Text #1683"Sulla", in .
At the end of 82 BC or the beginning of 81 BC, the Senate appointed Sulla dictator legibus faciendis et reipublicae constituendae causa (“dictator for the making of laws and for the settling of the constitution”). The decision was subsequently ratified by the “Assembly of the People”, with no limit set on his time in office. Sulla had total control of the city and republic of Rome, except for Hispania (which Marius’s general Quintus Sertorius had established as an independent state). This unusual appointment (used hitherto only in times of extreme danger to the city, such as the Second Punic War, and then only for 6-month periods) represented an exception to Rome’s policy of not giving total power to a single individual. Sulla can be seen as setting the precedent for Julius Caesar’s dictatorship, and the eventual end of the Republic under Augustus.
In total control of the city and its affairs, Sulla instituted a program of executing those whom he perceived to be enemies of the state. Plutarch describes in Life of Sulla (XXXI) > “Sulla now began to make blood flow, and he filled the city with deaths without number or limit” further alleging that many of the murdered victims had nothing to do with Sulla, though Sulla killed them to “please his adherents”.
“Sulla immediately proscribed eighty persons without communicating with any magistrate. As this caused a general murmur, he let one day pass, and then proscribed two hundred and twenty more, and again on the third day as many. In an harangue to the people, he said, with reference to these measures, that he had proscribed all he could think of, and as to those who now escaped his memory, he would proscribe them at some future time.” -Plutarch, Life of Sulla (XXXI)
The proscriptions are widely perceived as a response to similar killings which Marius and Cinna had implemented while they were in control of the Republic during Sulla’s absence. Proscribing or outlawing every one of those whom he perceived to have acted against the best interests of the Republic while he was in the east, Sulla ordered some 1,500 nobles (i.e., senators and equites) executed, although it is estimated that as many as 9,000 people were killed.
The purge went on for several months. Helping or sheltering a person who was proscribed was also punishable by death. The State confiscated the wealth of the outlawed and then auctioned it off, making Sulla and his supporters vastly rich. The sons and grandsons of the proscribed were banned from future political office, a restriction not removed for over 30 years.
The young Caesar, as Cinna’s son-in-law, was one of Sulla’s targets and fled the city. He was saved through the efforts of his relatives, many of whom were Sulla’s supporters, but Sulla noted in his memoirs that he regretted sparing Caesar’s life, because of the young man’s notorious ambition. The historian Suetonius records that when agreeing to spare Caesar, Sulla warned those who were pleading his case that he would become a danger to them in the future, saying “In this Caesar there are many Mariuses.”