1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lucullus

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LUCULLUS, the name of a Roman plebeian family of the Licinian gens. By far the most famous of its members was Lucius Licinius Lucullus (c. 110–56), surnamed Ponticus from his victories in Asia Minor over Mithradates VI. of Pontus. His father, of the same name, had held an important military command in Sicily, but on his return to Rome he was prosecuted on a charge of bribery and condemned to exile. His mother was Caecilia, of the family of the Metelli, and sister of Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus. Early in life he attached himself to the party of Sulla, and to that party he remained constant. He attracted Sulla’s notice in the Social War (90) and in 88, when Sulla was appointed to the command of the war against Mithradates, accompanied him as quaestor to Greece and Asia Minor. While Sulla was besieging Athens, Lucullus raised a fleet and drove Mithradates out of the Mediterranean. He won a brilliant victory off Tenedos, and had he been more of a patriot and less of a party man he might have ended a perilous war. In 84 peace was concluded with Mithradates. Sulla returned to Rome, while Lucullus remained in Asia, and by wise and generous financial reforms laid the foundation of the prosperity of the province. The result of his policy was that he became extremely popular with the provincials, but offended many of the publicani, a powerful class which farmed the public revenue. In 80 he returned to Rome as curule aedile, in which capacity he exhibited games of exceptional magnificence. Soon afterwards (77) he was elected praetor, and was next appointed to the province of Africa, where he again won a good name as a just and considerate governor. In 74 he became consul, and went to Asia at the head of about 30,000 foot and 2000 horse, to defend the province of Bithynia against Mithradates, who was besieging his colleague, Marcus Aurelius Cotta, in Chalcedon on the Propontis. Mithradates was forced to retire along the sea-coast till he halted before the strong city of Cyzicus, which he besieged. Lucullus, however, cut off his communications on the land side, and, aided by bad weather, forced him to raise the siege. In the autumn of 73 Lucullus marched to Cabeira or Neocaesarea, where the king had gone into winter quarters with a vague hope that his son-in-law, Tigranes, king of Armenia, and possibly even the Parthians, might come to his aid. Although the forces of Mithradates were far superior in numbers, his troops were no match for the Roman legionaries. A large detachment of his army having been cut up by one of Lucullus’s lieutenant-generals, the king decided on instant retreat. The retreat soon became a disorderly flight, Mithradates himself escaping with difficulty into Lesser Armenia.

Thus Pontus, with the exception of some of the maritime cities, such as Sinope, Heraclea and Amisus, became Roman territory. Two years were occupied in the capture of these strongholds, while Lucullus busied himself with a general reform of the administration of the province of Asia. His next step was to demand the surrender of Mithradates and to threaten Tigranes with war in the event of refusal. In the spring of 69, at the head of only two legions, he marched through Sophene, the south-western portion of Armenia, crossed the Tigris, and pushed on to the newly-built royal city, Tigranocerta, situated on one of the affluents of that river. A motley host, made up out of the tribes bordering on the Black Sea and the Caspian, hovered round his small army, but failed to hinder him from laying siege to the town. Lucullus showed consummate military capacity, contriving to maintain the siege and at the same time to give battle to the enemy’s vastly superior forces. There might now have been peace but for the interference of Mithradates, who pressed Tigranes to renew the war and to seek the aid and alliance of Parthia. The Parthian king, however, preferred a treaty with Rome to a treaty with Armenia, and desired simply to have the Euphrates recognized as his western boundary. Mithradates next appealed to the national spirit of the peoples of the East generally, and endeavoured to rouse them to a united effort. The position of Lucullus was critical. The home government was for recalling him, and his army was disaffected. Nevertheless, though continually harassed by the enemy, he persisted in marching northwards from Tigranocerta over the high table-land of central Armenia, in the hope of reaching Artaxata on the Araxes. But the open mutiny of his troops compelled him to recross the Tigris into the Mesopotamian valley. Here, on a dark tempestuous night, he surprised and stormed Nisibis, the capital of the Armenian district of Mesopotamia, and in this city, which yielded him a rich booty, he found satisfactory winter quarters. Meantime Mithradates was again in Pontus, and in a disastrous engagement at Ziela the Roman camp was taken and the army slaughtered to a man. Lucullus was obliged to retreat into Asia Minor, leaving Tigranes and Mithradates masters of Pontus and Cappadocia. The work of eight years of war was undone. In 66 Lucullus was superseded by Pompey. He had fairly earned the honour of a triumph, but his powerful enemies at Rome and charges of maladministration, to which his immense wealth gave colour, caused it to be deferred till 63. From this time, with the exception of occasional public appearances, he gave himself up to elegant luxury, with which he combined a sort of dilettante pursuit of philosophy, literature and art. As a general he does not seem to have possessed the entire confidence of his troops, owing probably to his natural hauteur and the strict discipline which he imposed on them. The same causes made him unpopular with the Roman capitalists, whose sole object was the accumulation of enormous fortunes by farming the revenue of the provinces.

Among the Roman nobles who revelled in the newly acquired riches of the East, Lucullus stood pre-eminent. His park and pleasure grounds near Rome, and the costly and laborious works in his parks and villas at Tusculum, near Naples, earned for him from Pompey (it is said) the title of the “Roman Xerxes.” On one of his luxurious entertainments he is said to have spent upwards of £2000. He was a liberal patron of Greek philosophers and men of letters, and he collected a valuable library, to which such men had free access. He himself is said to have been a student of Greek literature, and to have written a history of the Marsian war in Greek, inserting solecisms to show that he was a Roman. He was one of the interlocutors in Cicero’s Academica, the second book (first edition) of which was called Lucullus. Sulla also entrusted him with the revision of his Memoirs. The introduction of the cherry-tree from Asia into Europe is attributed to him. It appears that he became mentally feeble some years before his death, and was obliged to surrender the management of his affairs to his brother Marcus. The usual funeral panegyric was pronounced on him in the Forum, and the people would have had him buried by the side of Sulla in the Campus Martius, but at his brother’s request he was laid in his splendid villa at Tusculum.

See Plutarch’s Lucullus; Appian’s Mithridatic War; the epitomes of the lost books of Livy; and many passages in Cicero. Some allusions will also be found in Dio Cassius, Pliny and Athenaeus. For the Mithradatic wars, see bibliography under Mithradates (VI. of Pontus); and generally G. Boissier, Cicero and his Friends (Eng: trans. by A. D. Jones, 1897); H. Peter, Hist. Rom. Reliquiae, i. p. cclxxxv.; W. Drumann, Geschichte Roms, iv. His Elogium is given in C.I.L. i. 292.

His brother, Marcus Licinius Lucullus, was adopted by Marcus Terentius Varro, and was hence known as Marcus Terentius Varro Lucullus. In 82 B.C. he served under Sulla against Marius. In 79 he was curule aedile with his brother, in 77 praetor, in 73 consul with Gaius Cassius Varus. When praetor he forbade the carrying of arms by slaves, and with his colleague in the consulship passed the lex Terentia Cassia, to give authority for purchasing corn with the public money and retailing it at a fixed price at Rome. As proconsul in Macedonia he made war with great cruelty against the Dardani and Bessi, and compelled them to acknowledge the supremacy of Rome. Having enjoyed a triumph, he was sent out to the East to settle the affairs of the provinces conquered by his brother. He sided with Cicero during the Catilinarian conspiracy, did his utmost to prevent his banishment, and subsequently supported his claim for the restoration of his house. He was one of the better representatives of the optimates, and enjoyed some reputation as an orator.

See Cicero, De Domo, 52; Pro Tullio, 8; In Verrem, iii. 70, v. 21; Florus, iii. 4, 7; Ammianus Marcellinus xxvii. 4, 11; Plutarch, Sulla, 27; Lucullus, 35, 36, 43; Orelli’s Onomasticon Tullianum.