1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sulla, Lucius Cornelius
SULLA, LUCIUS CORNELIUS (138–78 B.C.), surnamed Felix, Roman general, politician and dictator, belonged to a minor and impoverished branch of the famous patrician Cornelian gens. He received a careful education, and was a devoted student of literature and art. His political advancement was slow, and he did not obtain the quaestorship until 107, when he served in the Jugurthine war under Marius in Africa. In this he greatly distinguished himself, and claimed the credit of having terminated the war by capturing Jugurtha himself. In these African campaigns Sulla showed that he knew how to win the confidence of his soldiers, and throughout his career the secret of his success seems to have been the enthusiastic devotion of his troops, whom he continued to hold well in hand, while allowing them to indulge in plundering and all kinds of excess. From 104 to 101 he served again under Marius in the war with the Cimbri and Teutones and fought in the last great battle in the Raudian plains near Verona. It was at this time that Marius’s jealousy of his legate laid the foundations of their future rivalry and mutual hatred. When the war was over, Sulla, on his return to Rome, lived quietly for some years and took no part in politics. In 93 he was elected praetor after a lavish squandering of money, and he delighted the populace with an exhibition of a hundred lions from Africa. Next year (92) he went as propraetor of Cilicia with special authority from the senate to make Mithradates VI. of Pontus restore Cappadocia to Ariobarzanes, one of Rome’s dependants in Asia. Sulla with a small army soon won a victory over the general of Mithradates, and Rome’s client-king was restored. An embassy from the Parthians now came to solicit alliance with Rome, and Sulla was the first Roman who held diplomatic intercourse with that remote people. In the year 91, which brought with it the imminent prospect of sweeping political change, with the enfranchisement of the Italian peoples, Sulla returned to Rome, and it was generally felt that he was the man to lead the conservative and aristocratic party.
Meanwhile Mithradates and the East were forgotten in the crisis of the Social or Italic War, which broke out in 91 and threatened Rome’s very existence. The services of both Marius and Sulla were given; but Sulla was the more successful, or, at any rate, the more fortunate. Of the Italian peoples Rome’s old foes the Samnites were the most formidable; these Sulla vanquished, and took their chief town, Bovianum. In recognition of this and other brilliant services, he was elected consul in 88, and brought the revolt to an end by the capture of Nola in Campania. The question of the command of the army against Mithradates again came to the front. The senate had already chosen Sulla; but the tribune Publius Sulpicius Rufus moved that Marius should have the command. Rioting took place at Rome at the prompting of the popular leaders, Sulla narrowly escaping to his legions in Campania, whence he marched on Rome, being the first Roman who entered the city at the head of a Roman army. Sulpicius was put to death, and Marius fled; and he and his party were crushed for the time.
Sulla, leaving things quiet at Rome, quitted Italy in 87, and for the next four years he was winning victory after victory against the armies of Mithradates and accumulating boundless plunder. Athens, the headquarters of the Mithradatic cause, was taken and sacked in 86; and in the same year, at Chaeroneia, the scene of Philip II. of Macedon’s victory more than two and a half centuries before, and in the year following, at the neighbouring Orchomenus, he scattered immense hosts of the enemy with trifling loss to himself. Crossing the Hellespont in 84 into Asia, he was joined by the troops of C. Flavius Fimbria, who soon deserted their general, a man sent out by the Marian party, now again in the ascendant at Rome. The same year peace was concluded with Mithradates on condition that he should be put back to the position he held before the war; but, as he raised objections, he had in the end to content himself with being simply a vassal of Rome.
Sulla returned to Italy in 83, landing at Brundisium, having previously informed the senate of the result of his campaigns in Greece and Asia, and announced his presence on Italian ground. He further complained of the ill-treatment to which his friends and partisans had been subjected during his absence. Marius had died in 86, and the revolutionary party, specially represented by L. Cornelius Cinna, Cn. Papirius Carbo and the younger Marius, had massacred Sulla’s supporters wholesale, confiscated his property, and declared him a public enemy. They felt they must resist him to the death, and with the troops scattered throughout Italy, and the newly enfranchised Italians, to whom it was understood that Sulla was bitterly hostile, they counted confidently on success. But on Sulla’s advance at the head of his 40,000 veterans many of them lost heart and deserted their leaders, while the Italians themselves, whom he confirmed in their new privileges, were won over to his side. Only the Samnites, who were as yet without the Roman franchise, remained his enemies, and it seemed as if the old war between Rome and Samnium had to be fought once again. Several Roman nobles, among them Gnaeus Pompeius (Pompey the Great), Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius, Marcus Licinius Crassus, Marcus Licinius Lucullus, joined Sulla, and in the following year (82) he won a decisive victory over the younger Marius near Praeneste (mod. Palestrina) and then marched upon Rome, where again, just before his defeat of Marius, there had been a great massacre of his adherents, in which the learned jurist Q. Mucius Scaevola perished. Rome was at the same time in extreme peril from the advance of a Samnite army, and was barely saved by Sulla, who, after a hard-fought battle, routed the enemy under Pontius Telesinus at the Colline gate of Rome. With the death of the younger Marius, who killed himself after the surrender of Praeneste, the civil war was at an end, and Sulla was master of Rome and of the Roman world. Then came the memorable “proscription,” when for the first time in Roman history a list of men declared to be outlaws and public enemies was exhibited in the forum, and a reign of terror began throughout Rome and Italy. The title of “dictator” was revived and Sulla was in fact emperor of Rome. After celebrating a splendid triumph for the Mithradatic War, and assuming the surname of “Felix” (“Epaphroditus,” “Venus’s favourite,” he styled himself in addressing Greeks), he carried in 80 and 79 his great political reforms (see Rome: History, II. “The Republic”). The main object of these was to invest the senate, which he recruited with a number of his own party, with full control over the state, over every magistrate and every province; and the mainstay of his political system was to be the military colonies which he had established with grants of land throughout every part of Italy, to the ruin of the old Italian freeholders and farmers, who from this time dwindled away, leaving whole districts waste and desolate.
In 79 Sulla resigned his dictatorship and retired to Puteoli (mod. Pozzuoli), where he died in the following year, probably from the bursting of a blood-vessel. The story that he fell a victim to a disease similar to that which cut off one of the Herods (Acts xii. 23) is probably an invention of his enemies. The “half lion, half fox,” as his enemies called him, the “Don Juan of politics” (Mommsen), the man who carried out a policy of “blood and iron” with a grim humour, amused himself in his last days with actors and actresses, with dabbling in poetry, and completing the Memoirs (commentarii, ὑπομνήματα) of his eventful life (see H. Peter, Historicorum romanorum reliquiae, 1870). Even then he did not give up his interest in state and local affairs, and his end is said to have been hastened by a fit of passion brought on by a remark of the quaestor Granius, who openly asserted that he would escape payment of a sum of money due to the Romans, since Sulla was on his death-bed. Sulla sent for him and had him strangled in his presence; in his excitement he broke a blood-vessel and died on the following day. He was accorded a magnificent public funeral, his body being removed to Rome and buried in the Campus Martius. His monument bore an inscription written by himself, to the effect that he had always fully repaid the kindnesses of his friends and the wrongs done him by his enemies. His military genius was displayed in the Social War and the campaigns against Mithradates; while his constitutional reforms, although doomed to failure from the lack of successors to carry them out, were a triumph of organization. But he massacred his enemies in cold blood, and exacted vengeance with pitiless and calculated cruelty; he sacrificed everything to his own ambition and the triumph of his party.
The ancient authorities for Sulla and his time are his Life by Plutarch (who made use of the Memoirs); Appian, Bell. civ.; for the references in Cicero see Orelli’s Onomasticon Tullianum. Modern treatises by C. S. Zachariä, L. Cornelius S. als Ordner des römischen Freystaates (1834); T. Lau, Lucius Cornelius Sulla (1855); E. Linden, De hello civili Sullano (1896); P. Cantalupi, La Guerra civile Sullana in Italia (1892) ; C. W. Oman, Seven Roman Statesmen (1902); F. D. Gerlach, Marius und Sulla (1856); J. M. Sunden, “De tribunicia potestate a Lucio Sulla imminuta” in Skrifter utgifna af k. humanistika Vetenskapssamfundet i Upsala, v., 1897, in which it is argued against Mommsen that Sulla did not deprive the tribunes of the right of_ proposing rogations. See also Mommsen’s History of Rome, vol. St., bk. iv., ch., 8, 9; Drumann, Geschichte Roms, 2nd ed. by Groebe, ii. 364-432; Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopädie, iv. 1522–1566 (Frohlich).
His nephew (as some say, though the degree of relationship cannot be clearly established), Publius Cornelius Sulla was consul in 66 B.C. with P. Autronius Paetus. Both were convicted of bribery, and Paetus subsequently joined Catiline in his first conspiracy. There is little doubt that Sulla also was implicated; Sallust does not mention it, but other authorities definitely assert his guilt. After the second conspiracy he was accused of having taken part in both conspiracies. Sulla was defended by Cicero and Hortensius, and acquitted. There is no doubt that, after his first conviction, Sulla remained very quiet, and, whatever his sympathies may have been, took no active part in the conspiracy. When the civil war broke out, Sulla took the side of Caesar, and commanded the right wing at the battle of Pharsalus. He died in 45.
See Cicero, Pro Sulla, passim (ed. J. S. Reid, 1882); Ad Fam. ix. 10, xv. 17; Dio Cassius xxxvi. 44, xxxvii. 25; Suetonius, Caesar, 9; Caesar, Bell civ., iii. 51, 89; Appian, Bell. civ. ii. 76.
- A short epigram on Aphrodite in the Greek Anthology (Anth. Pal., Appendix, i. 153) is ascribed to him.