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The background of Sulla is what truly confuses me B)

 

Although of the Cornelii, his family was in a state of poverty. He served under Marius against Jugurtha.

 

What caused him to go to the Optimates? Although He recieved a large inheritance, Im surprised that the optimate elite didn't thumb their noses at him?

 

any ideas?

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But Cato, it was the "free competition" that that got the republic into the mess it was in, that Sulla had to repair.

 

All the people involved were aristocrats, patrician or plebian, so Sulla's origins are only of interest to the extent that they particularly shaped his views. I think, personally, his patrician feeling may have been motivation, but not much more. He may have felt that he was chosen by the gods to act, but I doubt it coloured his judgements much.

 

I don't think I characterised any of the three men you mention, MPC, as half-wits. I am unsure of pompeius I must admit - never quite the sum of his parts, maybe a consulate short of a dictatorship (to coin a phrase) - but I was thinking of other men.

 

Someone else mentioned Colleen McCullough's portrait of Sulla. I found the early years quite imaginative and plausible. But I don't think she was comfortable with, or understood, the man after his return from the east. She changes her drawing of him, makes him appear prematurely senile and seems to say "he was an ill man". Interestingly, she does not come close with the older Marius either, in his last consulate. She gives the earlier Marius a very detailed and consistent character, and makes him quite attractive as a personality. But as with her Sulla, cannot seem to grasp the more driven, cranky and vicious older men. So i don't think her Sulla explains much in the end.

 

As I said before, I think some politicians discover a logical development to their vision and aspirations, and follow it no matter where it leads. Caesar, in an opportunitic way, I think did that. Sulla may have done the same. In the end, Augustus may have had a similar approach. Opportunists all - but ones of immense ability and reach. Sulla, as the first, perhaps the most to be admired, since he invented the prototype.

 

Phil

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Thanks, Cato. Now this is the sort of thing I am having trouble understanding. If we leave the proscriptions out of it - for I am sure we would all wholeheartedly condemn them, just as we condemn the Triumviral proscriptions, no matter which side of the fence we are on -

 

Well, I'd like to think we--being humans instead of cartoon characters--all condemn the proscriptions, but we don't. Phil didn't condemn them; he praised them. If you look in this thread, you'll find praise for the Triumviral proscriptions too. It's astonishing, I know.

 

You say that his constitutional reforms were reactionary expedients, but surely you would agree that some curb had to be put on - say - the tribunate? Or wouldn't you agree?

 

I think the role of the tribune should have been better defined, especially after the Gracchi. The idea of a veto was a good one, I think, and it had an ancient precedent, but tribunes either should have been restricted from proposing laws and interjecting themselves in foreign affairs or the Senate should have been so restricted. Having literal overlap among branches of government is a constitutional recipe for disaster. (It's rather like the situation that follows when parents disagree on rules for their children to follow.)

 

Sulla's reform of the tribunate (via the lex Cornelia tribunis plebis) was partly right and partly wrong. The good idea was to curb the power of the tribunes from proposing legislation directly in Assemblies. The bad idea was to prevent tribunes from ever holding higher office, requiring that only senators could serve as tribunes, and curbing their veto powers.

 

And then you say that by giving unchecked power to the Senate he actually undermined its legitimacy - well, perhaps there is a case for that. But - and here is the question I want you to answer, as you have far greater knowledge than me of this period: if his reforms were swept aside so quickly after his death, and in particular the tribunate was flourishing again, why then do you think he was so injurious to the Republic? Hadn't everything just gone back to how it was before, with factions and strife and discord and civil war? To put it another way, would events have unfolded the way they did with or without Sulla? Are you saying that his only contribution to the death of the Republic was that his own actions had set a precedent for other autocrats?

 

It's not quite as simple as that. First, when Sulla's creature Pompey ham-handedly abolished the lex Cornelia tribunis plebis in the Lex Pompeia Licinia, the baby was thrown out with the bathwater, and a false alternative was perpetuated--oligarchy versus populism. Second, many of Sulla's bad reforms stayed in force for far too many years, and with permanently negative consequences. For example, Sulla packed the juries with senators, leading to the development of the situation that almost allowed Verres to go unchecked in his nasty business in Sicily. This is the sort of behavior that also turned popular sentiment against the Senate. Finally, just in case anyone wasn't already clear that Sulla was establishing the Senate as a sort of royal court, Sulla passed the lex Cornelia Pompeia, which imposed severe restrictions on the legislative and electoral activity of the Tribal Assembly.

 

The Romans had a custom of placing garlands around the necks of their sacrificial beasts. What Sulla did "for" the Senate was quite similar--Sulla draped the Senate in garlands; Caesar and Octavian slashed their throats.

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When it all comes out in the wash his influence on the Republic is a great big minus.

 

Is that a bad thing? But was it a minus? The republic was dying - he saw the direction it would go, before others did.

 

It depends on your view of the Republic as a good thing I suppose.

 

His war with Marius was conducted in such a politically scorched earth manner that the compromises or reconciliations of past internal conflicts were now fought in a civil war.

 

Sometimes wars have to be fought to be WON. Compromise suggests that you may be wrong, or that you don't care about the outcome. Sulla did. Compromise almost never provides a full loaf either - why settle for anything less than all, if you believe you are right.

 

Compromise from a position of strength isn't the same as compromise from a position of weakness--see Machiavelli's "The Prince".

 

A man with more political prescience could have worked to diffuse the Republic's internal conflicts with an eye towards future stability once in power.

 

As octavian later did you mean - hardly ANY bloodshed B) no political changes of consequence :rolleyes: everything done by concensus and compromise.... Come off it, Sulla only failed because there wass no one of the same mettle to follow him. The same old Republican half-wits started devouring themselves again. That was why Caesar and Augustus had no alternative but to return to a form of monarchy.

 

Reaching compromise--often ugly in form--between plebes/patricians was part of Roman politics. Much has been written on how this breakdown led to the end of the Republic. Perhaps you've missed this.

 

The correct answer by you, rather than emoticon mocking, might have been; By this time the internal dynamics of Roman politics had degraded so much they weren't able to make the compromises of previoius generations.

 

Thank you, anyway, for making my point. The way for Octavian's proscriptions were paved by Sulla. Sulla's reforms failed because they rolled back to a time before the Gracchi, sometimes you can't put the genie back in the bottle. Because no institutional reforms were made that may have stuck and the roll-back wasn't tenable the half-wits began anew.

 

Instead he proscribed on a level greater than ever seen before and rejected past reforms.

 

Boldness, not half-measures is sometimes what is required. If you understand that the Augean stables need to be cleansed, with a simple wash-down do? And if he felt past reforms were wrong - why continue them.

 

I think you mistake parochial Roman political vengeance with some sort of far-sightedness of counter-reforms.

 

Sulla did not know what was to come, or how things would turn out.

 

I'm sure the word 'precedence' and the concept of an "educated guess" existed in the latin of 1st century BC.

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Cato - don't be surprised at my not criticising past actions. It is NOT for ME to do so.

 

Sulla was there, made his decisions, so did the triumvirs. Those times were bloodier than ours, violence sometimes closer to the surface. Expectations were different.

 

As an historian I see my part to be to enter into the times as far as I can (in some ways like an historical novelist) and understand what happened. In doing that one has to try to drop anachronistic assumptions and feelings as far as one can.

 

When one comes face to face with political pragmatism one has to face it, cold and frightening though it may be.

 

I personally would never cut anyone's throat or order that done; nor fail to compromise, if that were possible. But sometimes it is not. In 1940, after Dunkirk, Churchill recognised that the slightest compromise with Hitler would have meant defeat - the appeasers would have stopped the war to prevent more useless deaths. So Winston did NOT compromise, but kept the flag flying long enough for others - especially Russia and the US to be brought into the war and defeat Nazism and its fascist partners. In two briliant scholarly books, (Five Days in May and The Duel) Jay Lukaas demonstrates how close the compromisers came to over throwing Churchill, and the import of their failure. So NO, I do not accept that compromise is always or ever a good thing. It may or may not be appropriate as a choice for those who do not know the outcome.

 

Sulla was faced by problems he saw as fatal to the Rome he loved, an ideal which went beyond the mere mechanics of the republic to what he no doubt saw as the mos maiorum. Probably he saw his own survival and interests as bound up in that. I can, I think, glimpse why compromise might not have been that attractive or pragmatic an option to him.

 

Phil

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Sulla was faced by problems he saw as fatal to the Rome he loved, an ideal which went beyond the mere mechanics of the republic to what he no doubt saw as the mos maiorum. Probably he saw his own survival and interests as bound up in that. I can, I think, glimpse why compromise might not have been that attractive or pragmatic an option to him.

 

I'm not advocating carte blanche compromise with the Marians who were killing Romans in the streets; compromising with those who want your death is the height of stupidity (if not simple cowardice). I'm fine with that.

 

But my criticism of Sulla is that his killings went far beyond what was necessary, and his reforms were not practical. Whatever Sulla's attitude toward the 'mere mechanics of the republic', the mechanics of the state really do matter--the lives, fortunes, and freedoms of citizens depend on 'mere mechanics', and the difference between a baffled rube (like Pompey) and a statesman (like Cicero) is that the latter masters the mechanism of statescraft. Sulla was certainly happy to mess around with that mechanism, but he didn't know what he was doing.

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The way i see it is that in 88bc Sulla was left with two options, 1, march on Rome and fight for what he thought was right or, 2, just roll over and die and let everything that he's spent his whole life working for disappear into thin air. Which option would you choose?

 

At the time Sulla was consul of Rome and had every right to take full command of the war against Mithridates which he was legally given by the senate, by this time Marius was an old man with a history of illness but with a belief that he was still the greatest general in Rome and with the help of the radical tribune Publius Sulpicius Rufus (who's masive debt had mysteriously disappeared?) they not only managed to revert Sulla's command but also came up with a law that had the potential to make the senate powerless which then resulted in riots and murders of romans in the forum.

 

So the way i see it Sulla was left with no option but to march on Rome, not only for personal reasons but for political ones aswell.

 

Who knows, if Sulla had been left alone to take the war to Mithridates and not been forced to take the actions he did then he would have returned as the all conquering hero instead of a bitter and twisted man bent on revenge, and we may even have been calling him the greatest Roman ever???

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The way i see it is that in 88bc Sulla was left with two options, 1, march on Rome and fight for what he thought was right or, 2, just roll over and die and let everything that he's spent his whole life working for disappear into thin air. Which option would you choose?

 

This was the same boat Marius was in when he came back from exile. Basically, the war between Marius and Sullas was one big rivalry that went back to the Jugurthine War. In rivalries such as the one between Marius and Sulla there usually can be no compromise. Both of them were ruthless and violent to the extreme. I guess people side with one or the other based on their politics. This is another chapter in the growing struggle between the Populares and the Optimates, which would eventually topple the Republic.

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Well, I'd like to think we--being humans instead of cartoon characters--all condemn the proscriptions, but we don't. Phil didn't condemn them; he praised them. If you look in this thread, you'll find praise for the Triumviral proscriptions too. It's astonishing, I know.

 

Yes - I had a look through that thread! I was astonished to read some posts condoning the tone of the declaration and such like. The Prosciptions will forever be the period of Augustus' life that I am most uncomfortable with. Nor do I buy in to the theory that Antony was largely responsible for them. We cannot exonerate the young Octavian, nor should we try.

 

And then you say that by giving unchecked power to the Senate he actually undermined its legitimacy - well, perhaps there is a case for that. But - and here is the question I want you to answer, as you have far greater knowledge than me of this period: if his reforms were swept aside so quickly after his death, and in particular the tribunate was flourishing again, why then do you think he was so injurious to the Republic? Hadn't everything just gone back to how it was before, with factions and strife and discord and civil war? To put it another way, would events have unfolded the way they did with or without Sulla? Are you saying that his only contribution to the death of the Republic was that his own actions had set a precedent for other autocrats?

 

It's not quite as simple as that. First, when Sulla's creature Pompey ham-handedly abolished the lex Cornelia tribunis plebis in the Lex Pompeia Licinia, the baby was thrown out with the bathwater, and a false alternative was perpetuated--oligarchy versus populism. Second, many of Sulla's bad reforms stayed in force for far too many years, and with permanently negative consequences. For example, Sulla packed the juries with senators, leading to the development of the situation that almost allowed Verres to go unchecked in his nasty business in Sicily. This is the sort of behavior that also turned popular sentiment against the Senate. Finally, just in case anyone wasn't already clear that Sulla was establishing the Senate as a sort of royal court, Sulla passed the lex Cornelia Pompeia, which imposed severe restrictions on the legislative and electoral activity of the Tribal Assembly.

 

Now I am beginning to see it. Thank you for this. I now understand the force of your argument. Of course, it all depends on whether we accept that it was the eventual clash between optimates and populares (as Julius Ratus says above) that finally brought down the Republic. I think we do have to accept this, as Caesar hitched his wagon to the populist star, as did Octavian after him. However, I am also struck by what you say about Pompey overturning the Cornelian law on the tribunate. If this perpetuated the 'false alternative' of populism versus oligarchy, wasn't Pompey, perhaps, even more of a nail in the Republic's coffin than Sulla?

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I am going to be brave and announce that I have always been fascinated by Lucius Cornelius Sulla since the day I first picked up Plutarch. But the more I read about him the more my bafflement grows. I just don't know what to make of the man. Was he an unconstituional tyrant, or was he, as Keaveney states in the subtitle of his biography, 'The Last Republican'? I am reading this book at the moment as it has just been published in a second edition and whilst it is something of a favourable account with apologies all over the place, Keaveney does admit that the Proscriptions were a massive blot on an otherwise mainly consitutional career - the march on Rome notwithstanding! My reading of Sulla so far is that he definitely used harsh measures, but he was genuine in his belief that the ailing Republic needed those measures. Why did he retire from the Dictatorship? Was he genuine in this - i.e. he had restored the powers of the Senate and could now bow out as a dutiful citizen should? Or did he retire, as some have suggested, because of some silly prophecy he had when younger?

 

There are so many questions. Would he have acted the way he did had it not been for the Marians and later the Cinnans? Was his rule a death knell for the Republic as some have suggested? The more I read the less I am sure about this.

 

I would love to know all your views on Sulla's career and just how great an influence you think he was in the Republic's downfall. I have scoured the old threads to see if there has been a topic devoted purely to Sulla and could not find one. I know he was briefly discussed in the 'downfall of the Republic discussion' but someone there (it may have been MPC, but I can't be sure just from memory) suggested that he deserved his own thread.

 

First let me say this isn't my specialist period so please forgive any major gaffes, but to me Sulla comes across as someone with genuine desires to put Rome 'back on track'. His followers of course took ruthless advantage in the proscriptions and I don't think sulla made any effort to stop them. Typically roman then... do your own thing and profit from it. What makes me certain he meant well was that he retired gracefully. Romans by and large just didn't do that. He had power - if his integrity wasn't there why give it it away?

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The first serious book on Rome that I have read wes Theodor Mommsen "The History of Rome" (11 years ago) . Mommsen ranked Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus (Major) , Gaius Iulius Ceasar the Dictator and Lucius Cornelius Sulla (Sylla ?) "Felix" as the 3 greatest Romans of the Republic . I (and I think everybody) took his assertion as absolute truth . With Africanus there was no problem (one of the greatest men ever , loved his stand against the "nobility" and his popularity) . with Caesar there was no problem (IMHO the greatest man ever , again I am a "extremist popularis") . Despite my "hatred" to the "Optimates" I accepted Mommsen assertion about Sulla (Sylla ?) . Why ? He did not lost a battle (correct me if I am wrong) , he was a great general , he had a massive influence on Rome the sity , the state , the Empire . There are so many resones .

 

But , what about him leaving the war against Mithridates 6th ? (80,000 dead Romans !) , What about his misunderstading of the political situation in 82 (the so called "Restoration" . already in 78/77 Marcus Aemilius Lepidus did not followed it...) what about his unfaithfulness to Marius in 102 when he came to Catullus . Desite his alleged popularity he did not make it for the Praetura in 99 and bribed the voters for the Praetura of 98 . He bribed ... Marcius Censorinus in 92 not to prosecute him . In 91 he convinced Bocchus the King of Mauretania to build a statue in Rome showing Iugortha submiting to him !!! (not to Marius who had the Imperium) . In 89 he convinced the Senate to remove Marius from the command in south Italy . The same year he tried (via the T.B. Publius Sulpicius Rufus) to remove Gaius Iulius Caesar Strabo Vopiscus from the election for the Consulate because he feared defeat . And on .

 

Such greatness !

 

BTW - I have no problem with the proscritions , the march on Rome or the massacre of the 9,000 Samnites . The first was a response to the Marians actions , the second was a Machiavellian move and the third , well that's war...

Edited by Caesar CXXXVII

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However, I am also struck by what you say about Pompey overturning the Cornelian law on the tribunate. If this perpetuated the 'false alternative' of populism versus oligarchy, wasn't Pompey, perhaps, even more of a nail in the Republic's coffin than Sulla?

 

On the premise that the "Republic's coffin" is short-hand for the ruinous civil wars of 49 - 31, I'd have to agree that Pompey contributed in no small part.

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First let me say this isn't my specialist period so please forgive any major gaffes, but to me Sulla comes across as someone with genuine desires to put Rome 'back on track'. His followers of course took ruthless advantage in the proscriptions and I don't think sulla made any effort to stop them. Typically roman then... do your own thing and profit from it. What makes me certain he meant well was that he retired gracefully. Romans by and large just didn't do that. He had power - if his integrity wasn't there why give it it away?

 

Thanks to everyone's wonderful responses, and as I have now finished the Keaveney book, I am now finally managing to come to some conclusions of my own. I can agree with your summing up, Caldrail. I think we should perhaps give Sulla the benefit of the doubt in believing that he did want to put Rome 'back on track', but I am now seeing a pattern emerging: I do think he had a thought for his own dignitas too. I suppose what he could not have foreseen was that his supporters in 79-78 would not stand up to protect his reforms when they were attacked. There's also something else that has emerged from all this. If everyone was so terrified of Sulla, wouldn't this terror have still prevailed even though he was in retirement? Had he been the tyrant everyone thinks, wouldn't the opposition have feared his return? You see, I'm sort of thinking on my feet here, and probably forming even more questions.....

 

Ironically enough, Keaveney's biography, whilst being an unashamed apology for Sulla all the way through, finally sums it all up in the epilogue, when the author says that Sulla 'was one of the great failures of Roman history'. I suppose we can reach no other conclusion as his reforms were swept away within a generation, but the legacy he left behind for others to emulate his coup d'etat, was yet another blow to the ailing Republic he was trying to save. God forgive me - I almost feel sorry for the man! Why is it that the flawed men of history are always the most interesting? :unsure:

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I think Sulla's epitaph which was apparently written by himself pretty much sums the man up

 

No greater friend, no worse enemy. - Lucius Cornelius Sulla

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I think Sulla's epitaph which was apparently written by himself pretty much sums the man up

 

No greater friend, no worse enemy. - Lucius Cornelius Sulla

 

I have to agree....

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