Timeline of World History: Year by Year from Prehistory to Present Day


  Illustrated History of the World

The Ancient World - ca. 2500 B.C. - 900 A.D.

The Ancient World

ca. 2500 B.C. - 900 A.D.


Rome: From the Beginnings to the End of the Republic

753-82 B.C.



The Crisis in the Republic


The rapid expansion of state power exacerbated the social disparities in Rome. The Senate's brutal suppression of the Gracchi land reform further aggravated the general crisis and led to social unrest which threatened to overwhelm the political structures of the Republic.


By the second century в.c.. Rome had built a world empire, but culturally it leaned on the traditions of other peoples. In the early period.

Greek cultural influence was significant, while later the Hellenistic culture with its Oriental aspects was more important.

Leading patrician families, such as the Fabians, the Julio-Claudians, and the Scipiones, who provided consuls and generals in every generation, enjoyed high esteem and 5 wealth as a result of military fame and the spoils of war.

They ruled the city with their network of clients.

The tributes of subjugated peoples and allies brought enormous amounts of money and precious metals to the city of Rome. Corruption scandals, primarily in the provincial administration, shook the republic. The inequality between the large landowners and the destitute city plebeians threatened to shatter the internal peace of Rome yet again.


4 The Hercules temple on Forum Roanum in Rome,
built in the second century в.с

5 Roman banquet feast in the house
of a wealthy citizen of Pompeii


In 133 B.C.., the Roman tribune 6 Tiberius Gracchus sought to push through a program of land reform entailing a more just redistribution of land, putting himself in open opposition to the Senate.

6 Gracchus, tribune of the people, wood engraving from 1873,
from a play by Adolf von Wiibrandt

This program was unpopular with many of the patricians, and Tiberius was 2 killed in 132, along with a majority of his supporters, in the civil war-like battles between the plebeians and Senate troops. His younger brother Gains Gracchus then took over his reform proposals and planned a plebeian colony in the provinces. He provoked a national crisis when he promised full citizenship for Roman allies. Renewed attempts to revolt were crushed by the Senate and patricians, who forced Gaius to commit suicide.

Ultimately, the Senate and the consuls came out of the conflict weakened.as they had made themselves the advocates of patrician interests against the plebeians.

In this situation, external threats, especially the Jugurthine War (111 —105 B.C.) against King 3 Jugurtha of Numidia and the attacks of the Germanic 1 Cimbri and Teutoni in northern Italy (113-101 B.C.), highlighted an  unexpected explosive force with  the state of Rome.


2 The death of Tiberius Gracchus,
132 B.C.
Steel engraving, 19th century

3 Coin portrait of Jugurtha,
king of Numidia

1 Battle between the Cimbri and the Romans
under Manus in northern Italy,
near Vercelli 101 B.C.


Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus

Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, (born 169–164? bc—died June 133 bc, Rome), Roman tribune (133 bc) who sponsored agrarian reforms to restore the class of small independent farmers and who was assassinated in a riot sparked by his senatorial opponents. His brother was Gaius Sempronius Gracchus.

Born into an aristocratic Roman family, Tiberius Sempronius was heir to a nexus of political connections with other leading families—most notably with the Cornelii Scipiones, the most continuously successful of the great Roman houses—through his mother, Cornelia, daughter of the conqueror of Hannibal, and through his sister Sempronia, wife of Scipio Aemilianus, the destroyer of Carthage. He was equally associated with the great rivals of the Scipios, the Claudii Pulchri, through Tiberius’ wife, Claudia, daughter of Appius Claudius Pulcher, the contemporary head of the house and princeps senatus, who had the honour of speaking first in all discussions in the Senate.

He was educated in the new Greek enlightenment that had been adopted by the more liberal families after the Roman conquest of the Hellenistic kingdoms, and this gave form and clarity to his natural talent for public speaking. The Stoic teacher Blossius had special influence with Tiberius, but the central Stoic doctrine of duty merely enhanced his natural determination and obstinacy.

As a Roman aristocrat, Tiberius began a normal military career, serving as a junior officer with distinction under Scipio Aemilianus in the war with Carthage (147–146 bc), and in due course went as quaestor, or paymaster, with the consul Mancinus to the protracted colonial warfare in Spain (137 bc). There his personal integrity and family reputation enabled him to save a Roman army from total destruction at Numantia by an honourable compact with the Spanish tribesmen. But, at the insistence of Aemilianus, the agreement was disavowed by the Senate at Rome, and Mancinus, the defeated consul, though not his staff and his troops, was returned to his captors. This setback alienated Tiberius from the Scipionic faction in the Senate and drew him closer to his Claudian friends.

His military experience had shown him the latent weakness of Rome. Its manpower was stretched to the limit to maintain its hegemony over the Mediterranean world, while its sources in Italy were beginning to contract. The primitive subsistence economy that in past centuries had nourished a large population of poor peasants was being eroded by new factors, notably the development of large estates owned by magnates enriched in the imperialist wars and devoted to cash crops worked by slaves and day labourers. The landowning peasantry, who alone were thought useful for military service, were declining in numbers, while the landless citizenry were increasing.

Tiberius sought a solution of the manpower problem in a large-scale revival of the traditional Roman policy, abandoned only in the last 30 years, of settling landless men on the extensive public lands acquired by the Roman state during the former conquest of Italy. Much of this land had fallen irregularly but effectively into the hands of the Italian gentry, who had enjoyed use of the land for generations in return for a tax paid to Rome. Tiberius, with the support of a small but powerful group of consular senators, primarily of the Claudian faction, who shared his concern and also looked for political advantage from sponsoring such a scheme, concocted a bill for the redistribution of the public lands to landless labourers in plots of viable size. Those who received plots would become their clients and provide a political base for power. The novelty lay only in the scale of the scheme, which was not limited to a defined area of land or number of persons, and in the institution of a permanent executive of land commissioners. Opposition from vested interests was certain, but Tiberius hoped to pacify it by a generous provision allowing the great occupiers of public land to retain large portions in private ownership.

To implement this measure Tiberius secured the legislative office of tribune, for 133 bc, which was not an essential part of a senatorial career. Tribunes at this period normally legislated in the People’s Assembly on the advice of the Senate, but more than once in recent years tribunes had passed reformist measures without senatorial approval. Consul Scipio Aemilianus was fighting in Spain, and Tiberius in 133 had the support of the sole consul in Rome—Publius Mucius Scaevola, who had helped to draft the agrarian bill—and of several other leading senators, mostly of the Claudian faction, whose authority could be expected to deflate opposition while hordes of peasants flocked to Rome to use their votes. When, after lengthy public debate, the bill was presented to the voters, the tribune Octavius used his right of veto to stop the proceedings in the interest of the great occupiers. When he refused to give way, Tiberius vainly sought belated approval from the Senate. That should have been the end of the matter, but Tiberius, convinced of the necessity of his bill, devised a novel method of bypassing the veto: a vote of the Assembly removed Octavius from office, contrary to all precedent. The bill was then passed. But the deposition of Octavius alienated many of Tiberius’ supporters, who saw that it undermined the authority of the tribunate itself; they rejected the unfamiliar justification, devised by Tiberius, that tribunes who resisted the will of the people ceased to be tribunes.

Fresh complications arose from the lack of financial provision in the agrarian law for the equipment of the new landholders. Tiberius expected the Senate to make the traditional allocation of funds, but Scipio Nasica, an elderly senator from the Scipionic faction, succeeded in limiting these to a derisory sum. Tiberius countered by a second outrageous proposal, of which he failed to see the implication. The King of Pergamum, a city in Anatolia, on his death in 134 had bequeathed his fortune and his kingdom to the Roman state. Tiberius by a fresh bill claimed these monies in the name of the people and assigned them to the land commissioners, thus interfering with the Senate’s traditional control of public finance and foreign affairs. The storm over Tiberius’ methods continued to rage. He was threatened with prosecution after the end of his tribunate, when he would have no formal means of protecting his law and would be liable to prosecution before the Centuriate Assembly, in which the wealthier classes had a voting advantage. The charge would have been violation of the immunity of the tribune Octavius.

Lacking the self-assurance to realize that the people were unlikely either to repeal the agrarian law or to pass sentence against its champion, Tiberius sought refuge in yet another impropriety. He proposed to stand for election to a second tribunate in 132, although reelection had not been practiced for 300 years and was widely believed to have been barred by an ambiguous statute. In the Senate the embittered opposition, again led by Nasica, tried to induce the consul Scaevola to stop the elections by force. Scaevola replied evasively that he would see that nothing illegal was done. Meanwhile, in the Assembly, Tiberius and the other tribunes were at loggerheads over the conduct of the election. An abortive vote had shown that the success of Tiberius was assured if only the election could be completed. He expected no violence and made no preparations against it. Enraged by the attitude of the Consul, Nasica and his associates stormed out of the Senate, equally unarmed. Seizing sticks and staves they precipitated a riot. It may well have begun as an attempt to disperse the electoral meeting, but it ended with the clubbing to death of Tiberius and the indiscriminate killing of some scores of citizens.

The political fault lay with Tiberius. After presentation of the agrarian bill, he failed to act in prudent collaboration with his senatorial supporters, and he added to his troubles by dubious initiatives that were bound to offend the bulk of senatorial opinion. So Scaevola and the others abandoned him and effected a compromise. The Senate recommended that the land commission continue, and, though in 132 it set up a political court that punished many of the lesser followers of Tiberius, it also encouraged Nasica, who barely escaped prosecution, to leave Italy.

The tribunate of Tiberius Gracchus marked the beginning of the “Roman revolution.” With the disappearance of the traditional respect for mos maiorum, the system of compromise and restraint handed down from the past, legal chicanery and outright murder became the standard. and the days of the Roman Republic were numbered.

Encyclopædia Britannica



P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus the Elder

Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus the Elder (ca. 235-183 B.C.), the most significant Roman general before Julius Caesar, participated in the battles against Hannibal.

Entrusted with the com rnand of the Roman troops in Spain as proconsul in 210 B.C., he drove the Carthaginians out by 206 and landed in North Africa in 204, where he defeated Hannibal at Zama in 202. Afterward, he fought in Rome's wars against Antiochus III of Syria.



The Civil War

The political clashes of the generals Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla resulted in the Roman Civil War that divided the state. After the rule of Marius and Cinna, Sulla established a dictatorship that led to the fall of the republic.


In 107 B.C.. the Senate appointed the ambitious general 9 Gaius Marius to lead Rome in the struggle against external enemies.

He completely destroyed and defeated King Jugurtha and the Germanic tribes who threatened Rome from the North. At the same time, he strove for political office, supported by the military power of his troops. He occupied the office of consul several times. Marius took up the cause of the plebeians, formed a volunteer army of semiprofessionals—with a single ensign, the Roman eagle—and opened its ranks to the innumerable destitute plebeians. After military service, these volunteers were given their own land, creating plebeian and soldier colonies in the provinces.

The Senate was split over the issue of land reform when the Italian allies revolted against Rome in 91-89 B.C. and were pacified only when granted full Roman

During these battles 8 Lucius Cornelius Sulla particularly distinguished himself as a commander of the troops and the name "Felix"—the fortunate— was added to his name in reference to his luck in war.

Sulla was elected consul in 88 B.C., but the Senate relieved him of supreme command in the war against Mithradates VI of Pontus in favor of Marius.

Sulla then marched to Rome at the head of his troops, expelled 7 Marius to Africa, and restored his command.

For the first time, a military leader had dared to force his will upon the Senate through military means. The civil war had begun.


9  General Gaius Marius,
marble bust, ca. 90 B.C.

8 Lucius Cornelius Sulla,
marble bust, ca. 50-40 B.C.

7 Marius after his exile by
Sulla to Carthage in 87 B.C.




Gaius Marius

Gaius Marius, (born c. 157 bc, Cereatae, near Arpinum [Arpino], Latium [now in Italy]—died Jan. 13, 86 bc, Rome), Roman general and politician, consul seven times (107, 104–100, 86 bc), who was the first Roman to illustrate the political support that a successful general could derive from the votes of his old army veterans.

Early career.
Gaius Marius was a strong and brave soldier and a skillful general, popular with his troops, but he showed little flair for politics and was not a good public speaker. As an equestrian, he lacked the education in Greek normal to the upper classes. He was superstitious and overwhelmingly ambitious, and, because he failed to force the aristocracy to accept him, despite his great military success, he suffered from an inferiority complex that may help explain his jealousy and vindictive cruelty. As a young officer-cadet, along with Jugurtha (later king of Numidia), on Scipio Aemilianus’ staff in the Numantine War in Spain (134 bc), he, like Jugurtha, made an excellent impression on his commanding officer. Marius’ family enjoyed the patronage of more than one noble family, in particular the distinguished and inordinately conceited Caecilii Metelli, then at the height of their political power. They backed his candidacy for tribune (defender) of the plebs (common people) in 119. As tribune, Marius proposed a bill affecting procedure in elections and legislative assemblies by narrowing the bridges—the gangway across which each voter passed to fill in and deposit his ballot tablet—as a result of which there was no longer room on the gangway for observers, normally aristocrats, who abused their position to influence an individual’s vote. When the two consuls tried to persuade the Senate to block the bill, Marius threatened them with imprisonment, and the bill was carried.

Marius showed himself no unprincipled candidate for popular favour, for he vetoed a popular grain bill, and the following years offered him little promise of a conspicuous career. He failed to secure the aedileship (control of markets and police) and was only just elected praetor (judicial magistrate) for the year 115 after bribing heavily, for which he was lucky to escape condemnation in court. The next year he governed Further Spain, campaigned successfully against bandits, and laid a foundation for great personal wealth through mining investments. After that, he made a good marriage into a patrician family that, after long obscurity, was on the point of strong political revival. His wife was Julia, the aunt of Julius Caesar.

Election to the consulship.
The command in the war against Jugurtha (who was now Numidian king) was given to Quintus Metellus, and Marius was invited to join Metellus’ staff. After defeating Jugurtha in pitched battle, Metellus was less successful in later guerrilla warfare, and this failure was exaggerated by Marius in his public statements when at the end of 108 he returned to Rome to seek the consulship (chief magistracy). Marius was elected on the equestrian and popular vote and, to Metellus’ bitter chagrin, appointed by a popular bill to succeed Metellus at once in the African command.

In recruiting fresh troops, Marius broke with custom, because of a manpower shortage, by enrolling volunteers from outside the propertied classes, which alone had previously been liable for service. In Africa he kept Jugurtha on the run, and in 105 Jugurtha was captured, betrayed by his ally, King Bocchus of Mauretania—not to Marius himself but to Sulla, considered a rather disreputable young aristocrat, who had joined Marius’ staff as quaestor in 107. Sulla had the incident engraved on his seal, provoking Marius’ jealousy.

The victory, however, was Marius’, and he was elected consul again for 104—at the start of which year he celebrated a triumph and Jugurtha was executed—in order to take command against an alarming invasion of the Cimbri and Teutones, who had defeated a succession of Roman armies in the north, the last in disgraceful circumstances in 105. For this war, Marius used fresh troops raised by Rutilius Rufus, consul in 105, and excellently trained in commando tactics by gladiatorial instructors. With them, Marius defeated the Teutones at Aquae Sextiae (modern Aix-en-Provence, Fr.) in 102 and in 101 came to the support of the consul of 102, Quintus Lutatius Catulus, who had suffered a serious setback; together they defeated the Cimbri at the Vercellae, near modern Rovigo in the Po River valley, and the danger was over. This was the apex of Marius’ success. He had been consul every year since 104, and he was elected again the year 100. With Catulus he celebrated a joint triumph, but already there was bad feeling between them. Marius claimed the whole credit for the victory; Catulus and Sulla gave very different accounts of the event in their memoirs.

Marius had always had equestrian support, not only because his origins lay in that class but also because wars were bad for trade, and Marius had brought serious wars to an end. The Roman populace liked him because he was not an aristocrat. He had the further support of his veterans, for it was in their interest to stick closely to their general. Marius perhaps did not realize the potency of their force, one that Sulla, Caesar, and Octavian employed with overpowering effect later.

Fall from power.
The year 100 saw Marius fail disastrously as a politician. Saturninus was tribune for the second time, and Glaucia was praetor; given the poverty of surviving sources, it is extremely difficult to understand either their political aims or Marius’ relationship to them. The three shared a common hatred of Metellus, who, as censor in 102, had tried to remove Saturninus and Glaucia from the Senate, and in 103 Saturninus had carried a bill, evidently in Marius’ interest, for the settlement of veterans in Africa. Now, with the inevitability of civil disorder—for the Roman populace opposed his measures—Saturninus introduced bills for land distribution of Cimbric territory in the north to Romans living in the country, and probably to Italians, and for the settlement of veterans, evidently including allied troops, in colonies overseas. This bill may have included a powerful command for Marius to supervise the resettlement of the veterans—empowering him to give Roman citizenship to a certain number of the new settlers in each colony.

Marius had already violated the law by granting citizenship on the battlefield to two cohorts of Italians (Camertes) who fought under him against the Cimbri in 101, and conceivably Saturninus and Marius were agreeable to a program of extensive enfranchisement of Italians by means of the new colonial settlements. A breach between them occurred, possibly because Marius, in his jealous way, thought that Saturninus was stealing some of his own thunder or possibly because Saturninus’ lawlessness had reached a pitch that no self-respecting consul could tolerate.

First the land and colonial bill was passed, but with blatant illegality; it required senators to take an oath within five days to observe it. After misleading statements about his own intention, Marius took the oath. Metellus refused, however, presumably because of the way in which the bill had been carried, and, forestalling condemnation in the treason court, he retired to Greece; later he was officially exiled. At the tribunician elections for 99, Saturninus was reelected together with a pretender who, already heavily discredited, claimed to be the son of Tiberius Gracchus. At the consular elections, with Glaucia as a candidate, Marcus Antonius, the orator, was elected, and Gaius Memmius, a man with an excellent popular record, was murdered. In the ensuing pandemonium the Senate passed the “last decree,” calling on the consuls to save the state. Through Marius’ action Saturninus and Glaucia were captured on the Capitol and imprisoned in the Senate house; then a mob stripped off the roof and stoned them to death. Although this was no responsibility of Marius, he was smeared as a man who betrayed not only his enemies but also his friends.

Later years.
Rather than attend the inevitable recall of Metellus from exile, Marius went to the east in 99 and there met Mithradates VI of Pontus. He was elected to a priesthood (the augurship) but wisely withdrew his candidature for the censorship of 97. He acted as a background figure in the not fully unraveled politics of the 90s and successfully opposed an attempt in 95 to disenfranchise men to whom he had given citizenship under the terms of Saturninus’ colonial bill, though the law itself had been shelved. In 92 he supported the scandalous prosecution and condemnation of his old associate Rutilius Rufus (in fact a model administrator) for alleged misgovernment of Asia.

Marius was now beginning to show his age. In an Italian rebellion (the Social War) of 90–88, he campaigned under the consul Rutilius Lupus, a soldier far his inferior. In 88, when the tribune Sulpicius Rufus proposed the transfer of the Asian command from the consul Sulla to Marius, presumably on the ground that Marius alone was sufficiently experienced to conduct such a critical war, there was violent public opposition to Sulla in Rome. Sulla went to his army in Campania and marched with it on Rome. Sulpicius’ measures were rescinded, and Marius was exiled.

After a series of near catastrophes, all much embroidered in the telling, Marius escaped safely to Africa. In 87, when Sulla was fighting in Greece, disorder in Rome led to the consul Cinna being dismissed. Marius landed in Etruria, raised an army, sacked Ostia, and, by joining forces with Cinna, captured Rome; both Marius and Cinna were elected consuls for 86, Marius for the seventh time. Hideous massacre followed as Marius ordered the deaths of Marcus Antonius, Lutatius Catulus, Publicus Licinius Crassus, and other distinguished men whom he considered to have behaved with treacherous ingratitude toward him. By this time he was hardly sane, and his death, in 86, was a godsend for enemies and friends alike. If the outcome of his proscriptions was considered to be less disastrous than that of the later proscriptions of Sulla, it was only because they lasted for a shorter time.

Marius’ only son died as consul fighting against Sulla in 82. His widow survived until 69 and received the unusual honour, for a woman, of a public funeral oration by her nephew Julius Caesar, who later won great popularity by restoring to the Capitol Marius’ trophies, which Sulla had removed.

Marius was commemorated by the name Mariana given to Uchi Majus and Thibaris (two African settlements) and to a colony in Corsica, and by the Fossa Mariana, a canal dug by his soldiers at the mouth of the Rhône River.

John P.V. Dacre Balsdon

Encyclopædia Britannica





Jugurtha, (born c. 160 bc—died 104, Rome), king of Numidia from 118 to 105, who struggled to free his North African kingdom from Roman rule.

Jugurtha was the illegitimate grandson of Masinissa (d. 148), under whom Numidia had become a Roman ally, and the nephew of Masinissa’s successor, Micipsa. Jugurtha became so popular among the Numidians that Micipsa tried to eliminate his influence by sending him in 134 to assist the Roman general Scipio Africanus the Younger in the siege of Numantia (Spain). Jugurtha, however, established close relations with Scipio, who was the hereditary patron of Numidia and who probably persuaded Micipsa to adopt Jugurtha in 120.

After Micipsa’s death in 118, Jugurtha shared the rule of Numidia with Micipsa’s two sons, Hiempsal and Adherbal, the first of whom Jugurtha assassinated. When Adherbal was attacked by Jugurtha, he fled to Rome for aid—Rome’s approval being required for any change in the government of Numidia. A senatorial commission divided Numidia, with Jugurtha taking the less-developed western half and Adherbal the richer eastern half. Trusting in his influence at Rome, Jugurtha again attacked Adherbal (112), capturing his capital at Cirta and killing him. During the sack of Cirta, a number of Italian traders were also slain. Popular anger in Rome at this action forced the Senate to declare war on Jugurtha, but in 111 the consul Lucius Calpurnius Bestia made a generous settlement with him. Summoned to Rome to explain how he had managed to obtain the treaty, Jugurtha was silenced by a tribune of the plebs. He then had a potential rival killed in the capital, and even the best of his Roman friends could no longer support him.

When war was renewed, Jugurtha easily maintained himself against incompetent generals. Early in 110 he forced the capitulation of a whole army under Aulus Postumius Albinus and drove the Romans out of Numidia. Antisenatorial feeling caused the terms of this surrender to be disavowed by Rome, and fighting again broke out. One of the consuls for 109, Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus, won several battles but did not drive Jugurtha to surrender. After the arrival of a new consul, Gaius Marius, in 107, Jugurtha continued to achieve successes through guerrilla warfare. Bocchus I of Mauretania, however, encouraged by Marius’ quaestor, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, trapped the Numidian king and turned him over to the Romans early in 105. He was executed the following year.

In vigour and resource he was a worthy grandson of Masinissa but lacked his political insight. Misled by signs of corruption in the Roman governing class, he failed to realize that there were limits beyond which Rome’s satellite rulers could not go without provoking decisive intervention. The Jugurthine War gave Marius the excuse to reform the army by recruiting soldiers who were not property owners. As the Roman historian Sallust’s monograph The Jugurthine War makes clear, the Senate’s handling of Jugurtha, characterized by a mixture of corruption and incompetence, led to the loss of public confidence, which was an important factor in the eventual fall of the Roman Republic.

Encyclopædia Britannica




Lucius Cornelius Sulla

Lucius Cornelius Sulla, also called Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix (born 138 bc—died 79 bc, Puteoli [Pozzuoli], near Naples), victor in the first full-scale civil war in Roman history (88–82 bc) and subsequently dictator (82–79), who carried out notable constitutional reforms in an attempt to strengthen the Roman Republic during the last century of its existence. In late 82 he assumed the name Felix in belief in his own luck.

Sulla was the son of a politically unimportant patrician family. He early showed a taste for luxury and aspired to a political career, which he began in 107 bc, under the command of Gaius Marius, as a quaestor (financial magistrate) in Africa in the war against King Jugurtha of the Numidians. His spectacular capture of Jugurtha by trickery marked the start of his feud with Marius. Although Marius continued to use Sulla in the war against the invading Cimbri, in 103 bc his jealousy became obvious, and Sulla transferred to the service of Marius’ co-commander, Quintus Lutatius Catulus.

After service as a Roman praetor (one of the chief magistrates) in 97 bc, Sulla fought in the Social War (90–89 bc), the struggle of Rome’s Italian allies to obtain Roman citizenship. He became one of the two consuls—the highest office in the republic—in 88 and was placed in command of the war against King Mithradates VI of Pontus in Asia Minor. By his marriage—his fourth—to Caecilia Metella, the widow of Marcus Aemilius Scaurus, in 88 bc, he formed important alliances. The Senate gave Sulla the command of an army against Mithradates, who was threatening Roman control of the east, but Marius, through his alliance with the tribune Publius Sulpicius Rufus of the popular party, succeeded in being appointed commander instead. Sulla marched on Rome and Sulpicius was killed, but Marius escaped.

In 88 Sulla set off for Greece in charge of the war against Mithradates. By the spring of 87 most of Greece was in his power, and after a long siege he captured Athens in 86. Mithradates’ general, Archelaus, was pursued into Boeotia and finally defeated in two battles in 86.

At a meeting in 85 between Sulla and Mithradates at Dardanus on the Hellespont, the latter accepted a punitive treaty. Order was restored in Asia and Greece, and Mithradates became a vassal of the Romans again. In the summer of 83, Sulla, after a lengthy stay in Athens, returned to Brundisium in southern Italy with 40,000 men and enormous plunder.

During his absence Sulla had been declared a public enemy by the ruling popular party. His laws were repealed, his house was destroyed, and his family and friends fled to join him in Greece. In 86 the former consul Lucius Valerius Flaccus was sent to replace Sulla in the Asian command. But Sulla’s luck did not desert him; Flaccus was murdered by his lieutenant.

From Brundisium, Sulla began his march on Rome, joined by opponents of the popular regime, including Marcus Licinius Crassus and Pompey. Through most of the ensuing civil war Sulla was opposed by the consuls Gnaeus Papirius Carbo and the younger Marius (whose father had died in 86). Sulla’s victory of Colline Gate in the northern environs of Rome and the fall of Praeneste at the end of 82 ended the war, which was followed by massacres and proscriptions.

Sulla was appointed dictator under the Lex Valeria (Valerian law), which vested constituent, legislative, military, and judicial power in him, without, however, for the first time in Rome’s history, limiting the duration of his dictatorship.

The state was reorganized and the new legislation enacted in 81, at the start of which year (January 27–28) Sulla celebrated his victory over Mithradates. In the speech delivered at the close of the ceremony, he chose for himself the name of Felix (Epaphroditos in Greek documents).

By his extensive program of constitutional reform he intended mainly to reestablish the supremacy of the Senate in the Roman state, and his administrative reforms did indeed survive to the end of the republic. Of value were the increase of the number of courts for criminal trials; a new treason law, Lex Cornelia Majestatis, designed to prevent insurrection by provincial governors and army commanders; the requirement that the tribunes had to submit their legislative proposals to the Senate for approval; and various laws protecting citizens against excesses of judicial and executive organs.

At the beginning of 79, Sulla resigned and withdrew to the neighbourhood of Puteoli in Campania. This action caused a sensation in Rome; many different explanations have been given, starting with the classical writers. Most commonly accepted is the view that Sulla’s resignation was an act of honesty by a man who had pledged to step down as soon as his reforms had been carried out. Henceforth a private citizen, he continued to write his memoirs. Active to his very last days, Sulla was struck down by a fever in the spring of 78. He left behind two children by Metella and a posthumous daughter by his fifth wife, Valeria.

Sulla, a soldier and a politician, a dictator and a reformer, and a man of contradictions in an age of contradictions, is the subject of contradictory opinions expressed by both classical and modern writers. The classical writers of Sulla’s time or shortly thereafter found it difficult to form an opinion of him; they noted the discrepancy of the Sulla “who follows up good beginnings with evil deeds.” Generally their attitude was a negative one, with references to despotism, slavery, cruelty, and inhumanity, and the absence of any principle of good government. The opinions held by modern writers cover a spectrum ranging from Sulla the enigma (because of his resignation), to Sulla the monarch, to Sulla the honest reformer.

Sulla was the exponent of a decadent patriciate that tried everything in its power to save itself by instituting reforms that, while not without democratic aspects, lacked inner vitality. From the long-term perspective Sulla’s actions seem meaningless; but viewed in their historical context they are justified by the transitional character—both in its military and political aspect—of his age. Inspired by a glorious past, interpreting an extremely volatile present, and heralding a future faithful to tradition, Sulla played a historical role, conclusively shaping and epitomizing the republican ideal shortly before it became submerged. But he was mistaken about the significance of his reforms: he was a temporary dictator because he wanted no one else who might follow him to become a dictator for life; yet by his example he unwittingly paved the way for Julius Caesar.

Ernesto Valgiglio

Encyclopædia Britannica


10 Sulla had hardly marched off again to resume the war against Mithradates, when 11 Lucius Cornelius Cinna (consul 87-84 B.C.), an ally of Marius's, led his own army against Rome in a bid for power. Cinna occupied the city in 86 and ruled alone as dictator until he was murdered in an uprising of his troops in 84. Sulla returned to Italy the next year, and a majority of the patricians and Senate defected to his side.

In 82 B.C. Sulla entered Rome as dictator and "restorer of the state and the Senate's power." In the following years he ushered in an era of brutal persecution of his opponents. He had the followers of Marius and Cinna hunted down and killed, which led to the bloody extermination of whole families (the "proscriptions"). In 81-80 Sulla rewrote the constitution, strengthening the Senate and limiting the tribunate. Individual state offices and courts were allotted far-reaching new authority and jurisdiction. At the same time he settled 120,000 army veterans in Italy. In 79 B.C., Sulla voluntarily resigned his offices and retired to the country. He died shortly thereafter. Sulla's restoration of the old Roman constitution did not long outlive him—but the example set by him and by General Marius set a precedent for later dictatorships.


10 Sulla triumphs over
Mithradates Vl's army in 86 B.C.

11 Cinna, depiction from
Pierre Corneilles's drama, 1640

Lucius Cornelius Cinna

Lucius Cornelius Cinna, (died 84 bc), leader of the Marian party in Rome who opposed Lucius Cornelius Sulla.

After serving in the Social War (90–88), Cinna became consul in 87. When Sulla left Rome to fight Mithradates VI, king of Pontus, in the East, Cinna repealed Sulla’s laws and threatened him with prosecution. Cinna’s proposed revival of a bill of Publius Sulpicius Rufus (for the equal distribution of the newly enfranchised Italians among all the 35 tribes) caused riots and led to his expulsion from the city. He collected an army and, together with Marius, captured Rome. Executions of Sulla’s supporters followed.
The death of Marius in January 86 left Cinna in control, and he remained consul, with Lucius Valerius Flaccus in 86 and with Gnaeus Papirius Carbo in 85–84. During this period Cinna enacted economic reforms and began enforcement of the Sulpician voting rights measure. In 84 he prepared to cross to Dalmatia but was killed in a mutiny. Cinna’s daughter Cornelia married Julius Caesar.

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Description of the Proscriptions:

"Sulla now busied himself with slaughter, and murders without number or limit filled the city. Many, too, were killed to gratify private hatreds, although they had no relations with Sulla, but he gave his consent in order to gratify his adherents."

From Plutarch's Parallel Lives