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Gaius Marius (Latin: CMARIVSCFCN)¹ (157 - January 13, 86 BC) was a Roman general and politician who was mostly known for his reform of Roman armies.


Importance of Gaius Marius

The career of Gaius Marius illustrates a number of the trends that would lead to the fall of the Republic. He was a novus homo (man without senatorial forebears) from the Italian countryside who came to prominence in Rome through military competence, and whom the oligarchy had a hard time assimilating into the "system." He was given unprecedented power at Rome to deal with a military emergency, which could only be solved through bending the accepted constitution. Finally, he instituted a military reform that ended the raising of troops only from those who owned land. In the long run this reform was to change entirely the relationship of the troops to the state.

Early Career

Marius was born ca. 157 BC in the town of Arpinum in southern Latium. The town had been conquered by the Romans in the late fourth century and was given Roman citizenship without voting rights. Only in 188 did the town receive full citizenship. Although Plutarch claims that Marius's father was a laborer, this is almost certainly false. The facts that Marius had connections with the nobility in Rome, that he ran for local office in Arpinum and that he had marriage relations with the local nobility in Arpinum all combine to indicate that he was born into a locally important family of equestrian status. The problems he faced in his early career in Rome show the difficulties that faced a new man.

In 134 he was serving in some capacity with the army at Numantia and his good services brought him to the attention of Scipio Aemilianus. Whether he came with Scipio or was already serving in the demoralized army that Aemilianus took over at Numantia is not clear. It would seem that Marius was early on interested in pursuing a political career in Rome. He ran for election as one of the 24 special military tribunes of the first four legions who were elected (the rest were appointed by the magistrate who raised the legion). Sallust tells us that he was unknown by sight to the electors but was returned by all the tribes on the basis of his accomplishments.

We next learn that he ran for the quaestorship after losing local office in Arpinum. This is hard to interpret. (The military tribunate shows that he already was interested in Roman politics before the quaestorship. Perhaps he simply ran for local office as a means of gaining support back home, and lost to some other local worthy.) Nothing is known of what he did as quaestor.

In 120 Marius was returned as plebeian tribune for 119. It appears that he had already lost an earlier attempt (in 121 for 120?). He won with the support of Caecilius Metellus, who was an inherited patronus (which proves that Marius's family was not of completely humble origin). During his tribunate, Marius pursued a populares line. He passed a law that restricted the interference of the wealthy in elections. In the 130s voting by ballot had been introduced in elections for choosing magistrates, passing laws and deciding legal cases, replacing the earlier system of oral voting. The wealthy continued to try to influence the voting by inspecting ballots and Marius passed a law narrowing the passages down which voters passed to cast their votes in order to prevent outsiders from harassing the electors. In the passage of this law, Marius alienated the Metelli, who opposed it.

Soon thereafter Marius ran for the curule aedileship and after losing ran unsuccessfully for the plebeian aedileship (Plutarch says the two defeats actually happened on the same day, but for technical reasons this is unlikely). In 116 he barely won election as praetor for 115 (presumably coming in sixth) and was promptly accused of ambitus (electoral corruption). He barely won acquittal on this charge, spent an uneventful year as praetor in Rome (as urban praetor, peregrine praetor or president of the extortion court). In 114 Marius' imperium was prorogued and he was sent to govern Further Spain (Lusitania), where he engaged in some sort of minor military operation. In this period governors seem regularly to have served two years in Spain, so he was probably replaced in 113.

He received no triumph on his return and did not apparently run for the consulship. But he did marry Julia Caesaris, the aunt of C. Julius Caesar. The Julii Caesares were a patrician family, but at this period seem to have found it hard to advance above the praetorship (only once in the second century -- in 157 -- was a Julius Caesar consul). Marius had apparently achieved some substantial position by this point to judge by this marriage (his son Gaius Marius the Younger must have been born in 109/08, so the marriage probably took place in about 110).

Legate to Metellus

As we have seen, the Marii were the inherited clients of the Caecilii Metelli and a Caecilius Metellus had aided Marius's campaign for the tribunate. Although he seems to have had a break with the Metelli as a result of his tribunate, the rupture was not permanent, since Q. Caecilius Metellus cos. 109 took Marius with him as his legate on his campaign against Jugurtha. Legates (legati) were originally simply envoys sent by the senate, but men appointed as legates by the senate were used by generals as subordinate commanders. Hence, Metellus had to have asked the senate to appoint Marius as legate to allow him to serve as Metellus' subordinate. In Sallust's long account of Metellus' campaign no other legates are mentioned, so it is assumed that Marius was Metellus's senior subordinate and right-hand man. Thus Metellus was using Marius' military experience, while Marius was strengthening his position to run for the consulship. It thus would seem that his tribunate did not represent a complete break with the Metelli (and the rupture in 119 may have been exaggerated after the fact in light of his later, much more serious disagreement with Metellus about Numidia).

Run for the Consulship

In 108 Marius conceived the desire to run for the consulship. He apparently sought permission from Metellus to go to Rome to do so, and Metellus urged him not to and supposedly advised him to wait to run with Metellus's son (who was only twenty, which would signify a campaign twenty years in the future). Marius seems to have spent the summer of 108 ingratiating himself with the troops by relaxing military discipline, and with the Italian traders by claiming that he could capture Jugurtha in a few days with half Metellus' troops. Both groups wrote home in praise of him, suggesting that he could end the war quickly unlike Metellus, who was pursuing a policy of methodically subduing the countryside. Eventually Metellus gave in, realizing that it was counterproductive to have a resentful subordinate.

Under the circumstances it is not difficult to understand how Marius was triumphantly elected consul in late 108 for 107. He was campaigning against Metellus's apparent lack of swift action against Jugurtha. Given the repeated military debacles from 113 to 109 and the accusations that the oligarchy was open to flagrant bribery, it is not at all surprising that the virtuous new man who had worked with difficulty up the ladder of offices was elected as an alternative to the inept or corrupt nobility. The senate had a trick up its sleeve, however. In accordance with the provisions of the lex Sempronia on consular provinces, which dictated that the senate in a given year was to determine the consular provinces for the next year at the end of year before the elections, the senate decided not to make the war against Jugurtha one of the provinces and to prorogue Metellus in Numidia. Marius got around this through a ploy that had been used in 131. In that year there was a dispute as to who should command the war against Aristonicus in Asia, and a tribune had passed a law authorizing an election to select the commander (there was precedent for this procedure from the Second Punic War). A similar law was passed in 108 and Marius was voted the command by the People in this special election. Metellus shed bitter tears when he learned of the decision. In returning home, he avoided meeting Marius, and was granted a triumph and the title Numidicus (conqueror of Numidia).


Marius needed more troops, and to effect this made a change in procedure used for recruiting troops, probably unaware of the momentous implications of this change. All of the Gracchan agrarian reforms had been premised on the traditional Roman levy, which excluded from service those whose property qualification fell below the minimum property qualification for the fifth census class. The Gracchi had tried to restore the smallholders who would constitute the majority of those qualified to serve. The end of the Gracchan land legislation did nothing to change the military crisis that gave rise to that legislation. It seems that the minimum qualification for the fifth census class (the lowest one eligible for military service) was lowered from 11,000 to 3000 sesterces of property, and already in 109 the consuls had had to seek suspension of Gaius Gracchus' restrictions on the levy. In 107 Marius decided to ignore the census qualification altogether and to recruit with no inquiry into the property of the potential soldier. From now on Rome's legions would largely consist of poor citizens whose future after service could only be assured if their general could somehow bring about a land distribution on their behalf. Thus the soldiers had a very strong personal interest in supporting their general against the senate (i.e., the oligarchy) and the "public interest" that was often equated with the senate. Marius did not avail himself of this potential source of support, but in less than two decades Marius' ex-quaestor Sulla would use it against the senate and Marius.

War in Numidia

Marius found that it wasn't so easy to end the war as he had claimed. He arrived comparatively late in 107 and in that year and the next he forced Jugurtha to the south and west toward Mauretania. Marius' quaestor in 107 had been L. Cornelius Sulla, the son of a patrician family that had fallen on hard times. Marius was supposedly unhappy at receiving the dissolute youth as his subordinate, but Sulla proved a competent military leader. By 105 Bocchus king of Mauretania, Jugurtha's father-in-law and reluctant ally, was worried about the approaching Romans. After receiving word that an accommodation with them was possible, Bocchus insisted that Sulla make the hazardous journey to his capital, where Sulla induced Bocchus to betray Jugurtha, who was duly handed over to Sulla. Thus ended the war. Since Marius held the imperium and Sulla was acting as his subordinate, the honor of capturing Jugurtha belonged strictly to Marius, but Sulla had clearly been immediately responsible and had a signet ring made for himself commemorating the event. Though it seems not to have mattered now, Sulla would later claim that the credit for ending the war was his. Meanwhile, Marius was the hero of the hour, and his services would be needed in another emergency.

Cimbri and Teutoni

The arrival of the Cimbri in Gaul in 109 and their complete defeat of M. Junius Silanus had resulted in unrest among the Celtic tribes recently conquered by the Romans in southern Gaul. In 107 the consul L. Cassius Longinus was completely defeated by a local tribe, and the senior surviving officer (C. Popillius Laenas , son of the consul of 132) had saved what was left only by surrendering half the baggage and suffering the humiliation of having his army "march under the yoke." The next year (106) another consul, Q. Servilius Caepio , marched to Gaul and captured the disloyal community of Tolosa (Toulouse), where a huge sum of money (the Gold of Tolosa ), was taken from shrines. The larger part of it mysteriously vanished when being transported to Massilia (Marseille). Caepio was prorogued into the next year, when one of the new consuls, Cn. Mallius Maximus , also operated in southern Gaul. Mallius was a new man like Marius, and he and the noble Caepio found it impossible to co-operate.

The Cimbri and the Teutoni (both migrating Germanic tribes) appeared on the Rhône, and while Caepio was on the west bank he refused to come to the aid of Mallius on the left. Eventually the senate got Caepio's reluctant agreement to co-operate, but even when he crossed the river to help the threatened Mallius, he refused to join forces and kept his own at a fair distance. First the Germans routed Caepio, then destroyed Mallius's army on October 6, 105 at Arausio. Since the Romans fought with the river at their back, flight was not possible and reportedly 80,000 were killed. The losses in the preceding decade had been bad enough, but this defeat, apparently caused by the arrogance of the nobility and its refusal to co-operate with talented non-nobles, was the last straw. Not only had huge numbers of Romans lost their lives but Italy itself was now exposed to invasion from barbarian hordes. Popular dissatisfaction with the oligarchy reached its pinnacle.

Marius Consul

In the fall of 105 Marius was elected consul again while still in Africa. Election in absentia was unusual enough, but at some time after 152 a law had been passed dictating a ten-year interval between consulships, and there is even some evidence to indicate that by 135 a law prohibited second consulships altogether. Nonetheless by this time news of a new advancing tribe known of as the Cimbri had reached Rome and in the emergency Marius was again chosen consul. The law was repealed, as Marius was then elected to an unprecedented five successive consulships (104-100). He returned to Rome by January 1, 104, when he celebrated his triumph over Jugurtha, who was first led in the procession, then killed in the public prison. The Cimbri conveniently marched into Spain and the Teutoni milled around in northern Gaul, leaving Marius to prepare his army. One of his legates was his old quaestor L. Sulla, which shows that at this time there was no ill-will between them. In 104 Marius was returned as consul again for 103. Though he could have continued to operate as proconsul, it seems that the position as consul would make his position as commander unassailable and avoid any problems with the consuls if he was only a proconsul. Marius seems to have been able to get exactly what he wanted and it even seems that his support determined whom the People would elect as his colleagues (his choice was apparently determined on the basis of their malleability). In 103 the Germans still did not emerge from Spain, and conveniently Marius's colleague (L. Aurelius Orestes, son of C. Gracchus's commander in Sardinia in 126-24) died, so Marius had to return to Rome to oversee the elections, being re-elected for 102.

Showdown with the Germans

In 102 the Cimbri returned from Spain into Gaul, and they and the Teutoni decided to invade Italy. The Teutoni were to head south and advance toward Italy along the Mediterranean coast; the Cimbri were to attempt to cross the Alps into Italy from the northwest by the Brenner Pass; and the Tigurini (the allied Celtic tribe who had defeated Longinus in 107) were to cross the Alps from the northeast. This decision proved fatally flawed. The Germans divided their forces, making each contingent manageable, and the Romans could use their shorter lines of communication to concentrate their forces at will.

Battle of Aquae Sextiae

First Marius had to deal with the Teutoni, who were in the province of Narbonensis marching toward the Alps. First, he refused to give battle where they wanted, and withdrew to Aquae Sextiae (a settlement founded by C. Sextius Calvus cos. 124), which blocked their path. The leading contingent of the Germans, the Ambrones, foolishly attacked the Roman position without waiting for re-enforcements and 30,000 were killed. Marius then hid 3,000 troops in ambush, so when the main German contingent finally attacked, the hidden Roman troops could fall on them from behind. In the ensuing defeat, the Teutoni were completely annihilated, to the number of something over 100,000.

Battle of Vercellae

Marius's colleague Quintus Lutatius Catulus in 102 did not have as much luck. He botched the holding of the Brenner Pass, allowing the Cimbri to advance into northern Italy by late 102. Marius was in Rome, and after becoming elected consul for 101 and deferring his triumph over the Teutoni, he marched north to join Catulus, whose command was prorogued into 101. Finally, in the summer of that year a battle was fought at Vercellae in Cisalpine Gaul. Once again, Roman discipline overcame a larger barbarian force. At least 65,000 were killed (perhaps as many as 100,000 again) and all the remainder enslaved. The Tigurini gave up their efforts to enter Italy from the northeast and went home. Catulus and Marius celebrated a joint triumph, but in popular thinking all the credit went to Marius. Catulus became alienated from Marius and would later become one of his chief opponents. As a sort of reward (the danger was now gone) Marius was returned as consul for 100. This year would not go well for Marius.

Sixth Consulship

During this year Lucius Appuleius Saturninus was tribune and advocated reforms like those earlier put forth by the Gracchi. He pushed for a bill that gave colonial lands to the veterans of the recent war and offered to lower the price of corn distributed by the state. The Senate, however, opposed these measures and violence broke out. The Senate then ordered Marius, as consul, to put down the revolt. Although Marius was generally allied with the radicals, Marius in the interest of public order and his duties, then complied with the request, and put down the revolt. Marius then went to the east and into retirement.

The Social War

During the time when Marius was away and later when he returned, Rome knew several years of relative peace. In 95, however, Rome passed a decree that all residents who were not Roman citizens but rather citizens of other Italian cities besides Rome, should be expelled from the capital. In 91 Marcus Livius Drusus was elected tribune and proposed a greater division of state lands, the enlargement of the Senate, and a conferral of Roman citizenship upon all freemen of Italy. Drusus was however assassinated, and the Italian states then revolted against Rome in the Social War of 91-88 BC. Marius then took command and fought along with Sulla against the rebel cities.

Pontus and the First Civil War

After the war was over then Mithradates of Pontus began his bid to conquer the eastern provinces and invaded Greece. The choice before the Senate was to put either Marius or Sulla in command. Sulla was appointed by the Senate, however later Marius won appointment by the Assembly with the help of Publius Sulpicius Rufus. Sulla then sneaked out of the city to his army waiting outside and led them against Rome. Marius was defeated and fled into exile. Cnaeus Octavius and Lucius Cornelius Cinna were then elected consuls in Rome in 87, while Sulla was chosen as proconsul and marched east.

Seventh Consulship and Death

However, while Sulla was on campaign in Greece, fighting broke out between the conservative supporters of Octavius and the radical supporters of Cinna. Marius along with his son then returned from exile in Africa with an army he had raised there and combined with Cinna to oust Octavius. Their forces then entered Rome. Cinna was chosen for his second consulship and Marius his seventh consulship. A reign of terror against the conservatives then ensued. In the first month of his new term, however, Marius died at the age of seventy one.


Cinna was elected to two more consulships afterwards and then died during a mutiny when trying to lead his forces into Greece. Then the forces of Sulla returned to Italy at Brundisium in 83, and the son of Marius died after the defense of Praeneste, a city east of Rome. Julius Caesar was a nephew of the wife of the older Marius, and he had also married a daughter of Cinna. Upon the return of Sulla to Rome, a reactionary reign of terror resulted, and Julius Caesar fled to Cilicia until Sulla's death in 78 BC.

External links


1- Official name of Marius. The meaning in english is, "Gaius Marius, son of Gaius grandson of Gaius"

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