The Truth of Plutarch
Before a historical source can be used one must trace the information to see if the source is accurate. This can be done by seeing where the source found most of its information. This must be done with Plutarch before he can be used as a definite source. In his biographies of Marius and Sulla, Plutarch sites where he finds a lot of his information.
One of these sources is Posidonius. Posidonius is used when Plutarch is trying to explain the third name used by the Romans. This can not be prejudice, because Posidoniius uses only facts . Alexander of Myndus was also used by Plutarch and was also very factual.
Alexander tells a story about Marius' army before a major victory. Two vultures were seen flying above the army, following them as they marched. This made the soldiers confident they would win the battle . This story can be taken as factual, because although one of Marius' close followers was the one who wrote it, it does not mention Marius. This is the reason that this writer could be taken as truthful. Another person Plutarch used Cicero, but this source is difficult to tell between good and bad.
Plutarch uses Cicero in the telling the story of when Marius gives as many as one thousand men citizenship . The problem with this source is that nothing is know or told about it. This causes a problem because the standing of this man can not be told, therefore, he is mysterious when it comes to writing for or against Marius. The next source was used both in the biography of Marius and Sulla.
This source was the autobiography of Sulla. This can not be taken as one hundred percent accurate. The reason for this is that Marius and Sulla were not on the best of terms. This can be seen through one of the accounts taken from Sulla's accounts. It tells of a battle where when the armies charged each other a great cloud of dust arose. Marius and his company went right by the other army not engaging them. Sulla makes fun of Marius by saying that the gods must have been displeased with him . Sulla can not be taken as one hundred percent truthful in his accounts of himself as well. The reason for this is that this was a time where they blew themselves out of proportion. Plutarch does not use Sulla's accounts for anything of great importance. The works he does use for important parts are usually the common written accounts.
This can be seen numerous times through out both works. In the biography of Marius it is seen on almost every page, in the other hand, in the biography of Sulla Plutarch does not give credit to his sources as often. An example is when he writes, "... he is said to have put down the bandrity in the area under his command" . The "is said" part is the important part. This indicates that it is the common accepted version of what happened. The problem encountered with these versions is that it is not said who wrote them or whether they would be one sided or not. An example from the biography of Sulla is, "These actions, then - at Chaeronea and Orchomenus - are said to have take place as I have described" . Once again he is using the common source when he says "are said."
Another source used by Plutarch in his biography of Sulla was Badian. He used this source to tell about the lawlessness of the land, and how people had to escape from Rome .This is another mysterious source. Plutarch does not mention whether he is for or against Sulla, therefore he must be neither.
Plutarch carefully thought about his sources, and how he used those sources. The only problem with Plutarch was that he did not always site his information. This can be seen when he talks about Marius saying, "There is some drinking water for you, but you will have to pay for it with blood" . Here he gives the quote of what the man said specifically, but gave no inclination as to where he received that bit of information. The rest of his biographies that were well cited, were good. The problem once again is that he used some citations that were most likely slanted either toward the person he was writing about or away from the person he was writing about. Plutarch can be used as a historical source if the proper parts are used, and, therefore, Plutarch, overall, should be used as a historical source for the lives of Marius and Sulla.