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The Story Of Lucius Cornelius Sulla History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The state of Rome. The troubles under the Gracchi had grown out of the attempts of two devoted men to reform the evils of the state. The shedding of Roman blood had been limited to riots in the city, and to fights between the different factions. But we now move into the time where political parties seek out the aid of the militia, when civil conflict becomes in reality a civil war, and the lives of citizens seem of little account of that of the political leaders.

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 incompetent and there was no clearly defined policy. The leaders of Rome only seemed interested in their own wealth and the interest of the people were forgotten. As stated by Merivale… “The little farms which Tiberius Gracchus had tried to create were again swallowed up in large estates (Ch 32 of “rivalry of Marius and Sulla”).” 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”. The fact that Rome was destroying itself brought about the Rise of Sulla and the conditions which he Rose to power in played a big part in why he did what he did, if Rome didn’t have the problems it did after the Fall of the Gracchi Sulla may never off began the Rise to power and bought about the Fall of the Republic.

Early Life

Sulla was sly and ruthless when necessary, but he was also a great politician and an even better military commander. While he didn’t alone initiate the “fall of the Republic” but he did in fact by his actions cause many of the problems that eventually brought down the republic.

Sulla was a born into a superior, though not wealthy Roman family. He was a member of the patrician [ii] Cornelii family but was born into near poverty, compared to other families within his class and spent most of his early life trying to re-establish the family name which had been largely forgotten. His early years were not impressive. “He earned a reputation for preferring the company of actors, singers and prostitutes to that of soldiers” (Plutarch) (Plutarch was a great and respected writer of ancient times and has been very reliable in his information, but there are some parts of his writings that may of been exaggerated from the actual fact). This indicated a lack of moral character and ambition which later Roman politicians used to try and stop him from becoming a commander because he hang around with plebeians [iii] . Later in his career he received two family inheritances and gained a vast amount of wealth from this. Now with enough financial safety to run for office, and the fortunate timing of the invasion of the Germanic Cambric and the Jugurthine War, he was given the opportunity to run for a government position. Just as Gaius Marius [iv] was coming into his own power, Sulla entered the election to become Quaestor and with his wealth and connections achieved immediate success.

The rise of Sulla

The war against Jugurtha was not just a normal battle; it shaped Sulla and brought about his rise to power, and created one of Rome’s greatest rivalries. During this war Sulla had gained priceless command skills, despite not seeing much military action at all. The war in jugurtha had no great interest for Rome except that it showed how corrupt Rome had become, and that it brought to the front a great soldier, who became for a time the leader of the people. Sulla who was just a leader of man in this war had taken it upon himself to persuade the king to betray his people for a free pass, by doing this he instantly ended the war. Sulla and Marius both returned to Rome, under praise from the whole nation, Marius claimed the credit for the victory, while Sulla would claim for many years that the victory belonged to him. This angered him and was the start of their great personal rivalry and a major contributing factor in the Downfall of the Republic.

The next threat to Rome was the migrating Germanic Cimbri and Teutones. Historians such as Plutarch and Sallust said that Sulla changed the course of this war and the tide of the battle in favour of Rome. Catullus and Sulla later defeated the Cimbri and the threat of the Germanic tribes was over, the Roman armies returned to Rome where Marius and Catullus were both honoured for the victory, while Sulla was yet again overshadowed. On returning from the campaign Sulla was elected as Praetor Urbanus [v] , for his service to Rome he was then appointed Propraetor Governor of the eastern province of Cilicia. These past wars had made Sulla hostile towards Rome, and this was a major influence in his quest to change Rome and as Meier says in his book “Free it from tyrants” (p.80).

Sulla was now the Governor of Cilicia and he played a major role in Rome’s relationship with the eastern provinces. The Italian allies were now clamouring for their rights, and threatening war if their demands were not granted, as Rome did not give the Italian people the rights of citizenship. They were made subject allies, but received no share in the government. The death of Drusus [vi] who was a man of the people and tried to make everyone happy drove the Italians to revolt; the war which followed is known throughout history as the “Social war [vii] “, the Italians now chose not to gain citizenship but to create their own nation. Rome was now threatened, not from foreign invaders but from its own allies. Rome quickly reacted and new preparations took place, Sulla was made chief commander in Campania. Although Rome was victorious in the field, the Italians obtained what they had demanded before the war had begun, that is the rights of Roman citizenship. The Romans granted the franchise…. as How and Leigh, Ch 39 says…. “And to all Italians who remained loyal during the war”

Another result of the social war, which had a great effect upon the destiny of Rome, was the Rise of Lucius Cornelius Sulla, war was not new to Sulla it, he served under Marius in Jugurtha, and in Cimbric war he showed great courage and mental stability and Rome saw great potential in him. As a result of his brilliant skills, he was elected to the consulship. This was the turning point in his career and the start of the downfall.

Political agenda

Towards the end of the Social war, Mithridates VI of Pontus was starting to advance on Roman areas in the air to destroy them. Meanwhile Sulla was preparing his army to fight Mithridates; Marius once again entered politics to regain the influence of the people, and aligned himself to the popular leaders. Marius joined one of the most prominent leaders known as P. Sulpicius Rufus [viii] , with the aid of Rufus, Marius hoped to win back the people and weaken the senate. Marius set forth a programme called “Sulpician Laws” which was a law to displace Sulla. Sulla heard of the news and refused to accept that Marius was now the leader, and he appealed to his army to support him in marching upon Rome. After consulting with his leaders he decided to march upon Rome and regain control with force. For the first time the Roman legions fought in the streets of the capital. Marius and Rufus were both driven out of the city, and Sulla for the time being was the supreme ruler. He then annulled the laws passed by Sulpicius, and gave the senate the power to approve or reject all laws before they should be submitted to the people. With the army at his back, he could do what he pleased. He then placed the government securely to the senate and left Rome, this action by Sulla later had great consequences not only for himself but also for the future of Rome itself.

During the absence of Sulla, Rome had passed through a reign of terror; the time had come when parties sought to support themselves by slaughtering their opponents. The senate left the vacant consular position to Octavious (a friend of Sulla) and Cinna [ix] (a friend of Marius) in charge. Cinna tried to pass laws that would help Marius but the senate disliked it and as Plutarch says he was “Deprived of his office”, Marius heard of Cinna’s trouble and sought out to team up with him and regain control of Rome. They raised armies and marched upon Rome, throughout this rampage many Roman politicians that had helped Sulla were killed and many rich powerful people were also murdered, the whole nation was shocked at what unfolded Cinna and Marius both had forced Rome to make them consuls and have total control over the city. This act by Cinna and Marius latter influenced many other Roman men to do the same and this act had a major role in the downfall of the Republic.

“Lust for money grew among them, then the hunger for power, and these two gave rise to every other kinds of evil. Greed destroyed honour, honesty and every other virtue, and taught men to be arrogant and cruel. In the end, when the disease had spread like a plague, Rome changed: a government which had once surpassed all other in justice and excellence now became cruel and unbearable (Sallust, Histories, 1:12).”

Both of these men were elected consul in 86BC, but only 17 days in to his consulship Marius died and Cinna was left to control Rome for the next few years as Sulla was slowly regaining Roman areas that were lost.

As Plutarch notes…”So slight and childish were the first motives and occasions of that enmity between them, which afterwards led them through civil bloodshed and irreparable discords

to tyranny and the confusion of the whole state”.(Plutarch 4.4)

The year was now 84BC Cinna was still consul of Rome and he had his own problems to face, Cinna had been killed by his own men, and this influenced Sulla to take another shot at Rome. In Rome, the newly elected consuls, L. Cornelius Scipio Asiagenus and C. Norbanus were both preparing armies to stop Sulla from destroying Rome. As Sulla continued his march towards Rome, various other armies joined his cause including Marcus Lincinius Crassus, who later proved to be one of the main contributors to Sulla’s success, and Pompey joined Sulla and he would later force himself into office with an army at his back just like Sulla had done previously.

As Sulla gained momentum towards Rome, Asiagenus also raised an army and went after Pompey again Asiagenus army abandoned him, the senate become scared they re-elected Papirius Carbo, which was Cinna’s old co-consul and also elected Gaius Marius the younger as they thought many Marian followers may join him. These two men swept Rome of all Sullan followers by killing them, and the urban Praetor L. Junius Brutus Damasippus also helped out by murdering senators that had favoured Sulla. Sulla’s serge at the Roman colline gate proved to be the turning point in the history of Rome, as he was able to force his way in and destroy the last of the rebels and ultimately showed the senate was powerless in the face of an army. With Italy at his feet and a victorious army at his back, Sulla, the champions of the senate, was now the supreme ruler of Rome, before starting to rebuild the city; Sulla’s first act was to destroy his enemies by making a “Proscription list”. As the Ancient historian Livy says, Sulla…. “Now dirtied a most splendid victory by a cruelty greater than any man had ever displayed” (used in various other primary accounts including the likes of Sallust and also Plutarch). Sulla’s first step was to eliminate over 40 senators who helped his enemies rise to power and over 1,600 knights were killed for helping his enemy this was called the ” Sullan Proscriptions”, people who assisted in the where about, capture or killing of anyone on this list where given rewards. But his list didn’t stop there he went after powerful rich people so he could give his men more money for their service to him, a few years after Sulla’s death many other generals would later follow in his footsteps and reinact a similar process. Therefore Sulla’s actions made a considerable contribution to the downfall of the republic.

As Plutarch noted….”The noise of their shrieks- so many men being massacred in so small a space-was, as might be expected, easily, audible and the Senators were dumbfounded. Sulla, however, continued to speak with the same clam and unmoving expression. He told the senators to listen to what he had to say and not to bother their heads with what was going on outside” (Plutarch, p.103) Sulla the replied by saying…”Some of the criminals are receiving correction. It is being done by my orders.” (Both of these quotes are mainstream quotes and are used often in writing about Sulla)

Sulla was more than a butcher. He was later asked why he marched on Rome and his reply was “To free it from tyrants” (Meier, p.80) Sulla believed that Rome’s greatest problem was the weakness of Senatorial authority as well as the excessive power wielded by the tribunes, and defiant military commanders. He used his power as autocrat of Rome to change the constitution. The Senate’s legislative veto was restored, while the office of tribune of the people was gutted when their veto was removed. They were limited by law to one year in office and forbidden to ever hold an office beyond tribune. He doubled the size of the senate from 300 to 600 people; he did this so he could expand the ruling class. There were also new members that were selected by Sulla who were men from the Equestrian class and loyal generals in whom Sulla had personal trust. The most important and permanent part of Sulla’s reforms where that of the Judicial system. He organized permanent commissions (quaestiones perpetuae) for the trial of different kinds or criminal acts. Every criminal case was trialled before a court, composed of a judge or a praetor and a body of jurymen, called iudices. The organization of customary criminal courts by Sulla was the wisest and most important element of his legislations. These changes Sulla implemented had a considerable contribution to the fall of the Roman republic.

The end of Sulla, the beginning of an Empire

In 79 BC, Sulla declared his work complete and retired from public affairs he returned to his family and a life of pleasure. He retired to his fine Campanian house, left behind the army, politics, and all the stir and platitude of power.

He wrote an autobiography which has been lost in time, in 78 BC, one year after he retired, he died. The epitaph that Sulla selected for himself says it all about his life.

“No one ever did more good to his friends, nor more harm to his enemies” (Sulla) this quote is a very widely used quote as it is used in various writers such as Livy, Plutarch and Sallust.

Sulla was a man of blood and iron. Cool and devious, 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.

“As if he’d command whole armies should he wish,

set in motion wheels to move the world.

Move it he did and with a loss of blood

unparalleled, through war, proscription, murder,

savagery unseen. Not a touch

of spleen through all this carnage; he kept on mildly

smiling to the end” (by Charles Bryant)

(This quote was not from a Historian, but from an artist in poetry. This is an analogy of how I also see Sulla. This does not give an accurate view on his power or anything else. Do not take this quote as an actual reference to Sulla)

As important as Africanus and Caesar were in the history of the Republic, Sulla was the benchmark that the following Leaders of Rome tried to meet. Sulla’s reforms could have succeeded but the senate was not up to the task. Despite all his extremism, Sulla’s visions were still to preserve the Republic, and not to destroy it. He saw that other nations were expanding and Rome could soon be dominated by foreign forces, and he knew that the Senate would never revolutionize. So he used whatever measures he thought necessary to change the republic. This included marching upon his own home and changing the constitution. On the other hand, in his quest to preserve the Republic, my hypothesis has been proved that Sulla did indeed do much to destroy the Republic. In his use of his army to gain political control he did indeed open the door for the future leaders to do the same. His march on Rome proved to everyone that the Senate was largely powerless and from the moment he burst through the gate and established control, Rome was truly going to collapse. The career of Sulla, like that of Gracchi and Marius, makes a stage in the decline of the Republic and the establishment of the Empire.


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