Background: Sulla was born in 138 BC, a member of the patrician (i.e. of highest nobility) clan Cornelius - arguably the most powerful clan overall - but Sulla himself started out in a relatively impoverished status despite his aristocratic background: although not destitute, he lacked the funds to pursue a public career. Frustrated, he turned to debauchery with Rome's underclass of actors, musicians, dancers, and the like. During this time he started a close friendship and homosexual relationship with the actor Metrobius, which continued on-off until Sulla's death at 60, even after Sulla's personal circumstances had improved drastically.
At thirty. he inherited considerable wealth from a mistress and from his stepmother, which raised him to senatorial status, and then he apparently got connected by marriage to the rising plebeian "self-made" politician and military man, Gaius Marius (SLE). Marius, some twenty years older and now elected consul (most senior executive magistrate), took Sulla under his wing. In a campaign in north Africa, the previously inexperienced Sulla managed to capture the enemy king single-handedly through a combination of political intrigue and personal bravery. The next 8 years were marked by Marius' political supremacy, being elected as consul further five times while he commanded the armies fighting a Germanic invasion of Gaul and Italy. Sulla still served with Marius in this period, but once the military threat was over, Marius faded somewhat into the political background, and Sulla's career took off. In 97 BC he was elected praetor, and then served as governor of Cilicia (in southern Turkey), becoming the first Roman official to deal directly with the Parthian Empire (in modern Iraq and Iran) and to sign a treaty between the two powers. As per Sulla's own account in his memoirs, on that occasion he had an encounter that deeply impressed him: a Chaldean seer told Sulla that he was the greatest man in the world and that he would die at the peak of his success and fortune. Since then, if not earlier, Sulla held a firm belief that he was favoured by the goddess of luck, Fortuna, which seems to have given him total confidence in his personal destiny and success, allowing him to engage in remarkable feats of risk-taking. That is also the background for later taking the extra name of Felix ("Fortunate").
Back in Italy, Sulla and Marius were given major army commands during the so-called "Social War" between Rome and some of Italy's other nations. Among Sulla's achievements was receiving the highest military honour, the Grass Crown, by acclamation of the soldiers, for having personally saved his legion at Nola. This boost to his "CV" helped him get elected consul soon afterwards, and accordingly assuming the supreme command of the massive military expedition against King Mithridates VI of Pontus, who had invaded Rome's provinces in the eastern Mediterranean. However, that was derailed by the now elderly and bitter Marius, who in a sort-of "legal coup" used the Popular Assembly to transfer the military command from Sulla to Marius. Seeing that not only as a huge affront to his own personal and political standing but also (arguably rightly) as a strike against the very institutions of the Republic, Sulla took the unprecedented and even sacrilegious step of marching on Rome with six legions. Resistance was futile and Marius fled into exile. After a brief stay in Rome to consolidate his political support in the Senate, Sulla resumed his military expedition against Mithridates. The political arrangements he had set up in Rome quickly collapsed, though, to be replaced by the dominance of Marius and his followers, who returned to Rome in a bloodbath with the purge of Sulla's key supporters. Sulla was declared an outlaw and his immediate family forced to flee to join him in Greece. Marius himself died soon afterwards. Rome remained governed by Marius's partisans in an authoritarian but quasi-constitutional regime.
Sulla's next five years were marked by a series of military victories in Greece, with him defeating Mithridates's forces despite numerical disadvantage. After reaching terms that restored Rome's territories and kept a humiliated Mithridates bottled up in his Pontus core territories, Sulla prepared to return to Italy to restore Rome's "true" government. The defenses set up by the "Marian" government proved no match for Sulla, who by now had also been joined by several younger exiled aristocrats, such as the future "triumvirs" Marcus Licinius Crassus (LIE) and Pompey the Great (EIE). So at the end of 82 BC Sulla re-entered Rome as the victor in the civil war. Militarily supreme, he legalised his political position by having the Senate and People appoint him as Dictator - a constitutional relic of the Republic whereby the usual checks and balances were suspended during a military emergency. However, while in the past the Dictators had been appointed to a fixed term of six months, Sulla insisted that he be appointed without a fixed term and specifically as "dictator for the making of laws and for the settling of the constitution". Thus, as Dictator, Sulla was also Rome's first "dictator" in the modern meaning of the term.
Sulla's policies as Dictator consisted of: a violent series of proscriptions of his political enemies; constitutional reforms with the general aim of increasing the authority of the Senate at the cost of the Plebeian Assembly; and a series of more "nuts and bolts" reforms to improve the workings of the provincial governments and the judicial system. His reforms also aimed at making it far more difficult for any future commander to use his military forces against the state, as Sulla himself had just done. Sulla's policies have been sometimes called "reactionary" in the sense that they decreased the power of the popular assemblies and, in particular, of the office of people's tribune while increasing that of the aristocratic senatorial class. On the other hand, Marius's use of the Popular Assembly, led by his tame people's tribune, to remove a military command from Sulla - a sitting consul - had amounted to a subversion of the Republic's institutions and, if unopposed, in effect to a shift towards Athenian Democracy. Sulla would probably see himself as a "conservative" rather than as a "reactionary", someone reforming Republican institutions so they could work as they (supposedly) had for four centuries, defending it from those who would change it into something very different.
Included in his proscription lists was the young Gaius Julius Caesar (SEE), closely connected to Gaius Marius personally and politically, but Sulla relented and pardoned him after pressure from Caesar's relatives, with Sulla quoted as complaining, "but in that young man I see many Mariuses". Sulla resigned the Dictatorship after two years, remaining however another year in government as consul, until retiring from politics for good at the end of 80 BC. He moved to a seaside villa accompanied by his new young wife, Valeria, and his on-off long-term partner the actor Metrobius. There he devoted himself to writing his memoirs and drinking parties with actor friends, as during his impoverished youth, and to sensual self-indulgence generally, dying just over one year later at 60. It has been suggested that by then he had been diabetic for some years. He composed his own epitaph for his tomb, one simple version of which would be: "no better friend - no worse enemy".
|In his later years, as Dictator - the hair here was likely a wig|
Socionics analysis: Sulla's character and personality showed the following traits, throughout his life and career: personal daring and bravery, both politically and militarily, with high risk-taking; an unassailable faith in his own destiny and in his status as Fortune's favourite - his capacity for daring and risk-taking stemmed from his faith in his destiny and luck - he just "knew" he would not fail. Sulla was also very adept at all levels of personal relationships, confident in his ability to know whom he could trust and how much, who among this followers were reliable and true friends and who were merely opportunistic, and which enemies were reconcilable and which were not.
Going into more detail:
R: The importance of R in Sulla's self-image is already clear from his choice of epitaph: "no better friend - no worse enemy". This is a man who prides himself in his unerring ability to know who his friends and his enemies are, and in his resolve in paying them back as they deserve. It is a self-portrait of a man for whom R is at the centre of his thoughts and motivations, and it is the harsh, unforgiving Gamma version of R, blocked with F, rather than the more open Delta version.
Throughout his life and career, Sulla always felt he thoroughly understood the nuances of all his personal relationships. His initial "big break" in his career - the capture of King Jugurtha of Numidia - was the result of risky backroom politics where any misplaced trust would have resulted in his death. Later, at the peak of his power, he confidently evaluated the attitudes towards him of his associates and treated them accordingly: whether as opportunistic careerists attached to him out of self-interest (like Pompey, Crassus and Catiline), or as truly devoted followers (like Lucullus and Metellus Pius), or as in selfless romantic attachment to him (Metrobius). More specifically, although he seemed to show more obvious public favour to Pompey, with Lucullus more in the background, Sulla's total trust in Lucullus was clear as he made Lucullus the executor of his will and gave him more critical commands in the war against Mithridates. Sulla flattered Pompey and threw him occasional bones such as marriages into the aristocracy (yet not really at the very top of the aristocracy), but only gave Pompey commands where he would be no real threat to Sulla. He knew exactly how he needed to treat each of them (and how each deserved to be treated).
The same went for whether someone was a bitter irreconcilable enemy (like Marius or Sertorius) or, even if hostile, not a real threat (like Caesar). Sulla never fell victim to misplaced trust because he very seldom made mistakes in that area, and was clearly proud of that. That points to someone for whom R was a very strong as well as valued function, pointing to an Ego function, i.e. R1 or R2.
F: Sulla's ease with the use of power and force - whether as personal authority, or as physical bravery on the battlefield, or in military tactics, or as ruthless political violence (on occasion ordering men to be executed on the spot) - is obvious, although arguably that would be just a "job requirement". It is difficult to see, though, how a man not very focused on F would excel in all its aspects to the level that Sulla did. But more clearly, Sulla himself wrote in his memoirs that his best decisions were always the impulsive ones, when he just did what he felt he had to do, without thinking much about them. That is the mindset of a person with much stronger F than I, that is, inclined to be in a "battle mode". F is likely not only a valued function but a strong one in Sulla. That suggests F1, F2 or perhaps F8. This is further reinforced by the reports that he found it easy to intimidate others when in their direct presence - this is not a quality normally associated with individuals of weaker F.
T: Sulla's confidence in his instinctive, impulsive decisions was backed by a total faith in his destiny to success. He himself recorded for posterity the impact on him of the prediction of a Chaldean seer, that Sulla not only was the greatest living man in the world, but also that he would die at the peak of his power and success. That belief essentially removed from Sulla any visible self-doubt or fear of failure - as if his only "path" in life was that of success. That is also evidenced by Sulla's belief that he was a favourite of Fortuna, the goddess of luck. That was reflected on his adopting the surname Felix (the Fortunate), and building the massive temple to her in Praeneste.
Interestingly, as Plutarch observed, unlike most people, Sulla preferred to attribute his victories and success not to his own ability, but to his luck - that is, his destiny and protection by Fortune. His source of confidence, even self-esteem, was not "I am so competent" but rather, it seems, "it will work out in the end". This shows a focus on a T "vision" as a source of reassurance and confidence, but a focus on T that seems very single-minded. That would point to a valued but not particularly strong function, suggesting T6 or T5. yet suggestive T does not seem likely as he did not seem to rely on others, except for occasional "help"(as from the seer) which served, it seems, essentially to confirm his own T. T6 fits Sulla's approach to T perfectly and in itself already points to ESI or LSI as Sulla's type.
S: Whenever Sulla was not ruthlessly focused on the job at hand or plotting his advancement, he drifted to the enjoyment of sensual pleasure. Parties, drinking, eating, a comfortable life, pleasant surroundings. In the two periods in his life when he was not concerning himself with his career - his enforced inactivity in his youth, and then after his retirement, he devoted himself to sensual self-indulgence, even debauchery. In fact, during his active career, even in military campaigns, he would easily get into an "after hours"mood of fun and relaxation of a sensory nature. This points to S as something he would drift to when not actively focusing on work, and seems most like a background function, or S8, also connected with strong R and E, since his S amusements were of the social sort, rather than the more impersonal sort more associated with L or P (such as manual work).
E: Sulla had no difficulty in the area of interpersonal relationships as a politician, as already mentioned above in the R section. Yet, he was not noted as a "charismatic" politician, or even as a military commander, who could move crowds or even the Senate by the strength of this oratory or personality. He had some pride in his abilities in showmanship when organising games and spectacles for the populace, but that was clearly not his main focus. E seemed to be something in which he was confident but did not consider important - suggesting E7.
L:Sulla justified his Dictatorship as necessary to reorganise the constitution of the Republic. He was concerned with putting into place a consistent constitutional framework that would increase and preserve the supremacy of the Senate over the popular assemblies. He aimed at a legal system that would be independent of the individuals running it. This shows understanding and awareness of L. Yet, when actually enforcing the law, he appeared to others as inconsistent, even capricious, Plutarch wrote a passage that is worth quoting in full, referring to Sulla's approach to the administration of justice:
"In his punishments and his reactions to injury, the same inconsistency is to be observed. He would have a man beaten to death for some inconsiderable offence, yet on other occasions he would meekly put up with really serious misdeeds. He would cheerfully become reconciled to people who had done him quite unforgivable injuries, and in other cases because of some trifling misdemeanour the punishment would be death or confiscation of goods."
This suggests that he was not really that focused on being logically and impersonally consistent in those areas, and that his judgement was more influenced by his own attitude to the individuals involved - that is, a higher focus on R than on L. Yet, Sulla was concerned with putting together a - more or less - consistent legal framework for his reforms, which shows an awareness of L+F. Even so, the inconsistencies and contradictions of that framework also led to a large part of them being dismantled ten years after Sulla's retirement. One such glaring contradiction was his "special commands" clause that benefited mostly Pompey and that went against the overall principles of his new constitution. Sulla's approach to L suggests awareness and being concerned with it but ultimately overruling it with R. That points to L as a Role function, L3.
P: The P that is obvious in Sulla's priorities is in his "nuts and bolts" reforms of the constitution - which actually were the most enduring of his reforms, outlasting the Republic itself: a thorough revamping of the justice system, establishing permanent and specialised courts, and a reform of the senatorial "career plan". Those were practical, pragmatic reforms that were not connected to specific ideological or political agendas, so P rather than F, L or E. Also, the men whom Sulla liked to have around him as sidekicks - men such as Lucullus, Metellus Pius, and even Crassus and Pompey - were men whom he could trust as to their loyalty, but also men judged by him to be reliable and competent at specific tasks. Nevertheless. as already mentioned in the T section above, Sulla claimed no credit for his P achievements, preferring to attribute them to his luck and specifically to his protectress Fortuna. This points to a man who does value P but is extremely reluctant to claim competence in it - so P as a valued but weak function, such as P5, would seem to fit very well.
I: It is difficult to see in Sulla''s life and career traits, preferences or actions that could be attributed mainly to a focus on I. He did show the ability of "thinking outside the box", but those were usually connected to military and political tactical improvisations, i.e. mostly related to F. He saw himself as a man of quick decision-making rather than of careful reflection and creative innovation - even his constitutional reforms were largely based on "turning the clock back" rather than originality - as compared, for instance, to those of Augustus (LIE). I looks like a weak and subdued function, I4 fitting best.
Conclusion: What we have is a man with high focus on R and F, which look like his Ego functions, also with a single-minded, "tunnel-vision" faith in his destiny that seems most like T6; a man with more apparent confidence in L than P but who seemed to value the latter over the former; and a man who consistently preferred S+E activities as sources of relaxation. The type that fits Sulla's functional strengths and preferences is ESI. A more superficial, excessively broad-brush view of his career might point to LSI, which I argue would be his only other plausible type; but a more detailed analysis makes ESI clear.
Sources: The modern, scholarly biography is Sulla: the last republican by Arthur Keaveney. Keaveney's own analysis of what made Sulla tick, in his last chapter, already makes ESI clear. The most important ancient source is Sulla's biography in Plutarch's Parallel Lives; Plutarch had access to Sulla's own memoirs, now lost. The Jugurthine War by Sallust is important for Sulla's "big break" in his early career. The Master of Rome series of historical novels by Colleen McCullough, a medical doctor, has well-argued speculations on the nature of Sulla's ailments.
To learn more about the ESI, click here.
If you are confused by our use of Socionics shorthand, click here.