Gaius Marius: Biography & Quotes

Instructor: Flint Johnson

Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow

This lesson will be about Gaius Marius, one of the most respected leaders of the Roman Republic and the only man to be voted a consul of Rome seven times.

Who was Gaius Marius?

Gaius Marius was born with a chip on his shoulder that eventually guided his entire career. He was born in Arpinum in 157 B.C.E., only 33 years after the city was given full citizenship by the Roman Republic. Because of that, Marius was considered a novus homo, or new man, during the early part of his career. That title was his chip, as it made him feel like an outsider in Rome. And because of it, he was always striving for better. When something was a little out of his grasp, he was willing to do anything to get it anyway.

Despite being an outsider, Marius was a member of the landed elite. He served in the military at Numantia, which is where he first made a name for himself as a good soldier. Marius was voted as one of the military tribunes. In the military, the tribune was a rank between a modern captain and a general, but in the Republic a young man (Marius was in his early twenties) could also use it as a stepping stone to the Senate.

Statue of Gaius Marius
Gaius Marius

Political Rise by Military Accomplishments

Out of the military, Marius pursued politics. As a plebeian tribune in 119 B.C.E., he protected poor voters from the influence of the rich. As a governor of Lusitania in 114, he rooted out marauders. In 113 he returned to Rome and married Julia Caesar, aunt of Julius Caesar and a member of one of the patrician families. In 109 he was the second-in-command of the army during the war against the Jugurtha. His successes there and his willingness to work side-by-side with the soldiers won him supporters and an election to consul in 107.

As consul, Marius' most important laws were the Marian Reforms, which said that all Roman citizens were eligible for the army, even if they did not own land. The new laws gave him enough manpower to counter the threat of invasion.

Marius did not seek another election; being at the top of the government and so well respected probably kept him satisfied. But a series of events brought him back to the consulship anyway. When a general from an old family refused to cooperate with another new man like Marius during a campaign along the Rhone, it led to both their armies being destroyed and to Italy being left open to invasion by the Cimbri and Teutones. Marius, the most successful and most respected general in the Republic, was elected consul in 104 in order to protect Rome. He was elected consecutively through 100. He then retired.

Ending the Republic

Marius was called back to Rome during the Social War (91-88 B.C.E.) as a general but retired in its early stages due to poor health. For the first time since his early career he had run up against something that he could not overcome, and he couldn't deal with it. When in 88 Pontus threatened to conquer the eastern provinces and Consul Sulla was selected to lead the army, Marius manipulated the situation to have himself selected instead.

This wasn't like the successes of his youth, though. Sulla refused to accept the change of command and marched on Rome in its first civil war. The Senate immediately gave Sulla command of the campaign again, but as soon as he left Marius marched on Rome as a hero. He had himself elected as consul for a seventh time in 86 B.C.E. and died within days of his election.

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