Sulla bigraphy, stories - Ancient Roman general, dictator

Sulla : biography

ca. 138 BC - 78 BC

Lucius Cornelius Sulla FelixL•CORNELIVS•L•F•P•N•SVLLA•FELIX in Latin inscriptions, the meaning in English is "Lucius Cornelius Sulla, son of Lucius, grandson of Publius, the lucky." His agnomen Felix — the fortunate — was attained later in life, as the Latin equivalent of the Greek nickname he had acquired during his campaigns - επαφροδιτος , epaphroditus, beloved-of-Aphrodite or (to Romans who read Sulla's Greek title) Venus, due to his skill and luck as a general. (c. 138 BC – 78 BC), known commonly as Sulla, was a Roman general and conservative statesman. He had the distinction of holding the office of consul twice, as well as reviving the dictatorship. Sulla was awarded a grass crown, the most prestigious and rarest Roman military honor, during the Social War. His life was habitually included in the ancient biographical collections of leading generals and politicians, originating in the biographical compendium of famous Romans, published by Marcus Terentius Varro. In Plutarch's Parallel Lives Sulla is paired with the Spartan general and strategist Lysander.

Sulla's dictatorship came during a high point in the struggle between optimates and populares. The former sought a conservative approach to maintain the traditional oligarchic structure of power in the Republic, while the latter challenged the existing order with the avowed aim of increasing the influence of the plebs. Sulla was a gifted and skilful general and won many victories against barbarians as well as fellow Romans and Italians. One of his rivals, Gnaeus Papirius Carbo, described Sulla as having the cunning of a fox and the courage of a lion.

In a series of constitutional crises, Sulla used his armies to march on Rome twice, and after the second time he revived the office of dictator, which had not been used since the Second Punic War over a century before. He used his powers to enact a series of reforms to the Roman constitution, meant to restore the balance of power between the Senate and the tribunes. Already in poor health, he stunned the world (and posterity) by resigning his near-absolute powers, restoring constitutional government in late 81 BC. After seeing election to and holding a second consulship, he retired to private life and died shortly after.

Cultural references

  • The dictator is the subject of two Italian operas, both of which take considerable liberties with history: Lucio Silla by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the Silla by George Frideric Handel. In each he is portrayed as a bloody, womanizing, ruthless tyrant who eventually repents his ways and steps down from the throne of Rome.
  • Sulla is an important character in the first three Masters of Rome novels of Colleen McCullough. Sulla is depicted as ruthless and amoral, very self-assured, personally brave, and charming, especially with women. His charm and ruthlessness make him a valuable aide to Gaius Marius. Sulla’s desire to move out of the shadow of aging Marius eventually leads to civil war. Sulla softened considerably after the birth of his son and was devastated when he died at a young age. The novels depict Sulla full of regrets about having had to put aside his homosexual relationship with a Greek actor to take up his public career.
  • Sulla is played by Richard Harris in the 2002 miniseries Julius Caesar.
  • Lucius Cornelius Sulla is also a character in the first book of the Emperor novels by Conn Iggulden, which are centred around the lives of Gaius Julius Caesar and Marcus Brutus.
  • Sulla is a major character in Roman Blood, the first of the Roma Sub Rosa mystery novels by Steven Saylor.
  • Empire Earth, a computer game/RTS based somewhat on historical accounts, has battles depicting the second march on Rome. In this game Sulla loses.


  • c. 138 BC – Born in Rome
  • 107-05 BC – Quaestor and pro quaestore to Gaius Marius in the war with Jugurtha in Numidia
  • 106 BC – End of Jugurthine War
  • 104 BC – legatus to Marius cos.II in Gallia Transalpina
  • 103 BC – tribunus militum in army of Marius cos.III in Gallia Transalpina
  • 102-01 BC – legatus to Quintus Lutatius Catulus consul and pro consule in Gallia Cisalpina
  • 101 BC – took part in the defeat of the Cimbri at the battle of Vercellae
  • 97 BC – Praetor urbanus
  • 96 BC – Commander of Cilicia province pro consule
  • 90-89 BC – senior officer in the Social War as legatus pro praetore
  • 88 BC –
    • Holds the consulship (for the first time) with Quintus Pompeius Rufus as colleague
    • Invades Rome and outlaws Gaius Marius
  • 87 BC – Command of Roman armies to fight King Mithridates of Pontus
  • 86 BC – Sack of Athens, Battle of Chaeronea, Battle of Orchomenus
  • 85 BC – Liberation of Macedonia, Asia and Cilicia provinces from Pontic occupation
  • 84 BC – Reorganization of Asia province
  • 83 BC – Returns to Italy and undertakes civil war against the factional Marian government
  • 83-82 BC – War with the followers of Gaius_Marius_the_Younger and Cinna
  • 82 BC – Victory at the Battle of the Colline Gate
  • 82/1 BC – Appointed "dictator legibus faciendis et rei publicae constituendae causa"
  • 81 BC – Resigns the dictatorship before the end of the year
  • 80 BC – Holds the consulship (for the second time) with Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius as colleague
  • 79 BC – Retires from political life, refusing the post consulatum provincial command of Gallia Cisalpina he was allotted as consul, but retaining the curatio for the reconstruction of the temples on the Capitoline Hill
  • 78 BC – Dies, perhaps of an intestinal ulcer. Funeral held in Rome
Living octopus

Living octopus

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