Gaius Marius is a man from the back woods of Roman lands. He comes from a family with Roman citizenship. They are citizens in a town with two streets and twenty-seven mules. He makes his way though Roman politics the only way he can. He uses the military. Marius is a gifted officer and a great general.
He builds his career while fighting in North Africa. It is a war in Algeria. The king of that kingdom has become a problem for Rome. They fight him. They cannot capture him. The war drags on and on.
Marius runs for consul. He says he has a plan to end the war in one year. His pledge to end the war gets him elected. He does not end the war in an year. It takes two years. Marius gets elected to a second term as consul to finish the war. Now, a big military hero, Marius goes on to be consul five out of six years running. No one has done that before.
Marius wins the war by reforming the legions. He scrapped the idea of drafting in small farmers. They will to fight for as long as the war takes. He replaces it with a professional army. He enlists the unemployed in Rome. They will serve for twenty years. After their service, they will receive free land from the Roman government. They will become small land-owning farmers again. He also creates the cohorts and introduces the standards into the legions.
When the war is over, Marius must deliver the land. He is a "man of the people". He turns to the Assembly of the Plebs. He has a tribune propose a land bill. The Senate tries to block it. It is a real fight. Marius get his land bill at last.
The Senate is scared. Marius has completely changed the way the Roman army works. When it was made up of small land-owning farmers, it was dependent on the Senate. This new army looks to its general to deliver the land they signed up for. They are frighting for land not for the Senate and people of Rome. The new armies are loyal to their generals. They are not loyal to the Senate.
Sulla is a patrician. He served under Marius. He came to hate Marius. HE hated him because it is Sulla who captured the king in Algeria. However, Marius did not give Sulla public credit for grabbing the king. Romans get very angry when they are denied public honor for their achievements. Sulla is out to "get" Marius.
Sulla sides with the Senate. They promote him over time. Eventually, he will become consul. As consul, he is appointed to take an army to Anatolia. Marius decides he should have had that command. He gets the Assembly of the Plebs to name him the commander of this army. Instant clash. Clash of personalities. Clash of generals too
Sulla is in the south of Italy raising an army. He learns of Marius being named the commander by the Assembly of the Plebs. Sulla tells his new army they must march on Rome. They must save the Republic from a tyrant -- Marius. His officers refuse. His soldiers say yes, of course. After all, he's the one that sees to it we are paid. We're with him.
Sulla has turned one Roman legion against another Roman legion. He marches on and takes Rome. He creates a civil war. He has those who oppose him killed when he gets to Rome. Marius escapes. He is chased across Italy. At last, he gets to North Africa. There, his former soldiers protect him.
Sulla goes off to Anatolia. Marius returns to Italy. There he joins one of the consuls. They create an army and march on Rome. They take the city. Marius and his followers then beat up and kill followers of Sulla. Marius has himself elected consul for the sixth time. He dies several months into office.
Eventually, Sulla returns to Rome. He gets the Senate to name him dictator. Dictator to write the laws and save the republic. He will be allowed to be dictator for as long as he wants. No six months and out for Sulla.
How did Sulla get the Senate to make him dictator? He brings back 3,000 prisoners from Anatolia. They are prisoner of war he captured during the war. He has them put in the center of the oval used for chariot racking. They he heads up the hill to the Senate. As he meets with the Senate, his soldiers slaughter the prisoners. The Senators heal the yells and cries. What is that they ask. Sulla tells them it is the sound of him dealing with his enemies.
As dictator, Sulla goes beyond that. He draws up weekly lists of Romans. If a name appears on the list, you can hunt and kill the person. He has thousands and thousands murdered. All these murders are legal, because Sulla is dictator. What he says goes.
As dictator, Sulla tries to give all the power back to the patricians and the Senate. Tribunes may not propose laws to the Assembly of the Plebs. Only the Senate can create laws. If you become a tribune, you can never hold office again in Rome. It works. The Senate is again all powerful -- for a while. Eventually, Sulla does resign as dictator. He lives on at his estate until he dies.
After he dies, his pro-Senate reforms fall apart.
Marius has given Rome the idea of government by the tribunes and the Assembly. The tribunes are soon hiring goon squads to attack and kill rival tribunes.
Sulla has given Rome the idea that armies can be used to settle political differences. He has also make it popular to kill your rivals or political enemies by the thousands.
Both men have upped the violence. It is much worse than in the days of the Gracchi brothers.