Text #9505"Sulla's second civil war", in .
Sulla’s second civil war was one of a series of civil wars of ancient Rome. It was fought between Lucius Cornelius Sulla and Gaius Marius the younger in 82 BC.
Sulla had achieved temporary control of Rome and Marius’s exile to Africa through his first march on Rome, but departed soon afterwards to lead the First Mithridatic War. This departure allowed Gaius Marius and his son Gaius Marius the younger to return to Rome with an army and, with Lucius Cornelius Cinna, to wrest control of Rome back from Sulla’s supporter Gnaeus Octavius during Sulla’s absence. Based on the orders of Marius, some of his soldiers went through Rome killing the leading supporters of Sulla, including Octavius. Their heads were exhibited in the Forum. After five days, Cinna ordered his more disciplined troops to kill Marius’s rampaging soldiers. All told some 100 Roman nobles had been murdered. Marius declared Sulla’s reforms and laws invalid, officially exiled Sulla and had himself elected to Sulla’s eastern command and himself and Cinna elected consuls for the year 86 BC. Marius died a fortnight after and Cinna was left in sole control of Rome.
Having managed this achievement, the Marians sent out Lucius Valerius Flaccus with an army to relieve Sulla of his command in the east. Flaccus had been given as second in command Gaius Flavius Fimbria, an individual that history records had few virtues. He was to eventually agitate against his commanding officer and incite the troops to murder Flaccus.
In the meantime, the two Roman armies camped next to each other and Sulla, not for the first time, encouraged his soldiers to spread dissension among Flaccus’ army. Many deserted to Sulla before Flaccus packed up and moved on north to threaten Mithridates’ northern dominions. In the meantime Sulla moved to intercept the new Pontic army and end the war at Orchomenus.
With Mithridates defeated and Cinna now dead in a mutiny, Sulla was determined to regain control of Rome. In 83 BC he landed uncontested at Brundisium with three veteran legions. As soon as he had set foot in Italy, the outlawed nobles and old Sullan supporters who had survived the Marian regime flocked to his banner. The most prominent was Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius, who had gathered legions in Africa and, with Marcus Licinius Crassus who had raised troops in Spain, joined Sulla soon after his landing in Italy. The consular Lucius Marcius Philippus also joined Sulla and led a force which secured Sardinia for the Sullan cause. Here is also where the young Gnaeus Pompey first comes into the limelight, the son of Pompeius Strabo, he raised three legions in Picenum and, defeating and outmanoeuvering the Marian forces, made his way to Sulla. With these reinforcements Sulla’s army swelled to around 50,000 men, and with his loyal legions he began his second march on Rome.
To check his enemies’ unresisted advance, Carbo sent his newly elected puppet Consuls, Gaius Norbanus and Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus, both with armies against Sulla. Eager not to appear a war-hungry invader, Sulla sent deputations to Norbanus offering to negotiate, but these were rejected. Norbanus then moved to block Sulla’s advance at Canusium and became the first to engage him in the Battle of Mount Tifata. Here Sulla inflicted a crushing defeat on the Marians, with Norbanus losing six thousand of his men to Sulla’s seventy. The beaten Norbanus withdrew with the remnants of his army to Capua and Sulla was stopped in his pursuit by the second Consul, Scipio. But Scipio’s men were unwilling to fight and when Sulla approached they deserted en masse to him, further swelling his ranks. The Consul and his son were found cowering in their tents and brought to Sulla, who released them after extracting a promise that they would never again fight against him or rejoin Carbo. However, immediately after their release Scipio broke his promise and went straight to Carbo in Rome. Sulla then defeated Norbanus for a second time, who also escaped back to Rome and had Metellus Pius and all other senators marching with Sulla declared enemies of the state.
The new Consuls for the year 82 BC were Carbo, for his third term, and Gaius Marius the Younger, who was only twenty-two years old at the time. In the respite from campaigning provided by Winter, the Marians set about replenishing their forces. Quintus Sertorius levied men in Etruria, old veterans of Marius came out of retirement to fight under his son and the Samnites gathered their warriors in support of Carbo, hoping to destroy the man who defeated them in the Social War, Sulla.
As the fresh campaigning season opened, Sulla swept along the Via Latina towards the capital and Metellus led Sullan forces into Upper Italy. Carbo threw himself against Metellus whilst the young Marius defended the city of Rome itself. Marius moved to block Sulla’s advance at Signia, falling back to the fortress town of Praeneste, in front of which he drew up for battle. The struggle was long and hard fought but in the end the veteran Sullans won the day. With his lines buckling and mass defections of his troops to Sulla, Marius decided to flee. He and many of his men sought refuge in Praeneste but the terrified townspeople shut the gates, Marius himself had to be hoisted in on a rope, while hundreds of Marians trapped between the walls and the Sullans were massacred. Sulla then left his lieutenant Lucretius Ofella besieging Praeneste and moved on the now undefended Rome.
Upon his defeat Marius sent word to the praetor Brutus Damasippus in Rome, to kill any remaining Sullan sympathisers left before Sulla can take the city. Damasippus called a meeting of the Senate and there, in the Curia itself the marked men were cut down by assassins. Some, such as Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus were killed on the senate steps as they tried to flee, and the Pontifex Maximus, chief priest of Rome, Quintus Mucius Scaevola was murdered in the Temple of Vesta, and the bodies of the murdered were then thrown into the Tiber.
As Sulla surrounded the city with his troops, the gates were opened by the people and he entered unresisted, taking Rome without a fight, the remaining Marians having fled. The city was his but Sulla did not spend long in Rome before he once again set out with his army. Around the same time Sulla was defeating Marius, Metellus was facing an army led by Carbo’s general Gaius Carrinas, which he routed, and Carbo, with his superior force, after hearing of the defeat at Praeneste withdrew to Arminium. Sulla then won another victory at Saturnia, followed by his defeat of Carbo at Clusium. Having taken and looted the town of Sena, Pompey and Crassus then slaughtered 3,000 Marians at Spoletium, before ambushing and destroying a force sent by Carbo to relieve Marius in Praeneste. Meanwhile the Samnite Pontius Telesinus and the Lucanian Marcus Lamponius were hurrying with 70,000 men to also break the siege at Praeneste. This force Sulla blocked at a pass and made their route impossible, he also blocked an attempt by Damasippus with two legions to reach Marius. Metellus then defeated an army led by Norbanus at Faventia and Marcus Terentius Varro Lucullus won a victory over Carbo’s men at Placentia. Carbo had suffered nothing but defeats and setbacks for the entire war, and now he lost heart. Even though he still had armies in the field he decided to flee the scene. With his staff and some men Carbo fled to Sicily, attempting to carry on resistance there. With their leader gone, the remainder of the Marian forces united for one final stand. Damasippus and Carrinas joined their men with the Samnites and Lucanians and marched on Rome. At the boundary of Rome, the last decisive battle of the civil war, the Battle of the Colline Gate, took place; Sulla eventually emerged victorious, having left 50,000 dead on the battlefield. Carrinas and Lamponius were brought to Sulla the following day and executed.
Sulla subsequently entered the city as a victorious general. A meeting of the Senate was convened in the Temple of Bellona; as Sulla was addressing the senators, the sound of terrified screams drifted in from the Campus Martius. Sulla calmed the senators by attributing the screams to ‘some criminals that are receiving correction.’ In reality, what the Senate had heard was the sound of 8,000 prisoners who had surrendered the previous day being executed on Sulla’s orders; none of the captured were spared from execution. Soon afterwards, Sulla had himself declared Dictator, and now held supreme power over Rome.
When the starving people of Praeneste despaired and surrendered to Ofella, Marius hid in the tunnels under the town and tried to escape through them but failed and committed suicide. The people of Praeneste were then mostly massacred by Ofella. Carbo was soon discovered and arrested by Pompey, whom Sulla had sent to track the man down. Pompey had the weeping man brought before him in chains and publicly executed him in Lilybaeum, his head then sent to Sulla and displayed along with Marius’ and many others in the Forum.
By this war, Sulla was installed as dictator of Rome.