Sulla: The first Monster of Rome

Tristan Erwin
7 min readAug 4, 2020
Sulla wages Civil War against Marius (Mary Evans Library)

Rome did not fall in a day. There is no one man who can be credited alone for its fall nor any single moment in time that can be pointed to as the beginning of the end. Important figures such as the Grachii brothers, Marius, Sulla, and most naturally Julius Caesar can all be blamed for the fall of the Roman Republic. Certainly, Julius Caesar delivered the deathblow to the Republic, but he could not have done so had the groundwork not already been laid for the takeover of the government. Who was most pivotal in the devolution of the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire? The answer could be any of these men, but the answer of Lucius Cornelius Sulla provides perhaps the most interesting take on events. Sulla’s appetite for power and his systematic exploitation of the Roman legal system showed his successors not only how power could be obtained but also how truly absolute such ruthless dynamism could be.

The context that set the stage for the prodigium of Sulla was a Roman world that had endured centuries of turmoil. The Roman Republic was an elected oligarchy of elites. Under their rule, an undying battle for power between the plebeians (peasants) and the patricians (nobles) embroiled the nation in perpetual disarray. Ultimately, the efforts of the reformers, among them the Grachii brothers and all others who fought for societal reform and for increased rights for the plebeians, and the efforts of the patricians who fought to deny the plebeians those rights, served only to create a chaos waiting to be exploited. That societal conflict in the end served neither side because neither side achieved victory in the struggle for power. Instead, chaos ultimately led to form of order — not order with shared power or equality of classes, but an order of an iron fist. The long-feared return of the Rex resulted, a new world in which all became losers in their fight, and only one man the victor. The weakness of the Republic gave birth to the power of the tyrant. It was Gaius Marius who first claimed this power by exploiting the arbitrary legal system of Rome to become the dominant figure in Roman politics, achieving an unrivalled seven consulships.

Marius, who had used political machinations to seize and maintain power, was to be outdone by Sulla. War had once again come to Rome. Mithridates VI, a Greek King of Pontus, staged a rebellion and sought to liberate…

Tristan Erwin

History degree from UNG Military college. Specialist in European history and Mythology. Footnotes and Bibliography always provided. Only scholarly sources used.