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For his grandfather and namesake, see Lucius Licinius Lucullus.

Lucius Licinius Lucullus (c.118-57 B.C.), was one of the canonical great men of Roman history, ever included in the biographical collections of leading generals and politicians, which originated in the biographical compendium of famous Romans published by his contemporary Marcus Terentius Varro. Two biographies of Lucullus survive today, Plutarch's Lucullus in the famous series of Parallel Lives, in which Lucullus is paired with the Athenian aristocratic politician and strategos Kimon, and # 74 in the slender Latin Liber de viris illustribus, of late and unknown authorship, the main sources for which appear to go back to Varro and his most significant successor in the genre, Gaius Iulius Hyginus.

Lucullus was an optimas or Aristocratic politician of the late Roman Republic, closely connected with Sulla Felix. In the culmination of over twenty years of almost continuous military and government service, he became the main conqueror of the eastern kingdoms in the course of the Third Mithridatic War, exhibiting extraordinary generalship abilities in diverse situations, most famously during the siege of Cyzicus, 73-2 BC, and at the battle of Tigranocerta in Armenian Arzanene, 69 BC. His command style received unusually favourable attention from ancient military experts, and his campaigns appear to have been studied as exemplary of skillful generalship.

Lucullus returned to Rome from the east with so much captured booty that the whole could not be fully accounted, and poured enormous sums into private building, husbandry and even aquaculture projects which shocked and amazed his contemporaries by their magnitude. He also patronized the arts and sciences lavishly, transforming his hereditary estate in the Tusculan highlands into a hotel-and-library complex for scholars and philosophers. He built the horti Lucullani on the Pincian Hill in Rome, the famous gardens of Lucullus, and in general became a cultural revolutionary in the deployment of imperial wealth. He died sometime during the winter of 57-56 B.C. and was buried at the family estate near Tusculum.

The sober and witty philosopher-historian, Lucius Aelius Tubero the Stoic, labelled him "Xerxes in a toga". After his great personal foe Pompey heard this, he came up with what he considered a very clever joke of his own, calling Lucullus "Xerxes in a dress".

Family and early career

Lucullus was a member of the prominent gens Licinia, of the family (stirps) of Luculli, which was probably ancient nobility of Tusculum. He was grandson of Lucius Licinius Lucullus (consul 151), and son of Lucius Lucullus (praetor c.104), who was convicted for embezzlement in 102/1 from his Sicilian command of 103-2.

The family of his mother Caecilia Metella (born c.137 B.C.) was one of the most powerful of the plebeian nobilitas, and was at the height of its success and influence in the last quarter of the 2nd century B.C. when Lucullus was born. She was the youngest child of Lucius Caecilius Metellus Calvus (consul 142 and censor 115-14), and half-sister of two of the most important members of the Optimates of the their time, Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus (cos.109, censor 102), and Lucius Caecilius Metellus Dalmaticus (cos.119 and pontifex maximus), who was the father of Sulla's fourth wife Caecilia Metella .

His first known military service was as tribune of soldiers serving in Sulla's army in Campania during the bellum Italicum (90-89 B.C.), when he is said to have distinguished himself for daring and intelligence.

The longest Quaestura, 88-80 B.C.

Lucullus was elected quaestor in winter 89-88 at the same elections in which Sulla was returned as consul with his friend Q. Pompeius Rufus, whose son was married to Sulla's eldest daughter, Cornelia.Lucullus was probably the quaestor mentioned as the sole officer in Sulla's army who could stomach accompanying the consul when he marched on Rome.

In autumn of the same year Sulla sent Lucullus ahead of him to Greece to take over the command of the Mithradatic War in his name.

The naval venture, 86-85

As the Roman siege of Athensmarker was drawing towards a successful conclusion, Sulla's strategic attention began to focus more widely on subsequent operations against the main Pontic forces, and combating Mithradates' control of the sea lanes. He sent Lucullus to collect such a fleet as may be possible from Rome's allies along the eastern Mediterranean seaboard, first to the important but currently disturbed states of Cyrene and Ptolemaic Egypt.Lucullus set out from the Peiraieus in mid winter 87-6 BC with three Greek yachts (myoparones) and three light Rhodian biremes, hoping to evade the prevailing sea power of the Pontic fleets and their piratic allies by speed and taking advantage of the worst sailing conditions. He initially made Crete, and is said to have won over the cities to the Roman side. From there he crossed to Cyrenemarker where the famous Hellenic colony in Africa was in dire condition following a vicious and exhausting civil war of nearly seven years' duration. Lucullus' arrival seems to have put a belated end to this terrible conflict, as the first official Roman presence there since the departure of the proconsul Caius Claudius Pulcher, who presided over its initial administrative incorporation into the Roman empire in 94 BC.

After Lucullus had defeated the Mithridatic admiral Neoptolemus in the Battle of Tenedos, he helped Sulla cross the Aegeanmarker to Asia. After a peace had been agreed, Lucullus stayed in Asia and collected the financial penalty Sulla imposed upon the province for its revolt. Lucullus, however, tried to lessen the burden that these impositions created.

Return to Rome and the west, 80-74 B.C.

Lucullus returned in 80 BC and was elected curule aedile for 79, along with his brother Marcus Terentius Varro Lucullus, and gave splendid games.

The most obscure part of Lucullus' public career is the year he spent as praetor in Rome, followed by his command of Roman Africa, which probably lasted the usual two-year span for this province in the post-Sullan period. Plutarch's biography entirely ignores this period, 78 BC to 75 BC, jumping from Sulla's death to Lucullus' consulate. However Cicero briefly mentions his praetorship followed by the African command, while the surviving Latin biography, far briefer but more even as biography than Plutarch, comments that he "ruled Africa with the highest degree of justice". This command is significant in showing Lucullus performing the regular, less glamorous, administrative duties of a public career in the customary sequence and, given his renown as a Philhellene, for the regard he showed for subject peoples who were not Greek.

In these respects his early career demonstrates a generous and just nature, but also his political traditionalism in contrast to contemporaries such as Cicero and Pompey, the former of whom was always eager to avoid administrative responsibilities of any sort in the provinces, while Pompey rejected every aspect of a normal career, seeking great military commands at every opportunity which suited him, while refusing to undertake normal duties in peaceful provinces.

Two other notable transactions took place in 76 or 75 B.C. following Lucullus' return from Africa, his marriage to Claudia the youngest daughter of Appius Pulcher, and his purchase of the Marian hill top villa at Cape Misenum from Sulla's wretchedly avaricious eldest daughter Cornelia.


Sulla dedicated his memoirs to Lucullus, and upon his death made him guardian of his son Faustus, preferring Lucullus over Pompey. Shortly after this, in 74, he became consul (along with Marcus Aurelius Cotta, Julius Caesar's uncle), and defended Sulla's constitution from the efforts of Lucius Quinctius.

Initially, he drew Cisalpine Gaul in the lots at the start of his consulship as his proconsular command after his year as consul was done, but he got himself appointed governor of Cilicia after its governor died, so as to also receive the command against Mithridates VI in the Third Mithridatic War.

The Eastern Wars, 73-67 B.C.

On arrival, Lucullus set out from his province to relieve the besieged Cotta in Bithynia. He harried the army of Mithridates and killed many of his soldiers. He then turned to the sea and raised a fleet amongst the Greek cities of Asia. With this fleet he defeated the enemy's fleet off Iliummarker and then off Lemnosmarker. Turning back to the land, he drove Mithridates back into Pontus. He was wary of drawing into a direct engagement with Mithridates, due to the latter's superior cavalry. But after several small battles, Lucullus finally defeated him at the Battle of Cabira. He did not pursue Mithridates immediately, but instead he finished conquering the kingdom of Pontus and setting the affairs of Asia into order. His attempts to reform the rapacious Roman administration in Asia made him increasingly unpopular among the powerful publicani back in Rome.

In 69 BC he then led a campaign into Armeniamarker against Tigranes II, Mithridates' son-in-law and ally, to whom Mithridates had fled after Cabeira. He began a siege of the new Armenian imperial capital of Tigranocerta in the Arzenene district. Tigranes returned from mopping up a Seleucid rebellion in Syria with an experienced army which Lucullus nonetheless annihilated at the battle of Tigranocerta. This battle was fought on the same (pre-Julian) calendar date as the Roman disaster at Arausio 36 years earlier, the day before the Nones of October according to the reckoning of the time (or October 6), which is Julian October 16, 69 BC. Tigranes retired to the northern regions of his kingdom to gather another army and defend his hereditary capital of Artaxata, while Lucullus moved off south-eastwards to the kingdom of the Kurds (Korduene) on the frontiers of the Armenian and Parthian empires. During the winter of 69-68 BC both sides opened negotiations with the Parthian king, Arsakes XVI, who was presently defending himself against a major onslaught from his rival Frahates III coming from Bactria and the far east.

In the summer of 68 BC Lucullus marched against Tigranes and crossed the Ante-Taurus range heading for the old Armenian capital Artaxata. Once again Tigranes was provoked to attack and in a major battle at the Arsanias River, Lucullus once again routed the Armenian army. But he had left this campaign too late in the year and when the wintry season came on early in the Armenian Tablelands, frustrated by the rough terrain of Northern Armenia and seeing the worsening morale of his troops, Lucullus moved back south. In the late autumn and early winter the Romans captured the city of Nisibis, the main Armenian fortress city in Northern Mesopotamia, which was held by a brother of Tigranes.

During the winter of 68-67 BC at Nisibis, his authority over his army was more seriously undermined by the efforts of his young brother-in-law Publius Clodius Pulcher, apparently acting in the interests and pay of Pompey, who was eager to succeed Lucullus in the eastern command. The long campaigning and hardships that Lucullus' troops had endured for years, combined with a perceived lack of reward in the form of plunder, became gradually insubordinate. Encouraged by Clodius Pulcher, this led to successive outbreaks of mutiny amongst the legions in 68-67 BCE. Despite his continuous success in battle, Lucullus had still not captured either one of the monarchs. In 66 BC with the majority of Lucullus' troops now openly refusing to obey his commands, but agreeing to defend Roman positions from attack, the senate sent Pompey to take over Lucullus' command at which point Lucullus returned to Rome.

Final years, 66-57 B.C.

The opposition to him continued on his return. In his absence Pompey had shamefully usurped control over Sulla's children, contrary to the father's testament, and now in Pompeius' absence the latter's intimate and hereditary political ally Gaius Memmius co-ordinated the opposition to Lucullus' just claim to a triumph. Memmius delivered at least four speeches de triumpho Luculli Asiatico, and the antagonism towards Lucullus aroused by the Pompeians proved so effective that the enabling law (lex curiata) required to hold a triumph was delayed for three years. In this period Lucullus was forced to reside outside the pomerium, which curtailed his involvement in day to day politics centred on the Forum.Instead of returning fully to political life (although, as a friend of Cicero, he did act in some issues,) he mostly retired to extravagant leisure, or, in Plutarch's words,:

He used the vast treasure he amassed during his wars in the East to live a life of luxury. He had splendid gardens outside the city of Rome, as well as villas around Tusculummarker and Neapolis. The one near Neapolis included fish ponds and man-made extensions into the sea, and was only one of many elite senators' villas around the Bay of Naplesmarker. Pompey is said by Pliny to have referred often to Lucullus as "Xerxes in a toga".


So famous did Lucullus become for his banqueting that the word lucullan now means lavish, luxurious and gourmet.

Once, Cicero and Pompey succeeded in inviting themselves to dinner with Lucullus, but, curious to see what sort of meal Lucullus ate when alone, forbade him to send word ahead to his servants to prepare a meal for guests. However, Lucullus outsmarted them. He ordered that his servants serve him in the Apollo Room, and as his servants had been schooled ahead of time as to precisely what to make for each of the different dining rooms, Cicero and Pompey ate the most luxurious of all meals.

Another tale runs that one of his servants, upon hearing that he would have no guests for dinner, served only one course. Lucullus reprimanded his servant saying, "What, did not you know, then, that today Lucullus dines with Lucullus?". He was also responsible for bringing the sweet cherry and the apricot to Rome.

Lucullus & higher learning

Lucullus was extremely well educated in Latin and Greek, and showed a keen interest in literature and philosophy from earliest adulthood. He established life-long friendships with the Greek poet Archias of (Syrian) Antioch, who migrated to Rome around 102 B.C., and with one of the leading Academic philosophers of the time, Antiochus of Ascalon.

During his long delay in the royal palace at Alexandreia in the summer of 86 B.C. Lucullus witnessed the beginning of the major schism in the Platonic Academy in the 1st century, the so-called Sosos Affair. His friend and companion Antiochos of Askalon received, evidently from the Great Library, a copy of a work by the Scholarch of the Academy, Philon of Larisa, so radical in its sceptical stance that Antiochos was sufficiently disturbed to doubt the attribution of authorship to his old teacher. But more recent pupils of Philon, chiefly Herakleitos of Tyre, were able to assure him of the book's authenticity. Antiochos and Herakleitos dissected it at length in Lucullus' presence, and in the ensuing weeks while the Roman party continued to await the arrival of the king from the south, Antiochos composed a vigorous polemic against Philon entitled Sosos, which marked his definitive break with Philon's so-called "Sceptical Academy", and the beginning of the separate, more conservative, school eventually called the Old Academy.

Decline & death

Lucullus is reported by Plutarch to have lost his mind at the end and went intermittently crazy as he aged. Lucullus' brother Marcus oversaw his funeral.


Plutarch writes:


  1. Cassius Dio XXXVI. In captured correspondence of Mithradates VI Eupator, Lucullus was rated as the outstanding general since Alexander (Cicero Acad.Pr.II)
  2. Bennett 1972:314
  3. Plutarch Lucullus 39.3
  4. Velleius Paterculus II 33.4, Pliny Natural History IX
  5. Plutarch, Lucullus 1.1-6
  6. ILS 60, Plut.Luc.2.1
  7. Plut.Luc.2.1
  8. Appian R.Em. I, 57 records the bare facts without giving names. The suggestion that this quaestor was Lucullus was first made by E. Badian, and has found wide acceptance.
  9. Plut.Luc.2.2
  10. Plut.Luc.2.3
  11. Plutarch, Life of Lucullus, 2.1-4.5
  12. Plut.Luc.1.6, Granius Licinianus 32F
  13. Acad.Prior II 1
  14. Liber de viris illustribus 74.3
  15. Plutarch, Life of Lucullus, 4.5
  16. Plutarch, Life of Lucullus, 5.1
  17. Plutarch, Life of Lucullus, 5.2-6.5
  18. Plutarch, Life of Lucullus, 7.1-36.7 - an account of his whole governorship, by far the bulk of Plutarch's Life
  19. Plutarch Camillus 19.11, Lucullus 27.8-9
  20. See Roman calendar, sub-heading Conversion of pre-Julian dates)
  21. That is, C. Memmius L. f. (, pr.58) a notable orator and patron of the "modern" poets. He had married Sulla's daughter Fausta c.70 B.C., while his homonymous first-cousin C. Memmius had been the husband of Pompey's sister until killed in battle in Spain in 75.
  22. Servius, ad Aeneid I.161, quotes from a written version of the fourth. There may have been more.
  23. Plutarch, Life of Lucullus, 42.4-43.3
  24. Plutarch, Life of Lucullus, 38.2-41.6
  25. Pliny Natural History: Book IX pg 279
  26. Plutarch, Life of Lucullus, 41.1-6
  27. Cic.Acad.Pr.II, cf. Barnes 1981:205

Ancient sources

  • Plutarch, Lucullus, also the lives of Kimon, Sulla, Pompeius, Cicero, Cato
  • Ziegler, Konrat (ed.) Plutarchi Vitae Parallelae, Vol.I, Fasc.1 (Teubner, Leipzig, 4th edition, 1969), I: ΘΗΣΕΥΣ ΚΑΙ ΡΩΜΥΛΟΣ, II: ΣΟΛΩΝ ΚΑΙ ΠΟΠΛΙΚΟΛΑΣ, III: ΘΕΜΙΣΤΟΚΛΗΣ ΚΑΙ ΚΑΜΙΛΛΟΣ, IV: ΑΡΙΣΤΕΙΔΗΣ ΚΑΙ ΚΑΤΩΝ, V: ΚΙΜΩΝ ΚΑΙ ΛΕΥΚΟΛΛΟΣ.
  • Liber de viris illustribus, 74
  • Cassius Dio Roman History, book XXXVI
  • Appian Roman History, book XII: Mithridateios
  • Cicero Lucullus, also known as Academica Prior, book II
  • Cicero pro Archia poeta 5-6, 11, 21, 26, 31
  • Cicero de imperio Cn. Pompei 5, 10, 20-26
  • Cicero pro L. Murena 20, 33-34, 37, 69
  • Cicero pro A. Cluentio Habito 137
  • Cicero ad Atticum, I 1.3, 14.5, 16.15, XIII 6
  • Julius Frontinus Stratagems, II 1.14, 2.4 (Tigranocerta), II 5.30 (Pontic assassination attempt 72 BC), II 7.8 (Macedonian cavalry during Cabira campaign), III 13.6 (swimming messenger at siege of Cyzicus)
  • Paulus Orosius bk.VI
  • Eutropius bk.VI
  • Annaeus Florus
  • Malcovati, Henrica (ed.) Oratorum Romanorum Fragmenta, Liberae Rei Publicae (Corpus Scriptorum Latinorum Paravianum, Torino, 1953; 4th edition, 1976), 307-9 (Orator #90)

  • Memnon, history of Herakleia Pontike, 9th century epitome in the ΒΙΒΛΙΟΘΗΚΗ of Photius of Byzantium (codex 224)
- ed. René Henry Photius Bibliotheque, vol.IV: Codices 223-229 (Budé, Paris, 1965), 48-99: Greek with French translation

- ed. Karl Müller FHG (Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum), vol.III, 525ff.: Greek with Latin translation

- ed. Felix Jacoby FGrH 434 (Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker, commenced 1923): Greek text, critical commentary in German

  • Phlegon of Tralles, fragments
- ed. Müller FHG, III, 602ff.

- ed. Jacoby FGrH 257

- English translation and commentary by William Hansen, Phlegon of Tralles' Book of Marvels (University of Exeter Press, 1996)

  • Inscriptions.
- ILS 60 (Latin career elogium from Arretium)

- SIG3 743, AE 1974, 603 (both Greek from Hypata, as quaestor in late 88)

- SIG3 745 (Greek from Rhodes, when pro quaestore, 84/3)

- Ins.Délos 1620 (Latin statue base titulus from Delos when pro quaestore, 85/80)

- BE 1970, p. 426 (two Greek tituli when imperator, 72/66, from Andros and Klaros)

Modern works

Major studies.
  • Eckhardt, Kurt: "Die armenischen Feldzüge des Lukullus",
pt.I Introduction. Klio, 9 (1909), 400-412

pt.II Das Kriegsjahr 69. Klio, 10 (1910), 72-115

pt.III Das Kriegsjahr 68. Klio, 10 (1910), 192-231

  • Gelzer, Matthias: "L. Licinius Lucullus cos.74", in Real-Encyclopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, vol.13 (1926), s. v. Licinius (104), colls.376-414.
  • Baker, George Philip: Sulla the Fortunate: Roman General and Dictator (J Murray, London, 1927; reprint by Cooper Square Press, 2001) reprint ISBN 0-8154-1147-2
  • Van Ooteghem, J: Lucius Licinius Lucullus, (Brussels, 1959)
  • Glucker, J: Antiochus and the Late Academy (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, 1978), P.510
- reviewed by Jonathan Barnes, JRS 71 (1981), 205-6
  • Keaveney, Arthur: Lucullus. A Life. (London/New York: Routledge, 1992). ISBN 0-415-03219-9.

Shorter articles.
  • Badian, Ernst: s. v. Lucullus (2), p. 624 in The Oxford Classical Dictionary (ed.2, 1970)
  • Bennett, W H: "The date of the death of Lucullus", Classical Review, 22 (1972), 314
  • Jones, C P: "Plutarch Lucullus 42, 3-4", Hermes, 110 (1982), 254-56
  • Tatum, W J: "Lucullus and Clodius at Nisibis (Plutarch, Lucullus 33-34)", Athenaeum, 79 (1991)
  • Hillman, Thomas P: "When did Lucullus retire?", Historia, 42 (1993), 211-228
  • Dix, T. Keith: "The Library of Lucullus", Athenaeum, 88 (2000), 441-464

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