Roman Empire > Roman Empire History > Second Civil War. - Sulla's Dictatorship, Legislation, And Death, b.C. 83-78

Second Civil War. - Sulla's Dictatorship, Legislation, And Death, b.C. 83-78

Sulla landed at Brundisium in the spring of B.C. 83, in the Consulship of L. Scipio and C. Norbanus. During the preceding year he had written to the Senate, recounting the services he had rendered to the commonwealth, complaining of the ingratitude with which he had been treated, announcing his speedy return to Italy, and threatening to take vengeance upon his enemies and those of the Republic. The Senate, in alarm, sent an embassy to Sulla to endeavor to bring about a reconciliation between him and his enemies, and meantime ordered the Consuls Cinna and Carbo to desist from levying troops and making farther preparations for war. Cinna and Carbo gave no heed to this command; they knew that a reconciliation was impossible, and resolved to carry over an army to Dalmatia, in order to oppose Sulla in Greece; but, after one detachment of their troops had embarked, the rest of the soldiers rose in mutiny, and murdered Cinna. The Marian party had thus lost their chief leader, but continued nevertheless to make every preparation to resist Sulla, for they were well aware that he would never forgive them, and that their only choice lay between victory and destruction. Besides this the Italians were ready to support them, as these new citizens feared that Sulla would deprive them of the rights which they had lately obtained after so much bloodshed. The Marian party had every prospect of victory, for their troops far exceeded those of their opponent. They had 200,000 men in arms, while Sulla landed at Brundusium with only 30,000, or at the most 40,000 men. But, on the other hand, the popular party had no one of sufficient influence and military reputation to take the supreme command in the war; their vast forces were scattered about Italy, in different armies, under different generals; the soldiers had no confidence in their commanders, and no enthusiasm in their cause; and the consequence was, that whole hosts of them deserted to Sulla on the first opportunity. Sulla's soldiers, on the contrary, were veterans, who had frequently fought by each other's sides, and had acquired that confidence in themselves and in their general which frequent victories always give. Still, if the Italians had remained faithful to the cause of the Marian party, Sulla would hardly have conquered, and therefore one of his first cares after landing at Brundusium was to detach them from his enemies. For this purpose he would not allow his troops to do any injury to the towns or fields of the Italians in his march from Brundusium through Calabria and Apulia, and he formed separate treaties with many of the Italian towns, by which he secured to them all the rights and privileges of Roman citizens which they then enjoyed. Among the Italians the Samnites continued to be the most formidable enemies of Sulla. They had joined the Marian party, not simply with the design of securing the supremacy for the latter, but with the hope of conquering Rome by their means, and then destroying forever their hated oppressor. Thus this Civil war became merely another phase of the Social war, and the struggle between Rome and Samnium for the supremacy of the peninsula was renewed after the subjection of the latter for more than two hundred years.

Sulla marched from Apulia into Campania without meeting with any resistance. In Campania he gained his first victory over the Consul Norbanus, who was defeated with great loss, and obliged to take refuge in Capua. His colleague Scipio, who was at no great distance, willingly accepted a truce which Sulla offered him, although Sertorius, the ablest of the Marian generals, warned him against entering into any negotiations. His caution was justified by the event. By means of his emissaries Sulla seduced the troops of Scipio, who at length found himself deserted by all his soldiers, and was taken prisoner in his tent. Sulla, however, dismissed him uninjured. On hearing of this, Carbo is said to have observed "that he had to contend in Sulla both with a lion and a fox, but that the fox gave him more trouble" Many distinguished Romans meantime had taken up arms on behalf of Sulla. Cn. Pompey, the son of Cn. Pompeius Strabo, then only twenty-three years of age, levied three legions in Picenum and the surrounding districts; and Q. Metellus Pius, M. Crassus, M. Lucullus, and several others, offered their services as legates. It was not, however, till the following year (B.C. 82) that the struggle was brought to a decisive issue. The Consuls of this year were Cn. Papirius Carbo and the younger Marius, the former of whom was intrusted with the protection of Etruria and Umbria, while the latter had to guard Rome and Latium. Sulla appears to have passed the winter at Campania. At the commencement of spring he advanced against the younger Marius, who had concentrated all his forces at Sacriportus, and defeated him with great loss. Marius took refuge in Præneste; and Sulla, after leaving Q. Lucretius Ofella with a large force to blockade the town, marched with the main body of his army to Rome. Marius was resolved not to perish unavenged, and accordingly, before Sulla could reach Rome, he sent orders to L. Damasippus, the Prætor, to put to death all his leading opponents. His orders were faithfully obeyed. Q. Mucius Scævola, the Pontifex Maximus and jurist, P. Antistius, L. Domitius, and many other distinguished men, were butchered, and their corpses thrown into the Tiber. Sulla entered the city without opposition, and marched against Carbo, who had been previously opposed by Pompey and Metellus. The history of this part of the war is involved in great obscurity. Carbo made two efforts to relieve Præneste, but failed in each; and, after fighting with various fortune against Pompey, Metellus, and Sulla, he at length embarked for Africa, despairing of farther success in Italy. Meantime Rome had nearly fallen into the hands of the enemy. The Samnites and Lucanians, under Pontius Telesinus and L. Lamponius, after attempting to relieve Præneste, resolved to march straight upon Rome, which had been left without an army for its protection. Sulla arrived barely in time to save the city. The battle was fought before the Colline Gate; it was long and obstinately contested; the combat was not simply for the supremacy of a party; the very existence of Rome was at stake, for Pontius had declared that he would raze the city to the ground. The left wing, where Sulla commanded in person, was driven off the field by the vehemence of the enemy's charge; but the success of the right wing, which was commanded by Crassus, enabled Sulla to restore the battle, and at length gain a complete victory. Fifty thousand men were said to have fallen on each side. All the most distinguished leaders of the Marian party either perished in the engagement, or were taken prisoners and put to death. Among these was the brave Samnite Pontius, whose head was cut off and carried under the walls of Præneste, thereby announcing to the young Marius that his last hope of succour was gone. To the Samnite prisoners Sulla showed no mercy. He was resolved to root out of the peninsula those heroic enemies of Rome. On the third day after the battle he collected all the Samnite and Lucanian prisoners in the Campus Martius, and ordered his soldiers to cut them down. The dying shrieks of so many victims frightened the Senators, who had been assembled at the same time by Sulla in the temple of Bellona; but he bade them attend to what he was saying, and not mind what was taking place outside, as he was only chastising some rebels. Præneste surrendered soon afterward. The Romans in the town were pardoned; but all the Samnites and Prænestines were massacred without mercy. The younger Marius put an end to his own life. The war in Italy was now virtually at an end, for the few towns which still held out had no prospect of offering any effectual opposition, and were reduced soon afterward. In other parts of the Roman world the war continued still longer, and Sulla did not live to see its completion. The armies of the Marian party in Sicily and Africa were subdued by Pompey in the course of the same year; but Sertorius in Spain continued to defy all the attempts of the Senate till B.C. 72.

Sulla was now master of Rome. He had not commenced the Civil war, but had been driven to it by the mad ambition of Marius. His enemies had attempted to deprive him of the command in the Mithridatic war, which had been legally conferred upon him by the Senate; and while he was righting the battles of the Republic they had declared him a public enemy, confiscated his property, and murdered the most distinguished of his friends and adherents. For all these wrongs Sulla had threatened to take the most ample vengeance; and he more than redeemed his word. He resolved to extirpate the popular party root and branch. One of his first acts was to draw up a list of his enemies who were to be put to death, which list was exhibited in the forum to public inspection, and called a Proscriptio. It was the first instance of the kind in Roman history. All persons in this list were outlaws who might be killed by any one with impunity; their property was confiscated to the state; their children and grandchildren lost their votes in the comitia, and were excluded from all public offices. Farther, all who killed a proscribed person, or indicated the place of his concealment, received two talents as a reward, and whoever sheltered such a person was punished with death. Terror now reigned not only at Rome, but throughout Italy. Fresh lists of the proscribed constantly appeared. No one was safe; for Sulla gratified his friends by placing in the fatal lists their personal enemies, or persons whose property was coveted by his adherents. An estate, a house, or even a piece of plate, was to many a man, who belonged to no political party, his death-warrant; for, although the confiscated property belonged to the state, and had to be sold by public auction, the friends and dependents of Sulla purchased it at a nominal price, as no one dared to bid against them. Oftentimes Sulla did not require the purchase-money to be paid at all, and in many cases he gave such property to his favorites without even the formality of a sale. The number of persons who perished by the proscriptions amounted to many thousands. At the commencement of these horrors Sulla had been appointed Dictator. As both the Consuls had perished, he caused the Senate to elect Valerius Flaccus interrex, and the latter brought before the people a rogatio, conferring the Dictatorship upon Sulla, for the purpose of restoring order to the Republic, and for as long a time as he judged to be necessary. Thus the Dictatorship was revived after being in abeyance for more than 120 years, and Sulla obtained absolute power over the lives and fortunes of all the citizens. This was toward the close of B.C. 81. Sulla's great object in being invested with the Dictatorship was to carry into execution in a legal manner the great reforms which he meditated in the constitution and the administration of justice, by which he hoped to place the government of the Republic on a firm and secure basis. He had no intention of abolishing the Republic, and consequently he caused Consuls to be elected for the following year, B.C. 81, and was elected to the office himself in B.C. 80, while he continued to hold the Dictatorship.

At the beginning of B.C. 81 Sulla celebrated a splendid triumph on account of his victory over Mithridates. In a speech which he delivered to the people at the close of the gorgeous ceremony, he claimed for himself the surname of Felix, as he attributed his success in life to the favor of the gods. All ranks in Rome bowed in awe before their master; and among other marks of distinction which were voted to him by the obsequious Senate, a gilt equestrian statue was erected to his honor before the Rostra, bearing the inscription "Cornelio Sullæ Imperatori Felici"

During the years B.C. 80 and 79 Sulla carried into execution his various reforms in the constitution, of which an account is given at the end of this chapter. At the same time he established many military colonies throughout Italy. The inhabitants of the Italian towns which had fought against Sulla were deprived of the full Roman franchise which had been lately conferred upon them; their lands were confiscated and given to the soldiers who had fought under him. A great number of these colonies were settled in Etruria. They had the strongest interest in upholding the institutions of Sulla, since any attempt to invalidate the latter would have endangered their newly-acquired possessions. But, though they were a support to the power of Sulla, they hastened the fall of the commonwealth; an idle and licentious soldiery supplanted an industrious agricultural population; and Catiline found nowhere more adherents than among the military colonies of Sulla. While Sulla thus established throughout Italy a population devoted to his interests, he created at Rome a kind of body-guard for his protection by giving the citizenship to a great number of slaves belonging to those who had been proscribed by him. The slaves thus rewarded are said to have been as many as 10,000, and were called Cornelii after him as their patron.

Sulla had completed his reforms by the beginning of B.C. 79; and as he longed for the undisturbed enjoyment of his pleasures, he resigned his Dictatorship, and declared himself ready to render an account of his conduct while in office. This voluntary abdication by Sulla of the sovereignty of the Roman world has excited the astonishment and admiration of both ancient and modern writers. But it is evident that Sulla never contemplated, like Julius Cæsar, the establishment of a monarchical form of government; and it must be recollected that he could retire into a private station without any fear that attempts would be made against his life or his institutions. The ten thousand Cornelii at Rome and his veterans stationed throughout Italy, as well as the whole strength of the aristocratical party, secured him against all danger. Even in his retirement his will was law, and shortly before his death he ordered his slaves to strangle a magistrate of one of the towns in Italy because he was a public defaulter.

After resigning his Dictatorship, Sulla retired to his estate at Puteoli, and there, surrounded by the beauties of nature and art, he passed the remainder of his life in those literary and sensual enjoyments in which he had always taken so much pleasure. He died in B.C. 78, in the sixtieth year of his age. The immediate cause of his death was the rupture of a blood-vessel, but some time before he had been suffering from the disgusting disease which is known in modern times by the name of Morbus Pediculosus. The Senate, faithful to the last, resolved to give him the honor of a public funeral. This was, however, opposed by the Consul Lepidus, who had resolved to attempt the repeal of Sulla's laws; but the Dictator's power continued unshaken even after his death. The veterans were summoned from their colonies, and Q. Catulus, L. Lucullus, and Cn. Pompey placed themselves at their head. Lepidus was obliged to give way, and allowed the funeral to take place without interruption. It was a gorgeous pageant. The Magistrates, the Senate, the Equites, the Priests, and the Vestal virgins, as well as the veterans, accompanied the funeral procession to the Campus Martius, where the corpse was burnt according to the wish of Sulla himself, who feared that his enemies might insult his remains, as he had done those of Marius, which had been taken out of the grave and thrown into the Anio at his command. It had been previously the custom of the Cornelia gens to bury and not burn their dead. A monument was erected to Sulla in the Campus Martius, the inscription on which he is said to have composed himself. It stated that none of his friends ever did him a kindness, and none of his enemies a wrong, without being fully repaid.

All the reforms of Sulla were effected by means of Leges, which were proposed by him in the Comitia Centuriata, and bore the general name of Leges Corneliæ. They may be divided into four classes: laws relating to the constitution, to the ecclesiastical corporations, to the administration of justice, and to the improvement of public morals. Their general object and design was to restore, as far as possible, the ancient Roman Constitution, and to give again to the Senate and the Nobility that power of which they had been gradually deprived by the leaders of the popular party. His Constitution did not last, because the aristocracy were thoroughly selfish and corrupt, and exercised the power which Sulla had intrusted to them only for their own aggrandizement. Their shameless conduct soon disgusted the provinces as well as the capital; the people again regained their power, but the consequence was an anarchy and not a government; and as neither class was fit to rule, they were obliged to submit to the dominion of a single man. Thus the empire became a necessity to the exhausted Roman world.

I. Laws relating to the Constitution. - Sulla deprived the Comitia Tributa of their legislative and judicial powers; but he allowed them to elect the Tribunes, Ædiles, Quæstors, and other inferior magistrates. This seems to have been the only purpose for which they were called together. The Comitia Centuriata, on the other hand, were allowed to retain their right of legislation unimpaired. He restored, however, the ancient regulation, which had fallen into desuetude, that no matter should be brought before them without the previous sanction of a senatus consultum.

The Senate had been so much reduced in numbers by the proscriptions of Sulla, that he was obliged to fill up the vacancies by the election of three hundred new members. But he made no alteration in their duties and functions, as the whole administration of the state was in their hands; and he gave them the initiative in legislation by requiring a previous senatus consultum respecting all measures that were to be submitted to the Comitia, as already stated.

With respect to the magistrates, Sulla increased the number of Quæstors from eight to twenty, and of Prætors from six to eight. He renewed the old law that no one should hold the Prætorship before he had been Quæstor, nor the Consulship before he had been Prætor. He also renewed the law that no one should be elected to the same magistracy till after the expiration of ten years.

One of the most important of Sulla's reforms related to the Tribunate, which he deprived of all real power. He took away from the Tribunes the right of proposing a rogation of any kind to the Tribes, or of impeaching any person before them; and he appears to have limited the right of intercession to their giving protection to private persons against the unjust decisions of magistrates, as, for instance, in the enlisting of soldiers. To degrade the Tribunate still lower, Sulla enacted that whoever had held this office forfeited thereby all right to become a candidate for any of the higher curule offices, in order that all persons of rank, talent, and wealth might be deterred from holding an office which would be a fatal impediment to rising any higher in the state. He also required persons to be Senators before they could become Tribunes.

II. Laws relating to the Ecclesiastical Corporations. - Sulla repealed the Lex Domitia, which gave to the Comitia Tributa the right of electing the members of the great ecclesiastical corporations, and restored to the latter the right of co-optatio, or self-election. At the same time, he increased the number of Pontiffs and Augurs to fifteen respectively.

III. Laws relating to the Administration of Justice. - Sulla established permanent courts for the trial of particular offenses, in each of which a Prætor presided. A precedent for this had been given by the Lex Calpurnia of the Tribune L. Calpurnius Piso, in B.C. 149, by which it was enacted that a Prætor should preside at all trials for Repetundæ during his year of office. This was called a Quæstio Perpetua, and nine such Quæstiones Perpetuæ were established by Sulla, namely, De Repetundis, Majestatis, De Sicariis et Veneficis, De Parricidio, Peculatus, Ambitus, De Nummis Adulterinis, De Falsis or Testamentaria, and De Vi Publica. Jurisdiction in civil cases was left to the Prætor Peregrinus and the Prætor Urbanus as before, and the other six Prætors presided in the Quæstiones; but as the latter were more in number than the Prætors, some of the Prætors took more than one Quæstio, or a Judex Quæstionis was appointed. The Prætors, after their election, had to draw lots for their several jurisdictions. Sulla enacted that the Judices should be taken exclusively from the Senators, and not from the Equites, the latter of whom had possessed this privilege, with a few interruptions, from the law of C. Gracchus, in B.C. 123. This was a great gain for the aristocracy, since the offenses for which they were usually brought to trial, such as bribery, malversation, and the like, were so commonly practiced by the whole order, that they were, in most cases, nearly certain of acquittal from men who required similar indulgence themselves.

Sulla's reform in the criminal law, the greatest and most enduring part of his legislation, belongs to a history of Roman law, and can not be given here.

IV. Laws relating to the Improvement of Public Morals. - Of these we have very little information. One of them was a Lex Sumtuaria, which enacted that not more than a certain sum of money should be spent upon entertainments, and also restrained extravagance in funerals. There was likewise a law of Sulla respecting marriage, the provisions of which are quite unknown, as it was probably abrogated by the Julian law of Augustus.

Coin of Sulla
Coin of Sulla.

On the obverse is the head of Sulla; on the reverse that of Q. Pompeius Rufus, his colleague in his first Consulship

Cn. Pompeius Magnus
Cn. Pompeius Magnus
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