Lucius Cornelius Sulla's Social War
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Lucius Cornelius Sulla's Social War

Roman general and statesmen Lucius Cornelius Sulla stood out for two main reasons. One he was successful and harsh to communities resisting Rome and two he championed the restoration of ultra conservative order in Rome. He came from an old patrician family falling on hard times and spent time with actors and prostitutes. He had a skin ailment so he was made fun of. He maintained these friendships and eventually pushed for the preeminence of the senate

Roman general and statesmen Lucius Cornelius Sulla stood out for two main reasons. One he was successful and harsh to communities resisting Rome and two he championed the restoration of ultra conservative order in Rome. He came from an old patrician family falling on hard times and spent time with actors and prostitutes. He maintained these friendships and eventually pushed for the preeminence of the senate.

Sulla was the main candidate for consulship in 88 B.C. and he was elected overwhelmingly. There was some resistance, but the senate backed him. As consul, the war against Mithridates fell on Sulla’s shoulders. The Senate and Centuriate Assembly made him general and he mobilized the army he already had and marched south. When he left, popularis politics reared its ugly head once again. One of the tribunes decided to play a nasty game and proposes these laws:

  • Italians were to be distributed to all 35 tribes
  • all exiles were recalled
  • senators in debt were removed if they had borrowed money during the social war.

While Sulla is at war, there is a switch from command from Sulla to Marius. A bill was passed in the Plebeian assembly, which stripped Sulla of command. A messenger was sent to read the message that Sulla was to be replaced directly to army and they killed him. The army marched back to Rome to avenge his honor. They killed his enemies and public resistance disintegrated. Sulla remedies the situation by passing these laws: all Sulpicius Laws were rescinded, the tribunes were to be stripped from their ability to vote in the assembly, he also required all bills proposed in the assembly to have senatorial approval.

Sulla now believed the system would be fair and more efficient and decides to take the army east to fight a war. He was over confident. When he crossed over to Greece, his political enemies rose up once again. He was absent, so during elections in 87 B.C., the people elected every popular politician they could. The man who benefitted the most from this was Lucius Cornelius Cinna. Cinna repealed Sulla’s legislation and restored Sulpicius Laws. While Sulla was on the move in Greece, he besieged Athens in 87 B.C., taking the city in early 86 B.C., then sacked it. Sulla crossed over into Asia, and in 86 B.C., received bad word. He was declared an outlaw and enemy to the state. He was to be captured and his army was to be taken over. At this time Rome’s political institutions are all over the place.

Mithridates returns to ancestral kingdom and pays a fragment of money-1000 talons. Peace allowed him to turn his attention to the army pursuing him. The army had flaws. The commander was Flaccus and he was a strict disciplinarian. His number two in command undermined the commander and the soldiers got rid of the general. Fimbria had promised troops increase in pay and after defeating Sulla, he was able to rape and take money from the countryside. Soldiers under Fimbria went against him in support of Sulla and Fimbria commits suicide. The cities of Asia Minor had shown how disloyal they were, and in turn, they deserved to be punished.

The amount of 20,000 talons was to be paid immediately plus the last five years of back taxes because they were too busy revolting. Communities did not have the money but they had to come up with the money. The wealthy sold off property and public buildings were sold as well as market places. Everything was sold and it wasn’t enough. They borrowed money from the people they had to pay. Interest rates ranged up to 48%. Monies went directly into Sulla’s pocket and he returns to Italy. His friends were writing him to hasten him and when he returned civil war broke out. Cinna does not live long enough to see the end of the civil war.

Resistance to Sulla is fierce. People realize that if they lose the results would be terrible. Sulla comes close to losing the Battle of Colline Gates, as a group of solders breaks the other side and they panic, fleeing Rome. In 83 B.C., Sulla takes Rome and established himself again. His political enemies are gone and the conservatives take control of the government. They waste no time against political enemies. They write a proscription list, drawn up by Sulla and others. People are stripped of legal protection and anyone giving them food and shelter will lose citizenship. Kill the person; you can get 50% of their property. Children or spouses are handing over men and given percentage of their land, and also slaves gained freedom by giving up enemies. The old order was established by the numbers of murders.

Sulla was given the dictatorship and in 82 B.C., Lex Valeria was passed, which gave Sulla power for life. There were now new rules for the game and no one else could play. Sulla handpicked senators, stripped equestrians of their place in courts and made the court all senators. He gutted the tribunes, who lost the ability to propose and veto legislation. If you ran for tribunate, you were forbidden to run for any office thereafter. Ambitious men would not run for tribunate because they knew it led to a dead end. It was a direct assault on the privileges of the people because the ancestral office had been destroyed. Sulla decided to retire in 80 B.C.

Julius Caesar said it was his one mistake. In 78 B.C. he dies and believes he left behind a permanent legacy.

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Comments (7)

Wonderful piece of history on Lucius Cornelius Sulla's Social War..voted

Well wrttten and most educational.thank you.

Informative and educational article.

Thanks so much John, Robert, and Francina. It's nice to be back for a little while a least.

Revisiting Lauren. I submitted this to Buzz

Nice work on Sulla - buzzing up

Thanks Chris and Judith, I appeciate that.

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