen from the ranks, but who had a real genius for war. So great was the success of Marius that he was elected consul, and superseded Metellus in the supreme command of the African army. Marius fulfilled all the expectations of the people; he defeated the enemy, and Jugurtha was made a prisoner. A triumph was given to the conqueror, in which the captive king was led in chains; and Marius became the people’s hero. \~\


Gaius Marius (157 - 86 B.C.) was a Roman general and statesman. He held the office of consul an unprecedented seven times during his career. He was also noted for his important reforms of Roman armies, authorizing recruitment of landless citizens, eliminating the manipular military formations, and reorganizing the structure of the legions into separate cohorts. Marius defeated the invading Germanic tribes, for which he was called "the third founder of Rome." His life and career were significant in Rome's transformation from Republic to Empire. [Source: Wikipedia]


David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “The war against Jugurtha, declared in 112 B.C., was conducted in a desultory fashion until the command devolved upon Gaius Marius. He was a new man, a novus homo who however had taken a first step to ennobling himself by marrying into the old patrician clan of the Julians in 111 (his wife was the aunt of Julius Caesar). Marius used the force of his popularity and personality to overcome or undermine the objections of his commander, Q. Caecilius Metellus, and get elected consul. In two other important ways he began to act like a popularis. He got the command in Africa assigned to himself by vote of the popular assembly, usurping the prerogative of the Senate. And he forced the senators to allow him to enrol an army (probably mostly by conscription, as Brunt has argued) from among the proletarii or capite censi, the lowest class. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“These soldiers were fanatically loyal to him personally, and that loyalty (together with the manpower shortage occasioned by the shocking losses at Arausio) combined to induce the Senate and the people, contrary to precedent and custom, to allow Gaius Marius, after he brilliantly concluded the campaign against Jugurtha, to be elected consul five years in a row (104-100) until such time as he was able to bring the Germans to battle and end their threat. Marius' main political objective, besides his own prestige, was the acquisition of land for his veterans, whom he proposed to settle on captured territory in Africa, and the extension of citizenship to the Italians of allied status, many of whose men were part of his army. His choice of a politician to further these aims for him, however, was unfortunate. Marius allied himself with the tribune L. Appuleius Saturninus. ^

“In 100 B.C. , when Marius' auctoritas (influence) was at its peak, Saturninus tried to implement a range of Gracchan-style reforms; together with the land for Marius' men (possibly first voted in 103 B.C., when Saturninus was tribune with Norbanus), these included other agrarian distributions as well as a grain law, which included a provision that the senators had to swear to abide by it. This offensive provision sparked a riot, but this time things went differently; some of Marius' veterans supported Saturninus in arms and the measure carried. But some months later a political ally of Saturninus named Cn Servilius Glaucia stood for the consulship of 99; when his opponent Memmius was found murdered, the senate passed the senatus consultum ultimum, and Marius accepted the command to keep the state safe. Having done this duty he retired for a while; the event and the outcome prove that, although his career set some dangerous precedents in terms of the consulship and the personal loyalty of the troops to an individual commander, he was nonetheless committed to law and order and did not aspire to sole power. Was he a popularis or an optimate? ^

Marius Reforms of the Roman Military

Marius reorganized the Roman army so that it was no longer a raw body of citizens arranged according to wealth; but a trained body of soldiers drawn from all classes of society, and devoted to their commander.

Dr Jon Coulston of the University of St. Andrews wrote for the BBC: “Gaius Marius (157 - 86 B.C.) is credited with a number of reforms responsible for formalising trends which had long been developing in the recruitment and organisation of the Roman army. Under Marius, property qualifications for recruitment were relaxed, accelerating the army's evolution from a militia to a professional force of soldiers dependent on the state for equipment and pay. [Source: Dr Jon Coulston, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“At the same time, Jupiter's eagle became the prime standard of each legion, contributing to the development of these formations as standing institutions. Internally, the legion came increasingly to rely upon the cohort of 480 men, rather than the maniple of paired 'centuries' - a 'maniple' being 120 men. (The cohort continued to be orgainsed as six centuries in three pairs and the titles of their centurions continued in use for hundreds of years.) This battalion-sized formation was much more tactically resilient in the field against western barbarian warbands and eastern cavalry armies the Romans faced during the later republic. |::|

Marius celebration after the Battle of Cimbri

Marius Reaches His Peak After the Cimbric War (113-101 B.C.)

While Marius was absent in Africa, Rome was threatened by a deluge of barbarians from the north. The Cimbri and Teutones, fierce peoples from Germany, had pushed down into the southern part of Gaul, and had overrun the new province of Narbonensis (established B.C. 120). It seemed impossible to stay these savage invaders. Army after army was defeated. It is said that sixty thousand Romans perished in one battle at Arausio (107 B.C.) on the banks of the Rhone. The way seemed open to Italy, and all eyes turned to Marius as the only man who could save Rome. On the same day on which he received his triumph, Marius was reelected to the consulship, and assigned to his new command. This was contrary to law, to reelect an officer immediately after his first term; but the Romans had come to believe that “in the midst of arms, the laws are silent.” [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

The Cimbri turned aside for a time into Spain. Marius remained patiently on the Rhone, drilling his men and guarding the approaches to the Alps. As the time passed by, the people continued to trust him, and elected him as consul a third, and then a fourth time. At length the barbarians reappeared, ready for the invasion of Italy. One part, the Teutones, prepared to invade Italy from the west; while the other part, the Cimbri, prepared to cross the Alps into the northwestern corner of Italy. Against the Teutones Marius posted his own army; and to meet the Cimbri he dispatched his colleague, Q. Lutatius Catulus. In the battle of Aquae Sextiae he annihilated the host of the Teutones (102 B.C.); and the people elected him a fifth time to the consulship. Soon the Cimbri crossed the Alps and drove Catulus across the Po. Marius joined him, drove back the barbarians, and utterly routed them near Vercellae (101 B.C.). Italy was thus saved. For this twofold victory Rome gave to Marius a magnificent triumph, celebrated with double splendor. He was hailed as the savior of his Country, the second Camillus, and the third Romulus. \~\

Marius was now at the height of his popularity. There had never before been a man in Rome who so far outshone his rivals. As he was a man of the common people, the leaders of the popular party saw that his great name would be a help to their cause. \~\

Marius’s Decline


The men who aspired to the leadership of the popular party since the death of the Gracchi were Saturninus and Glaucia. To these men Marius now allied himself, and was elected to the consulship for the sixth time. This alliance formed a sort of political “ring,” which professed to rule the state in the interest of the people; but which aroused a storm of opposition on the part of the senators. As in the days of the Gracchi, tumults arose, and the streets of Rome again became stained with blood. The senate called upon Marius, as consul, to put down the insurrection. Marius reluctantly complied; and in the conflict that followed, his colleagues, Saturninus and Glaucia, were killed. Marius now fell into disrepute. Having at first allied himself to the popular leaders and afterward yielded to the senate, he lost the confidence of both parties. In spite of his greatness as a soldier, he proved his utter incapacity as a party leader. He soon retired from Rome in the hope of recovering his popularity, and of coming back when the tide should turn in his favor. \~\

Attempt and Failure of Drusus

With the failure of Marius, and the death of his colleagues, the senate once more recovered the reins of government. But the troubles still continued. A new reformer, the tribune M. Livius Drusus, son of the Drusus who opposed Gaius Gracchus, appeared . He was a well-disposed man, who seemed to believe that all the troubles of the state could be settled by a series of compromises. Of a noble nature, of pure motives, and of generous disposition, he tried to please everybody, and succeeded in pleasing nobody. First, to please the populace, he proposed to increase the largesses of grain; and to make payment easy by introducing a cheap copper coin which should pass for the same value as the previous silver one. Next, to reconcile the senators and the equites, he proposed to select the jurors (iudices) from both classes, thus dividing the power between them. Finally, to meet the demands of the Italians, he proposed to grant them what they asked for, the Roman franchise. \~\

It was one thing to propose these laws; it was quite another thing to pass them. As the last law was the most offensive, he began by uniting the equites and the people for the purpose of passing the first two laws. These were passed against the will of the senate, and amid scenes of great violence. The senate declared the laws of Drusus null and void. Disregarding this act of the senate as having no legal force, he then proposed to submit to the assembly the law granting the franchise to the Italians. But this law was as offensive to the people as the others had been to the senate. Denounced by the senate as a traitor and abandoned by the people, this large-hearted and unpractical reformer was at last murdered by an unknown assassin; and all his efforts came to nothing. \~\


David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “Drusus is typical of the politicians of this period in as much as he is hard to label. He won the confidence of the people with popular measures such as land allotments and corn laws; but he also revamped the Quaestio perpetua de rebus repetundis, which while composed entirely of equestrians had angered the Senate by condemning and exiling the noble and innocent P. Rutilius Rufus. Drusus reformed the court such that both senators and equestrians were represented among the jurors (Livy Per. 71 over Appian BC 1.5.35, which says Drusus wanted to completely restore the courts to senatorial control). [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“His main claim to fame was his proposal, in the tradition of Gaius Gracchus, to extend the franchise to all of the Italians. Again, while this looks like a populist measure, it is worth remembering that Drusus' motive may have been less ideological than personal and political. The system of clientela, while arguably somewhat weakened by the rise of the political "parties", nonetheless continued to function. If Drusus succeeded in winning citizenship for all of the Italians and enrolling them in the tribes in such a way that the full weight of their numbers would be felt in the voting, then he could hope to count on them as his clients to support whatever position he chose. In other words, Drusus may have seen that citizenship for the Italians was coming and moved to ensure that the vast base of potential new clients would be loyal to him personally. Whatever his motives, the prospect was too frightening to too many; the measures of Drusus were annulled on a technicality, and he soon met the same fate as the brothers Gracchi had, assassinated in 91". ^*^

Revolt of the Italian Allies (90 B.C.)

As the 1st century B.C. began, Rome’s Italian allies were clamoring for their rights, and threatening war if their demands were not granted. We remember that when Rome had conquered Italy, she did not give the Italian people the rights of citizenship. They were made subject allies, but received no share in the government. The Italian allies had furnished soldiers for the Roman armies, and had helped to make Rome the mistress of the Mediterranean. They believed, therefore, that they were entitled to all the rights of Roman citizens; and some of the patriotic leaders of Rome believed so too. But it seemed as difficult to break down the distinction between Romans and Italians as it had been many years before to remove the barriers between the patricians and the plebeians. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

The death of Drusus drove the Italians to revolt. The war which followed is known in history as the “social war,” or the war of the allies (socii). It was, in fact, a war of secession. The purpose of the allies was now, not to obtain the Roman franchise, but to create a new Italian nation, where all might be equal. They accordingly organized a new republic with the central government at Corfinium, a town in the Apennines. The new state was modeled after the government at Rome, with a senate of five hundred members, two consuls, and other magistrates. Nearly all the peoples of central and southern Italy joined in this revolt. \~\

Rome was now threatened with destruction, not by a foreign enemy like the Cimbri and Teutones, but by her own subjects. The spirit of patriotism revived; and the parties ceased for a brief time from their quarrels. Even Marius returned to serve as a legate in the Roman army. A hundred thousand men took the field against an equal number raised by the allies. In the first year the war was unfavorable to Rome.

Social Wars (91-88 B.C.)

image on a coins from the Social Wars period

In 89 B.C. new preparations were made and new commanders were appointed: Marius, on account of his age, was not continued in his command; while L. Cornelius Sulla, who was once a subordinate of Marius, was made chief commander in Campania. Marius felt deeply this slight, and began to be envious of his younger rival. The great credit of bringing this war to a close was due to Pompeius Strabo (the father of Pompey the Great) and Sulla. The first Italian capital, Corfinium, was taken by Pompeius; and the second capital, Bovianum, was captured by Sulla (88 B.C.). The social war was thus ended; but it had been a great affliction to Italy. It is roughly estimated that three hundred thousand men, Romans and Italians, lost their lives in this struggle. The compensation of this loss was the incorporation of Italy with Rome. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

The Social Wars have their origin in the measures proposed by Drusus. The Italians, having had their hopes raised by the successes of the tribune Drusus, refused to give up. David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “ So in 91 BC began the Social War; as Scullard points out, the name is in some sense a misnomer, since most of the privileged allies (the socii ) remained loyal or at least neutral. There is some debate about why the Italians were willing to press the matter to the point of war. In the annalistic tradition, as we have seen, their desire for enfranchisement gets retrojected to various high points in the history of the peninsula. But was it really citizenship they were after? [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

coin from the Social Wars period

“As far as the common people were concerned, even with citizenship they would have little chance to vote (as no votes could be cast en absentia, but physical presence in Rome was required) and even less to join the ruling class. The local aristocracy, on the other hand, could easily cope with the journey to the city, and might also hope for a share of the real pie, membership in the Senate and the chance to climb the cursus honorum. It is tempting to think that the impetus for the Social War came from the local aristocracies rather than from the rank and file. In any case the Social War was a conflict on a grand scale, with 100,000 men in arms against Rome. Its object was not to obliterate Rome but to reinvent the political landscape of Italy, to form a new state called Italia in which the position of Rome would be as equal of other large cities. ^*^

“The end of the social war was hastened by a concession embodied in the Lex Iulia, propogated by the consul of 90 BC, L. Iulius Caesar. The law offered the desired citizenship to all Italians (except the inhabitants of Cisalpine Gaul) who ceased hostilities immediately; possibly a separate law also allowed those individuals whose cities remained at war with Rome to gain citizenship on a separate basis ( Lex Papiria-Plautia ). The question is why any of the Italians would have continued to fight after the passage of the Lex Iulia. Possible answers: (a) the law merely restored the status quo ante bellum, whereas the objective of a new nation of Italia without Rome at its head was not met, or (b) the law stipulated that the new citizens could be enrolled only in two (or eight or ten) newly created tribes, which would limit the extent to which the weight of their numbers would be felt in the voting. If (b) is correct, as Salmon believes following Appian BC 1.49, then dissatisfaction over the half-measure explains the continuation of the fighting after its passage.” ^*^

After of the Social Wars

The Enfranchisement of Italy: Although Rome was victorious in the field, the Italians obtained what they had demanded before the war began, that is, the rights of Roman citizenship. The Romans granted the franchise (1) to all Latins and Italians who had remained loyal during the war (lex Iulia, B.C. 90); and (2) to every Italian who should be enrolled by the praetor within sixty days of the passage of the law (lex Plautia Papiria, B.C. 89). Every person to whom these provisions applied was now a Roman citizen. The policy of incorporation, which had been discontinued for so long a time, was thus revived. The distinction between Romans, Latins, and Italians was now broken down, at least so far as the Italian peninsula was concerned. The greater part of Italy was joined to the ager Romanus, and Italy and Rome became practically one nation. \~

coin from the Social Wars period

The Elevation of Sulla: Another result of the social war, which had a great effect upon the destinies of Rome, was the rise of Sulla. War was not a new occupation for Sulla. In the campaign against Jugurtha he had served as a lieutenant of Marius. In the Cimbric war he had displayed great courage and ability. And now he had become the most conspicuous commander in the Italian war. As a result of his brilliant exploits, he was elected to the consulship. The senate also recognized him as the ablest general of the time, when it now appointed him to conduct the war in the East against the great enemy of Rome, Mithridates, king of Pontus. \~\

“The Jealousy of Marius: Marius had watched with envy the growing fame of Sulla. Although old enough to retire from active life, he was mortified in not receiving the command of the Eastern army. When Sulla was now appointed to this command, Marius determined if possible to displace him, or to satisfy his revenge in some other way. From this time Marius, who once seemed to possess the elements of greatness, appears to us as a vindictive and foolish old man, deprived of reason and the sense of honor. To prove that he had not lost the vigor of youth, it is said that he used to appear in the Campus Martius and exercise with the young soldiers in wrestling and boxing. The chief motive which now seemed to influence him was the hatred of Sulla and the Sullan party. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Marius rejoins the Popular Party: To regain his influence with the people Marius once more entered politics, and joined himself to the popular leaders. The most prominent of these leaders was now the tribune P. Sulpicius Rufus. With the aid of this politician, Marius hoped to win back the favor of the people, to weaken the influence of the senate, which had supported Sulla, and then to displace Sulla himself. This programme was set forth in what are called the “Sulpician laws” (88 B.C.). By the aid of an armed force these laws were passed, and two messengers were sent to Sulla to command him to turn over his army to Marius. To displace a commander legally appointed by the senate was an act unheard of, even in this period of revolution. \~\

Marius in exile in Carthage

Sulla appeals to the Army: If Marius and Sulpicius supposed that Sulla would calmly submit to such an outrage, they mistook his character. Sulla had not yet left Italy. His legions were still encamped in Campania. He appealed to them to support the honor and authority of their commander. They responded to his appeal, and Sulla at the head of his troops marched to Rome. For the first time the Roman legions fought in the streets of the capital, and a question of politics was settled by the army. Marius and Sulpicius were driven from the city, and Sulla for the time being was supreme. He called together the senate, and caused the leaders of the popular party to be declared outlaws. He then annulled the laws passed by Sulpicius, and gave the senate the power hereafter to approve or reject all laws before they should be submitted to the people. With the army at his back Sulla could do what he pleased. When he had placed the government securely in the hands of the senate, as he thought, he left Rome for the purpose of conducting the war against Mithridates in the East. \~\

The Flight of Marius: Marius was now an exile, a fugitive from the country which he had once saved. The pathetic story of his flight and wanderings is graphically told by Plutarch. He says that Marius set sail from Ostia, and was forced by a storm to land at Circeii, where he wandered about in hunger and great suffering; that his courage was kept up by remembering that when a boy he had found an eagle’s nest with seven young in it, which a soothsayer had interpreted as meaning that he would be consul seven times; that he was again taken on board a vessel and landed at Minturnae, where he was captured and condemned to death; that the slave who was ordered to kill him dropped his sword as he heard the stern voice of his intended victim shouting, “Man, darest thou kill Gaius Marius?” that he was then released and wandered to Sicily, and then to Africa, where, a fallen hero, he sat amid the ruins of Carthage; that at last he found a safe retreat in a little island off the African coast, and waited for vengeance and the time of his seventh consulship. \~\


Mithradates I on a Greek frachma

While all this was going on, Mithridates (reigned 120 to 63 B.C.), the king of Pontus, had extended his power over a large part of Asia Minor. He had overrun the Roman province of Asia. He had induced the Greek cities on the coast, which had been brought under the Roman power, to revolt and join his cause. He had massacred over eighty thousand Italians living on the Asiatic coast. He had also sent his armies into Greece and Macedonia, and many of the cities there, including Athens, had declared in his favor. The Roman power in the East seemed well-nigh broken. \~\

The historian William Stearns Davis wrote: In Mithridates, “the Romans found their most formidable enemy, save only Hannibal. That he was a foe worthy to contend with Sulla, Lucullus, and Pompey is testified to in the following selection from Appian. In conquering Mithridates the Romans, almost against their wish, were forced to conquer most of the nearer Orient---especially all of Asia Minor and Syria---and to come face to face with Parthia. When at last Mithridates had been overthrown the Romans called the victory over him "The Great Victory" and Pompey, his conqueror, Magnus, or "The Great" - on account of the magnitude and intensity of his achievement.” [Source:William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. 118-120, 123-127

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: ““Mithradates, the King of Pontus, had been quietly building his power through the 100s and 90s. In 104 he had attracted attention by seizing Cappadocia, a Roman client. But at this early stage Mithradates was being careful to avoid a confrontation with Rome, and when Sulla concluded an alliance with Parthia (the mighty Sassanian Empire) Mithradates had to be content with relinquishing Cappadocia. But he bided his time. In 90 Mithradates seized upon the Roman distraction at home and captured Cilicia. Rome mounted a feeble counter through her client-king Nicomedes of Bithynia, erstwhile ally of Mithradates and alleged sponsor of the career of one C. Julius Caesar. After crushing Nicomedes' troops, Mithradates soon found himself lord of all Asia Minor. He promptly followed up his success in 88 by encouraging the unhappy people of the province to massacre all the Romans and Italians they could get their hands on. The final toll may have been as high as 80,000 dead. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]



Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix (138– 78 B.C.), known commonly as Sulla or Sylla, was a Roman general and statesman. He had the distinction of holding the office of consul twice, as well as reviving the dictatorship. Sulla was a skillful general, achieving numerous successes in wars against different opponents, both foreign and Roman. He was awarded a grass crown, the most prestigious Roman military honor, during the Social War. Sulla's dictatorship came during a high point in the struggle between optimates and populares, the former seeking to maintain the Senate's oligarchy, and the latter espousing populism. In a dispute over the eastern army command (initially awarded to Sulla by the Senate but withdrawn as a result of Gaius Marius's intrigues) Sulla marched on Rome in an unprecedented act and defeated Marius in battle. In 81 BC, after his second march on Rome, he revived the office of dictator. [Source: Wikipedia]

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “At Rome, the question of the day was who would get the command against Mithradates. The Senate chose the consul of 88 B.C., L. Cornelius Sulla. From an obscure branch of one of the finest old Roman families, Sulla had arrived late on the political scene, building his wealth (by fair means or foul, his detractors said) until he qualified for the Senate. In the 100s he had been a protege of Marius, and he had greatly distinguished himself in the Numidian campaigns and in the Social Wars. But now the two old campaigners found themselves on opposite sides. Marius' champion was the tribune P. Sulpicius Rufus, a populist whose political platform centered around four measures: (1) The expulsion of debtors from the Senate, (2) The recall of exiles, (3) The even and equitable distribution of the newly enfranchised Italians among the 35 tribes, and (4) the transfer of the command against Mithradates to G. Marius. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“Marius was old and enfeebled, but he was the hero of the Jugurthine War and the man who had saved the state from the Celto-Germanic hordes, the Cimbri and Teutones; Sulpicius had little trouble persuading the popular assembly to vote the desired transfer of the Asian command to Marius. This ominous echo of the Gracchan affairs, with the assembly attempting to muscle in on the traditional senatorial prerogative in the management of foreign affairs, rang all too clearly. Sulla gathered some of his veterans, still under arms (for the Social War could not be ended until the final surrender of the Samnites, inveterate foes of Rome), and descended like lightning upon the city, driving Marius and Sulpicius out into the countryside. ^*^

“Sulla had every intention of taking up his Asian command, but first he took steps (which he must have known, however, would prove inadequate) to ensure domestic tranquility and the coverage of his own ... flanks in his absence. Sulpicius' laws were repealed on the grounds that they had been passed by coercive measures ( per vim; indeed, Sulpicius had been in the habit of going about with a rather large band of armed thugs). Here also Sulla took the first of his steps in the direction of weakening the burgeoning power of the tribunate, which since the Gracchi had periodically threatened the senatorial oligarchy. Henceforth the popular assembly was to vote only on measures which had first received the approval of the Senate. And no longer would the whim of the concilium plebis or the comitia tributa be enacted into law; now the people were to vote in their centuries, arranged by economic strata into the more conservative comitia centuriata (Appian BC 1. 7. 59). That done, Sulla left for the East and its riches. ^*^

Sulla and the Mithridatic War (88-84 B.C.)

Mithridates I on a Parthian coin

While Marius was thus enduring the miseries of exile, Sulla was gathering fresh glories in the East. It was at this time that Sulla showed his greatest ability as a soldier. He drove back the armies of Mithridates, besieged Athens and reduced it. He destroyed an army at Chaeronea (86 B.C.), and another at Orchomenus (85 B.C.). Within four years he reëstablished the Roman power, and compelled Mithridates to sign a treaty of peace. The defeated king agreed to give up all his conquests; to surrender eighty war vessels; and to pay 3000 talents ($3,750,000). After imposing upon the disloyal cities of Asia Minor the immense fine of 20,000 talents ($25,000,000), Sulla returned to Italy to find his own party overthrown, and himself an outlaw. \~\

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “The primary battleground for Mithradates was to be Greece. Invited by the democrats to "liberate" Greece, Mithradates had installed a puppet named Aristion as tyrant at Athens and set out upon an Achaemenid-style overland march through Thrace and Macedonia. On arriving in Greece, Sulla first took (and sacked) Athens, then fought two pitched battles against Mithradates in Boeotia (at Orchomenos and Chaeronea). At Rome Sulla's departure had led to the return of the Marians to power, though Marius himself had died in 86. Marius' partner in the consulship of 86, L. Cornelius Cinna, sent Marius' replacement G. Valerius Flaccus to Greece to relieve Sulla of his command and carry on the war with Mithradates (following Plut. Sol. 20 which derives from Sulla's own Memoirs against the anti-Sullan tradition, which held that Flaccus was simply supposed to support Sulla against Mithradates). G. Flavius [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“Fimbria, a legate in Flaccus' army, persuaded the men to mutiny against Flaccus and to set himself at their head. This then was the peculiar situation in Greece and Asia Minor in 86: two Roman consular armies, hostile to each other but both intent on eradicating Mithradates. Sulla brilliantly moved to conclude a treaty with Mithradates, whom Fimbria had conveniently weakened, then crushed Fimbria without even fighting a battle by inviting his men to defect to Sulla's own army. Under Mithradates the cities of Asia had been heavily taxed and looted, and plagued by pirates. Now they were all too ready to submit to Sulla, who imposed a large indemnity (Plut. Sol. 25) and left the province open to the depradations of the publicani. Sulla spent the next few years in mopping-up operations in Greece; finally, in the spring of 83, he landed at Brundisium on the Adriatic. ^*^

Mithridatic Wars, 118-119

The Roman historian Appian (A.D. 95-165) wrote: “Many times Mithridates had over 400 ships of his own, 50,000 cavalry, and 250,000 infantry, with engines and arms in proportion. For allies he had the king of Armenia and the princes of the Scythian tribes around the Euxine and the Sea of Azov and beyond, as far as the Thracian Bosphorus. He held communication with the leaders of the Roman civil wars, which were then fiercely raging, and with those who were inciting insurrections in Spain. He established friendly relations with the Gauls for the purpose of invading Italy. [Source: William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. 118-120, 123-127

“From Cilicia to the Pillars of Hercules he also filled the sea with pirates, who stopped all commerce and navigation between cities, and caused severe famine for a long time. In short, he left nothing within the power of man undone or untried to start the greatest possible movement, extending from the Orient to the Occident, to vex, so to speak, the whole world, which was warred upon, tangled in alliances, harassed by pirates, or vexed by the neighborhood of the warfare. Such and so diversified was this one war against Mithridates, but in the end it brought the greatest gain to the Romans; for it pushed the boundaries of their dominion from the setting of the sun to the river Euphrates.

Lucullus (died about 56 B.C.) Was one of the great heros of the Mithridates Wars. Davis wrote: “Lucullus (died about 56 B.C.) would have conquered Mithridates had not Pompey been sent out (in 66 B.C.) to supersede him. As it was, he brought back from the East enough wealth for a magnificent triumph. [Source: William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. 118-120, 123-127

On the Triumph after Lucullus’ success, Plutarch wrote in “Life of Lucullus,” xxxvii: “The pomp [of Lucullus' triumph] proved not so wonderful or so wearisome with the length of the procession and the number of things carried in it, but consisted chiefly in vast quantities of arms and machines of the king's [i.e., Mithridates], with which he adorned the Flaminian circus, a spectacle by no means despicable. In his progress there passed by a few horsemen in heavy armor, ten chariots armed with scythes, sixty friends and officers of the king's, and a hundred and ten brazen-beaked ships of war, which were conveyed along with a golden image of Mithridates six feet high, a shield set with precious stones, twenty loads of silver vessels, and thirty-two of golden cups, armor, and money, all carried by men. Besides which, eight mules were laden with golden couches, fifty-six with bullion, and a hundred and seven with coined silver, little less than two million seven hundred thousand pieces. There were tablets, also, with inscriptions, stating what moneys he gave Pompey for prosecuting the piratic war, what he delivered into the treasury, and what he gave to every soldier, which was nine hundred and fifty drachmas each [Arkenberg: about $715 in 1998 dollars]. After all which he nobly feasted the city and adjoining villages.”

eastern Mediterrean at the time of the Mithritadic War in 89 BC

Cinna and the Marian Massacres

During the absence of Sulla, Rome had passed through a reign of terror. The time had now come when parties sought to support themselves by slaughtering their opponents. The two consuls who were left in power when Sulla left Rome, were Cn. Octavius, a friend of Sulla, and L. Cornelius Cinna, a friend of Marius. Cinna, who was an extreme partisan, proposed to rescind the laws of Sulla and reënact those of Sulpicius. But the senate was vehemently opposed to any such scheme. When the assembly of the tribes met in the Forum to vote upon this proposal of Cinna, Octavius carried the day in an armed conflict in which ten thousand citizens are said to have lost their lives. But the victory of Octavius was short. Cinna was, it is true, deprived of his office; but following the example of his enemy Sulla, he appealed to the army for support. \~\

At the same time Marius returned from his exile to aid the cause of Cinna. Uniting their forces, Marius and Cinna then marched upon Rome. The city was taken. Marius saw that the time had now come to satisfy his vengeance for the wrongs which he thought had been done him. The gates of the city were closed, and the massacres began. The first victim was the consul Octavius, whose head was hung up in the Forum. Then followed the leaders of the senatorial part For five days Marius was furious, and revelled in blood. The friends of Sulla were everywhere cut down. The city was a scene of murder, plunder, and outrage. After this spasm of slaughter a reign of terror continued for several months. No man’s life was safe if he was suspected by Marius. Marius and Cinna then declared themselves to be consuls. But Marius held this, his seventh consulship, but a few days, when he died—a great man who had crumbled into ruins. \~\

After the death of Marius, Cinna, the professed leader of the popular party, ruled with the absolute power of a despot. He declared himself consul each year, and named his own colleague. But he seemed to have no definite purpose, except to wipe out the work of Sulla, and to keep himself supreme. At last, hearing of the approach of Sulla, he led an army to prevent him from landing in Italy; but was killed in a mutiny of his own soldiers. \~\

Sulla’s War with the Marian Party

Sulla landed in Italy (83 B.C.) with a victorious army of forty thousand men. He had restored the power of Rome against her enemies abroad; he now set to work to restore her authority against her enemies at home. He looked upon the popular party as a revolutionary faction, ruling with no sanction of law or justice. Its leaders since the death of Cinna were Cn. Papirius Carbo, the younger Marius, and Q. Sertorius. The landing of Sulla in Italy without disbanding his army was the signal for civil war. Southern Italy declared in his favor, and many prominent men looked to him as the deliverer of Rome. The choicest of his new allies was the son of Pompeius Strabo, then a young man of twenty-three, but whose future fame, as Pompey the Great, was destined to equal that of Sulla himself. Sulla marched to Campania and routed the forces of one consul, while troops of the other consul deserted to him in a body. He then attacked the young Marius in Latium, defeated him, and shut him up in the town of Praeneste. Northern Italy was at the same time held in check by Pompey. A desperate battle was fought at Clusium, in Etruria, in which Sulla and Pompey defeated the army of Carbo. At last an army of Samnites which had joined the Marian cause was cut to pieces at the Colline gate under the very walls of Rome. Sulla showed what might be expected of him when he ordered six thousand Samnite prisoners to be massacred in cold blood. \~\

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “To understand the situation Sulla found upon his return from the East, we need to trace events at Rome during his absence. Cinna had been a reluctant ally of Sulla, but as consul in 87 he had to deal with the reality that Marius (who had skilfully avoided being captured during his outlawry by trading, according to the tradition, upon his vast reserves of auctoritas and dignitas ) had collected veterans loyal to him personally from the lands where he had settled them in Africa, and was augmenting his army with discontented allies in Etruria. At Rome Cinna's attempt to reintroduce the Sulpician tribal reforms had met with violent opposition, and he wisely chose to raise an army from among the allies and throw in his lot with Marius. Together, Marius and Cinna easily overcame the remnants of the Sullan loyalists and returned to Rome triumphant. Some exercise of imagination is necessary to picture the scene in Rome at the end of 86. Marius instituted a reign of terror against his old colleagues in the Senate; the heads of the victims gaped bloodily on stakes by the Rostra; Rome, the center of civilization, was teetering on the brink of anarchy (Appian 1. 8. 71-72). Cinna gets the credit for checking the bloodletting, and Marius for dying of natural causes early in 86. The only ominous thing about the years 86-83 was that Cinna held successive consulships, something for which there was now precedent. Cinna had irrevocably turned his back on Sulla, first by implementing the Sulpician tribal reforms, and second by trying to supplant Sulla as commander in the East. In the years 86-83 the rule of law prevailed at Rome, with one very important exception in the suppression of the electoral system. The most striking thing about the period is the continued ambiguity about who is legal and who is not, who represents the Senate and the People of Rome and who is an outlaw leading a band of renegades. For the moment Cinna was in the former category, and Sulla in the latter. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“Cinna was smart enough to know that a war with Sulla on Italian soil was coming, and he marshalled his forces, using his consular imperium to levy troops, and relying on his support among the Italians. Cinna then perished in a mutiny caused by some trivial high-handedness; in itself the event was significant only in that the command passed to Cinna's less capable colleague Carbo, but it was emblematic of the extent to which the legions were coming to see themselves as the arbiters of power. ^*^

“On landing at Brundisium, Sulla was joined by those of his allies who had survived the period of turmoil. One who presented himself to Sulla with three legions of hardened veterans at his back was the 24 year old Gn. Pompeius (later Magnus), who had rallied the troops from Picenum and Apulia which his father had commanded with great effectiveness in the Social Wars. Sulla moved north, defeating one consular army in Campania and inducing the troops of a second to defect to him; after three years of fighting, the decisive battle with the Marian forces took place outside of Rome (Battle of the Colline Gate).

“Even an account as favorable to Sulla as Plutarch's Life could not even attempt to hide the fact that Sulla's revenge was even worse than Marius'. His main target was the equites, whom he held responsible for the past successes of the Marians, and whose vast fortunes were ripe for confiscation. Sulla's method was the proscription, or public outlawing of individuals from who all the protection of the state was thereby withdrawn, and who could then be killed with impunity. For all that a hostile tradition ascribes base motives to Sulla for these murders, it is possible that he saw them as a needed purge of those who would undermine the traditional forms of government, of which he now emerged as the champion; in other words, that he believed them to be measures taken in the best interest of the state. First he covered himself by settling his veterans on newly confiscated lands in Spain, Etruria, and Samnium. He increased the number of senators, and attempted to placate the equestrian order by including a number of politically reliable equites among the new senators. Henceforth membership in the Senate was to be consequent upon successful completion of the quaestorship rather than by appointment of the censors; with this measure Sulla tried to head off the potential influx of newly enfranchised Italian aristocrats. He tried to block the rise of future Sullas and Marius's with a law against holding the same office in succession, and by enforcing a strict adherence to the sequence of the cursus honorum (the progression of magistracies). Most importantly, Sulla struck at the office of the tribune of the people, now so many times the catalyst for populist measures which threatened the state or (as Syme puts it) the senatorial oligarchy. The tribunate was to be a political dead end, such that ex-tribunes could not go on to the curule magistracies; the veto power was abolished or severely curtailed; and the tribunes could no longer propose new laws to the people. Sulla also reasserted the principle that juries should consist of senators and senators only. ^*^

“All of these measures were consistent with or extensions of the Sullan programme as it appeared before his departure to settle the hash of Mithradates. They clearly marked Sulla out as the champion of the mos maiorum, and even though Sulla appears neither progressive nor democratic in comparison to his political opponents, we must admit that he knew and understood the nature of the forces which were tearing at the fabric of the Republican system. The question is why he ultimately failed, i.e. whether the momentum of the Republic's rush to ruin was now incapable of being stopped. ^*^

Sulla as the Supreme Leader of Rome


With Italy at his feet and a victorious army at his back, Sulla, the champion of the senate, was now the supreme ruler of Rome. Before entering upon the work of reconstructing the government, he determined first of all to complete the work of destroying his enemies. It is sometimes said that Sulla was not a man of vindictive nature. Let us see what he did. He first outlawed all civil and military officers who had taken part in the revolution against him, and offered a reward of two talents (about $2500) to the murderer of any of these men. He then posted a list (proscriptio) containing the names of those citizens whom he wished to have killed. He placed eighty names on the first list, two hundred and twenty more on the second, as many more on the third, and so on until nearly five thousand citizens had been put to death in Rome. \~\

But these despotic acts were not confined to Rome; they extended to every city of Italy. “Neither temple, nor hospitable hearth, nor father’s house,” says Plutarch, “was free from murder.” Sulla went to Praeneste, and having no time to examine each individual, had all the people brought to one spot to the number of twelve thousand, and ordered them to be massacred. His sense of justice was not satisfied by punishing the living. The infamous Catiline had murdered his own brother before the war had closed, and he asked Sulla to proscribe him as though he were alive—which was done. The heads of the slain victims Sulla caused to be piled in the streets of Rome for public execration. The tomb of Marius himself was broken open and his ashes were scattered. Besides taking the lives of his fellow-citizens, Sulla confiscated the lands of Italy, swept away cities, and wasted whole districts. If the proscriptions of Sulla were not inspired by the mad fury of revenge which led to the Marian massacres, they were yet prompted by the merciless policy of a tyrant. \~\

Dictatorship of Sulla (82-79 B.C.)

The Office of Perpetual Dictator: When Sulla had destroyed his enemies he turned to the work of reconstructing the government in the interests of the senate and the aristocracy. The first question with Sulla was, What office should he hold in order to accomplish all he wished to do? The Gracchi had exercised their great influence by being elected tribunes. Marius had risen to power through his successive consulships. But the office neither of tribune nor of consul was suited to the purposes of Sulla. He wished for absolute power—in fact, to hold the royal imperium. But since the fall of the Tarquins no man had ever dared assume the name of “king.” Sulla was shrewd enough to see how he could exercise absolute power under another name than that of king. The dictator was, in fact, a sort of temporary king. To make this office perpetual would be practically to restore the royal power. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Accordingly, Sulla had himself declared dictator to hold the office as long as he pleased. All his previous acts were then confirmed. He was given the full power of life and death, the power to confiscate property, to distribute lands, to create and destroy colonies, and to regulate the provinces. Military Support of Sulla’s Power: Sulla believed that a ruler to be strong must always be ready to draw the sword. He therefore did not mean to lose his hold upon his veteran soldiers. When his twenty-three legions were disbanded, they were not scattered, but were settled in Italy as military colonies. Each legion formed the body of citizens in a certain town, the lands being confiscated and assigned to the soldiers. The legionaries were thus bound in gratitude to Sulla, and formed a devoted body of militia upon which he felt that he could rely. By means of these colonies, Sulla placed his power upon a military basis.\~\

Sulla Reforms

Restoration of the Senate: It was one of Sulla’s chief purposes to restore the senate to its former position as the chief ruling body. In the first place, he filled it up with three hundred new members, elected by the comitia tributa from the equites. The senatorial list was no longer to be made out by the censor, but everyone who had been quaestor was now legally qualified to be a senator. In the next place, the jurors (iudices) in criminal trials were henceforth to be taken from the senate, and not from the equestrian order. But as the new senators were from this order, the two classes became reconciled; and Sulla succeeded in doing what Drusus had failed to accomplish. But more than all, no laws could hereafter be passed by the assembly of the tribes until first approved by the senate. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Weakening of the Assembly: Sulla saw that the revolutionary acts of the last fifty years had been chiefly the work of the comitia tributa under the leadership of the tribunes. The other assembly—that of the centuries—had, it is true, equal power to make laws. But the assembly of the tribes was more democratic, and the making of laws had gradually passed into the hands of that body. Sulla took away from the tribes the legislative power, and gave to the senate the authority to propose all laws to be submitted to the centuries. The tendency of this change was to limit the assemblies to the mere business of electing the officers—the lower officers being elected by the tribes, and the higher officers by the centuries. To keep control of the elections Sulla enfranchised ten thousand slaves, and gave them the right to vote; these creatures of Sulla were known as “Cornelii,” or Sulla’s freedmen. \~\

Changes in the Magistrates: In Sulla’s mind the most revolutionary and dangerous office in the government was that of the tribune. This officer hitherto could practically control the state. He had had the chief control of legislation; and also by his veto he could stop the wheels of government. Sulla changed all this. He limited the power of the tribune to simple “intercession,” that is, the protection of a citizen from an act of official injustice. He also provided that no tribune could be elected to the curule offices. The other officers were also looked after. The consuls and praetors must henceforth devote themselves to their civil duties in the city; and then as proconsuls and propraetors they might afterward be assigned by the senate to the governorship of the provinces. Again, no one could be consul until he had been praetor, nor praetor until he had been quaestor; and the old law was enforced, that no one could hold the same office the second time until after an interval of ten years. \~\

Reform of the Judicial System: The most permanent part of Sulla’s reforms was the creation of a regular system of criminal courts. He organized permanent commissions (quaestiones perpetuae) for the trial of different kinds of crimes. Every criminal case was thus tried before a regular court, composed of a presiding judge, or praetor, and a body of jurymen, called iudices. We must remember that whenever the word iudices is used in the political history of this period it refers to these jurors in criminal cases, who were first chosen from the senate, then from the equites, and now under Sulla from the senate again. The organization of regular criminal courts by Sulla was the wisest and most valuable part of his legislation. \~\

Sulla’s Abdication and Death

After a reign of three years (82-79 B.C.), and after having placed the government securely in the hands of the senate, as he supposed, Sulla resigned the dictatorship. He retired to his country house at Puteoli on the Bay of Naples. He spent the few remaining months of his life in writing his memoirs, which have unfortunately been lost. He hastened his end by dissipation, and died the next year (78 B.C.). The senate decreed him a public funeral, the most splendid that Rome had ever seen. His body was burned in the Campus Martius. Upon the monument which was erected to his memory were inscribed these words: “No friend ever did him a kindness, and no enemy a wrong, without being fully repaid.” [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Sulla was a man of blood and iron. Cool and calculating, definite in his purpose, and unscrupulous in his methods, he was invincible in war and in peace. But the great part of the work which he seemed to accomplish so thoroughly did not long survive him. His great foreign enemy, Mithridates, soon renewed his wars with Rome. His boasted constitution fell in the next political conflict. The career of Sulla, like that of the Gracchi and of Marius, marks a stage in the decline of the republic and the establishment of the empire. \~\

When Sulla resigned his power and placed the government in the hands of his party, he no doubt thought that he had secured the state from any further disturbance. He had destroyed all opposition, he fancied, by wiping out the Marian party. But as soon as he died, the remnants of this party began to reappear on every side. With the restoration of the senate’s power there also returned all the old evils of the senatorial rule. The aristocratic party was still a selfish faction ruling for its own interests, and with little regard for the welfare of the people. The separation between the rich and the poor became more marked than ever. Luxury and dissipation were the passion of one class, and poverty and distress the condition of the other. The feebleness of the new government was evident from the start, and Sulla was scarcely dead when symptoms of reaction began to appear.

Challenges to Sulla’s Legacy

Sulla statue base

Failures of the Sullan Party: When Sulla resigned his power and placed the government in the hands of his party, he no doubt thought that he had secured the state from any further disturbance. He had destroyed all opposition, he fancied, by wiping out the Marian party. But as soon as he died, the remnants of this party began to reappear on every side. With the restoration of the senate’s power there also returned all the old evils of the senatorial rule. The aristocratic party was still a selfish faction ruling for its own interests, and with little regard for the welfare of the people. The separation between the rich and the poor became more marked than ever. Luxury and dissipation were the passion of one class, and poverty and distress the condition of the other. The feebleness of the new government was evident from the start, and Sulla was scarcely dead when symptoms of reaction began to appear. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: Although Sulla gets credit from moderns for resigning his dictatorship, the measures he undertook to ensure that the Republican system would continue to work were not adequate. Things had gone too far; all of the ominous trends which we have noticed in the previous two lectures, i.e political violence in the city, armies whose loyalty belonged in the first instance to individual commanders and only secondarily to the state itself, agitation for land distributions, and threats to the traditional prerogatives of the Senate, all these intensify in this period.” [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

The Revolt of Lepidus (77 B.C.): The first attempt to overthrow the work of Sulla was made by the consul M. Aemilius Lepidus, a vain and petulant man, who aspired to be chief of the popular party. Lepidus proposed to restore to the tribunes the full power which Sulla had diminished, and then to rescind the whole Sullan constitution. But his colleague, Q. Lutatius Catulus,1 had no sympathy with his schemes and opposed him at every step. To prevent a new civil war the senate bound the two consuls by an oath not to take up arms. But Lepidus disregarded this oath, raised an army, and marched on Rome. He was soon defeated by Catulus with the aid of Cn. Pompey. It is well for us to notice that Pompey by this act came into greater prominence in politics as a supporter of the senate and the Sullan party. \~\

Silverman wrote: “Lepidus pressed all of the populist hot buttons, calling for a renewed and strong tribunate and cheap subsidized grain; there were new issues as well resulting from the proscription; Lepidus wanted the former partisans of Marius, now exiles, restored to citizenship and their lands, which were confiscated and distributed to Sulla's veterans, returned. When these ideas met with resistance, Lepidus used his consular army to support the farmers who were trying to eject the Sullan colonists from their lands in Etruria. This made Lepidus an enemy of the state, and responsibility for putting him down fell to the young Pompey, who got a special grant of imperium from the Senate to do the job. And, inevitably, the senatus consultum ultimum was passed against Lepidus. Pompey's success allowed him to persuade the senate to send him next, with proconsular imperium, to Spain to crush the rebellion of Q. Sertorius. One of Marius' old proteges, the wily Sertorius had set up a Roman government in exile in Spain. Like some latter day Scipio Africanus, he had great support both among the locals (who believed that he enjoyed divine favor and that his white fawn foretold the future) and the expatriates in Spain. After a series of setbacks Sertorius was assassinated by one of his own men in 72, and Pompey wiped up the remnants of his army in the next year. ^*^

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|; BBC Ancient Rome ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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