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Gaius Marius

Багерман А.Я.

Gaius Marius (157-86 BC) was born in 157 BCE near Arpinum, in the village of Ceretatae, in the former territory of the Volsci. He seemingly came from a rural equestrian family. The Marii were hereditary clients of the Gellii, but they were also connected to the house of the Caecilii Metelli.

According to Plutarch, Marius performed hard labor from a young age, becoming accustomed to enduring hunger, thirst, heat, and cold. When Marius reached the age of enlistment, he joined the military service, starting in Celtiberia, where Scipio Aemilianus was besieging Numantia. Observing the energetic, determined, and hardworking young man, Scipio already predicted a brilliant future for him.

Male portrait, the so-called Gaius Marius. Marble. Copy of the Augustan era from a portrait of the II century BC Height 34.5 cm. Munich, Glyptothek.


Marius' political career began in 119 BCE when the hopeful young man sought help from Quintus Caecilius Metellus, and largely thanks to him, obtained the position of plebeian tribune. A year after his term ended, Marius ran as a candidate for the office of aedile but failed in the elections. He then served as a praetor, but did not achieve any remarkable successes in this role either.

Marius, on the civil front, did not possess eloquence nor immense wealth, which at that time was influential in leading the people. However, the citizens highly valued him for his constant efforts and simple way of life (Plut. Mar., VI).

Marius was fortunate and managed to enter a advantageous marriage by marrying Julia, from the prominent Caesar family, which significantly brought him closer to the aristocrats. In 111 BCE, the Jugurthine War (111-105 BCE) began, and the Senate entrusted the command to the consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus. Marius went to this war as a legate, but he himself believed that he owed this appointment not to Metellus, but to his fortunate fate. Marius once again had the opportunity to be in his element of war. In Africa, he quickly gained the favor of the soldiers, "not shunning great efforts and not neglecting the small ones."

"Roman soldiers find it most pleasing to see their commander eat the same bread in front of them, sleep on a simple pallet, or dig trenches and set up palisades alongside them. Marius willingly shared all their hardships, which earned him immense love and respect. From the camp to Rome, people wrote that there would be no end or limit to the war with the barbarians until Gaius Marius was elected consul" (Plut. Mar., VII).

Naturally, such sentiments among the soldiers irritated the acting army commander. Additionally, Marius compelled Metellus to sentence his friend Turpilius to death. Since then, they openly became enemies, and when Marius announced his intention to run for the consulship, Metellus placed various obstacles in his way, releasing him to Rome only twenty days before the consular elections. Upon arriving in Rome, Marius addressed the eager crowd gathered to hear him, pleading for their support to grant him the consulship. He leveled numerous accusations against his former patron, Metellus, and promised to capture Jugurtha alive or dead.

Having been elected consul in 107 BCE, Marius was appointed as the supreme commander of the Roman forces in Numidia. Prior to his departure for Numidia, he began implementing his reform (or as many modern scholars believe, a series of military reforms). Contrary to customs, he enlisted all citizens into the army, disregarding property qualifications. This marked the beginning of the military reform. Military service attracted a multitude of impoverished proletarians since they now had the opportunity to regularly receive pay and gifts from the commander. Furthermore, upon completing their service, landless soldiers could obtain their own land allotment. In addition to the proletarians, Marius supplemented the army with auxiliary units recruited from allies and started summoning the bravest soldiers he knew from previous campaigns, personally persuading those who had already completed their term to accompany him. Under his leadership, the army set off to Numidia, and the war concluded within two years, ending in a complete victory for the Romans. Jugurtha, betrayed by his allies, was captured and brought to Rome, where he was imprisoned in an underground cell on the Capitoline Hill. It was during this time that Marius encountered the individual he would later wage a power struggle against in the final years of his life, namely the young patrician Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Sulla volunteered to negotiate with Bocchus regarding his betrayal of Jugurtha. Sulla successfully fulfilled the task entrusted to him, and for the rest of his life, he wore a ring engraved with the image of Bocchus and himself sitting on chairs while Jugurtha, bound and captured, knelt before them. Even then, Marius began to suspect Sulla's excessive ambitions and thirst for power.

Male portrait, the so-called Gaius Marius. Coarse-grained white marble. The Epoch of August. Height 0.34 m. Inv. No. 1488. Rome, Vatican Museums, Chiaramonti Museum, XIX. 13.

The Reforms of Gaius Marius

Looking at the history of Ancient Rome, we can observe that from the very foundation of the city to the last days of the Western Roman Empire, the state was engaged in almost continuous warfare. Often, it was the steadfastness, courage, military training, and diligence of the soldiers that saved the eternal city from destruction. The reason behind these truly grand achievements lies in the fact that military affairs became one of the main spheres of Roman life from the early days of the state's existence, shaping its character and worldview.

However, it was not only the bravery of Roman soldiers that allowed the initially small city-state to survive in long and bloody wars. Skillful commanders led their armies and often determined the outcome of battles through their personal valor. To a large extent, their successes enabled Roman civilization to occupy a worthy place in the annals of world history.

Gaius Marius became one such commander. Through his perseverance and diligence, he paved the way to fame and honor, making significant contributions to the defense and strengthening of the Roman state. According to Plutarch, even Caesar often sought to emulate Marius (Plut. Mar., VI). The uniqueness of Marius, his talent as a military leader, and his firsthand knowledge of the daily lives of ordinary soldiers largely characterize the military reforms he implemented.

Having been elected consul in 107 BC, Marius was appointed as the commander-in-chief of the Roman army in Numidia. "War demanded enormous material and human resources from the state, so the issue of recruits became particularly acute." At that time, Marius, contrary to custom, began enlisting all citizens into the army, disregarding property qualifications. This marked the beginning of a military reform "dictated by the overall economic and political situation that had developed in the Roman state in the late 2nd century." Military service attracted a large number of impoverished proletarians, as they now had the opportunity to receive regular pay and gifts from the commander, and most importantly, upon completion of their service, landless warriors could obtain their own plots of land.

In addition to the proletarians, Marius supplemented the troops with auxiliary units recruited from allies, and he began summoning the bravest soldiers he knew from previous campaigns, personally persuading those who had already completed their service to join him.

"Just think, fellow citizens," Marius would say at one of the soldiers' gatherings, "what you would achieve if you elected someone from this honorable class with a long line of portraits adorning their walls but no experience in warfare... Compare me to them. What they know from books or hearsay, I witnessed and was an active participant in. What they seek to find in books, I gained through practical experience. I believe that all people are equal by nature, but the noblest is the one most worthy. I am not afraid of being accused of ignorance by them. Indeed, I do not possess the art of organizing feasts, nor do I keep actors and expensive chefs. I am a rustic and simple man..." "As for you, soldiers," Marius would conclude his speech, "remember that I will never abandon you. Amidst dangers, I will always be with you and share your hardships. I will have everything in common with you..." (Sall. Bell. Jug., 85). Plutarch notes that Marius' arrogant words received the most criticism from the most distinguished Romans. However, the people, accustomed to measuring the greatness of the spirit by the eloquence of speeches, rejoiced upon hearing the Senate being insulted and praised Marius as a hero, thus encouraging him to spare no mercy for the best citizens (Plut. Marius, IX). Moreover, Marius knew that he had to fulfill the promise he made to the people. Under his leadership, the army set off to Numidia, and the war was concluded within two years, ending in a complete victory for the Romans. Jugurtha, the Numidian king betrayed by his allies, was captured and brought to Rome, where he was imprisoned in an underground cell on the Capitoline Hill. "For six days, he fought against hunger and clung to life until the last hour, but still suffered a punishment befitting his crimes" (Plut. Mar., VI).

"Mari". Marble. Republican era. Inv. MC 635. Rome, Capitoline Museums, New Palace, Great Hall.

Shortly before the end of the war in Africa, due to his military successes, Marius was elected consul in absentia in 104 BCE. Perhaps the fact that armies of his long-time enemies, the Germanic tribes of the Cimbri and Teutones, were moving towards Rome contributed to the violation of the tradition of a ten-year interval between re-elections to the consulship. As the appointed commander-in-chief in the war, Gaius Marius once again fully justified the hopes placed upon him.

Gathering his army, he arrived in Transalpine Gaul in 104 BCE, but the Germans had already crossed the Pyrenees. Marius adhered to a strictly defensive strategy, not venturing beyond the Roman borders. Meanwhile, the barbarians suffered several defeats in Spain and withdrew to the north, subjugating all the tribes from the Pyrenees to the Seine. In the region of the Volcae (near Rouen), the Cimbri received significant reinforcements, and it was then decided to undertake the long-discussed campaign into Italy. The Cimbri and Teutones planned to enter Italy through the familiar eastern Alpine passes, while the Teutones and Ambrones set off through Roman Gaul towards the western passes.

This allowed Marius to defeat the enemies individually: the Teutones at Aquae Sextiae (Gaul) in 102 BCE, and the Cimbri a year later in the Battle of Vercellae. Thus, the homeless Cimbrian people, together with their allies, disappeared from the face of the earth, as T. Mommsen wrote in his work "The History of Rome" (vol. 2, p. 136). Marius' military victories were, to a large extent, the result of the military reform he implemented in the Roman army, which by 100 BCE transformed it from a citizen army (recruitment of citizens in case of danger or military campaigns) into a professional army. These victories earned Marius great fame as a commander. He was elected consul six times in a row (from 105 to 100 BCE) and was hailed as the third founder of Rome.

In 103 BCE, Marius allied himself with Lucius Saturninus, a plebeian tribune of the people, to counter the Senate, which was dominated by the nobility (the highest aristocracy of Rome). The Senate saw Marius himself as an upstart, as they called him "Homo Novus" (a new man) back then. In ancient Rome, this term referred to a person of humble and little-known origin, or even from the plebeian class, who managed to attain the highest magistracies in the provinces or even in Rome itself. Saturninus helped Marius get elected consul for the third time in 102 BCE and actively fought against Marius' opponents among the nobility and in the Senate. In return, Marius aided Saturninus in becoming a tribune of the people in 101 BCE.

With the active assistance of Saturninus, Marius, through bribes and the support of his veterans, was reelected consul again in 100 BCE. A law was passed for the establishment of veteran colonies in Sicily, Macedonia, and Gaul, and a law was also enacted for the sale of bread at reduced prices. Soon, Marius was forced to sever his alliance with Saturninus due to the latter's radical views, and ultimately, Marius was compelled by the Senate to militarily suppress Saturninus' uprising and that of his supporters in the summer of 100 BCE.

Due to the suppression of Saturninus' uprising, Marius lost the support of the common people and never fully reconciled with the Senate. As a result, he spent most of the 90s BCE until the beginning of the Social War (91-88 BCE) in obscurity as a private citizen. It is unclear in which year during this period he was elected to the college of augurs. At the end of his consulship, he also made a trip to the East, where he met the rising power of Mithridates Eupator.

During the Social War, Gaius Marius fought as one of the legates under the consul Rutilius Lupus in the northern theater of operations. However, due to a series of failures and the deaths of other high-ranking officers, including Lupus himself, Marius was appointed by the Senate as the sole commander-in-chief of the Roman forces in the northern theater. Here, he managed to defeat the Marsi several times. However, his authority was not extended, and although he remained in office, sources claim that Marius relinquished his powers due to old age and illness, as he was already over 65 years old. See Plutarch, "Life of Marius," 32 (according to the 1994 edition).

At the end of the Social War, a confrontation between Rome and Mithridates Eupator erupted in the East over the eastern provinces of Rome. This war seemed like an easy task and promised great wealth and glory. Many politicians began vying for the right to be appointed as the commander of the Roman forces in the East to fight against Mithridates (the First Mithridatic War, 89-85 BCE), but Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla were the most active rivals for this position. In 88 BCE, Sulla was elected as one of the two consuls for that year. Marius, desiring to obtain the coveted post of commander, formed an alliance with the plebeian tribune Publius Sulpicius.

Sulpicius drafted a series of laws: one for the distribution of new citizens among all the tribes (which would have given them full civil rights), one for the return of exiles convicted under the Varian Law, and one for the removal from the Senate of the nobles whose debts exceeded two thousand denarii. However, to implement these laws, he formed an alliance with Marius in exchange for Marius's support in his appointment as the commander of the Roman forces in the East to fight against Mithridates.

Soon, clashes erupted on the streets of Rome, but the balance tipped in Sulpicius's favor. Sulla left Rome to join his troops, but in his absence, Sulpicius enforced his laws and granted Marius the authority of a proconsul. Following Sulla's departure, military tribunes were sent to demand the transfer of command over the army to Marius. However, the troops, who had been prepared in advance by Sulla, who told them that they would be disbanded and replaced with new soldiers with whom Marius would march to the East, beat the messengers of Marius and, together with Sulla, advanced on Rome.

Soon after the battle on the streets of Rome, Sulpicius was killed, and Marius fled from Rome. Sulla, who had taken control of Rome with the support of the people and the Senate, declared Marius, Sulpicius, and their supporters enemies of the state. This is how the year 88 BCE passed. Marius wandered as a fugitive until he settled on the island of Cercina off the African coast, along with some of his supporters. Plutarch provides a detailed account of Marius's wanderings during this period in his work "Parallel Lives - Life of Marius," 35-40, Volume 3 (according to the 1994 edition). While Marius was in exile, Sulla resolved all his affairs and set out for Greece and then to the East to continue the war against Mithridates, serving as a proconsul. In Rome, two new consuls were elected for the year 87 BCE.

One of the consuls, Lucius Cornelius Cinna, attempted to reintroduce Sulpicius's law on the distribution of new citizens among all the tribes, for which he was expelled from Rome and stripped of his consulship. Then Cinna formed an alliance with Marius, gathered troops, and marched on Rome. Marius commanded the troops during the campaign to Rome and eventually, after a brief resistance, managed to seize Rome.

According to ancient sources, after the capture of Rome, a reign of terror began against the opponents of Marius and Cinna. Many contemporaries were shocked not only by the fact of the terror but also by the extrajudicial killings of many politicians who had once served as consuls and proconsuls.

Furthermore, Marius declared himself consul for the year 86 BCE, making him a seven-time holder of that position, without the approval of the assembly of the people. However, shortly thereafter, due to health problems and the mental strain of the previous few months, Marius passed away in January 86 BCE.

Inscription on the base of the statue dedicated to Gaius Marius. I century AD Copy. Inv. MCR 169. Rome, Museum of Roman Culture.

The struggle against the Cimbri and Teutones

Returning to Marius's transformations, it should be noted that his military reform (or rather, a whole complex of interconnected changes) cannot be attributed to a specific year. The most important part of these reforms, namely the enlistment of proletarians into the army, can be traced back to Marius's first consulship in 107 BCE, before his departure to Africa. The other reforms, which will be discussed below, were apparently implemented gradually during his five consulships from 104 to 100 BCE. "It is hardly possible to speak of army reorganization measures as a unified, systematic military reform. Most likely, it was a complex of measures of a social, organizational, and tactical nature dictated by the internal and external circumstances." Without a doubt, deviating from the previous recruitment system gave the Roman army new strength to develop and address crucial foreign policy challenges. The reform, met with resistance by the aristocracy, proved its effectiveness, allowing the Romans to defeat Jugurtha and face the approaching Cimbri and Teutones with dignity.

"Even before his return from Africa, Marius, riding the wave of glory, was re-elected consul in 104 BCE. Although it was not customary to elect a candidate who was not in Rome and had not passed the prescribed term (10 years) since his previous consulship." Marius, as we remember, was consul in 105 BCE and, at the time of the elections, was in Africa. However, this did not prevent the Romans from going against the rules and re-electing him to the highest office. According to Theodor Mommsen, "he deliberately mocked the class spirit of the aristocracy, which, in its attitude towards Marius, revealed all its dullness and short-sightedness." The rider from Arpinum turned everything upside down, and his second election as consul was made contrary to traditions, but the fear of the Romans before the approaching threat outweighed any written or unwritten rules. "The people expelled everyone who opposed Marius, believing that sacrifices are made for the public good not for the first time and that there is now an equally weighty reason for it as there was when Scipio was elected consul against the law: (he was too young and did not follow all the career steps leading to the position of consul) after all, back then they were not afraid of the destruction of their own city, they just wanted to destroy Carthage." (Plutarch, Marius, XII). The Romans suffered a series of defeats from the Germans: in 113 BCE in Noricum, in 109 BCE from the Allobroges, in 107 BCE at the Upper Garonne, and in 105 BCE at Arausio when over 80,000 Romans were killed or captured.

Appointed as the supreme commander in the war, Gaius Marius once again fully justified the hopes placed upon him. Having gathered an army, he arrived in Transalpine Gaul in 104 BCE, but the Germans had already crossed the Pyrenees. Marius adhered to a strictly defensive tactic, not venturing beyond the Roman borders. Meanwhile, the barbarians suffered a series of defeats in Spain and withdrew to the north, subjugating all the tribes from the Pyrenees to the Seine. In the region of the Vellocasses (near Rouen), the Cimbri received significant reinforcement, and it was then decided to carry out the repeatedly discussed campaign into Italy. The Cimbri and Teutones decided to enter Italy through the familiar eastern Alpine passes, while the Teutones and Ambrones headed through Roman Gaul towards the western passes.

This allowed Marius to defeat the opponents individually: the Teutones near Aquae Sextiae (Gaul) in 102 BCE, and the Cimbri a year later in the Battle of Vercellae. Thus, the homeless Cimbrian people along with their allies vanished from the face of the earth.

With these victories, Marius gained great fame as a military commander. He was elected consul six times in a row (from 105 to 100 BCE) and was proclaimed the third founder of Rome. But these events are of interest to us primarily because they are closely interconnected with Marius's reforms, largely determining each other. The victories were a result of the reorganization of the troops, and the reorganization itself was largely carried out based on the needs of the impending war. In any case, by 100 BCE, the Roman army had undergone a complete transformation from a citizen army to a professional one.

Continuation of the reforms

Apparently, the army reforms conducted by Marius from 107 to 100 BCE were not premeditated or systematically planned. The changes were implemented without any prior agitation, and the Senate, "unaware of the possibility of such a turn of events, was confronted by Marius with the accomplished fact of admitting the indigent to the army."

Sallust reports, "He (Marius) conducted enlistment without adhering to the usual order, not based on social classes, but admitting anyone who wished to join, especially those from the indigent class" (Sall. Bell. Jug., 86).

"Even under normal conditions, replenishing the legions with military conscripts who met the property census requirements faced difficulties, so the extraordinary reinforcements that became necessary after the Battle of Arausio (105 BCE) could hardly be carried out while adhering to the existing rules."

The human resources of the Romans were exhausted, and the situation at that time was somewhat similar to the regal period when a new source of troops had to be found to address foreign policy challenges. Back then, the plebeians became that source after the reform conducted by Servius Tullius. Marius decided to follow a similar path by abolishing the previous restrictions determined by the property census.

Thus, now any free citizen could become a legionary, and "recruitment of landless paupers became the main source of replenishing the legions." The admission of the indigent into the army led to some improvement in the soldiers' material conditions. The state was forced to address the issue of providing the legionaries with material support (providing them with weapons, necessary equipment, and so on). Soldiers started receiving a predetermined pay for their service in the army and gifts from the commanders, who sought to gain popularity. After completing their term of service, soldiers hoped to receive plots of land.

When embarking on these reforms, Marius naturally could not limit himself to just introducing a new recruitment system. The entire military system, which had developed about 150 years ago, required changes as it was no longer capable of fulfilling its assigned tasks.

Tactical and organizational innovations

In the Roman military system before Marius, the wealth census played an important role in troop composition. "The richest served in the cavalry, the middle class in heavy infantry, and the rest in light infantry." "Each of these ranks held a specific and permanently established position in the battle formation, with its own military rank and distinctive military insignia." Marius abolished all these distinctions, eliminating the division of legions into velites, hastati, principes, and triarii. From that moment on, legions were formed and composed of equally armed and trained warriors. Velites were excluded from their composition, and separate units of archers and slingers were recruited from them.

The civilian cavalry also ceased to exist as a separate branch of the military. "In practice, the cavalry, which was supposed to be recruited from the wealthiest citizens, had already ceased to participate in campaigns before Marius. In the war against Jugurtha, this cavalry served as something like an honorary guard for the commander-in-chief and foreign princes, and since then, this type of troops completely disappeared."20 It was replaced by a new heavily armed Thracian and lightly armed African cavalry, whose recruitment had already taken place before Marius. In general, the inhabitants of the provinces were increasingly being drawn into the service of the Roman army, from which auxiliary cavalry and infantry units called auxilia were formed. Such units usually retained their traditional combat techniques and armaments. They were used to engage in battle, cover flanks, or pursue the enemy. Additionally, units of Balearic slingers, Cretan archers, and Ligurian light infantry were recruited. Mommsen provides an example when troops were recruited from as far as Bithynia, distant from Rome, to combat the Cimbri.

Cohort tactics

Undoubtedly, one of the most significant tactical transformations carried out by Marius was the radical change in the legion's structure. In order to enhance the combat effectiveness of soldiers, Marius abolished the outdated division of the legion into 30 maniples. The problem was that the maniples, due to their small numbers, could not act as independent combat units, which limited the commander's initiative.

According to the new legion formation system, the number of soldiers in a legion now amounted to 6,000 (despite the 1,200 velites leaving the legion), divided into 10 cohorts, which became the new tactical units. Each cohort consisted of 600 soldiers and was divided into 3 maniples of 200 soldiers each. The depth of the cohort formation usually consisted of 8-10 ranks.

Overall, the advantages of Marius' introduced formation over the phalanx were evident. In practice, a large portion of soldiers in the phalanx remained idle during battle. Moreover, the phalanx was very vulnerable to attacks from the rear and flanks.

Mommsen refers to the maniples of the "Marian" legion as tactical units. Delbrück holds a different opinion, believing that the previous maniples could not be considered tactical units since they were too small and not truly independent. There were cases when one or several maniples could launch an attack, but as a rule, the whole echelon acted together.

The new system allowed the commander to act more widely, opening up new possibilities for tactical maneuvers. Now, much more attention was paid to the training of soldiers, who could adopt any formation and execute any movement. The commander could order the troops to form one, two, three, or even four lines; he could strengthen one line and weaken another, he could arrange them in a broken line and have cohorts back-to-back, thus forming a double front. Ultimately, he could move each cohort from one position to another.26

All of this provided significant advantages to the Roman army over the ordinary phalanx. Initially, the Roman phalanx was divided into echelons (lines), but with Marius, it was divided into numerous small tactical subdivisions that could either combine into a solid formation or flexibly change their formation: divide, turn in one direction or another.

Naturally, the creation of such a military organization required soldiers with iron discipline and training. But the Romans managed to overcome these difficulties, and cohort tactics became, in Delbrück's opinion, the highest level of precision that ancient infantry achieved in the development of the art of warfare. Now everything depended solely on the leadership talent of the commander, who did not need to invent new formations. He only needed to develop and apply the established ones.

The use of cohorts in battle was associated with difficulties related to the fact that the army had to represent a unified, well-coordinated mechanism obedient to the will of its commander. Overcoming these difficulties took centuries, and only one ancient state truly achieved it and thereby gained dominance over all others.

Structure of the Roman army after the reforms of Gaius Marius

Military Insignia

During the reforms of Marius, the military insignia of the previous four parts of the legion, depicting a wolf, a bull with a human head, a horse, and a boar, were abolished. These were likely the distinguishing symbols of cavalry units and three divisions of heavy infantry.

Marius replaced these insignia with new standards for cohorts and introduced a unified emblem (signum) for the entire legion, depicting a silver eagle.

However, there is no consensus on the change of symbols for the legion and its parts. For example, R. Kany argues that cohorts did not have their own standards, and the silver eagle was given by Marius to the entire legion, becoming the focal point for developing a sense of corporate identity. It became associated with the memory of the legion's military achievements and glory.

Such sentiments could not have emerged in earlier times since after each campaign, legionnaires would disperse and return to their homes. Now, with numerous ongoing wars, a certain stability was created within the legions.

Change in the Oath Form

Another innovation introduced by Marius was a change in the form of the oath. Previously, soldiers took an oath in the name of the consul, and since the consul held power for only one year, the oath was given for a year.

Now, soldiers entering military service took an oath for the entire duration of their service, not in the name of the consul but in the name of the state, i.e., senatus populusque Romanus (the Senate and the Roman People). Thus, the army was recognized as a permanent institution in theory.

All these changes resulted in the legionaries forming a homogeneous force, where each person's position was determined solely at the discretion of the officers. All differences in weaponry disappeared, and therefore, all recruits began receiving the same training.

Training and Education

Marius had very high requirements for the combat training of soldiers, for whom war became a profession, setting them apart from the previous peasant-militia. Publius Rutilius Rufus, Marius' associate in the Jugurthine War and consul in 105 BCE, compiled new rules for military training, which had many similarities to the training system of future gladiators.

Improvement of the Pilum

During the war with the Cimbri, Marius made changes to the design of the Roman pilum, a throwing spear with a thick wooden shaft measuring one and a half to two meters. According to Plutarch, "previously, the head was fastened to the shaft with two iron spikes, but Marius, leaving one of them in its original place, ordered the removal of the other and replaced it with a brittle wooden nail. As a result, when the spear struck an enemy shield, it didn't remain straight: the wooden nail would break, the iron spike would bend, and the bent tip firmly stuck in the shield while the shaft trailed on the ground" (Plut. Mar., XXI).


Artillery was used by the Roman army long before Marius, but during his time, each legion had a certain number of throwing machines at its disposal, enhancing its combat power. The main requirements that were always imposed on field artillery were mobility, maneuverability, and compactness, so as not to excessively burden the army during marches. "Artillery was used for conducting sieges, for defending field fortifications, as well as directly on the battlefield to bombard the enemy before the hand-to-hand combat began." Based on the articles "Construction and Classification of Throwing Machines" and "Artillery of the Roman Army," one can attempt to briefly characterize these machines.

The ballista, borrowed by the Romans from the Greeks, was a two-armed torsion machine that launched round projectiles along a relatively flat trajectory. Judging by the evidence, the ballista was quite popular during the late Republic period, and it can be considered the main artillery weapon of the legion.

Roman Ballista

The maximum caliber (the concept of caliber here differs from the modern one, and in this case, caliber is determined by the mass of the projectile) of the ballista was about 40 kilograms, with a firing range of 100 meters. Ballistae of such power were quite complex to construct, transport, and maintain. Therefore, a new machine was needed that was less demanding and easier to operate but no less powerful.

The Romans found a new design solution in the 3rd century and called it the onager, which means "wild ass" in translation. The onager represented a technological step forward, being a torsion throwing machine designed for overhead firing of stones or pots filled with incendiary mixtures. Essentially, it was a stone-thrower, with a construction that was significantly lighter than that of the ballista. With the onager, projectiles with a caliber two or even three times larger than that of the ballista could be launched. The layout of the onager, consisting of a horizontal frame and a vertical throwing arm with a sling, was so convenient that it remained virtually unchanged throughout antiquity.

In addition to technical improvements, military discipline and soldiers' loyalty to their leader played a significant role in Marius's brilliant victories.

"In the campaign, Marius hardened the troops, making the soldiers run a lot, undertake long marches, prepare their own food, and carry their own baggage." (Plut. Mar., VI) Throughout the Jugurthine War, Marius maintained discipline in the army, trying not to resort to punishments but appealing to the soldiers' conscience. At night, he personally visited the sentry posts, not so much out of mistrust but to make the soldiers more willing to endure hardships that their commander shared with them. Many attributed this to his desire for popularity, while others believed that the harsh life to which he was accustomed since childhood and all that is now considered misfortune were pleasures to him. (Sall. Bell. Jug., 100)

Onager firing a shot

Results of the reforms

The reforms carried out by Gaius Marius resulted in a complete upheaval in the Roman military organization, driven by purely military considerations and dictated by necessity, according to Mommsen's opinion. However, almost all researchers note that the reform had an impact on many aspects of society.

In the organization of the legion, all traces of civilian and aristocratic units disappeared, and only soldierly distinctions remained among the legionaries. Under the Roman banners, there were not only citizens defending their homeland but also people for whom military affairs became their main occupation and who sought to extract maximum benefit from it.

A new type of soldier began to emerge, who, by showing valor on the battlefields, considered themselves entitled to demand a share of the spoils from their commander and a portion of the conquered territory from the state. The camp became their only homeland, war their only science, and the general their sole source of hope.

An illustrative example of the new relationship between the commander, soldiers, and the state can be found in the case described by Plutarch. During the battle of Vercellae, Marius unlawfully granted citizenship to a thousand Camerians who had distinguished themselves in the battle. When he was called to account for it, he stated that at that moment, "The roar of weapons drowned out the voice of the law" (Plut. Mar., XXVIII). Marius' reform gave impetus to the emergence of a completely new social force in Rome, which constantly grew in strength. The peasant army gradually withdrew from military affairs, and its place was taken by a new army consisting of people who viewed things completely differently. Service in the legions now became a calling and a profession, losing its former significance as a duty for every citizen. The identity of the Roman people and the Roman military force became irreversibly separate; the terms not only became distinct in essence but often became opposite.

In a relatively short period of time, such an army was able to transform itself into not only a special and independent force within the state but also a force above the state. The reform, which filled the army with impoverished soldiers willing to do anything to earn their pay and increase it through military spoils, had the most unfortunate consequences for the Republic.

The maintenance of the army now fell on the state, which had to provide the soldiers with equipment. After completing their service, soldiers could not return to their land because they had none, so it was necessary to provide veterans with land, and this new responsibility fell on the commander.

Looking at the reforms from a military point of view, it can be confidently stated that, overall, the implemented changes had a positive result. The organization of the legion became more complex (legion-cohort-maniple), but the execution of tactical movements and the management of the legion became easier. The importance and role of the command staff in battle preparation and during the battle were increased. The technical equipment of the army was strengthened. Trenching tools started to be widely used, and engineering wagons appeared, although legionaries were still required to carry mandatory baggage. E.A. Razin also highlights some negative consequences of the reforms. For example, the consolidation of maniples reduced the legion's freedom of maneuver in rugged terrain. The tactical depth of the legion's battle order decreased. The abolition of velites (light infantry) reduced the ability to engage in and evade battle. The only form of combat now became decisive and swift attack.

Related topics

Roman Republic, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, Throwing Machines, Legion


Ancient literature

1. Appian. Civil Wars / Translated from Greek under the editorship of S. A. Zhebelev and O. O. Kruger. l.: OGIZ, 1935.

2. Livy Titus History of Rome from the foundation of the city. Moscow: AST, 2005.

3. Plutarch. Comparative biographies in 2 volumes, Moscow: Pravda, 1987.

4. Polybius. Universal History / Translated from the Greek by F. Mishchenko, Moscow: AST, 2004.

5. Sallust Gaius Crispus. Works / Translated by V. O. Gorenstein, Moscow: AST, 2005.

Modern Literature:

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2. Ignatenko A.V. Changes in the social composition and political role of the Roman army in the late II-early I centuries BC.

3. Dissertations for the degree of Candidate of Historical Sciences, Moscow: 1954.

4. Kanya R. Legion. Comprehensive information on all aspects of the Roman land army (http://xlegio.ru/armies/legio/legio.htm)

5. Kovalev S. I. Istoriya Rima [History of Rome]. 2nd ed. L.: LSU Publishing House, 1986.

6. Connolly P. Greece and Rome. Encyclopedia of Military History, Moscow: 2000.

7. Kulakovsky Yu. A. The Roman state and its army in their mutual relations and historical development. St. Petersburg: Tip. glavn. upr. Udelov, 1909.

8. Makhlayuk A.V. Roman wars. Under the sign of Mars, Moscow: Tsentrpoligraf Publ., 2003.

9. Mommsen T. Istoriya Rima [History of Rome]. Edited by F. V. Kiparisov and N. A. Mashkin, St. Petersburg: Nauka Publ., 2005, vol. II

10. Razin E. A. Lektsii po istorii voennogo iskusstva [Lectures on the history of military Art]. Moscow: Poligon Publ., 1994.

11. Sergeev V. S. Essays on the history of Ancient Rome, Moscow: OGIZ Publ., 1938.

12. Snezhkov I. M. Essays on military history. Fourth issue (Ancient World), Moscow: 1939.

13. Tyanave M. P. Military organization of the Roman Republic (before the reform of Maria). Tartu. 1974.

14. Utchenko S. L. Drevnyj Rim [Ancient Rome]. Events. People. Ideas, Moscow: Nauka Publ., 1969.

15. George W. Houston. "Design and classification of throwing machines". (www.xlegio.ru\ktp01.htm).

16. Gary Brueggeman. "Artillery of the Roman Land Army".