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Glorious Marius: Rise of the Great General


 John Vanderlyn.  Caius Marius Admid the Ruins of Carthage . 9 October 2012. Public Domain.

John Vanderlyn. Caius Marius Admid the Ruins of Carthage. 9 October 2012. Public Domain.


Born in 157 BCE, in Arpinum, southern Latium, Marius was well-known as a Roman general who was the first to be elected consul 7 times. When Marius was running for consulship, he received tremendous support via his connections with the elites by marrying Julia, 1 as well as from his troops by humbling himself.. 2 The Italian traders were also supportive of Marius as he was able to conquer King Jugurtha. 3Throughout his career, he implemented the Marian Reforms which provided lower class Romans a chance to be part of the army. This unified the Romans as one, thus minimising risks of lower class Romans rising up against the Republic. Furthermore, with this reform, Rome now has sufficient manpower in the army, ready to take on wars anytime.
After the Social War (91-88 BCE), Sulla 4 was elected consul. Shortly after, he brought along the Roman army to initiate a civil war against Rome. 5 Clearly, Sulla wanted to take possession of Rome. Marius tried to prevent this with his own armed combatants but failed to do so as Sulla’s army outnumbered his. Amid civil war, Marius was almost caught by Sulla. Thankfully, Marius managed to leave Rome in time and reside in Africa. Therefore, escaping death and having the opportunity to establish a troop in Africa.
After civil war died down, Marius marched into Rome with his African troop, killing some of Sulla’s main supporters. Following which, Sulla received an order from the Senate to be exiled. As a reward for helping to subdue Sulla and his supporters, the Senate passed Marius’ seventh consulship without hesitation. However, Marius turned into a completely ruthless leader. As quoted by Nerdhal (2008), Plutarch concluded that this was likely due to the “long journey full of sufferings and bitterness” he encountered and “Marius, whose anger increased day by day and who thirsted for blood, kept on killing all whom he held in any suspicion.” Marius was no longer the righteous general which he was known for anymore…


Since Marius was a typical military man and novus homo 6 he was less eloquent than other politicians. However, the fact that he can hold consul 7 times meant that the romans felt a need for change -  what a real leader should be like. Romans now place an emphasis on a leader who could lead Rome to war victories. Another thing to note is that Rome forbade an individual from holding consulships for too many terms as that would lead Rome towards despotism. However, with Marius' capability to hold consul for numerous times, 7 it indicated and prompted a gradual shift from democratic to dictatorial governing in Rome.
Marius was undeniably an incredible general in his early career, with 1 of his noteworthy deeds as mentioned, the marian reforms. His reforms significantly paved the way for Rome to transit from a republic to an empire. He achieved this by changing military loyalties, such that the army would be loyal to the general instead of Rome. This sparked the beginning of a weakening of the Senate to the Roman army and this was well exploited by future dictators like Sulla and Caesar.
  1. the aunt of Julius Caesar
  2. He achieved this by humbling himself before the soldiers, doing the same labour and eating the same food as them
  3. Marius used a shorter time and smaller army than his rival, Metellus
  4. Marius' rival as Sulla was a politician who had very different views from Marius and who once took all of Marius’ credit for ending a war
  5. This was strictly against the traditions and laws
  6. Footnote 1
  7. with 5 years being a consecutive 5-year consulship



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Capogrossi, Colognesi, & Luigikopp, & Laura. (2014, November 13). Law and Power in the Making of the Roman Commonwealth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Clark, Jessica. (2014, May 27). Bad Politics: Defeats, Nobility, and New Men, 120–101 b.c.e.. In Triumph in Defeat: Military Loss and the Roman Republic. Oxford University Press. DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199336548.003.0006. 

Gaius Marius. (2004). Gaius Marius. In Encyclopedia of World Biography. 10(2), 264-265. Detroit: Gale.

Gambino, Michael.C. (2015). The military reforms of gaius marius in their social, economic, and political context (Order No. 1606640). ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1756261884). 

Gill, N.S. (2017, February 27). Roman Leaders at the End of the Republic: Marius. ThoughtCo. 

Lee, Brice. (2014). Arms and Armour, Roman. Warfare in the Roman Republic. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, LLC. 

Nerdahl, Michael. (2008). Pouring the Wrong Wax in the Literary Mold: Plutarch's “Marius” and Homer's “Odyssey”. College Literature. 35(4), 110-126.


Photo 1: Bruno Liljefors, Sea Eagle’s Nest, (10 July 2009). Public Domain.

Photo 2: Ulpiano Checa, Invasion of the Barbarians of The Huns approaching Rome, (29 June 2014). Public Domain.

Photo 3: Silvestre David Mirys, Gaius Gracchus, tribune of the people, presiding over the Plebeian Council, (1 March 2014). Public Domain.

Photo 4: Mark James Miller, Portrait of Julius Caesar (oil on canvas). Based on bust of the ruler from the British Museum, (20 August 2013). Public Domain.

Photo 5: CC0 PD (No attribution required).

Photo 6: Mary Macgregor, Gaius Marius sitting in exile amongf the ruins of Cartliaire, (1 September 2014). Public Domain.

Photo 7: Maccari Cicero, Cicero Denounces Catiline, (14 May 2016). Public Domain.

Matthias Kabel, Roman Aquila, (18 June 2005). CC BY-SA 3.0.

Photo 8: Charlotte Mary Yonge, Marius, (26 November 2006). Public Domain.

No author, Marius Glyptothek Munich, (22 February 2011). Public Domain.