Sulla: 3 Reasons This Roman Dictator Is Remembered Today

Born138 BC
Died78 BC
Famous Quote“I forgive the many for the sake of the few, the living for the dead”
Known ForFirst Roman in the Republic to seize power by force, won the first large scale Roman civil war.
Region of WorldRome, Italy, 1st century BC
Further ReadingGaius Marius: 3 Reasons Why He Is Important To Roman History

One of the most important men in the history of the late Roman Republic was the Roman dictator Sulla. The actions of Sulla directly lead to the fall of the late Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire. Today there are 3 reasons why Sulla is remembered.

There are 3 reasons that Sulla is remembered today. First, Sulla was the first Roman of the Republic to seize power by force. Second, during his dictatorship Sulla set a precedent by seizing property owned by wealthy families. Third, Sulla implemented constitutional reforms that limited the power of the Roman people.

In a highly unusual move Sulla would voluntarily resign the dictatorship in 79 BC due to failing health. He would return the power of the Republic back to the Senate but his actions set the Roman Republic on a course for disaster.

Without further ado, here are the 3 reasons that the Roman Dictator Sulla is remembered today.

1.) Sulla Was The First Roman Of The Republic To Seize Power By Force

One of the main reasons we remember the Roman dictator Sulla today is because he was the first Roman in republican history to seize power by force.

Sulla was an accomplished general who had been awarded one of the Republic’s highest honors, the Grass Crown. As such it was not uncommon for Sulla to be given military command against Rome’s enemies.

In the first war against Mithridates in the east Sulla was given military command by the Senate. However, Sulla’s longtime rival and fellow general Gaius Marius took offense to this.

Marius would use his influence in Rome to overturn this command given to Sulla. Marius would use his influence in Rome to create riots and disturb the peace to force the Senate’s hand.

Gaius Marius believed that Sulla would allow the riots to continue and have the Senate strip his command from him. Sulla in a highly unusual action turned his army and marched upon Rome to stop the riots.

After marching on Rome and having his command restored he would then march to Asia to fight against Mithridates. However, once he left the city Marius and his men would return.

Sulla would return back to Rome with his army and instead of restoring peace he would now name himself dictator. The decisive battle between the Marius faction and Sulla was the Battle of Colline Gate.

Today we remember Sulla because he was the first Roman General to seize power over the Republic by force. What Sulla did was create a precedent where if a Roman general was strong enough he could lead his army against the Roman state itself.

We remember Sulla today because he directly led to the events of Julius Caesar seizing power.

2.) During His Dictatorship Sulla Set A Precedent By Seizing Property Owned By Wealthy Families

We remember the Roman dictator Sulla today because he instituted one of the early examples of mass state sanctioned proscription (state sanctioned death or banishment by politician to obtain power).

Upon becoming dictator in 82 BC Sulla would look to consolidate his power. One of the major ways he did this was by having the Roman senate draw up a list of Roman citizens who would disobey or challenge his authority.

Upon having this list Sulla would publish it in the Roman forum for all to see. Any person who ended up on this proscription list were considered enemies of the Roman state.

These Romans were stripped of their citizenship and all protection offered to them by Roman law. Further, any Roman citizen was encouraged to eliminate them and collect a portion of their net worth. The rest of the eliminated Roman’s estate would go to the Roman state.

These proscriptions made Sulla the only authority in Rome as no one dared to challenge him. Further, the Roman treasury would begin to grow dramatically with each seized Roman’s estate.

The reason we remember Sulla today was because he set a precedent of using proscription and exile to eliminate potential political enemies. Nearly all dictators and emperors following Sulla would use this method to control the Roman people and state.

As such this remains one of the primary reasons we remember the Roman dictator Sulla.

3.) Sulla Implemented Constitutional Reforms That Limited The Power Of The Roman People.

One of the main reasons that we remember the Roman dictator Sulla today is because of his reforms to the Roman constitution.

When Sulla seized power his main goal was to limit the growing power of the populares faction of Rome. This faction of politicians used rhetoric to stir the people into acting in favor of their actions.

Sulla represented the opposite faction to the populares the optimates. Instead of drawing his power from the Roman people instead Sulla would find his power basis in the Senate of Rome.

Therefore when Sulla seized power and became dictator he realized the only threat to his power would come from politicians who sought to use the Roman people to overturn him.

In Republican Rome the Roman people had the ability to vote on laws. This power was represented through the Roman office of Tribune of the Plebs. This office was the most junior of political offices in Rome but provided a valuable check on the Roman Senate’s power.

Simply put, The Roman office of Tribune of the Plebs could veto any law put forth by Sulla. As such, Sulla had to alter the Roman constitution to remove the power of veto from the plebeian Tribune. This drastically lowered the political power of the populares faction of Rome and solidified Sulla’s power.

On top of this Sulla dramatically expanded the Roman Senate and made it harder for Senators to advance in power.

Ultimately Sulla’s reforms would not last. After his death in 78 BC most of the reforms of Sulla would be redacted in favor of more traditional ones. However, the damage was done.

One of the reasons we remember the Roman dictator Sulla today is because of his reforms that sought to limit the power of the Roman people and Senate in favor of more power to him. This would forever alter the nature of Roman politics and lead directly to the fall of the Roman Republic.


There you have it; an entire article that goes over the 3 reasons why we remember the Roman dictator Sulla today.

Sulla would voluntarily retire from the Roman dictatorship in 79 BC and retire to be a private Roman citizen. This did not set a precedent of Roman dictators stepping down to return power to the Republic. Less than 50 years later Julius Caesar would march on Rome much like Sulla but unlike Sulla Caesar would keep power naming himself dictator for life.

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