In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Marius and Sulla

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Public Image and Self-Representation
  • Marius’s Early Career
  • Roman Politics between 2nd and 1st Century bce
  • Marius’s Political Agenda
  • Sulla’s Early Career
  • The Crisis of 88 bce
  • The Clash with Mithridates
  • The Politics of the Eighties
  • The Civil War of 83–82
  • Sulla’s Victory: Political and Institutional Aspects
  • Economic Developments
  • Roman Italy
  • The Senate
  • Criminal Law
  • The Mediterranean Context
  • The Proscriptions
  • Religious Developments
  • The Aftermath of Sulla’s Dictatorship

Classics Marius and Sulla
Federico Santangelo
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 July 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0352


Gaius Marius (b. 158/157–d. 86 BCE) and Lucius Cornelius Sulla (b. 138–d. 78 BCE) were the most prominent, and in several respects defining, figures of a phase of Roman Republican history that lasted roughly three decades: from 107, when Marius was elected to his first consulship, to 78 BCE, the year of Sulla’s death. Much of that period was marked by the relationship between the two men, who first cooperated very effectively and then engaged in a fierce struggle for power that eventually led to years of civil strife and political violence on an unprecedented scale. Marius held the consulship on seven occasions, while Sulla did so twice, as well as holding a dictatorship that enabled him to enact a set of wide-ranging, far-reaching, and controversial measures. This bibliography seeks to achieve a workable balance between chronological and thematic approaches, and between narrative and interpretation. Speaking of an “age of Marius and Sulla” risks failing to do justice to the complexity of a period that was marked by other major developments, such as the initiatives of Saturninus and Glaucia (104–100 BCE); the Social War (91–88 BCE), which ended with the inclusion of the Italian communities south of the Po River into the Roman citizen body; and the first war against King Mithridates in the Greek East (88–85 BCE). These events are covered in what follows only insofar as they are relevant to the study of Marius and Sulla; yet these two men are central to any of the main developments of this historical period, and readers who seek general guidance on these topics will find some orientation in this bibliography.

General Overviews

This period is central to any study of late Republican history and has received a number of authoritative scholarly treatments that provide valuable factual orientation and interpretative insights. The list provided here is heavily selective and does not include the standard discussions in the two editions of Cambridge Ancient History IX (1932 and 1994), the relevant entries in reference works such as the Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft (also known as Pauly-Wissowa) and the Oxford Classical Dictionary, or the relevant sections in textbooks such as H. Scullard’s From the Gracchi to Nero or M. H. Crawford’s The Roman Republic. On balance, Sulla has received greater attention than Marius; that is both a function of the surviving evidence and of the depth of ties with later developments in Roman history (effectively brought out in Steel 2013). The bibliographical surveys of Gómez-Pantoja 1990 and Gómez-Pantoja 1991 and three recent edited books (Słapek and Łuć 2013, Schettino and Zecchini 2018, Eckert and Thein 2019) give the measure of the interest that the topic has attracted. Issues of periodization and definition are always at the forefront. Badian 1962 is a classic overview of the scholarship that brings out its intimate connections with the history of the Gracchan period; Gabba 1972 is the fullest modern attempt to discuss Marius and Sulla as the central figures of a coherent and unified period; more recently, Flower 2010 argues that Sulla’s reforms mark a moment of major discontinuity in Roman Republican history.

  • Badian, Ernst. 1962. From the Gracchi to Sulla (1940–1959). Historia 11:197–245.

    An authoritative overview of the scholarly debate on the period from the 130s to the 80s BCE, which may still be read with profit as a useful summary of the areas that warrant attention.

  • Eckert, Alexander, and Alexander Thein, eds. 2019. Sulla: Politics and reception. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter.

    A volume stemming from a colloquium held in 2016, featuring nine contributions that provide some orientation on ongoing debates on the Sullan period: oratory (C. Steel), Sulla’s impact on Greece (I. Kuin, S. Zoumbaki), institutions (C. Rosillo-López), political history (A. Thein), colonization (A. Keaveney), and literary tradition (A. Eckert, A. Rosenblitt, F. Santangelo). Aspects of the volume will also be of interest to those working on Marius and his period.

  • Flower, Harriet I. 2010. Roman Republics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    A wide-ranging interpretative essay on the Roman Republican period, in which the Sullan resettlement is identified as a major point of discontinuity and a focus of radical innovation on the political and institutional levels (esp. Section VII, “An Alternative to a Crisis? Sulla’s New Republic,” 117–134).

  • Gabba, Emilio 1972. Mario e Silla. In Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt. Vol. 1.1. Edited by H. Temporini, 754–805. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter.

    The most effective modern study in which the lives and careers of both individuals are discussed within the framework of a single treatment and against the backdrop of the wider historical context. A very strong introduction both on the big picture and on a number of matters of detail. Sulla is likened to General de Gaulle.

  • Gómez-Pantoja, Joaquín L. 1990. L. Cornelius Sulla, 25 años de investigación (1960–85): I. Bibliografía. Polis 2:67–83.

    A detailed bibliography, which usefully includes a substantial body of work produced on Sulla in the second half of the 20th century.

  • Gómez-Pantoja, Joaquín L. 1991. L. Cornelius Sulla, 25 años de investigación (1960–85). Polis 3:63–110.

    Sequel to Gómez-Pantoja 1990, providing a detailed summary of the main scholarly trends in the period under discussion. Still a useful read in its own right.

  • Schettino, Maria Teresa, and Giuseppe Zecchini, eds. 2018. Il tempo di Silla. Rome: «L’Erma» di Bretschneider.

    The proceedings of a 2018 conference, framed around some key themes: the aftermath of the Social War (E. Bispham), military developments (G. Brizzi), institutional and legal matters (M. Coudry, J.-M. David, M. Humm, K. Sandberg), the economy (E. Lo Cascio), the events of 88 BCE (F. Santangelo), political realignments (S. Pittia), public speaking (M. T. Schettino, C. Steel), and historiography (U. Walter). Another orientation point on recent and ongoing debates.

  • Słapek, Dariusz, and Łuć, Ireneusz, eds. 2013. Lucius Cornelius Sulla: History and tradition. Lublin, Poland: Maria Curie-Skłodowska Univ. Press.

    This collection gathers a set of papers from a conference held at Lublin in 2013. It casts its net widely across a range of major themes: the Mithridatic campaign (N. Rogosz, A. Baukova, S. Ducin, A. Zychowicz), Sulla’s impact on Roman politics (H. Appel, I. Luc, T. Ladori, P. Madejski), the literary tradition on Sulla and his legacy in Roman political culture (A. Dziuba, O. Petrechko, K. Krolczyk, A. Miaczewska). It also includes studies on the numismatic evidence (A. A. Kluczek), legal developments (K. Amielariczyk), and the reception of Sulla in the Polish People’s Republic (D. Slapek).

  • Steel, Catherine. 2013. The end of the Roman Republic, 146 to 44 BC: Conquest and crisis. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press.

    One of the most recent full-scale accounts of the late Republican period; it discusses the transition between the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE as a significant focus of change and tension, and devotes considerable attention to the impact of Sulla, partly developing Flower’s insights (pp. 80–120). Excellent historiographical contextualization.

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