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Gaius Marius [Consul 108-102, 87]

Gaius Marius, born of an obscure family near Arpinum, in BC 157. Marius distinguished himself in BC 134 for valor at the siege of Numantia in Spain. In BC 119 he was elected Tribune of the plebs, and afterwards elected Praetor. Marius married Julia, aunt of Julius Caesar. In BC 109 Marius served in Africa as legate under Q. Metellus in the war against Jugurtha. Marius then returned to Rome in BC 108 and was elected Consul. In BC 107 Marius received Numidia as his province and conduct of war against Jugurtha.

In the year 106 BC the war against Jugurtha was brought to a close by Gaius Marius, who had risen to the consulship from the lowest ranks of the people. Under him fought a young nobleman named Sulla. Marius celebrated a grand triumph at Rome. Jugurtha, after having graced the triumphal procession, in which he walked with his hands bound with chains, was thrown into the Mamertine dungeon beneath the Capitoline hill, where he died of starvation.

The war was not yet ended in Africa before terrible tidings came to Rome from the north. The mysterious invaders proved to be two Germanic tribes, the Teutones and Cimbri. Several Roman armies beyond the Alps were cut to pieces. In one battle more than 100,000 Romans are said to have been slaughtered. The terror at Rome was only equalled by that occasioned by the invasion of the Gauls two centuries before. The Gauls were terrible enough; but now the conquerors of the Gauls were coming. Marius, the conqueror of Jugurtha, was looked to by all as the only man who could save the state in this crisis. He was re-elected to the consulship, and intrusted with the command of the armies. Accompanied by Sulla as one of his most skilful lieutenants, Marius hastened into Northern Italy.

Anticipating the march of the Teutones, he hurried over the Alps into Gaul, and sat down in a fortified camp to watch their movements. Unable to storm the Roman position, the barbarians resolved to leave their enemy in the rear and push on into Italy. For six days and nights the endless train of men and wagons rolled past the camp of Marius. The barbarians jeered at the Roman soldiers, and asked them if they had any messages they wished to send to their wives; if so, they would bear them, as they would be in Rome shortly. Marius allowed them to pass by, and then, breaking camp, followed closely after. Falling upon them at a favorable moment, he almost annihilated the entire host. Two hundred thousand barbarians are said to have been slain. Marius heaped together and burned the spoils of the battle-field.

While engaged in this work, the news was brought to him of his re-election as consul for the fifth time. This was illegal; but the people felt that Marius must be kept in the field. Marius was Consul in 104, 103, and 102. As Consul he utterly defeated the Teutones at Aquae Sextiae. As 101 as Consul, Marius joined forces with the proconsul Catulus and destroyed the Cimbri near Vercellae.

The Social War was not yet ended when a formidable enemy appeared in the East. Mithradates the Great, king of Pontus, taking advantage of the distracted condition of the republic, had encroached upon the Roman provinces in Asia Minor, and had caused a general massacre of the Italian traders and residents in that country. The number of victims of this wholesale slaughter has been variously estimated at from 80,000 to 150,000. The Roman Senate instantly declared war. But the Marsic struggle had drained the treasury. The money needed for equipping an army could be raised only by the sale of the vacant public ground about the Capitol building.

A contest straightway arose between Marius and Sulla for the command of the forces. The former was now an old man of seventy years, while the latter was but forty-nine. Marius could not endure the thought of being pushed aside by his former lieutenant. The veteran general joined with the young men in the games and exercises of the gymnasium, to show that his frame was still animated by the strength and agility of youth. The Senate, however, conferred the command upon Sulla. Marius was furious at the success of his rival, and by fraud and intimidation succeeded in getting the command taken away from Sulla and given to himself. Two tribunes were sent to demand of Sulla, who was still in Italy, the transfer of the command of the legions to Marius; but the messengers were killed by the soldiers, who were devotedly attached to their commander. Sulla now saw that the sword must settle the dispute. He marched at the head of his legions upon Rome, entered the gates, and " for the first time in the annals of the city a Roman army encamped within the walls." The party of Marius was defeated, and he and ten of his companions were proscribed. Marius escaped and fled to Africa; Sulla embarked with the legions to meet Mithradates in the East (88 BC).

In BC 87 Marius returned to Rome. The exile had at length found a temporary refuge on the island of Cercina, off the coast of Tunis. Here news was brought to him that his party, under the lead of Cinna, was in successful revolt against the Optimates, and that he was needed. He immediately set sail for Italy, and, landing in Etruria, joined Cinna. Together they hoped to crush and exterminate the opposing faction. Rome was cut off from her foodsupplies and starved into submission.

Marius now took a terrible revenge upon his enemies. The consul Octavius was assassinated, and his head set up in front of the Rostrum. Never before had such a thing been seen at Rome - a consul's head exposed to the public gaze. The senators, equestrians, and leaders of the Optimate party fled from the capital. For five days and nights a merciless slaughter was kept up. The life of every man in the capital was in the hands of the revengeful Marius. If he refused to return the greeting of any citizen, that sealed his fate : he was instantly despatched by the soldiers who awaited the dictator's nod. The bodies of the victims lay unburied in the streets. Sulla's house was torn down, and he himself declared a public enemy. During the tumult the slaves had armed themselves, and, imitating the example set before them, were rioting in murder and pillage. Marius, finding it impossible to restrain their maddened fury, turned his soldiers loose upon them, and they were massacred to a man.

As a fitting sequel to all this violence, Marius and Cinna were, in an entirely illegal way, declared consuls. The prophecy of the eaglets was fulfilled : Marius was consul for the seventh time. But rumors were now spread that Sulla, having overthrown Mithradates, was about to set out on his return with his victorious legions. He would surely exact speedy and terrible vengeance. Marius, now old and enfeebled by the hardships of many campaigns, seemed to shrink from facing again his hated rival. He plunged into dissipation to drown his remorse and gloomy forebodings, and died in his seventy-first year (86 BC), after having held his seventh consulship only thirteen days.

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