ca. 157-86 B.C.

Roman general and politician

Gaius Marius, a military commander during the late Roman Republic*, had a long and notable career. He rose through the hierarchy* of Roman government officials to become a consul, or a chief governmental official, six times. Under his generalship, the minimum property qualification for service in the Roman legions was removed. Many men who joined the army had no farm or occupation to which to return after discharge. Hence, they tended to reenlist for military service. In time, these men became semiprofessional soldiers, often loyal to a specific commander.

Marius was born into a family belonging to the equestrian order* and married Julia, the aunt of Julius Caesar. He served in the Roman army in Spain and fought against Jugurtha, king of Numidia, a region in northern Africa. He won the loyalty of his soldiers and gained his first consulship in 107 B.C. Promising a quick end to the war in Numidia, Marius took some immediate steps. He raised an army himself and called for volunteers from the landless Roman classes. In return for their service, he offered them victory, glory, and land grants. Although Marius received the credit for the victory over Jugurtha, it was actually Lucius Cornelius Sulla who negotiated the surrender of the Numidian king and who, thereafter, became Marius’s rival.

* Roman Republic Rome during the period from 509 B.C. to 31 B.C., when popular assemblies annually elected their governmental officials

* hierarchy order of authority or rank

Marius followed the same successful recruiting methods to assemble an army to keep Germanic barbarians from invading Rome. In return for his military prowess, the people of Rome reelected him consul every year from 104 to 100 B.C. His success in battle came from his use of the guerrilla tactics of stealth and surprise and from the unwavering loyalty of his troops.

Marius’s skill as a general did not carry over into the political arena, however. On his return to Rome in 100 B.C., he became embroiled in political infighting in the Senate. Marius was the leader of the Populares, a group of senators who supported the popular reforms proposed by Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus. On the opposing side were Sulla and the Optimates, or “best men,” a group that included and represented the old senatorial establishment. In 88 B.C. both Sulla and Marius wanted to command Rome’s army against Mithradates, the king of Pontus in Asia Minor. Sulla seized the city of Rome and set out for the east, while Marius and his supporters fled to Africa. Marius returned to Rome to murder his Optimate opponents. He died in 86 B.C., shortly after beginning his seventh consulship. Sulla returned from the east in 83 B.C. and became dictator of Rome two years later. (See also Armies, Roman; Rome, History of.)

* equestrian order second rank of the Roman upper class, consisting of wealthy landowners whose social position entitled them to claim eligibility for service in the cavalry

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