Roman Republic

Roman Italy (1st century BC)

L. Cornelius Sulla (89 - 84 BC)

Sulla  (89-84 BC)     Sulla  (83-78 BC)

Sulla’s Ancestry

According to Plutarch (who made use, inter alia, of Sulla’s autobiography):

  1. “Lucius Cornelius Sulla belonged to a patrician or noble, family, and one of his ancestors, Rufinus, is said to have been consul, although he was renowned less for this honour than for the dishonour that he incurred: he was found possess more than ten pounds of silver plate, contrary to the law, and was for that reason expelled from the Senate.  His posterity became at once obscure and continued so; nor did Sulla himself enjoy a wealthy parentage”, (‘Life of Sulla’, 1: 1).

Velleius Paterculus recorded that:

  1. “Sulla was  ...  sprung of a noble family, the 6th in descent from the Cornelius Rufinus who had been one of the famous generals in the war with Pyrrhus.  As the renown of his family had waned, Sulla had long acted as though he had had no thought of seeking the consulship”, (‘Roman History’, 2: 17: 1-2).

The fasti Capitolini record that P. Cornelius Rufinus was consul for the second time in on 277 BC: although the entry for his first consulship no longer survives in in the fasti Capitolini, the ‘Chronography of 354 AD’ record it in 290 BC.  As noted above, we also know how his career in public life ended: Livy recorded that, in 275 BC, the censor:

  1. “... Fabricius removed the former consul P. Cornelius Rufinus from the Senate because he owned more than ten pounds of silverware”, (Periochae, 14:4).

It also seems that he had held the dictatorship before his expulsion: according to Valerius Maximus:

  1. “Every generation has recounted ... that Cornelius Rufinus, who had held (with the highest distinction) two consulships and a dictatorship, was expelled from the Senate ... because he had accumulated silver plate weighing 10 pounds”, (‘Facta et Dicta Memorabilia’, 2: 9: 4, my translation).

Unfortunately, we know nothing more about this dictatorship, although we might reasonably assume that:

  1. given his military record, Cornelius was appointed to this office to deal with a military emergency; and

  2. this emergency arose after his first consulship and before 284 BC, in a period for which the entries in the fasti Capitolini do not survive.

Thus, as Arthur Keaveney (referenced below, at p. 5) observed:

  1. “Of all seven patrician families who belonged to the Cornelian clan, that to which Sulla belonged, although it could boast of one colourful character, was the least distinguished.  The earliest  member of the family of whom we have a record was [also called] P. Cornelius Rufinus, who was dictator in [334/3 BC], but he is ... really little more than a name.”

According to Livy (‘History of Rome’, 8: 17: 2-4) this dictatorship  was vitiated on religious grounds before he had achieved anything worth recording.  The eponymous consul of 290 and 277 BC was probably his grandson: Arthur Keaveney (referenced below, at p. 5) observed that:

  1. “... his disgrace seems to have led to the partial political eclipse of his family ... and, by the time of Sulla, it was regarded as being of little consequence.”

Sulla’s Early Career

According to Robert Broughton (reference below, 1952, at p. 14 and note 3), Sulla omitted the aedileship and failed in the elections for the praetors of 94 BC, but was elected as one of the praetors of 93 BC.  He served as Praetor Urbanus in that year and as Propraetor in Cilicia in 92 BC [see the detailed account by Corey Brennan, 1992, referenced below.]

When Sulla returned from his province, any hopes that he had of standing for the consulship of 91 BC were dashed when C. Marcius Censorinus, a supporter of the aged C. Marius (cos: 107; 104; 103; 102; 101; 100 BC)

  1. “... brought suit against him for bribery, alleging that he had collected large sums of money illegally from a friendly and allied kingdom.  However, Censorinus did not put in an appearance at the trial, but dropped his impeachment”, (‘Life of Sulla’, 6: 1-2).

Corey Brennan (referenced below, 1992, at p. 155 argued that this ‘spoiling tactic’ was probably linked to another incident that Plutarch recorded in the following paragraph:

  1. “Moreover, Sulla's quarrel with Marius broke out afresh ... [When King Bocchus of Mauretania], who, desiring to please the people at Rome, and at the same time to gratify Sulla, dedicated on the Capitol some images bearing trophies, and beside them gilded figures representing [his father-in-law, the Numidian king Jugurtha] being surrendered by Bocchus to Sulla.  Thereupon, Marius. [who claimed sole credit for the victory over Jugurtha], was very angry, and tried to have the figures taken down.  Others were minded to aid Sulla in opposing this, and the city was all but in flames with their dispute, when the Social War, which had long been smouldering, blazed up against the city and put a stop for the time being to the quarrel”, (‘Life of Sulla’, 5: 6).

During the Social War (90 - 89 BC) Sulla served as a legatus of:

  1. the consul L. Julius Caesar in 90 BC; and

  2. the consul L. Porcius Cato in 89 BC. 

Robert Broughton (referenced below, 1952, at pp. 36 -8 and note 7) suggested that, after Cato was killed in battle, Sulla received a more senior command: although he seems to have remained a legatus, two of his fellow legati (T. Didius and A. Postumius Albinus) seem to have come under his command.   However, Corey Brennan (referenced below, 1992, at p. 157) suggested that ex-praetors like Sulla (and Marius) probably served as legati pro praetore with formal imperium throughout the war.  According to Diodorus Siculus, he:

  1. “... bravely and gallantly performed most notable actions [during the Social War], and his fame and renown was celebrated all over the city.  The people of Rome judged him worthy of the consulship, looking upon him as a man eminent for both his valour and his skill as a general; in summary, it was clear that he was likely to reach the highest pitch of glory”, (‘Library of History’, 37: 25).

Corey Brennan (referenced below, 1992, at p. 158) observed that Sulla displayed this military brilliance predominantly in 89 BC and (although Diodorus and others might have taken their assessment from Sull’a now-lost memoirs) there is little doubt that his performance boosted his political standing in Rome, to good effect:

  1. “The wait [since the mishaps of 91 BC] paid off: Sulla was made consul for 88 BC.

Sulla’s First Consulship (88 BC)

Denarrius (RRC 434/1) issued by Q. Pompeius Rufus in 54 BC

It portrays and commemorates his maternal and paternal grandfathers: SULLA COS and Q POM RUF’/RUFUS COS

Elections for the Consuls of 88 BC

The elections for the consuls of 88 BC must have been conducted by the consul Cn. Pompeius Strabo (the father of the future Pompey the Great), since his consular colleague had been killed in action and not replaced.  

Cn. Pompeius Strabo (I)

Strabo had owed his election to his success in the Social War as a legatus in 91-90 BC and had won further military successes during his consulship.  This is reflected in the fact that he was the only Roman commander to be awarded a triumph during the Social War.  According to the fasti Triumphales, he  triumphed at Asculum in Picenum of 25th December 89 BC. 

The likelihood is that he had presided over the elections shortly before he celebrated his triumph.  According to Velleius Paterculus, he had been:,

  1. “Foiled in his hope of a second term in the consulship ...”, (‘Roman History’, 2: 21: 2).

This is the only surviving reference to Strabo’s putative desire for a second and consecutive consulship in 88 BC, but it cannot be discounted: after all, it would have already been decided that one of the consular provinciae for that year would be Asia and the war against Mithridates  (see below).  The reasons why he did not (as far as we know) stand (if indeed he had wanted to) are unknown, but we do know from a surviving fragment of the now-lost Book 77 of Livy’s ‘History of Rome’ (see ‘Periochae’, 76: 3 and 77: 8) that he had proconsular imperium in this year.  Jeffrey Tatum (referenced below, at p. 555) suggested that the triumph and prorogation were, in effect, ‘consolation prizes’:

  1. “... even if they were not enough to satisfy the recipient.  Instead of canvassing for office, then, [he] presided over the elections [and then] returned to [what was, in effect, his own private] army in Picenum.”

Outcome of the Elections

We know of one other potential candidate for the consulship in 88 BC: as discussed below, C. Iulius Caesar Strabo, who had not yet served as praetor, nevertheless wanted to stand, but was blocked by two of the new plebeian tribunes, P. Sulpicius Rufus and P. Antistius.   No other candidates are known, except for two who were actually elected: Sulla and Q. Pompeius Rufus, who was also soon to become Sulla’s  father-in-law.  According to Appian:

  1. “When the consuls cast lots, the government of Asia and the Mithridatic war fell to ... Sulla”, (‘Mithridatic Wars’, 5: 22).

Modern scholars often doubt that Sulla’s desirable provincia could have been decided by chance, but none of our surviving sources suggest otherwise and, in any case, it is likely that both Sulla and Pompeius were entirely happy with the outcome, whether or not it was simply fortuitous.

P. Sulpicius Rufus

It seems likely that Sulla and Pompeius had received support during the elections from at least one of the new plebeian tribunes, P. Sulpicius Rufus.  According to Cicero, Sulpicius was one of:

  1. “... two young men:

  2. who were very great friends of [M. Livius Drusus, the plebeian tribune of 91 BC, who had been murdered by his political enemies following his attempt to to enfranchise Rome’s Italian allies]; and

  3. in whom the older generation at that time reposed high hopes of their maintaining the traditions of their order.

  4. These two men were:

  5. [C. Aurelius] Cotta, just then seeking the plebeian tribuneship; and

  6. ... Sulpicius, who was thought likely to become a candidate for that magistracy in succession to him”, (‘On the Orator’, 1: 25-6, translated by Edward Sutton and Harris Rackham, referenced below, at pp. 19-21).

Thus, Cicero identified Cotta and Sulpicius as the designated political heirs of Drusus and supporters of the cause of Rome’s Italian allies. 

As it turned out, Cotta was unsuccessful in the elections for the tribunes of 90 BC and subsequently went into voluntary exile in order to escape prosecuted under the terms of the lex Varia (which was passed in that year and directed against men of his political persuasion).  Furthermore, we know from Cicero that Pompeius had been prosecuted under the lex Varia (although the fact that he was able to stand for the consulship towards the end of 89 BC means that he must have been acquitted).  In the relevant passage, Cicero recorded that:

  1. “The only court still active [in 90 BC] was taken up by cases under [the lex Varia]; all other [courts] were suspended because of the war.  I was constantly present at its hearings and, although the accused who spoke in their own defence (men like L. Memmius and Q. Pompeius) were not orators of the first rank, still they were orators”, (‘Brutus’, 304, translated by George Hendrickson and Harry Hubbell, referenced below, at p. 265). 

As we shall see, Cicero described Sulpicius as a close friend of Pompeius in 89 BC, and we may therefore reasonably assume that, at this time, Pompeius, Cotta and Sulpicius were of similar political persuasions.  (Sulpicius was not prosecuted in this way, despite his past links with Drusus and Cotta, presumably because he was already serving on the Roman side in the Social Wars - see, for example, Robert Broughton, 1952, referenced below, at  p. 31, note 18).

According to Cicero, Sulpicius  and his colleague, P. Antistius (the only other plebeian tribune of 88 BC who is identified in our surviving sources) won favour (at least in Cicero’s eyes):

  1. “...  by carrying to success a just indictment against the irregular candidacy  for the consulship of [C. Iulius Caesar Strabo, who had not yet served as praetor].  This was the more noteworthy because, while his colleague, the famous Sulpicius, [a renowned orator], participated in the same case, Antistius made a fuller and more penetrating argument”, (‘Brutus’, 226-7, translated by George Hendrickson and Harry Hubbell, referenced below, at p. 193). 

Jeffrey Tatum (referenced below, at p. 557) observed that, although Caesar might have stood for the consulship of either 88 or 87 BC, the former is much the more likely, in which  case the intervention of Sulpicius and Antistius would have increased Sulla’s chances since both men were patricians so the could not both succeed.  He also argued that, since Antistius:

  1. “... was put to death in 82 BC on the grounds that he was a partisan of Sulla, ... his opposition to Caesar’s election] ... could be associated with a desire to cultivate Sulla.  ...  Certainly, [both Sulpicius and Antistius saw an opportunity for putting Sulla under an obligation if [they] could play a leading role in obstructing Caesar.  Which is not to say that political principle was uninvolved ...”

All this suggests that, at the start of the consular year, Sulla and Pompeius enjoyed a supportive relationship with at least two of the plebeian tribunes, Sulpicius and Antistius.  However, their relationship with Sulpicius was soon to break down in most dramatic fashion.  This is suggested in the following passage by Cicero: 

  1. “Sulpicius started [his tribuneship by supporting] a very good cause [when he] resisted C. Julius [Caesar Strabo, who was] aiming for the consulship against the laws ; then, the breeze of popular support carried him further than he wished”, (‘On the Response of the Haruspices’, 43, translated by Gesine Manuwald, referenced below, at p. 71).

Cicero was more explicit referred to the:

  1. “... great astonishment ... [that was felt] among the people when Sulpicius, while plebeian tribune, separated himself in deadly hatred from the then consul, Q. Pompeius, with whom he had lived on the most intimate and affectionate terms”, (‘On Friendship’, 1: 3, translated by William Falconer, referenced below, at p. 111).

As we shall see, this breakdown seems to have occurred because Sulpicius’ expectations of the consuls’ support of his legislative programme were disappointed.

Sulpicius’ Legislation

As Tim Smith (referenced below, at pp. 17-8) observed:

  1. “Among the other bills [that Sulpicius] introduced as tribune, he [controversially] attempted to enrol the [newly-enfranchised] Italians, who were still politically marginalised following the Social War, into the existing 35 voting tribes.”

The political context of this proposal for which, see Lily Ross Taylor, referenced below, at pp. 101-3 and, for more detail,  Edward Bispham, referenced below, at pp. 162-79) can be summarised as follows:

  1. Some of the  Italian allies had revolted after the murder of Drusus (above), which signalled the end of any hopes of a peaceful resolution of their grievances.

  2. In order to stop the revolt spreading:

  3. in 90 BC, the consul L. Julius Caesar had sponsored a law that enfranchised all of the Latin citizens and also those allied communities that had not revolted; and

  4. in 89 BC:

  5. -two of the plebeian tribunes M. Plautius Silvanus and C. Papirius Carbo, extended this to include all Italian individuals who had not joined the revolt, provided that they registered their request within 60 days; and

  6. -the consul Cn. Pompeius Strabo sponsored a law that gave citizenship with Latin rights to the communities of Cisalpine Gaul.

By 88 BC, the revolt was limited to Samnium and Lucanian, but the details of the voting rights of the newly-enfranchised citizens had yet to be decided.  The lex Julia had provided for the creation of a small number of new tribes for them, but this would have made them second class citizens, since the present system was on the basis of ‘one tribe, one vote’.  This aspect of the provisions was extremely controversial, with the result that the censors who had been appointed in 89 BC (P. Licinius Crassus (cos 97 BC) and L. Julius Caesar (cos 97 BC)) were unable to complete the up-dating of the electoral roll. 

It is possible that Sulpicius introduced this new legislation because:

  1. some further compromise was needed for practical reasons; and

  2. he remained wedded to the political ideology of Drusus and Cotta.

Nevertheless, Cicero’s reference to ‘the breeze of popular support’ that propelled him at this time indicates a more cynical reason, and it is clear that the bill was indeed popular with the new citizens themselves and their Roman supporters.  On the other hand, Sulpicius’ proposals for the new voting arrangements also had influential opponents, and these might well have included the serving consuls.  Tim Smith (referenced below, ar p. 18) argued that it was probably for this reason that:

  1. “Sulpicius sought the support of the consular Marius ... to give his proposal some heft.  Notwithstanding his lack of involvement in domestic affairs over the previous decade [and his current status as a privatus], Marius still held a great deal of clout.  The two men needed each other.  Sulpicius gained [Marius’] support by including in his programme a proposal to divest Sulla of the ... command [against Mithridates] in order to give it to Marius as a proconsul.”

It is easy to see that Sulpicius’ had lost all hope retaining any consular support.

According to Appian:

  1. “The old [i.e. pre-war] citizens [opposed the proposal to distribute the new citizens across all of the tribes] with all their might.  [The two groups] fought each other with sticks and stones, and the evil continually increased until the consuls, becoming apprehensive as the day for voting on the law drew near, proclaimed a [cessation of all public business] of several days (as was customary on festive occasions) in order to postpone the voting and [hence the immediate] danger.  Sulpicius would not wait for the end of the [cessation of  business], but ordered his faction to come to the forum with concealed daggers and to do whatever the exigency might require, sparing not even the consuls if need be.  ... [He then] denounced the [cessation of  business] as illegal and ordered the consuls ... to put an end to it at once, in order to proceed to the enactment of the laws.  A tumult arose, and those who had been armed drew their daggers and threatened to kill the consuls, who refused to obey.  Finally Pompeius escaped secretly and Sulla withdrew on the pretext of taking advice.  In the meantime, Pompeius’ son (and Sulla’s son-in‑law), who was speaking his mind rather freely, was killed by the Sulpicians”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 55-6).

Benjamin Straumann (referenced below, at p. 32) pointed out that the consuls had just cause to resist Sulpicius’ legislation, since:

  1. it had been passed by force; and

  2. it transferred a command that was legitimately held by Sulla as consul to Marius, a privatus.

The consuls now had to  decide how they should respond to this unprecedented situation.

Sulla’s Response

Appian believed that Sulla had left Rome before he heard about the law that transferred his command to Marius, and that he was with his army at Capua when he first heard the news.  He quickly:

  1. “... resolved to settle the problem by war and  therefore called the army together to a conference.  [Most of his men] were eager for the war against Mithridates because it promised much plunder, and they feared that Marius would enlist other soldiers instead of themselves.  Sulla spoke of the indignity put upon him by Sulpicius and Marius and, while he did not openly allude to anything else (for he did not dare as yet to mention this sort of war), he urged them to be ready to obey his orders.  They understood what he meant and ... urged him to  ... lead them to Rome.  Sulla [therefore] led six legions [to Rome], although all of his officers except one quaestor ... fled to the City because they would not accept the idea of leading an army against [it]”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 57).

Appian then noted that envoys sent by the Senate:

  1. “Envoys met [Sulla] on the road and asked him why he was marching with armed forces against his country, to which he replied”

  2. ‘To deliver her from tyrants.’

  3. He gave the same answer to a second and third embassy that came to him, but then announced  ... that the Senate and Marius and Sulpicius might meet him in the Campus Martius if they liked, and that he would do whatever might be agreed upon after consultation.   As he was approaching [the City], his colleague, Pompeius, came to meet and congratulate him, and to offer his whole-hearted hope, for he was delighted with the steps he was taking.  As Marius and Sulpicius needed some short interval for preparation, they sent other messengers, also in the guise of envoys from the Senate, directing him not to move his camp nearer than forty stades from the city until they could review the state of affairs. Sulla and Pompeius understood their motive perfectly and promised to comply, but as soon as the envoys withdrew they followed them [onwards to Rome]”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 57).

As Martin Stone (referenced below, at p. 211) observed, the Senate had, for whatever reason:

  1. “... placed itself at the disposal of the tribune who had denied its auctoritas, infringed  the dignitas of its members,, intimidated the consuls, and suspended one of them, [Sulla], from the exercise of his [legitimate provincia].”

It is hard to argue that any of the elements of Republican government remained in place.

It seems odd that no-one in Rome seems to have taken any account of the fact that Sulla’s was the only army in the vicinity and that, although its officers had returned to Rome, its men had refused to recognise the tribunes’ removal of Sulla’s imperium: according to Plutarch:

  1. “Marius [had] sent military tribunes ... to [Sulla’s army at] Nola with orders to take over the army there  ... [but] Sulla [had reached the camp before them] ... and his soldiers, when they learned what had happened, [had] stoned [them] to death”, (‘Life of Sulla’, 8:4 - 9:1).

Indeed, Sulla’s soldiers might well have formally acclaimed him as their imperator before they began their march on Rome.  In these circumstances, it is hard to see how Sulpicius and Marius could have imagined that they could prevent them from taking the City.  Perhaps they had thought that Sulla’s nerve would fail  before he took the unprecedented action of crossing the pomerium at the head of a Roman army in order to achieve remove his political opponents by force of Roman arms.  However, if so, then they had miscalculated: his army duly entered and took the City, at which point Sulpicius and Marius fled.  Appian fully understood the enormity of these events and their inevitable repercussions:

  1. “From this time, seditions were decided only by the arbitration of arms.  There were frequent [Roman] attacks upon the city and battles [between Roman armies] before the walls  ... Henceforth, there was no restraint upon violence ... [and no] regard for law, institutions, or country”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 60).

Sulla and Pompeius in Control of Rome

According to Appian, at dawn on the day after the consuls took control of the city, they:

  1. “... summoned the people to an assembly and lamented the condition of the Republic, which had been so long given over to demagogues, and said that they had  done what they had done as a matter of necessity.  They proposed that no question should ever again be brought before the people before it had been considered by the Senate,... [and] also that voting [on such measures] should not be by tribes but by centuries ... They also proposed many other measures for curtailing the power of the tribunes, which had become extremely tyrannical.  [Beyond that], they enrolled 300 of the best citizens at once in the list of the senators, who had been reduced at that time to a very small number and had fallen into contempt for that reason”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 59).

As Callie Williamson (referenced below, at p. 331-2) observed:

  1. “... dramatically changed the entire process of public law-making assemblies, which was so critical to establishing the [Roman] consensus ... We might wonder at the about-face the approval of these measures presumes on the part of the voting population now in Rome. ... [However], there was now another group of voters on hand , ... namely Sulla’s soldiers, who formed a significantly large group.”

He added that the tribunes were forced to repeal all the’ illegal’ acts performed by Sulpicius, which meant that:

  1. the voting rights of new citizens remained undecided; and

  2. Sulla’s provinciae were restored.

Plutarch recorded that Sulla also;

  1. “... called together the Senate and had a sentence of death passed on Marius himself and a few others, among whom was Sulpicius, the tribune of the people”, (‘Life of Sulla’, 10: 1).

Valerius Maximus gave a graphic account of the mood of the meeting :

  1. “Sulla, after scattering and completely defeating the party of his enemies (inimicorum partibus) ... compelled the Senate to accomplish his most eager desire: that Marius should be judged a public enemy (hostis iudicaretur).  No-one dared to resist him, except Scaevola, [the augur, probably the aged Q. Mucius Scaevola, cos 117 BC], who ... refused to give his opinion on the motion.   And when Sulla began ... to threaten him, he [allegedly] said:

  2. ‘Although you may show me the bands of soldiers with which you have surrounded the Senate ... [and] constantly threaten me with death, you shall never force me, on account of my feeble and aged blood, to judge Marius, by whom this city and all Italy has been preserved, a public enemy’", (‘Memorable Deeds and Sayings”, 3: 8: 5).

Appian recorded that:

  1. “Marius escaped ... and fled to Minturnae without companion or servant.  ... [The] magistrates of the city, [were afraid to defy] the proclamation of the Roman people, but [reluctant to kill] a man who had been six times consul and had performed so many brilliant exploits ...”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 61).

According to Plutarch, when Marius returned to Rome in 87 BC, he:

  1. “... halted at the gates and angrily dissembled, saying that he was an exile and was excluded from [Rome] by the law and, if his presence there was desired, the vote that cast him out must be rescinded by another vote ...”, (‘Life of Marius’, 43: 2).

  2. These passages reflects the variations between our surviving sources as to the status of the judgement of the Senate that certain named Romans were to become ‘hostes’, but Barry Katz (referenced below, 1975, at pp. 102-3) reasonably suggested that they can be reconciled by assuming that the Senate’s resolution was laid before the people and passed into law.

Appian recorded the offences of which the hostes have been accused: they had:

  1. stirred up the sedition;

  2. borne arms against the consuls; and

  3. incited slaves to insurrection ”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 60).

He also recorded that, since they been voted enemies of the Roman people, so that:

  1. “... anybody meeting them was authorised to kill them with impunity or to drag them before the consuls; and their goods were confiscated”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 60).

However, Sofia Piacentin (referenced below, at p. 131) pointed out that Appian is our only surviving source for the claim that the property of the hostes was confiscated and argued (at pp. 131-3) that subsequent events indicate that this is incorrect, albeit that some of it might well have been:

  1. “... pillaged and sacked by their political opponents when left unattended during their escapes.”

She also produced (at pp. 131-2 and note 19)a list of the fates of the hostes that are named in our surviving sources:

  1. Sulpicius was the only one who is known to have been captured and killer;

  2. Marius, Marius’s son, P. Cornelius Cethegus, Q. Granius, P. Albinovanus, and M. Laetorius apparently joined Marius in his attempt to escape to Africa, where he was hoping to get aid from Hiempsal, king of Numidia.

  3. M. Junius Brutus (who escaped to Spain), Q. Granius (who had probably escaped to Africa) and M. Laetorius were all proscribed and died in 82 BC, while P. Cornelius Cethegus and P. Albinovanus probably rejoined Sulla at that point.

Benjamin Straumann (referenced below, at p. 32) noted that Sulla’s solution to the crisis had involved:

  1. “... the novelty of a Roman army invading Rome and the further novelty of [the designation of] certain Roman citizens as hostes (foreign enemies of the Roman people).”

Harriet Flower (referenced below, at p. 77) argued that Sulla’s march on Rome marked the start of the Romans’ first civil war, since, although Rome had witnessed periodic outbreaks of political violence over the last 50 years or so, this was:

  1. “... the first time that Roman soldiers took up arms and followed a general, [in this case, Sulla] in an outright attack:

  2. on other magistrates in office [in this case, at least Sulpicius, although Marius and his son were privati; and

  3. on [Rome itself], which they captured by force. 

  4. Sulla then drew the logical conclusion from his actions when formally declared his principal political opponents to be hostes, who could be killed with impunity.  In doing so, he explicitly equated himself with the State and his political enemies with foreign enemies.”

Elections of the Magistrates of 87 BC

By this point, Sulla was extremely unpopular across much of the political spectrum.  Thus, as Plutarch recorded, when he duly presided over the elections for 87 BC, the people:

  1. “... ignominiously rejected his candidates for [unspecified] offices:

  2. Nonius his nephew; and

  3. Σερουήϊον [which transliterates as Serouon - see below];

  4. and appointed others, whose preferment they thought would be most vexing to him.  However, he pretended to be pleased at this, ... and allowed a man of the opposite faction, [L. Cornelius] Cinna, to be invested with the consulship, after binding him by solemn oaths that he would be favourable to his policies”, (‘Life of Sulla’, 10: 2-4).

Robert Broughton (referenced below, 1991, at p. 46) observed that:

  1. “If, as seems probable, Nonius may be identified with Sextus Nonius Sufenas, known from the inscription on coins struck by M. Nonius Sufenas (ca. 60 BC) as the praetor in 81 BC, who was the first to celebrate the ludi Victoriae Sullanae ... , he was at that time probably competing for one of the lower offices”, (see p.  46).

He also noted (at p. 17) that, if

  1. “... Mommsen's emendation of [Σερουήϊον] to Servilius [is] accepted, [then] the future P. Servilius Vatia] Isauricus (the most probable identification) was a defeated candidate for the consulship of 87 BC, when another patrician, L. Cornelius Cinna, was elected.  [This is perhaps supported by the fact that], in 80 BC, after Sulla's victory, Servilius was elected [as consul] for 79 BC”, (see p.  17).

Interestingly, a fragmentary entry in the Augustan fasti Triumphales records that [P. Serv]ilius C.f. M.n. Vatia, propraetor of a now-unknown province, had triumphed on 21st October 88 BC.  John Rich (referenced below, at p. 245 and p. 251), citing Corey Brennan (referenced below, 2000, at p. 477 and p. 870, note 136) argued that the province in question was almost certainly Sardinia.  As Ronald Ridley (referenced below), observed, this was the only triumph awarded between 93 and 81 BC.  It is surely significant that this triumph was celebrated shortly before the consular elections, particularly if Servilius was about to stand.  Tim Smith (referenced below, at p. 22), who apparently accepted  that this was the case, observed that, in these elections, Servilius was:

  1. “... a patrician candidate of some prestige who had celebrated a triumph that very year, probably thanks to his friend Sulla.  That a man who had recently [been honoured in this way]  had somehow failed to get elected to the [consulship] is indicative of Sulla’s unpopularity.”

Outcome of the Consular Elections for 87 BC

The consuls elected for 87 BC were:

  1. L. Cornelius Cinna, who had served as a legate of Pompeius Strabo in 89-8 BC (see Livy, ‘Periochae’, 76: 3-5); and

  2. Cn. Octavius, whom Barry Katz (referenced below, 1976, at p. 531) characterised as a ‘mild-mannered mediocrity’ without much political or military experience at the time of his election.

Both Plutarch ”, (‘Life of Sulla’, 10: 3-4) and Cassius Dio (‘Roman History’, Fr. 102) claimed that, before Sulla  left for his province, he extracted an oath from Cinna to the effect that he (Cinna) would leave Sulla’s new legislation in place.   As Tim Smith (referenced below, at. pp 22-3) observed:

  1. “[The] historicity [of this claim] need not concern us.  Two things are clear:

  2. [any such] oath had no binding effect on Cinna, who soon proceeded with contrary laws; and

  3. the story of the oath played usefully into Sulla’s later propaganda, painting Cinna as ... a traitor and oath-breaker.

Fate of Q. Pompeius Rufus

According to Appian:

  1. “The army that had been voted for the Mithridatic war furnished ample protection for Sulla, even   after he should cease to be consul; but the people [were concerned about] the perilous position of the other consul, Q. Pompeius [Rufus], and gave him the command of Italy and of the army appertaining to it, which was then under Cn. Pompeius [Strabo]”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 63).

It is highly unlikely that ‘the people’ furnished the consul with an army after his term of office expired simply for his own protection  and the suggestion of Catherine Steel (referenced below, at p. 94, note 57) is much more likely: his provincia, which would have been decided at the same time as Sulla was given Asia and the war against Mithridates:

  1. “... must have been Italy, to continue military operations against those Italians who remained under arms ...”

In other words, the likelihood is that Q. Pompeius Rufus expected to replace Cn. Pompeius Strabo as proconsul for the continuation of the war and assume command of his army.  However, as recorded in a fragment of the surviving summary of the now-lost Book 77 of Livy’s ‘History of Rome’:

  1. “The consul Q. Pompeius [Rufus] set out to take over the army of the proconsul Cn. Pompeius [Strabo], but was killed by the latter”,  (‘Periochae’, 77: 8).

(The distant familial relationship between the two men is illustrated on this family tree by Christian C. Strachan).

Cn. Pompeius Strabo (II)

In order to understand these events, it is necessary to look again at Strabo’s earlier career (discussed above in the context of the consular elections).  According to Christopher Dart (referenced below, at p. 140), he:

  1. “... was one of six specially appointed legati of the consul P. Rutilius Lupus in 90 BC ... The posting appears to have been the product of a deliberate decision on the part of the Senate.  Although evidence is very limited, [Strabo’s] estates and his family’s sphere of influence appear to have been in [Picenum, one of the centres of the Italian revolt].”

In the light of subsequent events (see below), it seems likely that Strabo was given this role because he was able to recruit an army in his local area and knew how to use it to good effect.   As we have seen, his military performance had taken him to the consulship of 89 BC, followed by a triumph and the role of proconsul in northern Italy in 88 BC.  None of our surviving sources (including Livy, summarised above) was in any doubt that he arranged for Rufus’ murder rather than relinquish his command.

It is interesting to look at the other surviving sources with this in mind:

  1. According to Appian:

  2. “When [Strabo] learned [that Rufus had been sent to take over command of his army], he was greatly displeased, but received [the consul] in the camp, and ... gave way to him for a time as if relieved of his command.  [However], a little later, a crowd [of soldiers] ... killed him.  After the guilty men had fled, ... [Strabo feigned] indignation over the illegal killing of a consul but, despite his displeasure, immediately resumed his command over [the army]”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 63).

  3. According to Valerius Maximus:

  4. “When [Rufus] ... , at the command of the Senate, ventured  to approach the army of [Strabo], who had kept t[it] for some time against the wishes of the State, the soldiers, who were corrupted by the enticements of their ambitious general (dux), fell upon [Rufus] as he was beginning to sacrifice, and killed him ... The Senate was forced to yield to the army, and did not dare to avenge so great a crime”, (‘Memorable Deeds and Sayings’, 9: 7: [6])

  5. According to Velleius Paterculus, towards the end of the consular year:

  6. “... the hands of Roman soldiers were first stained with the blood of a consul: [Rufus], the colleague of Sulla, was killed by the army of [Strabo], the proconsul, in a mutiny that their general (dux) himself had stirred up”, (‘Roman History’, 2: 20: 1)

Both Valerius Maximus and Velleius Paterculus described Strabo as his army’s dux:

  1. Fergus Millar (referenced below, at p. 191) asserted that this term was not a formal military title at Rome until the 3rd century AD; and

  2. Thomas Wiedemann (referenced below, at p. 483 and note 15)characterised it as:

  3. “... a word hardly ever applied in later republican prose to regular roman commanders. ... [For example], Caesar's reference to Publius Crassus (at ‘Gallic Wars’, 3. 21. 1) as 'adulescentulo duce' is the sole exception [within Caesar’s work], but it is intended to be deprecating.  Normally the word is reserved for Gallic chieftains.”

It seems to me that, in the case of Strabo, the term was used because he was, to all intents and purposes. the commander of a private army.

Sulla’s Departure for the East

According to Appian

  1. “When the murder of [the consul] Pompeius was reported in the City, Sulla became apprehensive for his own safety and surrounded himself by friends wherever he went, ... He ... [soon] went to the army at Capua and from there to Asia”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 64).

Sulla presumably set sail as soon as he was able, probably in early 87 BC.

Rome after Sulla (87-6 BC)

Cinna’s First Consulship (87 BC)

As we have seen, Sulla left Italy soon after the murder of his erstwhile consular colleague and the election of the new consuls, L. Cornelius Cinna and Cn. Octavius.  According to Plutarch:

  1. “... as soon as [Cinna] had entered upon his office, he tried to subvert the existing order of things, and had an impeachment prepared against Sulla.  He appointed Virginius [sic], a tribune of the people, to be [Sulla’s] accuser.  But Sulla, ignoring alike accuser and court, set out against Mithridates”, (‘Life of Sulla’, 10: 4).

Cicero (in a reference to the poor oratorical skill of this tribune) characterised him as:

  1. “M. Vergilius, who, as tribune of the people,instituted proceedings against Sulla, then commanding the army (in Asia)”, (‘Brutus’, 304, translated by George Hendrickson and Harry Hubbell, referenced below, at p.153). 

However, pace Plutarch, it is entirely possible that Vergilius instigated these proceeding without Cinna’s  direct (or at least the public) support.

Tim Smith (referenced below, at pp. 19-22) pointed out that none of our surviving sources indicate that, at the time of their election, either:

  1. Cinna was an adherent of Marius; or

  2. Octavius was an adherent of Sulla.

However, this situation was about to break down: as Smith observed (at pp. 24):

  1. “Despite the alleged oath [that Cinna had sworn to uphold Sulla’s policies, he] proceeded against Sulla forthwith, perhaps [even] before [Sulla] had departed for the east. ...  [He] instigated a raft of legislation strongly reminiscent of the recently repealed Sulpician proposals.  Once again, the enfranchisement of the Italians was central to the legislative programme: [if Cinna prevailed, then] the allies were to be distributed among the existing thirty-five tribes and thus be given equal voting rights.”

Cicero, (in a speech that he delivered in the Senate on 2nd February 43 BC, at the start of yet another civil war), made it clear that the franchise issue had been at the heart of political turmoil of 87 BC:

  1. “... Cinna fought [his fellow-consul] Octavius about [Sulla’s recent legislation on] voting rights for the new [Italian] citizens”, (‘Philippics’, 8: 7), translated by, David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, 2010, at p. 41).

Cinna’s Expulsion

Tim Smith (referenced below, at p. 24) observed that:

  1. “It is difficult to understand just how Cinna could have thought that [his] proposals would pass through peaceably.  As can be expected, violence once again erupted in the streets of Rome.  As in the stories of Sulpicius’ [earlier] attempts at enfranchisement, many of our sources place the blame for the violence on the instigator of the reforms, though advocates of both sides [apparently] carried concealed daggers.  Some of the tribunes favourable to Octavius vetoed Cinna’s proposal; but Cinna’s supporters, many of whom were νεοπολῖται [(new citizens)] who had flooded into Rome to push through the bill, started a riot, ... [which resulted] in a vast number of deaths.”

Cicero (who did not seem to have blamed Cinna for the unrest) recorded that, when:

  1. “... Octavius expelled [Cinna] from Rome by force of arms, the [City] was choked with piles of corpses and awash with the blood of citizens”, (‘In Catilinam’, 3: 24, translated by Coll Macdonald, referenced below, at p. 127).

These events marked yet another milestone in the destruction of the Republic: as Tim Smith (referenced below, at p. 25) observed:

  1. “This was a day on which the two consuls had gone to war within Rome, [following which, one of them], Cinna, was forced to leave the city.”

Various accounts of the justification of Cinna’s expulsion are given in our surviving sources:

  1. According to the surviving summary of the now-lost Book 79 of Livy’s ‘History of Rome’:

  2. “When ... Cinna was carrying pernicious laws by violence and arms, he and six plebeian tribunes were expelled from the City by ... Octavius and [Cinna was] deprived of his office ...”, (‘Periochae’, 79:1).

  3. According to Granius Licinianus, the Senate decided that:

  4. “... the contents of the [Sibylline] books should be read out in public, and it was agreed that it was signified in the verses [therein] that, if Cinna and six of the tribunes were banished from the country, there would be peace, quiet and security”, “History of Rome”, 35: 15).

  5. According to Appian:

  6. “The Senate decreed that since Cinna had left the city in danger while holding the office of consul, and had offered freedom to the slaves, he should no longer be consul, or even a citizen, and elected in his stead L. Merula, the flamen Dialis (priest of Jupiter), ‘Civil Wars’, 1: 65). 

Taken together, it seems that the Senate sought as many reasons as possible to justify their actions, but Velleius Paterculus probably presented the unvarnished truth:

  1. “[Cinna] was driven from the City by the united strength of [Octavius] and the optimates ... His consulship was abrogated by the authority of the Senate, and L. Cornelius Merula, the flamen Dialis, was chosen as consul in his place.  Although this illegal act was [arguably] appropriate in the case of Cinna, [it did not establish] a good precedent”, (‘Roman History’, 2: 21: 2-4).

Tim Smith (referenced below, at p. 29) observed that:

  1. “Cinna, having fled the city with six tribunes, now [therefore] hostis, was stripped of his consulship and his rights as a Roman citizen, a grave violation of the rights of the consulship and of the sovereignty of the People.”

Cinna’s Response

According to the surviving summary of the now-lost Book 79 of Livy’s ‘History of Rome’:

  1. “... with bribes, [Cinna] brought the army of Appius Claudius [Pulcher] in his power ... ”, (‘Periochae’, 79: 1).

Robert Broughton, referenced below, 1952, at p. 48) noted that  Sulla had left Pulcher win command of a legion that was still besieging Nola.  Appian gave a longer account of Cinna’s appropriation of this legion (which he placed at Capua) in which Cinna’s eloquence (rather than his bribery) won the day: in short, according to Appian, he appealed to the soldiers as Roman citizens:

  1. “From you, citizens, I received [consular] authority. The people voted it to me and  the Senate has taken it away from me without your consent.  ... Where will your power in the assemblies, in the elections, in the choice of consuls, be from now on, if you fail to confirm what you bestow and, [having given] your decision, fail to secure it”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 65).

If it is correct that this legion had previously served under Sulla, it is possible that this was the second occasion on which it decided to support a consul whose expulsion it deemed to be unacceptable. 

Appian then recorded that, having secured the allegiance of this legion, Cinna:

  1. “... traversed the allied [Italian] cities, ... alleging [not unreasonably] that it was chiefly on their account that [he had been deprived of his consulship and his citizenship and been driven from Rome].  [The Italians duly] furnished him with both money and soldiers; and many others, even of the aristocratic party in Rome, ... came and joined him”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 66).

Return of Marius

Appian then recorded that Marius:

  1. “... sailed [from Africa] to Etruria with his fellow-exiles ... Still squalid and long-haired, he marched through the towns presenting, ... ranting about his battles, his victories over the Cimbri, and his six consulships and... promising ... to be faithful to their interests in the matter of the vote.  In this way he collected 6,000 Etruscans and reached Cinna, who was glad to accept him as a partner in the present enterprise”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 67).

According to Granius Licinianus:

  1. “When Marius had collected about 1,000 supporters, he sailed [from Africa] to Telamon to join Cinna.  [M. Junius] Brutus and the other exiles flocked to him from Spain”, “History of Rome”, 35: 16).

According to Plutarch, when Marius learned of Cinna’s expulsion:

  1. “... he sent [a message] to Cinna and offered to obey him in everything as [if he were still] consul.   Cinna accepted his offer, named him proconsul, and sent him the fasces and other insignia of the office.  Marius, however, [declined] ... After greeting Cinna and presenting himself to Cinna's soldiers, he at once began his work ... . First, he made himself master of the City's supplies by cutting off the grain-ships with his fleet and plundering the merchants.  Then, he sailed to the maritime cities and took them, finally seizing Ostia itself, ..’. killing most of its inhabitants ... Then he set out and marched with his army towards the City... ”, (‘Life of Marius’, 41:3 - 42: 2)

Tim Smith observed (at p. 30) that, only at this point:

  1. “... can we tentatively term [the relationship between Cinna, Marius and their respective followers as]  a coalition, ... [and we should not lose sight of the fact that] they were united by diverse interests and grievances.  Cinna’s was not a fractional or minority cause: he had Italians and Roman aristocrats alike in his ranks.  ... This formidable force, comprising many from disaffected allied cities as well as the Marian exiles, closed in on Rome.  ... The battle lines were being drastically redrawn: whereas Sulla’s march on Rome [had been] carried out in one swift, singular thrust, Cinna and Marius engaged in fully fledged civil war.”

Sack of Rome

Adapted from Gareth Sampson (referenced below, at p. 136)

According to the surviving summary of the now-lost Book 79 of Livy’s ‘History of Rome’, because of the  Senate’s slow response (see below):

  1. “... Cinna and Marius  ... were able to besiege the city with four armies, two of which were given to [legati]:

  2. Q. Sertorius; and

  3. [Cn. Papirius] Carbo”, (‘Periochae’, 79: 3).

Although Cinna had taken over the army at Nola, Octavius could (and did) call on the other two armies that were currently available in Italy:

  1. that of Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius, which was still engaged against the Samnites; and

  2. that of Strabo, which was still with its dux at Picenum.

However, there were complications:

  1. Metellus first had to end the war with the Samnites but, according to Granius Licinianus:

  2. “... they would not agree to peace except on condition that they and all the deserters should receive the citizenship and have their [confiscated] property returned.  The Senate refused, wishing to preserve the ancient dignity of the Roman people.  When Cinna heard about this, with the help of [C.] Flavius Fimbria [see below], he enlisted the Samnites on the terms that they requested, and joined their forces to his”, “History of Rome”, 35: 20-1).

  3. Thus Metellus had to leave the Samnites undefeated and apparently at Cinna’s disposal, and it seems that he had not yet reached Rome when the final battle began.

  4. According to Velleius Paterculus, at this stage, Strabo:

  5. “ ...  seemed to be acting entirely in his own interest and [waited to see which side] offered the greater promise for power for himself”, (‘Roman History’, 2: 21: 2).  

  6. It seems that he set up his camp outside the Colline Gate, but postponed his decision about which side to support until the last possible moment.

The surviving accounts of the eventual battle are not easy to follow, but a rough reconstruction of the key events is possible:

  1. According to Appian:

  2. “Appius Claudius, a military tribune, who had command of the defences of Rome at the Janiculum hill, had once received a favour from Marius, ... in consequence of which he admitted him into the city, opening a gate for him at about daybreak.  Then Marius admitted Cinna.  They were at once thrust out by Octavius and [Strabo] ...”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 68).

  3. According to Granius Licinianus:

  4. “The Janiculum could have been captured [at this point ?], but Pompeius would not allow Octavius to advance any further, and forced him to recall [his legatus, P. Licinius] Crassus [because] he did not want the fighting to stop before the elections, so that he himself could obtain a formidable office.  The two Catuli and [M.]Antonius [see Robert Broughton, referenced below, 1952, at p. 49] went as envoys of the Senate to beg Metellus, whose camp was situated nearby, to come to the aid of his fatherland”, “History of Rome”, 35: 19-20).

  5. According to Velleius Paterculus: 

  6. “In the end, ... Strabo fought against Cinna in a great and bloody battle.  Words almost fail to express how disastrous to combatants and spectators alike was the issue of this battle, which began and ended beneath the walls and close to the very hearths of Rome.   Shortly after this battle, while pestilence was ravaging both armies, as though their strength had not been sapped enough by the war, [Strabo] died”, (‘Roman History’, 2: 21: 3-4).

  7. According to Granius Licinianus:

  8. “Octavius brought [Strabo’s] soldiers into his own camp.  Metellus led his army against Cinna, but his soldiers suddenly  ... [defected] to Cinna ... Alarmed by this turn of events, Metellus led his army away, and was amongst the first to say that an envoy should be sent to Cinna to discuss peace”, “History of Rome”, 35: 23-4).

However, it is clear that the battle was longer and more complicated than this summary suggests: see Gareth Sampson, referenced below,at pp. 131-41 for a full account of the information to be gleaned from all of the surviving sources.

According to a now-fragmentary account of Diodorus Siculus (which I have pieced together here, not necessarily accurately):

  1. “When] the [Senate ?] sent envoys to Cinna to treat for peace, [he] replied:

  2. ‘I left Rome as consul, and I will not return there as a private man.’

  3. Metellus and his army then approached Cinna’s camp.  They agreed ... that Cinna should remain as (?) general, and Metellus was the first to acknowledge this title, but they were both criticised later for what they had done.  [For example], when Marius [subsequently] met Cinna, he declared that, with victory almost won, they should not give up the power that had been divinely granted to them.  Metellus, when he returned to Rome, had a violent quarrel with Octavius ... [who remained obdurate.  [However,] Merula, who had been appointed consul in place of Cinna, proved himself to be a good citizen, ... [and agreed that], since he had been chosen consul much against his will, he ... would now ... give up his authority into the hands of Cinna ... [and become] a private citizen.  The Senate then sent ambassadors to Cinna and, having agreed with him upon the terms of peace, brought him back into the city as consul”, (‘Library of History’, 38: 1-3).

According to Plutarch:

  1. “... a deputation to Cinna and Marius, begging them to enter the city and spare the citizens. Cinna, accordingly, as consul, seated on his chair of office, received the embassy and gave them a kindly answer; but Marius ... made it clear ... by the heaviness of his countenance ... that he would at once fill the city with slaughter.  ... Cinna [then] entered [the City] with a body-guard, but Marius halted at the gates and angrily dissembled, saying that ...  if his presence there was desired, the vote that had cast him out must be rescinded by another  one.  ... The people were duly summoned to the forum but, before three or four of the tribes had cast their votes, he [ended any pretence] and entered the city, having as his body-guard a picked band of the slaves that had flocked to his standard ...”, (‘Life of Marius’, 43: 1-3).

Whatever the truth of these accounts, the fact is that Rome was now the site of unprecedented slaughter.  Cicero  recorded that, when:

  1. “... Cinna and Marius won control [of Rome], the most distinguished men were killed and the shining lights of the State snuffed out”, (‘In Catilinam’, 3: 24, translated by Coll Macdonald, referenced below, at p. 127).

According to the surviving summary of the now-lost Book 80 of Livy’s ‘History of Rome’:

  1. “Cinna and Marius ... treated [the City] with murder and rape as if it had been conquered [by a foreign army].   ... Octavius was killed and all noble members of the opposite party butchered, including [the orator] M. Antonius [cos 99 BC], and [C. Julius Caesar Strabo (aedile in 90 BC and L. Julius Caesar (cos. 90)] , whose heads were placed on the speaker's platform.  The young [P. Licinius] Crassus was killed ... and [his homonymous father (cos 97 BC], wishing to avoid a fate unworthy of his dignity, stabbed himself with his sword”, (‘Periochae’, 80: 6-7).

Tim Smith (referenced below, at p. 33) observed:

  1. “... we know of 14 individuals who were deliberately targeted, [including]:

  2. Octavius ... [who] was the first to be killed; and

  3. Merula ... [who] was put on trial and committed suicide. ...

  4. Others fled or were exiled.”

Metellus had already escaped to Africa, and the young M. Licinius Crassus (who would play an important part in the later stages of the war) had already escaped to Spain (although, as we have seen,  he lost his father and his elder brother).  Ironically, as Robert Broughton (refeenced below, referenced below, 152, at p. 52) observed, the young C. Julius Caesar (the future dictator):

  1. “... was nominated [to succeed Merula as flamen Dialis] in late 87, BC or before January 13th 86 BC, (while-Marius was still alive) but never inaugurated.”

Appian recorded that, amid this carnage:

  1. “There were banishments [of citizens], confiscations of property and depositions from office, [as well as] a repeal of the laws enacted during Sulla's consulship.  All Sulla's friends [who were captured] were put to death, his house was razed to the ground, his property confiscated, and he was voted a public enemy.  Search was made for his wife and children, but they escaped [to join him in the east]”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 73).

Lily Ross Taylor (referenced below, at p. 105) pointed out that Appian’s report that the laws enacted during Sulla's consulship were repealed:

  1. “... must mean that the laws of Sulpicius were re-enacted.  One can hardly doubt that inna , [in order] to reward the Italians who had supported him., made provisionanew for their enrollment in theold tribes.  That full provision for them was made by 86 BC is indicated by the appointment of censors in that year [see below].”

Tim Smith (referenced below, at pp. 33-4) argued that:

  1. “Sulla’s proconsular command was theoretically extinguished by this proclamation.  The objective is clear: to delegitimise Sulla’s Mithridatic command [and] assign it to Marius ...”

He observed (at note 15) that:

  1. “ Since L. Valerius Flaccus would succeed Marius in this command after the latter’s death [see below], there is no reason to doubt that Marius ... was [still] intent on the Mithridatic command.”

As we shall see, Sulla (who was besieging Athens, which had defected to Mithridates) continued his command and his prosecution of the war.

Cinna’s Second Consulship (86 BC)

As Tim Smith (referenced below, at p. 50) observed:

  1. “In the purges of late 87 BC, Cinna and Marius had successfully removed or silenced opposition [in Rome].”

This explains why Cinna was immediately re-elected to his second consulship, and why the aged Marius was elected for an unprecedented seventh term.  However, in his case, this consulship was to be his last: the entries for 86 BC in the Augustan fasti Capitolini have been translated and completed as follows:

  1. Consuls: Cornelius L.f. L.n. Cinna II;

  2.                  C. [Marius C.f. C.n. VII - died in office]; L. [Valerius C.f. L.n. Flaccus, elected in his place]

  3. Censors: L. Marcius Q.f. Q.n. Philippus; M. Perperna [M.f. M.n. - they completed the 67th lustrum

L. Valerius Flaccus

Marius died on or about 13th January and, despite the lacuna in the surviving inscription above, the identity of the man who replaced him can be established with certainty: he was L. Valerius Flaccus and, as Robert Broughton (referenced below, 1952, at p. 53) pointed out, we know from another surviving inscription that he was elected before 5th February. 

According to Appian:

  1. “Cinna sent Flaccus ... to Asia with two legions to take charge of both:

  2. that province; and

  3. the Mithridatic war;

  4. in place of Sulla, who was now declared a public enemy.  As Flaccus was inexperienced in the art of war, a man of senatorial rank named [C. Flavius] Fimbria, who was skilled in military affairs, accompanied him as a volunteer [and thus, in this account, was a privatus]”, (‘Mithridatic Wars’, 11: 51).

I will return to the exploits of Flaccus and Fimbria in the east below: for the moment, I would like to concentrate on the reason’s for Cinna’s choice of Flaccus as a replacement for Marius.  Tim Smith (referenced below, at p. 52) argued that the contention:

  1. “That Flaccus was Cinna’s preferred colleague is beyond dispute.”

He also argued that Cinna made this choice because he now felt the need:

  1. “... to win over some of the most important families surviving within Rome: despite his consular immunity, he needed a broad church of support (or, at least, of toleration).” 

The appointment of Flaccus involved the disadvantage of creating  the anomalous situation in which both consuls were patricians.  However, Cinna might have owed him a debt of gratitude:

  1. according to Granius Licinianus:

  2. “... Marius was allowed to take control of Ostia by Valerius, who was in charge of the cavalry garrison”, “History of Rome”, 35: 18); and

  3. as Tim Smith (referenced below, at p 51, note 8) pointed out:

  4. “Although there remain doubts about the identity of the betrayer of Ostia, [L. Valerius Flaccus (cos 86 BC)] is the only one we know of who could have been in such a position in 87 BC.”

It is surely not a coincidence that Cinna also ‘promoted’ other members of the Valerii Flacci at this time: as Tomasz Ladon (referenced below, 2021, at p. 99) observed, the new consul’s:

  1. homonymous cousin (who had served as Marius’ consular colleague in 100 BC and one of the censors of 97 BC) was appointed by the new censors as princeps senatus; and

  2. older brother, Caius (who had served as consul in 93 BC and was still serving as proconsul in both Spanish provinces) probably received the additional  provinces of Gallia Narbonensis and Cisalpine Gaul at about this time.

Ladon observed that this apparent:

  1. “... rise of the Valerii Flacci [Cinna] is thought-provoking [and even] astonishing, especially, if we consider that, in the years to come, the members of this line abandoned the Marian side and switched to Sulla.”

Perhaps the most important reason for Cinna’s choice was that he had already governed Asia as propraetor in ca. 92 BC (see, for example, Corey Brennon, referenced below, 2000, at pp. 553-4) and, as we shall see, Sulla was, as yet, unable to confront Mithridates there because he was still detained in Greece.

Election for the Consuls of 85 BC

Once Flaccus had left for the east, Cinna remained in sole control in Rome.  The sense of terror seems to have reduced considerably during the year (and Marius’ death must have helped in that respect).  Tim Smith (referenced below, at p. 57) argued that:

  1. “By the end of the year, Cinna had gathered some support.  Even if a number of former rebels were disadvantaged by the ongoing census, [he] could command support from Italian communities, particularly in Etruria. ... Furthermore, like Marius in the 100s BC, Cinna enjoyed support from many in the equestrian order at Rome [and], owing in part to the absence of many great men [who had been killed or had left Rome for their own safety], many novi homines flourished in politics. ... Many [of the remaining citizens] must have still loathed Cinna for his actions in late 87 BC., but he had [probably] done enough to secure the support of some prominent groups.”

He observed (at p. 59):

  1. “The elections for [the consuls of] 85 BC clearly show just how much influence Cinna [had continued] to wield in Rome throughout 86 BC.  At the time of [these] election, Sulla had not yet made peace with Mithridates, so there was no pressing fear of war in Italy (though it is entirely possible that Cinna may have cited this specious threat to justify his re-election). 

Appian certainly believed that Cinna was now in complete control at Rome throughout 86 BC:

  1. “Cinna caused Valerius Flaccus to be chosen in [Marius’] place [early in the year] and sent him to Asia, and when Flaccus lost his life, [probably towards the end of the year - see below], he chose [his erstwhile legatus, Cn. Papirius] Carbo as his fellow-consul”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 75).

Events in the East (89 - 86 BC)

Asia Minor in 90 BC (from “First Mithridatic War and the role of Lucius Cornelius Sulla in Rome (89-87 BC)”)

Events Before the Arrival of Sulla (89 - 87 BC)

The Romans’ war with King Mithridtes VI of Pontus began in early 89 BC, when he annexed the neighbouring kingdoms of Cappadocia and Bithynia, both of which were ruled kings who were clients of Rome.  The Romans sent a commission led by Manius Aquillius (cos 101 BC), after which the two kings were restored.  However, it seems that the Romans encouraged Nicomedes IV of Bithynia to invade Pontus, following which, Mithridates took back both kingdoms and invaded the Roman province of Asia.  Aquilius fled, but was taken prisoner at Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, where, according o Appian:

  1. “Mithridates led him around, bound on an ass, and compelled him to introduce himself to the public as ‘maniac’.  Finally, at Pergamum, Mithridates poured molten gold down his throat, thus rebuking the Romans for their bribe-taking.  After appointing satraps over the various nations he proceeded to Magnesia, Ephesus, and Mitylene, all of which received him gladly. The Ephesians overthrew the Roman statues which had been erected in their cities - for which they paid the penalty not long afterward.  On his return from Ionia Mithridates took the city of Stratonicea, imposed a pecuniary fine on it, and placed a garrison in it”, (‘Mithridatic Wars’, 5: 21).

Appian then recorded that:

  1. “As soon as his outbreak and invasion of Asia were known at Rome, the Romans declared war against [Mithridates], although they were occupied with grievous dissensions in the city and a formidable ... war, almost all parts of Italy having revolted one after another.  [However, in early 88 BC], when the consuls cast lots, the government of Asia and the Mithridatic war fell to ... Sulla. ... However, he] was detained a long time by the civil wars,. ... [and], in the meantime Mithridates built a large number of ships for an attack on Rhodes.  {He also] wrote secretly to all his satraps and magistrates,[ordering that, 30 days  thereafter, they should [kill] all Romans and Italians in their towns, and upon their wives and children and their domestics of Italian birth ... When the appointed day came calamities of various kinds befell the province of Asia ... [For example]:

  2. the Ephesians [killed] fugitives, who had taken refuge in the temple of Artemis ... ; [and]

  3. the [people of Pergamum killed] those who had fled to the temple of Aesculapius ... ”, (‘Mithridatic Wars’, 5: 22).

Thus Mithridates established his total control over the whole of Sulla’ province of Asia.  Shortly thereafter, Mithridates’ general, Archelaus, sacked Delos and sent:

  1. “... the sacred treasure of Delos [to Athens] by the hands of Aristion, an Athenian citizen, attended by 2,000 soldiers to guard the money.  Aristion made use of these soldiers to make himself master of  [Athens], immediately executing some of those who favoured the Romans and sending others to Mithridates”, (‘Mithridatic Wars’, 6: 28).

C. Cassius, the proconsul of Asia fled to the impregnable island of Rhodes, which remained in Roman hands, but Q, Oppius, the proconsul of Cilicia, was killed.  Plutarch noted that Bruttius Sura, who was a legate of  C. Sentius the propraetor of Macedonia, had repulsed an attack at Chaeroneia, but:

  1. “... when L. [Licinius] Lucullus ordered him make way or Sulla, who was coming, and to leave the conduct of the war to him, as the Senate had voted, he at once abandoned Boeotia and marched back to Sentius ...”, (‘Life of Sulla’, 11: 2-3).

Thus, it seems that Sulla had sent his quaestor Lucullus to Greece ahead of him.

Sulla in Greece (87 - 86 BC)

Sulla’s victories at Athens and over Mithridates’ army at Chaeronea and Orchomenus in 86 BC

Adapted from the pap in this page of Wikimedia

Sulla and the Siege of Athens (87 - 86 BC)

Sulla probably sailed to Epirus towards the end of his consular year, by which time, Mithridates was in control of the entire province of Asia and had his base of operations at Pergamum.  Sulla’s first move was to march on Athens, which was held by the tyrant Aristion, while Mithridates’ general, Archelaus, held the nearby port of Piraeus.  The siege was made particularly difficult because Sulla’s naval resources could not match those of Archelaus.  According to Plutarch, although it was in the depths of winter, he therefore:

  1. “... despatched Lucullus to Egypt and Libya, with orders to fetch ships from there”, ‘Life of Lucullus’, 2: 2).

According to Duane Roller (referenced below, at pp. 155-6), at about this time:

  1. ”Sulla abandoned the siege of Piraeus ... [and] established his headquarters at Eleusis, just to the west of Athens, [from where] he kept up pressure on the city, with the result that the Athenians endured severe famine.”

The siege of Athens came to an end at about the time that Sulla would have heard that Marius was now consul and that he himself was an enemy of the State: according to Plutarch, he:

  1. “... took Athens, as he says himself in his ‘Memoirs’, on [1st March 86 BC] ...”, (‘Life of Sulla’, 14: 6).

According to Appian:

  1. “A great and pitiless slaughter ensued, ... [since the Athenians were] too weak to fly because of famine.  Sulla ordered an indiscriminate massacre, not sparing women or children: he was angry that they had so suddenly joined the barbarians without cause, and had displayed such violent animosity toward himself.  When the Athenians heard this order, most of them threw themselves on the swords of the slayers.  ... Sulla forbade the burning of the city  but allowed the soldiers to plunder it. ... The next day , [he] sold the slaves at auction”, (‘Mithridatic Wars’, 8: 38).

Some of the Athenians, including Aristion, had fled to the Acropolis, but they:

  1. “... were soon compelled by hunger and thirst to surrender.  Sulla inflicted the penalty of death on Aristion, his bodyguard and all those who exercised any authority or who had done anything whatever contrary to the rules laid down for them after the first capture of Greece by the Romans”, (‘Mithridatic Wars’, 8: 39).

Sulla then turned his attention to the continuing siege of Piraeus, where:

  1. “Archelaus was dumbfounded by [the] senseless and mad persistence [of Sulla’s newly-invigorated army.  [He soon] abandoned the walls to them and withdrew to that part of the Piraeus that was most strongly fortified and enclosed on all sides by the sea.  As Sulla had no ships, he could not attack it, (‘Mithridatic Wars’, 8: 39).

Archelaus was thus able to escape with his fleet, leaving Sulla to burn Piraeus.  He went about these tasks of destruction with considerable zeal and, as Duane Roller (referenced below, at p. 40) observed:

  1. “... the Sullan destruction remains a major archeological  datum throughout Athens.”

Sulla’s Victories at Chaeronea and Orchomenus (86 BC)

Athens: Sullan ‘new style’ silver tetradrachm (ANS 2015: 20: 881)

Obverse: Helmeted head of Athena

Reverse: Owl standing on amphora, flanked by two trophies, all within laurel wreath

Issued after Sulla’s victory at Chaeronea in 86 BC

Shortly after the sack of Athens and Piraeus, Sulla defeated Archelaus at Chaeronea.  According to Plutarch, after this victory, Sulla:

  1. “... inscribed upon his trophies the names of Ares, Nike and Aphrodite, in the belief that his success in the war was due no less to good fortune than to military skill and strength:

  2. one trophy of the battle in the plain stands on the spot where the troops of Archelaus, [Mithridates’ general]  first gave way, by the brook Molus; and

  3. another is planted on the crest of Thurium, to commemorate the envelopment of the Barbarians there, and it indicates in Greek letters that [two men from the city], Homoloichos and Anaxidamos, were the heroes of the exploit”, (‘Life of Sulla’, 19: 5).

Lucia Carbone and Liv Yarrow (referenced below, at p. 311) noted that Plutarch had indicated the significance of the presence of Aphrodite among the three dedicatees of the trophies:

  1. “[Sulla], in writing to the Greeks on official business, styled himself Epaphroditus (Favourite of Aphrodite/ Venus); and, in our country, his name is inscribed on his trophies as: Lucius Cornelius Sulla Epaphroditus”, (‘Life of Sulla’, 34: 2).

John Camp and his colleagues (referenced below) published the discovery of the remains of the second of this trophy in 1990: they pointed out (at p. 443) that Homoloichos and Anaxidamos had been citizens of Plutarch’s native Chaeronea who had materially assisted the Romans and (at p. 447 ) that Plutarch’s identification of them had enabled the completion of the inscription on the base of the trophy. 

Sulla then engaged with Archelaus again at nearby Orchomenus.  According to Frontinus, on the second occasion:

  1. “... Sulla's legions broke before the hosts of Mithridates led by Archelaus.  [However], Sulla advanced with drawn sword into the first line and ... told [his panicking troops that], if anyone should ask where they had left their imperator, they should answer:

  2. ‘Fighting [on alone] in Boeotia’.

  3. Shamed by these words, they followed him to a man”, (‘Strategies’, 2: 8: 12).

This suggests that, by the time of the battle at Orchomenus, news of Sulla’s loss of his proconsular imperium had arrived in the east, but that his army still regarded him as their imperator. 

Sulla still lacked sufficient naval forces to move against Mithridates in Asia, and his position was further undermined by the fact that Flaccus was on his way to his province of Asia.  Clearly, he could not fight both Flaccus and Mithridates at the same time.  He therefore allowed Archelaus to withdraw, taking outline peace terms with him for Mithridates’ consideration. 

Sulla’s Coinage in the East

Sulla’s victories over Mithridates began to be reflected in the coinage of Athens, now that the city was under his control.  Plutarch recorded that, from the start of his campaign. Sulla had employed Lucullus:

  1. “... on business of the highest importance.  Such, for instance, was the management of the mint.  Most of the [Roman] money used in Peloponnesus during the Mithridatic war was coined by him, and it was called Lucullean after him.  It remained current for a long time, since the needs of the army during the war gave it rapid circulation”, (‘Life of Lucullus’, 2: 1-2).

Clare Rowan (referenced below, at p. 42): observed that some of these ‘Lucullean’ coins:

  1. “... have traditionally been identified as the Athenian tetradrachms struck after Sulla's sack of Athens:

  2. [the majority of them [ANS 2015: 20: 871] carry the imagery of Athen but ...  carry monograms referring to M. Lucullus, [identified by Pierre Assenmaker, referenced below, at p. 420-421,  as Lucius’ brother, who was mentioned by Plutarch at ‘Life of Lucullus’, 1: 6, ; and]

  3. rarer types [ANS 2015: 20: 881, illustrated above] probably bear representations of the trophies of Chaeronea.”

Lucia Carbone and Liv Yarrow (referenced below, at p. 311) noted that:

  1. “Not surprisingly, ... the two trophies erected after the battle of Chaeronea are also present on the aurei and the denarii issued by Sulla on his way back to Italy, very likely in 84/83 BC [see below].”

They also suggested (at p. 319) that:

  1. “... the ‘two trophies’ tetradrachms could have financed Sulla’s campaigns in Italy or even provided the bullion for his issues of denarii [after his return to Italy].

Flaccus and Fimbria in Asia (86 BC)

Adapted from Richard Witschonke and Michel Amandry (referenced below, at p. 90)

As we have seen, Appian recorded that, in 86 BC:

  1. “Cinna sent Flaccus ... to Asia with two legions to take charge of both that province and the Mithridatic war in place of Sulla, who was now declared a public enemy.  As Flaccus was inexperienced in the art of war, a man of senatorial rank named [C. Flavius] Fimbria, who was skilled in military affairs, accompanied him as a volunteer [and thus, in this account, was a privatus]”, (‘Mithridatic Wars’, 11: 51).

This implies that Flccus had been sent to confront Sulla, a view shared by almost all of the other surviving sources: for example:

  1. according to Plutarch, who was clearly reflecting Sulla’s own opinion, recorded that :

  2. “... Flaccus, a man of the ... faction [opposed to Sulla], had been chosen as consul and was crossing the Ionian sea with an army, ostensibly against Mithridates, but really against [Sulla] ... ”, (‘Life of Sulla’, 20: 1); and

  3. according to the surviving summary of the now-lost Book 82 of Livy’s ‘History of Rome’, Flaccus:

  4. “... was sent out to replace Sulla ...”, (‘Perioche’, 82: 4).

However, Sulla was hardly likely to hand over his command voluntarily and Flaccus  could hardly have taken it from him since he had only two legions and Sulla had five.  A surviving fragment by the Greek historian Memnon of Heracleia (who probably wrote his now-lost history of his native Heracleia Pontia in the early 1st century AD) suggests another possibility:

  1. “The Senate sent ... Flaccus and Fimbria to fight against Mithridates.  It ordered them to share the war with Sulla, if he would co-operate with the Senate or, if he would not, to make war on him first”, (‘History of Heracleia’, 24).

However, this seems even more unlikely, since no-one would have imagined that Sulla would meekly co-operate twith the men who had just declared him hostis.  As Tim Smith (referenced below, at p. 53) observed, the likelihood is that it had been been agreed in Rome that Flaccus would march:

  1. “...  directly [to Asia] where Mithridates was weakest, thus bringing the war to a speedy end while Sulla was otherwise occupied in Greece.”

If this succeeded, then Sulla would be denied both the glory of defeating Mihridates and access to the lucrative province of Asia.  This hypothesis is reinforced by the fact that, as Richard Witschonke and Michel Amandry (referenced below, at p. 89) pointed out, Flaccus sailed from Rome to:

  1. “... Epirus where, instead of [making any attempt to relieve] Sulla of his command, [he marched northwards and] plundered through Macedon and Thrace to the Bosphorus.” 

According to Appian, part of Flaccus’ army, which:

  1. “... had been sent ahead into Thessaly, went over to Sulla, but Fimbria kept the rest of them from deserting, because they considered him more humane and a better general than Flaccus..”, (‘Mithridatic Wars’, 11: 51)

As Corey Brennan (referenced below, 2000, at p. 876, note 244) observed:

  1. “The tradition on Fimbria’s status in 86 BC could hardly be more diverse. ... Appian seems the best informed [of our surviving sources],  ...and his view that he was a privatus seems [the most credible].”

He also deduced (at pp. 555-6) also deduced the most likely sequence of events after Flaccus reached Byzantium: in summary, it seems that (for whatever reason) Flaccus ordered Fimbria back to Rome, following which, Fimbria whipped up a mutiny, took over the army, and had Flaccus killed at Nicomedia.   I discuss Fimbria’s subsequent action in the following section o the events of85 BC.

Situation in the East in Late 86 BC

It is now worth summarising how matters stood in the east at the end of 86 BC. A s we have seen, the Augustan fasti Capitolini for 86 BC has been translated and completed as follows:

Consuls: Cornelius L.f. L.n. Cinna II;

                 C. [Marius C.f. C.n. VII - died in office]; L. [Valerius C.f. L.n. Flaccus, elected in his place]

Since they do not seem to have recorded that Flaccus died in office, it is likely that he was killed very late in the consular year.  At this point, affairs in the east would have been finely poised:

  1. Sulla had taken control of Greece, but he was still awaiting the return of his quaestor, Lucullus, and the new ships that he had been collecting before Sulla could move on Asia; and

  2. Mithridates was at Pergamum, having heard:

  3. from Archelaus, that Sulla had driven his army from Greece and was now offering peace terms; and

  4. from his spies, that Fimbria had taken command of Flaccus’ army and was about to march south with the intent of retaking the Roman province of Asia before Sulla could do so.

Events of 85 BC

Fimbria in Asia

Pergamum: cistophorus : Reverse inscription: FIMBRIA IMERAT

One of three coins with this inscription illustrated by

Richard Witschonke and Michel Amandry (referenced below, at Plate 19, following p. 92)

According to Appian, after Fimbria had killed Flaccus and:

  1. “... appointed himself commander of the army, [he] fought several successful battles with Mithridates’ son [and then] drove [Mithridates] himself into Pergamum.  [When Mithridates] escaped from Pergamum to Pitane, Fimbria followed him and began to enclose the place with a ditch.  Then [Mithridates] fled by ship to Mytilene [on Lesbos]”, (‘Mithridatic Wars’, 11: 52).

This was a quite remarkable victory:  as Richard Evans (referenced below, at p. 65 and note 52) pointed out. Mithridates had issued gold staters at Pergamum between 88 and 86/5 BC, indicating that it been an important centre for him.  As he rightly observed (at p. 66) Fimbria’s success:

  1. “... must have been galling for Sulla, who had defeated [Mithridates’] forces in Greece but had yet to arrive in Asia”

Fimbria first made contact with a Sullan commander at the time of his victory at Pergamum: according to Plutarch, Lucullus, who (as we have seen) was sailing around the eastern Mediterranean at this time, acquiring ships for the Sullan navy.  According to Plutarch, he had just left Rhodes and was off Cos when Mithridates reached Pitane.  Fimbria therefore sent a message to him:

  1. “... beseeching him to come with his [fleet] and to assist in capturing the most hostile and warlike of kings ... [and reap the consequent glory, asserting that];

  2. ‘Driven from the land by me, and excluded from the sea by you, [the king’s defeat] will crown us both with success, and the much heralded exploits of Sulla at Orchomenus and Chaeroneia will cease to interest the Romans.’

  3. ... [For] whatever reason, [Lucullus] would not listen to the proposal, but allowed Mithridates to sail off and to mock at Fimbria's forces”, (‘Life of Lucullus’, 3: 4-7).

The dialogue, as Plutarch imagined it, presumably came from Sulla’s memoirs.  However, it is clear that Lucullus remained faithful to Sulla: he either let Mithridates escape or could not prevent it, but he apparently secured a naval victory against Neoptolemus, the commander of Mithridates‘ fleet, at nearby Tenedos.

Appian claimed (at ‘Mithridatic Wars’, 11: 53) that, after he had taken Pergamum, Fimbria went on to sack the town of Ilium (which its inhabitants claimed was the successor of Homer’s Troy).  The earlier Greek geographer, Strabo, recorded that it had been ruined:

  1. “... by the Romans under Fimbria, who took it by siege in the course of the Mithridatic war.  ... when he advanced to Ilium, the Ilians would not admit him, [since they regarded him as] a brigand, and he therefore took the place by force on the eleventh day.  And, when he boasted that he had [so quickly] overpowered ... the city that Agamemnon had captured, only with great difficulty, after [a siege of] 10 years, one of the Ilians had retorted:

  2. ‘Yes, but the [present] champion [of Ilium] is no Hector’

  3. [ After Sulla defeated Fimbria - see below], he consoled the Ilians by numerous improvements”, (‘Geography’, 10: 1: 27).

This could be Sullan propaganda, which magnified the extent of Fimbia’s destruction and Sulla’s improvements to territory of the Trojan prince Aeneas,  the fabled progenitor of Romulus.

Fimbria’s Coins

Richard Witschonke and Michel Amandry (referenced below) described and illustrated (at Plate 19) three surviving examples of lesser-value cistophori from Pergamum that Fimbria had issued (see the illustration above).  They argued (at p. 89) that these had formed part of a brief emergency military issue and that:

  1. “... since Fimbria was at the height of his brief period of power during of his siege of Mithradates [at Pergamum, this location] seems a likely candidate for his mint.”

Fimbria chose to represent himself on his coins as ‘imperator’.  I argued above that he had almost certainly left Italy as a privatus.  It is interesting to note in this context that, according to Velleius Paterculus (who gave him the title of praefectus equitum at that time) recorded that he:

  1. “... had put to death Valerius Flaccus, a man of consular rank, [and] had taken command of his army, who named him imperator ...”

I suggest that this army had hailed him as imperator when it decided to accept his command after the murder of Flaccus. 

This is the first instance of the honorific ‘imperator’ on a Roman coin, although Liv Yarrow found a Samnite precedent.  She also mentioned Sulla’s subsequent use of the title on his coins when he first returned to Italy (as I discuss on the following page).  Corey Brennan (referenced below, 2000, at p. 876, note 245) noted that:

  1. “Many of our sources strongly imply that Fimbria presented himself in Asia [at this time] as the practical equivalent of ... Sulla ...”

I think that Sulla copied Fimbria in this respect because, like Fimbria, he had been hailed by his army as imperator after he had been declared hostis, and he had no other title at his disposal.

Sulla, Fimbria and Mithridates in Late 85 BC

Sulla probably caught up with Lucullus’ fleet off the Troad in late 85 BC, at which time his negotiating position viz-à-viz Mithridates would have been much improved.  Furthermore, the appearance of a second Roman army in Asia at this time would have signalled to Mithridates that the war there had become a Roman priority.  He seems to have calculated that, should Sulla defeat Fimbria and then take most of the Roman forces back to Italy, he might well be able to withdraw to Pontus without having lost very much by his incursions to Asia and Greece.  In other words, it was in the interests of both Sulla and Mithridates that agreement should be reached between them: as we have seen, draft peace terms were already on the table. 

The two finally men met face-to-face at Dardanus towards the end of the year.  According to Appian, final terms were agreed and Mithridates:

  1. “... delivered up the ships and everything else that had been required and went back to his paternal kingdom of Pontus as his sole possession.  And thus, the first war between Mithridates and the Romans came to an end”, (‘Mithridatic Wars’, 12: 58).

According to Plutarch:

  1. “... Sulla perceived that his soldiers were incensed at the peace that he had made [with Mithridates]; they thought it a terrible thing to see the most hostile of kings, who had caused 150,000 Romans in Asia to be massacred in a single day, to go sailing off with wealth and spoils from Asia, which he had continued to plunder and levy taxes on for four years.  He ... defended himself. ... by [pointing out] that he would not have been able to carry on war with both Mithridates and Fimbria  if they had joined forces against him”, (‘Life of Sulla’, 24: 4)

Richard Witschonke and Michel Amandry (referenced below, at p. 89) summarised the effect of this development on Fimbria and his army: while the negotiations had been taking place:

  1. “... Fimbria had retreated to Thyateira, where Sulla [subsequently] besieged him.  As Fimbria’s troops began to desert, he agreed to surrender in exchange for his life.  Heading for the coast, he got only as far as Pergamům, where he fell on his sword.”

According to Strabo, after Fimbria had sacked Illium, Sulla:

  1. “... overthrew Fimbria and sent Mithridates away to his homeland, under the terms of a [peace] agreement.  He then consoled the Ilians by numerous improvements”, (‘Geography’, 10: 1: 27).

Thus, probably by the end of 85 BC, Sulla had taken control of Asia and assumed command of the what remained of the two ‘Fimbrian’ legions. 

Waiting for Sulla (85-4 BC)

Tim Smith (referenced below, at p.  59) observed that:

  1. “At the time of election [for the consuls of 85 BC], Sulla had not yet made peace with Mithridates, so there was no pressing fear of war in Italy (although it is entirely possible that Cinna may have cited this specious threat to justify his [election to his third consecutive consulship. His] loyal friend, Cn. Papirius Carbo, was elected as his colleague.”

The news that Sulla had driven Mithrdates from Asia, killed Fimbria and taken over his legions must have reached Rome at about the start of the new consular year.  Given Sulla’s irregular position, the agreement that he had negotiated with Mithridates did not formally bind the Senate, but they could not ignore the fact that he was now in undisputed control of all of the province of Asia.

According to Appian, Sulla now directed his legatus, C. Scribonius Curio:

  1. “... to restore  [the client kings] Nicomedes to Bithynia and Ariobarzanes to Cappadocia and reported everything [that he had accomplished] to the Senate, ignoring the fact that he had been voted an enemy of the State”, (‘Mithridatic Wars’, 12: 60).

In other words, Sulla acted as if he were still the legitimate governor of Asia an, in effect, challenged to Senate to recognise him as such, in the knowledge that he would soon return to Italy.  Tomasz Ladon (referenced below, 2013, at p. 92) estimated that Sulla’s letter dated to August 85 BC, and observed (at p. 23) that, as far as we know, it never received a reply.  He suggested that, in sending this letted, Sulla’s objective had been to open channels of communication with those in the Senate who felt the need to negotiate rather than to precipitate a civil war.   However, I think that he also wanted to leave no-one in any doubt that he intended to return to Rome and to celebrate the triumph that he believed was his due, with or without an agreement with the Senate.  However, there was a good deal to be done in the east before Sulla could depart. 

L. Licinius Murena

According to Appian, he returned to Greece, leaving L. Licinius Murena:

  1. “... with Fimbria's two legions, to settle affairs of the rest of Asia”, (‘Mithridatic Wars’, 13: 64).

We learn from Cicero (in a speech that he gave in 63 BC in defence of Murena’s son, who had been charged with electoral misfeasance) that the elder Murena had celebrated:

  1. “... a magnificent and thoroughly deserved triumph at the end of his praetorship ...”, (‘Pro Murena’, 15, translated by Coll Macdonald, referenced below, at p. 203).

I discuss this triumph (which was, certainly not ‘thoroughly deserved’) in the following page: for the moment we should simply note that Murena had served as a praetor prior to his arrival in Asia.   According to Corey Brennan (referenced below, 2000, at p. 912, note 286):

  1. “The date of Murena’s [praetorship]must be 88 or 87 BC, followed by service in the east:

  2. first under Sulla [since he is mentioned in our surviving sources as an officer during the siege of Piraeus and at Chaeronea]; and then

  3. in an independent command [starting from the point at which Sulla left Asia and discussed further on the following page].

Brennan suggested (at p. 527) that Murena’s formal praetorian province might have been Macedonia, which he might have been unable to take it up because it was under Mithridates’ control, at least from early 86 BC.  As we shall see, he certainly exercised independent command in Asia once Sulla returned to Italy.

L. Licinius Lucullus 

Lucullus has appeared at a number of points in the events discussed above, primarily in relation to the management of Sulla’s coinage and the assembling of the fleet that would be used against Mithridates in Asia.  He seems to have been elected as quaestor for 87 BC (presumably towards the end of Sulla’s consulship) and to have continued in Asia as proquaestor until he returned to Rome in 80 BC. 

When Sulla left Asia for Greece, he seems to have given Lucullus  an important role in Asia alongside Murena: Plutarch recorded that Sulla imposed a heavy fine of 20,000 talents on the rebel communities in Asia at this time and that:

  1. “Lucullus was commissioned to collect this money and re-coin it ... [When] the Mitylenaeans [were obstructive, Lucullus]  .... fell upon them, took a great number of  prisoners and killed 500 of those who offered resistance.  He also carried off 6,000 slaves, besides countless other booty”, (‘Life of Lucullus’, 4: 2).

Lucia Carbone and Liv Yarrow (referenced below, at pp. 320-1) suggested that:

  1. “... Lucullus was directly entrusted with the collection of the extraordinary tributes and fines imposed on Asia ... [because of]:

  2. the unusual nature (and amount) of the fines imposed ...;  [and]

  3. the remarkable absence of the publicani (civilian tax collectors) [in the region] ... after the losses suffered [in the early stages] of the Mithridatic War,  ... [when] some 80,000 (or more!) Romans are said to have been killed.  ...

  4. [This absence of publicani] enabled Sulla, through his lieutenant Lucullus, to have direct access to the wealth gathered from Asia ...”

Events at Rome (85-4 BC)

According to Appian:

  1. “[The consuls] Carbo and Cinna were [now] in such fear of [Sulla] that they despatched emissaries to all parts of Italy to collect money, soldiers, and supplies.  They engaged the leading [Italian] citizens in friendly intercourse and appealed especially to the newly created citizens of the [Italian] towns, pretending that it was on their account that they were threatened with the present danger.  They began at once to repair the ships, recalled those that were in Sicily to guard the coast and, with fear and haste, they made preparations of every kind”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 76).

Sulla, who was making his own preparations in Greece, again:

  1. “... wrote to the Senate in a tone of superiority recounting ... his recent victories in the Mithridatic war and listing the many nations that he had recovered from Mithridates for the Romans.   He stressed that many of those whom Cinna had banished from Rome had fled to him, and that he had received ... and supported them in their affliction.   He complained that, in return for this, his enemies had declared him to be hostis,  his house had been destroyed, his friends had put to death, and his wife and children had escaped to him only after much difficulty.  He [warned that he] would soon [return to Rome] to inflict  vengeance ... on the guilty ones, and he assured the other citizens , including [those who were newly enfranchised], that he would make no complaint against them”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 77).

Tomasz Ladon (referenced below, 2013, at p. 93) estimated that Sulla sent this letter in late (perhaps December) 85 BC.  He observed that Sulla:

  1. “... finally made some threats: soon, he would return to Italy and take revenge on those who had done him harm.  However, he added that all of those citizen, both old and new, who had not acted to harm him could feel safe.”

The olive branch that Sulla offered to the newly-enfranchised Italians seems to have been designed to undermine Cinna’s ability to recruit them to his cause.

This time, there was a response:

  1. “When the letter was read, fear fell upon all [of the senators] and they began sending messengers to reconcile him with his enemies and to tell him in advance that, if he wanted any security, he should write to the Senate at once.  They ordered Cinna and Carbo to cease recruiting soldiers until Sulla's answer should be received”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 77).

A fragment from the surviving summary of the now-lost Book 83 of Livy’s ‘History of Rome’ is probably related to these events:

  1. “When L. Cinna and Cn. Papirius Carbo, who had made themselves consuls for two years [85-4 BC - see below], were preparing the war against Sulla, L. Valerius Flaccus, the princeps senatus, delivered a speech in the Senate and, with the help of others who who were pressing for unity, made sure that envoys were sent to Sulla [in Greece] to discuss peace”, (‘Periochae’, 83: 5). 

(As we have seen, this L. Valerius Flaccus was the homonymous cousin of the consul whom Fimbria had recently killed).  According to Appian, the consuls initially agreed to halt recruitment but, as soon as the envoys had left Rome:

  1. “... they proclaimed themselves consuls for the following year so that they need not come back to Rome earlier to hold the election for [84 BC].  They [then left the City and] traversed Italy, collecting soldiers whom they took be sea to Liburnia [on the northern coast of Illyria], which was to act as their base against Sulla”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 77).

While Cinna was supervising the armies’ departure at Ancona, they mutinied and killed him.   According to the entry in the Augustan fasti Capitolini for 84 BC, Carbo completed his second consecutive consulship as sole consul.

In Appian’s account, the Senate sent envoys to negotiate with Sulla at this point, but the envoys the he sent with his reply never reached them:

  1. “Sulla answered those who came to him from the Senate, saying that he would never be on friendly terms with the men who had committed such crimes ... [He made it] plain in a single sentence that he would not disband his army, but was now contemplating supreme power.  He demanded ... his former dignity, his property, and the priesthood, and that they should restore to him in full measure whatever other honours he had previously held.  He sent some of his own men with the Senate's messengers to confer about these matters, but they, learning at Brundusium that Cinna was dead and that Rome was in an unsettled state, went back to Sulla without transacting their business”, (‘Civil Wars’, 1: 79).

However, a surviving fragment of the now-lost Book 84 of Livy’s ‘History of Rome’ that Sulla’s terms reached the Senate and that they replied.  His terms were:

  1. “... that he would submit to the authority of the Senate if the rights of the citizens who had been expelled by Cinna and fled to him were restored.  Although this demand appeared to be reasonable to the Senate, Carbo and his faction, to whom war seemed more useful, prevented an agreement.  When the same Carbo wanted to ask for hostages from all Italian towns and colonies, to secure their loyalty against Sulla, this was prevented by a unified Senate”, (‘Periochae’, 84: 1-3). 

This suggests that Carbo remained intransigent after Cinna’s death, and that he succeeded in putting an end to the negotiations,  (albeit that he had been blocked from taking hostages from the Italians to guarantee their loyalty.)

Whatever the precise details of these exchanges, we might reasonably assume that some members of the Senate wished to negotiate but that the intransigence of Carbo and Sulla (each of whom had a good deal to lose) made war inevitable.

Read more

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Carbone L. and Yarrow L., “The Aftermath of The First Mithridatic War And Sulla's Dictatorship: Some Preliminary Historical Analyses Using The 'Roman Republican Die Project’”, Revue Belge de Numismatique et de Sigillographie, 166 (2020) 285-333

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