Cry, Republic: Marius
by: Aldus Marius Peregrinus
Salvete omnes...

We continue our journey past the various signposts that, had the boni been paying attention, could have warned of the fall of the Republic. This one's about Marius.

The career of Gaius Marius: Marius, of all the Famous Names of the period, is the only one whose effects on the mos maiorem were not only largely unintentional, but almost accidental. He certainly did campaign for Consul while serving under Metellus Numidicus during the Jugurthine War; he certainly did, shortly before his death, force himself into a seventh Consulship after spilling a hefty quantity of his adversaries' blood. During his sixth ("home game") Consulship, he variously sponsored or squelched assorted Senate measures; and he managed, rather disgracefully, to rid himself of a few of his too-zealous supporters. Afters, he sought a command in the Social Wars.

This is the sum total of his intentional change-the-world activity. Everything else, including almost all the ways he did change the world, can be traced either to his military reforms, or to circumstance.

His civilian career was a series of fits and starts. He was no politician; I don't think he did anything in that arena which would have set off a smoke-alarm, let alone rung the death-knell of the Republic. Mostly he was a soldier trying (not very well) to play a statesman's game; not unlike U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who should have stuck to naval engineering, or gone into social work. Gaius Marius was a master on the battlefield; in Roma Mater things weren't quite so clear-cut.

And yet, he did manage to secure that first Consulship. Now in command of his former commander, he showed 'em how the professionals do it. The war in Africa had been marked by corruption and command-staff laziness; Gaius Marius gave the People what they wanted: victories in the field, tales of derring-do, and a fairly speedy resolution to the war.

In short, he established himself as a military hero. So when the Germans came...? --Get Marius. "But wait! To be at all effective, he'd have to still be Consul!" ...Ummm... Hmm. Err, uh...Okay (wince).

Just like teaching a parrot new words, the first one was the hardest. After that, and until his sixth Consulship, he was always in the field--and badly needed there--when it came time for re-election. This was not Marius' doing. It wasn't anybody's doing, really; it was only the consequence of the Republic having no effective means of dealing with the administration of a long war. And this was a hundred years after the War with Hannibal! The Senate had time to think about this, amici. But the only thinking seemed to be along the lines of "Oh, that's never gonna happen again..." Oh, really?

The violation of tradition, in this case the practice regarding election of Consuls, can be regretted as a sad thing. But it was also, under the circumstances, and given the lack of any legitimate alternative, the only thing that could have been done at the time.

Marius' military reforms: These are things my distinguished adopted ancestor did deliberately. Working in his field of expertise, he did them very well. Like the extended-command problem, the structure of the Republican Roman Army is really something that should have been established by the Senate. But as with that issue, the Senate didn't really seem to be in an "establishing" mood that saeculum... (And I thought the U.S. Congress was slow!)

A hundred years after Hannibal's War, someone finally did something for the landless poor: Marius carved out a niche for them in the Legions. For the first time in that long, a poor man had a shot at glory, or at least a chance to make something of himself, or at very least a steady paycheck and a watertight place to sleep. Then as now, the armed forces were "A Great Place to Start". And for the first time ever, the completely landless were invited to take part in their country's defense. Poor Romans desire these things just as strongly as rich ones. Scorned, always, as not worth anything except as scratch-marks on the Censors' tally, the grandsons of Punic War vets could now show the Senate that they, too, could be brave.

Was Gaius Marius all that deeply concerned about the poor? --Not necessarily; he just needed soldiers, and the landed ones had mostly been wasted by incompetent generals (mainly political appointees; why do we still do this? --It's never worked) or Consular one-upmanship (see the Battle [ !hah! ] of Arausio). And where else was an impoverished soldier going to get his arms, his armor, his horse (if cavalry), if not from the government? Who would pay him, and when? --The Senate dragged its feet on all this, and Marius had made promises to his troops, so until the boni could be gotten to see the light, he paid his soldiers--he equipped them--and it didn't take much of that before the Legions knew full well who could be counted on to look after their interests!

Marius improved the organization and combat tactics of the army. He changed the way they marched, the way they camped, the way they chucked a pilum, and possibly the shapes of their shields. He gave them their Eagle-standards, which fostered unit identity and unit pride. All this, plus they'd fought together in two long campaigns, plus they'd come to feel that they owed him everything, especially everything that stingy, contemptuous Senate refused to give them. Is it any wonder there was that shift in where their loyalties lay?

Sadly, not everyone who took advantage of Marius' reforms put the new troop psychology to beneficent use.

I don't think Gaius Marius set out to "professionalize" the army. I think it needed to be done; I think, as with so much else during this time-period, that the Senate should have done it. Since it had to be done by someone else, I'm glad it was someone who knew what he was doing in a military sense. What his reforms did in a societal sense, I don't think anyone could have anticipated.

Marius did have a little bit of foresight about the land distribution. He knew that the reason his recruits were showing up penniless for boot camp was because they had no farms or other work and they were still paying off their grandfathers' debts. The land situation had gotten very skewed in the hundred years since Hannibal. Marius knew, or sensed, that if his veterans did not obtain land upon retirement, they were going to be right back where they'd started when they were recruits. So he lobbied the Senate incessantly about land for his veterans, land nobody else was using, to the point where that issue colored almost everything else he did in politics. It might fairly be called an obsession of his.

Marius' whole career seemed to be about proving that even the least-regarded of Rome's Citizens were still worth something, and that Rome was best served by letting them have it. Unfortunately, the boni were falling deeper and deeper into the delusion that only certain types of people were important in anything: landed Romans, preferably rich ones, especially Patricians, particularly Senators, and, oh yes, boni Senators above all the rest. There was absolutely nothing in that worldview to permit the orderly rise and recognition of a Plebeian or non-boni Patrician with enormous talent. In the boni world, such things didn't exist, so they were always most reluctant to make provision for them.
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Bene, I might've known that me writing about Marius was going to be a chapter all by itself...! >({|;-)

I do not disagree with those who would include Gaius Marius on the list of ancient Romans who were probably touched by mental illness. I see old Marius, six times Consul, Father of his Country and Third Founder of Rome...falling sharply and painfully in popular esteem, until a man he'd trained and trusted declared him an Enemy of the State and forced him into exile. I see him fleeing to North Africa, huddling naked in the reed-beds, turned away by otherwise-kind people because of the price on his head. From Third Founder to hunted thing...I believe this did something to his mind, as any prolonged traumatic experience will. I think by the time he made it back to Rome there was nothing left in him but the Beast in the Swamp.

A tragic thing, that, and at his age, too--I think he was in his seventies. A thing for solemnity and propitiation. Not something to be dismissed with the word 'psycho'.

In amicitia et fide,
Marius the Wanderer: Storyteller and Citizen of Rome
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