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Lucius Licinius Lucullus Ponticus

Roman general of the 1st century B.C.


Lucullus first came to public notice when he brought charges against Servilius the Auger, who had been responsible for Lucullus' father's conviction for peculation. However, he did not start seeking public office until his younger brother, Marcus, was old enough to do so as well.

Lucullus attracted Sulla's attention in the Marsic war (90-89) and he later accompanied Sulla to Greece in the war against Mithridates, where he was entrusted with the management of the mint. Although Sulla's forces in Greece had land superiority, they were weak at sea, and he sent Lucullus to Egypt and Libya to get more ships (87-86). Ptolemy IX was trying to remain neutral but gave Lucullus a convoy to Cyprus, and Lucullus picked up more ships on the way. From Cyprus he made his way to Rhodes, Cos, and Cnidus where he obtained more ships.

Fimbria, who was on the side of the Marians opposed to Sulla, was besieging Mithridates in Pergamum and suggested he and Lucullus join forces so that Mithridates could not escape by sea. Lucullus refused to help a political opponent who had murdered his superior, and so Mithridates escaped.

After peace was made between Sulla and Mithridates, Lucullus was entrusted with collecting the fine of twenty thousand talents Sulla had imposed on Asia. He did this fairly and honestly, and this task kept him away from the battles between the followers of Sulla and Marius fought in Italy.

Lucullus was consul in 74, and was originally allotted Cisalpine Gaul as his province. However, by the death of its governor, Octavius, the province of Cilicia became vacant, and Lucullus managed to obtain this posting so that he could continue the fight against Mithridates. When Lucullus arrived in the province he found the troops left there by Fimbria in need of discipline, and while he was reforming them, Mithridates invaded Bithynia. The whole of Asia was restless under Roman tax-gatherers and money-lenders who were fleecing the province and so Mithridates was welcomed as a liberator.

Lucullus' colleague as consul, Marcus Cotta, attacked Mithridates without waiting for Lucullus. While Mithridates was besieging Cyzicus Lucullus cut off Mithridates' landward supply chain, thus reducing his troops to a state of starvation, forcing Mithridates to lift the siege. Mithridates fled by sea, while his army was defeated by Lucullus at the river Granicus as it tried to escape. Mithridates was shipwrecked but managed to get back to Pontus. Lucullus then gave Mithridates time to recruit a new army because he did not want to fight Mithridates in a guerrilla war in the mountains.

After detachments sent after Lucullus' foraging parties were heavily defeated, Mithridates' troops panicked and fled (72). Mithridates was almost captured, but the troops sent after him were diverted by the prospect of plundering a mule carrying some of Mithridates' gold treasure, and so Mithridates got away to Armenia, where his son-in-law, Tigranes, was king. So convinced was Mithridates that his cause was lost that he sent orders to his wives and sisters for them to commit suicide rather than be captured by the Romans.

Lucullus returned to the siege of Amisus. He managed to take the city, but its commander, Callimachus, set fire to it. The Roman soldiers were too busy plundering it to put out the fire, and if anything made the situation worse while they searched for hidden loot. Lucullus attempted to repair the damage and persuade the citizens who had fled to return.

Ancient Sources

Ancient Sources: Plutarch's Life of Lucullus
Appian: The War Against Mithridates
Cicero: Academicorum Priorum Liber Secundus (in Latin)

Picture of bust of Lucullus

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