All about Lucius Cornelius Sulla


     Lucius Cornelius Sulla Fenix, known simply as Sulla or Sila, was a military man and statesman of the Cornelia people of the Roman Republic, elected consul twice and he was known for marching against his own people, check it out.

Who Was Sulla?

     Lucius Cornelius Sulla, known simply as Sula or Sila, was a military man and statesman of the Cornélia people of the Roman Republic, elected consul twice, in 88 and 80 B.C. (with Quinto Pompeu Rufo and Quinto Cecílio Metelo Pio, respectively). He was also elected dictator in 82 BC, the first since the end of the third century BC. The agnome "Félix" was adopted towards the end of his career, mainly because of his legendary fortune as a general. It is sometimes called Sila, probably a corruption of an epigraphic form "SVILLA", which can be derived in both forms. In his day, his name was probably pronounced "Suila".

     He was undoubtedly one of the most important politicians and soldiers of his time, one of the leaders of the optimates faction. After standing out in the War against Jugurta, in the Címbrica War and in the Social War, Caio Mário's attempts to remove him from the army command, which he followed to fight Mitrídates VI of the Kingdom of Ponto, led him to march against Rome itself to restore the previous status quo by force of arms: the first time in history that a Roman army invaded the city.

     After managing to regain control of the war, Sula left the city under the command of a consul of the popular faction, Mário, and another optimate, Cneu Otávio, leaving for the East. However, shortly thereafter Mário returned and, with his ally Cina, gave a coup and ended up dying. Cina established a three-year autocratic government (known as "Cinnanum tempus") between 87 and 84 BCE, persecuting all of Sula's allies.

"... Sulla himself entered around midnight, causing terror and astonishment with the sound of bugles and an infinity of trumpets and with the shouting and racket of soldiers, to whom he granted complete freedom for theft and killing : so, running through the streets, with swords drawn, it is unspeakable how much was the number of dead ... "

War in the East:

     Sulla, in turn, concluded the war in the East, obliged Mitrídates VI to sign the Peace of Dárdanos (85 BC). His return to Italy precipitated the First Civil War (83-82 BC), between popular and optimates, in which he defeated the popular leaders Cneu Papírio Carbão and Caio Mário the Younger, who were in charge of state incomes, while a third rebel , Fifth Sertorius, would still be able to resist supporters of Sula in Hispania for many years.

     His victory was followed by a dictatorship by Sula himself, in which he systematically pursued his enemies, establishing an ambitious piece of legislation to restore the functioning of republican institutions. Finally, having fulfilled these objectives, Sula returned to being a simple citizen, abandoning power and political life forever.

     For all these reasons, Sulla is considered one of the most extraordinary ancient Romans, despite being morally ambiguous. A canny politician and a skilled general, his career faithfully reflects his time: he was one of the last defenders of Roman constitutional legality, but also one of the main responsible for the end of the Republic. Later historians are divided when judging his legacy, being considered by some as a bloodthirsty monster, and at the same time highly praised by others for his political skills.

March Over Rome:

     The ancient sources are unanimous in stating that the conflict broke out when the popular people, supported by the knights, prepared the public reappearance of Mario, who wanted for himself the military command of the impending war in the East. After having presided over the consular elections for 87 BC, Sula was ready to leave for Capua, where six legions were concentrated for the campaign in Asia), when the tribune of the plebe Publio Sulpício Rufo abruptly changed his political party, ceasing to be one of the most notable members of the optimates to support Mario and the popular. The reasons for this sudden exchange of alliances are not clear: whether it was due to Mário's own influence, ambition and thirst for power or other reasons of a more personal nature.

     Sulpicius quickly passed a law on the suffrage of Italians incorporated into Roman citizenship "ex lege Iulia" and possibly a similar measure applicable to freedmen. The violence that broke out between defenders and opponents of both laws was appeased by the consuls, who declared a suspension of legislative activities, the nature of which has been widely discussed because of the discrepancy between the sources. Apparently it was more of a period of feriae imperativae than justitium. 

     When, in a popular assembly before the Temple of Castor and Pollux, Sulpício demanded the restart of legal activities, the situation degenerated into an open fight that caused, among other consequences, the death of Quinto Pompeu Rufo, son of one of the consuls and son-in-law on the other, and the removal of both magistrates. Sula took refuge, voluntarily or forcibly, near Mário's house, where she discussed the situation created and some kind of agreement was reached, as Sula returned to the Assembly, canceled the holidays and marched to Capua to embark for Asia.

Sula Was Taken out of Surprise:

     Before Sulla even managed to get there, Sulpicius proposed to hand the command of the war against Mitrídates to Mário. Sula's reaction to the popular decree that removed him from command is one of the turning points in the history of the Roman Republic. He was taken aback by the news, as the resolution was as swift as it was drastic. 

     A good connoisseur of his troops, it was enough for him to read the contents of the decree to them, adding that Mário would certainly bring his own forces to the east, which would deprive them of the glories and riches that awaited them, so that the indignation spread among the soldiers. , who demanded to be taken back to Rome. The tribunes sent by Mario were stoned and the consul agreed to put himself in front of the troops on the way back to Rome. 

     None of his officers, with the exception of a quaestor, supported Sula in this unprecedented act, but, on the other hand, he received the support of Quinto Pompeu Rufo, who came to meet with him.

     For the first time in the history of Rome, a magistrate introduced the factor of military strength into interior politics, and from then on, Rome could no longer be free from the threat of a military coup. The increasing deterioration and the continuous political maneuvering of the popular, including the Sulpicius decree against Sula, which directly interfered in a senatorial decision, had finally led to a situation bordering on the implementation of the law of the strongest. 

     After the Sula coup, the republican constitution became little more than a legal farce and its validity, subject to changes and whims of a possible imitator of Sula in the future. In any case, Sula acted officially in defense of the current legality (a mos maiorum, "the way of the elders"), with the intention of rebuilding the Republic through the restoration of the senatorial regime, as will be proved by its subsequent set of reforms. But, paradoxically, Sulla was compelled by circumstances to support the enforcement of laws using precisely the same justifications that precipitated his destruction.

Sula Eliminates Resistance:

     Two praetor, sent from Rome, tried to convince the general of his intention to take the city, failing as a senatorial commission had already failed. When he reached the doors of Rome, Mário, Sulpício and his followers knew that a defense against six legions that had surrounded the capital from three different points was not possible. After a short siege, Sula managed to assault the Servian Wall and invaded the city in front of his troops, thus committing a terrible religious infraction, the violation of the pomerium.

     Only the commoners of Esquilino attacked Sula's troops with stones and tiles from the top of their houses. Sula quickly eliminated this resistance simply by setting the neighborhood on fire while his most committed opponents fled the city. Plutarco says that Mário's gladiators were no match for trained legionnaires and that the popular offer to free any slave who helped them was accepted by only three. Sulpicius was betrayed and killed by one of his slaves, whom Sula released and immediately ordered executed (released by the information that led to Sulpicius' death and sentenced to death for betraying his master). Mario, however, managed to escape to Africa. Before marching, Sula published a list of enemies of the State (which included Mário and Sulpício Rufo) and enacted a series of laws to neutralize the elements that had allowed the people to bypass the senatorial power, that is, the tribal assemblies and the tribunato of the commoners.

     Lex Cornelia Pompeia de comitiis centuriatis et de tribunicia potestate annulled the legislative capacity of popular assemblies (to whom it had been transferred), limited the ability of tribunes to veto a law emanating from the Senate, and required prior authorization of it for all proposals for law. In this way, the old Servian system of the Assembly of Centuries (Comitia Centuriata) was reestablished, which had preference over the Comitia Tributa (used by the commoners to enact laws) when voting on any law.


     Sula's victory was followed by her nomination for an indefinite term dictatorship. When Sulla convened the Senate meeting at the Temple of Belona, ​​a few days after his entry into Rome, his powers were limited to the proconsular command over his troops. From a formal point of view, the legitimate government of Rome was invested only in the consuls, one of whom, Caio Papírio Carbão, was a fugitive in Africa and the other, Caio Mário the Young, had killed himself in Preneste. Thus, it was obvious that there were no consuls and Rome, without legal government, was under the legal command of a proconsul formally declared "hostile rei publicae" and who, for lack of official derogation, was still. When there were no consuls, the Senate, following tradition, appointed an inter-king, whose function was to convene and preside over the elections of the new magistrates. The election fell on the prince of the senate, Lúcio Valério Flaco.

     With all the power concentrated in the hands of Sulla, nothing could, at that moment, oppose his will. It was hoped that the winner would start the state machine again calling for new elections and that Sula himself, as Cina had previously done, would appoint the consuls. But he wanted to try a reorganization and reform of the Republic, already in decline, since the traditional institutions no longer seemed sufficient to act. An extraordinary power was needed, above the state apparatus, and Sula believed that he found it (assuming that he respected, in spite of all, constitutional forms) in an ancient magistracy of extraordinary character, which, although constitutionally recognized, had fallen by the wayside since 216 BC: the dictatorship.


     In parallel to his famous proscriptions, Sula carried out a series of institutional and political reforms to restore the state and enact laws. Deeply conservative on the one hand, there was a spirit of harmony in these reforms, especially when dealing with the integration of Italian allies in Roman institutions.


     Sulla died of a terrible illness, described in detail by Plutarch, possibly some form of intestinal cancer. In the words attributed by Salústio to Sula, he would have said that his life could be extinguished at any moment by the disease and in the fact that Plutarco affirms that Sula already knew in advance his own end, it is possible to conclude that the dictator suffered from the disease since the beginning of his cursus honorum and knew perfectly well of its gravity.

     After his death in 78 BC, and in the face of doubts about what should be done with his body, a group of his veterans took him from his villa to the Roman Field of Mars, where a large funeral pyre was built to incinerate the body of the great ex-dictator, then burying his ashes. His epitaph, created by Sula himself, stated that no one had done so well to his friends and not so badly to his enemies.


     Sulla is generally said to have set the precedent for Caesar's march on Rome and its subsequent dictatorship. Cicero comments that Pompey would have said "If Sula can, why can't I?". Sula demonstrated what could be done and therefore inspired others to try; and, for this reason, it has been considered as another step in the inevitable fall of the Roman Republic.

     Furthermore, Sulla failed to reach an agreement whereby the army (post-Marian reforms, which allowed the recruitment of those who did not own land) would remain loyal to the Senate and not to generals, like himself. He tried to mitigate the issue by passing laws that limited the powers of generals in his provinces and these laws were in place until the imperial period, but failed to prevent generals like Pompey or Julius Caesar from using their armies to advance their personal ambitions against the Senate, a danger that Sula knew from experience.

     While some Sula laws, such as those on the qualifications required for admission to the Senate, reform of the legal systems and regulations on provincial government, remained in Roman statutes well into the Principality, many of their laws were repealed less than one decade after his death. The veto of the plebeian tribunes and their legislative power were quickly reinstated, ironically during the consulate of Pompey and Crassus.

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