Julius Caesar



Birth of Cicero.--The Cimbri and Teutons.--German Immigration into Gaul.-- Great Defeat of the Romans on the Rhone.--Wanderings of the Cimbri.-- Attempted Invasion of Italy.--Battle of Aix.--Destruction of the Teutons.--Defeat of the Cimbri on the Po.--Reform in the Roman Army.-- Popular Disturbances in Rome.--Murder of Memmius.--Murder of Saturninus and Glaucia

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The Jugurthine war ended in the year 106 B.C. At the same Arpinum which had produced Marius another actor in the approaching drama was in that year ushered into the world, Marcus Tullius Cicero. The Ciceros had made their names, and perhaps their fortunes, by their skill in raising cicer, or vetches. The present representative of the family was a country gentleman in good circumstances given to literature, residing habitually at his estate on the Liris and paying occasional visits to Rome. In that household was born Rome's most eloquent master of the art of using words, who was to carry that art as far, and to do as much with it, as any man who has ever appeared on the world's stage.

Rome, however, was for the present in the face of enemies who had to be encountered with more material weapons. Marius had formed an army barely in time to save Italy from being totally overwhelmed. A vast migratory wave of population had been set in motion behind the Rhine and the Danube. The German forests were uncultivated. The hunting and pasture grounds were too strait for the numbers crowded into them, and two enormous hordes were rolling westward and southward in search of some new abiding-place. The Teutons came from the Baltic down across the Rhine into Luxemburg. The Cimbri crossed the Danube near its sources into Illyria. Both Teutons and Cimbri were Germans, and both were making for Gaul by different routes. The Celts of Gaul had had their day. In past generations they had held the German invaders at bay, and had even followed them into their own territories. But they had split among themselves. They no longer offered a common front to the enemy. They were ceasing to be able to maintain their own independence, and the question of the future was whether Gaul was to be the prey of Germany or to be a province of Rome.

Events appeared already to have decided. The invasion of the Teutons and the Cimbri was like the pouring in of two great rivers. Each division consisted of hundreds of thousands. They travelled with their wives and children, their wagons, as with the ancient Scythians and with the modern South African Dutch, being at once their conveyance and their home. Gray- haired priestesses tramped along among them, barefooted, in white linen dresses, the knife at their girdle; northern Iphigenias, sacrificing prisoners as they were taken to the gods of Valhalla. On they swept, eating up the country, and the people flying before them. In 113 B.C. the skirts of the Cimbri had encountered a small Roman force near Trieste, and destroyed it. Four years later another attempt was made to stop them, but the Roman army was beaten and its camp taken. The Cimbrian host did not, however, turn at that time upon Italy. Their aim was the south of France. They made their way through the Alps into Switzerland, where the Helvetii joined them, and the united mass rolled over the Jura and down the bank of the Rhone. Roused at last into exertion, the Senate sent into Gaul the largest force which the Romans had ever brought into the field. They met the Cimbri at Orange, and were simply annihilated. Eighty thousand Romans and forty thousand camp-followers were said to have fallen. The numbers in such cases are generally exaggerated, but the extravagance of the report is a witness to the greatness of the overthrow. The Romans had received a worse blow than at Cannae. They were brave enough, but they were commanded by persons whose recommendations for command were birth or fortune; "preposterous men," as Marius termed them, who had waited for their appointment to open the military manuals.

Had the Cimbri chosen at this moment to recross the Alps into Italy, they had only to go and take possession, and Alaric would have been antedated by five centuries. In great danger it was the Senate's business to suspend the constitution. The constitution was set aside now, but it was set aside by the people themselves, not by the Senate. One man only could save the country, and that man was Marius. His consulship was over, and custom forbade his re-election. The Senate might have appointed him dictator, but would not. The people, custom or no custom, chose him consul a second time--a significant acknowledgment that the Empire, which had been won by the sword, must be held by the sword, and that the sword itself must be held by the hand that was best fitted to use it. Marius first triumphed for his African victory, and, as an intimation to the Senate that the power for the moment was his and not theirs, he entered the Curia in his triumphal dress. He then prepared for the barbarians who, to the alarmed imagination of the city, were already knocking at its gates. Time was the important element in the matter. Had the Cimbri come at once after their victory at Orange, Italy had been theirs. But they did not come. With the unguided movements of some wild force of nature they swerved away through Aquitaine to the Pyrenees. They swept across the mountains into Spain. Thence, turning north, they passed up the Atlantic coast and round to the Seine, the Gauls flying before them; thence on to the Rhine, where the vast body of the Teutons joined them and fresh detachments of the Helvetii. It was as if some vast tide-wave had surged over the country and rolled through it, searching out the easiest passages. At length, in two divisions, the invaders moved definitely toward Italy, the Cimbri following their old tracks by the eastern Alps toward Aquileia and the Adriatic, the Teutons passing down through Provence and making for the road along the Mediterranean. Two years had been consumed in these wanderings, and Marius was by this time ready for them. The Senate had dropped the reins, and no longer governed or misgoverned; the popular party, represented by the army, was supreme. Marius was continued in office, and was a fourth time consul. He had completed his military reforms, and the army was now a professional service, with regular pay. Trained corps of engineers were attached to each legion. The campaigns of the Romans were thenceforward to be conducted with spade and pickaxe as much as with sword and javelin, and the soldiers learnt the use of tools as well as arms. Moral discipline was not forgotten. The foulest of human vices was growing fashionable in high society in the capital. It was not allowed to make its way into the army. An officer in one of the legions, a near relative of Marius, made filthy overtures to one of his men. The man replied with a thrust of his sword, and Marius publicly thanked and decorated him.

The effect of the change was like enchantment. The delay of the Germans made it unnecessary to wait for them in Italy. Leaving Catulus, his colleague in the consulship, to check the Cimbri in Venetia, Marius went himself, taking Sylla with him, into the south of France. As the barbarian host came on, he occupied a fortified camp near Aix. He allowed the enormous procession to roll past him in their wagons toward the Alps. Then, following cautiously, he watched his opportunity to fall on them. The Teutons were brave, but they had no longer mere legionaries to fight with, but a powerful machine, and the entire mass of them, men, women, and children, in numbers which however uncertain were rather those of a nation than an army, were swept out of existence.

The Teutons were destroyed on the 20th of July, 102. In the year following the same fate overtook their comrades. The Cimbri had forced the passes through the mountains. They had beaten the unscientific patrician Catulus, and had driven him back on the Po. But Marius came to his rescue. The Cimbri were cut to pieces near Mantua, in the summer of 101, and Italy was saved.

The victories of Marius mark a new epoch in Roman history. The legions were no longer the levy of the citizens in arms, who were themselves the State for which they fought. The legionaries were citizens still. They had votes, and they used them; but they were professional soldiers with the modes of thought which belong to soldiers, and beside the power of the hustings was now the power of the sword. The constitution remained to appearance intact, and means were devised sufficient to encounter, it might be supposed, the new danger. Standing armies were prohibited in Italy. Victorious generals returning from campaigns abroad were required to disband their legions on entering the sacred soil. But the materials of these legions remained a distinct order from the rest of the population, capable of instant combination, and in combination irresistible save by opposing combinations of the same kind. The Senate might continue to debate, the Comitia might elect the annual magistrates. The established institutions preserved the form and something of the reality of power in a people governed so much by habit as the Romans. There is a long twilight between the time when a god is first suspected to be an idol and his final overthrow. But the aristocracy had made the first inroad on the constitution by interfering at the elections with their armed followers and killing their antagonists. The example once set could not fail to be repeated, and the rule of an organized force was becoming the only possible protection against the rule of mobs, patrician or plebeian.

The danger from the Germans was no sooner gone than political anarchy broke loose again. Marius, the man of the people, was the saviour of his country. He was made consul a fifth time and a sixth. The party which had given him his command shared, of course, in his pre-eminence. The elections could be no longer interfered with or the voters intimidated. The public offices were filled with the most violent agitators, who believed that the time had come to revenge the Gracchi and carry out the democratic revolution, to establish the ideal Republic and the direct rule of the citizen assembly. This, too, was a chimera. If the Roman Senate could not govern, far less could the Roman mob govern. Marius stood aside and let the voices rage. He could not be expected to support a system which had brought the country so near to ruin. He had no belief in the visions of the demagogues, but the time was not ripe to make an end of it all. Had he tried, the army would not have gone with him, so he sat still till faction had done its work. The popular heroes of the hour were the tribune Saturninus and the praetor Glaucia. They carried corn laws and land laws--whatever laws they pleased to propose. The administration remaining with the Senate, they carried a vote that every senator should take an oath to execute their laws under penalty of fine and expulsion. Marius did not like it, and even opposed it, but let it pass at last. The senators, cowed and humiliated, consented to take the oath, all but one, Marius's old friend and commander in Africa, Caecilius Metellus. No stain had ever rested on the name of Metellus. He had accepted no bribes. He had half beaten Jugurtha, for Marius to finish; and Marius himself stood in a semi-feudal relation to him. It was unlucky for the democrats that they had found so honorable an opponent. Metellus persisted in refusal. Saturninus sent a guard to the senate-house, dragged him out, and expelled him from the city. Aristocrats and their partisans were hustled and killed in the street. The patricians had spilt the first blood in the massacre in 121: now it was the turn of the mob.

Marius was an indifferent politician. He perceived as well as any one that violence must not go on, but he hesitated to put it down. He knew that the aristocracy feared and hated him. Between them and the people's consul no alliance was possible. He did not care to alienate his friends, and there may have been other difficulties which we do not know in his way. The army itself was perhaps divided. On the popular side there were two parties: a moderate one, represented by Memmius, who, as tribune, had impeached the senators for the Jugurthine infamies; the other, the advanced radicals, led by Glaucia and Saturninus. Memmius and Glaucia were both candidates for the consulship; and as Memmius was likely to succeed, he was murdered.

Revolutions proceed like the acts of a drama, and each act is divided into scenes which follow one another with singular uniformity. Ruling powers make themselves hated by tyranny and incapacity. An opposition is formed against them, composed of all sorts, lovers of order and lovers of disorder, reasonable men and fanatics, business-like men and men of theory. The opposition succeeds; the government is overthrown; the victors divide into a moderate party and an advanced party. The advanced party go to the front, till they discredit themselves with crime or folly. The wheel has then gone round, and the reaction sets in. The murder of Memmius alienated fatally the respectable citizens. Saturninus and Glaucia were declared public enemies. They seized the Capitol, and blockaded it. Patrician Rome turned out and besieged them, and Marius had to interfere. The demagogues and their friends surrendered, and were confined in the Curia Hostilia till they could be tried. The noble lords could not allow such detested enemies the chance of an acquittal. To them a radical was a foe of mankind, to be hunted down like a wolf, when a chance was offered to destroy him. By the law of Caius Gracchus no citizen could be put to death without a trial. The persons of Saturninus and Glaucia were doubly sacred, for one was tribune and the other praetor. But the patricians were satisfied that they deserved to be executed, and in such a frame of mind it seemed but virtue to execute them. They tore off the roof of the senate house, and pelted the miserable wretches to death with stones and tiles.

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