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Lucius Licinius Lucullus

(117 - 56 BCE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Lucullus came from a distinguished plebeian family and was associated with the optimates.

Lucius Licinius Lucullus known as Lucullus was born in 117 BCE. He was a Roman commander and politician. Sulla’s supporter, famous for his victories in the war with the ruler of Pontus Mithridates VI Eupator.

Family origins

The House of Lucullus, like most of the aristocratic families of Rome, searched for its roots deep in the past. Some families, such as Julius, claimed that they were descended from gods. The Lucullus were somewhat more modest in their descent from a certain Lucullus, king of Illyria, who in the past had a novel of his subjects to Italy. There, the subjects of King Lucullus gave rise to the Pelign people who lived in the middle of the Apennine Peninsula.

Historically, the Lucullus descended from a much older and distinguished gens of the Licinius. Licinius probably had an Etruscan origin and descended from the plebeian class. The Etruscan origin may be proved by the fact that the word licinius probably derives from the Etruscan word lecne (curve, slant), which then passed into Latin. Licinius achieved great importance in the 5th and 4th centuries BCE when they had a great influence on the political life of Rome. However, in the next period, their dusk occurred, and a second turn took place at the end of the 3rd century BCE when two factions of this family became of great importance – Lucullus and Crassus. The first mention of Lucullus comes from the end of the 3rd century BCE, in the annals, it is mentioned Lucius Licinius Lucullus was the curule aedile in 202 BCE. In addition to the aforementioned edile, we hear about two Lucullus who reached the plebeian tribunal in 196 BCE and 110 BCE Marcus Lucullus, who was praetor for affairs between the Romans and foreigners in 186 BCE, also achieved high office. Researchers do not agree as to what place in the Lucullus family tree was occupied by the hero of the article. Some say that his grandfather Lucius Licinius Lucullus was the son of Lucius, but from 202 BCE, while others believe that he was the son or grandson of Gaius Lucullus, tribune of 196 BCE.

The importance of the Lucullus family comes a little later when Lucius’s grandfather becomes the consul of 151 BCE and thus introduces the family to the noble class. After the end of the consulate, our hero’s grandfather took command in Spain. The father of Lucius Licinius Lucullus, also Lucius was probably born around 144 BCE. In 119 BCE He married Cecilia, who came from the famous Metellus family and was also known for her promiscuous lifestyle. She had a bad reputation when she married her father Lucullus. However, Lucius the Older certainly did not mind, because such a favourable marriage strengthened his position in the aristocratic elite. The more so because during this period the Metellus experienced a period of their political power. Due to the relationship with Metella, two boys were born, Lucius and his younger brother Marcus. Lucius was probably born in 118 BCE and Marcus in 116 BCE Little is known about their childhood and upbringing, although it certainly did not differ from the upbringing of a typical young man from an aristocratic family. Lucullus was considered an excellent expert in both Latin and Greek literature. Lucullus’ high education is evidenced by the fact that he maintained close contacts with numerous poets, speakers and philosophers. Among others with the famous orator Hortensius, the philosopher Antiochus of Ascalon or the poet Archias. The latter remained a faithful and close friend of the Lucullus house until the very end. Both Lucullus also learned the art of rhetoric, so necessary for political activity in Rome. Even Cicero himself praised the art of Sulla’s pupil’s pronunciation, and it is difficult to get a better recommendation in this field. The best testimony of the upbringing and education of young Lucullus is presented by Plutarch:

Lucullus was trained to speak fluently both Latin and Greek, so that Sulla, in writing his own memoirs, dedicated them to him, as a man who would set in order and duly arrange the history of the times better than himself. For the style of Lucullus was not only businesslike and ready; the same was true of many another man’s in the Forum. There, “Like smitten tunny, through the billowy sea it dashed,” although outside the Forum it was “Withered, inelegant, and dead”. But Lucullus, from his youth up, was devoted to the genial and so‑called “liberal” culture then in vogue, wherein the Beauti­ful was sought. And when he came to be well on in years, he suffered his mind to find complete leisure and repose, as it were after many struggles, in philosophy, encouraging the contemplative side of his nature, and giving timely halt and check, after his difference with Pompey, to the play of his ambition.

Plutarch, Lucullus, 1

Sulla’s apprentice

The turning point in Lucullus’ life, as it turned out, was the the war with the allies, fought in the 90-88 BCE. The immediate cause of the uprising was the constant refusal to grant Roman citizenship to the peoples of Italy. The allies have long demanded equality from the Romans, the more so because they were equally burdened with defending Italy, including they gave great credit in repelling the invasions of the Cimbri and Teutons. However, seeing that the Romans only promise and in fact do not want to fulfill the requests, they decided to fight for independence on their own. The rebels created their own federal state, which they called Italy, with its capital at Corfinium. The Romans did not intend to tolerate those moves that would undermine their primacy and decided to deal with their opponents by arms. Thus began a murderous war, known as the war with the allies. This war determined the direction of all the subsequent life and activities of Sulla’s student. During this war, Lucius Lucullus met a person who left a huge mark on him, that person was Lucius Cornelius Sulla. The Marian war found Lucullus in the rank of a military tribune, which suggests that it was not his first meeting with the army, because in order to obtain the rank of tribune, he had to have had five years of military service. Sulla became not only the head and teacher of Lucullus but also his friend. In return for his faithful service, Lucullus could count on the support and protection of the later dictator. Lucullus belonged to the faithful Sullańczyk and was even appointed by the dictator himself as the guardian of his son – Faustus. Sulla omitted another outstanding supporter of himself in this nomination – Pompey the Great.

Sulla in the war with his allies became famous for his actions against the Hirpians and Samnites, over which he won many victories. Little is known about Lucullus’ contribution to the warfare, other than the mention in Plutarch that he was brave. Certainly, Sulla was very pleased with his subordinate because it is difficult to explain otherwise the subsequent use of the services of Lucullus, although Plutarch states: “(…) But Sulla drew him to himself rather for his constancy and pleasant disposition.” However, the mere constancy and pleasant disposition are not enough to entrust a subordinate with such important missions as Lucullus received from Sulla. Sulla was surely convinced of his protégé’s high qualifications, experience and military talent.

Mithridates VI Eupator with a headdress stylized on Alexander the Great.

In 88 BCE Lucullus has made Sulla one of his greatest devotions. It was the year that many scholars believe was the prelude to the final collapse of the Republic. This year Lucullus became a quaestor, he was to hold it under the orders of Sulla, who became consul for that year. Meanwhile, the increasingly aggressive actions of the Pontic king Mithridates VI in Asia Minor, and in particular his appeal from Ephesus calling for the murder of all Romans, which was seized and deliberately made by oppressed little Asian cities, prompted the Romans to intervene. The Roman Senate responded to these moves by sending Sulla to the east. However, this appointment caused a lot of resistance from opponents of the later dictator, in particular Marius. He himself planned to lead the Roman army into battle once more. The intrigues of Marius’s patios led to the dismissal of Sulla, who, however, did not relinquish his command and returned to Rome, where he quickly dealt with his opponents. However, such a spectacular move caused a lot of resistance among senators and most of the officers of Sulla’s army. The only officer who remained with the dictator during his march to the eternal city was Lucullus.

After dealing with his opponents, Sulla returned to Greece, from where more and more disturbing news came. In 87 BCE he transferred the army to Greece, and at the head of the vanguard was Lucullus. Already at the very beginning of the conflict, Sulla’s student showed forbearance towards the Greeks, for which he would become famous in the future. The popularity of Lucullus among the Greeks is evidenced by the fact that in many cities, including Hypatia in Greece, Synnadi in Phrygia and Tyatejra in Lydia, monuments were erected for him in the agora.

During the war in Greece, Lucullus rendered Sulla many merits, in particular, he became famous for his organizational skills, as Plutarch wrote: “(…) And from the beginning, he used it constantly for matters requiring a lot of diligence. These were also the matter of finances.” Lucullus became famous, among other things, for supplying the army with ores that were previously stolen by Sulla from the temples in Delphi, Epidaurus and Olympia. Lucullus minted a coin from these metals, which was named after him – the Luculean. Meanwhile, Sulla, waging a war, got stuck in Athens for good, unable to conquer the city due to the lack of a fleet. The Pontic fleet, which ruled the sea, supplied Athens via Piraeus. Additionally, the dictator’s anxiety was fueled by news that began to come from Italy. The Marian party came to the floor again there, proclaiming Sulla an enemy of the motherland and taking away his command in the war with the king of Pontus and appointing Valerius Flaccus in his place. Sulla was more and more anxious to end the siege, but he lacked ships. These could only be provided by the cities of Libya and Egypt allied with Rome. However, it was not easy to bring ships from these countries, because the Pontic fleet, allied with the Cilicia pirates, ruled the sea. Sulla did not hesitate for long, entrusting Lucullus with the difficult task of assembling and safely carrying out the fleet. The matter was really urgent, or Sulla was so desperate because Lucullus set off on his journey during winter, a season when ancient sailors were reluctant to go to sea.

However, the Roman fulfilled this task as well. In the spring of 85 BCE, Sulla’s apprentice returned with the fleet, inflicting heavy losses on Mithridates’ forces. The most famous naval battle of this conflict, Lucullus fought near the island of Tenedos. In this battle, Sulla’s apprentice defeated the general Mithridates Neoptolemos. During the long, 18-month absence of Lucullus Sulla, he began to lose more and more hopes for the return of his subordinate; an expression of this was the construction from 86 BCE. fleet in Chalcis. Then, quite unexpectedly, when Sulla was standing on the coast of Chersonesos, Lucullus joined him, preparing for the crossing to the Asian shore. However, after many victories, the dictator decided to make a peace treaty with Mithridates in Dardanos. Sulla was in a hurry to go to Italy to finally deal with Marius’s supporters. Before he was able to leave Asia, Sulla punished the province with 20,000 talents for supporting Mithridates. The execution of this punishment was undertaken by Lucullus, who after a year’s bursar became a procurator in the province of Asia and returned to Italy only in 80 BCE.

Political career

Soon after Lucullus returned to Rome in 79 BCE, he attained the office of aedile with his brother Marcus. The entire subsequent political career depended on the quality of holding the office of aedile. The Roman people expected from someone who wanted to take higher offices correspondingly wonderful entertainment. Often, those who held this office fell into serious financial difficulties, wanting to organize adequately great games. It is enough to mention here, for example, Caesar. The Lucullus brothers who jointly held the aedile office also did not intend to skimp on the entertainment of the people. The most spectacular entertainment provided to the people by the Lucullus family includes elephant fights with bulls or the use of a rotating stage in the theatre. This extravagance, however, paid off for Sulla’s disciple because the people repaid him by choosing in 78 BCE. Lucullus to the office of praetor. This year, Sulla, who had previously resigned from all state offices, died in a villa in Puteoli. The dictator’s funeral was a show of the strength of the optimists, but the opponents of the deceased raised their heads more and more boldly. Sulla’s funeral was also attended by Lucullus, who owed a lot to the deceased, after all his political and military career was associated with Sulla. Before his death, he commissioned him to publish his diaries and appointed him the guardian of his children.

From the moment of the announcement of the will of the deceased dictator, the beginning of hostility and open rivalry between Pompey and Lucullus should be dated. Both from the very beginning were made for this competition, they were young, talented and both took the side of Sulla. However, the content of the will in which Pompey was not even mentioned meant that he began to treat his opponent as a threat. A great competition began, the crowning of which took place several years later. After a year of pretensions, Lucullus was taken over by the province of Africa. Only what is known about his activities in this position is the mention that he exercised it fairly, which of course is plausible when you look at the earlier and later activities of Sulla’s apprentice.
He probably returned to Rome in 75 BCE. Returning, he started an election campaign almost from the very beginning, which was crowned with success, because he was elected consul for 74 BCE. Lucullus had no major problems with taking this office because the Sulla party was still in power, and his influence and merits were sufficient to take office without any problems. Marcus Aurelius Cotta was elected the second consul, who, as it turned out, was a man of mediocre abilities. This period of applying for and holding a consulate was important for Lucullus also for personal reasons. He married Clodia from the famous Klaudius Pulcher family. The exact date of the marriage is unknown, but it was certainly concluded before taking the office of consul, because, during its celebration, Lucullus is referred to as a married man. As it turned out, the marriage was not a happy one, and Clodia, according to the traditions of her own family, became famous for pride, unpredictability and promiscuity. Marriage, like most unions among the Roman aristocracy, was calculated to obtain political benefits. For Lucullus, being tied to an old patrician family was, by all means, beneficial and raised his status, a noble from a plebeian family. However, it should also be noted that this marriage also brought benefits for Claudius. The family of Clodia at that time was in serious financial trouble, and Lucullus, a rich man, generously gave up his dowry.

During the period of Lucullus’ consulate, the most important event was the vote and sending aid to Pompey fighting Sertorius in Spain. Pompey, unable to defeat his gifted opponent, demanded more help from the senate and even threatened to return with the army to Italy. Such a prospect was not favourable to the senate or Lucullus, so the resolution on aid was passed without much resistance. For Lucullus, the greatest danger was that at the time of Pompey’s return, his hopes for the glory of war in the east were completely dashed. During this period, the situation between Rome and the Pontic ruler grew so fierce that the war seemed practically inevitable. It is true that the matter of taking command was not yet on the agenda, but Lucullus was determined that the honour of waging war in the East would be awarded to him. In addition to foreign affairs, Lucullus also devoted considerable attention to the internal politics of the Roman Republic. His activities focused mainly on the defence of the Sullański system. Lucullus’s attention was drawn to the activity of Lucius Quincius’ people’s tribune. Sulla, limiting the power of the tribunes, was convinced that he took care of all matters related to this office. However, as it turned out, the dictator was wrong. The strength of the tribunes was based on the size of the urban proletariat, and Sulla did nothing to reduce its number. On the contrary, it increased its size by 10,000 ex-slaves who were owned by victims of proscription. Sulla did nothing about the town commoners, content only to suppress the office of the tribune. However, the people’s attachment to the tribunate remained, and it was only a matter of time before the tribunes again demanded the restoration of their full power. It did not take long for this admonition, for as soon as Sulla died, there were almost immediate votes in favour of the revocation of his legislation on the tribunal. The first breach in Sulla’s legislation was made during the consulate of Gaius Aurelius Cotta and Lucius Octavius. Consul Cottamanaged to pass a law that lifted the ban on tribunes from applying for other state offices. Another attack on the Sulla system was carried out by the aforementioned tribune Quinctius, but this time it was against consul Lucullus with a decisive countermeasure.

However, this matter was soon overshadowed by information about Mithridates’ doings. In Rome itself, for some time there had been a strong party seeking a final deal with the Pontic king, the ratification of the peace concluded at Dardanos was delayed, and Mithridates, who had never accepted the terms of peace, began to seek a way to withdraw from it. In 78 BCE the legation of the Pontic king came to Rome, the purpose was to obtain formal approval of the treaty of 85 BCE However, the Senate did not give a hearing to the deputies surprised by this turn of events, claiming that he was too busy, which only the most naive observer could believe. This example shows that the hawk party gained an advantage on the Roman political scene and the final hearing was only a matter of time. This turn of events was realized by Mithridates, who, without the formal approval of the treaty, was an enemy of the senate and the Roman people. One of the most important factors that gave the war party the upper hand was the widespread perception of being too lenient with Mithridates in the Treaty of Dardanos. The Pontic king, the perpetrator of the slaughter of the Italians, the famous “Asiatic Vespers” as Keaveney calls them, deserved severe punishment, not the status of an ally. In addition, in Rome, there was a common belief that any agreements with Mithridates would be unstable because the Pontic king at the first opportunity would surely break the terms of the agreement. Nor should we disregard the greed of the Romans themselves in considering the causes of this war. The East has always seduced with its riches, and in Rome, there was a conviction of the fabulous spoils that can be obtained by plundering Pont and his king. Therefore, there was no shortage of people willing to support the idea and even to participate in this war. Mithridates, upon the news about the treatment of his envoys, fell into a frenzy and openly began preparations for the war, realizing that it was inevitable. Mithridates began an extensive diplomatic campaign aimed at winning allies. One of the most surprising alliances was made in 75 BCE, when Mithridates made contact with one of the most gifted commanders of antiquity, one of the most gifted commanders of antiquity, a supporter of Marius, Sertorius.

In Rome, one of the most intrusive agitators for the war with Mithridates was Lucullus’s colleague in the consul’s office – Cotta. The matter of war was finally settled by the will of King Bithynia, Nicomedes IV, who bequeathed his kingdom to Rome. This testament was unacceptable to Mithridates, who had already openly raised claims to the Bithynian throne. The King of Pontus could not allow Bithynia to be seized, because the strong settlement of the Romans in this region meant a slow decline of his kingdom and the necessity to give up active international politics. From the beginning of 74 BCE, a scuffle began in Rome to take command in the coming war, which also involved the consul. Contrary to what it may seem, Lucullus did not have an easy journey in taking command, despite the fact that he already had extensive combat experience and knew the theatre of operations very well. Lucullus, of course, as a consul had an easier task in his efforts to take command, but the huge profits expected from this campaign meant that some senators strongly opposed the consul.
To gain command, Lucullus turned to one of the party leaders in the senate, Cornelius Cethegus. He was a close associate of Marius. Admittedly, he went over to Sulla’s side at the right moment, but he seemed to have a negative attitude towards Lucullus, Keaveney directly claims that they were open enemies. Lucullus was certainly suspicious of Cethegus, a recently converted Marius’ supporter, the more so as he was suspected of having contacts with Sertorius. Also, Lucullus despised Cethegus because of his sexual practices. However, as it turned out, the last thing allowed Lucullus to gain his current adversary. In order to convince Cethegus to remain silent, Lucullus decided to bribe, referring to a Precja. Precja, a woman who with her charms gained a great influence on the political life of Rome, running a salon for high-ranking admirers, as Plutarch wrote:

There was a certain woman then in Rome, Praecia by name, whose fame for beauty and wit filled the city. In other respects she was no whit better than an ordinary courtesan, but she used her associates and companions to further the political ambitions of her friends, and so added to her other charms the reputation of being a true comrade, and one who could bring things to pass. She thus acquired the greatest influence.

Plutarch, Lucullus, 6

One of her most staunch admirers was Cethegus, and rumour had it she had a stronghold over him:

No public measure passed unless Cethegus favoured it, and Cethegus did nothing except with Praecia’s approval. This woman, then, Lucullus won over by gifts and flatteries, and it was doubtless a great boon for a woman so forward and ostentatious to be seen sharing the ambitions of Lucullus. Straightway he had Cethegus singing his praises and suing for Cilicia in his behalf. 4 But as soon as he had obtained this province, there was no further need of his soliciting the aid of Praecia […]

Plutarch, Lucullus, 6

Lucullus, overcoming his reluctance, managed to win her over with expensive gifts, which made her a spokesman for his interests. Obtaining Praecia guaranteed Lucullus the favour of Cethegus, and thus, in the absence of worthy opponents, Sulla’s student managed to obtain the coveted governorship of Cilicia, and thus the supreme command in the war with Mithridates. His colleague in the office of consul received the governorship of Bithynia. Cotta left for his province almost immediately, and Lucullus stayed in Italy for some time, completing the army and his staff.


The Third Mithridate War began in 73 BCE. From the beginning, the main goal of Lucius Licinius Lucullus was to attack the Pont and seize the kingdom of Mithridates. The Roman commander won numerous victories during the campaign, incl. at Kyzykos and on the Ryndakos River. In 72 BCE Roman forces entered Pontus, conquering the Kingdom. And Mithridates escaped to his son-in-law, the king of Armenia, Tigranes, by whom he was warmly welcomed. Initially, Lucullus did not want to start a war with Armenia, but the lack of Tigranes’ consent to the release of Mithridates meant that the Roman commander decided to force the Armenian ruler into submission.

Coin with the image of Mithridates VI.

Initially, the Armenian campaign was a success story for the Romans. The crowning achievement was the victory in the Battle of Tigranocerta in 69 BCE. However, the vastness of the Kingdom and the thinness of Roman forces prevented Lucullus from conquering the state of Tigranes. The king continued his resistance using a scorched earth strategy. This strategy was successful as unrest began in the legions which eventually ended in open revolt. Political changes in Rome, the intrigues of Pompey the Great, the lack of final success in the war and rebellions in the army meant that in 66 BCE Lucius Licinius Lucullus was stripped of his command and recalled to Rome. Pompey the Great arrived in his place.

Career decline

Depressed by his failures and taking his command, Lucullus returned to Rome. The situation he found there was completely different from the one in the city when Sulla’s student left him. The situation in which the senate had a dominant position was a thing of the past, the system introduced by Sulla was already in a state of decay and was under attack from all sides.

Lucullus’ first goal on his return was to obtain permission to triumph. It is true that his personality did not enjoy great popularity, but the victories he won in the East meant that obtaining approval for the triumph seemed to be at hand. However, unfortunately for our hero, he came across a difficult opponent who was the tribune Gaius Memmius, behind whom Pompey stood because Memmius was his quaestor in Spain:

Now when Lucullus had returned to Rome, he found, in the first place, that his brother Marcus was under prosecution by Gaius Memmius for his acts as quaestor under the administration of Sulla. Marcus, indeed, was acquitted, but Memmius then turned his attack upon Lucullus, and strove to excite the people against him.

Plutarch, Lucullus, 37

One historian even claims that at one point Memmius’ goal became to persecute the Lucullus brothers. He also launched attacks on Marcus, Lucius’s younger brother. He accused Marcus of sacrilege and embezzlement of public money. However, this attack failed because Marcus was acquitted, and after this failure he turned his attention to Lucius. The attack on the Lucullus brothers was no accident because at that time there was a kind of fashion for attacks on Sulla’s former associates. Anyone who wanted to capitalize on political capital accused them of various crimes. Lucullus came under special fire, for not only was he a former close associate of Sulla, but he was at stake with Pompey, the man who became the most powerful in Rome. Therefore, anyone who wanted to make a career or please Pompey could attack him.
As soon as Lucullus asked for permission to hold the triumph, Memmius launched his attack. Its propaganda fell on fertile ground, and the Roman people rejected a senate bill granting Lucullus the right to triumph. Thus, forcing Lucullus to be stationed outside the holy confines of the city, for he had no intention of relinquishing his due glory. If he only entered the city, it would mean that he gave up his triumph. Only three years after his return, in 63 BCE Lucullus was allowed to triumph during the consulate of Marcus Cicero and Gaius Antony. His hopes were all the more crowned with success as he was given the right to triumph for his victories over Mithridates and Tigranes.

The triumphal march started from the Field of Mars, and then through the Falminus Circus, Velabrum, Forum Boarium, and the Great Circus, along the Via Sacra it headed towards the Capitol. At the head of the procession were riders followed by combat vehicles and sixty chiefs and Mithridates’ closest advisers. Behind them were one hundred and ten bronze ship bows. As the main character of this march, Mithridates, the Romans did not manage to catch it, Lucullus ordered his golden dowry to be made to imitate and replace him. All the huge treasures that had been stolen in Asia were carried along in the procession. Litters laden with gold and silver cups were brought. The mules carried golden beds, silver bars, and silver coins. The culmination of the entire celebration was a banquet hosted by Lucullus at the Capitol. The feast went down in history because 100,000 amphoras of Greek wine were to be distributed there. Hercules, as the protector of victory, was particularly worshipped by Lucullus. To honour the god for taking care of victories in Asia, Lucullus gave him a tenth of his fortune and ordered a statue of this god to be built in Rome.

After returning from the east, Lucullus no longer played such a decisive role in political life as before his departure. Nevertheless, he remained an important personality whose voice was heard and heeded. He managed to push through the elections for the consul of 62 BCE. his candidate which was Murena. In his political activities, he enjoyed the uneasy support of Cato and Cicero, as well as Sulla’s former allies, interested in defending all that remained of their mentor’s legislation. His closest allies were, among others, Hortensius, Catullus, Metellus Pius, Mamerkus Lepidus.

A marble head sculpture found in Synopia, presumably of Lucullus, who was the benefactor of the city.
S. Mrozek, Ostatni wódz Republiki. Życie i działalność Lucjusza Licyniusza Lukullusa, Gdańsk 2003

As I mentioned, the political activity of Lucullus was very limited, but he played a role in the fall of the Catiline conspiracy, when he voted for the death sentence for the most important conspirators. He defended his friends and protégés in court. Lucullus’ political activity was also focused on the person of Pompey, who after the victorious war in the east, despite the fears of many people, returned to Rome as a private person, dissolving the army. Now he has begun efforts to obtain legal confirmation of his ordinances in the east and permission to distribute land to veterans. Lucullus was determined to harm Pompey with all available means and not to allow the legal regulation of his opponent’s situation. Pompey, who quite unexpectedly became an unpopular person in the Senate, only in 60 BCE, launched a sharp offensive demanding the approval of his regulations. His enemies, including Lucullus, were not about to let go easily. Lucullus gained the support of Cato, who refused Pompey the hand of his niece, Crassus, and the brothers of Pompey’s first wife Mucia. Lucullus proposed that all Pompey’s ordinances should not be treated as a single whole, but analyzed point by point in order to study them thoroughly. He further proposed that in considering Pompey’s decisions also take into account the regulations of Lucullus and decide which are better. Also, the project to give land to Pompey’s veterans was rejected. For a short time, Lucullus was successful and satisfied. He took revenge on his opponent for all the humiliations he had committed. However, in the long run, he regretted his decision because the desperate Pompey made contact with Crassus and Julius Caesar, thus giving rise to the first triumvirate, which was the nail in the coffin of the Roman Republic. It was not long before the active actions of this three-headed monster. As early as 59 BCE Caesar introduced an agrarian bill that provided for the separation of land between Pompey’s veterans and the Roman people. The opposition to this project was headed by consul Marcus Kalpurnius Bibulus, and Lucullus did not intend to allow the project to enter into force. However, they did not manage to prevent the bill from being passed by the People’s Assembly. Lucullus also tried to prevent the approval of Pompey’s orders in the east, but his resistance was quickly broken by Caesar.

Apart from the attacks on Pompey, the political activity of Lucullus was very limited and he did not show any greater activity or even willingness to become an important player on the Roman political scene again. The last public appearance of Lucullus was the participation in the trial tribunal of Lucius Valerius Flaccus, praetor of 63 BCE. accused of a rip-off in the province. The accusations were well-founded, but Cicero himself led the defence of Flaccus. His activities saw Flaccus acquitted. The name of Lucullus also appeared in the so-called Vettius affair. The equine Lucius Vettius, who became famous for informing, made contact with Gaius Scrbonius Kourion, who was a great opponent of Pompey and told him that he was going to kill Pompey. Kourion told his father about the whole matter and Pompey informed him. Now the whole thing had surfaced and the senate had taken care of it. During the interrogation, Vettius presented the Senate with a list of all the conspirators, but his testimony did not inspire confidence. In the course of further investigation, new names began to appear, including that of Lucullus. However, even this new list of names of potential conspirators did not inspire confidence. The whole scandal was not resolved, however, because Vettius died in prison, where he was probably murdered: “(…) And it became even more visible when, after a few days, a corpse was thrown out of prison and it was said that he had died by suicide, and traces of choking and beatings. ” Lucullus’s participation in this plot is practically out of the question. Although Pompey was his opponent, it seems impossible for Sulla’s disciple to participate in such a plot. Also, the fact of the conspiracy is often questioned, and it seems that Vettius acted alone, or possibly on Caesar’s orders, to obtain political gains. When his accusations did not bring the expected results, he decided to give new names, more famous ones, to give the accusations an appropriate meaning.

Political failures meant that in 59 BCE Lucullus withdrew from politics definitively. However, the Roman was not given a chance to live his last days calmly because he became mentally ill. Currently, his condition is diagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease. However, in antiquity, it was said that one of his liberators named Callisthenes gave him a taste of a love potion that made him mad. At some point, the disease became so advanced that Lucullus had to be tutored by his brother Marcus. The disease progressed rapidly at the turn of 57/56 BCE. Lucullus died. The great commander was granted the right to a public funeral, which was a great honour and testified to the great authority that surrounded Lucullus. Lucullus’s body was finally transported to Tuskulum where they were buried in a local villa:

[…] the people grieved just as much as if his death had come at the culmination of his military and political services, and flocked together, and tried to compel the young nobles who had carried the body into the forum to bury it in the Campus Martius, where Sulla also had been buried. 3 But no one had expected this, and preparations for it were not easy, and so his brother, by prayers and supplications, succeeded in persuading them to suffer to take place on the estate at Tusculum, where preparations for it had been made.

Plutarch, Lucullus, 43

After returning from the East, Lucullus was already a burned-out man who, after years of struggle, successes and failures, wanted to rest and spend his enormous fortune. Lucullus showed no greater willingness to spend his money on public buildings, but he was very eager to build palaces that became synonymous with wealth and luxury. He built one of his most famous villas in the fashionable town of Tusculum. In this area, such famous figures as Marcus Aemilius Scaurus, Scipio Emilian, Lucius Scaewoli, Crassus, Hortensius, Varro, Cornelius Dolabella and many others had their houses. This villa became famous because of the richness of architecture in which it was built and decorated and the fact that Lucullus held his famous feasts in it. In addition to building and culinary activities, Sulla’s pupil also devoted himself to other noble activities. Much of his villa was occupied by a huge library, many of which were certainly war booty:

But what he did in the establishment of a library deserves warm praise. He got togetherº many books, and they were well written, and his use of them was more honourable to him than his acquisition of them. His libraries were thrown open to all, and the cloisters surrounding them, and the study-rooms, were accessible without restriction to the Greeks, who constantly repaired thither as to a hostelry of the Muses, and spent the day with one another, in glad escape from their other occupations.

Plutarch, Lucullus, 42

Lucullus’s book collection was not only a library by name, as all the books were available to the guests of the master of the house. Lucullus also had huge gardens next to this villa. Which were also famous during the empire. In addition, Sulla’s apprentice owned numerous villas in Campania, where he became famous again for his construction activities, he also had numerous fish ponds, which were the object of desire of every rich man who knew his fashion.

When withdrawing from active politics, Sulla’s student had to replace his current activity with something. His energy found an outlet in construction and cultural activities. Thanks to this activity, the myth of Lucullus was established as a man basking in luxuries, indifferent to the fate of the state and nation, who, in addition, was the first to introduce luxury to Rome: “(…) Lucullus, who was otherwise a great man, he was the first to set the example for our present lavish extravagance in building, in banquets, and in furnishings”1. It should also be added that this myth has survived even to our times, and the word luxury is commonly used.

Author: Łukasz Bazentkiewicz (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  1. Velleius Paterculus, Roman History, II.33
  • Keaveney A., Lukullus, Warszawa 1998
  • Mrozek S., Ostatni wódz republiki: życie i działalność Lucjusza Licyniusza Lukullusa, Gdańsk 2003
  • Plutarch, Żywoty sławnych mężów, przeł. M. Brożek, Wrocław 1997
  • The Cambridge ancient history: The last age of the Roman Republic 146-43 B.C., Cambridge 1994

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