The delay in his own appointment to the consulship, and the length of time required for collecting his supplementary forces and their supplies, had robbed Metellus of some of the best months of the year when he set foot on African soil; but his patience was to be put to a further test, for the most casual survey of what had been the army of the proconsul Albinus showed the impossibility of taking the field for some considerable time. What he had heard was nothing to what he saw. The military spirit had vanished with discipline, and its sole survivals were a tendency to plunder the peaceful subjects of the province and a habit of bandying words with superior officers. The camp established by Aulus for his beaten army had hardly ever been moved, except when sanitary reasons or a lack of forage rendered a short migration unavoidable. It had developed the character of a highly disorderly town, the citizens of which had nothing to do except to traffic for the small luxuries of life, to enjoy them when they were secured, and, in times when money and good things were scarce, to spread in bands over the surrounding country, make predatory raids on the fields and villas of the neighbourhood, and return with the spoils of war, whether beasts or slaves, driven in flocks before them. The trader who haunts the footsteps of the bandit was a familiar figure in the camp; he could be found everywhere exchanging his foreign wine and the other amenities in which he dealt for the booty wrung from the provincials. Since discipline was dead and there was no enemy to fear, even the most ordinary military precautions had ceased to be observed. The ramparts were falling to pieces, the regular appointment and relief of sentries had been abandoned, and the common soldier absented himself from his company as often and for as long a period as he pleased.
Metellus had to face the task which had confronted Scipio at Numantia. He performed it as effectually and perhaps with greater gentleness; for the most singular feature in the methods by which he restored discipline was his avoidance of all attempts at terrorism. The moderation and restraint, which had won the hearts of the citizens, worked their magic even in the disorganised rabble which he was remodelling into an army. The habits of obedience were readily resumed when the tones of a true commander were heard, and the way for their resumption was prepared by the regulations which abolished all the incentives to the luxurious indolence which he had found prevalent in the camp. The sale of cooked food was forbidden, the camp followers were swept away, and no private soldier was allowed the use of a slave or beast of burden, whether in quarters or on the march. Other edicts of the same kind followed, and then the work of active training began. Every day the camp was broken up and pitched again after a cross-country march; rampart and ditch were formed and pickets set as though the enemy was hovering near, and the general and staff went their rounds to see that every precaution of real warfare was observed. On the line of march Metellus was everywhere, now in the van, now with The rearguard, now with the central column. His eye criticised every disposition and detected every departure from the rules; he saw that each soldier kept his line, that he filled his due place in the serried ranks that gathered round a standard, that he bore the appropriate burden of his food and weapons. Metellus preferred the removal of the opportunities for vice to the vindictive chastisement of the vicious; his wise and temperate measures produced a healthy state of mind and body with no loss of self-respect, and in a short time he possessed an army, strong in physique as in morale, which he might now venture to move against the foe.
Jugurtha had shown no inclination to follow up his success by active measures against the defeated Roman army, even after he had learnt the repudiation of his treaty with Aulus and knew that the state of war had been resumed. The miserable condition of the forces in the African province, of which he must have been fully aware, must have offered an inviting object of attack, and a sudden raid across the borders might have enabled him to dissipate the last relics of Roman military power in Africa. But he was now, as ever, averse to pushing matters to extremes, he declined to figure as an aggressive enemy of the Roman power; and to give a pretext for a war which could have no issue but his own extinction, would be to surrender the chances of compromise which his own position as a client king and the possibilities, however lessened, of working on the fears or cupidity of members of the Roman administration still afforded him. His strength lay in defensive operations of an elusive kind, not in attack; the less cultivated and accessible portions of his own country furnished the best field for a desultory and protracted war, and he seems still to have looked forward to a compromise to which weariness of the wasteful struggle might in the course of time invite his enemies. He may even have had some knowledge of the embarrassments of the Republic in other quarters of the world, and believed that both the unwillingness of Rome to enter into the struggle, and her eagerness, when she had entered, to see it brought to a rapid close, were to some extent due to a feeling that an African war would divert resources that were sorely needed for the defence of her European possessions.
The king's confidence in the weakness and half-heartedness of the Roman administration is said to have been considerably shaken by the news that Metellus was in command. During his own residence in Rome he may have heard of him as the prospective consul; he had at any rate learnt the very unusual foundations on which Metellus's influence with his peers and with the people was based, and knew to his chagrin that these were unshakable. The later news from the province was equally depressing. The new commander was not only honest but efficient, and the shattered forces of Rome were regaining the stability that had so often replaced or worn out the efforts of genius. Delicate measures were necessary to resist this combination of innocence and strength, and Jugurtha began to throw out the tentacles of diplomacy. The impression which he meant to produce, and actually did produce on the mind of the historian who has left us the fullest record of the war, was that of a genuine desire to effect a surrender of himself which should no longer be fictitious, and to throw himself almost unreservedly on the mercy of the Roman people. But Jugurtha was in the habit of exhibiting the most expansive trust, based on a feeling of his own utter helplessness, at the beginning of his negotiations, and of then seeming to permit his fears to get the better of his confidence. He was an experimental psychologist who held out vivid hopes in the belief that the craving once excited would be ultimately satisfied with less than the original offer, while the physical and mental retreat would meanwhile divert his victim from military preparations or lead him to incautious advances. It must have been in some such spirit that he assailed Metellus with offers so extreme in their humility that their good faith must have aroused suspicion in any mind where innocence did not imply simplicity of character, as Jugurtha perhaps hoped that it did in the case of this novel type of Roman official. The Numidian envoys promised absolute submission; even the crown was to be surrendered, and they stipulated only for the bare life of the king and his children. Metellus, convinced of the unreality of the promise, matched his own treachery against that of the king. He had not the least scruple in following the lead which the senate had given, and regarding Jugurtha as unworthy of the most rudimentary rights of a belligerent. Believing that he had seen enough of the Numidian type to be sure that its conduct was guided by no principles of honour or constancy, and that its shifty imagination could be influenced by the newest project that held out a hope of excitement or of gain, he began in secret interviews with each individual envoy, to tamper with his fidelity to the king. The subjects of his interviews did not repudiate the suggestion, and adopted an attitude of ready attention which invited further confidences. It might have been an attitude which in these subtle minds denoted unswerving loyalty to their master; but Metellus interpreted it in the light of his own desires, and proceeded to hold out hopes of great reward to each of the envoys if Jugurtha was handed over into his power; he would prefer to have the king alive; but, if that was impossible, the surrender of his dead body would be rewarded. He then gave in public a message which he thought might be acceptable to their master. It is sufficiently probable that the private dialogues no less than the public message were imparted to Jugurtha's ear by messengers who now had unexampled means of proving their fidelity and each of whom may have attempted to show that his loyalty was superior to that of his fellows; incentives to frankness had certainly been supplied by Metellus; but this frankness may have been itself of value to the Roman commander. It would prove to Jugurtha the presence of a resolute and unscrupulous man who aimed at nothing less than his capture and with whom further parleyings would be waste of time.
A few days later Metellus entered Numidia with an army marching with all the vigilance which a hostile territory demands, and prepared in the perfected carefulness of its organisation to meet the surprises which the enemy had in store. The surprise that did await it was of a novel character. The grimly arrayed column found itself forging through a land which presented the undisturbed appearance of peace, security and comfort. The confident peasant was found in his homestead or tilling his lands, the cattle grazed on the meadows; when an open village or a fortified town was reached, the army was met by the headman or governor representing the king. This obliging official was wholly at the disposal of the Roman general; he was ready to supply corn to the army or to accumulate supplies at any base that might be chosen by the commander; any order that he gave would be faithfully carried out. But Metellus's vigilance was not for a moment shaken by this bloodless triumph. He interpreted the ostentatious submission as the first stage of an intended ambush, and he continued his cautious progress as though the enemy were hovering on his flank. His line of march was as jealously guarded as before, his scouts still rode abroad to examine and report on the safety of the route. The general himself led the van, which was formed of cohorts in light marching order and a select force of slingers and archers; Marius with the main body of cavalry brought up the rear, and either flank was protected by squadrons of auxiliary horse that had been placed at the disposal of the tribunes in charge of the legions and the prefects who commanded the divisions of the contingents from the allies. With these squadrons were mingled light-armed troops, their joint function being to repel any sudden assault from the mobile Numidian cavalry. Every forward step inspired new fears of Jugurtha's strategic craft and knowledge of the ground; wherever the king might be, his subtle influence oppressed the trespasser on any part of his domains, and the most peaceful scene appeared to the anxious eyes of the Roman commander to be fraught with the most terrible perils of war.
The route taken by Metellus may have been the familiar line of advance from the Roman province, down the valley of the Bagradas. But before following the upper course of that river into the heart of Numidia, he deemed it necessary to make a deflection to the north, and secure his communications by seizing and garrisoning the town of Vaga, the most important of the Eastern cities of Jugurtha. Its position near the borders of the Roman province had made it the greatest of Numidian market towns, and it had once been the home, and the seat of the industry, of a great number of Italian traders. We may suppose that by this time the merchants had fled from the insecure locality and that the foreign trade of the town had passed away; but both the site of the city and the character of its inhabitants attracted the attention of Metellus. The latter, like the Eastern Numidians generally, were a receptive and industrious folk, who knew the benefits that peace and contact with Rome conferred on commerce, and might therefore be induced to throw off their allegiance to Jugurtha. The site suggested a suitable basis for supplies and, if adequately protected, might again invite the merchant. Metellus, therefore, placed a garrison in the town, ordered corn and other necessaries to be stored within its walls, and saw in the concourse of the merchant class a promise of constant supplies for his forces and a tower of strength for the maintenance of Roman influence in Numidia when the work of pacification had been done. The slight delay was utilised by Jugurtha in his characteristic manner. The seizure of one of his most important cities offered an occasion or pretext for fresh terrors. Metellus was beset by grovelling envoys with renewed entreaties; peace was sought at any price short of the life of the king and his children; all else was to be surrendered. The consul still pursued his cherished plan of tampering with the fidelity of the messengers and sending them home with vague promises. He would not cut off Jugurtha from all hope of a compromise. He may have believed that he was paralysing the king's efforts while he continued his steady advance, and turning his enemy's favourite weapon against that enemy himself. Perhaps he even let his thoughts dally with the hope that the envoys who had proved such facile traitors might find some means of redeeming their promises. But, unless he committed the cardinal mistake of misreading or undervaluing his opponent, these could have been but secondary hopes. He must have known that to penetrate into Western Numidia without a serious battle, or at least without an effort of Jugurtha to harass his march or to cut his communications, was an event beyond the reach of purely human aspiration.
Jugurtha had on his part framed a plan of resistance complete in every detail. The site in which the attempt was to be made was visited and its military features were appraised in all their bearings; the events which would succeed each other in a few short hours could be predicted as surely as one could foretell the regular movements of a machine; the Roman general was walking into a trap from which there should be no escape but death. The framing of Jugurtha's scheme necessarily depended on his knowledge of Metellus's line of march. We do not know how soon the requisite data came to hand; but there is little reason for believing that his plan was a resolution of despair or forced on him as a last resort, except in the sense that he would always rather treat than fight, and that to inflict disaster on a Roman army was no part of the policy which he deemed most desirable. But, since his ideal plan had stumbled on the temperament of Metellus, a check to the invading army became imperative. The sacrifice of Vaga could scarcely have weighed heavily on his mind, for it was an integral element in any rational scheme of defence; but, even apart from the obvious consideration that a king must fight if he cannot treat for his crown, the thought of his own prestige may now have urged him to combat. Unbounded as the faith of his Numidian subjects was, it might not everywhere survive the impression made by the unimpeded and triumphant march of the Roman legions.
Metellus when he quitted Vaga had continued to operate in the eastern part of Numidia. The theatre of his campaign was probably to be the territory about the plateau of Vaga and the Great Plains, its ultimate prizes perhaps were to be the important Numidian towns of Sicca Veneria and Zama Regia to the south. The nature of the country rendered it impossible for him to enter the defiles of the Bagradas from the north-west, while it was equally impossible for him to march direct from Vaga to Sicca, for the road was blocked by the mountains which intervened on his south-eastern side. To reach the neighbourhood of Sicca it was necessary to turn to the south-west and follow for a time the upward course of the river Muthul (the Wäd Mellag). By this route he would reach the high plateaux, which command on the south-east the plains of Sicca and Zama, on the north-west those of Naraggara and Thagaste, on the south those of Thala and Theveste. Metellus's march led him over a mountain height which was some miles from the river. The western side of this height, down which the Roman army must descend, although of some steepness at the beginning of its declivity, did not terminate in a plain, but was continued by a swelling rise, of vast and even slope, which found its eastern termination on the river's bank. The greater portion of this great hill, and especially that part of it which lay nearest to the mountain, was covered by a sparse and low vegetation, such as the wild olive and the myrtle, which was all that the parched and sandy soil would yield. There was no water nearer than the river, and this had made the hill a desert so far as human habitation was concerned. It was only on its eastern slope which touched the stream that the presence of man was again revealed by thick-set orchards and cattle grazing in the fields. 
Jugurtha's plan was based on the necessity which would confront the Romans of crossing this arid slope to reach the river. Could he spring on them as they left the mountain chain and detain them in this torrid wilderness, nature might do even more than the Numidian arms to secure a victory; meanwhile measures might be taken to close the passage to the river, and to bring up fresh forces from the east to block the desired route while the ambushed army was harassed by attacks from the flank and rear.
Jugurtha himself occupied the portion of the slope which lay just beneath the mountain. He kept under his own command the whole of the cavalry and a select body of foot-soldiers, probably of a light and mobile character such as would assist the operations of the horse. These he placed in an extended line on the flank of the route that must be followed by an army descending from the mountain. The line was continued by the forces which he had placed under the command of Bomilcar. These consisted of the heavier elements of the Numidian army, the elephants of war and the major part of the foot soldiers. It is, however, probable that there was a considerable interval between the end of Jugurtha's and the beginning of Bomilcar's line. The latter on its eastern side extended to a point at no great distance from the river; and according to the original scheme of the ambush the function assigned to Bomilcar must have been that of executing a turning movement which would prevent the Roman forces from gaining the stream. As it was expected that the impact of the heavy Roman troops would be chiefly felt in this direction, the sturdier and less mobile portions of the Numidian army had been placed under Bomilcar's command.
Metellus was soon seen descending the mountain slope, and there seemed at first a chance that the Roman column might be surprised along its length by the sudden onset of Jugurtha's horse. But the vigilant precautions which Metellus observed during his whole line of march, although they could not in this case avert a serious danger, possibly lessened the peril of the moment. His scouts seem to have done their work and spied the half-concealed Numidians amongst the low trees and brushwood. The superior position of the Roman army must in any case soon have made this knowledge the common property of all, unless we consider that some ridge of the chain concealed Jugurtha's ambush from the view of the Roman army until they should have almost left the mountain for the lower hill beneath it. Jugurtha must in any case have calculated on the probability of the forces under his own command soon becoming visible to the enemy, for perfect concealment was impossible amidst the stunted trees which formed the only cover for his men. The efficacy of his plan did not depend on the completeness or suddenness of the surprise; it depended still more on Jugurtha's knowledge of the needs of a Roman army, and on the state of perplexity into which all that was visible of the ambush would throw the commander. For the little that was seen made it difficult to interpret the size, equipment and intentions of the expectant force. Glimpses of horses and men could just be caught over the crests of the low trees or between the interlacing boughs. Both men and horses were motionless, and the eye that strove to see more was baffled by the scrub which concealed more than it revealed, and by the absence of the standards of war which might have afforded some estimate of the nature and size of the force and had for this reason been carefully hidden by Jugurtha.
But enough was visible to prove the intended ambush. Metellus called a short halt and rapidly changed his marching column to a battle formation capable of resistance or attack. His right flank was the one immediately threatened. It was here accordingly that he formed the front of his order of battle, when he changed his marching column into a fighting line. The three ranks were formed in the traditional manner; the spaces between the maniples were filled by slingers and archers; the whole of the cavalry was placed on the flanks. It is possible that at this point the line of descent from the mountain would cause the Roman army to present an oblique front to the slope and the distant river, and the cavalry on the left wing would be at the head of the marching column, if it descended into the lower ground. Such a descent was immediately resolved on by Metellus. To halt on the heights was impossible, for the land was waterless; an orderly retreat was perhaps discountenanced by the difficulties of the country over which he had just passed and the distance of the last watering-place which he had left, while to retire at the first sight of the longed-for foe would not have inspired his newly remodelled army with much confidence in themselves or their general.
When the army had quitted the foot of the mountain, a new problem faced its general. The Numidians remained motionless, and it became clear that no rapid attack that could be as suddenly repulsed was contemplated by their leader. Metellus saw instead the prospect of a series of harassing assaults that would delay his progress, and he dreaded the fierceness of the season more than the weapons of the enemy. The day was still young, for Jugurtha had meant to call in the alliance of a torrid sun, and Metellus saw in his mind's eye his army, worn by thirst, heat and seven miles of harassing combat, still struggling with the Numidian cavalry while they strove to form a camp at the river which was the bourne of their desires. It was all important that the extreme end of the slope which touched the river should be seized at once, and a camp be formed, or be in process of formation, by the time that his tired army arrived. With this object in view he sent on his legate Rutilius with some cohorts of foot soldiers in light marching order and a portion of the cavalry. The movement was well planned, for by the nature of the case it could not be disturbed by Jugurtha. His object was to harry the main body of the army and especially the heavy infantry, and his refusal to detach any part of his force in pursuit of the swiftly moving Rutilius is easily understood, especially when it is remembered that Bomilcar was stationed near to the ground which the Roman legate was to seize. An attack on the flying column would also have led to the general engagement which Metellus wished to provoke. The presence of Bomilcar and his force was probably unknown to the Romans. He in his turn must have been surprised, and may have been somewhat embarrassed, by Rutilius's advance; but the movement did not induce him to abandon his position. To oppose Rutilius would have been to surrender the part assigned him in the intended operations against the main Roman force; and, if this part was now rendered difficult or impossible by the presence of the Romans in his rear, he might yet divide the forces of the enemy, and assist Jugurtha by keeping Rutilius and his valuable contingents of cavalry in check. He therefore permitted the legate to pass him and waited for the events which were to issue from the combat farther up the field.
Metellus meanwhile continued his slow advance, keeping the marching order which had been observed in the descent from the mountain. He himself headed the column, riding with the cavalry that covered the left wing, while Marius, in command of the horsemen on the right, brought up the rear. Jugurtha waited until the last man of the Roman column had crossed the beginning of his line, and then suddenly threw about two thousand of his infantry up the slope of the mountain at the point where Metellus had made his descent. His idea was to cut off the retreat of the Romans and prevent their regaining the most commanding position in the field. He then gave the signal for a general attack. The battle which followed had all the characteristic features of all such contests between a light and active cavalry force and an army composed mainly of heavy infantry, inferior in mobility but unshakable in its compact strength. There was no possibility of the Numidians piercing the Roman ranks, but there was more than a possibility of their wearing down the strength of every Roman soldier before that weary march to the river had even neared its completion. The Roman defence must have been hampered by the absence of that portion of the cavalry which had accompanied Rutilius; it was more sorely tried by the dazzling sun, the floating dust and the intolerable heat. The Numidians hung on the rear and either flank, cutting down the stragglers and essaying to break the order of the Roman ranks on every side. It was of the utmost difficulty to preserve this order, and the braver spirits who preferred the security of their ranks to reckless and indiscriminate assault, were maddened by blows, inflicted by the missiles of their adversaries, which they were powerless to return. Nor could the repulse of the enemy be followed by an effective pursuit. Jugurtha had taught his cavalry to scatter in their retreat when pursued by a hostile band; and thus, when unable to hold their ground in the first quarter which they had selected for attack, they melted away only to gather like clouds on the flank and rear of pursuers who had now severed themselves from the protecting structure of their ranks. Even the difficulties of the ground favoured the mobile tactics of the assailants; for the horses of the Numidians, accustomed to the hill forests, could thread their way through the undergrowth at points which offered an effective check to the pursuing Romans.
It seemed as though Jugurtha's plan was nearing its fulfilment. The symmetry of the Roman column was giving place to a straggling line showing perceptible gaps through which the enemy had pierced. The resistance was becoming individual; small companies pursued or retreated in obedience to the dictates of their immediate danger; no single head could grasp the varied situation nor, if it had had power to do so, could it have issued commands capable of giving uniformity to the sporadic combats in which attack and resistance seemed to be directed by the blind chances of the moment. But every minute of effectual resistance had been a gain to the Romans. The ceaseless toil in the cruel heat was wearing down the powers even of the natives; the exertions of the latter, as the attacking force, must have been far greater than those of the mass of the Roman infantry; and the Numidian foot soldiers in particular, who were probably always of an inferior quality to the cavalry and had been obliged to strain their physical endurance to the utmost by emulating the horsemen in their lightning methods of attack and retreat, had become so utterly exhausted that a considerable portion of them had practically retired from the field. They had climbed to the higher ground, perhaps to join the forces which Jugurtha had already placed near the foot of the mountain, and were resting their weary limbs, probably not with any view of shirking their arduous service but with a resolution of renewing the attack when their vigour had been restored. This withdrawal of a large portion of the infantry was a cause, or a part, of a general slackening of the Numidian attack; and it was the breathing space thus afforded which gave Metellus his great chance. Gradually he drew his straggling line together and restored some order in the ranks; and then with the instinct of a true general he took active measures to assail his enemy's weakest point. This point was represented by the Numidian infantry perched on the height. Some of these were exhausted and perhaps dispirited, others it is true were as yet untouched by the toil of battle; but as a body Metellus believed them wholly incapable of standing the shock of a Roman charge. The confidence was almost forced on him by his despair of any other solution of the intolerable situation. The evening was closing in, his army had no camp or shelter; even if it were possible to guard against the dangers of the night, morning would bring but a renewal of the same miserable toil to an army worn by thirst, sleeplessness and anxiety. He, therefore, massed four legionary cohorts against the Numidian infantry, and tried to revive their shattered confidence by appealing at once to their courage and to their despair, by pointing to the enemy in retreat and by showing that their own safety rested wholly on the weapons in their hands. For some time the Roman soldiers surveyed their dangerous task and looked expectantly at the height that they were asked to storm. The vague hope that the enemy would come down finally disappeared; the growing darkness filled them with resolute despair; and, closing their ranks, they rushed for the higher ground. In a moment the Numidians were scattered and the height was gained. So rapidly did the enemy vanish that but few of them were slain; their lightness of armour and knowledge of the ground saved them from the swords of the pursuing legionaries.
The conquest of the height was the decisive incident of the battle, and it was clearly a success that, considered in itself, was due far more to radical and permanent military qualities than to tactical skill. It may seem wholly a victory of the soldiers, in which the general played no part, until we remember that strategic and tactical considerations are dependent on a knowledge of such permanent conditions, and that Metellus was as right in forcing his Romans up the height as Jugurtha was wrong in believing that his Numidians could hold it. With respect to the events occurring in this quarter of the field, Metellus had saved himself from a strategic disadvantage by a tactical success; but even the strategic situation could not be estimated wholly by reference to the events which had just occurred or to the position in which the two armies were now left. Had Bomilcar still been free to bar the passage to the river and to join Jugurtha's forces during the night, the position of the Romans would still have been exceedingly dangerous. But the mission of Rutilius had successfully diverted that general's attention from what had been the main purpose of the original plan. His leading idea was now merely to separate the two divisions of the Roman army, and the thought of blocking the passage of Metellus, although not necessarily abandoned, must have become secondary to that of checking the advance of Rutilius when the legate should have become alarmed at the delay in the progress of his commander. Bomilcar, after he had permitted the Roman force to pass him, slowly left the hill where he had been posted and brought his men into more level ground, while Rutilius was making all speed for the river. Quietly he changed his column into a line of battle stretching across the slope which at this point melted into the plain, while he learnt by constant scouting every movement of the enemy beyond. He heard at length that Rutilius had reached his bourne and halted, and at the same time the din of the battle between Jugurtha and Metellus came in louder volumes to his ear. The thought that Rutilius's attention was disengaged now that his main object had been accomplished, the fear that he might seek to bring help to his labouring commander, led Bomilcar to take more active measures. His mind was now absorbed with the problem of preventing a junction of the Roman forces. His mistrust of the quality of the infantry under his command had originally led him to form a line of considerable depth; this he now thought fit to extend with the idea of outflanking and cutting off all chance of egress from the enemy. When all was ready he advanced on Rutilius's camp.
The Romans were suddenly aware of a great cloud of dust which hung over the plantations on their landward side; but the intervening trees hid all prospect of the slope beyond: and for a time they looked on the pillar of dust as one of the strange sights of the desert, a mere sand-cloud driven by the wind. Then they thought that it betrayed a peculiar steadiness in its advance; instead of sweeping down in a wild storm it moved with the pace and regularity of an army on the march; and, in spite of its slow progress, it could be seen to be drawing nearer and nearer. The truth burst upon their minds; they seized their weapons and, in obedience to the order of their commander, drew up in battle formation before the camp. As Bomilcar's force approached, the Romans shouted and charged; the Numidians raised a counter cheer and met the assault half-way. There was scarcely a moment when the issue seemed in doubt. The Romans, strong in cavalry, swept the untrained Numidian infantry before them, and Bomilcar had by his incautious advance thrown away the utility of that division of his army on which he and his men placed their chief reliance. His elephants, which were capable of manoeuvring only on open ground, had now been advanced to the midst of wooded plantations, and the huge animals were soon mixed up with the trees, struggling through the branches and separated from their fellows. The Numidians made a show of resistance until they saw the line of elephants broken and the Roman soldiers in the rear of the protecting beasts; then they threw away their heavy armour and vanished from the spot, most of them seeking the cover of the hills and nearly all secure in the shelter of the coming night. The elephants were the chief victims of the Roman pursuit; four were captured and the forty that remained were killed.
It had been a hard day's work for the victorious division. A forced march had been followed by the labour of forming a camp and this in turn by the toil of battle. But it was impossible to think of rest. The delay of Metellus filled them with misgivings, and they advanced through the darkness to seek news of the main division with a caution that bespoke the prudent view that their recent victory had not banished the evil possibilities of Numidian guile. Metellus was advancing from the opposite direction and the two armies met. Each division was suddenly aware of a force moving against it under cover of the night; with nerves so highly strung as to catch at any fear each fancied an enemy in the other. There was a shout and a clash of arms, as swords were drawn and shields unstrung. It was fortunate that mounted scouts were riding in advance of either army. These soon saw the welcome truth and bore it to their companions. Panic gave place to joy; as the combined forces moved into camp, the soldiers' tongues were loosed, and pent up feelings found expression in wonderful stories of individual valour.
Metellus, as in duty bound, gave the name of victory to his salvation from destruction. He was right in so far as an army that has vanished may be held to have been beaten; and his compliments to his soldiers were certainly well deserved; for the triumph, such as it was, had been mainly that of the rank and file, and the Roman legionary had not merely given evidence of the old qualities of stubborn endurance which Metellus's training had restored, but had proved himself vastly superior to anything in the shape of a soldier of the line that Jugurtha could put into the field. The commendation and thanks which the general expressed in his public address to the whole army, the individual distinctions which he conferred on those whose peculiar merit in the recent combats was attested, were at once an apology for hardship, a recognition of desert and a means of inspiring self-respect and future efficiency. If it is true that Metellus added that glory was now satisfied, and plunder should be their reward in future, he was at once indulging in a pardonable hyperbole and veiling the unpleasant truth that combats with Jugurtha were somewhat too expensive to attract his future attention. His own private opinion of the recent events was perhaps as carefully concealed in his despatches to the senate. It was inevitable that a populace which had learnt to look on news from Numidia as a record of compromise or disaster, should welcome and exaggerate the cheering intelligence; should not only glory in the indisputable fact of the renewed excellence of their army, but should regard Jugurtha as a fugitive and Metellus as master of his land. It was equally natural that the senate should embrace the chance of shaking off the last relics of suspicion which clung to its honour and competency by exalting the success of its general. It decreed supplications to the immortal gods, and thus produced the impression that a decisive victory had been won. Everywhere the State displayed a pardonable joy mingled with a less justifiable expectation that this was the beginning of the end.
The man who raises extravagant hopes is only less happy than the man who dashes them to the ground. The days that followed the battle of the Muthul must have been an anxious time for Metellus; for he had been taught that it was necessary to change his plan of campaign into a shape which was not likely to secure a speedy termination of the war. For four days he did not leave his camp--a delay which may have had the ostensible justification of the necessity of caring for his wounded soldiers, and may even have been based on the hope that negotiations for surrender might reach him from the king, but which also proved his view that the pursuit of Jugurtha was wholly impracticable, and that in the case of a Numidian army capture or destruction was not a necessary consequence of defeat. He contented himself with making inquiries of fugitives and others as to the present position and proceedings of the king, and received replies which may have contained some elements of truth. He learnt that the Numidian army which had fought at the Muthul had wholly broken up in accordance with the custom of the race, that Jugurtha had left the field with his body-guard alone, that he had fled to wild and difficult country and was there raising a second army--an army that promised to be larger than the first, but was likely to be less efficient, composed as it was of shepherds and peasants with little training in war. We cannot say whether Metellus accepted the strange view that the vanished army, which had now probably returned to the peaceful pursuits of agriculture and pasturage, would not be reproduced in the new one; but certainly the news of the future weakness of Jugurtha's forces did not seem to him to justify an advance into Western Numidia, then as ever the stronghold of the king and the seat of that treasure of human life which was of more value than gold and silver. The Roman general, while recognising that the belligerent aspect of the king made a renewal of the war inevitable, was fully convinced that pitched battles were not the means of wearing down Numidian constancy. The pursuit of Jugurtha was impossible without conflicts, from which the vanquished emerged less scathed than the victors, and even this primary object of the expedition was for the time abandoned. He was forced to adopt the circuitous device of attracting the presence of the king, and weakening the loyalty of his subjects, by a series of mere plundering raids on the wealthiest portions of the country. It was a plan that in default of a really effective occupation of the whole country, especially of some occupation of Western Numidia, implied a certain amount of self-contradiction and inconsistency. The plunder of the land was intended to secure the end which Metellus wished to avoid--a conflict with the king; and the mobility which he so much dreaded could find no fairer field for its exercise than the rapid marches across country which might secure a town from attack, undo the work of conquest which had just been effected in some other stronghold, or harass the route of the Roman forces as they moved from point to point. Metellus was making himself into an admirable target for the most effective type of guerilla warfare; but the whole history of the struggle down to its close proves that this helplessness was due to the situation rather than to the man. The Roman forces were wholly inadequate to an effective occupation of Numidia; and a general who despaired of pushing on in an aimless and dangerous pursuit, had to be content with the chances that might result from the capture of towns, the plunder of territories, and secret negotiations which might bring about the death or surrender of the king.
Neither the movements which followed the battle of the Muthul nor the site of the winter quarters into which Metellus led his men, have been recorded. The campaign of the next year seems still to have been confined to the eastern portion of Numidia, its object being the security of the country between Vaga and Zama. This rich country was cruelly ravaged, every fortified post that was taken was burnt, all Numidians of fighting age who offered resistance were put to the sword. This policy of terrorism produced some immediate results. The army was well provisioned, the frightened natives bringing in corn and other necessaries in abundance; towns and districts yielded hostages for their good behaviour; strong places were surrendered in which garrisons were left. But the presence of Jugurtha soon made itself felt. The king, if he had collected an army, had left the major part of it behind. He was now at the head of a select body of light horse, and with this mobile force he followed in Metellus's tracks. The Romans felt themselves haunted by a phantom enemy who passed with incredible rapidity from point to point, whose stealthy advances were made under cover of the darkness and over trackless wastes, and whose proximity was only known by some sudden and terrible blow dealt at the stragglers from the camp. The death or capture of those who left the lines could neither be hindered nor avenged; for before reinforcements could be hurried up, the Numidians had vanished into the nearest range of hills. The most ordinary operations of the army were now being seriously hindered. Supply and foraging parties had to be protected by cohorts of infantry and the whole force of cavalry; plundering was impossible; and fire was found the readiest means of wasting country which could no longer be ravaged for the benefit of the men. It was thought unsafe for the whole army to operate in two independent columns. Such columns were indeed formed, Metellus heading one and Marius the other; but it was necessary for them to keep the closest touch. Although they sometimes divided to extend the sphere of their work of terror and devastation, they often united through the pressure of fear, and the two camps were never at a great distance from each other. The king meanwhile followed them along the hills, destroying the fodder and ruining the water supply on the line of march; now he would swoop on Metellus, now on Marius, harass the rear of the column and vanish again into his hiding places.
The painful experiences of the later portion of this march convinced Metellus that some decisive effort should be made, which would crown his earlier successes, give him some sort of command of the line of country through which he had so perilously passed, and might, by the importance of the attempt, force Jugurtha to a battle. The hilly country through which he had just conducted his legions, was that which lay between the great towns of Sicca and Zama. The possession of both these places was absolutely essential if the southern district which he had terrified and garrisoned was to be kept permanently from the king. Sicca was already his, for it had been the first of the towns to throw off its allegiance to Jugurtha after the battle on the Muthul had dissipated the Numidian army. He now turned his attention to the still more important town of Zama, the true capital and stronghold of this southern district, and prepared to master the position by assault or siege. Jugurtha was soon cognisant of his plan, and by long forced marches crossed Metellus's line and entered Zama. He urged the citizens to a vigorous defence and promised that at the right moment he would come to their aid with all his forces; he strengthened their garrison by drafting into it a body of Roman deserters, whose circumstances guaranteed their loyalty, and disappeared again from the vision of friends and foes. Shortly afterwards he learnt that Marius had left the line of march for Sicca, and that he had with him but a few cohorts intended to convoy to the army the corn which he hoped to acquire in the town. In a moment Jugurtha was at the head of his chosen cavalry and moving under cover of the night. He had hoped perhaps to find the division in the town, to turn the tide of feeling in Sicca by his presence, and to see the ablest of his opponents trapped within the walls. But, as he reached the gate, the Romans were leaving it. He immediately hurled his men upon them and shouted to the curious folk who were watching the departure of the cohorts, to take the division in the rear. Chance, he cried, had lent them the occasion of a glorious deed of arms. Now was the time for them to recover freedom, for him to regain his kingdom. The magic of the presence of the national hero had nearly worked conversion to the Siccans and destruction to the Romans. The friendly city would have proved a hornets' nest, had not Marius bent all his efforts to thrusting a passage through Jugurtha's men and getting clear of the dangerous walls. In the more open ground the fighting was sharp but short. A few Numidians fell, the rest vanished from the field, and Marius came in safety to Zama, where he found Metellus contemplating his attack.
The city lay in a plain and nature had contributed but little to its defence, but it was strong in all the means that art could supply and well prepared to stand a siege. Metellus planned a general assault and arranged his forces around the whole line of wall. The attack began at every point at once; in the rear were the light-armed troops, shooting stones and metal balls at the defenders and covering the efforts of the active assailants, who pressed up to the walls and strove to effect an entry by scaling ladders and by mines. The defending force betrayed no sign of terror or disordered haste. They calmly distributed their duties, and each party kept a watchful eye on the enemy whom it was its function to repel; while some transfixed those farther from the wall with javelins thrown by the hand or shot from an engine, others dealt destruction on those immediately beneath them, rolling heavy stones upon their heads and showering down pointed stakes, heavy missiles and vessels full of blazing pine fed with pitch and sulphur.
The battle raging round the walls may have absorbed the thoughts even of that section of the Roman army which had been left to guard the camp. Certainly they and their sentries were completely off their guard when Jugurtha with a large force dashed at the entrenchments and, so complete was the surprise, swept unhindered through the gate. The usual scene of panic followed with its flight, its hasty arming, the groans of the wounded, the silent falling of the slain. But the unusual degree of the recklessness of the garrison was witnessed by the fact that not more than forty men were making a collective stand against the Numidian onset. The little band had seized a bit of high ground and no effort of the enemy could dislodge them. The missiles which had been aimed against them they hurled back with terrible effect into the dense masses around; and when the assailants essayed a closer combat, they struck them down or drove them back with the fury of their blows. Their resistance may have detained Jugurtha in the camp longer than he had intended; but the immediate escape from the emergency was due to the cowards rather than to the brave. Metellus was wrapt in contemplation of the efforts of his men before the walls of Zama when he suddenly heard the roar of battle repeated from another quarter. As he wheeled his horse, he saw a crowd of fugitives hurrying over the plain; since they made for him, he judged that they were his own men. It seems that the cavalry had been drawn up near the walls, probably as a result of the impression that Jugurtha, if he attacked at all, would attempt to take the besiegers in the rear. Metellus now hastily sent the whole of this force to the camp, and bade Marius follow with all speed at the head of some cohorts of the allies. His anguish at the sullied honour of his troops was greater than his fear. With tears streaming down his face he besought his legate to wipe out the stain which blurred the recent victory and not to permit the enemy to escape unpunished.
Jugurtha had no intention of being caught in the Roman camp; but it was not so easy to get out as it had been to come in. Some of his men were jammed in the exits, while others threw themselves over the ramparts; Marius took full advantage of the rout, and it was with many losses that Jugurtha shook himself free of his pursuers and retreated to his own fastnesses. Soon the approach of night brought the siege operations to an end. Metellus drew off his men and led them back to camp after a day's experience that did not leave a pleasant retrospect behind it. Warned by its incidents that the cavalry should be posted nearer to the camp, he began the work of the following day by disposing the whole of this force over that quarter of the ground on which the king had made his appearance; more definite arrangements were also made for the detailed defence of the Roman lines, and the assault of the previous day was renewed on the walls of Zama. Yet in spite of these elaborate precautions Jugurtha's coming was in the nature of a surprise. The silence and swiftness of his onset threw the first contingents of Romans whom he met into momentary panic and confusion; but reserves were soon moved up and restored the fortune of the day. They might have turned it rapidly and wholly, but for a tactical device which Jugurtha had adopted as a means of neutralising the superior stability of the Romans--a means which permitted him to show a persistence of frontal attack unusual with the Numidians. He had mingled light infantry with his cavalry; the latter charged instead of merely skirmishing, and before the breaches which they had made in the enemy's ranks could be refilled, the foot soldiers made their attack on the disordered lines.
Jugurtha's object was being fulfilled as long as he could remain in the field to effect this type of diversion and draw off considerable forces from the walls of Zama. But his ingenious efforts attracted the attention of the besieged as well as of the besiegers. It is true that, when the assault was hottest, the citizens of Zama did not permit their minds or eyes to stray; but there were moments following the repulse of some great effort when the energy of the assailants flagged and there was a lull in the storm of sound made by human voices and the clatter of arms. Then the men on the walls would look with strained attention on the cavalry battle in the plain, would follow the fortunes of the king with every alternation of joy or fear, and shout advice or exhortation as though their voices could reach their distant friends. Marius, who conducted the assault at that portion of the wall which commanded this absorbing view, formed the idea of encouraging this distraction of attention by a feint and seizing the momentary advantage which it afforded. A remissness and lack of confidence was soon visible in the efforts of his men, and the undisturbed interest of the Numidians was speedily directed to the manoeuvres of their monarch in the plain. Suddenly the assault burst on them in its fullest force; before they could brace themselves to the surprise, the foremost Romans were more than half-way up the scaling ladders. But the height was too great and the time too short. Stones and fire were again poured on the heads of the assailants. It was some time before their confidence was shaken; but when one or two ladders had been shattered into fragments and their occupants dashed down, the rest--most of them already covered with wounds--glided to the ground and hastened from the walls. This was the last effort. The night soon fell and brought with it, not merely the close of the day's work, but the end of the siege of Zama.
Metellus saw that neither of his objects could be fulfilled. The town could not be taken nor would Jugurtha permit himself to be brought to the test of a regular battle. The fighting season was now drawing to its close and he must think of winter quarters for his army. He determined, not only to abandon the siege, but to quit Numidia and to winter in the Roman province. The sole relic of the fact that he had marched an army through the territory between Vaga and Zama were a few garrisons left in such of the surrendered cities as seemed capable of defence. The despatches of this winter would not cheer the people or encourage the senate. The policy of invasion had failed; and, if success was to be won, it could be accomplished by intrigue alone. Metellus, when the leisure of winter quarters gave him time to think over the situation, decided that scattered negotiations with lesser Numidian magnates would prove as delusive in the future as they had in the past. The king's mind must be mastered if his body was to be enslaved; but it was a mind that could be conquered only by confidence, and to secure this influence it was necessary to approach the monarch's right-hand man. This man was Bomilcar, the most trusted general and adviser of Jugurtha--trusted all the more perhaps in consequence of the delusion, into which even a Numidian king might fall, that the man who owes his life to another will owe him his life-long service as well. A more reasonable ground for Bomilcar's attachment might have been found in the consideration that, in the eyes of Rome, he was as deeply compromised as Jugurtha himself--from an official point of view, indeed, even more deeply compromised; for to the Roman law he was an escaped criminal over whose head still hung a capital charge of murder. But might not that very fact urge the minister to make his own compact with Rome? His life depended on the king's success, or on the king's refusal to surrender him if peace were made with Rome; it depended therefore on a double element of doubt. Make that life a certainty, and would any Numidian longer balance the doubt against the certainty? Such was the thought of Metellus when he opened correspondence with Bomilcar. The minister wished to hear more, and Metellus arranged a secret interview. In this he gave his word of honour that, if Bomilcar handed over Jugurtha to him living or dead, the senate would grant him impunity and the continued possession of all that belonged to him. The Numidian accepted the promise and the condition it involved; his mind was chiefly swayed by the fear that a continuance of the even struggle might result in a compromise with Rome, and that his own death at the hands of the executioner would be one of the conditions of that compromise.
What passed between Bomilcar and Jugurtha can never have been known. The king had no reason to regret the exploits of the year, and an appeal to the desperate nature of his position would have been somewhat out of place. But some of the reflections of Bomilcar, preserved or invented by tradition, which pointed to weakness and danger in the future, may conceivably have been expressed. It was true that the war was wasting the material strength of the kingdom; it might be true that it would wear out the constancy of the Numidians themselves and induce them to put their own interests before those of their king. Such arguments could never have weighed with Jugurtha had not his recent success suggested the hope of a compromise; as a beaten fugitive he would have had nothing to hope for; as a man who still held his own he might win much by a ready compact with a Roman general in worse plight than himself. It seems certain that Jugurtha was for the first time thoroughly deceived. His judgment, sound enough in its estimate of the general situation, must have been led astray by Bomilcar's representation of Metellus's attitude, although the minister could not have hinted at a personal knowledge of the Roman's views; and his confidence in his adviser led to this rare and signal instance of a total misconception of the character and powers of his adversary.
Some preliminary correspondence probably passed between Jugurtha and Metellus before the king sent his final message. It was to the effect that all the demands would be complied with, and that the kingdom and its monarch would be surrendered unconditionally to the representative of Rome. Metellus immediately summoned a council, to which he gave as representative a character as was possible under the circumstances. The transaction of delicate business by a clique of friends had cast grave suspicions on the compact concluded by Bestia; and it was important that the witnesses to the fact that the transaction with Jugurtha contained no secret clause or understanding, should be as numerous and weighty as possible. This result could be easily secured by the general's power to summon all the men of mark available; and thus Metellus called to the board not only every member of the senatorial order whom he could find, but a certain number of distinguished individuals who did not belong to the governing class. The policy of the board was to make tentative and gradually increasing demands such as had once tried the patience of the Carthaginians. Jugurtha should give a pledge of his good faith; and, if it was unredeemed, Rome would have the gain and he the loss. The king was now ordered to surrender two hundred thousand pounds of silver, all his elephants and a certain quantity of horses and weapons. He was also required to furnish three hundred hostages. The request, at least as regards the money and the materials for war, was immediately complied with. Then the demands increased. The deserters from the Roman army must be handed over. A few of these had fled from Jugurtha at the very first sign that a genuine submission was being made, and had sought refuge with Bocchus King of Mauretania; but the greater part, to the number of three thousand, were surrendered to Metellus. Most of these were auxiliaries, Thracians and Ligurians such as had abandoned Aulus at Suthul; and the sense of the danger threatened by the treachery of allies, who must form a vital element in all Roman armies, may have been the motive for the awful example now given to the empire of Rome's punishment for breach of faith. Some of these prisoners had their hands cut off; others were buried in the earth up to their waists, were then made a target for arrows and darts, and were finally burnt with fire before the breath had left their bodies. The final order concerned Jugurtha himself, He was required to repair to a place named Tisidium, there to wait for orders. The confidence of the king now began to waver. He may have hoped to the last moment for some sign that his cause was being viewed with a friendly eye; but none had come. Surrender to Rome was a thinkable position, while he was in a position to bargain. It would be the counsel of a madman, if he put himself wholly in the power of his enemy. He had sacrificed much; but the loss, except in money, was not irremediable. Elephants were of no avail in guerilla warfare, and Numidia, which was still his own, had horses and men in abundance. He waited some days longer, probably more in expectancy of a move by Metellus and in preparation of the step he himself meant to take, than in doubt as to what that step should be; when no modification of the demand came from the Roman side, he broke off negotiations and continued the war. Metellus was still to be his opponent; for earlier in the year the proconsulate of the commander had been renewed.
The events of the summer and the peace of winter-quarters had given food for reflection to others besides Metellus. We shall soon see what the merchant classes in Africa thought of the progress of the war; more formidable still were the emotions that had lately been excited in the rugged breast of the great legate Marius. There are probably few lieutenants who do not think that they could do better than their commanders. Whether Marius held this view is immaterial; he soon came to believe that he did, and expressed this belief with vigour. The really important fact was that a man who had been praetor seven years before and probably regarded himself as the greatest soldier of the age, was carrying out the behests and correcting the blunders of a general who owed his command to his aristocratic connections and blameless record in civil life. The subordination in this particular form seemed likely to be perpetuated in Numidia, for Metellus was entering on his second proconsulate and his third year of power; in other forms and in every sphere it was likely to be eternal, for it was an accepted axiom of the existing regime that no "new man" could attain the consulship. The craving for this office was the new blight that had fallen on Marius's life; for it is the ambition which is legitimate that spreads the most morbid influence on heart and brain. But the healthier part of his soul, which was to be found in that old-fashioned piety so often maligned by the question-begging name of superstition, soon came to the help of the worldly impulse which the strong man might have doubted and crushed. On one eventful day in Utica Marius was engaged in seeking the favour of the gods by means of sacrificial victims. The seer who was interpreting the signs looked and exclaimed that great and wonderful things were portended. Let the worshipper do whatsoever was in his mind; he had the support of the gods. Let him test fortune never so often, his heart's desire would be fulfilled.
The gods had given a marvellous response in the only way in which the gods could answer. They did not suggest, but they could confirm, and never was confirmation more emphatic. Marius's last doubts were removed, and he went straightway to his commander and asked for leave of absence that he might canvass for the consulship in that very year. Metellus was a good patron; that is, he was a bad friend. The aristocratic bristles rose on the skin that had seemed so smooth. At first he expressed mild wonder at Marius's resolution--the wonder that is more contemptuous than a gibe--and exhorted him in words, the professedly friendly tone of which must have been peculiarly irritating, not to let a distorted ambition get the better of him; every one should see that his desires were appropriate and limit them when they passed this stage; Marius had reason to be satisfied with his position; he should be on his guard against asking the Roman people for a gift which they would have a right to refuse. There was no suspicion of personal jealousy in these utterances; they reflected the standard of a caste, not of a man. But Marius had measured the situation, and was not to be deterred by its being presented again in a galling but not novel form. A further request was met by the easy assumption that the matter was not so pressing as to brook no delay; as soon as public business admitted of Marius's departure, Metellus would grant his request. Still further entreaties are said to have wrung from the impatient proconsul, whose good advice had been wasted on a boor who did not know his place and could take no hints, the retort that Marius need not hurry; it would be time enough for him to canvass for the consulship when Metellus's own son should be his colleague. The boy was about twenty, Marius forty-nine. The prospective consulship would come to the latter when he had reached the mature age of seventy-two. The jest was a blessing, for anything that justified the whole-hearted renunciation of patronage, the dissolution of the sense of obligation, was an avenue to freedom. Marius was now at liberty to go his own way, and he soon showed that there was enough inflammable material in the African province to burn up the credit of a greater general than Metellus.
It is said that the division of the army, commanded by Marius, soon found itself enjoying a much easier time than before; the stern legate had become placable, if not forgetful--a circumstance which may be explained either by the view that a care greater than that of military discipline sat upon his mind, or by a belief that the new-born graciousness was meant to offer a pleasing contrast to the rigour of Metellus. But in this case the civilian element in the province was of more importance than the army. The merchant-princes of Utica, groaning over the vanished capital which they had invested in Numidian concerns, heard a criticism and a boast which appealed strongly to their impatient minds. Marius had said, or was believed to have said, that if but one half of the army were entrusted to him, he would have Jugurtha in chains in a few days; that the war was being purposely prolonged to satisfy the empty-headed pride which the commander felt in his position. The merchants had long been reflecting on the causes of the prolongation of the war with all the ignorance and impatience that greed supplies; now these causes seemed to be revealed in a simple and convincing light.
The unfortunate house of Masinissa was also made to play its part in the movement. It was represented in the Roman camp by Gauda son of Mastanabal, a prince weak both in body and mind, but the legitimate heir to the Numidian crown, if it was taken from Jugurtha and Micipsa's last wishes were fulfilled. For the old king in framing his testament had named Gauda as heir in remainder to the kingdom, if his two sons and Jugurtha should die without issue. The nearness of the succession, now that the reigning king of Numidia was an enemy of the Roman people, had prompted the prince to ask Metellus for the distinctions that he deemed suited to his rank, a seat next that of the commander-in-chief, a guard of Roman knights for his person. Both requests had been refused--the place of honour because it belonged only to those whom the Roman people had addressed as kings, the guard, because it was derogatory to the knights of Rome to act as escort to a Numidian. The prince may have taken the refusal, not merely as an insult in itself, but as a hint that Metellus did not recognise him as a probable successor to Jugurtha. He was in an anxious and moody frame of mind when he was approached by Marius and urged to lean on him, if he would gain satisfaction for the commander's contumely. The glowing words of his new friend made hope appeal to his weak mind almost with the strength of certainty. He was the grandson of Masinissa, the immediate occupant of the Numidian throne, should Jugurtha be captured or slain; the crown might be his at no distant date, should Marius be made consul and sent to the war. He should make appeal to his friends in Rome to secure the means which would lead to the desired end. The ship that bore the prince's letter to Rome took many other missives from far more important men--all of them with a strange unanimity breathing the same purport, "Metellus was mismanaging the war, Marius should be made commander". They were written by knights in the province--some of them officers in the army, others heads of commercial houses--to their friends and agents in Rome. All of these correspondents had not been directly solicited by Marius, but in some mysterious way the hope of peace in Africa had become indissolubly associated with his name. The central bureau of the great mercantile system would soon be working in his favour. Who would withstand it? Certainly not the senate still shaken by the Mamilian law; still less the people who wanted but a new suggestion to change the character of their attack. All things seemed working for Marius.
It was soon shown that, whoever the future commander of Numidia was to be, he would have a real war on his hands; for the struggle had suddenly sprung into new and vigorous life, and one of the few permanent successes of Rome was annihilated in a moment by the craft of the reawakened Jugurtha. The preparations of the king must have been conjectured from their results; their first issue was a complete surprise; for few could have dreamed that the personal influence of the monarch, who had given away so much for an elusive hope of safety and had almost been a prisoner in the Roman lines, should assert itself in the very heart of the country believed to be pacified and now held by Roman garrisons. The town of Vaga, the intended basis of supplies for an army advancing to the south or west, the seat of an active commerce and the home of merchants from many lands who traded under the aegis of the Roman peace and a Roman garrison perched on the citadel, was suddenly thrilled by a message from the king, and answered to the appeal with a burst of heartfelt loyalty--a loyalty perhaps quickened by the native hatred of the ways of the foreign trader. The self-restraint of the patriotic plotters was as admirable as their devotion to a cause so nearly lost. Many hundreds must have been cognisant of the scheme, yet not a word reached the ears of those responsible for the security of the town. Even the poorest conspirator did not dream of the fortune that might be reaped from the sale of so vast a secret, and the Roman was as ignorant of the hidden significance of native demeanour as he was of the subtleties of the native tongue. In eye and gesture he could read nothing but feelings of friendliness to himself, and he readily accepted the invitation to the social gathering which was to place him at the mercy of his host. The third day from the date at which the plot was first conceived offered a golden opportunity for an attack which should be unsuspected and resistless. It was the day of a great national festival, on which leisured enjoyment took the place of work and every one strove to banish for the time the promptings of anxiety and fear. The officers of the garrison had been invited by their acquaintances within the town to share in their domestic celebrations. They and their commandant, Titus Turpilius Silanus, were reclining at the feast in the houses of their several hosts when the signal was given. The tribunes and centurions were massacred to a man; Turpilius alone was spared; then the conspirators turned on the rank and file of the Roman troops. The position of these was pitiable. Scattered in the streets, without weapons and without a leader, they saw the holiday throng around them suddenly transformed into a ferocious mob. Even such of the meaner classes as had up to this time been innocent of the murderous plot, were soon baying at their heels; some of these were hounded on by the conspirators; others saw only that disturbance was on foot, and the welcome knowledge of this fact alone served to spur them to a senseless frenzy of assault. The Roman soldiers were merely victims; there was never a chance of a struggle which would make the sacrifice costly, or even difficult. The citadel, in which their shields and standards hung, was in the occupation of the foe; when they sought the city gates, they found the portals closed; when they turned back upon the streets, the line of fury was deeper than before, for the women and the very children on the level housetops were hurling stones or any missiles that came to hand on the hated foreigners below. Strength and skill were of no avail; such qualities could not even prolong the agony; the veteran and the tyro, the brave and the shrinking, were struck or cut down with equal ease and swiftness. Only one man succeeded in slipping through the gates. This was the commandant Turpilius himself. Even the lenient view that a lucky chance or the pity of his host had given him his freedom, did not clear him of the stain which the tyrannical tradition of Roman arms stamped on every commander who elected to survive the massacre of the division entrusted to his charge.
When the news was brought to Metellus, the heart-sick general buried himself in his tent. But his first grief was soon spent, and his thoughts turned to a scheme of vengeance on the treacherous town. Rapidly and carefully the scheme was unfolded in his mind, and by the setting of the sun the first steps towards the recovery of Vaga had been taken. In the dusk he left his camp with the legion which had been stationed in his own quarters and as large a force of Numidian cavalry as he could collect. Both horse and foot were slenderly equipped, for he was bent on a surprise and a long and hard night's march lay before him. He was still speeding on three hours after the sun had risen on the following day. The tired soldiers cried a halt, but Metellus spurred them on by pointing to the nearness of their goal (Vaga, he showed, was but a mile distant, just beyond the line of hills which shut out their view), the sanctity of the work of vengeance, the certainty of a rich reward in plunder. He paused but to reform his men. The cavalry were deployed in open order in the van; the infantry followed in a column so dense that nothing distinctive in their equipment or organisation could be discerned from afar, and the standards were carefully concealed. When the men of Vaga saw the force bearing down upon their town, their first and right impression led them to close the gates; but two facts soon served to convince them of their error. The supposed enemy was not attempting to ravage their land, and the horsemen who rode near the walls were clearly men of Numidian blood. It was the king himself, they cried, and with enthusiastic joy they poured from the gates to meet him. The Romans watched them come; then at a given signal the closed ranks opened, as each division rushed to its appointed task. Some charged and cut in pieces the helpless multitude that had poured upon the plain; others seized the gates, others again the now undefended towers on the walls. All sense of weariness had suddenly vanished from limbs now stimulated by the lust of vengeance and of plunder. The slaughter was pitiless, the search for plunder as thorough as the slaughter. The war had not yet given such a prize as this great trading town. Its ruin was the general's loss as it was the soldiers' gain; but the need for rapid vengeance vanquished every other sentiment in Metellus's mind. Roman punishment was as swift as it was sure, if but two days could elapse between the sin and the suffering of the men of Vaga. A gloomy task still remained. Inquiry must be made as to the mode in which Turpilius the commandant had escaped unharmed from the massacre. The investigation was a bitter trial to Metellus; for the accused was bound to him by close ties of hereditary friendship, and had been accredited by him with the command of the corps of engineers. The command at Vaga had been a further mark of favour, and it was believed by some that Turpilius had justified his commander's hopes only too well, and that it was his very humanity and consideration for the townsfolk under his command which had offered him means of escape such as only the most resolute would have refused. But the scandal was too grave to admit of a private inquiry, in which the honour of the army might seem to be sacrificed to the caprice of the friendly judgment of Metellus. His very familiarity with the accused entailed the duty of a cold impartiality, and Turpilius found little credence or excuse for the tale that he unfolded before the members of the court which adjudicated on his case. The harsh view of Marius was particularly recalled in the light of subsequent events. The fact or fancy that it was Marius who had himself condemned and had urged his brother judges to deliver an adverse vote, was seized by the gatherers of gossip, ever ready to discover a sinister motive in the actions of the man who never forgot, was embedded in that prose epic of the "Wrath of Marius" which subsequently adorned the memoirs of the great, and became a story of how the relentless lieutenant had, in malignant disregard of his own convictions, caused Metellus to commit the inexpiable wrong of dooming a guest-friend to an unworthy death. The death was inflicted with all the barbarity of Roman military law; Turpilius was scourged and beheaded, and through this final expiation the episode of Vaga remained to many minds a still darker horror than before.
But much had been gained by the recovery of the revolted town. It is true that in its present condition it was almost useless to its possessors; but its fate must have stayed the progress of revolt in other cities, and the rapidity of Metellus's movements had hampered Jugurtha's immediate plans. The king had probably intended that Vaga should be a second Zama, and that the Romans should be kept at bay by its strong walls while he himself harassed their rear or attacked their camp. Now the scene of a successful guerilla warfare must be sought elsewhere. Its choice depended on the movements of the Roman army; but the time for the commencement of the new struggle was postponed longer than it might have been by a domestic danger which, while it confirmed the king in his resolution to struggle to the bitter end, absorbed his attention for the moment and hampered his operations in the field. Bomilcar's negotiations with Rome were bearing their deadly fruit. The minister was a victim of that expectant anguish, which springs from the failure of a treacherous scheme, when the cause of that failure is unknown. Why had the king broken off the negotiations? Was he himself suspected? Would the danger be lessened, if he remained quiescent? It might be increased, for the peril from Rome still existed, and there was the new terror from the vengeance of a master, whose suspicion seemed to his affrighted soul to be revealing itself in a cold neglect. Bomilcar determined that he would face but a single peril, and plunged into a course of intrigue far more dangerous than any which he had yet essayed. He no longer worked through underlings or appealed to the emissaries of Rome. He aimed at internal revolution, at the fall of the king by the hands of his servants--a stroke which he might exhibit to the suzerain power as his own meritorious work--and he adopted as a confidant a man of his own rank and at the moment of greater influence than himself. Nabdalsa was the new favourite of Jugurtha. He was a man of high birth, of vast wealth, of great and good repute in the district of Numidia which he ruled. His fame and power had been increased by his appointment to the command of such forces as the king could not lead in person, and he was now operating with an army in the territory between the head-quarters of Jugurtha and the Roman winter camp, his mission being to prevent the country being overrun with complete impunity by the invaders. His reason for listening to the overtures of Bomilcar is unknown; perhaps he knew too much of the military situation to believe in his master's ultimate success, and aimed at securing his own territorial power by an appeal to the gratitude of Rome. But he had not his associate's motive for hasty execution; and when Bomilcar warned him that the time had come, his mind was appalled by the magnitude of a deed that had only been prefigured in an ambiguous and uncertain shape. The time for meeting came and passed. Bomilcar was in an agony of impatient fear. The doubtful attitude of his associate opened new possibilities of danger; a new terror had been added to the old, and the motive for despatch was doubled. His alarm found vent in a brief but frantic letter which mingled gloomy predictions of the consequences of delay with fierce protestations and appeals. Jugurtha, he urged, was doomed, the promises of Metellus might at any moment work the ruin of them both, and Nabdalsa's choice lay between reward and torture.
When this missive was delivered by a faithful hand, the general, tired in mind and body, had stretched himself upon a couch. The fiery words did not stimulate his ardour; they plunged him still deeper in a train of anxious thought, until utter weariness gave way to sleep. The letter rested on his pillow. Suddenly the covering of the tent door was noiselessly raised. His faithful secretary, who believed that he knew all his master's secrets, had heard of the arrival of a courier. His help and skill would be needed, and he had anticipated Nabdalsa's demand for his presence. The letter caught his eye; he lightly picked it up and read it, as in duty bound--for did he not deal with all letters, and could there be aught of secrecy in a paper so carelessly laid down? The plot now flashed across his eyes for the first time, and he slipped from the tent to hasten with the precious missive to the king. When Nabdalsa awoke, his thoughts turned to the letter which had harassed his last waking moments. It was gone, and he soon found that his secretary had disappeared as well. A fruitless attempt to pursue the fugitive convinced him that his only hope lay in the clemency, prudence or credulity of Jugurtha. Hastening to his master, he assured him that the service which he had been on the eve of rendering had been anticipated by the treachery of his dependent; let not the king forget their close friendship, his proved fidelity; these should exempt him from suspicion of participation in such a horrid crime.
Jugurtha replied in a conciliatory tone. Neither then nor afterwards did he betray any trace of violent emotion. Bomilcar and many of his accomplices were put to death swiftly and secretly; but it was not well that rumours of a widely spread treason should be noised abroad. The pretence of security was a means of ensuring safety, and he had to ask too much of his Numidians to indulge even the severity that he held to be his due. Yet it was believed that the tenor of Jugurtha's life was altered from that moment. It was whispered that the bold soldier and intrepid ruler searched dark corners with his eyes and started at sudden sounds, that he would exchange his sleeping chamber for some strange and often humble resting place at night, and that sometimes in the darkness he would start from sleep, seize his sword and cry aloud, as though maddened by the terror of his dreams.
The news of the fall of Bomilcar swept from Metellus's mind the last faint hope that the war might be brought to a speedy close by the immediate surrender of Jugurtha, and he began to make earnest preparations for a fresh campaign. In the new struggle he was to be deprived of the services of his ablest officer, for Marius had at length gained his end and had won from his commander a tardy permit to speed to Rome and seek the prize, which was doubtless still believed in the uninformed circles of the camp to be utterly beyond his grasp. The consent, though tardy, was finally given with a good will, for Metellus had begun to doubt the wisdom of keeping by his side a lieutenant whose restless discontent and growing resentment to his superior were beyond all concealment. Marius must have wished that his general's choler had been stirred at an earlier date, for the leave had been deferred to a season which would have deterred a less strenuous mind, from all thoughts of a political campaign during the current year. Delay, however, might be fatal; the war might be brought to a dazzling close before the consular elections again came round; the political balance at Rome might alter; it was necessary to reap at once the harvest of mercantile greed and popular distrust that had been so carefully prepared. It is possible that the usual date for the elections had already been passed and that It was only the postponement of the Comitia that gave Marius a chance of success. Even then it was a slender one, for it was believed in later times that his leave had been won only twelve days before the day fixed for the declaration of the consuls. In two days and a night he had covered the ground that lay between the camp and Utica. Here he paused to sacrifice before taking ship to Italy. The cheering words of the priest who read the omens seemed to be approved by the good fortune of his voyage. A favourable wind bore him in four days across the sea, and he reached Rome to find men craving for his presence as the crowning factor in a popular movement, delightful in its novelty and entered into with a genuine enthusiasm by the masses, who were fully conscious that there was a wrong of some undefined kind to be set right, and were as a whole perhaps blissfully ignorant of the intrigues by which they were being moved. Yet the thinking portion of the community had some grounds for resentment and alarm. The Numidian was not merely injuring those interested in African finance, but was engaging an army that was sadly needed elsewhere. The struggle in the North was going badly for Rome, and despatches had lately brought the news of the defeat of the consul Silanus by a vast and wandering horde known as the Cimbri, who hovered like a threatening cloud on the farther side of the Alps and might at no distant date sweep past the barrier of Italy. The senatorial government, although its position had not been formally assailed, had been sufficiently shaken by the Mamilian commission to distrust its power of stemming an adverse tide; and Scaurus, its chief bulwark, had lately been so ill-advised as to force a conflict with constitutional procedure in a way which could not be approved by a class of men to which the smallest precedent of political life that had once been stereotyped, appealed as a vital element in administration. He had spoilt a magnificent display of energy during his tenure of the censorship--an energy that issued in the rebuilding of the Mulvian bridge and in the continuance of the great coast road from Etruria past Genua to Dertona in the basin of the Po--by an unconstitutional attempt to continue in his office after the death of his colleague. His resignation had been enforced by some of the tribunes; and the great man seems still to have been under the passing cloud engendered by his own obstinate ambition, when the intrigues of the ever-dreaded coalition of the mercantile classes and the popular leaders were completed by the arrival of Marius.
This new figurehead of the democracy had a comparatively easy part assigned him. Had it been necessary for him to persuade, he would probably have failed, for he lacked the gifts of the orator and the suppleness of the intriguer; but he was expected only to confirm, and better confirmation was to be gained from his martial bearing and his rugged manner than from his halting words. The speaking might be done by others more practised in the art; a few words of harsh verification from this living exemplar of the virtues of the people were all that was demanded. His censure of Metellus was followed by a promise that he would take Jugurtha alive or dead. The censure and the promise gave the text for a fiery stream of opposition oratory. Threats of prosecuting Metellus on a capital charge were mingled with passionate assertions of confidence in the true soldier who could vindicate the honour of Rome. The excitement spread even beyond the lazier rabble of the city. Honest artisans, who were usually untouched by the delirious forms of politics, and even thrifty country farmers, to whom time meant money at this busy season of the year, were drawn into the throng that gazed at Marius and listened to the burning words of his supporters. Against such a concourse the nobility and its dependents could make no head. The people who had come to listen stayed to vote, and the suffrage of the centuries gave the "new man" as a colleague to Lucius Cassius Longinus. But this triumph was but the prelude to another. The people, now assembled in the plebeian gathering of the tribes, were asked by the tribune Titus Manlius Mancinus whom they willed to conduct the war against Jugurtha. The answer "Marius" was given by overwhelming numbers, and the decision already reached by the senate was brushed aside. That body had, in the exercise of its legal authority, determined the provinces which should be administered by the consuls of the coming year. Numidia had not been one of these, for it had unquestionably been destined for Metellus. Gaul, on the other hand, called for the presence of a consul and a soldier; and the senate, although it had no power to make a definite appointment to this province, had perhaps intended that Marius, if elected, should be entrusted with its defence. Had this resolution been adopted, the paths of Marius and Metellus would have ceased to cross; the Numidian war, which demanded patience and diplomacy but not genius, might have dwindled gradually away; and the barbarians of the North might have yielded to their future victor before they had established their gloomy record of triumphs over the arms of Rome. But this was not to be. The party triumph would be incomplete if the senate's nominee was not ousted from his command. We cannot say whether Marius shared in the blindness which saw a more glorious field for military energy in Numidia than in Gaul; personal rivalry and political passion may have already blunted the instincts of the soldier. But, whatever his thoughts may have been, his actions were determined by a superior force. He was but a pawn in the hands of tribunes and capitalists; he had made promises which had raised hopes, definitely commercial and vaguely political. These hopes it must be his mission to fulfil. Before quitting Rome he found words which vented all the spleen of the classes screened out of office by the close-drawn ring of the nobility. The platitudes of merit, tested by honest service and approved by distinctions won in war, were advanced against the claims of birth; the luxurious life of the nobility was gibbeted on the ground that sensuality was a bar to energy and efficiency; even the elegant and conscientious taste of the cultured commander, who supplied the defects of experience by the perusal of Greek works on military tactics during his journey to the scene of war, was held up to criticism as a sign that the vain and ignorant amateur was usurping the tasks that belonged to the tried and hardy expert. Fortunately the energy of Marius was better expended on deeds than words. Whether the African war really required a more vigorous army than that serving under Metellus, might be an open question. Marius pretended that the need was patent, and exhibited the greatest energy in beating up veteran legionaries and attracting to his standard such of the Latin allies as had already approved their skill in service. The senate lent a ready hand. Nothing was more unpopular than a drastic levy, and the favourite might fail when he called for a fulfilment of the brave language that had been heard on every side. But the confidence in the new commander baffled its hopes; the conscripts were marching to glory not to danger, and the supplementary army, that was to avert a phantom peril and save an imaginary situation, was soon enrolled. Such a demonstration had often been seen before in Rome; the energy of an ambitious commander had with lamentable frequency rebuked the indolence or confidence of his predecessor, and Marius was but following in the footsteps of Bestia and Albinus. The real merits of his labours were due to his freedom from a strange superstition which had hitherto clung to the minds even of the best commanders that the later Republic had produced. They had continued to hold the theory that the effective soldier must be a man of means--a belief inherited from the simple days of border warfare, when each conscript supplied his panoply and the landless man could serve only as a half-armed skirmisher. For ages past the principle had been breaking down. The vast forces required for foreign wars demanded a wider area for the conscription; but this area, as defined by the old conditions of service, so far from increasing, was ever becoming less. In the age of Polybius the minimum qualification requisite for service in the legions had sunk from eleven thousand to four thousand asses; later it had been reduced to a yet lower level; but, in spite of these concessions to necessity, the senate had refused to accept the lesson, taught by the military needs of the State and the social condition of Italy, that an empire cannot be garrisoned by an army of conscripts. The legal power to effect a radical alteration had long been in their hands; for the poorer proletariate of Rome whom the law described as the men assessed "on their heads," not on their holdings, had probably been liable to military service of any kind in time of need. Perhaps it was mere conservatism, perhaps it was a faint perception of the truth that an armed rabble is fonder of men than institutions, and an appreciation of the fact that the hold of the nobility over the capital would be weakened if their clients were allowed to don the armour which made them men, that had kept the senate within the strait limits of the antiquated rules. Fortunately, however, the methods of raising an army depended almost entirely on the discretion of the general engaged on the task. Did he employ the conscription in a manner not justified by convention, he might be met by resistance and appeals; but, if he chose to invite to service, there was no power which could prescribe the particular modes in which he should employ the units that flocked to his standard. It was this latter method that was adopted by Marius. He did not strain his popularity, and invite a conflict with senatorial tribunes, by forcing foreign service on the ragged freemen who had hailed him as the saviour of the State; but he invited their assistance in the glorious work and asked them to be his comrades in the triumphal progress that lay before him. The spirit of adventure, if not of patriotism, was touched: the call was readily answered, and the stalwart limbs that had lounged idly on the streets or striven vainly to secure the subsistence of the favoured slave, became the instruments by which the State was to be first protected and finally controlled. The conscription still remained as the resort of necessity; but the creation of the first mercenary army of Rome pointed to the mode in which any future commander could avoid the friction and unpopularity which often attended the enforcement of liability to service. The innovation of Marius was sufficiently startling to attract comment and invite conjecture. Some held that the army had been democratised to suit the consulship, and that the masses who had seen in Marius's elevation the realisation of the vague and detached ambitions of the poor, would continue to furnish a sure support to the power which they had created. It is not unlikely that Marius, with his knowledge of the tone of the army of Metellus, may have wished to create for himself an environment that would mould the temper of his future officers; but those more friendly critics who held that efficiency was his immediate aim, and that "the bad" were chosen only because "the good" were scarce, suggested the reason that was probably dominant as a motive and was certainly adequate as a defence. No thought of the ultimate triumph of the individual over the State by the help of a devoted soldiery could have crossed the mind either of the consul or of his critics. The Republic was as yet sacred, however unhealthy its chief organs might be deemed; and although Marius was to live to see the sinister fruit of his own reform, the harvest was to be reaped by a rival, and the first fruits enjoyed by the senate whom that rival served.
While the election of Marius, his appointment to Numidia, and his preparations for the campaign were in progress, the war had been passing through its usual phases of skirmishes and sieges. For a time no certain news could be had of the king; he was reported at one moment to be near the Roman lines, at another to be buried in the solitude of the desert; the annoyance caused by his baffling changes of plan was avenged by the interpretation that they were symptoms of a disordered mind; his old counsellors were said to have been dispersed, his new ones to be distrusted; it was believed that he changed his route and his officers from day to day, and that he retreated or retraced his steps as the terrors of suspicion and despair alternated with the faintly surviving hope that a stand might yet be made. Only once did he come into conflict with Metellus. The site of the skirmish is unknown, and its result was indecisive. The Numidian army is said to have been surprised and to have formed hastily for battle. The division led by the king offered a brief resistance; the rest of the line yielded at once to the Roman onset. A few standards and arms, a handful of prisoners, were all that the victors had to show for their triumph. The nimble enemy had disappeared beyond all hope of capture or pursuit.
After a time news was brought that the king had made for the southern desert with a fraction of his mounted troops and the Roman deserters, whose despair ensured their loyalty. He had shut himself up in Thala, a large and wealthy town to which his treasures and his children had already been transferred. This city lay some thirteen miles east of the oasis of Capsa, and a dismal and waterless desert stretched between the Romans and the refuge of the king. No Roman army had at any part of the campaign attempted to penetrate such trackless regions, and the court at Thala may have believed even this foretaste of the desert to be an adequate protection against an enemy which clung to towns and cultivated lands and relied, in the cumbrous manner of civilised warfare, on organised lines of communication. But the news that Jugurtha had at last occupied a position, the strength of which, together with the presence of his family and treasures within its walls, might supply a motive for a lengthy residence within the town and even suggest the resolution of holding it against every hazard, fired Metellus with a hope which the awkward political situation at Rome must have made more real than it deserved to be. The end of the war might be in sight, if he could only cross that belt of burning land. His plan was rapidly formed. The burden of the baggage animals was reduced to ten days' supply of corn; skins of water were laid upon their backs; the domestic cattle from the fields were driven in, and they were laden with every kind of vessel that could be gathered from the Numidian homesteads. The villagers in the neighbourhood of the recent victory, whom the flight of the king had made for the moment the humble servants of Rome, were bidden to bring water to a certain spot, and the day was named on which this mission was to be fulfilled. Metellus's own vessels were filled from the river, and the rapid march to Thala was begun. The resting place was reached and the camp was entrenched; water was there in greater abundance than had been asked or hoped, for a sharp downpour of rain made the plethoric skins presented by the punctual Numidians almost a superfluous luxury and, as a happy omen, cheered the souls of the soldiers as much as it refreshed their bodies. The devoted villagers had also brought an unexpectedly large supply of corn, so eager were they to give emphatic proof of their newly acquired loyalty. But one day more and the walls of Thala came in sight. Its citizens were surprised but not dismayed; they made preparations for the siege, while their king vanished into the desert with his children and a large portion of his hoarded wealth. It was too much to hope that Jugurtha would be caught in such a trap. The alternative prospects at Thala were immediate capture or a siege as protracted as the nature of the territory would permit. In the latter case a cordon would be drawn round the town and a price would probably be put upon the rebel's head. It is strange that the desperate band of deserters did not accompany the king in his flight. There may have been no time for the retreat of so large a force, or the strength and desolation of the site may have filled them with confidence of success. But, if things came to the worst, they had a surprise in store for their former comrades who were now battering against the walls.
Metellus, in spite of the fact that he had lightened his baggage animals of all the superfluities of the camp, must have brought his siege train with him; it would, indeed, have been madness to attempt an assault on a fortified town without the necessary instruments of attack. He seems in his lines round Thala to have had all that he needed for a blockade; even the planks for the great moving turrets were ready to his hand. The engines were soon in place on an artificial mound raised by the labour of the troops, the soldiers advanced under cover of the mantlets, and the rams began to batter against the walls. For forty days the courage of the besieged tried the patience of assailants already wearied with the toils of a long forced march. Had human endurance been the deciding factor, Metellus might have been forced to retire. But the wall of Thala was weaker than the spirit of its defenders; a portion of the rampart crumbled beneath the blows of the ram, and the victorious Romans rushed in to seize the plunder of the treasure-city. They found instead a holocaust of wealth and human victims. The royal palace had been invaded by the deserters from the Roman army whom Jugurtha had left behind. Thither they had borne the gold, the silver and the precious stuffs which formed the glory of the town. A feast was spread and continued until the banqueters were heavy with meat and wine. The palace was then fired, and when the plundering mob of Romans had made their way to the centre of the city's wealth, they found but the smouldering traces of a baffled vengeance and a disappointed greed.
The capture of Thala was one of those successes which might have been important, had it been possible to limit the area of the war or to check the disaffection which was now spreading throughout almost the whole of Northern Africa. The fringe of the desert had but been reached; the king had fled beyond it; the south and west were soon to be in a blaze; we shall soon see Metellus forced to take up his position in the north; and a slight incident which occurred while Metellus was at Thala showed that even cities of the distant east, which had never been under the immediate sway of the Numidian power, were wavering in their attachment to Rome. The Greater Leptis, situate in the territory of the Three Cities between the gulfs which separated Roman Africa from the territory of Cyrene, had sought the friendship and alliance of Rome from the very commencement of the war. A Sidonian settlement, it had, like most commercial towns which sought a life of peace, preferred the protectorate of Rome to that of the neighbouring dynasties, and had readily responded to the calls made on it by Bestia, Albinus and Metellus. Such assistance as it furnished must have been supplied by sea, for it was more than four hundred miles by land from the usual sphere of Roman operations; but the commissariat of the Roman army was so serious a problem that the ships of the men of Leptis must always have been a welcome sight at the port of Utica. Now the stability of their constitution, and their service to Rome, were threatened by the ambition of a powerful noble. This Hamilcar was defying the authority both of laws and magistrates, and Leptis, they wrote, would be lost, if Metellus did not send timely help. Four cohorts of Ligurians with a praefect at their head were sent to the faithful state, and the Roman general turned to meet the graver dangers which were threatening in the west.
Jugurtha had crossed the desert with a handful of his men and was now amongst the Gaetulian tribes, who stretched from the limits of his own dominions far across the southern frontier of his brother king of Mauretania. His eyes were now turned to the west; the men of the desert, the King of the Moors, would be infallible means of prolonging the war with Rome, if their help could be secured. No Roman army had yet dared to penetrate even into Western Numidia, and such a venture would be more hopeless than ever, if the nomad tribes of the desert frontier and Bocchus of Mauretania enclosed that district with myriads of mounted men that might sweep it at any time from point to point, and destroy in a moment the laborious efforts at occupation that might be made by Rome. The Gaetulians, although perhaps a nomad, were not a barbarian people. They plied with Mediterranean cities a trade in purple dye, the material for which was gathered on the Atlantic coast; and their merchants were sometimes seen in the marketplace at Cirta; but as fighting men they lacked even the organisation to which the Numidians had attained, and Jugurtha, while he sought or purchased their help, was obliged to teach them the rudiments of disciplined warfare. Gradually they learnt to keep the line, to follow the standards, to wait for the word of command before they threw themselves upon the foe; these untrained warriors must have been fired mainly by the love of adventure, of pay or of plunder, or have been impressed by the greatness of the fugitive who had suddenly appeared amongst their tribes; they had no hatred or previous fear of the power of Rome, for most of the Gaetulian chiefs were ignorant even of the name of the imperial city.
This name, however, had long been in the mind of the king who governed the northern neighbours of the Gaetulians, and it was to the fears or hopes of Bocchus of Mauretania that Jugurtha now appealed with the design of gaining an auxiliary force greater than any which he himself could put into the field. He had a claim on the Mauretanian king which might have been valid in a land in which polygamy did not prevail, for he was the husband of that monarch's daughter; but the dissipation of affection amongst a multitude of wives and their respective progeny did not permit the connection with a son-in-law to be a particularly binding tie. There were, however, other motives which might spur the king to action. His early overtures to Rome had been rejected, and this neglect must have aroused in his mind a feeling of anxiety as well as of wounded pride. If Rome conquered Numidia, she might become his neighbour. What in that case would be the position of Mauretania, connected as it would be by no previous ties of friendship or alliance with the conquering state? If Bacchus joined Jugurtha, he would immediately become a power with whom Rome would be forced to deal. An ally detached from her enemies had often become her most trusted friend; it was thus that the power of Masinissa had been secured and his kingdom had been increased. If Jugurtha were victorious, the Romans would be kept at bay; if he showed signs of failure, the defection of Bocchus might be bought at a great price. The game on which he had entered was absolutely safe; he could only be the loser if at the critical moment chivalry or national sentiment interfered with the designs of a calculating prudence. The great necessity of his position was to force the hand of the Roman general and the Roman senate; but meanwhile he would keep an open mind and see whether the power which he dreaded might not be permanently kept at bay.
It may have been with thoughts like these that Bocchus bowed to the teaching of his counsellors when they urged a meeting with Jugurtha. The meeting was that of equals, not of a suppliant and his protector. The Numidian king again headed an army of his own, and, after the oath of alliance had been given and received, exhorted his father-in-law in his own interest to join in a war that was as necessary as it was just. The Romans, he pointed out, had been made by their lust for conquest the common enemies of the human race. One had only to look at their treatment of Perseus of Macedon, of Carthage, of himself. Who was Bocchus that he alone should be immune from such a danger? The mood of the king responded to Jugurtha's words, and without an instant's delay they took the field together. Jugurtha was insistent on despatch, for he knew the varying temper of his relative and feared that even a slight delay would cool his resolve for decisive action.
The scene of the war now shifts with amazing suddenness to the north and centres for the first time round the walls of Cirta. Metellus had evidently been drawn from the south by the news of the threatened coalition; for, if the territories near the coast were undefended, the Mauretanians might sweep like a devastating storm over the land that might have been held with some show of justice to be in the possession of Rome. Cirta now appears as within the pacified territory and, although we have no record as to the time when it was lost by Jugurtha, its possession by the Romans need excite no surprise. It may have been lost at an early period of the war, for there is no sign that it was employed by Jugurtha either as a military or political capital, and if, in spite of the massacre that had followed its capture from Adherbal, its cosmopolitan mercantile life had been revived, the attachment of the town to Rome would be assured on the news of the waning fortunes of its king. Its surrender was certainly peaceful, and the strength which might have defied the arms of Rome had rendered it incapable of recovery by its former owner. To Cirta Metellus had transferred his prisoners, his booty and his baggage, and it was against Cirta that the two kings moved with their formidable force. Jugurtha was the moving spirit in the enterprise, his idea being that, even if the town could not be taken, the Romans would be forced to come to its support and a battle would be fought beneath its walls. A battle was now an issue to be courted, for never had he faced the enemy with greater numbers on his side.
Metellus was as fully conscious of the change in the situation. Lately he had been forcing himself on Jugurtha at every point; now he held back and waited for the favourable chance. He wished above all to learn something of the fighting spirit and methods of the Moors; they were an untried foe, and Roman success was usually the fruit of knowledge and not of experiment. He waited in his fortified camp near Cirta to watch events, when news was brought from Rome which proved to his mind that cautious inaction was now not merely the wiser but the only policy. The news that came by letter was of stunning force. Metellus had already learnt of Marius's election to the consulship. This knowledge should have prepared him for the worst; but a proud man, conscious of his deserts, will not meet in anticipation an event that, however probable, seems incredible. Yet here it was before him in black and white. He had been superseded in his command and the province of Numidia belonged to Marius. There was no pretence of self-restraint; tears rose to his eyes, as bitter language flowed from his lips. It was disputed whether natural pride or the sense of unmerited wrong was the secret of his wrath, or whether he held (as many thought) that a victory already won was being wrested from his grasp. But it was safely conjectured that his grief would not have been so violent had any man but Marius been his successor.
To risk a defeat at the moment when the command was slipping from his grasp seemed to Metellus the height of folly; but, even had he not possessed this additional motive for inaction, the situation would probably have forced him to temporise and to attempt to dissolve the hostile coalition by diplomacy. He therefore sent a message to Bocchus urging him to think seriously of the course of action which he had adopted. An opportunity was still open to him of becoming the friend and ally of Rome; why should he adopt this motiveless attitude of hostility? The cause of Jugurtha was desperate; did the King of Mauretania wish to bring his own country into the same miserable plight? These were the first words that Bocchus had heard of a possible convention with Rome; he had scored the first point, but was much too wise to give away the game. Definite offers must be made and securely guaranteed before he would withdraw the terror of his presence. Firmness and conciliation must be blended in his answer, which, when delivered, was both gracious and chivalrous. He longed, he said, for peace, but was stirred to pity for the fortunes of Jugurtha. If the latter were also given the chance of making terms with Rome, all might be arranged. Metellus replied with another message framed to meet the position taken up by the king; the answer of Bocchus was a cautious mixture of assent and protest. As he showed no unwillingness to continue the discussion, Metellus occupied the remainder of his own tenure of the command in further parleyings. Envoys came and went, and the war was practically suspended. A delicate and promising negotiation was on foot; it remained to be seen whether it would be patiently continued or rudely interrupted by the new governor of Numidia.