ON the surface, it seems that the conflict of the Gracchan period was in many ways a simple struggle between the senatorial auctoritās and the endeavours of two siblings to challenge that power by using or misusing, depending on one’s interpretation of their actions, of the popular libertās to challenge that traditional power base of the oligarchs who populated the curule magistracies and the subsequent place in the senatorial ranks and state priesthoods. Sallust had attempted to place equal blame on the two factions (BJ 41.5) accusing both sides of abusing their traditional roles in the Republican governmental processes. This is much too simplistic a viewpoint, however. In its most basic terms, Sallust’s opinions may hold true, but not beneath the surface, as that would imply a clearly defined level of cohesion amongst the upper social echelons which, as we have seen, did not exist. There was no specific generic background from which the oligarchs originated, socially, politically or economically, and this was particularly noticeable after the raising up of the political and judicial standing of the ordo equester in the legal reforms instigated by C. Gracchus. As the system grew more elaborate, the influence of the equestrian order grew such that even those in the ordo equester who did not choose a political career and therefore remained outside of the senatorial ranks were able to exercise a high level of political sway through their wealth and subsequent influence on the magisterial corpus and members of the senate. Indeed, they were to become almost as intrinsic a part of the ruling class as those who did opt for the political career. The most obvious example of these is Atticus to whom the novus homo Cicero turned incessantly for advice as he did not have the requisite fās or dignitās through his familial connections to use the senatorial ‘old boys’ network. Defining the role of the plebs as the Republic swung ever more away from the traditional roles becomes somewhat more difficult. Again, Sallust tells us:
‘The nobilitās had the more powerful factio, while the vis plebis was less effective because it was dispersed and divided amongst many.’ (BJ, 41.6)
In order to explain what Sallust means here, we must look more closely at what the populus Romanus had evolved into by the time of the Late Republic. By the time of Marius and Sulla in the very late 2nd and early 1st centuries BC, the populus Romanus was every citizen who was not numbered among the senatorial class. The social scope of those who constituted the populus Romanus was much too disparate to permit any form of moulding them into one cohesive body, despite failed attempts by C. Marius, L. Sergius Catalina and C. Iulius Caesar to do so as it was impossible to achieve all parts of such an incohesive group, whereas the nobilitās, despite their quarrels, were still able to unite in the face of potential demagoguery which would threaten their power base.
Many of our sources from this point are from Cicero, the novus homo and arch-conservative. His comments should be handled with care, particularly when he is describing the character and motives of those with whose politics he was not in agreement as he tends to be extremely damning, in particular any who attempted to usurp what he perceived to be the ‘Natural Order’ as described in De Legibus, and therefore turn to the ‘tyranny of the tribunate’; according to him ‘this liberty [the tribunate] has been granted in such a manner that the people were induced by many excellent provisions to yield to the authority of the nobles.’ (3.25) Anything which served to disrupt this natural law was, for him, anathema.
The attempts of various groups to wield power were nothing new on the political scene at Rome, as we have seen. The factional struggles had begun, as far as we can be sure, with the Conflict of the Orders in the early days of the Republic (Livy, 2.23.2 ‘the internal dissension between the patres and the plebs.’), though there is little reason to believe that there had not been unrecorded battles for control of political life in the urbs Romana prior to this. Moreover, as one group managed to grasp the reigns of power, others put plans into motion to remove that control. Power was also something which was not a constant as the concepts of potestās and imperium showed. On occasions, power was granted, as in the situation with the magistrates – imperium – on other occasions it was seized – potestās – and used for the gain of an individual or a restricted group in Roman society, hence the term used in the Latin is of intrinsic importance. Even within the same group, the levels of influence in political life were not necessarily equal across the whole of Italia. The civitās sine suffragio, which had been granted to many rural citizens combined with high numbers of freedmen, meant that the voting power of the individual citizen in one of the rural tribes was in reality, if not theory, greater than the swollen numbers of the four urban tribes. (For a detailed examination of the limits which restricted popular power, cf Brunt, The Fall of the Roman Republic and Related Essays, Oxford, 1988, 23-27)
Dionysius records – or more likely creates – a speech in which consuls delineate the divisions of political power in the 400s:
‘We have had a law so long as we have inhabited this city by which the senate is invested with sovereign power in everything except the appointing of magistrates, the enacting of laws, and the declaration or ending of war; and the power of determining these three matters rests with the people by their votes.’ (6.66.3)
There had been occasions where the senate’s will had been countermanded by that of the people: Flaminius’ lex agraria of 232, the banning of the members of the senate from participating in any (direct) form of commerce through the lex Claudia in 218 as well as the leges Semproniae Gracchae covering the restrictions of the seizure of the ager publicus, conscription and the use of the ballot to corner and limit senatorial auctoritās. (Brunt, op. cit 32 ‘Tiberius asserted the sovereign right of the people to take decisions without the prior sanction of the senate.’)
The next major problem which the Republic was to face, however, was to do with the military as opposed to any real continuation of the Conflict of the Orders. Numidia had been an ally of Carthage through the Second Punic War, supplying the light and a percentage of the heavy cavalry. However, by Zama in 202, they had switched sides and fought alongside the Romans under Scipio Africanus. In approximately 118, their king, Micipsa, died leaving power to be shared jointly between his two sons, Adherbal and Hiempsal, and his nephew, Jugurtha (Sallust, BJ, Plutarch, Marius 7-10, Cicero, Brutus, 127-8, Epitome of Livy, Bk. 62). Jugurtha was the only of these who had close contacts amongst the Roman nobility, as well as being somewhat older than his cousins – not problematic per se – but combined with a streak of extreme ruthlessness and ambition, this convinced him that, after returning from Numantia, where he had commanded the Numidian cavalry so effectively that Scipio had been highly impressed (Sallust, BJ, 8.2 ‘After making gifts to Jugurtha and commending him highly before the assembled troops, Scipio led him to his tent and there privately advised him to cultivate the friendship of the Roman people in general rather than individuals, and not to form the habit of offering bribes – it was dangerous to buy from the few what belonged to the many.’ All advice which Jugurtha’s ambition led him to ignore completely.), he would, with care, be able to keep control over the kingdom and, more importantly, keep the Romans out. Jugurtha moved quickly, having Hiempsal assassinated and Adherbal expelled; by 116 he was sole ruler. L. Opimius, consul in 121 and inmicus of C. Gracchus, led a senatorial commission to bring the Numidian situation to a settlement. The settlement granted the western half of the kingdom, lower in development but higher in number of warriors, to Jugurtha and the western half to Adherbal – the inevitable rumour was that Jugurtha achieved this through bribery. This was not enough for Jugurtha, however, and in 112, he launched an attack on Adherbal’s half of the kingdom. Adherbal was forced to flee to Cirta, a city which contained many Roman and Italian merchants who fought hard to defend it. As he was besieging the city, Jugurtha made use of his contacts at Rome to push for a diplomatic solution to the situation rather than direct military intervention which the general consensus had been in the senate. Jugurtha’s allies were successful and a second delegation under M. Aemilius Scaurus (consul 115, censor 109 and princeps senatus, Pliny, Nat. Hist. 8.223) was sent to parley with Jugurtha, but failed completely. Those besieged in Cirta (Sallust, BJ, 21-27) reached the point where they could no longer hold out and, assured by Jugurtha, persuaded Adherbal to surrender under the guarantee of his life. As Roman citizens or members of the socii, the Italians felt sure that the might of Rome would guarantee their safe passage. However, when Cirta was surrendered, Adherbal was put to death by torture and the inhabitants were slaughtered to a man, whether Italian or not. Despite the continued effort of those in Jugurtha’s pay to hold up the retaliation (Jugurtha had, after his time in Rome, bribing anyone who may be of use to him, had described it: ‘At Rome everything is for sale – Omnia Romae venalia esse’ BJ, 35.10, Livy, Per. 64), the delays could not be put off as the Romans and Italians of Cirta also had senatorial allies. One of the tribunes for the year, C. Memmius, served as the spokesman for the equites and plebs who demanded war against Jugurtha, forcing the senate to send an army under the command of Aulus and Albinus, neither of whom had the military skill nor the ability to outsmart Jugurtha, who by now had control over the whole kingdom. Their combined incompetence led to defeat and ignominious retreat from Numidia and caused great embarrassment to the senate (Sallust tells us that the army was forced to ‘pass under the yoke’ – the greatest humiliation for any Roman force. BJ 36-9, cf Epitome of Livy, Bk.64). In 109, the tribune Mamilius forced an enquiry (quaestio extraordinaria) (Despite the attempts of the recipients of the bribes to stop this, it was pushed through with exceptional speed BJ 40.2-3) into the leaders and Jugurtha’s amici on charges of collusion with the enemy and corruption, an investigation which resulted in the banishment of Bestia (who had handed the kingdom over to Jugurtha in the first place), L. Opimius, Aulus and Albinus (lex Mamilia see also Cicero, Brutus, 128). Again, the bad conduct of members of the senatorial class had been brought to light by tribunes and, as Cicero tells us (He refers to the jurors as ‘iudices Gracchani’), the jury had decidedly anti nobiles sentiments as Opimius was on trial and they had been appointed by C. Gracchus. (Alexander, M, Trials in the Late Roman Republic 149-50 BC, Toronto, 1990 52-7).
As this was going on, an equestrian from the rural town of Arpinum was climbing the cursus honorum at Rome – the novus homo C. Marius. In the same year, 109, command of the military campaign against Jugurtha was placed in the competent hands of Q. Caecilius Metellus, (Numidia having been rendered a consular province to facilitate this,) who took the young C. Marius with him as his legate. Marius, despite his humble rural equestrian origins, had proven himself an extremely competent soldier and had gained the patronage of the Metelli (Plutarch, Marius, 4), one of the most powerful and influential of the high nobilitās in the Republic (The Caecilii Metelli had held consulships in 123, 119, 117, 115, 113 and 109 – they were amongst the most influential families on the Roman political scene.). It was through this patronage that Marius had achieved the praetorship in 115, a rank which would normally have lain outside of the abilities of a novus homo. In 111, Marius had made a good political marriage to Julia, the aunt of the later dictator, C. Julius Caesar (Plutarch, Life of Marius, 6.3-4). It was a marriage of benefit to both partners – Marius brought great personal wealth and his attachment to the popularis cause in politics, something which was to prove of great benefit to his wife’s nephew in future decades, she brought the pedigree, fās and dignitās of the Caesars, one of the oldest and most noble families at Rome, and with that, the social acceptability amongst the highest ranks of Roman society which Marius desired and required for his meteoric if troubled political rise, Valerius Maximus ascribing his success as much to Fortuna as to anything else (Memorable Deeds and Sayings (On Fortune) 6.9.14), Marius’ having weathered last place victories, charges of bribery on running for the praetorship in 115, as well as his humble origins inter alia. Our clearest, though questionably reliable, verbal portrait of Marius is given by Sallust, who has Marius describe himself in the following terms:
‘My words are not carefully chosen; I care little for that. Merit demonstrates itself sufficiently on its own. It is they (ie the nobiles) who need skill to cover up their shameful deeds with rhetoric. Nor have I studied Greek literature; I had little interest in studying this, as it had not improved the character of its teachers. But I have learned the best lessons by far for the good of the state; to smite the enemy, mount guard, fear nothing except disgrace, suffer heat and cold alike, sleep on the ground, and endure at the same time lack of food and hard work. With these lessons I shall encourage my soldiers, and I shall not subject them to short rations while living sumptuously myself, or win my glory through their hard work. This is the profitable way, this is the way for a citizen to lead his fellows.’ (BJ, 85. 31-5)
Whether there be any truth in the actual words here cited is impossible to say, but, compared with all other evidence of Marius, his character and popularis politics as well as the popularity he won amongst his new soldiers recruited from the capite censi after the levy of 107, there is no reason to doubt the sentiment and accuracy of the description of his personality demonstrated here.
Desert fighting in a mountainous land is difficult at the best of times, but when pitted against as clever a fighter as Jugurtha who knew the territory very well, the war soon turned into a long drawn out fight of attrition (In 113 BC, two Greeks and two Gauls had been buried alive in the Forum as a sacrifice. It can only be presumed that this was due to the pressures on Rome at this point. Livy, 22.57.6). It was here that Marius began to change the whole system of military politics and structure. Discontent amongst the legionaries became evident very quickly, extant correspondence showing a high level of questioning of the conduct of the campaign by Metellus and suggestions that the legate Marius would make a better commander. The loyalty of the soldiers to the man they perceived as being the better commander as opposed to the senatorially appointed commander, despite his military reputation, was to shake the foundations of the Roman military in the latter decades of the Republic. The campaign was also much too long for the equites who relied on the lucrative trade in the provinces of northern Africa and they pushed for a quicker, more decisive end to the conflict. When Marius, in 108, asked for leave to attend the elections at Rome to run for the position of consul for 107 (Sallust, BJ, 63.1 recounts that this was on the instruction of a haruspex after Marius had made sacrifice at Utica to ‘try his fortune as often as possible, as everything would turn out successfully.’), Metellus refused point blank (Plutarch, Marius, 8-9 ‘(Metellus) is said to have insulted Marius to his face: “So, my fine fellow, you are planning on leaving us and sailing home to stand for the consulship? Will you not settle for waiting to hold a consulship with my son?” Metellus’ son was a mere youth.’) – for the high patrician that Metellus was, the concept of a novus homo in the consular office was not a thought even to be entertained, be he Marius’ patron or not (Sallust, BJ, 64.1-2; though cf Cicero, On Duties, 3.79; ‘…he was sent by Q. Metellus…to Rome. There he accused Metellus before the people of Rome of dragging the war on; if they made him (Marius) consul…he would deliver Jugurtha alive or dead into the hands of the Roman people….he had forsaken good faith and justice in that by bringing false charges he had subjected (Metellus) to the people’s ill-will.’ This is somewhat contrary to the picture painted by Sallust; cf Vell. Pat., 2.11). Marius persisted, however, and was released to run for the office – as was his right – but very late, presumably Metellus’ intention was that Marius would arrive too late; Marius made it just in time to run, however. The assembly voted for the man they viewed as their candidate and he won a decisive victory (Sallust, BJ, 73, 1-7). The senate had no choice but to accept the result and acquiesce to the assembly’s decision which also meant that Marius now took control of the war against Jugurtha, again forcing the senate to back down in the face of the comitia.
In his consular year, Marius chose to make major reforms to the recruitment of soldiers. The expanding empire had left the Republic with major problems regarding the number of soldiers required to hold control. Before the Numantian campaign in Spain in the 140-130’s, the numbers of men in a legion had had to be cut, and despite eventually winning, the problems had not yet been resolved. The level of dissatisfaction amongst the peasant farmer class at being forced to serve in the army was combined with the massively decreased pool of such to exacerbate these difficulties. Marius solved the problem in one move – the numbers of the capite censi lay untouched as they did not fulfill the requirements of census class to serve in the legions – he began to recruit from the landless poor – the proletarii – on a voluntary basis (Sallust, BJ, 84.1-2; 86.1-4, also Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights, 16.10.10 – 11, 14 though Gabba suggests that the original figure may have been as few as 5,000: Republican Rome, the Army and the Allies, Oxford 1976, 13-14). Because everything for them was supplied by the state (though the cost of their equipment was deducted from their salaries), their equipment was the most modern and standard, their training was of the highest degree and their discipline was excellent as they were volunteers as opposed to conscripted soldiers. Sallust tells us that there were differing interpretations of this action:
‘Some stated that he did this through lack of good men, others to win popularity, as it was from that class he had gained his status and rank – and to someone seeking power the poorest man is the most useful, for he is not concerned with his property, not actually having any, and he holds anything respectable which he receives as payment.’ (BJ, 86.1.3)
Whilst the idea that every Roman citizen’s principle duty was far from new and the military tradition and values were an integral part of the Roman psyche (Polybius, 6.39 ‘So when we consider this people’s almost obsessive concern with military rewards and punishments, and the immense importance which they attach to both, it is not surprising that they emerge with brilliant success from every war in which they engage.’), the loyalty to a single general as opposed to SPQR was a new idea which was to have immense consequences. The wealth of manpower available to serve in the military machine of Rome numbered some 700,000 potential infantry and 70,000 cavalry, again according to Polybius, in 225. Even taking into account the likely hyperbole here, there is no question that the potential pool for providing the legions was immense and, unlike the enemies Rome had defeated in the previous century, was composed of citizens or allies, often with varying degrees of civic rights – each man at least had something key to retain, if not to be a beneficiary from any military campaign. Mercenaries were what foreigners who had lost the concept of the ties between citizenship, belonging and the military, used and hence had proven much less successful; even Carthage under Hannibal could not achieve what the worker citizen forces of Rome achieved, even though the period 214-206 saw an approximate 29% of the adult male populace under arms (Erdkamp, P The Transformation of the Roman Army in the Second Century B.C. in War and Territory in the Roman World, 43). The second century had also seen the disappearance of the standard hastati, principes and triarii structure as well as light armed Roman soldiers and citizen cavalry. The latter two elements of the army were now for the socii to provide, and as such these allies gradually became an integral part of each Roman army. Nevertheless, until Marius’ reforms, annually all citizens between 18 and 46 years of age with an annual income of 400 drachmata per annum were supposed to present themselves at the Capitol in order for the officers to select the new recruits (Polybius, 6.19-21. As to whether all citizens truly did present themselves is questionable. Cf Brunt, Italian Manpower 225 BC – AD 14 Oxford, 1987, 625-627).
Marius’ new recruits from the capite censi were so well equipped, having to carry everything they required, they soon earned the nickname muli Mariani – Marius’ mules. Here, the senate made arguably their greatest mistake of the last two hundred years of the Republic – they refused to accept responsibility for these new soldiers who would require a huge financial outlay at the start to equip them combined with no land to return to after campaign, and hence a further burden on the exchequer on the completion of service. In refusing this responsibility, they refused the loyalty of these soldiers who turned to Marius for their rewards in a parcel of land which would be theirs, granted from the ager publicus. From Marius’ first consulship of 107, the army began to look not to the senate, not to the Republic for their reward, but to their general – the man who owned their loyalty outright – even when he stood against the Republic, though such was not an immediate threat. The level of training of the new forces was also enhanced by the new policies of the consul of 105, P. Rutilius Rufus who turned to the gladiatorial trainers at the school of C. Aurelius Scaurus to discipline his men in the fighting methods which were taught to the combatants of the arena and were often cited as being the best fighters one to one that there were (Val. Max, 2.3.2. Frontinus, Strategems, 4.2.2 states ‘When (104 BC) C. Marius had a choice between two armies, that which had served under Rutilius and that which had served under Metellus and subsequently under himself, he opted for Rutilius’ army because although it was smaller it was better trained and disciplined.’).
Despite the promises in his consular election campaign of a quick and decisive victory, the Jugurthine War did not come to a conclusion during Marius’ consular year and he was granted a proconsular prorogation of command. In 105, however, Jugurtha was captured and Marius was awarded a triumph at Rome on 1st January 104 (Sallust, BJ, 114; Livy Per. 67). Plutarch states that the booty carried in the triumphal procession amounted to 3,007 pounds of gold, 5,775 pounds of silver bullion and 287,000 drachmae in minted coin (Life of Marius, 12.6).
In 107, Marius had been presented with L. Cornelius Sulla as his quaestor (Plutarch, Sulla, 3), a choice with which he was not happy (Val. Max, 6.9.6 ‘Up until the time of his election as queastor, Sulla had led a dissolute life of debauchery and drinking and an addiction to the theatre. So it was that the consul Marius is said to have been put out when the lot assigned to him as his quaestor for the very tough war in Africa such a dandified man-about-town.’) and, in 104 in his campaigns against the Cimbri in Germania, Sulla served as Marius’ legate (Life of Sulla, 4.1) and further as his military tribune in 103. Sulla was of noble stock, and was a direct descendant of P. Cornelius Rufinus who had served twice as consul in 290 and 277 and subsequently as dictator. Between Rufinus and Sulla, however, there had been no major political success for members of the family, never having exceeded the office of praetor, despite their position among the nobiles, although, as Plutarch points out, P. Cornelius Rufinus:
‘…had obtained ten pounds of silver plate, which was against the law, and for this reason he was expelled from the senate. After him the family continued in its lowly position and Sulla’s own family was poor.’ (Life of Sulla, 1-2)
Sulla started from relatively lowly origins, though of high noble blood, just as Caesar would, but was, through his own achievements and the loyalty of his men, something instigated by Marius in 106, able to overcome the nefās of his consular ancestor which had endured for the best part of two centuries. We know that as a young adult he struggled to make ends meet, renting a ground floor apartment as his quarters, though he was never impecunious enough to go hungry or be made homeless (Keaveney, A, Young Sulla and the decemstipendia, 1980). The poverty of his family may, however, be questioned, as it is known that he received the standard education for his class, he had a good grounding in the Greek classics (and the few Latin ones which existed at this point) and his love of literature was to remain with him. His poverty seems rather to stem from his being left nothing in his father’s will just after he assumed the toga virilis, from which, as no falling out between them is anywhere recorded, could imply that his family no longer had anything which could be bequeathed to L. Sulla (Keaveney, A, Sulla: The Last Republican, Routledge 2005, 7). Plutarch does hint, however, that he was a somewhat disreputable character,
‘…while he was young and unknown, he used to spend his time living dissolutely with actors and comedians, and, when he held supreme power, collected round him the most outrageous personages of stage and theatre with whom he would drink and crack jokes all day.’ (Sull. 2.3-4)
Associating with actors was not something that a ‘good Roman’ was supposed to do, and his love for a high class prostitute as well as a young Greek actor called Metrobius had every element for scandal of the lowest, tabloid kind.
Despite this, when Marius sailed to Africa in 107, he entrusted Sulla with the raising of a major cavalry force. After intense training, Marius spent the campaign season taking the major cities one by one and the war culminated in a final battle outside Cirta between the Roman forces and the combined armies of Jugurtha and King Bocchus of the neighbouring allied land of Mauretania. The battle was going badly for the Romans until either Sulla and his reinforcements arrived in the nick of time (Sallust) or there was a major storm (Livy). Whichever be the case, the result was Roma victrix. Bocchus now turned against his former ally and applied to the Roman senate for terms, being told he must ‘work his passage’. The war dragged on for another year until eventually Sulla went to Bocchus’ camp where, using his supreme confidence and diplomatic abilities, managed to persuade Bocchus to hand over Jugurtha as opposed to himself becoming the prisoner of Jugurtha. This brought the final end to the war in 105, the hapless Numidian king being part of Marius’ triumph and eventually dying, probably by strangulation, in the Tullianum, Rome’s state prison, in the same year. Despite the triumph being awarded to Marius, and the cognomen Numidicus having already been awarded to Metellus, there could be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the credit for the final capture of the slippery Numidian monarch was Sulla’s; indeed, Sulla made sure all knew (Plutarch, Marius, 10 ‘Sulla had a signet ring specially made with a seal depicting Jugurtha being handed over to him by Bocchus’; Pliny, Natural History, 37.1.9 ‘As dictator, Sulla always sealed documents with the scene of Jugurtha being handed over to him.’). It was from this point that the rivalry between the two, which would culminate in civil war, began to play a role in the highest echelons of military politics at Rome.
The campaign against Jugurtha in North Africa was not the only military conflict in which Rome was embroiled over this period. In far away Germania, two of the principle Germanic tribes, the Cimbri and the Teutones, had begun a migration southwards. Although the actual reason is unknown, it is likely that famine would be a major cause for such a mass movement of populace as they originated somewhere in the area of Jutland in south Denmark / north Germany of today. They first turned southeast, but were driven back by another huge and powerful tribe, the Scordisi, in the Balkans, at which point the twin tribes headed west, bringing a sudden and major threat to the northern borders of the Republican Empire. In 113, Cn. Carbo was sent by the senate; despite an apparent willingness to parley amongst the tribes, Carbo met them in battle close to the modern city of Ljubljana and was soundly defeated (Appian, Celtica, 13 Appian is quite blunt in his condemnation of Carbo through treachery towards the Teutones.). Presumably encouraged by this, the Cimbri and Teutones continued rolling west and were joined by a major Celtic tribe, the Tigurini, by the time they encroached on the new province of Gaul in 110. In response, a consular army was dispatched in 109 under the command of M. Iunius Silanus, the consul for the year. The tribes proposed that they be allowed to settle on the frontiers of the province, but the senate rejected this as too great a threat and experienced another major defeat somewhere in the Rhone valley (Epitome of Livy, Bk. 65; Florus, 1.38; Asconius 80 C tells of how Silanus was brought to trial for this by the tribune Domitius, but that Silanus was acquitted by a large majority. Cf Asconius, 80). The tribes split here, the Cimbri / Teutones turning north and the Tigurini west which resulted in a major revolt by the Roman socii tribe, the Volcae, at Tolosa (Toulouse). In 107, a further consular army engaged them, but this time, under the command of L. Cassius Longinus (cos. 107) they did manage to push the tribes back, though a successful ambush later saw another crushing defeat resulting in the death of L. Longinus and the passing ‘under the yoke’ of another Roman army (Epitome of Livy, Bk. 65, Caesar, Bell. Gall. 1.7, ad Herennium, 1.25). Rome needed a victory, and in 106, Q. Servilius Caepio, consul, managed to take back Tolosa, though he could achieve nothing else (Though he was known to have stolen a large fortune when he seized Tolosa; Orosius, 5.15.25 ‘After capturing a Gallic town called Tolosa the proconsul Caepio removed 100,000 pounds of gold and 110,000 of silver from the temple of Apollo. After it had been sent under guard to Marseilles, all of it is said to have been criminally made away with. This led in due course to a large scale enquiry at Rome.’ Justin, 32.3.10 ‘All the gold and silver from Tolosa was stolen by the Roman consul Caepio.’ The case was ultimately heard in 104 BC before a special court, though the outcome is not recorded. Vir. Ill. 73.5 states that Saturninus had plans to use the treasure from Tolosa to fund the colonial programme for Marius’ veterans), as the Cimbri returned from their wanderings farther north. Caepio was given proconsular prorogation until Cn. Mallius, (cos. 105) arrived with another army. Caepio, outranked by the consul’s presence, deeply resented being under the command of a novus homo, though he did finally bring his forces to meet with Mallius east of the Rhône. This was a spectacularly bad move in a strategic sense, as, at Arausio (Orange) the Celtic / Germanic alliance pinned the Roman armies to the river and cut them to pieces – an estimated loss of 80,000 legionaries died – a figure which almost rivalled Hannibal’s victory at Cannae a century before. This left the borders of Italia herself open to invasion, and P. Rutilius Rufus, Mallius’ co consul after the banishment from Rome by the populus of this latter, issued a directive that no man under 35 might leave Italy (Licinianus, 13-14). There were, evidently, to be major repercussions from these defeats at Rome. Further to this, in either 107 or 106, there was an attempt to prosecute Metellus Numidicus under charges of extortion, but these came to nothing when his account books were presented to the jury (still composed entirely of equites, ergo the trial must have happened prior to Caepio’s lex iudicaria and hence before mid 106), Cicero tells us:
‘…there was not a single man among those worthy Roman equites who were sitting as iudices in the case who did not avert his gaze and turn away from them (Metellus Numidicus’ account books) so as to avoid risking giving the impression that he doubted the honesty and accuracy of the entries which Metellus had made.’ (Pro Balbo, 11)
That such a trial would be brought to prosecute someone with the dignitās, fās and personal gloria of anyone in the Metelli, let alone with the military reputation of Numidicus can surely only show an attempt to undermine one of the main characters in the establishment or possibly even Marius attempting to challenge his former patron’s kudos in the highest positions.
Caepio was of highest senatorial stock and had celebrated a triumph for his victories over the Lusitani in Hispania. He had been the consul for 106, the year in which Metellus had been granted a triumph for his successes in Numidia and granted the cognomen Numidicus. In the period before his departure for the successful campaign at Tolosa, he had pushed through a lex iudicaria which had removed the dominant control of the quaestiones from the equites and shared it more equally with the senators (Cassiodorus, Chronicle), and thus deprived the equites of a large amount of power and influence which the leges Semproniae of C. Gracchus had granted them, thus widening the cleft between the upper tiers of the political society (Cicero, de oratore, 2.199 ‘The equites, who at that time (a trial in 95 BC) were serving as judges in that case, entertained a hatred for Q. Caepio, who had earned their hostility because of his lex iudicaria.’). This new hatred was even cited as late as 86 as an example by Cicero of ‘causing offence’:
‘We say that something ‘causes offence’ where it is something which people do not like heard said: as, for example, if one were to speak highly of the lex iudicaria of Caepio in the company of Roman equites who are eager to serve as judges (iudices)’ (de inventio 1.92)
Caepio was the target for the hatred, fear and revenge at Rome due to his rash actions and the defeat at Aurisio and was subjected to punishments which had not been used since the regal period (Livy, Periochae 67: ‘Caepio…was condemned and his property confiscated by the state, for the first time since King Tarquinius, and his imperium was taken from him.’). The worry in the senate was immense, and the situation seen as so grave that immediate action was required. Livy tells us that he came to the senate in his triumphal clothes, implying that he finished his procession and made straight for the curia, and that this had never happened before. It is unlikely that the situation was believed so urgent that Marius’ immediate presence would be needed as the enemy were hardly ‘ad portas’, therefore it can be presumed that there was a level of clever propaganda on Marius’ part in choosing to appear before the assembled political might of Rome in his triumphal garb – gold cloth, orange face and bearing all of the trappings of regal or even semi-divine power would only have served to enhance the person of the general, as well as reminding all who saw him that his military prowess had won him the triumph and this was a military emergency. Fear of the impending invasion gave Marius something which had never before been granted – his consulship was extended ‘for the next several years.’ (Livy, Per. 67) In other words, Marius was granted full consular power until at least the end of the impending crisis for Italia – nobody had held this level of power for such a vaguely limited period of time since the Kings; even a dictator did not hold his power for that length of time. Marius was to win second and third consulships in absentia (technically illegal as physical presence in Rome was a prerequisite at election time in order to run for office; cf his rush to return from Africa for his first consulship election in 108) and a fourth ‘by pretending not to campaign for it’, although Livy does not give us any more clarification than this. The level of fear was such that even Marius’ most powerful inimici did nothing to counter his being assigned Gaul as his consular province so that he could pursue the war and remove the threat to Italia (Cicero, de provinciis consularibus, 19).
The Germano-Celtic forces split, the Cimbri following the Alpine passes and the Teutones along with another tribe, the Ambrones, following the Rhone and along the coastal route into Italia. Marius chose to fight the larger force of the twin tribes first and at the town of Aquae Sextiae (Aix-en-Provence) he destroyed their forces in 102 (Cassius Dio, fr. 94, ‘After his victory at Aquae Sextiae, Marius so won over the nobles who had hated him that he was praised to the sky by the high-born and commoners alike. He was elected consul for the coming year (his fifth) to finish off the job with the willing and consenting support of the nobles.’). His co-consul, Q. Lutatius Catulus, however, a man who had, after three electoral defeats (Cicero, Pro Plancio, 12 ‘Q. Catulus, born into a great and distinguished family and a man of great wisdom and integrity, was defeated in the consular elections by…C. Serranus, a thoroughly stupid man but a man at any rate of noble birth,…G. Fimbria, a novus homo but a man of great spirit and high intelligence, (and) of all people, Cn. Mallius, not merely a non-noble but a worthless, unintelligent fellow and a despicable and sordid character.’ These losses took place in 106-104), only succeeded in gaining a consulship under Marius’ patronage, was less successful and did not stop the Cimbri’s passage through the Alps into Cisapline Gaul which they proceeded to plunder. Marius was elected yet again in 101 (Support came not only from the plebs, but also from the nobility – even those who numbered themselves among his inimici: Cicero, Prov. Cons.19; Dio, Hist., 27 F94.1) and Catulus granted a prorogation. Subsequently the two imperatores combined their forces. The Cimbri, presumably encouraged by their victories, refused negotiations and would only agree to an arranged battle at Vercellae in the Lower Po Valley on the 30th July, a battle which the Romans won decisively (Epitome of Livy, Bk. 68, ‘The Cimbri were defeated in battle by the combined armies of Catulus and C. Marius, with losses reported at 140,000 of the enemy killed and 60,000 captured.’ Cf Plutarch, Marius, 25ff. Plutarch also mentions the existence of ill feeling between Marius and Sulla.). Marius, greeted as the saviour of Italia, ‘the third founder of Rome’, was granted a further triumph which he insisted Catulus be allowed to share. This more or less guaranteed the generalissimo his sixth consulship, rivalling the record of 299, though no consul had ever held five consecutive years (Plutarch, Marius, 11-28; Livy, Per. 65-7; Val. Max, 2.3.2). The Epitome of Livy states:
‘Marius was welcomed back by a united populace. Offered two triumphs, he was satisfied with one. The leading men of Rome, who had once detested him as an upstart (novus homo) raised him to such honours, maintained that he was the Saviour of Rome.’ (Bk. 68) (NB in Bk. 69, he states ‘C. Marius bought his sixth consulship by massive bribery…’ cf Vell. Pat., 2.12.6 ‘His sixth consulship was given him as if in reward for his great achievement.’ Plutarch, Marius, 28, states ‘P. Rutilius Rufus in other respects a truthful and decent man, but a man who had a private quarrel with Marius, tells us he won his sixth consulship by the huge sums which he distributed among the electorate…’ The demeaning accusations of bribery appear to stem from an inimicus of Marius, and it was not an unusual occurrence for candidates to ‘buy’ votes prior to the annual elections.)
After the exile of Caepio due to the debacle at Arausio, his lex iudicaria restricting the rights of the equites to dominate the judiciary was challenged. In 104, C. Servilius Glaucia restored the rights to the equestrian panels and hence removed the senatorial positions on the panels of the law courts, binding the equites to him in gratitude (Cicero, Brutus, 224 ‘C. Servilius Glaucia was a terrible scoundrel, but a very acute and clever and witty man. He had the support of the commons, and had bound the equites to him by the benefit his law gave them.’). Further to this, in 103, a second tribune, L. Appuleius Saturninus set up the quaestio de maiestate to deal with all matters of treason and which was fully constituted of equites. Saturninus, although of senatorial stock but not high, was an amicus of Marius and as such it was he who proposed a law to grant land to the veterans from ‘Marius’ mules’ in the province of Africa in the period following the war with Jugurtha (De viris illustribus, 73). There existed, however, a personal grudge that was the bond between Galucia and Saturninus, the latter having been removed from his quaestorship duties at the harbour of Ostia in 105 by the senate in the midst of a major grain shortage (Cicero, de haruspicum responsis 43). In 102, Metellus Numidicus serving as censor had attempted to remove both Glaucia and Saturninus from the senate, though he was unsuccessful in this. In 100, both were re-elected, Saturninus to a second tribuneship and Glaucia as praetor (Plutarch, Marius, 14.11-14; 28.7-29.1; Appian, Bell. Civ, 28). Both Plutarch and Appian tell us that Saturninus backed Marius’ requirements through a lex agraria which set up veteran colonies in Gaul, Macedonia, Greece and on both Sicily and Corsica. The law further granted Marius the privilege of bestowing full citizenship on three key men in each of the coloniae and reserved the large percentage of land allocations to Italians. Appian (29-31) recounts the latter clause caused a high level of anger and resentment among the plebs urbana. There was, again, violence as a result. A move to dismiss the assembly on grounds of thunder being heard – a bad omen according to the augurs – was completely ignored by Saturninus and his opponents took up clubs in an attempt to drive him out and break up the meeting. The tribune did, however, have many supporters who, unlike those of the Gracchi, were veterans of Marius’ military campaigns and therefore the main beneficiaries of Saturninus’ proposals and were therefore more than capable of defeating the mob in the subsequent brawl. The laws were passed and all the magistrates and members of the senate were obliged to swear to uphold it. The senate attempted to undermine this by pointing out the law had not been enacted by vote, but by violence and against the will of the gods as shown in the bad omens. Marius bypassed this by taking the oath, but also adding ‘insofar as the law be valid’ as a caveat. This opt out clause if question later turned against the law was acceptable and the other members of the senate followed Marius’ example, other then Metellus Numidicus who chose rather to head into voluntary exile in Pergamon. In 102, the Eastern Mediterranean had been set alight by the problem of the Cilician pirates, and the praetor for the year, M. Antonius had been appointed to deal with this. Ironically, it was a problem of their own making as, when they opened Delos as a free port in 166, undermining the economy of Rhodes, whose navy had successfully confined the pirates. After the collapse of the Rhodian economy and subsequent collapse of her naval power, however, the pirates had ever more free rein in the southeastern Mediterranean. Antonius, while successful in his short term mission, only managed to subdue the pirates and they simply re-emerged afterwards to continue as a major problem until Pompey dealt with them later in the first century.
The mid 90s were a relatively calm point in the political chaos of before and after, but the problem of the unenfranchised allies was a festering sore which was preparing to burst. At this time, it is estimated that anything up to fifty percent of any Roman army consisted of soldiers from the socii, and that the expectations of them militarily were equivalent to any placed on a full citizen of Rome. In division of the spoils of war, however, they were granted a much smaller share, and the parcels of land granted them at the end of their period of service were much smaller. There also remained the problem from the mid 2nd century BC that no Roman citizen could be executed or flogged as punishment whilst on active military service, but any soldier from any other nation could be subjected to corporal or capital punishment at the whim of a magistrate. As the centuries had progressed, all the allies had taken up the vita Romana: they spoke Latin and had adopted the Roman ways of almost everything. It is therefore hardly a surprise that they felt they should be permitted access to all of the benefits which being a Roman citizen brought, especially as they were expected to bear the burdens. The ruling oligarchic elite at Rome, however, worried that their position in the very comfortable status quo might be threatened by any sudden influx of number to the citizen body through a general enfranchisement of the Italian socii. The nobiles appear to have separated along the lines of realisation of the inevitability of such a general grant of citizenship against those who convinced the cives Romani that such would bring about a bastardisation of the citizenship through there existing a much wider citizen body amongst whom any benefits might be shared.
Saturninus was returned for a third tribunate in the elections for 99 and he and Glaucia decided to work together by having the latter elected as consul. This was not technically a legal move as Glaucia was an invalid candidate until the elections of 98 to serve in 97. Marius therefore intervened and stated Glaucia’s candidacy disallowed (Appian, Bell. Civ. 1.32-33 (141-146)). The pair had been useful to him in his requirements for land for his veterans, but placing the balance of power in the hands of Saturninus and Glaucia was not a threat which Marius was willing to permit as the ultimate power would be removed from Marius’ hands for the whole year. Conveniently, on the election day itself, the main challenger to Glaucia, C. Memmius who, as tribune in 109 had been the one to summon Jugurtha to Rome, was murdered leading to the indefinite postponement of the elections. In retaliation, Saturninus occupied the Capitol and called an assembly in order to declare Glaucia’s candidature exempt from the laws governing the time restrictions between magisterial positions. The senate passed the senatus ultimum consultum a second time (Cicero, In Defence of C. Rabirius for Treason 20-21), but this was a much more precarious move as, unlike that which Opimius had instigated in 121 against C. Gracchus and Flaccus, this one was not against the armed insurrection by citizens, but directly against the sacrosanct person of a tribune; a correctly elected magistrate who was simply carrying out his right of assembly of the plebs and therefore protected by laws both sacred and secular. Marius, a popularis remember, hesitated to make a move against a tribune of the plebs. As novus homo and from an origin other than the urbs Romana, he had no long term tied loyalty to the ‘old boys network’ of the nobiles in the senatorial majority, and hence felt no restrictions on his temporary inaction by association with the traditions and values of this particular group. However, persuaded by Aemilius Scaurus, he called tumultus and the citizen body answered by arming. Marius, rather than opening up the flood gates of urban rioting, offered the gathered supporters of Saturninus, who were also cut off from the water supply on the Capitol, safe custody until they could be brought to trial. They accepted this, but were instead taken to the Curia where they were lynched by a mob who stormed the senatorial seat. Glaucia was found hiding behind one of his friend’s houses and was murdered without any hesitation (Cicero, Brutus, 224, De vir. ill. 73.10).
There can be little doubt that this was the time of the zenith of Marius’ political career. He had been appointed consul, seemingly almost limitlessly, he had been awarded three possible triumphs and he had been publicly proclaimed the saviour of not only Italy, but more importantly, the res publica. In one move, however, Marius destroyed a large amount of good will amongst the boni as the members of the aristocracy now called themselves – he attempted to block the return of Metellus to Rome (Livy, Per. 69) and lost, the vast majority of the populace apparently rejoicing at the return of a hero (Epitome of Livy, Bk. 69, Cicero ad familiares, 1.9.16). His attempt to become one of the accepted members of the high aristocracy had failed, and the ‘Italian hayseed with no Greek’ (A term from McCullough, C, The First Man in Rome – though fictional, a wonderfully atmospheric, highly readable and accurate account of the period. This term perfectly sums up the attitude; Arrow, 2003.) was what he had been and what he was to remain. His implication in the murder of Saturninus had a deleterious effect on his reputation with the plebs. This cost him any hope of achieving the office of censor (Plutarch, Mar, 30). Here was the point where Marius had to accept the simple reality that his quest for glory would have to be on the military field and not in the political arena (Plutarch, Mar, 31.3). However, as there were no great wars being pursued at the time, Marius was forced to go into retirement from public life ‘like an instrument of war in time of peace’ (Plutarch, Mar, 32) along with all of the intrinsic disgrace which this implied. His challenges to senatorial power through his lowly origins combined with his multiple consulships were anathema to the primus inter pares role which the senatorial tradition and the mos maiorum implied in the consular title. He was openly popularis in his partners in government and alliances in both his dealings with the comitia as well as the senatorial arena, he had received his dedicated commands from the tribunes as opposed to the senate and unlike those who had challenged the status quo of the power mongers in the senate, he had found a high degree of personal loyalty amongst the soldiers he commanded as well as his military reform programme and empowering the role of the capite censi through the levy of 107.
In the decline of the master came the chance to shine for the subordinate, and Sulla seized the opportunity with both hands. He had been elected praetor in 97 and commanded Cilicia as the propaetor the following year (Plutarch, Sulla, 5, de viris illustribus, 75). The establishment power wielders of the senate saw in him their opportunity to reestablish their position at the top. He was, as stated above, of ancient noble stock and, unlike the novus homo had made his way up the cursus honorum in the correct and acceptable fashion – something which served to cover up the dubious moral status he had openly exhibited in his youth. The next years were, however, to bring the problems which Rome had ignored for centuries with the status of her socii to a final and explosive head.
In 95, the consulship was held by Q. Mucius Scaevola, the son of the consul of 133 and L. Licinius Crassus. It was in this consular year that the law was passed which required all Italian citizens resident in Rome to return to their cities of origin, a law which was to play a pivotal role in the Social or Marsian Wars in the subsequent years (Asconius 67-8C). At some point after this, Scaevola was assigned the governorship of Asia in an attempt to solve the problems which had arisen due to disputes between the payers of the Roman taxes and the equestrian publicani who had obtained the duty of collecting the tax revenues. In any dispute since the province had been bequeathed to Rome by Attalus III, the establishment had always sided with the publicani, but the situation had become so hard for what was the richest province in the Empire that the necessity for a good governor to intervene could no longer be avoided. Scaevola proved such a capable administrator that it took him only nine months to sort the difficulties (Dio. Sic. 37.5). Upon returning to Rome, Scaevola left the daily administration for the latter three months in the hands of P. Rutilius Rufus, his subordinate who had served as consul in 105. The publicani were evidently dissatisfied with Scaevola’s decisions (cf Cicero, ad familiares, 1.9.26; ad Atticum, 5.17.5, 6.1.15), but he was, as provincial governor, not an individual whom they felt they could attack directly. His leaving the province in Rufus’ hands, however, gave them a target and they launched charges of provincial extortion in the courts. Whilst nobody credited the charges in any way, Rufus, unlike the expected response, would not participate in the usual impassioned speeches and pleas all of which were the norm in the processes of litigation at the time and he was found guilty. The absolutely ridiculous outcome in this one case led to a general feeling of disgust with the courts and there were immediate demands for a reformation of the entire system therefore the high oligarch M. Livius Drusus Iunior rose to the challenge or took the bait, depending upon one’s interpretation. Drusus was the son of the man who had led the challenges to C. Gracchus in 122 and saw himself as being the champion of the senate against the equestrian dominance of the courts and juries (Dio. Sic., 37.10, cf Cicero, de officiis, 1.108). His character was high and he was of good reputation (de viris illustribus, 66 ‘As aedile M. Livius Drusus gave a most splendid public show. When he was quaestor in Asia, he made himself the more conspicuous by declining to wear any official insignia.’ cf Cicero, de officiis, 1.108; de oratore, 1.24; pro Milone, 16 and Brutus, 222). He was, however, undermined by the general fear of one man dominating the power of the state, as this would pose more of a threat than the situation as it stood. This opposition could arguably be seen as being caused by the same difficulties facing the reforms of C. Gracchus; he had too many and too wide a scope. The divisions at Rome were now too deeply set and cooperation was not an option for those who stood on opposite sides of the gulf. His first move was the standard lex frumentaria to grant a grain dole to the plebs to get them on side. He was caught up, moreover, in the indictment and counter indictment between Q. Servilius Caepio and Scaurus (Asconius commentary on Cicero, pro Scauro, 21C in LACTOR 13, 111). He further made attempts to diffuse the situation of the question of granting civitās to the socii. In addition, there were questions as to the legality of his moves – he had passed his law after a single vote which was not permissible (lex satura) and he had chosen to ignore the required religious statutes by ignoring the omens (contra auspicia), a weapon used by L. Marcius Philippus, the consul who opposed Drusus (Florus, 2.5; de viris illustribus, 66 for accounts of extreme violence used by Drusus to force through his lex frumentaria). In this he failed, and once again the refusal to face the reality of this situation led to the murder of a tribune (Though it was evidently rumoured he committed suicide: Seneca, de brevitate, 6.1-2, cf Vell. Pat. 2.13-15; Florus, 2.5; Appian, Bell. Civ., 35-36). Unlike on previous occasions, however, the socii had drawn their line in the sand and the murder of Drusus crossed this – now was the time to carry through what had been threatening on the periphery for over a century; if Rome would not grant them their perceived right to citizenship by legal means (Appian, Bell. Civ. 1.37 recounts ‘Thus Drusus was slain, while he was tribune. The equites sought to make his policy a springboard for legal attacks on their opponents and persuaded a certain Q. Varius, the tribune, to bring a measure to indict all those who either openly or secretly assisted the Italians against Rome.’ Asconius on Cicero pro Scauro, 22C ‘…when the Italian war had broken out, because the nobility was hated for the refusal of citizenship to the socii, the tribune Q. Varius passed a law to establish a court of enquiry concerning those men through whose aid and advice the socii had taken up arms against the populus Romanus.’), they would fight to gain it (Appian, Bell. Civ. 1.38-9). No longer were they willing to fight and die for Rome and accept all the responsibilities which the alliance entailed without the rights and freedoms guaranteed by civitās. The subsequent war termed the Social War (from socii) or Marsian War was bloody, unforgiving and three years (The dating of the Social War is difficult. The Romans concluded treaties with individual enemies rather than treating the socii as one entity, so it can be argued it ended in 89, or that it continued until the Battle at the Colline Gate in 82. cf Steel, C The End of the Roman Republic 146-44 BC, EUP, 2013, 80) in which Italy almost successfully put to death all which had gone before, despite the fact that many of the allies refused to become involved (Etruria, Umbria, the southern Hellenic poleis and a large part of Campania played no part in the insurrection.). Not unusual had this been a civil war or a war of secession, but here, the socii fought to be allowed in, to belong, to be an accepted part of Roma (Later Roman/Greek writers mainly support the socii in their reasons for taking up arms: Dio. Sic, 32.7; Cicero, de officiis, 2.75; Vell. Pat. 2.15; Justin, 38.4.13; Florus, 2.6 inter alia). The ancient sources do see to attempt to lay the blame for the war squarely at Drusus’ door. Diodorus cites the oath of personal allegiance to Drusus taken by the socii in exchange for the proposed citizenship law (Dio. Sic., 37.11). The subsequent treason trial under the lex Varia of 90 do seem to demonstrate that there was a level of support or encouragement had been given to the socii from amongst the Roman elite, most likely those who had been supporters of the dead tribune (Alexander, M, Trials in the Late Roman Republic 149-50 BC, Toronto, 1990 cites the example of Scaurus amongst those prosecuted by Varius.). The senate had no alternative other than to recall Marius from his self imposed internal exile and appoint him and Sulla as the commanders of the Roman forces. One key resultant change from this conflict was, as Ungern-Sternberg has pointed out:
‘…serious consequence resulted from the prolonged fighting on Italian soil, notably in the form of a significant blurring of the boundary between military and civilian life, a boundary that had always been strictly observed by the Romans. Several generals now began to pursue their own political agendas in a prelude to the clash between Marius and Sulla in 88 BC.’
It was from this point that a new difficulty was to raise its head in Rome – the head to head clash of the two most powerful individuals which was to last from 91 – 70. In his introduction, Sampson describes the question succinctly:
‘It was during this period that the Republican system, which underpinned Rome’s rise to Mediterranean preeminence collapsed…this collapse was not due to Rome being overrun by external enemies but internal ones, with sections of Italy and Rome’s own aristocracy taking up arms against each other.’ (Sampson, GC, The Collapse of Rome, pen-and-sword, 2013, 1)
The title of his introduction – ‘When is a Civil War not a Civil War?’ – may on the surface seem flippant, but is highly pertinent to the situation which rose out of these struggles; Was it one war, and was it truly a war in the sense we usually understand it? It was a massive military struggle and urbs Romana was to be attacked by Roman armies on five separate occasions, taken on three of these and on the receiving end of a traditional ‘sack’ in one. The problem in interpretation lies in the fact that those who recorded these events either at or shortly after the time do not agree in their examinations and explanations – Cicero uses a whole gamut of terms for what occurred in a variety of works and he participated in the conflicts, though more as an observer than an active combatant. Ultimately the question to be asked regarding this period is ‘crisis or crises?’ To answer this, one must try to examine the potential links between the events and evaluate how they interplayed or were separate, simply serving as catalysts for the subsequent occurrences. Whilst the military and socio-economic effects were not easily hidden and are therefore easier to examine, what the after effects in the political sphere were is a more tangled web. Prior to looking at these, however, some background.
The east was still little more than a periphery of Empire, though was to prove an integral part of the rampant conflict and almost anarchic happenings of the period, and Rome’s implacable enemies in the Middle East were more than happy to take advantage of the bloody violence tearing Italy apart and more importantly occupying the best and most experienced legions. The Pontic king Mithridates VI Eupator and the Armenian king, Tigranes chose this time to attack Bithynia and Cappadocia and in 90 occupied both. The Romans forced Mithridates to withdraw, but then encouraged the Bithynian king, Nicomedes IV to invade Pontus. Unsurprisingly, the Pontic king, who had the much larger army, countered this and invaded Bithynia and Cappadocia and pillaged them mercilessly, despite a declaration of war from Rome in 89. When this did not suffice, Asia became the next target, her wealth still of legendary proportions, her 80,000 Italian citizens being easy targets for a mass slaughter, both by the Pontic army and, more significantly, the local Hellenic populace (Appian, Wars with Mithridates, 85-75; 91-92). The loss of income was, in reality, a much more threatening problem to Rome than the loss of 80,000 Italian citizens, and so, despite her gradual winning of the war in Italia, the senate made the decision to grant civitās to the socii who were willing to lay down their arms (Through the lex Iulia of 90 BC; Cicero, pro Balbo, 21 et al.). This was followed by the tribunician law which offered citizenship to all free inhabitants of Italy who presented themselves in Rome within sixty days (Cicero, pro Archaia 7) and the lex Pompeia which granted Latin status to all communities which lay north of the Po (Asconius, 3C), bringing the whole of the Italian peninsula into the Roman state and bringing the Social Wars to a swift close in order that she could deal with the by now extensive threat from an eastern potentate. Despite the threat in the east, however, the question of command against Mithridates was to become yet another internal conflict; personal gloria was the driving factor, even over the potential loss of the eastern empire and all it would entail to reconquer it.
Sulla was returned victorious in the consular elections and in 88 was granted the command against Mithridates by the senate. The Pontic expansion was increasing at a rate of knots as, in the same year, the Athenians had invited Mithridates to invade mainland Greece, which he did (App. Mith. 1-29). Marius, ever the popularis and ever greedy for another command to bring him greater fās et gloria after his failures in the political sphere, turned to the tribune Sulpicius to overturn the senatorial grant and award the 70 year old the command of the campaign. Sulla had no option other than to take flight from Rome and seek the support of the soldiers of HIS legion who were still amassed outside the pomerium. Rather than sit and wait, however, he invaded Rome, committing high treason and sacrilege, but in capturing the city through his ‘March on Rome’, there was little anyone could do about this. Marius was forced to take refuge in his stronghold of Africa, but when Sulla resumed his command against Mithridates and headed east, his attempts to pull the teeth of the tribunes and raise the power of the optimates, came to nothing with the return of Marius to Rome to receive the open support of one of the consuls for 87, Cinna. Following Sulla’s example, Marius recalled his veterans from retirement and likewise seized power at Rome by marching his army in and taking it with no form of legal due process. The ancient recorders of the events clearly understood the implications of these actions by Sulla and Marius:
‘…and so it was that sedition developed from conflict and ambition to murders, and from murderous deeds to open war. This citizen army [ie that of Sulla] was the first to storm its native city as though it were enemy territory. And from that point onward, internal discords were only to be settled with weapons. The city of Rome was often attacked and there was fighting around the walls as well as all other effects of war. Those who perpetrated the violence were not inhibited by any respect for either laws or the constitution of their patria.’ (Appian, Bell. Civ. I.269-70)