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Ancient NEWSmismatics: "Sulla's 'Lucky Strike' Silver

Denarius of Faustus Cornelius Sulla by L.A. Hambly




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In 112 BC, the Roman Republic involved itself in a
dynastic civil war between two brothers, J ugurtha and
Adherbal, who were rival claimants to the Kingdom
of Numidia in North Africa. After an appropriate
round of bribery, the Roman Senate divided Numidia
between them (the old divide and rule strategy).
J ugurtha, much the more talented brother, wasnt
satisfied with his half and resumed the war, despite
the protestations of a Roman delegation. He captured
and executed Adherbal, and when the Romans again protested, had the emissaries
murdered as well. Thus began the J ugurthine War that made the reputations of two of the
Late Republics greatest figures, Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix
(Lucky). Marius, a novus homo (new man) from Arpinum, successfully parlayed
public dissatisfaction with the Patrician Metellus clans running of the war to gain the
Consulship and supreme command of the war effort in 107 BC. One of his junior officers
was Sulla, a dissolute but clever Patrician. Despite defeating J ugurtha in the field,
Marius found the Numidian to be a slippery character and could never quite bring him to
heel. Marius sent Sulla to negotiate with King Bocchus of the neighboring North African
kingdom of Mauretania, hoping to break his alliance with J ugurtha. Bocchus took a liking
to Sulla and offered not only to switch allegiance to Rome, but to hand over J ugurtha to
Sullas custody. Sulla jumped at the opportunity to end the war in one bold stroke. After a
hazardous nighttime journey through enemy lines, Sulla and a small bodyguard captured
J ugurtha and brought him back to the Roman camp. As Sulla was acting as Mariuss
subordinate, Marius claimed full credit for ending the war; but the Patrician class loathed
Marius and gave all credit to Sulla, who basked in the adulation and used it to launch his
political career. He even had a signet ring made depicting himself seated on a dais,
between the kneeling kings Bocchus and J ugurtha. In the decades to come the rivalry
between Marius and Sulla dominated Roman politics and helped break down the
Republican system. Marius died of a stroke shortly after claiming his seventh Consulship
in 86 BC in a bloody civil war; Sulla ultimately claimed the Dictatorship in 82 BC and
ruled with ruthless efficiency for two years before retiring back into pleasant debauchery
in his old age, dying in 78 BC.

Faustus Cornelius Sulla (ca. 56 BC). AR denarius (3.80 gm). Rome. Diademed and
draped bust of Diana right, wearing pendant earring and pendant necklace, crescent
above, lituus behind / Sulla seated left on tribunal, suppliant King Bocchus holding an
olive branch and captive King Jugurtha before. RCV 383. RRC 426/1. RSC 59. Toned
with iridescence. NGC VF, 4/5 - 3/5, edge cuts.

Ancient NEWSmismatics: "Sulla's 'Lucky Strike' Silver
Denarius of Faustus Cornelius Sulla by L.A. Hambly


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Sullas only son, Faustus Cornelius Sulla, became an officer of Pompey the Great and
launched his own political career after returning from the eastern wars in 60 BC. In 56
BC he was elected Moneyer, with the responsibility of selecting the designs of Roman
coinage and supervising the minting. His most famous coin, shown here, depicts a bust of
Diana on the obverse, while the reverse replicates his fathers signet ring showing
Bocchus and J ugurtha kneeling below the triumphant Sulla Felix. Sulla sits to left on a
raised dais, with his adoptive nickname Felix inscribed behind; Bocchus presents Sulla
with a victorious laurel, while J ugurtha kneels behind with his hands bound behind him,
his face downcast. Faustus Sullas own career was fairly colorful and successful, but he
chose the wrong side in the Civil War if 49-48 BC and was executed by supporters of
Caesar in 46 BC.