‘Lists of proscribed people were posted not only in Rome, but in every city in Italy There was nowhere that remained free from the stain of bloodshed - no god’s temple, no guest-friend’s hearth, no family home. Husbands were butchered in the arms of their wives, sons in the arms of their mothers. Only a tiny proportion of the dead were killed because they had angered or made an enemy of someone; far more were killed for their property, and even the executioners tended to say that this man was killed by his large house, this one by his garden, that one by his warm springs.’ - Plutarch, early second century AD.1

Caesar’s father died suddenly, collapsing one morning while in the act of putting on his shoes. His son was nearly sixteen, but had probably already formally become a man, laying aside the purple-bordered toga praetexta - worn only by boys and magistrates - and replacing this with the plain toga virilis of an adult. As part of this ceremony the boy also removed the bulla charm from around his neck and laid it aside forever. For the first time in his life he was shaved, and his hair was cut in the short style appropriate for an adult citizen, rather than the somewhat longer fashion acceptable for a boy. There was no fixed age for this ceremony, and like so many other aspects of Roman education it was left to each family to decide. Usually it occurred between the ages of fourteen and sixteen, although cases are known of individuals as young as twelve and as old as eighteen. Equally often the ceremony took place at the Liberalia festival, which occurred on 17 March, though again there was no legal obligation to hold it on this day. Apart from ceremonies within the household, an aristocratic child would be paraded through the heart of the city by his father and his father’s friends, symbolising the son’s admission as an adult into the wider community of the Republic. After passing through the Forum, the group would ascend the Capitoline Hill to perform a sacrifice in the Temple of Jupiter, making an offering to Iuventus, the deity of youth.2

After his father’s death Caesar was not simply an adult, but also the paterfamilias or head of the household. There were few close male relatives to guide his future career, but the young man from the beginning displayed considerable self-confidence. Within a year he broke off the betrothal arranged for him at some earlier date by his parents. This was to a certain Cossutia, whose father was an equestrian not a senator. Her family was very wealthy, and would doubtless have provided a large dowry, but although this money would have been very useful for launching a political career the alliance offered few other advantages. It is possible that the couple were actually married, rather than simply betrothed, for the word used by Suetonius often means an actual divorce, while Plutarch clearly counted Cossutia as one of Caesar’s wives. Their age makes this a little unlikely, but certainly not impossible. Whatever the precise nature of the union, it was broken. Instead Caesar wed Cornelia, the daughter of Cinna, a fellow patrician, consul for four consecutive years from 87-84 BC, and the most powerful man in Rome.3

It is not clear precisely why Cinna chose to honour Caesar in this way. Clearly the execution of two Julii Caesares did not count against him, which in itself illustrates just how separate the two branches of the family were. Marius was the boy’s uncle, which doubtless brought favour, but the importance of this link had diminished to some extent with Marius’ death early in 86 BC. In the last weeks of his life it is true that he and Cinna had nominated the boy for the post of Flamen Dialis, one of Rome’s most prestigious priesthoods. The previous incumbent, Lucius Cornelius Merula, had been made suffect (acting) consul in 87 BC by Octavius to replace the dismissed Cinna. When the Marian and Cinnan forces captured Rome, Merula had anticipated execution by committing suicide. The flamen had to be a patrician married to a patrician by an ancient, rarely used form of the wedding ceremony known as confarreatio. Caesar was too young to take up the post in 86 BC and the arrangement of the marriage to the patrician Cornelia in 84 BC was in part to prepare him for his priesthood. Yet it is hard to believe that Cinna’s daughter was the only available patrician girl to be married to the flamen designate, or that the desire to ensure that Caesar was qualified for the priesthood overruled the normal priorities of a senator looking for a son-in-law. Indeed the youth was in fact not really eligible for the priesthood at all, because a flamen was supposed to be the son of patrician parents married according to the ritual of confarreatio and Aurelia was plebian. Cinna must have had a high opinion of the young Caesar.

If so, then the decision to make him Flamen Dialis seems more than a little peculiar. The flaminate was one of Rome’s most ancient religious orders. There were fifteen of these priests all told, each dedicated to the worship of a particular deity, but three were of far greater importance and prestige than the rest. These were the priests of Quirinus (Flamen Quirinalis), Mars (Flamen Martialis), and Jupiter (Flamen Dialis). Jupiter was Rome’s most important god, and his flamen was correspondingly the most senior. The great antiquity of the flaminate was attested by the host of strange taboos binding him, for the flamen and his wife were considered to be permanently engaged in the propitiation of the god, and so could not risk any form of ritual pollution. Amongst many other things, the Flamen Dialis was not allowed to take an oath, to pass more than three nights away from the city, or to see a corpse, an army on campaign or anyone working on a festival day. In addition he could not ride a horse, have a knot anywhere within his house or even in his clothing, and could not be presented with a table without food since he was never to appear to be in want. Furthermore, he could only be shaved or have his hair cut by a slave using a bronze knife - surely another indication of antiquity - and the cut hair, along with other things such as nail clippings, had to be buried in a secret place. The flamen wore a special hat called the apex, which appears to have been made from fur, had a point on top and flaps over the ears. These restrictions made a normal senatorial career impossible.4

The prestige of the Flamen Dialis was very great, and in the last century holders of this priesthood had asserted their right to sit in the Senate and hold magistracies that did not require them to leave Rome. This required them to be exempted from the oath normally taken by any magistrate at the beginning of his term of office. The restrictions preventing the flamen from holding military command could not be bypassed so easily. Merula’s consulship was unlikely to have occurred without the peculiar circumstances of Cinna’s deposition in 87 BC. He claimed later that he had not wanted to stand, but was presumably voted into office by the Comitia Centuriata in the normal way. The taboos imposed by his priesthood ensured that he could not play a very active part in events, and it may be that this was why Octavius had wanted him as a colleague. When Cinna and Marius seized Rome, Merula had voluntarily laid down his consulship but swiftly realised that this would not be enough to save his life. He went to the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill and there removed the apex hat, formally laying down his office, before cutting his wrists with a knife. He died roundly cursing Cinna and his supporters, but was careful to leave a note explaining that he had been careful to avoid polluting his priesthood.5

Caesar and Cornelia were married by the peculiar confarreatio ceremony The name came from that of emmer wheat - far in Latin - which was used to make a loaf for a sacrificial offering to Jupiter Farreus. This was carried ahead of the bride, and may well have been eaten by the couple as part of the ritual. Ten witnesses needed to be present and the ceremony was supposed to be conducted by two of Rome’s most senior priests, the Pontifex Maximus and the Flamen Dialis. Since the latter post remained vacant after Merula’s death this part of the ritual cannot have been fulfilled. Given that Caesar was marked out for this post and therefore that his wife would become the flaminica, their wedding was also marked by the sacrifice of a sheep. Afterwards, their heads veiled, the couple sat on seats covered in sheepskin.6

The selection of Caesar for the vacant priesthood was a considerable honour, which would make him an important figure in the Republic and a member of the Senate at a very young age. Yet this prominence came at the price of severely limiting opportunities for his future career. At best Caesar might hope to reach the praetorship like his father, but he could not have left Rome to govern a province and certainly would have had no opportunity for military glory Given the family’s fairly modest achievements in the past, a career of this sort may have been considered ample reward for the boy, for certainly no one would have guessed at his eventual achievements. However, there is no evidence that it was felt that lack of talent or poor health would anyway have prevented the lad from doing well in the normal way - Caesar had not yet begun to suffer from the epileptic fits to which he would be prone in later life. The marriage with Cornelia also suggests that the boy was not seen as wholly lacking in merit. Cinna and Marius clearly agreed on the appointment in the first place, and the former maintained the decision after his ally’s death, but in the end we cannot know their reasons, or indeed the attitude of the young Caesar towards it. Whatever their thinking, there does not seem to have been any great urgency about the whole business, and although one of our sources claims that he was actually invested with the flaminate, it is most probable that the other authors were right to say that this did not actually occur. At first his youth may have been an obstacle. More importantly Cinna himself could not make the actual appointment, which had to be done in accordance with a strict procedure by another of Rome’s senior priests, the Pontifex Maximus. At the time this was Quintus Mucius Scaevola, who was not a friend of the new regime, having already survived a murder attempt by one of Cinna’s henchmen. An ex-consul and a famous jurist - the Pontifex Maximus was not bound by such oppressive rules as the flamen and so could follow an active public career - Scaevola may have objected to Caesar on technical grounds, given Aurelia’s plebian status, or perhaps simply refused to bow to pressure from Cinna. Ultimately this was a very minor issue and Cinna’s preoccupation with other, far more important matters ensured that it was left unresolved.7


The years when Cinna and his supporters dominated Rome are not recorded in any detail by our sources. Yet it is probably not merely this lack of information that suggests he made no attempt at major reforms. Although he had appealed to the newly enfranchised Italians and to other discontented groups before his victory, Cinna made little attempt to satisfy their demands afterwards. Rome’s first period of civil war - and indeed the latter conflicts - had little to do with conflicting ideology or policies, but were violent extensions of the traditional competition between individuals. Cinna had no revolutionary ambitions to reform the Republic, but craved personal power and influence within the existing system. Therefore, once he had won these things through the use of force, his chief priority was to retain them. Already consul for 86 BC, Cinna made sure than he was elected to the office for 85 and 84 - quite probably only his name and that of a chosen colleague were allowed to be put forward as candidates. As consul he held imperium and so had a legal right to command the armies that he would need to protect himself from Sulla or any other rival. As a magistrate he was exempt from prosecution, for it seems that there was some activity in the courts at Rome, although a few prominent advocates appear to have chosen to cease appearing. Cinna and Marius had killed some senators and caused others to flee abroad, but the majority of the Senate remained in Rome and continued to meet. Many senators were not strong supporters of Cinna and his associates, but equally had no particular love for Sulla. The Senate’s debates appear to have been comparatively free and at times it voted for measures that were not particularly pleasing to Cinna, for instance, when it began negotiations with Sulla. Yet it could not restrain him or prevent his consecutive consulships, for in the end he controlled an army and the Senate did not. In Cinna’s Rome the Senate convened, the courts functioned and elections were held, creating at least a veneer of normality. There was a remarkable elasticity in the main institutions of the Republic, which tended to continue running in some form under almost any circumstances, interrupted only temporarily by riot and bloodshed. Senators’ lives revolved around the doing of favours to win support, gaining influence and seeking office. Whatever the circumstances, they naturally continued to try and do these things as far as was possible.8

Cinna’s position was incompatible with a properly functioning Republic, for in the end his position rested on his army and he showed no signs of giving this up, while his repeated consulships denied others the chance at high office and also limited the number of magistrates available to govern the provinces. Yet Cinna could not feel secure while Sulla remained at large and in command of his legions. Marius had been allocated the war against Mithridates as his province in 86 BC, but had died before he had even set out. His replacement as consul, Lucius Valerius Flaccus, also inherited his province and did at last go to the east with an army. It was soon evident that Sulla was not about to allow himself to be replaced, but Flaccus may well have attempted to negotiate with him with a view to their joining forces against Mithridates. However, Flaccus was promptly murdered by his own quaestor, Caius Flavius Fimbria, who took over the army and tried to defeat Pontus on his own. Showing less talent for warfare than he had for treachery and murder, Fimbria eventually committed suicide after his soldiers had mutinied. Over the next few years, the Senate made a few approaches to Sulla, hoping to reconcile him with Cinna and avoid further civil war, but neither of the leaders showed much enthusiasm for this. Sulla maintained that he was a properly elected magistrate, sent as proconsul by the Senate to wage war against an enemy of the Republic, and must be acknowledged as such and left to complete his task. By 85 BC as it became clear that the war with Mithridates was drawing to a close, Cinna and his associates threw themselves into raising troops and massing supplies for what they saw as the inevitable clash with Sulla.9

Lucius Cornelius Sulla was a man of striking appearance, with exceptionally fair skin, piercing grey eyes and reddish hair. In later life his appearance was marred by a skin condition that speckled his face with red patches. (An obscure piece of military law from several centuries later also claims that he had only one testicle, and that his achievements make it clear that such a defect was no bar to becoming a successful soldier.) Sulla could be very charming, winning over soldier and senator alike, but many aristocrats remained deeply uncertain of him. In spite of his late entry into public life he had been reasonably successful, and demonstrated his military skill on repeated occasions. His consulship came when he was fifty, which was unusually old for a first term, and in the preceding decade it had taken two attempts for him to win the praetorship. Many senators probably found it hard to forget the poverty of his youth and the decay of his family. It is common for those who flourish under any system to feel that the failure of others is deserved. Sulla had been poor and revelled in the company of actors and musicians, professions considered extremely disreputable. Such behaviour was bad enough in his youth, and far worse for a senator and magistrate, but Sulla remained loyal to his old friends throughout his life. He was a heavy drinker, enjoyed feasting and was widely believed to be very active sexually, taking both men and women as lovers. For much of his life he publicly associated with the actor Metrobius, who specialised in playing female roles on stage, and the pair were believed to be having an affair. The inner elite of the Senate were fairly grudging in their acceptance of Sulla’s political success, although at times evidently preferring him to some of the other alternatives. This in itself may not have mattered to him, but he was unshakeable in his determination to have his success publicly acknowledged and not be robbed of his achievements. In 88 BC he marched on Rome claiming that he was the legitimate representative of the Republic and that he needed to free Rome from the unlawful domination of a faction. Afterwards he always presented himself as a proconsul of Rome, denying the validity of Marius’ and cinna’s declaration proclaiming him an enemy of the State. Sulla was a man whose self-proclaimed epitaph would be that he had never failed to do good to a friend or harm to an enemy.10

As far as Sulla was concerned his imperium and command were legitimate, and his opponents had acted illegally and as enemies of the Republic. Therefore it was both his right and duty to suppress them by any means necessary It was also important for him to protect his own dignitas, for his achievements deserved respect for himself and his family The Romans openly stressed the great part played by luck in all human activities, especially warfare, and - anticipating Napoleon - believed that being lucky was one of the most important virtues of a general. commanders were not supposed to rely on blind chance, and were to make every preparation possible to ensure success, but in the chaos of war the best plans could fall apart and victory or defeat depend on chance. Sulla paraded his good fortune throughout his career. Being fortunate implied divine favour, in his case the support of Venus and, on occasions, Apollo and others. Sulla claimed that he had had prophetic dreams before many of the great events in his life, in which a god or goddess urged him to take the action he planned and promised him success. Marius had similarly been inspired by oracles foretelling his great future, most famously that he would hold seven consulships. Both men were ruthlessly ambitious, but the belief that their success was divinely ordained and therefore right, further boosted their already considerable selfconfidence. Nor should modern cynicism blind us to the fact that such claims of divine favour often made highly effective propaganda.11

Sulla had used force once already to defend his position. The brutality of Cinna’s own capture of the city cannot have led him to anticipate any milder behaviour from his enemy. In 85 BC Sulla signed the Peace of Dardanus concluding the war with Mithridates. It was not a complete victory by Roman standards, for the King of Pontus remained independent and still possessed considerable power, but he had been expelled from Roman territory and his armies humiliatingly defeated in battle. Sulla was not able to return to Italy immediately, for there was much administrative work to be done to settle the eastern provinces. In 84 BC Cinna had decided to fight his rival in Greece rather than Italy, but there were severe delays when the weather in the Adriatic turned bad and one convoy of soldiers was blown back to Italy Soon afterwards the soldiers mutinied - probably through a reluctance to fight other Romans, although our sources are contradictory on this point - and Cinna was killed by his own men. The leadership of his supporters was taken over by Cnaeus Papirius Carbo, who was his fellow consul in this and the preceding year. In 82 BC he would hold a third term as consul with Marius’ son as his colleague, in spite of the fact that the latter was too young for the post. A growing number of senators had already either decided that Italy was no longer safe for them, or perhaps guessed which way the wind was blowing, and had fled to join Sulla in the east. More would rally to his cause when he finally landed at Brundisium (modern Brindisi) in southern Italy in the autumn of 83 BC.12

The odds against Sulla were huge, but his opponents consistently failed to make the most of their numbers, and army after army was defeated, or on one occasion persuaded to defect en masse. Few of the leaders opposing him displayed much military talent. After a lull during the winter months the campaign resumed and Sulla was able to take Rome in 82 BC. A sudden enemy counter-offensive led to a desperate battle outside the Colline Gate. During the fighting Sulla himself narrowly escaped being killed and one wing of his army collapsed, but in the end the remainder of his troops carried on to win a victory. As their fortunes failed the enemy leaders became more vindictive. The Younger Marius ordered the execution of Scaevola, the Pontifex Maximus, an action that his mother Julia is supposed to have condemned. Marius himself was besieged in Praeneste and either killed or committed suicide when the city surrendered. When his head was taken to Sulla the victor commented that such a stripling ought to have ‘learned to pull an oar before he tried to steer the ship’. Carbo escaped to Sicily to continue the resistance, but was defeated and executed by one of Sulla’s subordinates.13

Just as the Marian capture of Rome had greatly surpassed Sulla’s march on the City in the scale of massacre and execution it brought, now both were eclipsed by the savagery of Sulla’s return. Addressing the Senate in the Temple of Bellona on the outskirts of Rome, the victor’s speech was accompanied by the screams of thousands of captured soldiers - mostly Italians who were treated more harshly than Romans - being executed a short distance away. It was not simply the rank and file of the enemy who suffered. Most prominent leaders were executed as soon as they were taken or anticipated this outcome by taking their own lives. Many more senators and equestrians seen to be hostile to Sulla were killed by his men in the aftermath of victory.14

At first the executions occurred without warning, but complaints from a nervous Senate wishing to know just who was going to suffer led to the process becoming more formal. Sulla ordered that the proscriptions - lists of names of men who thereby lost all protection of law - be posted up in the Forum, and copies were subsequently sent to other parts of Italy. Those proscribed could be killed by anyone and a reward claimed on presentation of their severed heads to Sulla, who had them displayed on and around the Rostra. Usually the victim’s property was confiscated and auctioned off, much of it being purchased at a knock-down price by Sulla’s associates. The victims were principally either senators or equestrians. Several lists were posted and, though we have no precise figure, the total amounted to some hundreds. Most had opposed Sulla, but other names were added simply because of a man’s wealth. One equestrian who had taken little interest in public life is supposed to have seen his name on one of the lists and declared that his Alban estate wanted to see him dead. He was soon killed.15 Many private hatreds were exercised, and there were more than a few cases of names being added to the lists after the man had been killed in order to legitimise murder. Sulla does not appear to have supervised the process too closely, but he did form a bodyguard of the freed slaves of many of the proscribed and these were widely accused of abusing their new-found power. The proscriptions formally ended on 1 June 81 BC, but their horror lived on and scarred the Romans’ collective consciousness for the rest of the century.16

Sulla’s power came directly from his control of an army that had defeated all his rivals, but the man who had done so much to defend his legitimacy as proconsul soon gave himself a more formal position to justify his domination of the State. At times of severe crisis the Republic had occasionally set aside its fear of the rule of one man and had appointed a dictator, a single magistrate with supreme imperium. It had always been a temporary post, laid down after six months, but Sulla discarded these restrictions and set no time limit to his office. He was named dictator legibus faciendis et rei publicae constituendae (dictator to make laws and reconstitute the State) by a vote in the Popular Assembly. His office was unprecedented, as was the violence he used to crush any opposition. On one occasion he casually ordered the execution of his own senior officer in the Forum because the man persisted in standing for the consulship in defiance of the dictator’s orders.17


Caesar was about eighteen when Sulla’s army took Rome for the second time. He had not taken any part in the civil war. His father-in-law Cinna was dead and there is no evidence to suggest a particularly close relationship with the Younger Marius. More importantly he was probably already expected to follow the rules laid down for the Flamen Dialis even if he had not yet formally been invested with the priesthood. The same restrictions that prevented him from going to war should have meant that he was in Rome when the city was taken and the great battle fought outside the Colline Gate, and that he witnessed the bloodbath of the proscriptions. The flamen was not supposed to see a corpse, but it must have been difficult to have avoided doing so at this time. Whether he saw them or not, the youth must have been aware of the heads of so many prominent Romans being displayed in the city’s heart. At one point it seemed as if his own would shortly join them.

Caesar himself was neither important enough nor sufficiently wealthy to warrant his inclusion in the proscriptions. However, he was married to Cinna’s daughter Cornelia and such a connection was not one to win favour with the new regime. Sulla instructed the youth to divorce his wife. He had given similar orders to other men, at times arranging a more favourable match for them, often involving some of his own female relations. The most famous case was of Cnaeus Pompey, the son of Pompeius Strabo and one of Sulla’s most effective commanders, who was told to divorce his wife and instead marry the dictator’s stepdaughter. The latter was both already married and heavily pregnant, but this did not prevent a rapid divorce and equally speedy union with Pompey. We know of at least one other man who put aside his wife on the instructions of Sulla. Caesar was the only man to refuse, and to persist in that refusal in spite of threats and offers of favours, quite possibly including a marriage link to the dictator’s family Given recent events this was remarkable boldness, most of all for a youth who could easily be removed and anyway had connections with the opposition. Why he did this is unknown. The marriage to Cornelia does appear to have been a happy one, but it may just as easily have been innate stubbornness or pride.

Sulla’s threats became stronger. Cornelia’s dowry was confiscated and added to the Republic’s Treasury as punishment. At some point the flaminate was also taken from Caesar. This may have happened anyway given that it had been bestowed by Marius and Cinna, but our sources tend to associate this with the dispute over Cornelia. Alternatively someone may have been scrupulous enough to point out that Caesar was not technically eligible in the first place. Rome had survived without a Flamen Dialis since 87 BC, and there was evidently no urgency to appoint a replacement, for the post would in fact remain vacant until 12 BC. There seems to have been little enthusiasm amongst the aristocracy for such a restrictive honour. Plutarch tells us that Caesar also tried to stand for election to an unspecified priesthood, but was secretly opposed by Sulla and so failed in the attempt. This may simply be a confused version of the story of the flaminate, although this was not bestowed by election, or an invention intended to emphasise the confidence displayed by the young Caesar in the face of the mighty dictator.18 Whatever the extent of his public opposition to Sulla, this was a dangerous path and soon led to orders being issued for his arrest, which was usually a prelude to execution. It is unclear whether Sulla himself gave these instructions, and it may actually be that the initiative was taken by some of his subordinates. If so, then the dictator soon seems to have learned of it and did not at first do anything to restrain his men.19

Caesar fled from Rome and sought sanctuary in Sabine territory to the north-east. The dictator’s forces were active throughout Italy - he would soon give orders for the demobilisation and settlement of some 120,000 veterans, which gives an indication of the sheer size of his army. Caesar could not hope simply to vanish, blending into one of the small communities. He had to move virtually every night to avoid patrols, and there was always the risk of betrayal since it is probable that the rewards given to those who brought in fugitives during the proscriptions were still in force. The young aristocrat who in recent years had probably had to follow the strictly regulated routine of the flaminate now had to live rough. He may have had some slaves with him, perhaps even some friends, but such a lifestyle was at marked contrast to his earlier years. To make matters worse he contracted malaria. While suffering from an attack, he had to move by night from one shelter to the next safe house when he was intercepted and taken by a group of Sullan soldiers. These men, under the command of a certain Cornelius Phagites who may have been a centurion, were sweeping the area for the dictator’s enemies, and according to Suetonius had been hounding him for days. Caesar offered them money to let him go, eventually buying his freedom for 12,000 silver denarii - almost one hundred years’ pay for an ordinary soldier, although centurions received considerably more.20

In the end Caesar was saved by his mother. Aurelia persuaded the Vestal Virgins, along with some of her relations - most notably her cousin Caius Aurelius Cotta as well as Mamercus Aemilius Lepidus - to plead with the dictator for her son’s life. Cotta and Lepidus had both sided with Sulla in the civil war and would each win the consulship in the next few years. The lobbying of such influential men, combined with Caesar’s lack of real importance, won a pardon. Not only was Caesar’s life spared, but he was permitted to begin his public career. This was a considerable concession, since the sons and grandsons of the proscribed were barred from holding any office or entering the Senate. Legend maintained that when Sulla finally relented, he declared that ‘they could have their way and take him, but they ought to realise that the one they so desire to save will one day destroy the party of the best men (optimates), which I and they have both defended; for in this Caesar there are many Mariuses.’ This may be no more than a later myth, but it is certainly not impossible that the dictator recognised the massive ambition - and perhaps also the talent - of the cocksure youngster who had stood up to him.21

Sulla laid down his dictatorship at the end of 80 or beginning of 79 BC. He had enlarged the Senate, adding 300 new members from the equestrian order, and done much to restore its prominent guiding role in the Republic. The tribunate, which Sulpicius had used to give his eastern command to Marius, was crippled, no longer able to propose legislation to the Assembly. Even more importantly a tribune was barred from holding any further magistracies, effectively ensuring that only the unambitious would now seek it. Legislation confirmed the traditional age limits on office-holding, and expressly forbade consecutive terms in the same post, while the activities of governors in their provinces were regulated. Sulla, who had always claimed to be a properly appointed servant of the Republic, had used his supreme power to re-establish a very conservative vision of the Republic. Even more importantly he had filled the Senate with his own men. If the system was to work, then it would depend on those men playing their part and acting within the traditional boundaries that Sulla’s laws had sought to restore. The system did not require a dictator to oversee it and so Sulla retired. For a while he walked through the streets of Rome just like any other senator, accompanied by his friends, but unprotected by bodyguards. It was a sign of the respect and fear felt for him that he did this without being molested in any way However, one story claims that he was followed about by a youth who continually shouted abuse, so that Sulla declared that this young fool would prevent any future dictator from giving up power. This may well be another invention. Much later Caesar said that ‘Sulla was a political illiterate when he resigned from the dictatorship’.22

Soon afterwards Sulla retired to a rural estate. He had recently remarried, his wife having died from the after-effects of giving birth to twins. Sulla was a member of the priesthood of augurs and had scrupulously followed the rules of the order by divorcing his dying wife because his house could not be polluted by death at a time of festival. He refused even to see her during this period but, in another display of both stern adherence to duty and personal affection, gave her a lavish funeral. Later he encountered a young divorcee at the games. What began as a flirtation initiated by the woman, soon proceeded in a proper aristocratic way as the intrigued Sulla made discreet enquiries about her family and then arranged the marriage. After his retirement there were many rumours of wild parties as Sulla lived in the country with his wife and many of the theatrical friends he had kept since his youth. He died suddenly at the beginning of 78 BC.23

Rome had had her first taste of civil war and dictatorship. The young Caesar - and it is important to remember that all these events occurred while he was in his teens - had seen the personal rivalries of leading senators spill over into savage bloodshed. Consuls and other distinguished men had been executed or forced into suicide, showing that even the most prominent men in the Republic could have their careers violently and suddenly terminated. Caesar himself had narrowly avoided death. He had also stood up to the overwhelming power of the dictator, refusing to back down, and he had survived the experience. Senators’ sons were raised to have a very high opinion of themselves and Caesar was no exception to this. The experience of the last few years can only have reinforced this sense of his own unique worth. He had resisted tyranny when everyone else was cowed into submission. Perhaps the rules that bound others did not apply to him?

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