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112 BC - Jugurthine War

With the downfall and death of Gaius Gracchus in 121 BC, the senate had triumphed again, but it failed to heed the warning which the movements led by Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus should have given it. It adhered to its selfish policy of governing in the interests of the nobilitas. Its venality, selfishness, and incapacity were painfully apparent during the war with Jugurtha, and lost it the prestige which its victory over the Gracchi had won. Jugurtha, an African prince, had inherited the kingdom of Numidia conjointly with two of his cousins in 118 BC. He soon found means, however, of murdering both his rivals and of making himself master of all Numidia. One of the claimants to the throne, before his death, appealed to Rome for help, and the scandal which followed scarcely finds a parallel in Roman history. Two commissions, headed by distinguished members of the aristocracy, were sent to Africa, but Jugurtha had a long purse, the Roman envoys were amenable to reason, and the commissions returned to Rome, leaving a free hand to the African king. But the massacres which followed the return of the second embassy forced the senate to declare war, and the consul L. Calpurnius Bestia was despatched to Africa with an army. To the surprise even of the senate, Bestia made a disgraceful treaty with Jugurtha, and left him in undisputed control in Africa.

Ultimately the senate was forced to declare war upon him, but it proved to be as incapable in carrying on military operations against him, as it had been venal in conducting negotiations with him. The series of disgraceful negotiations and disastrous defeats which had extended through eleven years [112-105 BC] gave the popular party its opportunity, and the democrats and middle classes uniting upon Gaius Marius, who had served with distinction in a subordinate capacity in Africa in the year 107, secured his election to the consulship by a large majority, and entrusted to him the conduct of the campaign against Jugurtha. In two years' time Marius brought the king of Numidia in chains to Rome.

This war is interesting in that it brought to the front two men, Marius and Sulla, one belonging to the commons, the other to the aristocracy, whose personal rivalry and political animosity plunged Rome into a fierce civil struggle, and drew more rigidly than ever the line between the senate and the democracy. The part which Marius played in the campaign we have just noticed. His future rival, Sulla, won a name for himself in the war by his brilliant leadership of a cavalry force. In fact no small share of the success of the campaign was due to his skill and daring.

The two men were as far removed as possible from each other in antecedents, character, and methods. Marius was the son of a laborer; Sulla was a member of a noble family. Marius passed his youth in the village of Arpinum. On the drudgery of farm labor followed the hardships of a private soldier's life. His world was the camp. Of politics, society, or the refinements of life he had no knowledge. Serious-minded to the point of being obstinate, or even stolid, he fought his way upward with a grim determination over all the obstacles which the jealous and contemptuous nobility always threw in the way of a "new man." Sulla, on the other hand, belonged to a noble family. He was brought up at Rome, and plunged with abandon into every form of pleasure which the society of the metropolis offered. Familiar with the refinements of life, of an emotional temperament, and yet touched with the cynicism of a man of the world, he ruled men because of his inborn genius to rule and not because, as with Marius, years of hardship had taught him the importance: of discipline, and how to enforce it on others. To him the path of preferment was easy, for he was the chosen champion of the senate.

Marius allied himself with the Democracy in 100 BC. The democrats were quick to take advantage of the brilliant success which their champion won in Africa, and later over the Cimbri, and formed a political alliance with him. In accordance with its terms they elected him to the consulship for the sixth time in 100 BC, assigned lands to his veterans, and, by these concessions, secured his support of the agrarian measures of their tribune. But the violent means which the democratic leaders used to secure the passage of their land bills obliged Marius, as consul, to take active measures to restore order. By this action he disappointed the democrats, and was forced into retirement at the end of his year of office.

The measure which had led to the defeat of Gaius Gracchus was his proposition to grant citizenship to the Italians. The agent whom the senate had used in encompassing his downfall was a tribune named Livius Drusus. It is a strange illustration of the irony of fate that the son of this man, holding the same office of tribune, should have revived the agitation in favor of the Italians, and should thereby have lost his life. The political aim of the younger Drusus differed essentially, however, from that of Gaius Gracchus. The tribune of 123 had tried to overthrow the senate by combining all the other forces in the state against it. Drusus, on the other hand, sought to strengthen the conservative position by removing the principal causes of discontent, not only in Rome but in all Italy. But the same selfish unwillingness to share their privileges with others, which the Romans had shown before, and which had thwarted his predecessor, brought the efforts of Drusus also to naught, and he became a victim of popular passion, as Gaius Gracchus had been.

The bill which Drusus submitted in the year 91 was the last of many attempts to better the condition of the Italians by constitutional methods. When, like its predecessors, it resulted in failure and was followed by severe repressive measures directed against them, the discontent of the Italians broke out into an open revolt, in which all except the Latins and the aristocratic states of Umbria and Etruria joined.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:28:33 ZULU