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Masters of Rome
from Marius to Caesar
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Gaius Marius


Born 157 BC in Arpinum.
Joined army at 17.

134 BC, posted to serve under Scipio Aemilianus at siege of Numantia, where he met Jugurtha and Publius Rutilius Rufus. Incurs hatred of Caecilii Metelli (after throwing Q Caecilius Metellus (later to be Numidicus) into a pigsty). Encouraged by Aemilianus, becomes tribune of the soldiers, then quaestor (and therefore a senator). Elected tribune of the plebs (119 BC), vetoes legislation of the Caecilii Metelli, further incurring their anger. Despite their opposition, becomes Praetor in 115 BC.

As praetor, posted to command in Further Spain. Expanded the province, acquiring interests in many mines and other businesses. Returns to Rome very rich.

Still cannot overcome hostility of C Metelli and his political career appears to be at a deadend. In 110 BC G Julius Caesar offers him his daughter Julia, in exchange for enough money to allow his sons to enter on the cursus honorum. The alliance with the Julii Caesares will eventually give Marius enough prestige to finally become consul.

Appointed legate to Q Caecilius Metellus in Africa (109 BC). Becomes frustrated at being assigned minor tasks, often supervised by Metellus's son, Q C Metellus Junior "The Piglet".

During winter stop to campaigning, meets with Martha the prophetess who foresees that he will be Third Founder of Rome and consul seven times, but that his nephew will surpass him.

Early in 108 BC Marius determines to return to Rome to stand for Consul, but Metellus refuses to allow him to leave his post as legate. Marius therefore starts a campaign to encourage all Roman and Italian merchants to write to Rome, criticising Metellus's conduct. He enlists the help of Gauda who has been slighted by Metellus. Metellus still refuses to give way until he believes it is too late for Marius to arrive in Rome in time to be declared a consular candidate.

Marius arrives in Rome in time, thanks to good winds and wins election as junior consul. Through Mancinus, organizes plebiscite assigning command in Africa to himself. Anticipating that Metellus will transfer his troops to Gaul instigates lex Manlia, allowing him to recruit from the capite censi or proletarii, which had not previously been allowed. This revolutionized Roman military structures, paving the way for the rise of military strongmen and dictators and ultimately the emperors. The men of the capite censi with no property came to rely on their general for their reward in booty and land when they retired. # This created a personal allegiance undermining the loyalty to Rome as an ideal.

In doing so Marius incurred the hostility of the more conservative senators, beginning a division that was to become more acute with time.

Marius also reorganized the tactics, equipment and structure of the legions, creating the "Marian" army.

His new army is successful in the Jugurthan War, from 107 BC. Command extended to 106 BC. Success continues. By 105 BC Jugurtha is captured and Marius winds up the Jugurthan War. Marius cements his support from the knights by grants of land in the newly extended Roman province of Africa.

While still in Africa the disaster at Arausio destroys most of Rome's other troops. At the instigation of Manius Aquillius, the Plebeian Assembly passes a plebiscite allowing Marius's name to be entered as a candidate for consul, in absentia and despite having been consul recently. He wins, defying the consular traditions and further dividing the ruling classes into his enemies, the conservative senators, and his supporters, including most of the knights.

He gets Philipppus, his tribune of the plebs, to pass a law reserving the islands of the Lesser Syrtis as public property, with the intention of distributing the land to his soldiers later.

In 104 BC at the start of his new consulship, celebrates his triumph for the Jugurthan War. Forgets to change and turns up for his inauguration wearing his triumphal attire.

After receiving some reinforcements, Marius marches his army of Africa to Gaul, and puts it into camp at Glanum. While he is in Gaul, Saturninus comes to seek his patronage to stand as a tribune of the plebs. Marius judges him to be honest and gives his support.

Marius is again elected consul in absentia for 103 BC. By the end of 103 BC he has news from Sulla that the Germans are on the march. After the death of the junior consul, Lucius Aurelius Orestes, he returns to Rome to hold elections and to stand for consul again in person, since he is afraid that support for the war in Gaul is waning. He is duly elected consul for 102 BC and returns to the army in Gaul.

When the Cimbri finally reach southern Gaul again, Marius wins a famous victory at Aquae Sextiae. In gratitude he is again elected consul. Joins his army with Catulus Caesar and wins another victory against the Cimbri at Vercellae.

Marius starts to take care of his army, granting the citizenship to Italian auxiliaries and planning to distribute land to the Roman headcount coldiers. He enlists the help of Saturninus to do so. Returns to Rome and celebrates a triumph. Elected to consulship again.

The new land laws start to create opposition to Marius, starting with the knights who were hoping to receive land themselves after the end of the Cimbric war. The methods used by Saturninus to pass the second law cast down on its validity. Marius uses this to ensure that the senate agree to swear to uphold it. In doing so he drives a wedge between himself and Saturninus.

Withdraws to spend the summer at the coast, where he suffers a mild stroke. By the end of the year he recovers enough to return to Rome for the elections. When Saturninus tries his coup d'etat a senatus consultum de republica defendenda authorizes him to use force on the mob. He mobilizes senators and other men of the first and secons classes, with Sulla as his second in command. This small but disciplined force disperses the crowd and Saturninus is forced to seek shelter in the temple of Jupiter. The next day Saturninus surrenders and the attempted coup is over.

Printable version ©Mark Emerson 2001. Acknowledgements to Steven H. Gibbs, Randy Winch and Tim Doyle. Back to top of page ^