Marius, the conqueror of Jugurtha, had been honored by a magnificent triumph on his return to Rome, and he was one of the most important persons of his time. He was the son of poor parents, and was very homely and uncouth; but he was brave and very firm.
By dint of much perseverance, he had risen to the office of consul. He was a very ambitious man, and always wanted to be first in everything. But there was another man in Rome as ambitious as he; this was his lieutenant, Sulla.
Sulla was a patrician, and had made up his mind to rival Marius; so he began to make as many friends as possible. As Sulla also wished to be first in Rome, he viewed with envy the great triumph that was awarded to Marius, and was delighted when a new war called him away from home.
The danger which now threatened Rome was an invasion of barbarians from the north. It was no longer the Gauls who were coming to fight them, but ruder and more terrible races known as the Cimbri and Teutons.
These people had no settled homes, but wandered about from place to place, with their families and flocks. Their wives and babies followed in rude chariots, while the men, fierce and warlike, marched ahead, stealing, killing, and burning wherever they went.
These barbarians had once lived in Asia and in the eastern part of Europe; but, as their numbers increased, and they no longer found sufficient pasture for their cattle, they left their former home, and wandered off in search of another.
Advancing thus, little by little, they came at last to the great barrier of the Alps, which separate Italy from the rest of Europe. Here they heard about the fertile soil of Italy, the pleasant climate, and the large towns filled with treasures of all kinds.
These tales made them eager to enter into the country and take possession of land and spoil. The Gauls, who then occupied the province now known as Lombardy, and who had become somewhat civilized, were terrified when they heard of the coming of these barbarians, and sent to Rome for help.
An army was immediately sent out to meet the Cimbri, but it was badly routed. When the tidings of the defeat came to Rome, the senate ordered Marius—who had been elected consul five times—to go and stop the invaders.
By quick marches and good generalship, Marius first led his troops into Gaul, where he met and defeated the Teutons. Next, he returned quickly to Italy, where he arrived just in time to stop the Cimbri as they came pouring over the Alps.
The Cimbri had expected to meet the Teutons here, and were amazed to find themselves face to face with the Roman legions. Still, they proudly asked land enough for their own tribe and for their allies, the Teutons, who, they said, would soon join them.
Marius calmly listened to their demands, and then said: "I have given land enough to your allies, for their bodies are moldering in the fields of Gaul, and their bones are used as fences for the vineyards."
Then, seeing that Marius would grant them no land, except as much as was needed for their graves, the fierce Cimbri prepared to take it by force, and began a terrible battle, which was fought between them and the Romans in the month of June, 101 B.C.
The Cimbri, who were not used to a southern climate, soon grew faint and weak from the heat, and could not fight with their usual energy. Then, too, they had bound themselves together with ropes, hoping to support one another better; but this only made their defeat easier, and helped the Romans to secure more prisoners.
Nearly the whole tribe of the Cimbri perished on this awful day; for the women, after defending themselves fiercely behind their rude wagons, strangled their children with their long hair, and hung themselves to the chariot poles, rather than fall into the hands of the Romans. Even the dogs which followed the Cimbri had to be killed, for they, too, had been taught to fight and never to surrender.
When Marius had conquered both the Teutons and Cimbri, and thus delivered Rome from a great danger, he was rewarded by another grand triumph, and the people elected him consul for the sixth time. Such was the admiration that many of his fellow-citizens felt for him that they erected statues in his honor, and even wished to offer up sacrifices to him as if he had been a god.