Chapter 7

Peace in Italy – a World at War II (82–79 BC)

1. The Sullan Domination of Rome (82–79 BC)

Thus Rome once again found herself under the control of one man. However, unlike the period 86–84 BC, where first Cinna and then Carbo had dominated Rome, Sulla was in absolute control of the city in a manner in which the others had not been. Unlike 88 BC, Sulla had no consular colleague and was sole master of Rome. With military victory ensured, he set about consolidating his position. The remnants of the Senate were summoned to meet at the Temple of Bellona in the Campus Martius. To brutally emphasize the reality of the situation, Sulla had the 6,000 prisoners from Colline Gate, mostly Samnites, mustered near where the Senate were meeting and had them all slaughtered as he spoke to the Senate.

To legitimize his power, Sulla used two methods. In terms of past actions, he had an assembly called that ratified all of his acts as consul and proconsul in the period 88–82 BC. Looking forwards, he arranged for L. Valerius Flaccus, the princeps senatus (still protected by his kinsman’s army in Gaul), to act as interrex in the absence of both consuls (one dead and one fled), and arranged for the assembly to elect him as dictator for an unspecified period – until the government of Rome and Italy was fully restored (based on his judgment), with full powers to pass whatever legislation he saw fit.¹ Thus Sulla elevated himself above the consulship to a level not seen in Rome since the time of the kings.

The dictatorship was an ancient office, only filled in times of military emergency, when sole rule was needed out of military necessity; and a clear check had been that it was limited to six months in duration. However, the office had not been used since the Second Punic War and had been in abeyance for 120 years. Sulla now held supreme power in Rome, far above any other magistrate and for an indeterminate time period (at his discretion). L. Valerius Flaccus became his deputy (the Master of the Horse). Consuls were still chosen (M. Tullius Decula and Cn. Cornelius Dolabella for 81 BC), but Sulla had now been placed above them. To emphasize this fact, his lictors bore twenty-four fasces in front of him and he maintained a bodyguard. He seems to have held the dictatorship from late 82 to 79 BC and even held the consulship of 80 BC concurrently, along with his loyal deputy, Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius.²

Throughout the years 82 and 81 BC, Sulla used this supreme position to enact, or in some cases re-enact, key reforms to the Roman political system, which he believed would stabilize the Republican constitution. The tribunate’s powers were once again curbed, with senatorial approval needed for all legislation and any office holder disbarred from further office.³ The number of praetors was increased to eight and quaestors to twenty. Repeated consulships were prohibited and set ages were laid down in law for the various offices of the cursus honorum and the order in which they must be held. The courts were reformed and the depleted Senate had 300 equestrians added to its number. A fragment of Sallust even refers to marriage laws and sumptuary legislation. It has been argued that his dictatorship may have had censorial powers and thus some form of census may have been conducted. Thus Rome was given a Sullan constitution, in an attempt to create, or in his mind recreate, the ideal Republic.

To enhance his personal image, Sulla undertook a range of measures. He celebrated a triumph, not over his civil war opponents, but over Mithridates, the Treaty of Dardanus being overlooked. He took the title of ‘Felix’ (lucky), ascribing his success to divine providence (rather than Crassus at Colline Gate). Gilded statues of him were raised in Rome, his monuments rebuilt and special games instituted to celebrate his achievements. In fact, Sulla summoned so many athletes from Greece to celebrate his games that Eusebius records that events at the Olympic Games had to be cancelled as a consequence. Sulla also began the reconstruction of the Capitol, destroyed by fire in 83 BC, which allowed him to symbolize his rebuilding of a new Roman Republic.

Unsurprisingly, these reforms and aggrandizements had a darker side. When Sulla and Pompeius took Rome in 88 BC, twelve men were declared enemies of the state. When Marius and Cinna took Rome in 87 BC, a massacre of their opponents ensued. By 82 BC, it seems that Sulla had amassed more than just twelve enemies. The massacre of the 6,000 prisoners seems to have been merely the start of a long process of state-sanctioned murder. Rather than random acts, Sulla drew up a list of his enemies to be murdered and their lands and wealth confiscated to rebuild the state coffers. Thus were borne the infamous proscription lists. Anyone whose name was on one such list could be legally murdered, with the killer given a portion of the dead man’s estate as a reward, the remainder being auctioned off and the proceeds going to the state. Furthermore, the descendants of the proscribed were barred from ever holding political office. One man who notoriously made a fortune from buying these properties, and perhaps even arranging names to be put on the lists, was M. Licinius Crassus, who soon became Rome’s richest man, with an unsavoury reputation to match.

According to the sources, the original list contained just eighty names, listing prominent coalition leaders and supporters. However, this was soon followed by a second list in the hundreds and other supplementary lists covering all of Italy, thus unleashing slaughter across the city and the peninsula. Sulla’s murders did not restrict themselves to his enemies. Q. Lucretius Ofella, who had captured Praeneste for Sulla (see Chapter 6), decided to stand as consul, against both Sulla’s wishes and the new cursus honorum. Whilst campaigning in the Forum he was murdered on Sulla’s orders, with Sulla himself present, again making a clear point about who ruled Rome.¹⁰ Marius himself did not escape reprisals, despite his death some four years earlier, as Sulla had his corpse dragged from his crypt, paraded through Rome and torn apart.

One notable survivor of these proscriptions was L. Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus (Cos. 84), who famously had lost an army to Sulla without a single engagement (see Chapter 6). Appian reports that Scipio had come to some form of arrangement with Sulla, but soon violated it and was proscribed.¹¹ He managed to evade the assassins and lived in exile in Massilia (Marseille) for the rest of his life. A second notable survivor was a young man by the name of C. Iulius Caesar. Although he had not taken part in the coalition fighting, he had prominent Marian and Cinnan family connections. His uncle by marriage was C. Marius himself, and he was married to Cinna’s daughter. When summoned before Sulla and ordered to divorce his wife, extraordinarily, he refused point blank, and later had to flee the city to evade murder. No further comment is needed on the implications for western civilization had Sulla been quicker to condemn him.

Aside from the personal slaughter, Sulla took reprisals against prominent coalition-supporting towns and cities across Italy. Walls and fortresses were destroyed, garrisons installed, land confiscated, fines levied and veteran colonies planted next to them on their confiscated lands (see below). The planting of colonies served multiple purposes. Appian reports that Sulla demobilized twenty-three legions of his veterans, creating a string of colonies across Italy, whilst the Periochae of Livy puts the number at forty-seven legions.¹² Not only did this demobilize his forces, but it created a string of Sullan strongholds, many planted at key strategic locations across Italy, ensuring that he had control of the peninsula and the peoples within. Not only could these veterans be used to keep any rebellious locals in check, but as they were given confiscated land, and funded from proscriptions, in theory they would have a vested interest in ensuring the Sullan legislation in Rome continued to be in force. Sulla took similar steps in Rome itself by freeing 10,000 slaves of the victims of the proscriptions and enrolling them amongst the urban plebeians, giving him a ready-made force of supporters in Rome to call on.

Sulla also seems to have taken additional precautions with respect to the foremost of the young men who followed him, by arranging a marriage alliance between himself and Cn. Pompeius. Pompeius was ordered to divorce his wife and marry Sulla’s stepdaughter Amelia (the daughter of Sulla’s wife’s previous husband, M. Aemilius Scaurus). On paper such a marriage alliance would tie Pompeius closer to him, but the manner in which Sulla went about it only seemed to create further tensions, as Pompeius was ordered to abandon his wife and Amelia was pregnant with her husband’s child at the time.¹³ In any event, Amelia died in childbirth soon afterwards, negating any personal ties between the two men.

Needless to say, Sulla’s period of rule seemed to create as many issues as it solved. His proscriptions caused a massive disruption to the landholding patterns of Italy, creating a large group of the dispossessed and disenfranchised, a number of whom seem to have turned to banditry. A number of those men he settled on land soon proved to be unsuited to farming, creating even more dispossessed, all of which created social discontent and therefore potential political capital (see Appendix II). With a number of the proscribed fleeing Italy, another group of exiles was created, all with friends and kinsmen back in Rome and Italy who would agitate for their pardoning and return. The emasculation of the tribunate proved to be incredibly unpopular amongst both the urban plebeians and a number of the more ambitious senators, with calls for its restoration being made almost immediately. Finally, as was seen in Italy, Africa and Asia, over the next few years, Sulla’s reforms had done nothing to curb the excesses of mutinous armies or unscrupulous commanders, all of whom had seen both the horrors, but also the rewards, that naked force against one’s own state could bring. In that regard, Sulla could not erase his own example, and in many respects he undermined his own authority by the method of his coming to power.

2. Renewed Civil Conflict?

Interestingly, there exists a fragment of a history by John of Antioch, a seventh century AD chronicler, which provides the following outrageous fragment of history and one which continues to baffle historians to this day.

Upon the renewal of civil strife, the Roman Senate proposed that Sulla be granted dictatorial powers. For all the knights had banded together, wishing to rule rather than be ruled and since they repeatedly attempted to oppose the Senate the situation was intolerable to the government. Accordingly Sulla, having again attained this office, made a secret agreement with men throughout Italy, unbeknown to anyone at Rome, and ordered them to arm themselves with daggers and enter the city at the time when the Roman people would be starting to celebrate the festival of Rhea (this normally occurs about the first of January), so that with their help he might destroy the urban knights. Since the Italian rabble was hostile to the soldiers they duly appeared on the appointed day, began to riot, and by enlisting the help of the populace did away with a large number of knights. While these events were taking place in the city, reports from the subject peoples everywhere reached Rome, announcing incursions of barbarians and suggesting that the Roman consuls and praetors should occupy their territories with all speed. I give this on the authority of Plutarch. Diodorus, however, says that no such reports existed, and that Sulla concocted them as a means of distracting the people and ending the disorders. For he promptly enrolled all the armies and assigned them commanders, and thus rid the city of the whole multitude.¹⁴

To say that this information related in this fragment cannot be reconciled with the known history of this period would be an understatement, and a number of commentators are happy to dismiss it. Yet John quotes both Diodorus and Plutarch as his sources, though clearly Plutarch’s biography of Sulla has no mention of these events. To his credit, Katz took up the challenge of trying to integrate this fragment and would date it to 88 BC, based upon John having a very distorted view of the events of that year.¹⁵

What we have here is an equestrian plot being foiled by Sulla, who is recalled to a second dictatorship. There is much that is unclear and some that is clearly anachronistic, such as the festival of Rhea, which did not exist in Republican times. Yet at the heart of it lies Sulla being recalled to the dictatorship to crush an equestrian plot using both men from Italy, who could easily be his veterans, and a mixture of bloodshed and deception to crush it. We know little detail of the years 81–79 BC as seen from the discussion over the length of Sulla’s dictatorship. Yet it is entirely possible that he laid down his dictatorship earlier than 79 BC, only to have to take it up again when civil strife broke out in Rome. As will be discussed below (Chapter 8), such an occurrence of civil strife did soon follow his resignation of 79 BC. Furthermore, the fragments we have from Diodorus do contain a wealth of detail not found in any of our other surviving sources for the period. Thus, whilst we cannot say that this fragment can be taken at face value, we must not dismiss it or ignore its existence, as it could possibly shed light on an invaluable insight into the period 81–79, which is otherwise lost to us.

3. Civil War in Rome’s Empire

As stated earlier, Sulla’s victory at Colline Gate gave him control of Rome and Italy, which he could add to the Roman east, which he had already secured. Yet this victory did not automatically mean an end to the civil war as a number of coalition commanders had not only fled Italy, but had control of elements of Rome’s western empire, notably Sicily, Spain and Africa. Gaul too lay under the control of the noted neutral C. Valerius Flaccus. A passage of Plutarch provides a tidy summary of the situation in the western part of Rome’s empire, which faced Sulla:

After this, word was brought to Sulla that Perperna was making himself master of Sicily and furnishing a refuge in that island for the survivors of the opposite faction, that Carbo was hovering in those waters with a fleet, that Domitius had forced an entry into Africa, and that many other exiled men of note were thronging to those parts, all, in fact, who had succeeded in escaping his proscriptions.¹⁶


Although Sulla had overall control of Italy after the Battle of Colline Gate, it seems that several towns rebelled against his rule, either in response to his campaign of reprisals, or for other reasons. The one clearly identified case we have was the Etruscan town of Volaterrae (Volterra), in which a garrison rebelled against its commander in c80 BC. Interestingly, the garrison was commanded by a C. Papirius Carbo, who was the brother of Carbo the consul, and chief enemy of Sulla, which shows the divisions within families the war caused.¹⁷ We are fortunate that both Valerius Maximus and a fragment of Granius Licinianus preserve details of the rebellion:¹⁸

The inhabitants of Volaterrae surrendered to the Romans, after an uprising in which the ex-praetor Carbo, whom Sulla had put in charge of them, was stoned to death (he was the brother of Cn. Carbo). The proscribed men were expelled from the city, and were cut down by cavalry sent by the consuls Claudius and Servilius.¹⁹

Wickedly violent too was the army which took the life of C. Carbo, brother of Carbo, three times consul, who had tried somewhat abruptly and unbendingly to tighten military discipline, relaxed because of the civil wars. They thought it better to be sullied by a heinous crime than to change their depraved, vile ways.²⁰

The Volaterrae incident reveals two factors. The first is that Sulla’s grip on Italy was not as firm as might be thought and that he still had to campaign there as late as 80 BC. The second is that armies were still mutinying and murdering their commanders.


It seems that Sardinia fell to Sullan forces whilst the Italian campaign was still ongoing. All we have left in the ancient sources is a brief note in the Periochae of Livy, which tells us that L. Philippus (Cos. 91) captured the island from the coalition governor, the praetor Q. Antonius Balbus, who was killed. No other details are given, though Philippus’ defection to Sulla’s cause is an interesting point to note.²¹


In terms of the Sicilian campaign, we know slightly more, thanks to a number of brief references to it, a result of the presence of Cn. Pompeius, who was dispatched by Sulla to retake the island. Prior to Pompeius’ dispatch, Diodorus refers to Sulla negotiating with the coalition governor of the island, M. Perperna, which is interesting in itself. It would seem, therefore, that whilst campaigning in Italy he opened negotiations with at least one coalition provincial governor with an eye to reconciling them to his rule. In Perperna’s case, however, it seems he was a staunch supporter of the Marii, who even threatened to invade Italy and relieve the siege of Praeneste.²²

Following the capture of Rome, it seems that Sicily became the headquarters of the remaining coalition forces. Several sources report a gathering of the surviving coalition leaders on the island. Cn. Papirius Carbo the senior coalition leader and consul travelled from Africa to Sicily, where he was joined by M. Iunius Brutus, one of the twelve hostes of 88 BC.

Pompeius appears to have been dispatched by Sulla, apparently also with the command ratified by the Senate, prior to Sulla being confirmed as dictator, thus placing it almost immediately after Sulla secured Rome. All we are told is that he was dispatched with a large force, but again we are not told the size.²³ This highlights the importance and urgency that Sulla placed upon this campaign, denying the coalition leaders the chance to regroup, and on Sicily, which could be a formidable stronghold.²⁴ In reality, it turned out to be nothing of the sort, for when Pompeius crossed over to Sicily, Perperna fled the island without a fight.²⁵ Carbo and Brutus seem to have fled to the island of Cossyra, off the Sicilian coast (modern Pantelleria), but seem to have done so in haste. Orosius reports that their ultimate destination was Egypt, itself in the middle of a civil war (see below).²⁶

The Periochae of Livy preserves a note that Carbo dispatched Brutus back to Sicily (the port of Lilybaeum), by fishing boat, to see how far Pompeius had advanced.²⁷ Brutus, however, was soon captured and committed suicide. Shortly afterwards, and under unknown circumstances, Carbo and a number of coalition figures were also captured by Pompeius’ men. The others were executed on the spot, but Carbo was brought before Pompeius himself prior to his execution. Thus the coalition lost its most senior surviving leader and the death of the last remaining consul cleared the way for Sulla’s dictatorship in Rome.

Interestingly, Perperna seems to have escaped this slaughter and laid low for several years (see Chapter 9). This is in contrast to the fate of his colleagues who seem to have gone from a position of apparent strength to one of disarray almost overnight. We do not know the details of Perperna’s flight, but it does seem that he ensured his own safety, whilst leaving his colleagues behind in some difficulty. Pompeius then appears to have spent the remainder of 82 BC reordering the province and ensuring its loyalty to the new regime in Rome. However, he then received orders, from both Sulla and the Senate, to transport his army to Africa and take up command against the coalition forces there.

Africa and Numidia

Since 84 BC, the Roman province of Africa had been commanded by C. Fabius Hadrianus, who had defeated Metellus Pius and Crassus’ insurrection there (see Chapter 5). However, it seems that after recovering the province, he soon became avaricious and cruel to citizen and native alike. In addition, Orosius refers to him raising a slave army in an attempt to gain personal control of Roman Africa.²⁸ It seems, therefore, that Fabius used the chaos of the war in Italy to attempt to break away from Roman rule and create his own quasi-independent kingdom. However, the one line of Orosius is the only source that notes this. What is clear is that at some point in 82 BC there was an uprising in the capital of Roman Africa, Utica, against Fabius, which ended in his being burnt to death in own headquarters. Cicero, who was contemporaneous with the events held him up to be a notorious example of a corrupt governor.²⁹

The death of Fabius seemed to have left the province, or at least Utica, hostile to the coalition. We do not hear of any Sullan forces there, merely locals who would wish to curry favour with the new regime in Rome. However, during 82 BC, the province became one of the key destinations for coalition figures fleeing Sulla’s invasion of Italy. Plutarch reports that coalition forces (of unknown size) forced an entry into the province under the command of Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus.³⁰ Orosius states that Domitius was one of Cinna’s sons in law (making him the brother in law of C. Iulius Caesar), but prior to the African campaign, we find no trace of him in our surviving sources.³¹ Whilst we have no details of the fighting, we do know that Roman Africa quickly became a mustering point for retreating coalition forces, possibly including the consul Carbo himself for a time. Having regrouped, it seems that the key surviving coalition leaders moved back to Sicily to coordinate with M. Perperna and possibly organize a counter-attack on Italy. As detailed above, however, the swift arrival of Pompeius, combined with Perperna’s swift departure, ended that plan. With the fall of Sicily, Ahenobarbus now found himself the de-facto leader of the coalition forces in the west.

In early 81 BC, Pompeius invaded Roman Africa, at the head of six legions, and with a fleet of 120 galleys and 800 transports. Upon landing at Utica, Plutarch informs us that another 7,000 coalition troops deserted to Pompeius.³² Domitius, however, had not been idle and had forged an alliance with the Roman client state of Numidia and its king, Iarbas, and between them they had amassed an army of nearly 30,000 (now less the 7,000 that had deserted).

We are not told why the Numidians threw in their lot with the coalition at this point. Although the kings of Numidia had been clients of Marius, they had sided with Rome against him in 88 BC (see Chapter 3), yet they now actively sided against the faction that held Rome. It is possible that the Numidians themselves were undergoing another period of civil conflict, and one theory that has been advanced is that Marius helped to overthrow Hiempsal II (King of Numidia) during the 88–87 BC period and put Iarbas, a loyal puppet, on the throne (see Chapter 4).³³ Nevertheless, it does show that the coalition still had the ability to amass significant military resources and continue the civil war, despite the loss of Italy and Sicily. In any event, within days of landing at Utica, Pompeius faced Domitius and Iarbas in battle. We are fortunate that Plutarch preserves a detailed account, Orosius a briefer one:

Domitius now drew up his army against Pompeius, with a ravine in front of him which was rough and difficult to cross, but a violent storm of wind and rain began in the morning and continued to rage, so that he gave up the idea of fighting that day and ordered a retreat. But Pompeius, taking advantage of this opportunity, advanced swiftly to the attack, and crossed the ravine. The enemy met his attack in a disorderly and tumultuous fashion, not all of them, indeed, nor with any uniformity; besides, the wind veered round and drove the rain into their faces. However, the Romans also were troubled by the storm, since they could not see one another clearly, and Pompeius himself narrowly escaped death by not being recognized, when a soldier demanded the countersign from him and he gave it rather slowly. Nevertheless, they routed the enemy with great slaughter (it is said that out of 20,000 only 3,000 escaped), and hailed Pompeius as imperator. And when he said he would not accept the honour as long as the camp of the enemy was intact, but that if they thought him worthy of the appellation, they must first destroy that, his soldiers immediately made an assault upon the ramparts; and Pompeius fought without his helmet, for fear of a peril like the one he had just escaped. The camp was soon taken, and Domitius was slain. Then some of the cities submitted at once to Pompeius, and others were taken by storm. King Iarbus also, the confederate of Domitius, was captured, and his kingdom given to Hiempsal.³⁴

After crossing to Africa, Pompeius killed 18,000 men after they had made a sortie near Utica. In this battle, the Marian leader Domitius was slain while fighting in the vanguard. This same Pompeius also pursued Iarbus, the King of Numidia, and forced Bogudes, the son of Bocchus, who was king of the Moors, to deprive Iarbus of all his troops. Pompeius put Iarbus to death as soon as he had captured the town of Bulla to which the latter had returned.³⁵

Thus in one bold surprise attack, Pompeius had defeated the coalition forces in Africa and secured the province to Rome once more. He then immediately followed this with an invasion of Numidia itself, having already captured their king and swiftly subdued the province, placing a new client king on the throne (Hiempsal II). According to Plutarch, the whole campaign, from landing to subduing Numidia, took only forty days.³⁶

Plutarch is swift to sing Pompeius’ achievements here. Certainly, the victory was won by a bold move, and one that, as he says, could have ended in tragedy.³⁷ He did, however, face a scratch force of Numidians and Romans commanded by a general of whom we know nothing, other than that he allowed himself to be taken by a surprise attack. Numidia fell quickly, but then this campaign was more about the placing of a new client king on the throne, and seems to have faced little serious military opposition. Nevertheless, in less than a year Pompeius had crushed virtually all the remainder of the coalition forces in the west, and all at the age of just 24.

However, under the new Sullan system, commands such as Pompeius’ were technically impossible for a young man, and he would have to wait until he was 39 (67/66 BC) for the chance to hold even a praetorship. Unsurprisingly, once he had secured Africa and Numidia, Sulla issued orders for him to send all but one legion home, await a replacement as governor of Africa, then return home and step down from a military role. It was at this juncture that the failure of the Sullan system became clear; personal ambition and command of an army were still a potent combination, and the civil war had now bred a generation of young men brought up knowing little else. Whilst officially Pompeius attempted to comply with Sulla’s orders, his army apparently refused to do so, and also apparently urged him to lead them in an attack on Rome once more (such actions being commonplace now).³⁸ Whilst some may wish to view Pompeius’ actions as wholly innocent, based on an army’s loyalty to its commander, others may see a more Machiavellian motive behind all this. Pompeius, it seems, had learnt the crucial lesson of the civil war; by now the mere implied threat of an attack on Rome and the horrors that would entail, would be enough for a general to get what he wanted, even from Sulla.

With his regime barely a year old, the last thing that Sulla wanted was to have another round of civil warfare, especially against a young and talented protégé of his. It was thus arranged that Pompeius and his army returned to Rome to a hero’s welcome, where Sulla saluted him as Pompeius Magnus (the Great). Further showing the power Pompeius could wield, he demanded a triumph for his African campaign, despite being just 24 and never having held a formal magistracy. Once again, Sulla refused, and once again, Pompeius showed that the implied threat of force was now just as powerful a weapon in Roman politics as force itself. Plutarch reports that Pompeius told Sulla that ‘more people worship the rising sun than the setting sun;’ in other words, the people and the army would follow a young charismatic general, rather than side with an aged tyrant.³⁹ Not wishing to plunge the Republic back into fresh warfare, Sulla caved in once again and Pompeius had his triumph, and only then disbanded his forces; remaining a quiet force in Rome for the remainder of Sulla’s period of dominance.


Securing Gaul proved to be a far easier task, as it was under the command of C. Valerius Flaccus, who throughout the preceding decade had held the Spanish and Gallic provinces, ruling them almost as a semi-autonomous fiefdom (see Chapter 5). Flaccus seems to have pursued a policy of neutrality, passively supporting whoever had control of Rome at the time. His brother had been suffect consul of 86, along with Cinna, and his kinsman was princeps senatus under the Cinnan regime. Yet when Sulla took Rome the Valerii Flacii effortlessly swung behind him, with L. Valerius proposing the election of Sulla as dictator and taking up the subordinate position as master of the horse. It should also be noted that he survived both the major proscriptions of 82 BC, no doubt secured by his kinsman’s army stationed in Gaul. With the Valerii Flacii secure under Sulla, C. Valerius Flaccus finally returned to Rome, after more than a decade and celebrated a triumph for his campaigns in Spain and Gaul. This too was followed by the disbanding of his armies and a retirement into obscurity; a most remarkable man for his masterly inactivity during this civil war.


Securing Spain, however, would prove to be another matter, as the province was commanded by Q. Sertorius, now the most senior surviving coalition commander. Sertorius had been sent to Spain in 83 BC by the coalition, possibly in disgrace for his actions during the seizure of the town of Suessa (see Chapter 6). Whilst most sources record that he won over the natives of the region by reducing the Roman burden on them, only Appian records that he clashed with the man (who is unnamed) he was sent to replace. It seems that the previous Roman governor refused to recognize his authority, probably due to a belief that Sulla was most likely to be victorious in Italy. All that Appian says is that there was trouble between the two men, but whether this led to a military clash is not stated.⁴¹

Nevertheless, by 82 BC, Sertorius had control of the Roman provinces in Spain and was proving to be a popular governor. With the fall of Rome, he armed both natives and Roman colonists and prepared to repel the inevitable Sullan invasion. To recover Spain, Sulla sent out a proconsul, C. Annius, who is otherwise unknown to us from our few surviving sources. Anticipating a Sullan invasion, Sertorius sent a legate, L. Iulius Salinator with 6,000 men to guard the routes across the Pyrenees. Faced with such a strong defensive position, Plutarch reports that Annius, who seems to have arrived early in 81 BC, did not attempt to force a passage but merely camped in the foothills.⁴² However, once again, a military encounter was settled by a mutiny, as Salinator was murdered by a Calpurnius Lanarius, one of his legates. Upon his death, the garrison guarding the mountain passage abandoned their position, but Plutarch does not state whether they fled, or defected to Annius.⁴³

All we know of the campaigns that followed is that Annius advanced into Spain, with what Plutarch describes as a large force, and routed all of Sertorius’ forces in a short time.⁴⁴ Despite his acknowledged military prowess and the supposed loyalty of the natives, Sertorius’ grip on Spain collapsed remarkably quickly and he found himself seeking refuge in New Carthage (Cartagene) with just 3,000 men. With no other option, he fled by sea to northern Africa and the Mauri Kingdom. However, Sertorius fared no better there than in Spain, and upon landing was attacked and driven back to sea by the Mauri.

According to Plutarch, Sertorius then returned to Spain and was again repulsed; Spann has argued that he attempted an attack on a coastal city.⁴⁵ Increasingly desperate, he then sailed to the Balearic Islands and allied with a contingent of Cilician pirates operating from there. Annius seems to have taken the initiative once more, assembling a naval force and 5,000 men and attacking Sertorius and the pirates. As Plutarch details, the battle was abandoned due to heavy seas and strong winds, which threw Sertorius’ lighter ships against the rocks. Sertorius apparently managed to escape with a few ships, but was driven out to sea by the heavy storms.⁴⁶ Abandoning Spain, he once again sought refuge in northern Africa.

Thus, by the middle of 81 BC, Spain had been recovered by the Sullan regime, which had comprehensively driven Sertorius from the province and forced him to seek refuge amongst the native kingdoms of northern Africa. One can’t help but comment on the rapid collapse of Sertorius’ grip on Spain. It seems that mutinies amongst his own men and the refusal of the natives to support him fatally undermined his defence of the Spanish provinces. With the fall of Spain, the Sullan regime had finally reunified Rome’s empire, after a decade of division.


Although no fighting took place in Egypt, it emerges on the periphery of the civil war. As detailed earlier (Chapter 5), Egypt had undergone its own civil war earlier in the decade, and the losing contender for the throne, Ptolemy XI Alexander, had ended up in Sulla’s entourage. It is perhaps for this reason that Orosius reports that Carbo and his supporters were making for Egypt, following the fall of Sicily (see above).⁴⁷ Egypt was the Mediterranean’s richest province and had a Pharaoh who would not be well disposed towards Sulla, who was harbouring his rival. In any event, the death of Carbo and his followers made the issue a moot point.⁴⁸ However, in 80 BC Sulla intervened directly and placed his man, Ptolemy XI Alexander, on the Egyptian throne. Unfortunately for him, Ptolemy promptly assassinated a rival claimant (Bernice) and was killed in a riot in Alexandria. Nevertheless, this incident shows that Sulla had designs on a closer control of Egypt and that Roman interference in that country was on the increase. Interestingly, it seems that Ptolemy XI Alexander willed his new kingdom to Rome, which brought the issue of Egyptian independence to the fore of post-civil-war Roman politics.⁴⁹ Nevertheless, Egypt retained her independence until becoming entangled in Rome’s Second Civil War.

Asia Minor – The Second Mithridatic War (83–81 BC)

Although an analysis of the Mithridatic Wars falls outside the scope of this work, some mention needs to be made of the Second Mithridatic War, between 83 and 81 BC, as it highlights a number of the factors that underpinned the civil war. Upon concluding the Treaty of Dardanus with Mithridates, Sulla had left Asia under the command of a legate, L. Licinius Murena, who commanded two legions, both of which were from the army of Fimbria, who had deserted to Sulla. During 83 BC, with Sulla engaged in war in Italy, Murena launched a pre-emptive invasion of Pontus, and stirred up the former Mithridatic general Archelaus, who had defected from Mithridates when suspected of collusion with the Romans. Hampered by the treaty he had agreed with Sulla, Mithridates appealed to both the Senate and Sulla to intervene, not taking up arms to prevent Murena’s plundering. During 82 BC, Murena broke off his invasion to return to allied territories with his spoils, where he was intercepted by a senatorial envoy who ordered him to desist.

However, Murena promptly ignored this order and once again invaded Pontus. This time, however, Mithridates resolved to defend himself. He intercepted Murena at an unnamed river and heavily defeated him (though as usual we have no numbers for the forces involved or the casualties). Murena was forced out of Pontus and Mithridates spent the rest of the year crushing the remaining Roman garrisons in the county. At some point early in 81 BC, Sulla directly ordered Murena to desist and restored peace with Mithridates. Murena was recalled to Rome where, extraordinarily, he was granted a triumph for his campaign.⁵⁰

This war highlights a number of key issues that still plagued Rome. A rogue general with two rogue legions (who had betrayed both of their previous commanders) made war on a Roman ally without orders and ignored commands to withdraw. Furthermore, when Murena did finally desist, following a heavy defeat, he returned to Rome and, rather than being disciplined, was awarded a triumph. Sulla’s failure to discipline Murena, combined with his reluctance to continue the war against Mithridates, showed the weakness of Sulla’s position. Whilst he could command the murders of unarmed men in Italy, he now had a second general at the head of an army openly defying him and again demanding to be awarded a triumph. In terms of foreign policy, Mithridates now had a fresh victory against a Roman army and had once again suffered no adverse consequences, further enhancing his reputation. It seems that Sulla was determined to focus on political reforms and restoring unity and peace to Rome’s empire, rather than foreign wars, which is itself an interesting reversal from the situation in 88 BC (see Appendix I).

On the face of it, Sullan forces had defeated the coalition forces throughout the western half of Rome’s empire and killed all the leading coalition generals. However, there were two exceptions. The first was L. Cornelius Scipio ‘Asiaticus’ (Cos. 83). Having failed in various military campaigns in Italy and in some form of insurrection in Rome itself, he fled to Massilia, where he remained in exile for the rest of his life. He seems to have been such a peripheral figure that the Sullan regime seemed perfectly happy to allow him to live out his days. The same could not be said of the other remaining coalition leader, Q. Sertorius.

4. The Civil War in Northwest Africa (81 BC)

Of all the coalition generals, it was only Q. Sertorius who survived the warfare of the years 83/82 BC still in command of a military force. Having been driven out of Spain by the Sullan commander C. Annius (see above), Sertorius and his forces, along with a force of Cilician pirates, took refuge in northern Africa, in the Mauri Kingdom (Mauretania), where they became involved in another local civil war that was raging there. Ironically, Sertorius and his men took up arms against King Ascalis, who had apparently been overthrown, whilst his Cilician allies fought on the king’s side, though we have no other details of the nature of this Maurian civil war. It soon becomes clear that, at least in Plutarch’s narrative, if Sertorius was not the leader of the rebellion upon arrival, he soon became its leader, through force of arms and military success.

Unnamed Battle

Plutarch reports that Sertorius and his forces took part in a battle against King Ascalis, and that Sertorius defeated the king, though we have no other details and no independent verification of Sertorius’ role.⁵¹ Following the battle, Sertorius then laid siege to the king in the city of Tingis (modern Tangiers).

Battle of Tingis

Given Sertorius’ high profile, what started as a Maurian civil war, soon transformed into a renewal of the Roman civil war, when a Roman commander named Paccianus was dispatched to defeat Sertorius. Plutarch states that he was dispatched by Sulla himself, but as Spann points out, it was more likely that he was sent by C. Annius in Spain to finish the job.⁵² Again, we have few details, but once Paccianus’ forces landed he moved to relieve Ascalis and gave battle to Sertorius. Once again, Roman fought Roman, this time on the very western tip of northern Africa. Sertorius was not only victorious over the forces of Paccianus, but is reported to have slain the general himself. Following the battle, Plutarch reports, the survivors of Paccianus’ army joined Sertorius.⁵³

Having defeated the Roman relief force, Sertorius then successfully stormed the city of Tingis, capturing King Ascalis and his brothers (though we are not informed as to their fate). Thus, by the end of 81 BC, Sertorius found himself in command of at least the city and its environs, if not the whole region of northwest Africa. Whilst on the one hand he now had a power base and additional men and resources, especially naval ones, there was the question of how long the Sullan regime would allow a coalition powerbase in northern Africa, since it would soon act as a rallying point for all the coalition survivors from the other defeats of the last two years. Again, by a process of elimination, Sertorius was now the leading figure of the coalition and the only one still fighting the Sullan regime.

5. The Renewal of Civil War in Spain (80 BC onwards)

The winter of 81/80 BC presented Sertorius with a fresh opportunity to renew the civil war in Spain. For the past decade, the ties between Spain and Rome had been loosened, not only through ongoing warfare and rebellions, but by the long period of the governorship of C. Valerius Flaccus and the only nominal acknowledgement of suzerainty to whoever happened to be in charge of Rome at the time. This would all have changed with the arrival of a fresh Sullan governor, in the form of C. Annius in 81 BC, and the expulsion of Sertorius. Roman governors would now have been eager to reassert Roman dominance over the region, which naturally would have provoked a native backlash. On this particular occasion, the Lusitanians (in modern Portugal), who had traditionally been uneasy under Roman rule, sent ambassadors to Sertorius in Tingis, offering him command of their proposed rebellion against Rome. It is not difficult to see why Sertorius eagerly accepted the offer to return to Spain. Sooner or later, Roman forces would come to dislodge him from Tingis and lay siege to the city, whereas a return to Spain offered him far larger forces than he could muster in Africa and the chance of a powerbase in the Spanish interior. Once again, a provincial rebellion and the Roman civil war became entangled.

Thus in the spring of 80 BC, Sertorius crossed from Africa to Spain and launched his insurrection. We must consider the various objectives here. For the Lusitanians and the other Spanish tribes that joined them, the clear objective was independence from Roman rule. Yet they turned to a Roman commander to achieve this, which at best would have only been an alliance of convenience. For Sertorius the aim must have been the continuation of the civil war and the conquest of Spain, to act as a powerbase for an invasion of Italy. The most interesting question centres on what would happen to Spain under a government led by Sertorius? Surely he would never have countenanced Spanish independence under his regime? All we can say is that whilst the battle to free Spain from Sullan Roman rule continued, all such thoughts must have been secondary. Both Plutarch and a fragment of Sallust record details of the crossing from northern Africa to Lusitania (see Map 12).

For with the 2,600 men whom he called Romans, and a motley band of 700 Libyans who crossed over into Lusitania with him, to whom he added 4,000 Lusitanian slingers and 700 horsemen, he waged war with four Roman generals, under whom were 120,000 infantry, 6,000 horsemen, 2,000 bowmen and slingers, and an untold number of cities, while he himself had at first only twenty all told.⁵⁴

Therefore Sertorius, leaving behind a small force in Mauretania, took advantage of a dark night and a favourable current; he tried to move secretly and quickly, in order to make an unopposed crossing.⁵⁵

It seems, however, that the crossing was not unopposed, and that the Sertorian fleet was intercepted off the coast of Spain, near the city of Mellaria.

Battle of Mellaria

The first battle that the Sertorian forces fought was a naval engagement, in the western straits of Gibraltar, off the city of Mellaria. The Sertorian naval forces must have been bolstered by the capture of the port of Tingis and the seizure of Maurian, and possibly Cilician, ships.⁵⁶ Here he was faced by the pro-praetor Aurelius Cotta.⁵⁷ Again, all we know is that the Sullan forces were defeated, allowing Sertorius to land his forces and join up with the Lusitanian tribes. Furthermore, this victory allowed him to control the Straits of Gibraltar, giving him a clear line of communication between his holdings in northern Africa and western Spain and control of the Atlantic coastline of Spain.

After landing in Lusitania, it appears that Sertorius quickly spearheaded the rebellion, not only of the Lusitanians, but also a number of neighbouring Spanish tribes. The few sources that mention the early campaigns – Plutarch, Orosius and the fragments of Sallust – compress the chronology of events, so that we only have the scantest of outlines.⁵⁸ It does appear, however, that only one further engagement of note took place this year, when Sertorius faced a Roman garrison commanded by the pro-praetor Fufidius.

Battle of River Baetis

It seems that Sertorius’ forces moved southwards from Lusitania into neighbouring Baetica and thus seized control of southern Spain. On the banks of the River Baetis (the modern Guadalquivir, see Map 12), the Sertorian forces confronted those of the pro-praetor Fufidius, governor of Farther Spain. A fragment of Sallust preserves some details:

When Fufidius arrived soon afterwards with his legions, he found that the banks were steep, the ford could not easily be crossed if they had to fight, and everything was more suitable to the enemy than to his men.⁵⁹

Thus it seems that Sertorius chose his ground well and manoeuvred Fufidius into a poor position. Plutarch records the outcome of the battle: ‘he routed [Fufidius] on the banks of Baetis with the slaughter of 2,000 Roman soldiers…’⁶⁰ Thus, thanks to his two victories, Sertorius controlled the southwest of Spain.

6. The Metellan Campaign (79 BC)

Any study of the civil war in Spain is marred not only by the poor narrative for many key events we have in our surviving sources, but also by the poor chronology we are confronted with. Konrad best sums the situation up thus: ‘In chronological terms, the Sertorian War is one of the most poorly documented episodes in the history of the late Republic. Whilst the general sequence of events is easily established and not seriously disputed, absolute dates are not recorded in the sources (with one exception), and hard to come by otherwise.’⁶¹

As noted above, the consuls of 80 BC were Sulla and his most trusted lieutenant and kinsman by marriage, Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius. For the following year, Sulla continued to hold his dictatorship and thus maintain control over Roman domestic affairs, and was awarded the province of Cisalpine Gaul, which allowed him to keep troops south of the Alps, in geographic Italy.⁶² Metellus was given command of the war against Sertorius as governor of the province of Farther Spain. Nearer Spain went to a subordinate, M. Domitius Calvinus. Brunt estimates that Metellus took three to four legions with him to Spain, whilst Domitius took another two.⁶³ Again, our surviving sources fail us here, as we only have the scantest of evidence for the campaigns of this year; a handful of sentences only. Two battles appear to have been fought, the first of which was between the proconsul of Nearer Spain, M. Domitius Calvinus, and the forces of Sertorius, led by his quaestor, L. Hirtuleius.

Battle of the River Anas

The clash took place on the River Anas (the modern Guadiana) though exactly where on this river we do not know. Frontinus refers to Hirtuleius besieging the town of Consabura on the River Anas, though there is no explicit connection to the battle fought with Domitius and the reference is undated.⁶⁴ It is possible that Domitius was coming to the relief of Consabura or attempting to retake the town if it fell. Though a number of sources mention the battle, scant details are provided. Spann argues that Domitius would have had his full two legions with him, but we do not know the size of Hirtuleius’ force.⁶⁵

Lucius [Marcus] Domitius, who was pro-consul of the other Spain was defeated at the hands of his [Sertorius’] quaestor [Hirtuleius].⁶⁶

Proconsul Lucius Manlius and Marcus Domitius [Calvinus], his deputy, were defeated in battle by quaestor Hirtuleius.⁶⁷

Hirtuleius, a general of Sertorius, overcame Domitius and his army.⁶⁸

Domitius was killed by Hirtuleius, Sertorius’ general.⁶⁹

Thus, all we know for certain is that Domitius was soundly defeated and killed in the battle. We can assume that as a result of the battle, Hirtuleius had a freer hand in reducing the other pro-Roman towns in the region and securing the Sertorian position in southern Spain.

Unnamed Battle

The second clash of the year occurred between Sertorius himself and one of Metellus’ legates, L. Thorius Balbus.⁷⁰ We know even less of this clash than the previous one, other than the outcome, a Sertorian victory accompanied by the destruction of Thorius’ army, with Thorius himself being killed. Even the location is disputed. Only Florus provides a location, Segovia, which was the location of a battle in 76 BC, and Florus seems to be confusing the two (see Chapter 8).⁷¹ Due to Florus uniting both battles in his brief narrative, many have assumed that this clash also took place on or near the River Anas, but there is no evidence for the battles’ location, other than Florus’ placement at Segovia.⁷² Konrad warns against the danger on ascribing this battle to the siege of Consabura.⁷³

The first engagements were fought by legates, Domitius and Thorius commencing operations on one side and the Hirtulei on the other. After the defeat of the latter at Segovia and the other at the River Ana …⁷⁴

Thorius, another of the commanders sent out by Metellus with an army, he [Sertorius] slew.⁷⁵

Given the scant details, we cannot reconstruct the circumstances behind the battle. The two pairs of armies (Sertorius and Hirtuleius, Domitius and Thorius) may have been working in concert or may have been separated by some time and merely combined in our brief sources. All we know is that, again, it resulted in a resounding victory for Sertorius, and that Thorius Balbus was killed. We can only assume that he was acting as the advance guard for Metellus, whose location at this time is unknown.


Thus the year 79 BC saw significant setbacks for the Sullan forces in Spain. Of the two proconsuls sent out to defeat Sertorius, Domitius Calvinus had been defeated and killed and a legate of Metellus, along with an unknown number of his army, had been defeated and killed also. As well as the military benefits, each victory was bound to increase the reputation of Sertorius himself and lend weight to the tribal rebellion he was spearheading. Thus in the year that Sulla abdicated his dictatorship and retired from public life, civil war was once again engulfing Rome’s empire.

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