previous next


Sulla's Abdication--Character of Sulla--His Death, and Funeral

Y.R. 674
[103] The following year Sulla, although he was dictator,
B.C. 80
undertook the consulship a second time, with Metellus Pius for his colleague, in order to preserve the pretence and form of democratic government. It is perhaps from this example that the Roman emperors now make a showing of consuls to the country and even exhibit themselves in that capacity, considering it not unbecoming to hold the office of consul in connection with the supreme power. The next year the people, in order to pay court to Sulla, chose him consul again, but he refused the office and nominated Servilius Isauricus and Claudius Pulcher for their suffrages, and voluntarily laid down the supreme power, although nobody was troubling him. This act seems wonderful to me--that Sulla should have been the first, and till then the only one, to abdicate such vast power without compulsion, not to sons (like Ptolemy in Egypt, or Ariobarzanes in Cappadocia, or Seleucus in Syria), but to the very people over whom he had tyrannized. Almost incredible is it that after incurring so many dangers in forcing his way to this power he should have laid it down of his own free will after he had acquired it. Paradoxical beyond anything is the fact that he was afraid of nothing, although more than 100,000 young men had perished in this war, and he had destroyed of his enemies ninety senators, fifteen consulars, and 2600 of the so-called knights, including the banished. The property of these men had been confiscated and many of their bodies cast out unburied. Undaunted by the relatives of these persons at home, or by the banished abroad, or by the cities whose
Y.R. 675
towers and walls he had thrown down and whose lands,
B.C. 79
money, and privileges he had swept away, Sulla now returned to private life.

[104] So great was this man's boldness and good fortune. It is said that he made a speech in the forum when he laid down his power in which he offered to give the reasons for what he had done to anybody who should ask them. He dismissed the lictors with their axes and discontinued his body-guard, and for a long time walked to the forum with only a few friends, the multitude looking upon him with awe even then. Once only when he was going home he was reproached by a boy. As nobody restrained this boy he made bold to follow Sulla to his house, railing at him, and Sulla, who had opposed the greatest men and states with towering rage, endured his reproaches with calmness and as he went into the house said, divining the future either by his intelligence or by chance, "This young man will prevent any other holder of such power from laying it down." This saying was shortly confirmed to the Romans, for Gaius Cæsar never laid down his power. Sulla seems to me to have been the same masterful and able man in all respects, whether striving to reach supreme power from private life, or changing back to private life from supreme power, or later when passing his time in rural solitude; for he retired to his own estate at Cumæ in Italy and there occupied his leisure in hunting and fishing. He did this not because he was afraid to live a private life in the city, nor because he had not sufficient bodily strength for whatever he might try to do. He was still of virile age and sound constitution, and there were 120,000 men throughout Italy who had recently served under him in war and had received large gifts of money and land from him, and there were the 10,000 Cornelii ready in the city, besides other people of his party devoted to him and still formidable to his opponents, all of whom rested upon Sulla's safety their hopes of impunity for what they had done in coöperation with him. But I think that he was satiated with war, with power, with city affairs, and that he took to rural life finally because he loved it. 1

Y.R. 676

[105] Directly after his retirement the Romans, although

B.C. 78
delivered from slaughter and tyranny, began gradually to fan the flames of new seditions. Quintus Catulus and Æmilius Lepidus were chosen consuls, the former of the Sullan faction and the latter of the opposite party. They hated each other bitterly and began to quarrel immediately, from which it was plain that fresh troubles were brewing. While he was living in the country Sulla had a dream in which he thought he saw his Genius already calling him. 2 Early in the morning he told the dream to his friends and in haste began writing his will, which he finished that day. After sealing it he was taken with a fever towards evening and died the same night. He was sixty years of age and had been the most fortunate of men even to the very last, and realized in all respects the title he bore; that is, if one can be considered fortunate who obtains all that he desires. Immediately a dissension sprang up in the city over his remains, some proposing to bring them in a procession through Italy and exhibit them in the forum and give him a public funeral. Lepidus and his faction opposed this, but Catulus and the Sullan party prevailed. Sulla's corpse was borne through Italy on a golden litter with royal splendor. Musicians and horsemen in great numbers went in advance and a great multitude of armed men followed on foot. His fellow-soldiers flocked from all directions under arms to join the procession, and each one was assigned his place in due order as he came. The crowd of other people that came together was unprecedented. The standards and the fasces that he had used while living and ruling were borne in the procession.

[106] When the remains reached the city they were borne through the streets with an enormous procession. More than 2000 golden crowns which had been made in haste were carried in it, the gifts of cities and of the legions that he had commanded and of individual friends. It would be impossible to describe all the splendid things contributed to this funeral. From fear of the assembled soldiery all the priests and priestesses escorted the remains, each in proper costume. The entire Senate and the whole body of magistrates attended with their insignia of office. A multitude of the Roman knights followed with their peculiar decorations, and, in their turn, all the legions that had fought under him. They came together with eagerness, all hastening to join in the task, carrying gilded standards and silver-plated shields, such as are still used on such occasions. There was a countless number of trumpeters who by turns played the most mournful dirges. Loud cries were raised, first by the Senate, then by the knights, then by the soldiers, and finally by the plebeians. For some really longed for Sulla, but others were afraid of his army and his dead body, as they had been of himself when living. As they looked at the present spectacle and remembered what this man had accomplished they were amazed, and agreed with their opponents that he had been most beneficial to his own party and most formidable to themselves even in death. The corpse was shown in the forum on the rostra, where public speeches were usually made, and the most eloquent of the Romans then living delivered the funeral oration, as Sulla's son, Faustus, was still very young. Then strong men of the senators took up the litter and carried it to the Campus Martius, where only kings were buried, and the knights and the army coursed around the funeral pile. And this was the last of Sulla.

1 Sulla was fifty-nine years of age when he retired and he died in the following year.

2 So in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, iv. 4:-- “"Some say the Genius so cries 'Come' to him that instantly must die."”

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Greek (L. Mendelssohn, 1879)
hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
80 BC (1)
79 BC (1)
78 BC (1)
hide References (2 total)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: