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Fall Of The Roman Republic

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Fall of the Roman Republic

By Ryan Anderson

Arguably the greatest contribution to the eventual downfall of the Roman Republic was the institution of Gaius Marius' popular, yet dangerous reforms, and his repeated usage of questionable political tactics to achieve his underlying personal goals. By undermining the power of the senate through illegal political conduct, and by introducing reforms that created the open potential for abuse of military power, Marius paved the way for future military monarchies, civil conflict and the eventual downfall and segregation of the Roman Republic.

In the decade before Marius, the senatorial oligarchy, having been undermined by the various reforms posed by the tribunates of the Gracchi, was reasserting control. Talk of revolution amongst the Roman people had settled. During this time the Caecilii/Matelli family was in political control and the senate had shifted its concerns from an uprising of the proletariat class, to foreign affairs and potential explosive developments of war.

Marius was born southeast of Rome, in Arpinum. A Novus Homo with a moderately wealthy family, Plutarch notes that Marius' upbringing was "rough and unrefined" but also "temperate and in accordance with the ancient roman standards of education".1 The ancient Greek historian Plutarch, having written the most complete account of Marius' life and career, is a valuable source, but must be approached with caution due to his obvious bias. As a source of personal information, Plutarch used the memoirs of Marius' enemies Sullu and Rufus, and in the process adopted the ideas and general bias they impress on Marius.

Marius began his military career fighting in Spain but made a name for himself in 133 when he was sent to fight as a junior officer in Numantia, under the commandment of a powerful Scipio family member, Scipio Aemilianus. It wasn't long before Aemilianus noticed Marius' incredible natural ability, and respecting his interest in politics, chose to support his cause. Sallust describes Marius in his youth as a "hard worker", "a man of integrity" and "an experienced soldier"2 and it seems many others, such as Aemilianus, noticed these characteristics. The roman historian Sallust presents a mostly favorable account of Marius, and is one of the greatest sources of information on the individual. Sallust was friends with Marius' nephew so presents a bias favoring Marius' actions and highlighting his strong points. As a Novus Homo, Marius quickly learnt that he needed political backing such as Scorpios' to be taken seriously. Plutarch makes the observation that perhaps it was owing to Scipio's acknowledgement of his natural talent that he began to aim high.

In 119 after gaining the respect of the extremely powerful Matellus family, Marius became a Tribune. Without wasting any time, he began his long climb up the political ladder. By attempting to pass a senatorially unpopular bill, Marius showed the legions of commoners that he was not afraid to displease other senators, and won the initial respect of the Roman public, making the impression that he would favor neither side at the expense of the general good. This plan paid off when Marius was made Praetor and later a governor of further Spain. At this point Marius may have had his sights on a simple political career, or he may have been aiming in a more sinister direction with the hopes of an eventual dictatorship. Whichever aim Marius had early on in his career, it is certain he was seeking glory in some form, and according to Sallust, "There was nothing he wouldn't do or say to make himself popular."3

Still focusing on improving his reputation, Marius married into the powerful Caesar family and eager to prove himself, went to fight under Metellus as a legate in the war against Jugurtha, the talented ruler of Numidia. After one year of fighting, Marius convinced the reluctant and unpleased Metellus to allow him to return to the senate and run for consulship. Sallust states that "although citizens of low birth had access to other magistracies, the consulship was still preserved, by custom, for noblemen" and goes on to say that "a self made man, however distinguished he might be and however admirable his achievements, was invariably considered unworthy of that honour, almost as if they were unclean."4 Bradley makes the observation that Marius was "obsessed to gain consulship, despite difficulties".5

In Rome, Marius was quick to rally support, claiming that he could run the campaign against Jugurtha more efficiently than Metellus and convincing the People of Rome that he would defeat all Numidian forces. Bradley notes that Marius made a promise to the assembly that if given consulship he would "kill Jugurtha or bring him to Rome alive,"4 a bold promise that paid off with the eventual appointment of his first consulship by the Comitia Centuriata in 107.

It wasn't long before Marius began what was to be a long line of misconduct by altering the senatorial laws in his own favor. Marius wanted to instantly assume the commandment of the army against Jugurtha, but a law created earlier by The Gracchi stipulated that consular provinces must be allocated prior to the election, making it illegal for Marius to take control of Metellus' Numidian campaign. The people of Rome, having elected Marius chiefly to take control of the military, would not stand for this, and with the encouragement of Marius and his newfound supporters, the peoples assembly passed a bill allowing Marius to go through with this previously senatorially unsanctioned action. Although the physical impact of this specific breach of senatorial code was insignificant when compared to the military reforms and later undermining of the senate Marius was responsible for, it was a turning point for the Roman people. By achieving their goals through protesting against the senate, the Romans learned they could achieve whatever they wanted if they put enough pressure on the senate, and with a consul who supported this type of behavior nothing could stop the non-aristocratic roman class from getting what they wanted, or what they were tricked into wanting.

Before Marius left for Jugurtha, he decided a total reform of the military system was necessary. The military recruitment system in place before Marius involved recruiting the army from the landowning masses of Rome. A.J Koutsoukis, author of History of the ancient world; Ancient Rome describes recruitment as an "unwelcome obligation" as it meant "a long time away from the family farm, and possible economic ruin."6 In an

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