Grandson of Lucius Licinius Lucullus (consul 151 bc), nephew of Metellus Numidicus, for whose return from exile he pleaded. He served in the Social War under Sulla and, as quaestor (88 bc), was the only officer who supported his march on Rome. As proquaestor in the east, he was Sulla's most reliable officer, charged with diplomatic missions, collecting ships and money, and letting Mithradates VI escape from Gaius Flavius Fimbria in accordance with Sulla's policy. Aedile (79) with his brother Marcus Terentius Varro Lucullus, he gave splendid games. Praetor in 78, he became Sulla's literary executor and guardian of Faustus Cornelius Sulla, and then governed Africa. As consul in 74, he opposed tribunician agitation and, worried by the threats of Pompey, sent him generous supplies to Spain; after complicated intrigues, he secured an imperium (grant of supreme military and civil authority) against the pirates for Marcus Antonius (Creticus) and the command against Mithradates for himself.
He relieved Marcus Aurelius Cotta, raised the siege of Cyzicus, then occupied much of Pontus, forcing Mithradates to flee to Armenia. In the province of Asia he tried to relieve the cities of financial ruin by drawing up a moderate and ultimately successful plan for payment of their debts and interest at moderate rates. After capturing Sinope, which he saved from plundering by his army, and Amaseia, he asked for a senate commission to organize the annexation of Pontus. When Tigranes II allied himself with Mithradates, Lucullus marched through Cappadocia and invaded Armenia, and in a battle against Tigranes won ‘the greatest victory the sun had ever seen’ (Plut. Luc. 28. 8). He captured the new capital Tigranocerta, allowed his troops to plunder it and celebrated victory games there. Tigranes had to evacuate his earlier conquests, including Gordyene and Syria. But the enemy collected fresh forces and the king of Parthia threatened intervention. An invasion of the Armenian highlands had to be abandoned when the army mutinied, and the capture of Nisibis did not assuage them. His brother-in-law Clodius incited rebellion, and in Rome public opinion was turned against him, chiefly by those who had incurred losses in his organization of Asia. His command was removed by stages (68–67); the army, hearing this, deserted him; and in the end he was superseded by Pompey under the law of Gaius Manilius.
Back in Rome, he had to divorce his wife (a sister of Clodia) for adultery, and a second marriage, to a niece of Porcius Cato the Younger, turned out no better. After long delays caused by his enemies, he finally triumphed in 63. But he took no leading part in politics, except for an attempt to oppose Julius Caesar and stop the ratification of Pompey's eastern arrangements (59), which ended in humiliation. He now concentrated on living in refined luxury, but lapsed into insanity before his death (57/6).
He was an able soldier and administrator, an Epicurean, a lover of literature and the arts, and a generous patron. But he lacked the easy demagogy that was needed for success in both war and politics in his day.
Subjects: Classical Studies.