Famous Men of Rome - John Haaren



We have said something of Sulla, but there is much more to be told about him, for he was a very remarkable man, and he did remarkable things in Rome. His full name was Lucius Cornelius Sulla. He belonged to a very noble family. When he was a young man he was very fond of study and became an excellent scholar. He was also a good speaker and often made eloquent speeches in the Forum on public affairs.



He was a large, strong man, with red hair and a ruddy face. He was a very great soldier and one of the greatest of Roman generals. They called him "the Lion," he was so brave in battle, and he was so successful in war that he also got the name of Felix, a Latin word which means happy  or fortunate.


One of the greatest wars that Sulla was in was a war against the Greeks. Rome had conquered Greece some time before, and the governors of many of the Greek cities were Romans. These governors were very cruel to the Greeks; therefore the people hated them. Mithridates, King of Pontus, knew this, and he offered to send armies to Greece to help to drive the Romans out of the country. The Greeks were very glad of this, and they prepared for war against the Romans.

Sulla arrived in Greece with a strong army and began a march through the country. He captured several of the cities and compelled them to submit to the Roman governors. Then he marched on to Athens, the capital city of Greece. But he found that it was occupied by Archelaus, one of the generals of King Mithridates, who had brought from Asia Minor an army to help the Greeks.

Athens at this time was one of the most strongly fortified cities in the world. Its walls were seventy feet high, and they were made of huge, thick blocks of hard, smooth stone. It took thousands of men many years to build these massive walls. The city was also well supplied with food, so that it could hold out against a siege for a long time.

For several weeks Sulla attacked Athens furiously day by day, but it was all in vain. He could not take the city. His soldiers tried many times to mount the high walls, but they could not do it.

At last Sulla had battering-rams made. These were engines for breaking down the walls of towns. They were long, heavy beams of wood, with iron at one end, formed like the head of a ram. This was why they were called battering rams. At first they were worked by men with their hands and bodily strength, as you see in the picture. In later times they were hung from a cross beam, so as to swing back and forward, and the iron end was made to strike against the wall with great force.

[Illustration] from Famous Men of Rome by John Haaren


When a number of battering-rams were ready, Sulla began another attack on Athens. But at dead of night a party of Athenians came out of the city and burned all the battering-rams. Sulla quickly had new ones made, and after months of hard labor the Romans at last succeeded in breaking down the walls and taking Athens. They plundered the beautiful city and destroyed many fine works of art. It is said that they carried off more than six hundred pounds of gold and silver.

Sulla remained in Athens only long enough to establish Roman authority there once more. Then he departed with his army and marched to Chaeronea, another town of Greece, where there was a force of one hundred and twenty thousand men, which King Mithridates had sent to help the Greeks.

The Romans numbered only about forty thousand men, but Sulla was not afraid to fight the immense army of Mithridates. By placing his troops in good positions at the beginning of the battle, and afterwards by moving them skillfully from one point to another, he was able to win a great victory.

This was a remarkable battle in one respect. Although there were furious charges and hand-to-hand combats, in which thousands upon thousands of the soldiers of Mithridates were slain, the Romans lost only a few men. We are told that when the roll-call of the Roman army took place after the battle only twelve men failed to answer to their names! The army of Mithridates had lost one hundred and ten thousand men; the Romans only twelve men!

But perhaps we ought not to believe that so very few Romans were killed, for it seems hardly possible that it could have been so. It is certain, however, that Sulla gained a great victory. He also defeated another army sent by Mithridates soon afterwards.

Then Archelaus, the general of the army of Mithridates, begged for peace. Sulla made terms that were very good for Rome, and Archelaus and Mithridates had to accept them. Mithridates had to give the Romans a large sum of money and seventy ships of war and to promise to be the friend of Rome in future. Thus the war with Greece ended.


Sulla now prepared to return to Italy. He had heard how his friends in Rome and his wife and children had been treated by Marius. He was greatly enraged, and in his letter to the Senate, telling them of his victories in Greece, he said:

"In return for my services, which have brought honor and glory to Rome, my wife and children have been driven from their home, my house has been burned, and my friends have been put to death. I am now going back to punish those who did these things."

When the letter was read to the senators, they were very much alarmed, for they knew that if Sulla did as he threatened it would cause a dreadful civil war in Rome. In reply to Sulla they begged him not to make war on his own countrymen, and they promised to do their best to bring about a friendly understanding between him and the followers of Marius. Sulla answered that he did not want any understanding with them.

"I want no friendship with my enemies," he said. "I am able to take care of myself. It will be well for them if they can take care of themselves."

Soon afterwards he set out for Italy with his army. Rome was then under the power of the Marian party. This party was led by Cinna and by Marius the Younger, the son of the great Marius. When they heard that Sulla was coming they raised an army and went forth to drive him back. Young Marius said:

"Now it will be decided who shall be the master of Rome!"

A battle was fought between the two armies. It was long and severe, and for a time it seemed as if the Marians would win. Even Sulla himself had no hope of victory. But soon very bad blunders made by the Marians turned the tide of battle in his favor, and he was victorious. He took six thousand prisoners.


Sulla now entered Rome as its master, and a cruel master he proved to be. He first got himself appointed dictator for as long a time as he wished to hold the office. Then he commanded that all the followers of Marius should be slain. So they were hunted out of their hiding places and all put to death without mercy.

When every person that was known to have been connected with the Marian party was killed, the people thought Sulla would cease his murderous work, but he did not. He went on killing this one and that one—now a poor man and then a rich man—until at last the Romans became dreadfully frightened. "When will he stop?" they said to one another in trembling tones.

One day a senator had the courage to ask Sulla if he would please to say whom he intended to spare from death. Sulla coolly answered:

"I have not yet made up my mind, but if it is the wish of the Senate I will shortly make out a list of persons who must die!"

And Sulla really did make out a list of persons he intended to kill. It was called a PROSCRIPTION LIST and was hung up in the forum. Oh, how anxiously the poor, terror-stricken Romans went to that list to read the names! And if a man saw that his name was not there he went away with joy in his heart. But if his name was there he covered his face with his toga and ran off to hide himself.

The next day another and a longer list of proscribed persons was hung up, and the day after still another list. Any one who killed a proscribed person got a large reward in money, but if anybody helped a proscribed person to escape he was punished by death. This dreadful work was continued until many thousands of people in Rome and throughout Italy were slain.

roman triumph


Then Sulla had his Triumph in the streets of Rome. It was the most magnificent procession that had yet been seen in the city. There were hundreds of beautiful horses drawing bright, golden chariots; there were long lines of soldiers in glittering armor; there were numbers of slaves, and there were huge wagons containing gold and silver and other precious things, which Sulla had got in Greece after his victories over Mithridates. The dictator himself rode in the most splendid chariot of all. He seemed like a king, and indeed was a king in power, though not in name. This was what was called a Triumph.

Sulla, for his own protection, had a bodyguard formed of slaves who had belonged to the people he had proscribed and put to death. This bodyguard is said to have numbered ten thousand men, and they were called Cornelii, after Sulla's family name.

Under the rule of Sulla his own will was law. He could do whatever he pleased. But he did not remain dictator a long time. In about a year after his Triumph he seemed to have got tired of ruling and resigned the office. Then he left Rome and went to reside in his country house on the beautiful Bay of Naples. Here he spent the rest of his life, passing his time partly in feasting and merriment and partly in study. He died 78 B.C.