B. c.138 bc of an old patrician family, after a dissolute youth inherited a fortune from his stepmother, which enabled him to enter the aristocratic career. Chosen by Marius as his quaestor (107) he distinguished himself in the Numidian War, finally securing the surrender of Jugurtha by Bocchus I through diplomacy and thus ending the war. He again served under Marius against the Germans in 104 and 103, then joined the army of Lutatius Catulus and enabled him to join in the final victory. Omitting the aedileship, he failed to become praetor for 98, but succeeded through lavish bribery in becoming urban praetor 97. He was assigned Cilicia as proconsul, then instructed to instal Ariobarzanes in Cappadocia. He accomplished this largely with local levies and displayed Roman power to the eastern kingdoms, including (for the first time) Parthia. A Chaldaean's prophecy that he would attain greatness and die at the height of good fortune influenced him for the rest of his life. He stayed in Cilicia for several years. In 91 the senate, promoting him against Marius, granted Bocchus permission to dedicate on the Capitol a group showing the surrender of Jugurtha. Marius' reaction almost led to fighting, but the Social War supervened.
In the war Sulla distinguished himself on the southern front and in 89, promoted esp. by the Metelli, gained the consulship of 88 with Pompeius Rufus, whose son married Sulla's daughter. Sulla himself married Caecilia Metella, widow of Aemilius Scaurus, and was now one of the leading men in the state.
Given the command against Mithradates VI by the senate, he was deprived of it by the tribune Publius Sulpicius Rufus, who transferred it to Marius in order to gain Marius' aid for his political plans. Sulla pretended to acquiesce, but finding support among his troops, who hoped for rich booty in Asia, he marched on Rome and took the unprepared city by force. His officers, except for his quaestor (his relative Licinius Lucullus), deserted him, and his methods shocked even his supporters. He had Sulpicius killed in office and his allies hunted down (Marius escaped to Africa), then passed several laws by armed force. General opposition compelled him to send his army away and allow the election of his enemy Cornelius Cinna as consul 87, over his own candidate. Leaving Rome and ignoring a summons to stand trial, he embarked for Greece, where Braetius Sura, a legate of the commander in Macedonia, had already driven the enemy back to the sea. Sulla's hope of safety lay in winning the war: he ordered Sura to return to Macedonia and took charge of the fighting.
Outlawed, but not molested, under Cinna, he agreed (it seems) to refrain from attacking Valerius Flaccus, who had been given the command against Mithradates. He himself twice defeated Mithradates' general Archelaus and sacked Piraeus and (in part) Athens. After Lucullus had saved Mithradates from Flavius Fimbria, who had taken over Flaccus' army, Sulla made peace with the king at Dardanus (85), granting him his territory, recognition as an ally, and impunity for his adherents in return for surrender of his conquests and support for Sulla with money and supplies. He then dealt with Fimbria, reconciled his own army (disgruntled at the peace with the enemy of Rome) by quartering it on the cities of Asia, which he bled of their wealth, and on hearing of Cinna's death abandoned negotiations with the government and openly rebelled (84). Invading Italy, he was soon joined by most aristocrats—esp. Caecilius Metellus Pius, Licinius Crassus, and Pompey—and within a year had defeated all the loyalist forces. Finding the Italians hostile, he swore not to diminish their rights of citizenship, but massacred those who continued resistance (esp. the Samnites) and imposed severe penalties and confiscations on whole communities. After securing Rome through his victory at the Colline gate, he was appointed dictator under a law of the interrex, another Valerius Flaccus, whom he made his magister equitum, and was voted immunity for all his actions, past and future. He continued and legalized his massacres by publishing proscription lists.
Subjects: Classical Studies.