Lucius Cornelius Cinna

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Lucius Cornelius Cinna[1] (died 84 BC) was a four-time consul of the Roman Republic, serving four consecutive terms from 87 to 84 BC, and a member of the ancient Roman Cinna family of the Cornelii gens.

Cinna's influence in Rome exacerbated the tensions which existed between Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla. After the death of Marius, he became the leading power in Rome until his own death. His main impact upon Roman politics was his ability to veil his tyranny and make it appear that he was working under a constitutional government. His policies also impinged on Julius Caesar, who married his daughter.

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Rise to power

Not much is known about Cinna before his bid for the consulship of 87 BC. He had praetorian rank in the Social War (91-88 BC), and had most likely also been praetor previous to this time. Cinna was elected as Roman consul in 87 BC, but historians disagree about who supported his election and what his own original political goals and causes were. All seem to agree on a basic chain of events however. Cinna was elected at a time when Sulla (the current consul) was very unpopular with the lower classes and the Latin allies, because he had sided with the Roman Senate, blocking the advancement of their rights as citizens. The people had intentionally elected candidates (probably for Tribune) who were not supported by Sulla.[2] Sulla had a little more control over the election for consul, or at least, had enough power to be certain no one who supported his rival, Marius could be elected.[3]

Sulla seems to have supported Cinna as a compromise candidate, but clearly did not trust him, as seen from an anecdote from Plutarch. Immediately after Cinna’s election, Sulla made Cinna swear loyalty to him by taking a stone up to the Capitol and cast it down, “praying that, if he failed to preserve his goodwill for Sulla, he might be thrown out of Rome as the stone was thrown out of his hand.” [4] Somehow then, Cinna had enough support to be elected. Various theories on who supported him and why are postulated based on what he did while in office, but all agree, Sulla was correct in his distrust. Gnaeus Octavius was elected as Cinna’s colleague under relatively similar circumstances, though Octavius probably had more support from Sulla.[5]

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