The career of Marius had hitherto been a glorious one, and it would have been fortunate for him if he had died on the day of his triumph. The remainder of his life is full of horrors, and brings out into prominent relief the worst features of his character. As the time for the consular elections approached, Marius became again a candidate for the Consulship. He wished to be first in peace as well as in war, and to rule the state as well as the army. But he did not possess the qualities requisite for a popular leader at Rome; he had no power of oratory, and lost his presence of mind in the noise and shouts of the popular assemblies. In order to secure his election, he entered into close connection with two of the worst demagogues that ever appeared at Rome, Saturninus and Glaucia. The former was a candidate for the Tribunate, and the latter for the Prætorship; and by their means, as well as by bribing the Tribes, Marius secured his election to the Consulship for the sixth time. Glaucia also obtained the Prætorship, but Saturninus was not equally successful. He lost his election chiefly through the exertions of A. Nonius, who was chosen in his stead. But Nonius paid dearly for the honor, for on the evening of his election he was murdered by the emissaries of Saturninus and Glaucia, and next morning, at an early hour, before the forum was full, Saturninus was chosen to fill up the vacancy.
As soon as Saturninus had entered upon his office (B.C. 100) he brought forward an Agrarian Law for dividing among the soldiers of Marius the lands in Gaul which had been lately occupied by the Cimbri. He added to the law a clause that, if it was enacted by the people, every Senator should swear obedience to it within five days, and that whoever refused to do so should be expelled from the Senate, and pay a fine of twenty talents. This clause was specially aimed at Metellus, who, it was well known, would refuse to obey the requisition. In order to insure a refusal on the part of Metellus, Marius rose in the Senate, and declared that he would never take the oath, and Metellus made the same declaration; but when the law had been passed, and Saturninus summoned the Senators to the rostra to comply with the demands of the law, Marius, to the astonishment of all, immediately took the oath, and advised the Senate to follow his example. Metellus alone refused compliance; and on the following day Saturninus sent his beadle to drag him out of the Senate-house. Not content with this victory, Saturninus brought forward a bill to punish him with exile. The friends of Metellus were ready to take up arms in his defense; but he declined their assistance, and withdrew privately from the city. Saturninus brought forward other popular measures, of which our information is very scanty. He proposed a Lex Frumentaria, by which the state was to sell corn to the people at a very low price; and also a law for founding new colonies in Sicily, Achaia, and Macedonia. In the election of the magistrates for the following year Saturninus was again chosen Tribune. Glaucia was at the same time a candidate for the Consulship, the two other candidates being M. Antonius and C. Memmius. The election of Antonius was certain, and the struggle lay between Glaucia and Memmius. As the latter seemed likely to carry his election, Saturninus and Glaucia hired some ruffians, who murdered him openly in the comitia. All sensible people had previously become alarmed at the mad conduct of Saturninus and his partisans, and this last act produced a complete reaction against them. The Senate felt themselves now sufficiently strong to declare them public enemies, and invested the Consuls with dictatorial power. Marius was unwilling to act against his associates, but he had no alternative, and his backwardness was compensated by the zeal of others. Driven out of the forum, Saturninus, Glaucia, and the Quæstor Saufeius took refuge in the Capitol, but the partisans of the Senate cut off the pipes which supplied the citadel with water before Marius began to move against them. Unable to hold out any longer, they surrendered to Marius. The latter did all he could to save their lives: as soon as they descended from the Capitol, he placed them, for security, in the Curia Hostilia; but the mob pulled off the tiles of the Senate-house, and pelted them till they died. The Senate gave their sanction to the proceeding by rewarding with the citizenship a slave of the name of Scæva, who claimed the honor of having killed Saturninus.
Marius had lost all influence in the state by allying himself with such unprincipled adventurers. In the following year (B.C. 99) he left Rome, in order that he might not witness the return of Metellus from exile, a measure which he had been unable to prevent. He set sail for Cappadocia and Galatia under the pretense of offering sacrifices which he had vowed to the Great Mother. He had, however, a deeper purpose in visiting these countries. Finding that he was losing his popularity while the Republic was at peace, he was anxious to recover his lost ground by gaining fresh victories in war, and accordingly repaired to the court of Mithridates, in hopes of rousing him to attack the Romans.
The mad scheme of Saturninus, and the discredit into which Marius had fallen, had given new strength to the Senate. They judged the opportunity favorable for depriving the Equites of the judicial power which they had enjoyed, with only a temporary cessation, since the time of C. Gracchus. The Equites had abused their power, as the Senate had done before them. They were the capitalists who farmed the public revenues in the provinces, where they committed peculation and extortion with habitual impunity. When accused, they were tried by accomplices and partisans. Their unjust condemnation of Rutilius Rufus had shown how unfit they were to be intrusted with judicial duties. Rutilius was a man of spotless integrity, and while acting as lieutenant to Q. Mucius Scævola, Proconsul of Asia in B.C. 95, he displayed so much honesty and firmness in repressing the extortions of the farmers of the taxes, that he became an object of fear and hatred to the whole body. Accordingly, on his return to Rome, a charge of malversation was trumped up against him, he was found guilty, and compelled to withdraw into banishment (B.C. 92).
The following year (B.C. 91) witnessed the memorable Tribunate of M. Livius Drusus. He was the son of the celebrated opponent of C. Gracchus. He was a man of boundless activity and extraordinary ability. Like his father, he was an advocate of the party of the Nobles. He took up arms against Saturninus, and supported the Senate in the dispute for the possession of the judicial power. His election to the Tribunate was hailed by the Nobles with delight, and for a time he possessed their unlimited confidence. He gained over the people to the party of the Senate by various popular measures, such as the distribution of corn at a low price, and the establishment of colonies in Italy and Sicily. He was thus enabled to carry his measures for the reform of the judicia, which were, that the Senate should be increased from 300 to 600 by the addition of an equal number of Equites, and that the Judices should be taken from the Senate thus doubled in numbers. Drusus seems to have been actuated by a single-minded desire to do justice to all, but the measure was acceptable to neither party. The Senators viewed with dislike the elevation to their own rank of 300 Equites, while the Equites had no desire to transfer to a select few of their own order the profitable share in the administration of justice which they all enjoyed.
Another measure of Drusus rendered him equally unpopular with the people. He had held out to the Latins and the Italian allies the promise of the Roman franchise. Some of the most eminent men of Rome had long been convinced of the necessity of this reform. It had been meditated by the younger Scipio Africanus, and proposed by C. Gracchus. The Roman people, however, always offered it the most violent opposition. But Drusus still had many partisans. The Italian allies looked up to him as their leader, and loudly demanded the rights which had been promised them. It was too late to retreat; and, in order to oppose the formidable coalition against him, Drusus had recourse to sedition and conspiracy. A secret society was formed, in which the members bound themselves by a solemn oath to have the same friends and foes with Drusus, and to obey all his commands. The ferment soon became so great that the public peace was more than once threatened. The Allies were ready to take up arms at the first movement. The Consuls, looking upon Drusus as a conspirator, resolved to meet his plots by counterplots. But he knew his danger, and whenever he went into the city kept a strong body-guard of attendants close to his person. The end could not much longer be postponed; and the civil war was on the point of breaking out, when one evening Drusus was assassinated in his own house, while dismissing the crowds who were attending him. A leather-cutter's knife was found sticking in his loins. Turning round to those who surrounded him, he asked them, as he was dying, "Friends and neighbors, when will the Commonwealth have a citizen like me again?"
Even in the lifetime of Drusus the Senate had repealed all his laws. After his death the Tribune Q. Varius brought forward a law declaring all persons guilty of high treason who had assisted the cause of the Allies. Many eminent men were condemned under this law. This measure, following the assassination of Drusus, roused the indignation of the Allies to the highest pitch. They clearly saw that the Roman people would yield nothing except upon compulsion.