The Romans had a bad reputation for brutality even in antiquity. 1 Greek writers are quite patronising when they come across exceptions to the expected pattern of Roman behaviour. 2 The saving grace is utilitas publica, but not everything can be smoothed over by that panacea, or at least not convincingly. The least acceptable manifestations of brutality are genocide, slavery, torture and the games. There is one important non-violent form, racial prejudice.
Genocide occurs in two forms on the Roman scene. The external form encompasses acts of unbridled savagery, of virtual extermination, against large groups of non-Romans. In the internal form Romans systematically annihilate each other.
External genocide is stigmatised by Seneca: 'We are a mad people, checking individual murders but doing nothing about war and the "glorious" crime of slaughtering whole peoples under the authority of duly enacted laws' (Ep. 95.30-1). To illustrate this we have chosen an example from the first century BC; it was perpetrated by that enigmatic figure, L. Cornelius Sulla. As for internal genocide, the ready-made examples are the proscriptions of Sulla and the triumvirs, which date as improbably as the external model to the Blütezeit of humanitas. 3
Sulla's external victims were the Samnites, who had come perilously close to ending Rome's drive for empire before it began. Later on, in 82 BC, the Samnites, long seen as 'the old enemy', fought on Marius' side in the civil war against Sulla. Sulla defeated them in a decisive battle at the Colline Gate of Rome.