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Sulla Notes

Classics Notes > Roman History; the Roman Republic from 146 BC to 46 BC Notes

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Evaluate Sulla's reforms. Was he just trying to 'turn the clock back'?
In the light of tribunician agitation of the 70's BC, how realistic and successful were his aims?
In 82 BC the lex Valeria was passed which secured approval for all Sulla's previous acts of violence. In the same year he was granted the dictatorship by the senate, which meant that he had absolute control in the Roman state. He used this power to enact reforms with several key aims: firstly to firmly entrench the traditional de facto power and influence of the senate in the laws, next to remove the tribune's power, which he saw as demagogic and the root of the recent troubles and finally to curb the irresponsible power of the equites. To a certain extent it could be said he was turning back the clock, but it seems more likely that he wanted to go far beyond the precedence, certainly as Polybius sets out the Roman constitution, and that he had a preference for a purely oligarchic constitution, rather than the old mixed one which was preferred by the Scipionic circle. Sulla saw himself as a re-founder of Rome, an image which Augustus would also later use, and to this end he set about restoring what he saw as the most fitting and stable form of government, rule by the senate. He gave them great power on a scale which they had not previously enjoyed; the senate was now the supreme legislative, judicial and executive body. He began by increasing the size of the senate from 300 to 600 members, using the newly enfranchised Italian aristocracy and the best members of the equestrian class to make up the numbers. (This act was not in conflict with his general aim of reducing equestrian power because once entered into the senatorial roles they shared the same responsibilities and interests of their counterparts. Furthermore this also ensured that the equestrian class was politically leaderless and impotent.) He also increased the annual number of quaestors from eight to twenty so that these numbers could be maintained as well as taking away the censor's power to control who entered the senate since all junior magistrates automatically became members at the end of their term of office. Appian details how Sulla's reforms sought to ensure the dominance of the senate: "no proposal might be put to the people without previous consideration by the senate, an ancient practice which had long been abandoned; and that the voting should not be by tribes but by centuries...They reckoned that by these measures no law would be put to the masses before the senate had approved it and that with the voting dominated by the better-off and sensible citizens instead of by the poor and desperate there would be no springboard for revolution." He goes on to say that Sulla also curbed the powers of the tribunes because they had become very tyrannical; he did this by removing their right to introduce legislation and by forbidding any man who held the tribunate from holding further public office. The aim of this was to cripple the office, which since the time of the Gracchans had become increasingly influential, but also to encourage talented, ambitious men to shun it and thus preventing any future restoration of its power. Caesar, the epitome of Livy and Appian all make reference to this crucial, and later most controversial, aspect of Sulla's dictatorship; so too do Velleius Paterculus, "Sulla had

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