Savior.. or Destroyer?Warren ParkerOctober 6th, 1998Gaius Marius was the Janus-faced savior of Rome.
On one hand his sweeping military reforms intensified Romes might at a crucial time, during the Jugurthine war, saving Rome from the steady advance of their Italian enemies. On the other, his no-frills military-minded personality drove him to push those away who could not socially accept this lower-upper class equestrian novus homo. He proved himself a most capable military leader, inspiring his troops by sharing their toils and personally leading them into battle; he vanquished Romes enemies time and time again yet was unable to grasp the brass ring of social acceptance, even as a seven-time consul. Yet his life was a dichotomy of military genius and political ineptitude. Due to the poverty of surviving sources during both the year 100 and the brief civil war in 88, and in fact during most of this period, insight into Marius day-to-day political activities is difficult.
However this much is certain, his military reforms, such as offering land to veterans and accepting army volunteers from the capita censi, while saving Rome in the short run, ultimately led to the downfall of the Republic. Born into an unimpressive equestrian family, Marius found himself better suited to the life of a warrior than that of a philosopher. He had little tolerance for the aesthetic, finding more use with the sword than the pen. He cut his military teeth under Scipio Aemilianus in the Numantine war In Spain c.134, making an excellent impression on his commander as did another up-and-coming young officer, Jugurtha, who would later become king of Numidia and a hated enemy of Rome.
After serving in this campaign with distinction, Marius returned to Rome to stand for Tribune of the People. Backed by the powerful family of Caecilius Metellus, a hereditary patron, Marius won easily . Shortly after winning the tribuneship in 119, Marius passed the lex tabellaria which narrowed the wooden bridges through which voters pass to cast their ballots. This was to discourage observers, usually aristocrats, who abused their position to influence an individual’s vote. This law was the first demonstration of Marius lifelong tendency of undermining upper class power and placing it with the lower class, the attributes naming a populare.
This inclination manifests itself numerous times, much to the chagrin of the Senate and patricians alike, and is due to Marius resentment of the upper classes. For although he would gain great military glory, many tributes, and even a clear mandate by the people for consecutive consulships, a rare occurrence, he would never be considered a social equal by most of the upper class. A short time later, Marius votes down a popular law that would have increased the grain dole to citizens. Plutarch explains that this was a demonstration of Marius political savvy, that he can both play toward the masses and act as a patrician. However without complete knowledge of the behind-the-scenes circumstances this sounds more like an example of todays American give-and-take partisan politics than a calculated gesture to garner respect .
Besides, the grain allotment was already generous, perhaps he was merely drawing a line.Further evidence of Marius political naivet is demonstrated by his campaign for the curule aedileship in 118. Candidacy announced an intention of standing subsequently for the praetorship, and at age 39, Marius was running at almost the minimum age, 36, for this highly contested position through which any successful political career must pass. Seeing that he was losing the election for the chief aedileship, he quickly withdrew and ran for the lesser plebeian aedileship with the same results. Because of his relative youth and inexperience Roman citizens already viewed his candidacy as presumptuous, and this stunt soured voters against him, forcing him to a greatly-needed two year absence.
When Marius did return, he narrowly won a praetorship with the generous use of his own funds, barely avoiding conviction for bribery. Much later, in 100 BC, Marius receives his sixth consecutive consulship, and his popularity is at an all-time high. His auctoritas and dignitas would have allowed him to instigate sweeping social reforms. Instead he is mired in a poor political choice backing Saturninus, whose increasingly radical populist rhetoric and self-serving agenda only serve to embarrass Marius. Once again Rome is reminded that Marius was a military imperator and not a patrician politician when he is bitterly alienated from the nobility as a result of the opportunist exploitation of his relationship with Saturninus and Glaucia.In fact, were it not for his military genius it is very doubtful that Marius would ever have inspired the Roman people to reelect him as consul 6 consecutive times.Marius military reforms were the hallmark of his career, the most important of which was his decision to recruit and accept volunteers from the capita censi.
They were the poorest members of Roman society and often drifted from town to town in search of seasonal labor. Because of a shortage of manpower in Rome during this period, Marius had no alternative but to allow these people into the army, which necessitated the removal of the land-holding qualification. Until then, only male citizens who met the minimum land-owning requirement were allowed to fight, mostly because soldiers were expected to pay for and provide their own hardware, and owning land was at that time the most basic method of determining wealth. To refuse this step would mean a serious manpower shortage which would have resulted in defeat at the hands of their Italian enemies.
There was much contemporary criticism of this decision. Roman military philosophy held that the best soldier was one who had a personal stake in the war; those who actually held land would fight longer and harder because they had not only the Roman cause, but the stake of their families and property as well. However Marius was quick to point out that this wasnt the first time that capita censi were allowed to fight. Scipio Aemilianus was forced to seek volunteers from the capita censi for his Numantine campaign in 134.It is important to understand that these capita censi, named so because their only possessions were their heads, were extremely poor were talking POOOOOOOOOR many owned only their clothing. These people certainly would have welcomed the prospect of hard, dangerous, and ill-paid service in the legions, which did at least assure them of clothing and food.So therefore they did have both a stake in the Roman way of life, whose army provided them with a steady source of food, and in themselves.
Now that a large part of Marius’ legions comprised of volunteers, he, along with Saturninus and Glaucia, constructed a new form of payment. The legionaries were paid (with money) for each day of service, but upon retirement they were settled on land in Southern Gaul or North Africa. Hence, the former soldiers would not return to their previous life as poor peasants.
This was a great incentive to join the army. The poorest of the poor could join the army, serve with distinction, perhaps even a chance for advancement (although rare), and retire with an allotment of land to call home.The shortage of manpower was not the only Roman military problem, the performance of the soldiers had been in decline for quite some time. Marius decided to combine Roman units, based on recruits from Rome, Latium and the colonies, and Socii units, those drawn from the allies. By the early 100s, he had virtually assimilated the two units into a stronger, more numerous force which had recruits from throughout the Roman territories.
Thus, he pooled their abilities into his army. Marius also put into use a newly modified pilum, or throwing spear. The long, sharp metal tip of the pilum was fastened to its pole with a small wooden rivet that would break upon impact, rendering the weapon unusable by the enemy.
Marius broke the Roman tradition of carrying all supplies in a long wagon train and forced each soldier to shoulder his own burden. This made travel more efficient and coined the now famous phrase used to describe Roman soldiers: muli mariani, Marius mules. The length of time which a soldier could be enlisted was increased from 1 campaign to 16 years. After this 16 years, the unit retired in its entirety. However, once a man chose the military as his career, he remained part of his legion for life.
Hence, units were liable for recall by their commanders, even after they had retired. Marius also put his soldiers to work during long idle periods. Once he employed them on a channel construction project at the mouth of the Rhone. This would bypass the only estuary which tended to silt up.
This led the way for future leaders to use their troops on public works projects.The military reforms of Marius were practical and necessary. It cannot be stressed enough that the changes he put forth were vital for the survival of the state. Many of his changes had profound positive effects, and would doubtlessly have been made by another in his place (volunteers from the capita censi especially). Because he accepted volunteers he could lower the conscription rate, forcing less citizens into the military. The ones who did join did so of their own accord and were therefore more loyal. This also resulted in the troops starting campaigns with high morale, and their full attention on the task at hand.
During this time At a time when few choices were at hand, Marius did what needed to be done, yet his reforms werent without their eventual complications. The assimilation of socii unit into the legions caused problems. The urban mob found a dislike for the allies, to whom they did not want to share a piece of Rome’s valor. The rise of the new class of soldiers did not ingratiate Marius with the ruling class.
The senators felt rightfully threatened with a new mob which had wealth and military experience who could wrest power from the Senate at any time. The patricians found a distaste in the military and looked down upon these soldiers as nothing more than glorified gladiators. Also, the working class were annoyed with the soldiers increasing power and capital. This factor later fueled opposition to Marius’ leadership.
The complication with the most dire consequences proved to be the volunteers capitum censorum. Before this, men of age would join the army to serve their term and leave to pursue other duties. The job prospects for the capita censi were shaky at best, so when they were allowed to join the army it became their entire lives, their career.
These people were so poor they often felt like outsiders, like many homeless Americans do. They longed for something that would offer their lives meaning in a harsh Roman society and the army gave them this in spades. This created armies of professional soldiers. Thankful to the commander that paid their salaries and secured them land for their retirement, they were absolutely more loyal to him than to the government of Rome, an entity the felt offered them nothing but free grain and scornful looks. This changing of loyalties took control of the troops away from the Roman state and handed it to their commander:and this meant the politicization of senior army commands, for the volunteer emergency army was peculiarly tied to its commander, for whom, discontinuance being impossible, new extended commands had to be evolved, and who was forced into politics, during and subsequent to campaigning, to secure his veterans interests. The senate lost its control of such commanders and thus, effectively, of foreign policy. This shifting of loyalty of the soldiers from the populi Romani to the individual commander of the army has immediate effects in 88, during the Social War.
Sulla, mortal enemy of Marius for a number of reasons (most notably because Sulla stole the credit for the capture of Jugurtha out from under Marius nose), had been insulted by the young tribune P. Sulpicius Rufus who proposed that the eastern command, which belonged to Sulla, be given to the newly retired Marius. Sulla didnt take this affront to his dignity lightly, assembling his troops for a march to capture Rome.
Marius supporters feebly attempted to defend Rome, but she soon fell to Sulla. This was the first time a Roman army had ever marched against Rome and entered the pomoerium.Marius was then exiled from Rome. By invading Rome, Sulla set a dangerous precedent that would be repeated almost immediately. When Pompeius Strabo learned that his cousin, Q. Pompeius Rufus, was supposed to take command of the army he was currently commanding, he convinced his troops to maintain their loyalty to him and kill Rufus.
In 88, Cinna, a pro-Marius consul, sought to prosecute Sulla for his transgressions the year before, forcing Sulla to leave for Greece, leaving Cinna in the central figure in Roman politics. Cinnas supporters wreaked so much violent havoc that Cinna was forced to leave the city and abdicate power to Octavius, but Cinna would be back. After raising an army of 11 legions and gaining the personal support of Marius himself, Cinna lambastes Sulla for his invasion of Rome, but is careful not to repeat Sullas mistake.
Instead of invading the city with his large army, Cinna cuts off all food supplies to Rome and occupies the surrounding Roman towns, waiting for famine and pestilence to do their work. This Social War was at its heart no different than any other conflict in Roman politics. Opposing factions very often clashed verbally on the Senate floor and violently in the Roman forum. However because of the shifting loyalties by Roman soldiers due directly to Marian reforms, these political collisions were settled by force, and power rested in the hands of individuals instead of the carefully crafted system of checks and balances inherent in Roman politics. A politician could abuse his power only so long before he would no longer be tolerated. Now the dangerous precedent of might equals right was forced onto the Roman people, with dire consequences long after the 80s.
In fact, in led to the end of the res publica itself.Was Marius solely responsible for the downfall of the Roman Republic? Of course he wasnt. It is doubtful that even the most astute and insightful auger of the period would ever have fully understood the ramifications of allowing capita censi into the army. It can also be said with great certainty that changes such as these would have happened regardless of Marius involvement. In fact, most of the changes he made to he army vastly improved their abilities as a fighting force at an important time. However the record is quite clear: the changes that Marius made to the army undermined the authority of the Roman state.
Therefore, Marius can be considered the destroyer of the Roman Republic.