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Sulla's Uncle or Grandfather

My denarius of interest today was issued by a relative of Lucius Cornelius Sulla. The relationship between this moneyer and the dictator, Sulla, is ambiguous. There are two options : his grandfather or his uncle. In the year 88 BC, Lucius Cornelius Sulla achieved his first consulship - this passage provides a clue to the relationship:


"This was the year in which Quintus Pompeius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla​ entered upon the consulship. Sulla was a man to whom, up to the conclusion of his career of victory, sufficient praise can hardly be given, and for whom, after his victory, no condemnation can be adequate. He was sprung of a noble family, the sixth in descent from the Cornelius Rufinus who had been one of the famous generals in the war with Pyrrhus. As the renown of his family had waned, Sulla acted a long while as though he had no thought of seeking the consulship."

-Vitellius Paterculus, Book II, 17.2


"sixth in descent from Cornelius Rufinus" is the key passage and Crawford described the "traditional interpretation" as the sixth in decent being inclusive of the first person, in this case Cornelius Rufinus from the War with Pyrrhus (of Pyrrhic victory fame).


Publius Cornelius Rufinus, dictator in 334 BC

Gnaeus Cornelius Rufinus, father of Publius Cornelius Rufinus, dictator in 280

1. Publius Cornelius Cn. f. P. n. Rufinus, consul in 290 & 277 BC, dictator in 280 (time of war with Pyrrhus)

2. Publius Cornelius P. f. (Rufinus) Sulla, Flamen Dialis from circa 270 BC

3. Publius Cornelius P. f. P. n. Sulla, praetor in 212 BC

4. Publius Cornelius P. f. Sulla, praetor in 186 BC, Sicily

5. Lucius Cornelius P. f. P. n. Sulla, son of the praetor in 186 BC

6. Lucius Cornelius L. f. P. n. Sulla Felix, consul in 88 & 80, dictator 82-81 BC

(See wikiwand for information on the gens Cornelia) This leads to the conclusion that the moneyer was elder brother to Sulla's father and therefore uncle to the dictator of November 82- December 81 BC. Crawford also highlights the possibility that there is one more generation in the mix and this would make Publius the moneyer, the grandfather of Sulla.

P. Cornelius Sulla, AR denarius (3.89g, 17-18mm, 12h), Rome, circa 151 BC

Obv: Head of Roma to right, wearing winged helmet ornamented with griffin's head; X behind

Rev: Victory, naked to the hips, driving galloping biga to right, holding reins in left hand and whip in right; P•SVLA below, ROMA in exergue

Ref: Crawford 205/1


This coin was issued in 151 when Lucius Licinius Lucullus was consul. This Lucullus was the grandfather of Sulla's longtime general who became consul in 74 BC. His co-consul, Marcus Aurelius Cotta, was half-brother to Julius Caesar's mother Aurelia. Lucullus conquered the eastern provinces in the Third Mithridatic War.


151 BC was the year that the Carthaginians paid the last installment of the indemnity they owed to Rome after the Second Punic War, 218-201 BC. It would only be a year or two later that the Romans and Carthaginians were again fighting in the third and final Punic War, 149-146 BC.


The Romans were also fighting in the Iberian peninsula In 151 BC. This same year, Polybius the Greek historian was successful in advocating for the release of Achaean hostages from Rome who had been held captive after the defeat of King Perseus of Macedon in 168 BC. This captivity for Polybius does not appear to have been too onerous. He made friends amongst the Roman elite, including Scipio Aemilianus or Scipio Africanus the Younger who helped him to enroll Cato the Elder and release the 300 Achaeans, who remained in Rome after more than 17 years in exile or as hostages, from 1000 originally detained.


Whether it is Sulla's uncle or grandfather (less likely) who minted this coin, it is a coin from an interesting time in history, minted by a close relative of Sulla that I am pleased to add to my collection. With only 83 obverse dies reported in Crawford's Roman Republican Coinage, it is a coin that is not easy to find. This coin also nicely centered, toned, and struck.


References


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