R11 Sulla

Fall of the Roman Republic 78-31 BC



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The Legacy of Sulla
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Marius
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Sulla

Sample essay question:
Explain the significance of the legacy of Sulla during this period.

The career of Sulla falls outside the dates of this Historical Period: he died in 78 BC. What you will need to be able to do to respond to a question on the legacy of Sulla is to show how his reforms were overturned by 70 BC and, most importantly, show how Sulla provided a precedent for other powerful individuals with military backing to subvert the power of the Senate. (Consult your notes for Sulla's actions and reforms from 83 BC.)

Essay Outline

Introduction: The legacy of Sulla in this period was very significant. Sulla’s attempt to restore power to the senate and weaken the power of the tribunes was a failure allowing the weaknesses in the republican structure of government to be expoited, causing great instability. However, it was Sulla’s methods during his extraordinary and brutal dictatorship that ultimately created the example which other strong individuals would follow. As Syme wrote in The Roman Revolution, “...even Sulla could not abolish his own example and preclude a successor to his domination.”

Paragraph 1: Sulla’s reforms to strengthen the senate: removal of equites from juries; reestablishment of senatorial veto; tribunes banned from higher office, lost legislative power and right of veto. These reforms were short-lived. Tribunes powers restored in 75 BC (L. Aurelius Cotta) and 70 BC (Pompey and Crassus) and in 70 the equites, with tribuni aerarii, were restored to the juries. The tribunes were to play a key role in the rise of powerful individuals.

Other paragraphs:
  • Sulla’s extraordinary dictatorship (3 years) and his support of illegal early commands of Pompey created precedents for future extraordinary commands which ultimately brought about the end of the republic. Extraordinary commands of Pompey; Caesar (Gaul). Seager: “But the chief danger to the republic was, as Sulla’s own career had shown, the rebellious proconsul at the head of an army more loyal to himself than to Rome.”
  • Role of tribunes in supporting individuals: 67 BC Gabinian Law; 66 BC Manilian Law – explain the circumstances and the extent of the power that was given to Pompey and the fear of Pompey returning from the east like Sulla to take power and butcher his enemies.
  • Caesar’s use of the tribune Vatinius during his first consulship to pass his legislation (illegally) for Pompey, Crassus and himself.
  • Caesar’s use of tribunes while in Gaul, esp. Curio in 50 BC and Antony and Cassius in 49 BC. All of these examples show the destabilisation of the republic by the tribunes in support of strong individuals.
  • The example of Sulla in killing his enemies was the greatest legacy: Pompey laid down his arms when he returned from the east; Caesar was clement towards his enemies following his victory in the Civil War. However, Octavian and Antony learnt from the death of Caesar and carried out a brutal program of proscriptions under the Second Triumvirate. Scullard: “They (the triumvirs)... forgot the example of Caesar and remembered Marius and Sulla.”

Conclusion: Scullard: “His attempts to check tribunes and army commanders alike had failed, but although the restored tribunate might chastise the Optimates with whips, the military dictators chastised them with scorpions.”




Here are some quotes from modern sources relating to the legacy of Sulla:

"It was one of Sulla’s principal objectives to prevent the recurrence of various phenomena that had troubled the established order over the last fifty years: the activities of the popular tribunes, the struggle between senate and equites for control of the courts, and the repeated consulships of his rival Marius. To this end he abolished the legislative powers of the tribunate and debarred those who held it from higher office, restored the courts to the senate and revived the lex annalis. But the chief danger to the republic was, as Sulla’s own career had shown, the rebellious proconsul at the head of an army more loyal to himself than to Rome, and it was Sulla’s total failure to check this menace that contributed most to the rapid collapse of the system."
Robin Seager, from his introduction to the Life of Sulla in Fall of the Roman Republic, Plutarch, pp.65-66

"Sulla achieved little besides adding to the sum of human misery... It was the memory of Sulla's example and methods that proved most enduring."
P.A. Brunt, Social Conflicts in the Roman Republic, p.111, quoted in P. Bradley, Ancient Rome - Using Evidence, p.293

"Thus within ten years of his retirement the essential parts of Sulla's reforms had been swept away: little remained but his reorganization of the courts themselves. His attempts to check tribunes and army commanders alike had failed, but although the restored tribunate might chastise the Optimates with whips, the military dictators chastised them with scorpions. The Senate had failed to rise to the opportunity that Sulla had given it, and the ultimate result was further civil wars in which the Republic perished."
H.H. Scullard, From the Gracchi to Nero, p.98

"L. Cornelius Sulla prevailed and settled order at Rome again through violence and bloodshed. Sulla decimated the knights, muzzled the tribunate, and curbed the consuls. But even Sulla could not abolish his own example and preclude a successor to his domination."
R. Syme, The Roman Revolution, p.17


The Dictatorship of Sulla
88 BC Sulla elected Consul. Chosen by Senate to put down Mithridates who had taken over Asia and the Aegean. But popular and equestrian interests chose Marius to replace Sulla. Sulla returned and killed opponents - Marius escaped. Then after restoring Senate control he left for the east (first use of armed force by conservatives).

88-85 BC First Mithridatic War. Sulla took Athens in 86 BC and defeated Mithridates at Chaeronea and Orchomenus.

87 BC Cinna, popular leader, elected Consul. Enlisted aid of Marius which brought opposition. Marius seized city by force and killed opponents. Elected Consul but died soon after in 86 BC.

83 BC Sulla returned and began civil war. Won and killed nearly 5000, confiscated property and disenfranchised descendants (Joined by Pompey and Crassus). Secured his election as dictator and established senate in full control. (Dictatorship 82-79 BC)
  • Consul’s power for Italy only
  • Praetors increased to eight
  • Prominent courts for bribery, treason, murder, etc. Jurors were senators.
  • Quaestors increased to 20
  • Tribunes forbidden to run for any other office
  • Senatorial veto reestablished
  • Proconsuls and propraetors limited strictly to their provinces
  • Senate increased to 600 by enrolling prominent equestrians

In 79 BC Sulla retired. Died the following year.