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Sulla was first all-powerful dictator

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Bust of Lucius Cornelius Sulla without nose
Bust of Lucius Cornelius Sulla without nose

To this day, it seems to us that Julius Caesar was the first Roman who managed to reach almost unlimited power in the Roman republic. The truth is, however, that in 82 BCE it was Lucius Cornelius Sulla, after conquering Rome, who took full power in the state.

Sulla, using the support of his legions and fear, forced the title of dictatorship without a time limit, which had not happened before in the Roman state. Its title was “dictator to legislate and to decide the constitution” (dictator legibus faciendis et reipublicae constituendae causa).

It is worth mentioning that in general, the dictatorship was granted very rarely during the existence of the Republic and it required a really severe crisis of the state (internal or external threat) from which the person was to lead the homeland. Before Sulla, the dictatorship was given to Gaius Servilius Geminus in 202 BCE, who was tasked with calling elections when both incumbent consuls were outside Rome.

Thus, by awarding Sulla the title of the dictator in the face of political rivalry between the popular and the optimists, we can conclude that Sulla was the first of the dictators to possess uncontrolled fullness of power.

Interestingly, after three years of dictatorship, in 79 BCE, Sulla resigned from his position and settled on his estate in Campania to stay with his family. He remained outside politics, except in a few cases where his interests were at stake. During his “retirement” he focused on writing memoirs (completed in 78 BCE), most of which were lost or destroyed. The preserved fragments survived in the works of later writers.

Sulla, despite the purges he carried out and the bloody past, probably died naturally in 78 BCE.

  • Beard Mary, SPQR. Historia starożytnego Rzymu, Poznań 2016

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