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P. Sulpicius' law to recall exiles, 88 b.c.

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2009

R. G. Lewis
University of Edinburgh


This brief enquiry concerns two main questions: how and why Sulpicius' law differed from a similar prior rogation of the same year, which he had vetoed; and the probable authorship of the latter.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 1998

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1 This piece began as a very brief note focused chiefly on the second question. I have to thank Professor John Richardson for insisting on more thorough probing of the first: he is not of course to blame for surviving slips or blunders.

2 Appian, Mith. 22 (cf. 30); Oros. 5.18.22. Cf. Pliny, N.H. 33.46; 50; Cic. leg. agr. 2.80.

3 Appian, B.C. 1.54.232–9; Livy, Per. 74; Val. Max. 9.7.4. Badian, E., Historia 18 (1969), 475ff. has a full exposition, though I do not wholly agree with his view of Asellio's actiona.Google Scholar

4 For exposition, particularly of chronology, A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Foreign Policy in the East, ch. 5.4, pp. 121–124. News of the massacre and actual financial catastrophe (Cic. de imperio Cn. Pomp. 19 [cf. 16ff.]) will not have reached Rome before March 88, and perhaps came rather later.

5 On Sulla's arisleia of 89, or his claims to it, Appian, B.C. 1.50–1.217–26; Liv. Per. 85; Veil. 2.17.3; Diod. 37.25; cf. Sulla, Fr. 10AP = Plut. an seniger. resp. 6; Plut. Sull. 7 ink.; Oros. 5.18.22. For rebellion persisting after Sulla's campaign of 89 in and around Samnium (e.g tying up no fewer than six legions at Nola), Lucania, and Bruttium, Diod. 37.2.8–37.2.14; Plut. Sull. 9; Mar. 35; Appian, B.C. 1.52–1.53.227–231; Liv. Per. 76,79; Veil. 2.17.1, 18.2; Oros. 5.19; Gran. Lie. 16F1.; Dio Fr. 102.7; Plut. Sull. 1.

6 Appian, B.C. 1.49.211–1.49.215,55.243–245,64.287f, 65.293f, etc.; Veil. 2.20.1.

7 Plut. Sull. 6.1–6.2; Mar. 32.

8 Above, n. 2.

9 Ascon 79C. Not in my view a partisan measure, pace Badian (n. 3), pp. 465–475.

10 Jurisdiction under Lex Varia only, Cic. Brut. 304; Varius himself condemned under it, Ibid. 305; N.D. 81; Val.Max. 8.6.4; trials under that law too suspended, Ascon. 73C (by implication). In general, see (with some caution) the seminal discussion of Badian (n. 3); further discussion, citing other more recent literature, in Powell, J. G., Historia 39 (1990), 446460.Google Scholar

11 Appian, B.C. 1.38.169.

12 Of course, as will emerge below, by vi eiectos Sulpicius meant ‘thrown out by illegal violence’, but the Auctor would vitiate his own argument if he were to accept that view of the matter. Hence my ambivalent translation, clarified, I trust, below.

13 On Postumius of Pyrgi and fellow fraudsters Livy 25.3–25.4, esp. 4.9–4.11; cf. on Cn. Fulvius 26.2–26.3, esp. 3.10–3.12. On Cicero in 58, MRR ii., p. 196, esp. Veil. 2.45.1; Ascon 46C; Plut. Cic 32; Dio 38.14–38.17. On exullexsiliwn, Cic. Caec 100.

14 Regrettably, the possibility must also be admitted that the Auctor may be recording only a far from complete version in any case of either the rogation or comment upon it. However, we can only deal with the evidence as we have it, in full awareness that hypotheses in interpretation must remain provisional.

15 Ex hypothesi: in fact the Lex Licinia Mucia is most unlikely to have required physical expulsion from Rome of non-Romans, Schol. Bob. p. 129 ad Cic. Sest. 30 notwithstanding. For the correct view, Badian, E., JRS 63 (1973), 127f.Google Scholar

16 Above, n. 10.

17 Perhaps more probably the consuls.

18 Appian, B.C. 1.37.167. It would be a moot point whether non licuit applied in this case or not. It would be much easier to argue that he had been vi eiectus.

19 Sulpicius might also perhaps have objected on grounds of the technical or literal meaning of the terms exsullexsilium, which originally implied voluntary departure from the Roman body politic (Cic. Caec. 100).

20 On passage of the Lex Varia per vim, Appian, B.C. 1.37.166. On Sulpicius' rhetoric, e.g. Cic. har. resp. 41; Brut. 203. Note also that C. Cotta, one of the more prominent victims of the Varian witch-hunt (Appian, B.C. 1.37.167; Cic. Brut. 305) is described by Cicero not only as expulsus (I.e.), but also at De Oral. 3.11 as eiectus... e civitate–cf. vi eiectos ap. Auct. ad Herenn. 2.45

21 Livy Per. 11; cf. Plut. Sull. 8: Veil. 2.18.2 leges perniciosas. Other main sources in Greenidge–Clay2, pp. 162ff.

22 Cic. De Oral. 3.11: Sulpicius... quibuscum privatus coniunctissime vixerat, hos in tribunatu spoliare instituit omni dignitate.; Id de amic. 2: Meministi. cum is (sc. Sulpicius) tribunus pi. capitali odio a Q. Pompeio qui turn esset consul dissideret, quocum coniunctissime et amantissime vixerat, quanta esset hominum vel admiratio vel querela. Besides the close verbal parallels note in particular from the first passage spoliare, –‘to despoil’ i.e. to his own political profit.

23 Th. Mommsen, Staatsrecht 1.191–1.209, 470, n. 3,11.102, III.304; A. H. J. Greenidge, Roman Public Life, pp. 96,160f., 246.

24 The only hint of date is that the Livian Epitome (77) includes Sulpicius' revised law, with his other legislation, among the leges perniciosae, proposed auctore Mario–so probably after news reached Rome of Mithridates' total dominance in Asia, and perhaps of his massacre of Romans there. The chronology of Sulpicius' tribunate is far from simple, but this is not the place to probe it–or the influence of Sulla's autobiography on the tradition. I hope to explore these matters elsewhere.