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Marius Gaius

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Marius, Gaius (157-86 BC) – Roman general and statesman

There is always something romantic about a man from humble origins, who makes good and rises to the top position in his country. Gaius Marius, a simple farmer’s son from the small town of Arpinum, rose to become the greatest general in the Roman world of his time and to be seven times consul.

Marius first saw high military command in the campaign against King Jugurtha in North Africa, 113-107. He was second-in-command to the haughty aristocrat Metellus, but he felt he could do a better job at putting an end to Jugurtha than his superior. So, while he appeared to support Metellus in the field, he kept up a barrage of correspondence with friends at Rome, saying Metellus was no good and ought to be succeeded. Eventually, the senate recalled Metellus and Marius stood for the consulship. He won it, and after his term of office he was sent to Africa to continue with the war. Jugurtha was caught, though not by Marius but by one of his senior officers, Sulla (p. 31).

In about 105 some barbarian tribes, notably the Cimbri and the Teutones, in central Europe, began to threaten the borders of Italy, ft was a serious danger for there were well over one hundred thousand of them. Marius was elected consul to deal with the problem. What he did was to rebuild the Roman army and put it on a professional basis. Hitherto, troops were raised from the farms and the businesses of Italy and they served only for the duration of the war concerned. Marius made the army a career. Men served for a fixed term, and then retired with a gratuity. He also remodelled the structure of the army. In five successive years he was elected consul, 104-100, and in that time he brought the army into a condition which enabled him to crush the barbarians at Aquae Sextiae in 102 and again at Vercellae in 101. These were two of the most glorious victories in all Roman history.

But though he was a brilliant commander and organizer, Marius was hopeless as a politician. Romans looked to him to re-order the state after the barbarian menace had gone, but he made one blunder after another.

In 88 he was driven out of Rome by his rival, Sulla, but returned the next year when Sulla had gone east to deal with Mithradates. Marius, by now 68, was tired and given to prolonged drinking bouts. This made him gloomy and aggressive, and filled with thoughts of revenge on Sulla and all his supporters, he went round the streets of Rome with a gang of executioners. If he nodded in the direction of a particular house, the owner was dragged out and executed. This orgy of bloodshed went on for two weeks, during which time the old man was elected consul for the seventh time. Then he caught pleurisy and died, in 86.

Marius Gaius

Marius Gaius