1902 Encyclopedia > Lucullus

(full name: Lucius Licinius Lucullus)
Politician of the late Roman Republic
(c. 117 BC–57/56 BC)

LUCULLUS. The Luculli appear in Roman history shortly after the close of the second Punic war. They belonged to the Licinian " gens," a plebeian house which became noted for its special ability in amassing wealth. By far the most famous of its members was Lucius Licinius Lucullus, surnamed Ponticus from his victorious campaigns in Asia Minor against one of the most formidable enemies Rome ever encountered, the great Mithridates, king of Pontus. His father had held an important military command in Sicily, but on his return to Rome he was considered to have acquitted himself so discreditably that lie was prosecuted on a charge of bribery and corrupt practices, and was condemned to exile. His mother was Czecilia, of the family of the Metelli, and was the sister of the distinguished Metellus Numidicus. The career of Lucullus coincides with the first half of the 1st century BM. It appears that he was rather senior to Pompey, who was born in 106 B.C. We hear of him when quite a young man as making a determined though unsuccessful attempt to avenge his father's downfall on the author of the prosecution, and this won him credit and popularity. Early in life he attached himself to the party of Sulla, and to that party he remained constant to his life's end. Sulla's favourable notice was secured by good military service in the so-called Social War, which finally completed the subjugation of Rome's Italian allies and in fact of the whole peninsula. In 88 B.C. came the great Mithridatic war in the East, with the direction of which Sulla was charged. In that year the young Lucullus went with him as his qimstor to Greece and Asia Minor, and, while Sulla was besieging Athens, be raised a fleet and drove Mithridates out of the Mediterranean. He won a brilliant victory off Tenedos, and it seems probable that, had he been as faithful to Rome as be was to Suita and his party, he might have ended a perilous war. But, like many of his contemporaries, Lucullus was too much of a party man to be a genuine patriot.

In 84 B.C. peace was concluded with Mithridates, and the great king had to cede the Greek islands and a large part of his Asiatic possessions, and was practically reduced to the position of a mere Roman dependant. Sulla returned to Rome, while Lucullus remained in Asia, and by a series of wise and generous financial reforms laid the foundation of the future wealth and prosperity of the province. The result of his policy was that he stood particularly well with the provincials, but unfortunately for himself made a host of enemies among the powerful class which farmed the public revenue. Ile was in Asia till 80 B.C., and then returned to Rome as curule in which capacity he exkibited together with his colleague, his brother Marcus, games which were long remembered by the citizens of Rome for their exceptional magnificence. We may infer that thus early in life he had found the means of acquiring an immense fortune, which throughout his whole career it was his delight lavishly to display. Soon afterwards he was elected prcetor, and was next appointed to the province of Africa, where again he won a good name as a just and considerate governor. In the year 74 B.c. he became consul, with Aurelius Cotta as his colleague. An attempt was made at this time by a leader of the democratic party to repeal the legislation of Sulla, and its failure appears to have been mainly due to the strenuous efforts of Lucullu.

The East was now again unsettled, and Bithynia, which had been bequeathed to Rome by its king Nicomedes, was threatened by Mithridates. The new province with the command of the fleet fell to Cotta, but Lucullus was called to lead the armies of Rome against this dangerous enemy. In 74 B.c. he was in Asia at the head of a force of about 30,000 foot and 2000 horse. The king of Pontus was already on Roman ground in Bithynia, and Cotta was shut up in Chalcedon on the Propontis by a vast host of 150,000 men. The enemy's fleet had forced its way into the harbour, and had burnt all the Roman vessels lying at anchor. The advance of Lucullus, however, forced the king to raise the siege and retire along the sea-coast, till 113 halted before the strong city of Cyzicus, the key of Asia, as it was called, built on an island at a little distance from the mainland, with which it was connected by a bridge. All the attempts of Mithridates on the place were foiled by a gallant defence, and it was not long before Lucullus took up a threatening position in the rear of his army, which cut off all his land communications and left him only master of the sea. Bad weather and violent storms and scant supplies soon drove the king from the walls of Cyzicus, and his vast army was dispersed without having hal the chance of fighting a single pitched battle. His fleet too, which as yet had had the command of the ,Egean, was soon afterwards destroyed by Lucullus, and thus his whole power for offensive warfare had completely collapsed. He himself withdrew into his own proper territory, and all that the Roman general had to fear was that he might baffle pursuit by a flight eastward into the rernate wilds of Armenia. llowever, in the autumn of 73 B.C., Lucullus pushed into the heart of Pontus far beyond the Halys, the limit of the famous Scipio's advance eastward, and continued his onward march, regardless of the murmurs of his weary soldiery, to Cabeira or Neoemsarea (now Niksar), where the king had gone into winter quarters with a vague hope that his son-in-law, Tigranes, the powerful king of Armenia, and possibly even the Parthians, might, for their own sakes, come to his aid against a common foe. It was by a very toilsome march through difficult roads that the Roman army at last reached Cabeira, to find themselves confronted by a greatly superior force. But the troops of Mithridates were no more a match for the Roman legionaries than were the Persians for Alexander, and a large detachment of his army was decisively cut up by one of Lucullus's lieutenant-generals. The king decided on instant retreat, but the retreat soon became a disorderly flight, and Lucullus, seizing the moment for attack, annihilated his enemy, Mithridates himself escaping with difficulty over the mountain range between Pontus and Cappadocia into Lesser Armenia. He found a sort of refuge in the dominions of Tigranes, but he was in fact detained as a prisoner rather than received as an honoured friend and ally.

Pontus thus, with the exception of some of the maritime cities, such as Sinope, Heraclea, and Amisns, which still clung to the king under whom they had enjoyed a free Greek constitution, became Roman territory. Two years were occupied in the siege and capture of these strongholds, while Lucullus busied himself with a general reform of the administration of the province of Asia. His next step was to demand the surrender of Mithridates and to threaten Tigranes with war in the event of refusal. He had indeed no direct authority from the home government to attempt the conquest of Armenia, but lie may well have supposed that in invading the country he would be following out Sulla's policy, and securing Rome in the East from a serious danger. Nor was it unnatural that there should be a fascination in the idea of winning renown in the distant and almost unknown regions beyond the Euphrates. In the spring of the year 69 B.C., at the head of only two legions, which, it appears, by no means liked the hardships of the expedition, he marched through Sophene, the southwestern portion of Armenia, crossed the Tigris, and pushed on to the newly-built royal city, Tigranocerta, situated on one of the affluents of that river. A motley host, made up out of the tribes bordering on the Black Sea and the Caspian, hovered round his small army, but failed to hinder him from laying siege to the town. On this occasion Lucullus showed consummate military capacity, contriving to maintain the siege and at the same time to give battle to the enemy with a force which must have been inferior in the ratio of something like one to twenty. According to his own account he put the Armenians to rout with a loss of five Roman soldiers, leaving 100,000 dead on the field of battle. The victory before the walls of Tigranocerta was undoubtedly a very glorious one fur the arms of Rome, and it resulted in the dissolution of the Armenian king's extensive empire. There might now have been peace but for the interference of Mithridates, who for his own sake pressed Tigranes to renew the war and to seek the aid and alliance of Parthia. The Parthian king, however, was disposed to prefer a treaty with Rome to a treaty with Armenia, and desired simply to have the Euphrates recognized as his western boundary. Mithridates next appealed to the national spirit of the peoples of the East generally, and endeavoured to rouse them to a united effort against Roman aggression. He hoped to crush his enemy amid the mountains of Armenia, and indeed the position of Lucnllus was highly critical. The home government was for recalling him, and seemed to think little of his splendid successes ; and his little army, which one might have been supposed would have been proud of their general, was on the verge of mutiny. One can hardly understand how under such circumstances Lucullus should have persisted in marching his men northwards from Tigranocerta over the high table-land of central Armenia, with the enemy's cavalry and innumerable mounted archers hanging on his columns, in the hope of reaching the distant Artaxata on the Araxes. The vexation of his troops broke out into an open mutiny, which compelled him to recross the Tigris into the Mesopotamian valley. Here, on a dark tempestuous night, he surprised and stormed Nisibis, the capital of the Armenian district of Mesopotamia, and in this city, which yielded him a rich booty, he found satisfactory winter quarters.

Meantime Mithridates was again iu Pontus, and the Roman forces which had been left there were soon overwhelmed. In one disastrous engagement at Ziela the Roman camp was taken and the army slaughtered to a man. Lucullus was still thwarted by the mutinous spirit of his troops, and after all his brilliant achievements he was obliged to pursue his retreat into Asia Minor with the full knowledge that Tigranes and Mithridates were the unresisted masters of Pontes and Cappadocia. The work of eight years of war was undone. Commissioners sent from Rome to settle the affairs of the East had to report to the senate that a large part of Asia Minor was in the enemy's hands. In the year 66 B.C. Lucullus was recalled, and superseded in his command by Pompey.

He had indeed fairly earned by his brilliant victories the honour of a triumph, but he had powerful enemies at Rome, and charges of maladministration, to which no doubt his immense wealth gave no unreasonable colour, caused it to be deferred for three years. In 63 B.C., however, it was celebrated with extraordinary magnificence. By this time Lucullus seems to have felt that he had done his work. He had little taste for the increasingly turbulent political contests of the time, and, with the exception of occasional appearances in public life, he gave himself up to elegant luxury, with which, however, he combined a sort of dilettante pursuit of philosophy, literature, and art. Cicero, who was on terms of close intimacy with him, always speaks of him with enthusiasm and in terms of the highest praise. Lucullus is with him a vir fortissimos et clarissimus, and a man too of the highest and most refined intellectual culture. As a provincial governor, in his humane consideration for the conquered and his statesmanlike discernment of what was best suited to their circumstances, lie was a man after Cicero's own heart. In this respect he reminds us of the younger Pliny. Very possibly Cicero may have spoken too flatteringly of him, but we cannot think his praise was altogether undeserved.

As a soldier, considering what he achieved and the victories he won with but small forces under peculiarly unfavourable conditions, he must have been a man of no ordinary capacity. It is true that he does not seem to have hid the confidence of his troops to the extent to which a great general ought to possess it, and it is just possible that he may have erred on the side of an excessive aristocratic hauteur, which to his men may have looked like a selfish indifference to their hardships. But it is also possible that out of a strict regard to the lives and property of the provincials he may have been too strict a disciplinarian for the taste of the soldiers. Some of his unpopularity, it is pretty certain, was due to the restraints which he had put on the rapacity of the capitalists, who thought themselves aggrieved if they could not make rapid and enormous fortunes by farming the revenue of the rich provinces of the East. We can hardly doubt that with very decided aristocratic feeling and thorough devotion to his political party Lucullus combined much generous uprightness and kindliness of heart.

His name calls up before the mind visions of boundless luxury and magnificence, and amono. the Roman nobles who revelled in the newly acquired riches of the East Lucullus, it is certain, stood pre-eminent. His park and pleasure grounds in the immediate vicinity of the capital were the wonder and admiration of his own and of the succeeding age. Pompey is said to have styled him the Roman Xerxes, in allusion, not only to his splendour, but also to the costly and laborious works to be seen in his parks and villas at Tusculum, near Naples, where rocks and hills had been pierced at an almost infinite expense. On one of his luxurious entertainments lie is said to have spent upwards of £2000. Far the most pleasing trait ire his character is the liberal patronage which be gave more especially to Greek philosophers and men of letters, and the fact that he collected a vast and valuable library, to which such men had free access. On the whole we may take, Lucullus to have been a man who in many respects ruse above his age, and was a decidedly favourable specimen of a great Roman noble.

Of his latter years but little is recorded. Ile had, as we have seen, almost wholly retired from public life. It appears that lie sank into a condition of mental feebleness and imbecility some years before his death, and was obliged to surrender the management of his affairs to his brother Marcus. The usual funeral panegyric was pronounced on him in the Forum, and the people would have had him buried by the side of the great Sulla in the Campus Martins, but he was laid at his brother's special request in his splendid villa at Tusculum.

The best account of Lucullns's campaign in the East is to be fount/ in Mominsen's History of Rome, bk. v. chap. 2. Our knowledge of him is drawn mainly from Plutarch, Appian's Mithridatic War, the epitomes of the lost books of Livy, and very frequent allusions to him in Cicero's works. (W. J. B.)

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