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Please note that Mommsen uses the AUC chronology (Ab Urbe Condita), i.e. from the founding of the City of Rome. You can use this reference table to have the B.C. dates


IV. The Revolution

From: The History of Rome, by Theodor Mommsen
Translated with the sanction of the author by William Purdie Dickson

The History of Old Rome

Chapter X - The Sullan Constitution


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Page 69

To accord praise which the genius of a bad man bribes us into bestowing is to sin against the sacred character of history; but we may be allowed to bear in mind that Sulla was far less answerable for the Sullan restoration than the body of the Roman aristocracy, which had ruled as a clique for centuries and had every year become more enervated and embittered by age, and that all that was hollow and all that was nefarious therein is ultimately traceable to that aristocracy. Sulla reorganized the state--not, however, as the master of the house who puts his shattered estate and household in order according to his own discretion, but as the temporary business-manager who faithfully complies with his instructions; it is superficial and false in such a case to devolve the final and essential responsibility from the master upon the manager.

We estimate the importance of Sulla much too highly, or rather we dispose of those terrible proscriptions, ejections, and restorations--for which there never could be and never was any reparation--on far too easy terms, when we regard them as the work of a bloodthirsty tyrant whom accident had placed at the head of the state. These and the terrorism of the restoration were the deeds of the aristocracy, and Sulla was nothing more in the matter than, to use the poet's expression, the executioner's axe following the conscious thought as its unconscious instrument. Sulla carried out that part with rare, in fact superhuman, perfection; but within the limits which it laid down for him, his working was not only grand but even useful.

Never has any aristocracy deeply decayed and decaying still farther from day to day, such as was the Roman aristocracy of that time, found a guardian so willing and able as Sulla to wield for it the sword of the general and the pen of the legislator without any regard to the gain of power for himself. There is no doubt a difference between the case of an officer who refuses the sceptre from public spirit and that of one who throws it away from a cloyed appetite; but, so far as concerns the total absence of political selfishness--although, it is true, in this one respect only--Sulla deserves to be named side by side with Washington.

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