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The Story of the Romans by  H. A. Guerber


 

 

THE FLIGHT OF MARIUS

WITH the battle-loving Romans, the end of one war was generally a signal for the beginning of another. So, as soon as the Social War was finished, they sent out an army against Mithridates, the most powerful king in the East at that time.

Marius had been preparing for this war, and hoped to be the general; but, to his great disappointment, the command was given to his rival, Sulla. The army had no sooner started than the envious Marius began to do all he could [161] to have Sulla recalled. His efforts were successful, for the Romans soon sent orders for Sulla to come home, and gave the command of the army to Marius instead.

When the officers came to tell Sulla that he must give up his position, he was so angry that he had the messengers put to death. Then, as his soldiers were devoted to him, they all asked him to lead them back to Rome, so that they might punish his enemies for slandering him behind his back.

This change of programme suited Sulla very well. Instead of going to Asia, he soon entered Rome, sword in hand, routed Marius and his party, and, after forcing them to seek safety in flight, took the lead in all public affairs.

Marius was declared an enemy of his country, and closely pursued by some of Sulla's friends. Although seventy years of age, he fled alone and on foot, and made his way down to the seashore. He then tried to escape on a vessel which he found there; but, unfortunately, the captain was a mean man, who, in fear of punishment, soon set Marius ashore and sailed away. The aged fugitive was then obliged to hide in the marshes; and for a long time he stood there buried in a quagmire up to his chin. Finally he was captured, and fell into the hands of the governor of Minturnæ.

Marius, the man who had enjoyed two triumphs, and had six times been consul of Rome, was now thrust into a dark and damp prison. A slave—one of the vanquished Cimbri—was then sent to his cell to cut off his head. But when the man entered, the prisoner proudly drew himself up, and, with flashing eye, asked him whether he dared lay hands upon Marius.

[162] Terrified by the gaunt and fierce old man, the slave fled, leaving the prison door open. The governor, who was very superstitious, now said it was clear that the gods did not wish Marius to perish; so he not only set the prisoner free, but helped him find a vessel which would take him to Carthage.

There, amid the ruins of that once mighty city, the aged Marius sat mourning his fate, until ordered away by the Roman guard, a man whom he had once befriended. Again Marius embarked, to go in search of another place of refuge; but, hearing that Cinna, one of his friends, had taken advantage of Sulla's absence from Rome to rally his party, he decided to return at once to Italy.


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