Roman Leaders at the End of the Republic: Marius

Gaius Marius of Arpinum

Marius. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Roman Republican Wars | Timeline of the Roman Republic | Marius Timeline

Full Name: Gaius Marius
Dates: c.157–January 13, 86 B.C.
Birthplace: Arpinum, in Latium
Occupation: Military leader, Statesman

Neither from the city of Rome, nor a pedigreed patrician, Arpinum-born Marius still managed to be elected consul a record-breaking seven times, marry into the family of Julius Caesar, and reform the army. [See Table of Roman Consuls.] Marius' name is also inextricably linked with Sulla and the wars, both civil and international, at the end of the Roman Republican period.

Origins and Early Career of Marius

Marius was a novus homo 'a new man' -- one without a senator among his ancestors. His family (from Arpinum [See map section aC in Latium], the rustic birthplace shared with Cicero) may have been peasants or they may have been equestrian, but they were clients of the old, rich, and patrician Metellus family. To improve his circumstances, Gaius Marius joined the military. He served well in Spain under Scipio Aemilianus. Then, with the help of his patron, Caecilius Metellus, and the support of the plebs, Marius became tribune in 119.

As tribune, Marius proposed a bill that effectively limited the influence of aristocrats on elections. In passing the bill, he temporarily alienated the Metelli. As a consequence, he failed in his bids to become aedile, although he did (barely) manage to become praetor.

Marius and the Family of Julius Caesar

In order to increase his prestige, Marius arranged to marry into an old, but impoverished patrician family, the Julii Caesares. He married Julia, aunt of Gaius Julius Caesar, probably in 110, since his son was born in 109/08.

Marius as Military Legate

Legates were men appointed by Rome as envoys, but they were used by generals as seconds-in-command. The legate Marius, second in command to Metellus, so ingratiated himself with the troops that they wrote to Rome to recommend Marius as consul, claiming he would quickly end the conflict with Jugurtha.

Marius Runs for Consul

Against the wishes of his patron, Metellus (who may have feared replacement), Marius ran for consul, winning for the first time in 107 B.C., and then realizing his patron's fears by replacing Metellus as head of the army. To honor his service, "Numidicus" was added to Marius' name in 109 as the conqueror of Numidia.

Since Marius needed more troops to defeat Jugurtha, he instituted new policies that were to change the complexion of the army. Instead of requiring a minimum property qualification of his soldiers, Marius recruited poor soldiers who would require a grant of property of him and the senate upon ending their service.

Since the Senate would oppose distribution of these grants, Marius would need (and did receive) the troops' support.

Capturing Jugurtha was harder than Marius had thought, but he won, thanks to a man who would soon cause him endless trouble. Marius' quaestor, the patrician Lucius Cornelius Sulla, induced Bocchus, Jugurtha's father-in-law, to betray the Numidian. Since Marius was in command, he received the honor of the victory, but Sulla maintained that he deserved the credit. Marius returned to Rome with Jugurtha at the head of a victory procession at the beginning of 104. Jugurtha was then killed in prison.

Marius Runs for Consul, Again

In 105, while in Africa, Marius was elected to a second term as consul. Election-in-absentia was contrary to Roman tradition.

From 104 to 100 he was repeatedly elected consul because only as consul would he be in command of the military. Rome needed Marius to defend its borders from Germanic, Cimbri, Teutoni, Ambrones, and Swiss Tigurini tribes, following the death of 80,000 Romans at the Arausio River in 105 BC. In 102-101, Marius defeated them at Aquae Sextiae and, with Quintus Catulus, on the Campi Raudii.

Marius' Downward Slide

Timeline of Events in Gaius Marius' Life

Agrarian Laws and Saturninus Riot

To ensure a 6th term as consul, in 100 B.C., Marius bribed the voters and made an alliance with tribune Saturninus who had passed a series of agrarian laws which provided land for veteran soldiers from Marius' armies. Saturninus and the senators had come into conflict because of the agrarian laws' provision that the senators must take an oath to uphold it, within 5 days of the passage of the law. Some honest senators, like Metellus (now, Numidicus), refused to take the oath and left Rome.

When Saturninus was returned as tribune in 100 with his colleague, a spurious member of the Gracchi, Marius had him arrested for reasons we don't know, but possibly to ingratiate himself with the senators. If that was the reason, it failed. Furthermore, Saturninus' supporters freed him.

Saturninus supported his associate C. Servilius Glaucia in the consular elections for 99 by being involved in the murder of the other candidates. Glaucia and Saturninus were supported by the rural plebs, but not by the urban. While the pair and their adherents seized the Capitol, Marius persuaded the senate to pass an emergency decree to prevent the senate from being harmed. The urban plebs were given arms, Saturninus' supporters were removed, and the water pipes were cut -- to make a hot day intolerable. When Saturninus and Glaucia surrendered, Marius assured them they would not be harmed.

We can't say for sure that Marius meant them any harm, but Saturninus, Glaucia, and their followers were killed by the mob.

After the Social War

Marius Seeks the Mithridates Command

In Italy, poverty, taxation, and discontent led to the rebellion known as the Social War in which Marius played an unappreciated role. The allies (socii, hence Social War) won their citizenship at the end of the Social War (91-88 B.C.), but by being put into, perhaps, 8 new tribes, their votes wouldn't count for much. They wanted to be distributed among the 35 pre-existing ones.

In 88 B.C., P. Sulpicius Rufus, tribune of the plebs, favored giving the allies what they wanted and enlisted Marius' support, with the understanding that Marius would get his Asian command (against Mithridates of Pontus).

Sulla returned to Rome to oppose Sulpicius Rufus' bill about the distribution of the new citizens among the pre-existing tribes. With his consular colleague, Q. Pompeius Rufus, Sulla officially declared business suspended. Sulpicius, with armed supporters, declared the suspension illegal. A riot broke out during which Q. Pompeius Rufus' son was murdered and Sulla fled to Marius' house. After striking some sort of deal, Sulla fled to his army in Campania (where they had fought during the Social War).

Sulla had already been given what Marius wanted -- command of the forces against Mithridates, but Sulpicius Rufus had a law passed to create a special election to put Marius in charge. Similar measures had been taken before.

Sulla told his troops that they would lose out if Marius were put in charge, and so, when envoys from Rome came to tell them of a change in leadership, Sulla's soldiers stoned the envoys. Sulla then led his army against Rome.

The senate tried to order Sulla's troops to stop, but the soldiers, again, threw stones. When Sulla's opponents fled, he seized the city. Sulla then declared Sulpicius Rufus, Marius, and others enemies of the state. Sulpicius Rufus was killed, but Marius and his son fled.

In 87, Lucius Cornelius Cinna became consul. When he tried to register the new citizens (acquired at the end of the Social War) in all 35 tribes, rioting broke out. Cinna was driven from the city. He went to Campania where he took over Sulla's legion. He led his troops towards Rome, recruiting more along the way. Meanwhile, Marius gained military control of Africa. Marius and his army landed in Etruria (north of Rome), raised more troops from among his veterans and went on to capture Ostia. Cinna joined forces with Marius; together they marched on Rome.

When Cinna took the city, he revoked Sulla's law against Marius and the other exiles. Marius then took revenge. Fourteen prominent senators were killed. This was a slaughter by their standards.

Cinna and Marius were both (re-)elected consuls for 86, but a few days after taking office, Marius died. L. Valerius Flaccus took his place.

Primary Source
Plutarch's Life of Marius

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Your Citation
Gill, N.S. "Roman Leaders at the End of the Republic: Marius." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Gill, N.S. (2021, February 16). Roman Leaders at the End of the Republic: Marius. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Roman Leaders at the End of the Republic: Marius." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 23, 2023).