City of the Seven Hills - S. B. Harding

The Wars of Caius Marius

Caius Marius was a poor country lad who entered the army as a common soldier and, without the help of money or of a powerful family, rose to the highest position. It is said that when he was a boy, he one day caught in his cloak an eagle's nest, with seven young ones in it, as it was falling from a high tree. From this the wise men foretold that he should be seven times consul; and Marius never rested until this saying carne true.

He gained his first knowledge of war in Spain under Scipio Aemilianus. This Scipio was the son of Aemilius Paulus, the conqueror of Macedonia, and had been adopted into the family of the Scipios by the son of the great Scipio Africanus; as he was also an able and honorable man, he was thus a very good master under whom to learn the art of war. Caius Marius profited well by the lessons which he learned in the camp of Scipio. And when Scipio was asked one day where the Romans would ever find so good a general as himself when he was gone, he turned and touched the shoulder of young Marius, who stood by, and said:

"Here, perhaps."

This encouraged Marius, and he struggled on for many years, gradually rising in the army and in the state from one position to another. At last the opportunity came when he could get himself elected consul, and have the command of an army himself.

The opportunity came in this way. A king named Jugurtha arose in a little kingdom near Carthage, who gained his power in a most unjust manner, and then used it in a way that was even worse. At last the Roman Senate was forced to declare war upon him. He did not prove to be easily conquered, and the Roman generals who were sent against him did not seem to be able to bring the trouble to an end. At last Marius, who was with one of the generals as second in command, became very impatient over this delay in crushing Jugurtha, and resolved to go to Rome and try to get the command for himself.

Now Marius was very well liked by the common soldiers because he had been one of themselves, and also because he ate the same coarse food and slept upon the same beds that they did, and would often help them with his own hands in digging ditches and throwing up earthworks. But the general of the army laughed at him * because of his low birth; and when Marius applied to him for permission to go to Rome to become a candidate for consul, he said:

"It will be time enough for you to become candidate for consul when my young son does."

This angered Marius; and when he came to Rome he told the people how slowly the war was going on and how much better he could carry it on. As he was one of themselves, the common people believed him and elected him consul, and by a special vote they gave him the command of the army against Jugurtha.

When Marius returned to Africa, he found that it was more difficult to bring the war to an end than he had expected. But at last Jugurtha was betrayed to him by one of his own household, and then Marius ended the war and brought the king captive to Rome.

No sooner was this war over than another one broke out which threatened the Romans with such a terrible danger that they elected Marius consul a second time to meet this new enemy; and then they elected him a third time, and a fourth time, and at last he was consul five times before the danger was past. It began to look as if the old prophecy would come true.

This new war was with a fierce and numerous people who came from the northeast and overran Gaul and threatened to pass over into Italy. They were called by several names, but they were probably Germans, and belonged to the same family of nations from which the Germans of to-day, the English, and most of the Americans are descended. They had large, strong bodies, and fierce blue eyes, and they terrified the Romans more even than the Gauls had done two hundred and eighty years before. Like the Gauls, they came in great numbers, carrying their wives and children and all their possessions with them in rude, covered wagons, and wandered about looking for a new home in which to settle.

The Romans first met these newcomers in that part of Gaul which had come under Roman rule. There four great armies of the Romans were destroyed one after the other. Then it was that Marius was elected consul a second time, and sent into Gaul to take the command and keep these Germans from crossing the Alps and coming into Italy.

Fortunately for the Romans, the barbarians turned aside into Spain after their last great victory, and wandered about in that country for two or three years. Thus Marius had time to get together a new army, and to drill his men and make them good soldiers. When the barbarians came back from Spain, they separated and one band of them started to go north around the Alps and enter Italy from the east, while the others remained in Gaul, and tried to enter the peninsula from the western side.

Even after so large a part of the Germans had left Gaul, Marius did not dare to lead his men out of camp against those that remained. For six days he let them march continuously past his camp; and as they went by they shouted taunts to the Romans and asked whether they had any messages to send to their wives. Then when the last of this band, too, had disappeared, Marius led his army out, and followed after them.

He came up with them just before they reached the Alps. By this time Marius had his soldiers so well trained that he decided to risk a battle. The result was a great victory for the Romans; for this band of the barbarians was entirely destroyed, and their kings were made captives.

Then Marius hurried on into Italy and marched to the aid of the other consul, who had been sent to meet the band who were seeking to enter the peninsula from the east. This consul was not so good a general as Marius, so the barbarians succeeded in getting into Italy on that side. When Marius arrived, they sent to him and demanded lands in Italy on which they and their brethren, whom they had left in Gaul, might settle. Then Marius showed them the captives who had been taken there, and said:

"Do not trouble yourselves for your brethren, for we have already provided lands for them which they shall possess forever."

Then the Germans were filled with grief and with anger, for they knew that their brethren had been destroyed. But the chiefs of their army challenged Marius to fix the time and place for a battle; and Marius named the third day after, that for the day, and a broad plain nearby for the place. When the battle came, the Germans fought with great bravery, and their women, standing in the wagons, encouraged their husbands and brothers with fierce cries; but at last the Romans were victorious and this band also of the barbarians was destroyed.

After this Marius returned to Rome, and there he was received with great honor and rejoicing. And men called him the third founder of the city; for, they said, just as Camillus saved Rome from the Gauls, so Marius had saved it from these new invaders. And soon after he was elected consul for the sixth time.

If Marius had been a statesman as well as a soldier, he might now have used his power to remedy the evils which the Gracchi had tried to cure, and so have saved the state. But though Marius could win battles, he could not rule the state in time of peace. Long after this, men said of him that he never cared to be a good man, so he was a great one;" and perhaps that is the reason he failed as a ruler. At any rate, Marius hesitated to take either the side of the common people, or of the nobles, for he wished only to do the thing that would benefit himself. In this way Marius lost the influence which he had gained by his victories; and for twelve years the conqueror of the Germans was despised and neglected by both parties.

[Illustration] from City of the Seven Hills by S. B. Harding


At last civil war began between the party of the common people and the party of the nobles. The nobles had a famous general named Sulla to command their army; so the leaders of the common people chose Marius, although he was then nearly seventy years old, to be their general. Marius had long been jealous of Sulla, and besides he was eager to gain the seventh consulship that had been promised him, so he accepted the command. But at first the party of Sulla got the better of the party of Marius; and when Sulla marched on Rome, the city was taken by his army. This was the first time that Rome was ever captured by an army of its own citizens, but it was not to be the last time.

When Rome was taken by Sulla, Marius escaped with much difficulty. For many days he wandered about Italy with only a few companions. At one time they barely escaped a party of horsemen on the shore by swimming out to some ships which were sailing by. At another time they lay hid in a marsh with the mud and water up to their necks. Once Marius was taken prisoner and the officers of the town where he was imprisoned sent a Gaulish slave to kill him in his dungeon; but Marius's eyes gleamed so fiercely in the darkness as he called out in a loud voice, "Fellow, darest thou kill Caius Marius?" that the slave dropped his sword and fled. Then the officers of the town were ashamed, and they let Marius go; and he escaped to Carthage in Africa. But even there he was not safe, for the Roman governor of that district sent men to warn him to leave; and when the men had told their message, Marius replied: "Go, tell the governor that you have seen Caius Marius sitting in exile among the ruins of Carthage."

At last Sulla was obliged to leave Italy and go to Asia Minor to make war on a powerful king who had arisen there. Then the friends of Marius got control of Rome once more; and Marius could safely return. When he came back his heart was filled with bitterness against his enemies, and he caused thousands of them to be put to death without trial or hearing; and even his friends came to fear this gloomy and revengeful old man.

At this time Marius gained his seventh consulship; but he did not live long to enjoy it. He fell into strange ways, and could not sleep at night; perhaps his conscience was troubling him for all the suffering he had caused. At last he died, on the seventeenth day of his seventh consulship; and all the world breathed freer when he was gone.

But soon Sulla returned from the East, and when he had regained his power he took a terrible revenge on all the friends of Marius: Many persons were put to death only because someone of Sulla's friends desired their goods. And the Italian cities which had rebelled against Rome in this time of trouble were punished with great severity; and so terribly was Italy wasted that it seemed as if Hannibal had come again.