Gaius Aurelius Sulla Augustus
Born 21 September 165
Birthplace Athens
Died 1 January 228 (62 years)
Title 17th Caesar of Rome
Coronation Curia Julia, Rome
Reign 6 July 180-228
Predecessor Marcus Aurelius
Successor Marcus
Dynasty Antonine
Children 5
Beliefs Stoicism, Religio Romana

Gaius Aurelius Sulla Augustus (born Gaius Corellus Sulla on 13 September 165) was the Emperor of Rome from 6 July 180 until his death during a speech to the Senate for the new year of 228. Born of a poor family in Athens, he was orphaned at the age of seven but adopted by Marcus Aurelius the following year. His new father gave him a proper Roman upbringing, teaching him how to hunt and fight as well as instructing the boy on his beliefs as a Stoic (expanding on what Sulla had heard). However, when Sulla was only 14 years old, his father, the emperor, died an untimely death from the Antonine plague. As heir to his father's titles, Sulla was proclaimed Caesar with several attendants to assist him during his regency.

At the tender age of 20, Sulla led his first army, taking several legions across the Rhine to pillage the unorganized land of Greater Germany. Following resounding successes against the Germans, he kept track of his veterans to employ those able soldiers in future conflicts. They proved essential to the almost one-sided counter-attack against Parthia and the brutal conquest of Caledonia in the north.

These wars against Rome's three greatest enemies earned Sulla a place in history as one of the most skilled Roman commanders, a place he shares with names as illustrious as Scipio, Pompeius, Germanicus, and Agrippa.

Early Life

There is little recorded about Sulla's youth. He certainly came from a family of wine pressers and was an only child until the death of his parents around 172 CE. Given his scattered but broad knowledge of philosophy, Sulla had likely been schooled in Aristotelian philosophy by his father, learning about other schools from his time spent as an orphan in Athens. Living as a street urchin, he acquireed survival skills on his own and from others of his ilk. Marcus Aurelius noted in his Meditations that Sulla's keen intellect was prominent at this stage of his life - the boy was an uncanny judge of character in the emperor's eyes. A knack for judging people would have helped a boy living along on the streets of Athens, allowing him to avoid misplacing his trust.

Once adopted by Marcus Aurelius in 173 CE, Sulla accompanied his new father across the Danube, allowing the two to bond over shared interests in Stoicism and withstanding the hardships of life. Three years later he was taken to Rome for the first time, under escort, as Aurelius did not wish to expose the boy to possible usurpers. In the Eternal City, Sulla had to compete with his brother Commodus, who was not only four years his senior but the natural son of the emperor. However, it quickly became apparent that Sulla was the emperor's favorite. While a young Commodus often remained in Rome under the tutelage of what his father called "an abundance of good masters", Sulla travelled frequently with his father after 177 CE and learned the ways of war alongside studies of rhetoric and philosophy under the wing of his father.

No doubt inspired by jealousy, Commodus who began contriving plots to remove his sole competitor for the throne of the Imperium. Initially, such thoughts of usurpation may have only been fantasy for the man but when Marcus Aurelius named his adopted son the second princeps iuventutis (successor) beside Commodus in 178, Commodus probably began to organize and motivate himself to take action against his brother.

Here history loses sight of events. The record simply states that Commodus turned up dead in his home from the plague. However, psychologists focusing on the augusta of Rome recently postulated that Polonia, only a servant girl at the time but a close companion of Sulla, must have caught wind of the nefarious plot against her future love and used poison to remove the threat. From a girl of only sixteen, such shrewd behavior has drawn historical comparisons with Livia Drusilla, another woman believed to have worked behind the scenes to control the politics of Rome. When the father and son commanders returned from Germania, they were informed of the sudden illness and death of Commodus. If either suspected foul play, they remained quiet. With the death of Commodus, Sulla was the only living heir to the emperor.

Two years later, Marcus Aurelius died from the Antonine plague and Gaius Corellus Sulla was named Augustus, Pontifex Maximus, imperator, and first citizen by the Senate and Legion. Within weeks, the boy was undergoing the proper customs to receive his toga virilis - making him a man in the eyes of the public - and was married to Polonia who became his augusta. Supposedly weary of taking the throne, Gaius made no show of refusing it as his father did; he very overtly stated that running the empire with sobriety and determination were his familial duties.


As emperor, Sulla formally brought the wars of his father against Germanic and Sarmatian tribes to a close, extending a triumph to the four main generals who led Rome's legions under Marcus Aurelius and commissioning a victory column for his father. The passing of titles was immediately followed with announcements that new defenses would be built along the Carpathians and that he would share the "wisdom of [his] father" with the world, reading several lines from Marcus Aurelius' personal writings. A few months later, these writings were circulated as Ta eis Heauton (Meditations). Later in Sulla's reign, patricians would read and openly discuss this text as a way of currying favor with the emperor or demonstrating their support for him.

As Praetor

While Sulla took great pains to legislate for the empire, cancelling the Latin Right for acquiring citizenship and reinforcing Augustan marriage laws, he deeply involved himself in litigation. Jurists were the most ardent supporters of Sulla in the early years of his reign, praising him for having the "tongue and heart of a Tullian".

Like his father, Sulla made an effort to personally hear petitions and disputes concerning the manumission of slaves and the guardianship of orphans. As his own project, Sulla also handled many cases of theft and murder in the city of Rome. He would often spend personal time with the accused, getting to know them, before passing his judgement according to presented the evidence. Often, when he felt most certain of his judgement, his punishments were far more severe than what was normally chosen by praetors. Sulla was deeply disgusted by Romans who would kill and cheat their fellow countrymen, perhaps a major motivation for personally overseeing these cases.

Crime fell dramatically in the city of Rome during his reign. While the increased efficiency of the Praetorian Guard may have been a factor, the knowledge that the emperor himself might be their judge would have dissuaded many people from more calculated crimes. An example was set during Sulla's time as a praetor. His judgements set new precedents for future judges.

Over his reign, Sulla reinforced the importance of the praetorian courts and the judicial roles of the praetors. Judicial powers of the urban prefect of Rome were removed, forcing that magistrate to work more closely with the eighteen praetors. These were gradual changes effected over many years.

Reconstruction of Rome

Rome saw a change in its cityscape when part of the city burned down in 190 from a mysterious fire. Dozens of important sites around the Subura district, likely the source of the fire, fell to the flames. In particular, the Baths of TrajanDomus Augustana, Temple of VestaTemple of Apollo, and Temple of Venus and Rome were badly damaged. Fortunately, the Forum Romanum was spared from the inferno, effectively shielded as it was by the masses of marble and stone basilicas and temples. The palace on the Collis Palatinus was practically destroyed after almost a full day of burning. In its place, Sulla constructed a more modest dwelling for his family, replacing the damaged hippodrome with new homes for the nobility. The emperor made a scene of sharing the Palatine district with other great families of Rome, delivering speeches in reverence of these "nobiles patres".

Damaged temples and public buildings were fixed with state funds, the emperor taking this opportunity to restore much of the city's splendor. Wherever possible, wooden supports were replaced with alternative materials, particularly in the reconstruction of civilian domiciles in the wake of the fire.


The new Domus Augustana was a hybrid of luxury, modesty, and utility. The façade on the Clivus Palatinus gave no indication of its owner, except for the statue of Julius Caesar in the pristine front garden where visitors would wait to see the emperor. The Domus Flavia was refitted as an indoor waiting area where local visitors would often be served wine in its sparsely furnished rooms. This building connected both to a road leading to the cryptoportical entrance (where foreign dignitaries and military officers would enter) and, as a result, to the throne room, northwest of the main atrium. Everything from the throne room to the dining halls and libraries were lavishly decorated, showcasing the wealth of the emperor but coming to this main atrium, the palace quickly reverted to the modest architecture and decoration which would be almost all that local visitors would experience.

Southwest of this atrium, adjacent to the libraries, was a complex maze of a magisterial offices and record rooms, the Tabularia Augusta. Copies of whatever an emperor requested from the Tabularium in the Forum were kept here, as well as any document that was deemed necessary to the emperor on a day-to-day basis. The Tabularia opened directly to the streets and gardens of the aristocratic residential area, the homes of which would often be occupied by central figures of the imperial court.

During his reign, Sulla would spend most of his waking hours in the latter facilities, running his vast empire as well as logistics of the state could manage. He encouraged Marcus Valerius, the young man he adopted in 199, to frequently visit him here to assist in his magisterial tasks. Sulla made a point of personally speaking with as visitors to his palace that he could manage, checking the list of waiting visitors that his secretarial slaves would prepare each morning. In his view, personal concern for the problems of individual citizens was paramount for his role as emperor, a mindset he endeavored to instill in his adopted son.

As Caesar, Sulla could enjoy the most lavish lifestyle of not only any citizen but almost anyone in the world. At his disposal were thousands of personal slaves and the wealth of a state. Yet he did not indulge in this power. Sulla feared the possibility of becoming dependent on slaves to accomplish mundane tasks. When jobs were too onerous for him to perform alone, Sulla treated his slaves respectfully and still did his share of work.

He cared little for entertainment which lay outside the purviews of his political and familial lives. Much of his leisure time was spent touring his empire and meeting individuals of importance such as Galen of Pergamum. This exposure to the world he governed likely influenced his legislative decisions.


Due to their close relationship, Sulla and Marcus Aurelius were cut from a similar cloth. Both had a penchant for the military and juridical lives, were avid stoics, and deeply respectful of those who held an inferior office in Roman society. However, Sulla emphasized some attributes of his adoptive father more than others. Where Marcus Aurelius sought stability and peace for the Roman World, Sulla pursued prosperity and growth through external wars. Some of the more reserved nature of the venerable Marcus Aurelius was lost from one generation to the next.

Stoic philosophy was nowhere near as important for Sulla as it was for his father. After a decade of thorough philosophical and rhetorical studies he came to see the works of Ancient Greece as mere sophistry, eschewing the Platonic, Aristotelian, and Skeptical traditions. He went into adulthood caring only for practical knowledge that tended towards helping the state. Aside from medicine and crafts, science received little patronage under Sulla, continuing only in the work of ardent natural philosophers, abandoned by the government and eventually even the private citizens (who emulated their emperor's interests).

Recovered letters between Polonia and Sulla show that although the emperor deeply loved his family, he often strayed from their company to go to war and when home, he would only occasionally but regularly stray from his work to see them. It is clear that he put the care of the greater good before the care of his wife and children, and that some buried resentment had formed.

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