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Lucius Cornelius Sulla began his political career thanks to courtesan

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Image of Lucius Cornelius Sulla on a coin from 54 BCE
Image of Lucius Cornelius Sulla on a coin from 54 BCE

The later dictator of the Roman republic, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, also known as Felix because of his allegedly favourable fortune throughout his life, could start a political career thanks to his acquaintance with a person through whom his contemporary political career could rather collapse completely.

Lucius came from the famous Cornelius patrician family, which was significantly impoverished. He devoted his youth to playing, visiting places of dubious reputation, and meeting people who had professions of an equally dubious reputation. This group included actors who were very despised in ancient Rome.

As Plutarch recalls, he learned about hetaire, i.e. a senior Greek courtesan, who, apart from prostitution, was also involved in art and conversation. Her name was Nicopolis. She liked the young Lucius to such an extent that not only was she happy to accept him completely free of charge, but she also transferred her quite a considerable fortune to him in her will. Well, the rare occasion where thanks to a such acquaintance, there are more denarii in the purse, and not quite the contrary. Additional financial help for Sulla was the transfer of property to him by his stepmother. It is worth adding here that Plutarch clearly mentioned Sulla’s weakness for sensual pleasures and alcohol abuse, and Sulla himself began his political career quite late by Roman standards, at the age of 30.

Let us just think that if it were not for the acquaintance with this courtesan, the capture of the Numidian king of Jugurtha, the victories of Rome over Mithritades VI Eupator at Chaeronea and Orchomenos, and the dictatorship of Lucius Cornelius Sulla itself might not have happened.

And as I mentioned, where such contacts today tend to end politicians’ careers, and modern times are more conducive to debauchery, the ancient Romans apparently had more distance to such matters.

Author: Tomasz Gontarz (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)

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