Roman Empire > Roman Empire History > Jugurtha And His Times - b.C. 118-104

Jugurtha And His Times - b.C. 118-104

The murder of C. Gracchus and his adherents left the Nobility undisputed masters of the state, till their scandalous conduct in the Jugurthan War provoked a reaction against them, and raised to power a more terrible opponent than the Gracchi had ever been. This man, who took such signal vengeance upon the Nobility, was the lowborn MARIUS. He was a native of Arpinum, and was said to have worked for wages as a common peasant before he entered the ranks of the army. He first served in Spain, and was present at the siege of Numantia in B.C. 134. Here he distinguished himself so much that he attracted the notice of Scipio Africanus, and received from him many marks of honor. Scipio indeed admitted him to his table; and on a certain occasion, when one of the guests asked Scipio where the Roman people would find such another general after his death, he is said to have laid his hand on the shoulder of Marius, and said, "Perhaps here" The name of Marius does not occur again for many years, but he doubtless continued to serve in the army, and became so distinguished that he was at length raised to the Tribunate of the Plebs in B.C. 119, though not till he had attained the mature age of 38. Only two years had elapsed since the death of C. Gracchus; and the Nobles, flushed with victory, resolved to put down with a high hand the least invasion of their privileges and power. But Marius had the boldness to propose a law for the purpose of giving greater freedom at elections; and when the Senate attempted to overawe him, he ordered one of his officers to carry the Consul Metellus to prison. Marius now became a marked man. He lost his election to the Ædileship, and with difficulty obtained the Prætorship (B.C. 115); but he added to his influence by his marriage with Julia, the sister of C. Julius Cæsar, the father of the future ruler of Rome. His military abilities recommended him to the Consul Metellus (B.C. 100), who was anxious to restore discipline in the army and to retrieve the glory of the Roman name, which had been tarnished by the incapacity and corruption of the previous generals in the Jugurthan War, which now requires our attention.

Masinissa, the ruler of Numidia, and so long the faithful ally of the Romans, had died in B.C. 149, at the advanced age of 90, leaving three sons, Micipsa, Mastanabal, and Gulussa, among whom his kingdom was divided by Scipio Africanus, according to the dying directions of the old king. Mastanabal and Gulussa dying in their brother's lifetime, Micipsa became sole king. Jugurtha was a bastard son of Mastanabal; but Micipsa brought him up with his own sons, Hiempsal and Adherbal. Jugurtha distinguished himself so much that he began to excite the jealousy of Micipsa. In order to remove him to a distance, and not without a hope that he might perish in the war, Micipsa sent him, in B.C. 134, with an auxiliary force, to assist Scipio against Numantia; but this only proved to the young man a fresh occasion of distinction. By his zeal, courage, and ability he gained the favor not only of his commander, but of all the leading nobles in the Roman camp, by many of whom he was secretly stimulated to nourish ambitious schemes for acquiring the sole sovereignty of Numidia; and notwithstanding the contrary advice of Scipio, the counsels seem to have sunk deep into the mind of Jugurtha. On his return he was received with every demonstration of honor by Micipsa; nor did he allow his ambitious projects to break forth during the lifetime of the old man. Micipsa, on his death-bed, though but too clearly foreseeing what would happen, commended the two young princes to the care of Jugurtha; but at the very first interview which took place between them after his decease (B.C. 118) their dissensions broke out with the utmost fierceness. Shortly afterward Jugurtha found an opportunity to surprise and assassinate Hiempsal; whereupon Adherbal and his partisans rushed to arms, but were defeated in battle by Jugurtha. Adherbal himself fled for refuge to the Roman province, from whence he hastened to Rome to lay his cause before the Senate. Jugurtha had now the opportunity, for the first time, of putting to the test that which he had learnt in the camp before Numantia of the venality and corruption of the Roman nobility. He sent embassadors to Rome to counteract, by a lavish distribution of bribes, the effect of the just complaints of Adherbal, and by these means succeeded in averting the indignation of the Senate. A decree was, however, passed for the division of the kingdom of Numidia between the two competitors, and a committee of Senators sent to enforce its execution; but as soon as these arrived in Africa, Jugurtha succeeded in gaining them over by the same unscrupulous methods, and obtained, in the partition of the kingdom, the western division adjacent to Mauritania, by far the larger and richer portion of the two (B.C. 117). But this advantage was far from contenting him, and shortly afterward he invaded the territories of his rival with a large army. Adherbal was defeated in the first engagement, his camp taken, and he himself with difficulty made his escape to the strong fortress of Cirta. Here he was closely blockaded by Jugurtha. The garrison surrendered on a promise of their lives being spared; but these conditions were shamefully violated by Jugurtha, who immediately put to death Adherbal and all his followers (B.C. 112).

Indignation was now loud at Rome against the Numidian king; yet so powerful was the influence of those whose favor he had gained by his gold, that he would probably have prevailed upon the Senate to overlook all his misdeeds, had not one of the Tribunes, C. Memmius, by bringing the matter before the people, compelled the Senators to give way. War was accordingly declared against him, and one of the Consuls, L. Calpurnius Bestia, landed in Africa with a large army, and immediately proceeded to invade Numidia (B.C. 111). But Jugurtha easily bribed Bestia and M. Scaurus, who acted as his principal lieutenant, to grant him a favorable peace, on condition only of a pretended submission, together with the surrender of thirty elephants and a small sum of money. As soon as the tidings of this disgraceful transaction reached Rome, the indignation excited was so great that, on the proposition of C. Memmius, it was agreed to send the Prætor L. Cassius, a man of the highest integrity, to Numidia, in order to prevail on the king to repair in person to Rome, the popular party hoping to be able to convict the leaders of the Nobility by means of his evidence. The safe-conduct granted him by the state was religiously observed; but the scheme failed of its effect, for, as soon as Jugurtha was brought forward in the assembly of the people to make his statement, one of the Tribunes, who had been previously gained over by the friends of Scaurus and Bestia, forbade him to speak. He nevertheless remained at Rome for some time longer, and engaged in secret intrigues, which would probably have been ultimately crowned with success had he not in the mean time ventured to assassinate Massiva, son of Gulussa, who was putting in a claim to the Numidian throne. It was impossible to overlook so daring a crime, perpetrated under the very eyes of the Senate. Jugurtha was ordered to quit Italy without delay. It was on this occasion that he is said, when leaving Rome, to have uttered the memorable words, "A city for sale, and destined to perish quickly, if it can find a purchaser"

War was now inevitable; but the incapacity of Sp. Postumius Albinus, who arrived to conduct it (B.C. 110), and still more that of his brother Aulus, whom he left to command in his absence, when called away to hold the elections at Rome, proved as favorable to Jugurtha as the corruption of their predecessors. Aulus, having penetrated into the heart of Numidia, suffered himself to be surprised in his camp; great part of his army was cut to pieces, and the rest only escaped a similar fate by the ignominy of passing under the yoke. But Jugurtha had little reason to rejoice in this success, great as it might at first appear; for the disgrace at once roused all the spirit of the Roman people; the treaty concluded by Aulus was instantly annulled, immense exertions made to raise troops, and one of the Consuls for the new year (B.C. 109), Q. Cæcilius Metellus, hastened to Numidia to retrieve the honor of the Roman arms. But this did not satisfy the people. The scandalous conduct of so many of the Nobles had given fresh life to the popular party; and the Tribune C. Mamilius carried a bill for the appointment of three Commissioners to inquire into the conduct of all of those who had received bribes from Jugurtha. Scaurus, though one of the most guilty, managed to be put upon the Commission. But he dared not shield his confederates. Many men of the highest rank were condemned, among whom were Bestia, Albinus, and Opimius. The last named was the Opimius who acted with such ferocity toward Caius Gracchus and his party. He died in exile at Dyrrhachium some years afterward, in great poverty.

The Consul Metellus, who was an able general and a man of the strictest integrity, landed in Africa, with Marius as his lieutenant, in B.C. 109. As soon as Jugurtha discovered the character of the new commander he began to despair of success, and made overtures for submission in earnest. These were apparently entertained by Metellus, while he sought in fact to gain over the adherents of the king, and induce them to betray him to the Romans, at the same time that he continued to advance into the enemy's territories. Jugurtha, in his turn, detected his designs, attacked him suddenly on his march with a numerous force, but was, after a severe struggle, repulsed, and his army totally routed. Metellus ravaged the greater part of the country, but failed in taking the important town of Zama before he withdrew into winter quarters. But he had produced such an effect upon the Numidian king, that Jugurtha was induced, in the course of the winter, to make offers of unqualified submission, and even surrendered all his elephants, with a number of arms and horses, and a large sum of money, to the Roman general; but when called upon to place himself personally in the power of Metellus, his courage failed him, he broke off the negotiation, and once more had recourse to arms. Marius had greatly distinguished himself in the preceding campaign. The readiness with which he shared the toils of the common soldiers, eating of the same food, and working at the same trenches with them, had endeared him to them, and through their letters to their friends at Rome his praises were in everybody's mouth. His increasing reputation and popularity induced him to aspire to the Consulship. His hopes were increased by a circumstance which happened to him at Utica. While sacrificing at this place the officiating priest told him that the victims predicted some great and wonderful events, and bade him execute whatever purpose he had in his mind. Marius thereupon applied to Metellus for leave of absence, that he might proceed to Rome and offer himself as a candidate. The Consul, who belonged to a family of the highest nobility, at first tried to dissuade Marius from his presumptuous attempt, by pointing out the certainty of failure; and when he could not prevail upon him to abandon his design, he civilly evaded his request by pleading the exigencies of the public service, which required his presence and assistance. But, as Marius still continued to press him for leave of absence, Metellus said to him on one occasion, "You need not be in such a hurry to go to Rome; it will be quite time enough for you to apply for the Consulship along with my son" The latter, who was then serving with the army, was a youth of only twenty years of age, and could not, therefore, become a candidate for the Consulship for the next twenty years. This insult was never forgotten by Marius. He now began to intrigue against his general, and to represent that the war was purposely prolonged by Metellus to gratify his own vanity and love of military power. He openly declared that with one half of the army he would soon have Jugurtha in chains; and as all his remarks were carefully reported at Rome, the people began to regard him as the only person competent to finish the war. Metellus at last allowed him to leave Africa, but only twelve days before the election. Meeting with a favorable wind, he arrived at Rome in time, and was elected Consul with an enthusiasm which bore down all opposition. He received from the people the province of Numidia, although the Senate had previously decreed that Metellus should continue in his command. The exultation of Marius knew no bounds. In his speeches to the public, he gloried in his humble origin. He upbraided the Nobles with their effeminacy and licentiousness; he told them that he looked upon the Consulship as a trophy of his conquest over them; and he proudly compared his own wounds and military experience with their indolence and ignorance of war. It was a great triumph for the people and a great humiliation for the aristocracy, and Marius made them drink to the dregs the bitter cup. While engaged in these attacks upon the Nobility, he at the same time carried on a levy of troops with great activity, and enrolled any persons who chose to offer for the service, however poor and mean, instead of taking them from the five classes according to ancient custom.

Meantime Metellus had been carrying on the war in Africa as Proconsul (B.C. 108). But the campaign was not productive of such decisive results as might have been expected. Jugurtha avoided any general action, and eluded the pursuit of Metellus by the rapidity of his movements. Even when driven from Thala, a strong-hold which he had deemed inaccessible from its position in the midst of arid deserts, he only retired among the Gætulians, and quickly succeeded in raising among those wild tribes a fresh army, with which he once more penetrated into the heart of Numidia. A still more important accession was that of Bocchus, king of Mauritania, who had been prevailed upon to raise an army, and advance to the support of Jugurtha. Metellus, however, having now relaxed his own efforts, from disgust at hearing that C. Marius had been appointed to succeed him in the command, remained on the defensive, while he sought to amuse the Moorish king by negotiation. The arrival of Marius (B.C. 107) infused fresh vigor into the Roman arms. He quickly reduced in succession almost all the strong-holds that still remained to Jugurtha, in some of which the king had deposited his principal treasures; and the latter, seeing himself thus deprived step by step of all his dominions, at length determined on a desperate attempt to retrieve his fortunes by one grand effort. He with difficulty prevailed on the wavering Bocchus, by the most extensive promises in case of success, to co-operate with him in this enterprise; and the two kings, with their united forces, attacked Marius on his march, when he was about to retire into winter quarters. Though the Roman general was taken by surprise for a moment, his consummate skill and the discipline of his troops proved again triumphant; the Numidians were repulsed, and their army, as usual with them in case of a defeat, dispersed in all directions. Jugurtha himself, after displaying the greatest courage in the action, cut his way almost alone through a body of Roman cavalry, and escaped from the field of battle. He quickly again gathered round him a body of Numidian horse; but his only hope of continuing the war now rested on Bocchus. The latter was for some time uncertain what course to adopt, but was at length gained over by Sulla, the Quæstor of Marius, to the Roman cause, and joined in a plan for seizing the person of the Numidian king. Jugurtha fell into the snare; he was induced, under pretense of a conference, to repair with only a few followers to meet Bocchus, when he was instantly surrounded, his attendants cut to pieces, and he himself made prisoner, and delivered in chains to Sulla, by whom he was conveyed directly to the camp of Marius. This occurred early in the year B.C. 106.

L. Cornelius Sulla, the Quæstor of Marius, who afterward plays such a distinguished part in Roman history, was descended from a Patrician family which had been reduced to great obscurity. But his means were sufficient to secure him a good education. He studied the Greek and Roman writers with diligence and success, and early imbibed that love of literature and art by which he was distinguished throughout his life. But he was also fond of pleasure, and was conspicuous even among the Romans for licentiousness and debauchery. He was in every respect a contrast to Marius. He possessed all the accomplishments and all the vices which the old Cato had been most accustomed to denounce, and he was one of those advocates of Greek literature and of Greek profligacy who had since Cato's time become more and more common among the Roman Nobles. But Sulla's love of pleasure did not absorb all his time, nor enfeeble his mind; for no Roman during the latter days of the Republic, with the exception of Julius Cæsar, had a clearer judgment, a keener discrimination of character, or a firmer will. Upon his arrival in Africa, Marius was not well pleased that a Quæstor had been assigned to him who was only known for his profligacy, and who had had no experience in war; but the zeal and energy with which Sulla attended to his new duties soon rendered him a useful and skillful officer, and gained for him the unqualified approbation of his commander, notwithstanding his previous prejudices against him. He was equally successful in winning the affections of the soldiers. He always addressed them with the greatest kindness, seized every opportunity of conferring favors upon them, was ever ready to take part in all the jests of the camp, and at the same time never shrank from sharing in all their labors and dangers. It is a curious circumstance that Marius gave to his future enemy and the destroyer of his family and party the first opportunity of distinguishing himself. The enemies of Marius claimed for Sulla the glory of the betrayal of Jugurtha, and Sulla himself took the credit of it by always wearing a signet ring representing the scene of the surrender.

Marius continued more than a year in Africa after the capture of Jugurtha. He entered Rome on the first of January, B.C. 104, leading Jugurtha in triumph. The Numidian king was then thrown into a dungeon, and there starved to death. Marius, during his absence, had been elected Consul a second time, and he entered upon his office on the day of his triumph. The reason of this unprecedented honor will be related in the following chapter.

Soldiers blowing Tubae and Cornua. (From Column of Trajan.)
Soldiers blowing Tubæ and Cornua. (From Column of Trajan.)

Caius Marius
Caius Marius
Roman Empire History

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