Sulla, Lucius Cornelius lo͞o´shəs kôrnē´lyəs sŭl´ə [key]
, 138 BC–78 BC, Roman general. At the height of his career he assumed the name Felix. He served under Marius
in Africa and became consul in 88 BC, when Mithradates VI of Pontus was overrunning Roman territory in the east. Sulla and Marius both wanted the command against Mithradates—Marius as a popular leader, Sulla as a senatorial favorite. Sulla got the office by marching (88 BC) his soldiers on Rome. By 85 BC he had driven Mithradates' armies back to Asia; Sulla's exploits had included a bloody sack of Athens (86 BC). After Marius' death in 86 BC, his party (led by Cinna
) sent another army to Greece, designed to supplant Sulla's, but the other Marian commander, Fimbria, fought independently. Mithradates was defeated (84 BC); then Sulla defeated Fimbria. Sulla came back to Italy (83 BC) with 40,000 men. The ensuing civil war lasted about a year in Italy ( Sertorius
continued it in Spain); Sulla's chief opponent was Cnaeus Papirius Carbo
. The war ended just after the battle of the Colline Gate, a last desperate foray by Marians from Samnium; Sulla captured and massacred 8,000 prisoners. He had himself named dictator (82 BC) and began the systematic butchery of his enemies; this proscription, done with public lists, soon surpassed all Roman precedents. As the murders were legalized, the property of the victims, naturally including many very rich men, went to Sulla's friends. The dictator reorganized the government with measures, suggested by the Metellus
faction, which would remove any popular check on the senate. Sulla also founded a number of colonies for his veterans. In 80 BC he retired. His so-called reforms did not last. Sulla's dictatorship was notorious for its cruelty and lack of legality.
See biography by A. Keaveney, Sulla: The Last Republican (1987); study by P. O. Spann, Quintus Sertorius and the Legacy of Sulla (1987).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Ancient History, Rome: Biographies