Gaius Marius (157-86BC), an Italian by birth rather than a pure Roman, was a relative newcomer to the Roman elite, and he was considered an outsider by the Senate. It was not until he was in his very late forties and almost past the age of command that he took sole charge of a major war, in this case subduing the renegade king of Numidia, Jugurtha in 112BC. Even this relatively undistinguished placement was only attained in the face of the sternest opposition of senators representing the old patrician families of Rome.
Lucius Cornelius Sulla (138-78BC), then aged about 30, was brought into Marius’s inner circle becoming his brother-in-law by his marriage to the younger daughter of Gaius Julius Caesar, Sr (140-85BC), the Roman senator who was the father of the more famous Julius Caesar. Gaius Caesar was a supporter of Marius. Gaius Caesar was married to Aurelia Cotta, a member of the Aurelii and Rutilii families. They had two daughters, known as Julia Major and Julia Minor, and a son, who became the famous Julius Caesar born in 100BC. Marius had married Caesar’s elder daughter, making him and Sulla brothers in Roman law. These marriages had served them well; Marius gained an entrance into the highest noble circles and Sulla gained a return to patrician status following the squandering of his inheritance by his alcoholic father. Both men clearly had a lot to prove in the coming wars.
It was Marius who had introduced many military changes to the Roman legions. There is some evidence that suggests by 135BC there had been a law passed that prohibited second consulships – a term limit. However, with the news that the Cimbri tribe was marching against Rome, a state of emergency led them to ignore the law and Marius was again chosen consul. Marius was elected to an unprecedented five successive consulships (104BC –100BC). He returned to Rome by January 1, 104BC, when he celebrated his triumph over Jugurtha, who was first led in the procession.
Marius, despite his victories, was still looked down upon by the Senate for being an Italian rather than a Roman. He found himself very much treated as an outsider so he entered into an alliance with Saturninus and his ally Gaius Servilius Glaucia. They then had the support of the veterans of Marius and many of the common people. By the aid of bribery and assassination, Marius was elected (100 BC) consul for the sixth time.
Marius understood the crisis which emerged with the shortage of men for the army. He begun enlisting common men without property or the means to equip themselves with weapons. The Roman Senate profoundly resisted this change. However, the economic conditions compelled them to eventually accept Marius’ reforms. This would profoundly change the Roman legions for soon it was not a means to become a property owner as land became a promise of pensions. The legions thus were now paid rather than made up on volunteers and the professional Roman Army was born.
The soldiers signed up at first for a period of 16 years, which was later extended to 20 years which has been adopted even in modern times for government employees. They would now serve with the promise of a bonus and a plot of land to work in retirement. Their generals, whom they now served for long periods of time could also reward them with bonuses as spoils of war on particular engagements. This would eventually lead to the loyalty of the legionaries was transferred to their General rather than to a homeland or even to the Roman Senate. Of course, over the course of the next two centuries, this would lead to the breakdown of the Roman economy as legions would sack Roman cities that were rivals to their particular General.
Marius’ victory over the German tribes led many to call him “the third founder of Rome.” Nevertheless, the Senate passed a decree in 95BC expelling from the city all residents who were not Roman citizens known as the Lex Licinia Mucia. In 91BC Marcus Livius Drusus (130-91BC) was elected tribune of the plebs and proposed a greater division of state lands, the enlargement of the Senate, and a conferral of Roman citizenship upon all freemen of Italy.
The Senatorial elites, Optimates, had really become an oligarchy within Rome itself and did not wish to accept anyone other than Romans as citizens denying that to all other Italians. Perhaps they feared the power of Marius and remembered he was an Italian as distinguished from a Roman. Nevertheless, the oligarchy murdered Drusus for making such a proposal, and this resulted in many of the Italian states then revolting against Rome in the Social War of 91–88 BC.
The Social War was really a separatist movement. While the Latins as a whole remained largely loyal to Rome, the exception was Venusia. The rebellious allies sought not just the separation from Rome, but also the creation of their own independent confederation, called Italia. The capital was to be located at Corfinium (modern Abruzzo) that was renamed Italica. To pay for the troops, they created their own coinage which was used as propaganda against Rome with the legend Italia.
The Italian soldiers were battle-hardened, most of them having served in the Roman armies so they were aware of Roman tactics and strategies. The 12 allies of Italia had an army of 120,000 men. The coinage of the Italians depicted an Oath-taking scene to the new confederation.
The revolution of Italia which began toward the close of the year 91BC, was really the long-standing accumulation of grievances of being treated as subservient to Romans. The Marsi were the leaders of this uprising. They were located about midway between Rome and the East Coast almost dead East near modern Avessano. The Marsi were an ancient people of Italy who made an alliance with Rome that lasted until the Social War of 91-89BC which ended when the allies were finally given Roman citizenship.
They managed to defeat both consuls for 90BC. Rome appeared to be in serious danger. Marius took command in 90BC following the deaths of the consul, Publius Rutilius Lupus, and the praetor Quintus Servilius Caepio who lost some 8,000 men in a trap. Marius actually fought along with Sulla against the rebel cities during the Social War. However, Marius retired during the Social War because of health. He may have had a minor stroke. Nevertheless, Rome yielded providing the political concession of granting Roman citizenship. Thereafter, all of Italy south of the Po was united by this common bond.
Following the Social War, Sulla, on the other hand, remained deeply involved in national and military affairs. When now a new enemy sprung up in Asia, Mithridates of Pontus (134-63BC) who sought to conquer Greece and take it away from Rome. In 88BC, Sulla was elected consul. Marius seems to have made a recovery. Hence, the choice before the Senate was to put either Marius or Sulla in command of an army which would aid Rome’s Greek allies and defeat Mithridates. The Senate chose Sulla, but soon the Assembly appointed Marius most likely thanks to the corruption of Publius Sulpicius Rufus (121–88BC) who was a famous Tribune of the Plebs. Marius offered a bribe promising to erase all his debts. However, Sulla refused to acknowledge the validity of the Assembly’s action.
Sulla left Rome and traveled to take command of the army at Nola given to him by the Senate. Sulla urged his legions to defy the Assembly’s orders to follow Marius and accept him instead as their rightful leader.
Sulla was successful and the legions stoned the representatives from the Assembly to inform them that Marius was their leader. Sulla then commanded six legions to march with him to Rome and institute a civil war. Ironically, it was Marius’ reforms that resulted in the legions remaining loyal to Sulla over the Senate. This was a momentous event, and was unforeseen by Marius, as no Roman army had ever marched upon Rome — it was forbidden by law and ancient tradition.
Sulla began to issue his own coinage claiming Imperator striking them in a military mint that traveled with him. The coins made no mention of Senatorial Authorization. This along sent the signal that civil war was at hand. Obviously, Sulla was going to defy the Senate and seize Rome by force. Marius attempted to organize a defense of the city using gladiators. Unsurprisingly Marius’ ad-hoc force was no match for Sulla’s legions. Marius was defeated and fled Rome.
Marius narrowly escaped capture and death on several occasions and eventually found safety in Africa in exile in Carthage. Sulla and his supporters in the Senate passed a death sentence on Marius, Sulpicius and a few other allies of Marius. A few men were executed but (according to Plutarch), many Romans disapproved of Sulla’s actions. Nevertheless, Sulla’s command was confirmed again with respect to the campaign against Mithridates. Sulla departed Rome taking his legions to march east to war against Mithridates.
Marius managed to emerge from Africa, where he raised a token force and then sailed for Rome. Marius was able to overpower the forces that Sulla had left in place in Rome. Along with his ally, Lucius Cornelius Cinna (b? – 84BC), Marius now attacked and killed Sulla’s supporters without any trial. Marius declared himself consul with Cinna as his counterpart, thus holding the office for a record seventh time. Marius then engaged in proscriptions confiscating the property of anyone who supported Sulla nearly bankrupting Marcus Licinius Crassus (112-53BC) who would later become the richest man of Rome. Marius also retaliated and then declared Sulla an outlaw in turn before he died.
Upon learning of the events back in Rome, Sulla struck peace with Mithridates and once more marched on Rome a second time. However, Sulla arrived too late to deal personally with the man who had been his brother-in-law and ally. Marius had died but, in his stead, would emerge his son.