The Wars With Jugurtha And The Cimbri

The fall of the Gracchi restored Rome to the rule of the oligarchy. The

government of the Senate was resumed, and a war of prosecution was carried

on against the followers of Gracchus. His measures were allowed to drop.

The claims of the Italian allies were disregarded, the noblest of all the

schemes of the late tribune, that of securing legal equality between the

Roman burgesses and their Italian allies. The restoration of Carthag

set aside. Italian colonies were broken up. The allotment commission was

abolished, and a fixed rent was imposed on the occupants of the public

domains, but the proletariate of the capital continued to have a

distribution of corn, and jurymen or judges (judices) were still

selected from the mercantile classes. The Senate continued to be composed

of effeminated nobles, and insignificant persons were raised to the

highest offices.

The administration, under the restoration, was feeble and unpopular.

Social evils spread with alarming rapidity. Both slavery and great

fortunes increased. The provinces were miserably governed, while pirates

and robbers pillaged the countries around the Mediterranean. There was a

great revolt of slaves in Sicily, who gained, for a time, the mastery of

the island.

While public affairs were thus disgracefully managed, a war broke

out between Numidia and Rome. That African kingdom extended from the river

Molochath to the great Syrtis on the one hand, and to Cyrene and Egypt on

the other, and included the greatest part of the ancient Carthaginian

territories. Numidia, next to Egypt, was the most important of the Roman

client States. On the fall of Carthage, it was ruled by the eldest son of

Masinassa, Micipsa, a feeble old man, who devoted himself to the study of

philosophy, rather than affairs of State. The government was really in the

hands of his nephew, Jugurtha, courageous, sagacious, and able. He was

adopted by Micipsa, to rule in conjunction with his two sons, Adherbal and

Hiempsal. In the year B.C. 118 Micipsa died, and a collision arose, as was

to be expected, among his heirs. Hiempsal was assassinated, and the

struggle for the Numidian crown lay between Adherbal and Jugurtha. The

latter seized the whole territory, and Adherbal escaped to Rome, and laid

his complaint before the Senate. Jugurtha's envoys also appeared, and the

Senate decreed that the two heirs should have the kingdom equally divided

between them, but Jugurtha obtained the more fertile western half.

Then war arose between the two kings, and Adherbal was defeated, and

retired to his capital, Aita, where he was besieged by Jugurtha. Adherbal

made his complaints to Rome, and a commission of aristocratic but

inexperienced young men came to the camp of Jugurtha to arrange the

difficulties. Jugurtha rejected their demands, and the young men returned

home. Adherbal sent again messengers to Rome, being closely pressed,

demanding intervention. The Senate then sent Marcus Scaurus, who held

endless debates with Jugurtha, at Utica, to which place he was summoned.

These were not attended with any results. Scaurus returned to Rome, and

Jugurtha pressed the siege of Aita, which soon capitulated. Adherbal was

executed with cruel torture, and the adult population was put to the


A cry of indignation arose in Italy. The envoys of Jugurtha were summarily

dismissed, and Scaurus was sent to Africa with an army, but a peace with

Rome was purchased by the African prince through the bribery of the

generals. The legal validity of the peace was violently assailed in the

Senate, and Massiva, a grandson of Masinissa, then in Rome, laid claim to

the Numidian throne. But this prince was assassinated by one of the

confidants of Jugurtha, which outrage, perpetrated under the eyes of the

Roman government, led to a renewed declaration of war, and Spurius Albinus

was intrusted with the command of an army. But Jugurtha bribed the Roman

general into inaction, and captured the Roman camp. This resulted in the

evacuation of Numidia, and a second treaty of peace.

Such an ignoble war created intense dissatisfaction at Rome, and

the Senate was obliged to cancel the treaty, and renewed the war in

earnest, intrusting the conduct of it to Quintus Metellus, an aristocrat,

of course, but a man of great ability. Selecting for his lieutenants able

generals, he led over his army to Africa. Jugurtha made proposals of

peace, which were refused, and he prepared for a desperate defense.

Intrenched on a ridge of hills in the wide plain of Muthul, he awaited the

attack of his enemies, but was signally defeated by Metellus, assisted by

Marius, a brave plebeian, who had arisen from the common soldiers. After

this battle Jugurtha contented himself with a guerrilla warfare, while his

kingdom was occupied by the conquerors. Metellus even intrigued to secure

the assassination of the king.

The war continued to be prosecuted without decisive results, as is

so frequently the case when civilized nations fight with barbarians. Like

the war of Charlemagne against the Saxons, victories were easily obtained,

but the victors gained unsubstantial advantages. Jugurtha retired to

inaccessible deserts with his children, his treasures, and his best

troops, to await better times. Numidia was seemingly reduced, but its king

remained in arms.

It was then, in the third year of the renewed war, that Metellus

was recalled, and Marius, chosen consul, was left with the supreme

command. But even he did not find it easy, with a conquering army, to

seize Jugurtha, and he was restricted to a desultory war. At last Bocchus,

king of Mauritania, slighted by the Romans, but in alliance with Jugurtha,

effected by treachery what could not be gained by arms. He entered into

negotiations with Marius to deliver up the king of Numidia, who had

married his daughter, and had sought his protection. Marius sent Sulla to

consummate the treachery. Jugurtha, the traitor, was thus in turn

sacrificed, and became a Roman prisoner.

This miserable war lasted seven years, and its successful

termination secured to Marius a splendid triumph, at which the conquered

king, with his two sons, appeared in chains before the triumphal car, and

was then executed in the subterranean prison on the Capitoline Hill.

Numidia was not converted into a Roman province, but into a client

State, because the country could not be held without an army on the

frontiers. The Jugurthan war was important in its consequences, since it

brought to light the venality of the governing lords, and made it evident

that Rome must be governed by a degenerate and selfish oligarchy, or by a

tyrant, whether in the form of a demagogue, like Gracchus, or a military

chieftain, like Marius.

But a more difficult war than that waged against the barbarians of

the African deserts was now to be conducted against the barbarians of

European forests. The war with the Cimbri was also more important in its

political results. There had been several encounters with the northern

nations of Spain, Gaul, and Italy, under different names, with different

successes, which it would be tedious to describe. But the contest with the

Cimbri has a great and historic interest, since they were the first of the

Germanic tribes with which the Romans contended. Mommsen thinks these

barbarians were Teutonic, although, among older historians, they were

supposed to be Celts. The Cimbri were a migratory people, who left their

northern homes with their wives and children, goods and chattels, to seek

more congenial settlements than they had found in the Scandinavian

forests. The wagon was their house. They were tall, fair-haired, with

bright blue eyes. They were well armed with sword, spear, shield, and

helmet. They were brave warriors, careless of danger, and willing to die.

They were accompanied by priestesses, whose warnings were regarded as

voices from heaven.

This homeless people of the Cimbri, prevented from advancing south

on the Danube by the barrier raised by the Celts, advanced to the passes

of the Carnian Alps, B.C. 113, protected by Gnaeus Papirius Carbo, not far

from Aquileia. An engagement took place not far from the modern Corinthia,

where Carbo was defeated. Some years after, they proceeded westward to the

left bank of the Rhine, and over the Jura, and again threatened the Roman

territory. Again was a Roman army defeated under Silanus in Southern Gaul,

and the Cimbri sent envoys to Rome, with the request that they might be

allowed peaceful settlements. The Helvetii, stimulated by the successes of

the Cimbri, also sought more fertile settlements in Western Gaul, and

formed an alliance with the Cimbri. They crossed the Jura, the western

barrier of Switzerland, succeeded in decoying the Roman army under

Longinus into an ambush, and gained a victory.

In the year B.C., 105 the Cimbrians, under their king Boiorix,

advanced to the invasion of Italy. They were opposed on the right bank of

the Rhone by the proconsul Caepio, and on the left by the consul Gnaeus

Mallius Maximus, and the consular Marcus Aurelius Scaurus. The first

attack fell on the latter general, who was taken prisoner and his corps

routed. Maximus then ordered his colleague to bring his army across the

Rhone, where the Roman force stood confronting the whole Cimbrian army,

but Caepio refused. The mutual jealousy of these generals, and refusal to

co-operate, led to one of the most disastrous defeats which the Romans

ever suffered. No less than eighty thousand soldiers, and half as many

more camp followers, perished. The battle of Aransio (Orange) filled Rome

with alarm and fear, and had the Cimbrians immediately advanced through

the passes of the Alps to Italy, overwhelming disasters might have ensued.

In this crisis, Marius was called to the supreme command, hated as

he was by the aristocracy, which still ruled, and in defiance of the law

which prohibited the holding of the consulship more than once. He was

accompanied by a still greater man, Lucius Sulla, destined to acquire

great distinction. Marius maintained a strictly defensive attitude within

the Roman territories, training and disciplining his troops for the

contest which was yet to come with the most formidable antagonists the

Romans had ever encountered, and who were destined in after times to

subvert the empire.

The Cimbri formed a confederation with the Helvetii and the

Teutons, and after an unsuccessful attempt to sweep away the Belgae, who

resisted them, concluded to invade Italy, through Roman Gaul and the

Western passes of the Alps. They crossed the Rhone without difficulty, and

resumed the struggle with the Romans. Marius awaited them in a well-chosen

camp, well fortified and provisioned, at the confluence of the Rhone and

the Isere, by which he intercepted the passage of the barbarians, either

over the Little St. Barnard--the route Hannibal had taken--or along the

coast. The barbarians attacked the camp, but were repulsed. They then

resolved to pass the camp, leaving an enemy in the rear, and march to

Italy. Marius, for six days, permitted them to defile with their immense

baggage, and when their march was over, followed in the steps of the

enemy, who took the coast road. At Aquae Sextiae the contending parties came

into collision, and the barbarians were signally defeated; the whole horde

was scattered, killed, or taken prisoners. It would seem that these

barbarians were Teutons or Germans; but on the south side of the Alps, the

Cimbri and Helvetii crossed the Alps by the Brenner Pass, and descended

upon the plains of Italy. The passes had been left unguarded, and the

Roman army, under Catulus, on the banks of the Adige, suffered a defeat,

and retreated to the right bank of the Po. The whole plain between the Po

and the Alps was in the hands of the barbarians, who did not press

forward, as they should have done, but retired into winter quarters, where

they became demoralized by the warm baths and abundant stores of that

fertile and lovely region. Thus the Romans gained time, and the victorious

Marius, relinquishing all attempts at the conquest of Gaul, conducted his

army to the banks of the Po, and formed a junction with Catulus.

The two armies met at Vercillae, not far from the place where

Hannibal had fought his first battle on the Italian soil. The day of the

battle was fixed beforehand by the barbaric general and Marius, on the

30th of June, B.C. 101. A complete victory was gained by the Romans, and

the Cimbri were annihilated. The victory of the rough plebeian farmer was

not merely over the barbarians, but over the aristocracy. He became, in

consequence, the leading man in Rome. He had fought his way from the ranks

to the consulship, and had distinguished himself in all the campaigns in

which he fought. In Spain, he had arisen to the grade of an officer. In

the Numantine war he attracted, at twenty-three, the notice of Scipio. On

his return to Rome, with his honorable scars and military eclat, he

married a lady of the great patrician house of the Julii. At forty, he

obtained the praetorship; at forty-eight, he was made consul, and

terminated the African war, and his victories over the Cimbri and Teutons

enabled him to secure his re-election five consecutive years, which was

unexampled in the history of the republic. As consul he administered

justice impartially, organized the military system, and maintained in the

army the strictest discipline. He had but little culture; his voice was

harsh, and his look wild. But he was simple, economical, and

incorruptible. He stood aloof from society and from political parties,

exposed to the sarcasms of the aristocrats into whose ranks he had


He made great military reforms, changing the burgess levy into a

system of enlistments, and allowing every free-born citizen to enlist. He

abolished the aristocratic classification, reduced the infantry of the

line to a level, and raised the number of the legion from four thousand

two hundred to six thousand, to which he gave a new standard--the silver

eagle, which proclaims the advent of emperors. The army was changed from a

militia to a band of mercenaries.

After effecting these military changes, he sought political supremacy by

taking upon himself the constitutional magistracies. In effecting this he

was supported by the popular, or democratic party, which now regained its

political importance. He, therefore, obtained the consulship for the sixth

time, while his friends among the popular party were made tribunes and

praetors. He was also supported at the election by his old soldiers who had

been discharged.

But the whole aristocracy rallied, and Marius was not sufficiently a

politician to cope with experienced demagogues. He made numerous blunders,

and lost his political influence. But he accepted his position, and waited

for his time. Not in the field of politics was he to arise to power, but

in the strife and din of arms. An opportunity was soon afforded in the

convulsions which arose from the revolt of the Roman allies in Italy, soon

followed by civil wars. It is these wars which next claim our notice.