Lucius Cornelius Sulla was a Roman military leader and statesman from the late-republic period of ancient Rome. While many of his reforms instituted as consul and dictator helped keep the republic together in the short-term, they also contributed to its downfall a few decades later. He is remembered for his political reforms, his feud with colleague Gaius Marius, his cruelty toward his rivals, the genocide of the Samnite tribe, and his staunch traditionalism. In the show, Sulla is mentioned repeatedly in the show by Lucius Caelius, who hates Sulla for murdering his family and seizing his lands during Sulla's proscriptions, in which history tells Marcus Licinius Crassus had a major role. All of the main antagonists in Spartacus: War of the Damned had very close ties to Sulla in history.
Lucius Cornelius Sulla was a key member of the Optimates party of Rome, which favored traditionalism and elitism as a means of governing. Their rival party was the Populares, a comparatively more open-minded group who supported opening up the Roman ranks to the lower classes and adopting socially-beneficial policies rather than policies that favored the wealthy. Gaius Marius, a leading member of the Populares, was Sulla's most hated enemy. Sulla and the Optimates believed that the Populares and their platform were antithetical to Roman identity, and that their relative progressiveness and openness to a primitive egalitarianism would destroy the republic.Sulla and Marius fought bureaucratically, through street gangs, and eventually in open warfare for control of the senate. It was the last of their conflicts that saw Sulla march on Rome and seize control of the republic under the title of dictator.
Following his appointment to the dictatorship, Sulla proceeded to have his rivals and critics killed and their lands seized as part of his proscriptions. He also proscribed anyone with a relationship to Marius, including Julius Caesar, who was the son-in-law of Marius's partner Lucius Cornelius Cinna. Though the main core of Sulla's rivals and critics were either dead or in hiding as exiles after the proscriptions began, the violence continued for several months. Several accounts say that Sulla's supporters, such as Marcus Licinius Crassus and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey), used the proscriptions to enrich themselves and advance their careers. Marcus Crassus in particular is believed to have had many individuals arbitrarily proscribed, not because they were disloyal to their dictator, but because they owned valuable real estate in Rome, fertile agricultural lands villas, and large numbers of slaves which Crassus desired.
As part of the proscriptions, Sulla also ordered the extermination of the Samnite tribe of central and southern Italy. The Samnites had fought several wars against Rome and were considered enemies of the republic. To deride them, the Samnite fighting style was copied and used as a gladiator fighting style, as were those of the Gauls, Thracians, Greeks, and other enemy groups throughout history. It was one of the earliest and most popular types of gladiators until the tribe began to be assimilated, first during the Social War and then following the Samnite genocide ordered by Sulla. Sulla is said to have long hated the Samnites, probably owing to his time fighting both alongside and against them in various wars. The hatred between the Sulla and the Samnites was largely mutual, and the Samnite tribes officially allied with the forces of Gaius Marius, partly due to their ugly history with Sulla. Their alliance with Gaius Marius was the last straw for Sulla, and most Samnites were murdered on Sulla's orders in particularly brutal purges of their villages. The Samnite territory and government of Samnium ceased to exist as nearly all Samnite lands were then seized by Sulla's forces and absorbed into the territory of Rome. The few survivors were split up and distributed throughout the republic, which forced them to become assimilated into Roman culture until they died out as a group.
In the Show
Sulla's reign ended about six years before the beginning of the Third Servile War, and he died about a year after his retirement. While he was not in office when the rebellion occurred, his actions had greatly reshaped Rome and set the stage for the war. Spartacus: Blood and Sand begins four to five years after the end of Sulla's reign, while Spartacus: Gods of the Arena begins late in his reign or very soon after his retirement. Although Sulla does not make an appearance in the show, he is mentioned by an important fictional character during Spartacus: Vengeance, and played an integral role in the lives and careers of the main historical antagonists in Spartacus: War of the Damned. He is also related to several other wars, conflicts, and individuals who are mentioned in the show, or are otherwise relevant. Many of the overarching historical events and themes of the show occurred within the context of Sulla's notorious reign.
Lucius is a fictional character with an important connection to Sulla. Though Lucius himself did not exist in history, he represents the real-life group of people who were targeted by Sulla and his allies. Lucius had been a Roman nobleman with a villa and prosperous agricultural lands. He had a wife, several children, and many business interests that kept them all happy and well provided for. His siblings and extended family lived similar lives. Lucius tells Spartacus and Agron when they find him at the temple at Vesuvius that Rome had betrayed him. Sulla’s troops had seized his lands and those of his relatives, killing his entire family and giving away their lands to his most loyal men. Historically, this would have been part of the proscriptions of Sulla. Sulla's giving of proscribed lands to loyal supporters during was known to occur, and was a major factor in Marcus Crassus's acquisition of wealth. Lucius went into hiding in the immediate aftermath of the proscriptions, now totally alone in the world and without any resources to support himself. Fiercely embittered to Rome for what he sees as the murder of his loved ones and the ruining of his life, he retreats from society and takes up shelter in the abandoned Greek temple, hunting in the surrounding forests to provide for himself and trading at Neapolis for wine and other goods he could not hunt or forage.
Still hateful of Rome even several years after his family’s deaths, Lucius is overjoyed to meet Spartacus and learn he is alive. He offers the rebels his temple as a base, and provides them with vital information on current affairs, the surrounding area, and logistical information to support their movement. He becomes an extremely valuable and cherished ally, who enjoys killing Romans, hurting their interests, and spiting powerful Roman officials like Glaber. His only moment of disagreement with the rebels is when the heavily pregnant Ilithyia is captured and treated harshly. For a moment it seems that he is manipulated by Ilithyia into helping her escape in exchange for the restoration of his lands, but upon encountering Glaber, it is clear that it was all a ruse for Lucius to be able to set up the ransom and exchange in Atella. His loyalty to the rebels never wavers, and he becomes a beloved ally, friend, and mentor to many of them, particularly to Mira. Lucius helps coordinate and participates in many of the rebels’ operations, including the taking of the slaver ship in Neapolis and the rendezvous with Glaber to ransom Ilithyia. When the latter operation falls apart, Lucius covers Spartacus and Mira’s retreat by continuously shooting the Egyptian with bow and arrows. Despite hitting the Egyptian in several vital areas, Lucius is killed by the Egyptian and his twin daggers. As he dies, Lucius muses that he is happy not to be killed by a Roman.
Marcus Licinius Crassus
Several historical characters in the series had important relationships with Sulla, especially the main antagonists of Spartacus: War of the Damned. Perhaps none more so than Marcus Crassus. Historically, Crassus spent some of his early years in military and political affairs as a supporter of Sulla. Crassus’s family supported Sulla against the Marians, which drove the former into hiding until Crassus himself joined forces with Sulla. He led some of Sulla's soldiers and aided in targeting and neutralizing Sulla's rivals. While Crassus was born into a wealthy family, many scholars believe he only became the wealthiest man in Rome (and possibly the wealthiest man to ever live) by participating in Sulla' proscriptions. Crassus would reportedly seize the fertile lands and the slaves of proscribed individuals at little or no cost to himself, then develop the land for his own enterprises or sell it at a massive mark-up. When Sulla's rivals had mostly been dealt with, Crassus began targeting people who did not oppose Sulla, fabricating crimes against Rome and having the individuals and their families proscribed so he could seize their lands and slaves. He also used his political connections through Sulla to make the republic a client of his many businesses. His connection to Sulla generated immense profits for Crassus, who then used that money to lobby the Roman government and raise his own armies. It was his extreme wealth that got Crassus elected as consul, funded the army he raised to fight Spartacus and his forces in the Third Servile War, and funded his disastrous attempt to wage the war on Parthia that saw him and his son Publius killed and their bodies desecrated. Crassus makes no direct mention to Sulla in the series, but his wealth is a key feature of his character, wealth he would not have had were it not for his connection to Sulla.
Gaius Julius Caesar
Even Julius Caesar had his own ties to Sulla. In history, Cinna, the father of Caesar’s wife Cornelia, was the co-leader of the forces of Gaius Marius. Sulla believed that Caesar’s marriage to Cornelia meant he was loyal to Gaius Marius, and gave him the opportunity to divorce Cornelia to avoid being perceived as a traitor. When Caesar refused out of love for his wife, Sulla ordered him proscribed. Many of Caesar's family members and friends who were friends with Sulla begged him to spare Caesar, and he eventually agreed. The proscription order on Caesar was never carried out, but Sulla forewarned that Caesar would end up being even more damaging to Rome than Gaius Marius himself. No mention of this relationship is made in the show itself, though Caesar does mention what he believes to be his deep love for his wife as he sexually assaults Kore.
Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, known as Pompey, also supported Sulla during the war for leadership of Rome. His military skill helped him win important victories during Sulla's conflicts with Gaius Marius, and his wit and charisma would influence Sulla's power both positively and negatively. This relationship is also not mentioned in the show, in which Pompey is only briefly mentioned a few times and makes a short, late appearance.
Quintus Sertorius is only mentioned once in the show, by Gaius Claudius Glaber as he speaks to Marcus about the possibility of taking troops to Hispania to help Pompey fight the Sertorian War. Glaber hopes to defeat Sertorius before Pompey, or alongside him, to earn political power and respect. Sertorius was allied with Gaius Marius, and was therefore considered an enemy by Sulla. While propraetor (governor) of the province of Hispania, Sertorius was popular with the local tribes due to his respect for their traditions and his mild form of governing. Despite this, Sulla ordered his troops to force Sertorius from power, and instated Lucius Fufidius in his place. Sertorius fled to North Africa, where he was approached by Lusitani rebels to lead a war against the cruel Fufidius administration appointed by Sulla. Sertorius agreed, and the Sertorian forces retook control of Hispania and held it for several years before Sertorius's assassination. It was after his death that Pompey returned to Rome, which is depicted in the show.