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date: 04 December 2022

Cornelius Sulla Felix, Lucius, dictator and consul, 138–78 bcelocked

Cornelius Sulla Felix, Lucius, dictator and consul, 138–78 bcelocked

  • Alexandra Eckert

Summary

Sulla (138–78 bce) is a pivotal figure in Roman history. He was the first to inflict civil war on his fellow citizens by marching his army on Rome twice, in 88 and 83/82 bce. During the war against King Mithridates (87–85 bce), he plundered Greek sanctuaries, sacked Athens, destroyed the Piraeus, and raided Boeotia. He also imposed punitive indemnities on the cities of the province of Asia. Sulla returned to Italy in the spring of 83 bce and conquered Rome for a second time in 82 bce. As victor in the civil war, he was appointed dictator, assumed the title Felix and carried out a programme of constitutional reform. Yet, Sulla delegitimized his victory by unprecedented post-war violence. His punitive measures encompassed not only the proscriptions which were directed primarily against wealthy members of the Roman elite, but also mass executions, arbitrary assassinations by his marauding soldiers, and collective punishment of Italian municipalities which affected all strata of Roman society. The 70s and 60s bce saw efforts to repeal Sulla’s legislation and to cope with the effects of his punitive measures. When Caesar, who had narrowly escaped Sulla’s proscriptions, provoked another civil war in 49 bce by crossing the Rubicon, he distanced himself from Sulla’s post-war violence by his policy of clemency. The responsibility of Octavian, Caesar’s heir and later Caesar Augustus, for the proscriptions of the Second Triumvirate (43 bce) remained a point of severe criticism far into the Imperial period.

Subjects

  • Roman History and Historiography

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Article rewritten to reflect current scholarship.

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