Text #9588"Lucius Licinius Lucullus", in .
Lucius Licinius Lucullus (118 – 57/56 BC) was an optimate politician of the late Roman Republic, closely connected with Lucius Cornelius Sulla. In the culmination of over twenty years of almost continuous military and government service, he became the main conqueror of the eastern kingdoms in the course of the Third Mithridatic War, exhibiting extraordinary generalship in diverse situations, most famously during the siege of Cyzicus, 73-72 BC, and at the Battle of Tigranocerta in Armenian Arzanene, 69 BC. His command style received unusually favourable attention from ancient military experts, and his campaigns appear to have been studied as examples of skillful generalship.
Lucullus returned to Rome from the east with so much captured booty that the whole could not be fully accounted, and poured enormous sums into private building, husbandry and even aquaculture projects which shocked and amazed his contemporaries by their magnitude. He also patronized the arts and sciences lavishly, transforming his hereditary estate in the highlands of Tusculum into a hotel-and-library complex for scholars and philosophers. He built the horti Lucullani, the famous Gardens of Lucullus, on the Pincian Hill in Rome, and in general became a cultural innovator in the deployment of imperial wealth. He died during the winter of 57-56 BC and was buried at the family estate near Tusculum.
The conquest agnomen of Ponticus is sometimes falsely appended to his name in modern texts. In ancient sources it is only ever attributed to his consular colleague Marcus Aurelius Cotta after the latter’s capture and brutal destruction of Heraclea Pontica during the Third Mithridatic War.
Lucullus was one of the great men of Roman history, included in the biographical collections of leading generals and politicians, originating in the biographical compendium of famous Romans published by his contemporary Marcus Terentius Varro. Two biographies of Lucullus survive today, Plutarch’s Lucullus in the famous series of Parallel Lives, in which Lucullus is paired with the Athenian aristocratic politician and Strategos Cimon, and # 74 in the slender Latin Liber de viris illustribus, of late and unknown authorship, the main sources for which appear to go back to Varro and his most significant successor in the genre, Gaius Julius Hyginus.
Lucullus was a member of the prominent gens Licinia, and of the family, or stirps of the Luculli, which may have been descended from the ancient nobility of Tusculum. He was grandson of Lucius Licinius Lucullus (consul c.151), and son of Lucius Licinius Lucullus (praetor c.104), who was convicted for embezzlement and exiled in 102/1 from his Sicilian command of 103-2.
The family of his mother Caecilia Metella (born c.137 BC) was one of the most powerful of the plebeian nobilitas, and was at the height of its success and influence in the last quarter of the 2nd century BC when Lucullus was born. She was the youngest child of Lucius Caecilius Metellus Calvus (consul 142 and censor 115-14), and half-sister of two of the most important members of the Optimates of their time, Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus (consul 109 and censor 102), and Lucius Caecilius Metellus Dalmaticus (consul 119 and Pontifex Maximus), who was the father of Sulla’s third wife Caecilia Metella.
His first known military service was as tribune of soldiers serving in Sulla’s army in Campania during the bellum Italicum (Social War (91–88 BC)), when he is said to have distinguished himself for daring and intelligence.
Lucullus was elected Quaestor in winter 89-88 at the same elections in which Sulla was returned as Consul with his friend Quintus Pompeius Rufus, whose son was married to Sulla’s eldest daughter, Cornelia. Lucullus was probably the Quaestor mentioned as the sole officer in Sulla’s army who could stomach accompanying the Consul when he marched on Rome.
In autumn of the same year Sulla sent Lucullus ahead of him to Greece to take over the command of the Mithridatic War in his name.
As the Roman siege of Athens was drawing towards a successful conclusion, Sulla’s strategic attention began to focus more widely on subsequent operations against the main Pontic forces, and combating Mithradates’ control of the sea lanes. He sent Lucullus to collect such a fleet as may be possible from Rome’s allies along the eastern Mediterranean seaboard, first to the important but currently disturbed states of Cyrene and Ptolemaic Egypt. Lucullus set out from the Piraeus in mid winter 87-6 BC with three Greek yachts (myoparones) and three light Rhodian biremes, hoping to evade the prevailing sea power of the Pontic fleets and their piratic allies by speed and taking advantage of the worst sailing conditions. He initially made Crete, and is said to have won over the cities to the Roman side. From there he crossed to Cyrene where the famous Hellenic colony in Africa was in dire condition following a vicious and exhausting civil war of nearly seven years’ duration. Lucullus’ arrival seems to have put a belated end to this terrible conflict, as the first official Roman presence there since the departure of the proconsul Caius Claudius Pulcher, who presided over its initial administrative incorporation into the Roman empire in 94 BC.
After Lucullus had defeated the Mithridatic admiral Neoptolemus in the Battle of Tenedos, he helped Sulla cross the Aegean to Asia. After a peace had been agreed, Lucullus stayed in Asia and collected the financial penalty Sulla imposed upon the province for its revolt. Lucullus, however, tried to lessen the burden that these impositions created.
Lucullus returned in 80 BC and was elected curule aedile for 79, along with his brother Marcus Terentius Varro Lucullus, and gave splendid games.
The most obscure part of Lucullus’ public career is the year he spent as Praetor in Rome, followed by his command of Roman Africa, which probably lasted the usual two-year span for this province in the post-Sullan period. Plutarch’s biography entirely ignores this period, 78 BC to 75 BC, jumping from Sulla’s death to Lucullus’ consulate. However Cicero briefly mentions his praetorship followed by the African command, while the surviving Latin biography, far briefer but more even as biography than Plutarch, comments that he “ruled Africa with the highest degree of justice”. This command is significant in showing Lucullus performing the regular, less glamorous, administrative duties of a public career in the customary sequence and, given his renown as a Philhellene, for the regard he showed for subject peoples who were not Greek.
In these respects his early career demonstrates a generous and just nature, but also his political traditionalism in contrast to contemporaries such as Cicero and Pompey, the former of whom was always eager to avoid administrative responsibilities of any sort in the provinces, while Pompey rejected every aspect of a normal career, seeking great military commands at every opportunity which suited him, while refusing to undertake normal duties in peaceful provinces.
Two other notable transactions took place in 76 or 75 BC following Lucullus’ return from Africa, his marriage to Claudia the youngest daughter of Appius Claudius Pulcher, and his purchase of the Marian hill top villa at Cape Misenum from Sulla’s eldest daughter Cornelia.
Sulla dedicated his memoirs to Lucullus, and upon his death made him guardian of his son Faustus, preferring Lucullus over Pompey. Shortly after this, in 74, he became consul (along with Marcus Aurelius Cotta, Julius Caesar’s uncle), and defended Sulla’s constitution from the efforts of Lucius Quinctius.
Initially, he drew Cisalpine Gaul in the lots at the start of his consulship as his proconsular command after his year as consul was done, but he got himself appointed governor of Cilicia after its governor died, so as to also receive the command against Mithridates VI in the Third Mithridatic War.
On arrival, Lucullus set out from his province to relieve the besieged Cotta in Bithynia. He harried the army of Mithridates and killed many of his soldiers. He then turned to the sea and raised a fleet amongst the Greek cities of Asia. With this fleet he defeated the enemy’s fleet off Ilium and then off Lemnos. Turning back to the land, he drove Mithridates back into Pontus. He was wary of drawing into a direct engagement with Mithridates, due to the latter’s superior cavalry. But after several small battles, Lucullus finally defeated him at the Battle of Cabira. He did not pursue Mithridates immediately, but instead he finished conquering the kingdom of Pontus and setting the affairs of Asia into order. His attempts to reform the rapacious Roman administration in Asia made him increasingly unpopular among the powerful publicani back in Rome.
Mithridates had fled to Armenia and in 71 BC Lucullus sent his brother-in-law Appius Claudius Pulcher (later consul 54 B.C.) as envoy to the Armenian King of Kings Tigranes II to demand the surrender of the Pontic king. In the letter conveyed by Appius, Lucullus addressed Tigranes simply as “king” (basileus), something received as an insult, and probably intended as such in order to provoke the proud Armenian monarch to war. Keaveney denies such an interpretation, arguing that Lucullus was acting as a typical philhellene with no empathy towards the sensibilities of non-Greeks. But this is refuted by Lucullus’ conduct during his administration of Africa province (c.77-75 B.C., see above), the period of his career most conspicuously missing from the Greek biography by Plutarch.
In 69 BC Lucullus invaded Armenia. He began a siege of the new Armenian imperial capital of Tigranocerta in the Arzenene district. Tigranes returned from mopping up a Seleucid rebellion in Syria with an experienced army which Lucullus nonetheless annihilated at the Battle of Tigranocerta. This battle was fought on the same (pre-Julian) calendar date as the Roman disaster at Arausio 36 years earlier, the day before the Nones of October according to the reckoning of the time (or October 6), which is Julian October 16, 69 BC. Tigranes retired to the northern regions of his kingdom to gather another army and defend his hereditary capital of Artaxata, while Lucullus moved off south-eastwards to the kingdom of the Kurds (Korduene) on the frontiers of the Armenian and Parthian empires. During the winter of 69-68 BC both sides opened negotiations with the Parthian king, Arsakes XVI, who was presently defending himself against a major onslaught from his rival Frahates III coming from Bactria and the far east.
In the summer of 68 BC Lucullus resumed the war against Tigranes, crossing the Anti-Taurus Range in a long march through very difficult mountain country directed at the old Armenian capital Artaxata. A major battle took place near the River Arsanias, where Lucullus once again routed the Armenian royal army. But he had misjudged the time needed for a campaign so far into the Armenian Tablelands, where the good weather was unusually short lived, and when the first snows fell around the time of the autumn equinox his army mutinied and refused to advance any further. Lucullus led them back south to the warmer climes of northern Mesopotamia and had no trouble from his troops there despite setting them the difficult task of capturing the great Armenian fortress of Nisibis, which was quickly stormed and made the Roman base for the winter of 68-7 B.C.
That winter Lucullus left his army at Nisibis and taking a small, but apparently highly mobile, escort journeyed to Syria in an attempt to permanently exclude Tigranes from all his southern possessions. Syria had been an Armenian province since 83 B.C. About a decade later the dispossessed Seleucid princes had spent two years in Rome (probably from Lucullus’ consulate in 74 B.C.) lobbying the Senate and Roman aristocracy to make them (as legitimate Seleucids with a Ptolemaic mother) kings of Egypt in place of the illegitimate Ptolemy XII Auletes. Though these brothers left Rome empty handed in about 72 B.C., their plight was not forgotten and Lucullus now elevated one of them as Syrian king : Antiochus XIII known as Asiaticus owing to the time he had spent living in Roman Asia province. Lucullus’ old friend Antiochos of Askalon accompanied him on this journey and died at Antioch. **However, in his absence his authority over his army at Nisibis was seriously undermined by the youngest and wildest of the Claudian brothers, **Publius Clodius Pulcher, apparently acting in the interests of Pompey, who was eager to succeed Lucullus in the Mithridatic War command. Although a brother-in-law of Lucullus, Clodius was also frater in some form (whether a first cousin frater consobrinus or uterine brother) of Pompey’s wife Mucia Tertia. The long campaigning and hardships that Lucullus’ troops had endured for years, combined with a perceived lack of reward in the form of plunder, had caused increasing insubordination. The more daring and ruthless veterans had probably been further encouraged by Lucullus’ relatively mild acceptance of their first open mutiny in the Tablelands the previous autumn : especially the so-called Fimbrian legions who had murdered their commander Lucius Valerius Flaccus at Gaius Flavius Fimbria’s instigation eighteen years earlier in the winter of 86-5 B.C. Instigated by Clodius a series of demonstrations against the commander took place in his absence and by the time of his return he had largely lost control of his army, especially for any further offensive operations. In addition Mithridates had been sent back to Pontus by Tigranes during the same winter, and made some headway against the garrison force Lucullus had left there under his legates Sornatius Barba and Fabius Hadrianus. Lucullus was left with no choice but to retreat to Pontus and Cappadocia and did so in the spring of 67 B.C.
Despite his continuous success in battle, Lucullus had still not captured either one of the monarchs. In 66 BC with the majority of Lucullus’ troops now openly refusing to obey his commands, but agreeing to defend Roman positions from attack, the senate sent Pompey to take over Lucullus’ command at which point Lucullus returned to Rome.
The opposition to him continued on his return. In his absence Pompey had shamefully usurped control over Sulla’s children, contrary to the father’s testament, and now in Pompeius’ absence the latter’s intimate and hereditary political ally Gaius Memmius co-ordinated the opposition to Lucullus’ claim to a triumph. Memmius delivered at least four speeches de triumpho Luculli Asiatico, and the antagonism towards Lucullus aroused by the Pompeians proved so effective that the enabling law (lex curiata) required to hold a triumph was delayed for three years. In this period Lucullus was forced to reside outside the pomerium, which curtailed his involvement in day to day politics centred on the Forum. Instead of returning fully to political life (although, as a friend of Cicero, he did act in some issues,) he mostly retired to extravagant leisure, or, in Plutarch’s words,:
“quitted and abandoned public affairs, either because he saw that they were already beyond proper control and diseased, or, as some say, because he had his fill of glory, and felt that the unfortunate issue of his many struggles and toils entitled him to fall back upon a life of ease and luxury…[for] in the life of Lucullus, as in an ancient comedy, one reads in the first part of political measures and military commands, and in the latter part of drinking bouts, and banquets, and what might pass for revel-routs, and torch-races, and all manner of frivolity. ”
He used the vast treasure he amassed during his wars in the East to live a life of luxury. He had splendid gardens outside the city of Rome, as well as villas around Tusculum and Neapolis. The one near Neapolis included fish ponds and man-made extensions into the sea, and was only one of many elite senators’ villas around the Bay of Naples. Pompey is said by Pliny to have referred often to Lucullus as “Xerxes in a toga”.
He finally triumphed in 63 BC thanks in small part to the political maneuveuring of both Cato and Cicero. His triumph was remembered mostly due to him covering the Circus Flaminius with the arms of the enemies he had faced during the campaign.
So famous did Lucullus become for his banqueting that the word lucullan now means lavish, luxurious and gourmet.
Once, Cicero and Pompey succeeded in inviting themselves to dinner with Lucullus, but, curious to see what sort of meal Lucullus ate when alone, forbade him to communicate with his slaves regarding any preparation of the meal for his guests. However, Lucullus outsmarted them, and succeeded in getting Pompey and Cicero to allow that he specify which room he would be dining in. He ordered that his slaves serve him in the Apollo Room, knowing that his service staff was schooled ahead of time as to the specific details of service he expected for each of his particular dining rooms: as the standard amount specified to be outlaid for any given dinner in the Apollo room was the large sum of 50,000 drachmae, Cicero and Pompey found themselves a short time later dining upon a most unexpectedly luxurious meal.
On another occasion, the tale runs that his steward, hearing that he would have no guests for dinner, served only one not especially impressive course. Lucullus reprimanded him saying, “What, did not you know, then, that today Lucullus dines with Lucullus?”
Among Lucullus’ other contributions to fine dining, he was also responsible for bringing (a species of) the sweet cherry and the apricot to Rome, developing major facilities for aquaculture, and being the only person in Rome with the ability to provide thrushes for gastronomic purposes in every season, having his own fattening coops.
And, among the various edible plants associated with Lucullus is a cultivar of the vegetable Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris); which is named “Lucullus” in his honor.
Lucullus was extremely well educated in Latin and Greek, and showed a keen interest in literature and philosophy from earliest adulthood. He established lifelong friendships with the Greek poet Archias of (Syrian) Antioch, who migrated to Rome around 102 BC, and with one of the leading Academic philosophers of the time, Antiochus of Ascalon.
During his long delay in the royal palace at Alexandria in the summer of 86 BC Lucullus witnessed the beginning of the major schism in the Platonic Academy in the 1st century, the so-called Sosos Affair. His friend and companion Antiochus of Ascalon received, evidently from the Great Library, a copy of a work by the scholarch of the Academy, Philo of Larissa, so radical in its sceptical stance that Antiochos was sufficiently disturbed to doubt the attribution of authorship to his old teacher. But more recent pupils of Philo, chiefly Herakleitos of Tyre, were able to assure him of the book’s authenticity. Antiochos and Herakleitos dissected it at length in Lucullus’ presence, and in the ensuing weeks while the Roman party continued to await the arrival of the king from the south, Antiochos composed a vigorous polemic against Philo entitled Sosos, which marked his definitive break with Philo’s so-called “Sceptical Academy”, and the beginning of the separate, more conservative, school eventually called the Old Academy.
Plutarch reports that Lucullus lost his mind at towards the end of his life, intermittently developing symptoms of mental insanity as he aged: Plutarch, however, seems to be somewhat ambivalent as to whether the apparent madness was truly the result administration of a purported love potion or other explicable cause, hinting that his alleged precipitous mental decline (and his concomitant withdrawal from public affairs) may have been at least in part conveniently feigned in self-protection against the rising surge to power of his political opponents in the Roman state, such as the rise of the popular party, which brought numerous of his potential adversaries to power, during a time in which the political stakes were often life and death. Lucullus’ brother Marcus oversaw his funeral.
- Clodia Luculli whom he married as her first husband, but divorced about the year 66, on his return to Rome after friction in Asia with her brother, Publius Clodius.
- Servilia Caepionis Minor, the younger sister of Servilia Caepionis, also notorious for her loose morals, but mother of Lucullus’s only son, Lucius.
After his divorce from Clodia, who was a licentious and base woman, he married Servilia, a sister of Cato, but this, too, was an unfortunate marriage. For it lacked none of the evils which Clodia had brought in her train except one, namely, the scandal about her brothers. In all other respects Servilia was equally vile and abandoned, and yet Lucullus forced himself to tolerate her, out of regard for Cato. At last, however, he put her away.
Plutarch, Lucullus, also the lives of Kimon, Sulla, Pompeius, Cicero, Cato
Ziegler, Konrat (ed.) Plutarchi Vitae Parallelae, Vol.I, Fasc.1 (Teubner, Leipzig, 4th edition, 1969), I: ΘΗΣΕΥΣ ΚΑΙ ΡΩΜΥΛΟΣ, II: ΣΟΛΩΝ ΚΑΙ ΠΟΠΛΙΚΟΛΑΣ, III: ΘΕΜΙΣΤΟΚΛΗΣ ΚΑΙ ΚΑΜΙΛΛΟΣ, IV: ΑΡΙΣΤΕΙΔΗΣ ΚΑΙ ΚΑΤΩΝ, V: ΚΙΜΩΝ ΚΑΙ ΛΕΥΚΟΛΛΟΣ.
Liber de viris illustribus, 74
Cassius Dio Roman History, book XXXVI
Appian Roman History, book XII: Mithridateios
Cicero Lucullus, also known as Academica Prior, book II
Cicero pro Archia poeta 5-6, 11, 21, 26, 31
Cicero de imperio Cn. Pompei 5, 10, 20-26
Cicero pro L. Murena 20, 33-34, 37, 69
Cicero pro A. Cluentio Habito 137
Cicero ad Atticum, I 1.3, 14.5, 16.15, XIII 6
Julius Frontinus Stratagems, II 1.14, 2.4 (Tigranocerta), II 5.30 (Pontic assassination attempt 72 BC), II 7.8 (Macedonian cavalry during Cabira campaign), III 13.6 (swimming messenger at siege of Cyzicus)
Paulus Orosius bk.VI
Malcovati, Henrica (ed.) Oratorum Romanorum Fragmenta, Liberae Rei Publicae (Corpus Scriptorum Latinorum Paravianum, Torino, 1953; 4th edition, 1976), 307-9 (Orator #90)
Memnon, history of Herakleia Pontike, 9th century epitome in the ΒΙΒΛΙΟΘΗΚΗ of Photius of Byzantium (codex 224)
ed. René Henry Photius Bibliotheque, vol.IV: Codices 223-229 (Budé, Paris, 1965), 48-99: Greek with French translation
ed. Karl Müller FHG (Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum), vol.III, 525ff.: Greek with Latin translation
ed. Felix Jacoby FGrH 434 (Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker, commenced 1923): Greek text, critical commentary in German
- Phlegon of Tralles, fragments
ed. Müller FHG, III, 602ff.
ed. Jacoby FGrH 257
English translation and commentary by William Hansen, Phlegon of Tralles’ Book of Marvels (University of Exeter Press, 1996)
ILS 60 (Latin career elogium from Arretium)
SIG3 743, AE 1974, 603 (both Greek from Hypata, as quaestor in late 88)
SIG3 745 (Greek from Rhodes, when pro quaestore, 84/3)
Ins.Délos 1620 (Latin statue base titulus from Delos when pro quaestore, 85/80)
BE 1970, p. 426 (two Greek tituli when imperator, 72/66, from Andros and Klaros)
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- Eckhardt, Kurt: “Die armenischen Feldzüge des Lukullus”,
pt.I Introduction. Klio, 9 (1909), 400-412
pt.II Das Kriegsjahr 69. Klio, 10 (1910), 72-115
pt.III Das Kriegsjahr 68. Klio, 10 (1910), 192-231.
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- McCracken G: “The Villa and Tomb of Lucullus at Tusculum”, AJA 46 (1942)
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- Sumner, G V: The Orators in Cicero’s Brutus: Prosopography and Chronology (University of Toronto Press, 1973), R 155 (pp. 113–14) in the Prosopographical Commentary.
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