Chapter

Sulla the weak tyrant

Alexander Thein

in Ancient Tyranny

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print February 2006 | ISBN: 9780748621255
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748651047 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3366/edinburgh/9780748621255.003.0055
Sulla the weak tyrant

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As dictator, Sulla was labelled a ‘tyrant’ by Plutarch and Appian, but this Greek term was also applied to Sulla by Latin writers such as Cicero and Sallust. Important studies by Laffi and Hinard have shown that the potential for contemporaries to have viewed Sulla as a tyrant existed during his lifetime, but that the hostile image, especially of Sulla's cruelty, was only fully activated during the civil war that began in 49, as Pompey came to be configured, by Julius Caesar and even by his own public comments, as a ‘second Sulla’. Hinard aptly describes the civil war victories of Julius and Augustus Caesar as two ‘accidents’ which fuelled the hostile tradition on Sulla. In earlier years, Cicero had alluded to Sulla's cruelty and tyranny, yet his criticisms were always guarded and balanced by a positive appreciation for Sulla's politics. This chapter explores Sulla's dictatorship at Rome: his political effectiveness, as distinct from his constitutional power, was limited by the nature of his support, which was based on guilt and fear.

Keywords: Sulla; dictatorship; civil war; Julius Caesar; Cicero; tyranny; cruelty; politics; Rome; fear

Chapter.  4911 words. 

Subjects: Classical History

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