Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
MARIUS MOCKS THE AMBASSADORS OF THE CIMBRI
 WHILE Marius was carrying all before him, his colleague
Catulus was in a sorry plight.
He had found it impossible to hold the passes of the
Alps against the Cimbri, and had been forced to descend
into the plain of Northern Italy. Here he crossed the
river Adige, and encamped on its bank.
The Cimbri never doubted that they would be able to
conquer the Romans. Already they were elated to find
that the passes were not guarded. No tidings of the
terrible battle of Aquæ Sextiæ had yet come to daunt
And so, in the sheer pride of their strength, they
flung aside their clothing, and naked, climbed through
falling snow and over ice-clad rocks to the top of the
mountain passes. Then, turning their broad shields
into sledges, they boldly shot down the slopes on the
When they reached the Adige they saw the Roman camp
across the river. Before attacking it they determined
to dam the stream.
The Roman soldiers, as they watched the barbarians at
work, were amazed at their strength.
Giant trees were uprooted and flung into the river as
though they were saplings. Huge rocks, too, that
seemed beyond the strength of man to move, were hurled
into the bed of the Adige as though they were stones.
Who could fight with such men as these barbarians
seemed to be?
To the dismay of Catulus, his army decided that they
could not face such foes, and they began to steal out
 camp. It was evident that soon the whole army would
take to flight before it was attacked.
But the Consul could not let the soldiers so disgrace
their fame. Rather would he take upon himself the
blame of having ordered a retreat. So, seizing the
Roman eagle, he hastened with it to the front of his
men, and himself led them away.
When the Cimbri saw that most of the Romans had left
their camp they crossed the river and captured it, in
spite of the brave defence of those who had scorned to
turn their backs upon an enemy.
The barbarians showed that they could respect courage,
for they spared the lives of these brave soldiers. But
before they let them go they made them swear upon their
brazen bull to observe certain conditions. Now the
brazen bull was to these barbarians sacred as a god.
When, a short time after this, the Cimbri were
defeated, the bull was carried away with other spoil,
and treasured by Catulus in memory of his victory.
After taking the Roman camp, the barbarians wandered
through the plains of Lombardy, burning and plundering
wherever they went.
Marius, meanwhile, after his victory over the Teutones
and Ambrones, was recalled to Rome, and voted a
Hearing, however, that Catulus was in danger from the
barbarians, he would not stay to celebrate it, but
hastened to join his colleague.
The two Consuls met near the river Po, and crossing the
river they found the Cimbri at Vercellæ.
Here the barbarians expected each day to be joined by
the Teutones and Ambrones.
As they did not wish to fight until their allies
arrived, they pretended that they were anxious to make
terms with Marius, and sent to ask him to give them
land for themselves and their brethren.
 "Who are your brethren?" the Consul asked the
ambassadors who stood before him.
"The Teutones," answered they.
Those who surrounded Marius laughed, for well they knew
what had befallen the Teutones.
"Do not trouble yourselves for your brethren," replied
Marius, taunting them, "for we have already provided
land for them, which they shall possess for ever."
Then the ambassadors understood that their brethren lay
slain upon the ground, and their anger rose. Fearless
of danger, they hurled threats at the Consul, saying
that the Cimbri and those Teutones who were still left
alive would avenge the death of their fellows.
"Their rulers are not far off," cried Marius. "It
will be unkindly done of you to go away before greeting
Then the kings of the Teutones, who had been captured,
were brought before the ambassadors, loaded with
Seeing how these mighty chiefs had been humbled, the
ambassadors were silent, and soon after they went back
to the Cimbri to tell them what they had heard and seen
in the Roman camp.
The Cimbri could not restrain their rage when they knew
what had befallen their allies. Three days later they
were on the plains of Vercellæ, impatient to avenge
Marius, too, was eager for battle. His cavalry, strong
as ever, wore that day strange helmets. Each one
looked like the head of some strange beast, while above
the head waved a lofty plume, that added to the height
of the soldier. Their white shields gleamed in the
sun, and their breastplates were of iron.
The day began in discomfort for the Cimbri. Cold and
frost they could endure, as they had shown when they
crossed the Alps, but heat soon made them weak and
 In vain they tried to shelter their faces with their
shields. The sun shone in their eyes, beat upon their
heads. Clouds of dust, too, were blowing, and hiding
them from the Romans, who, not seeing the great numbers
arrayed against them, fought the more fearlessly.
To help them to keep their ranks unbroken, the front
rows of the Cimbri were fastened together by long
chains, which were slipped through their belts. But
when the battle went against them these chains were a
source of danger.
On this day the Cimbri were worsted, and when the
Romans began to cut them down, the chains made it
impossible for those in the front to escape.
Those in the rear fled to their camp. But here, as in
the camp of the Ambrones, the women, clad in black,
mounted upon the wagons and slew their own husbands,
brothers, sons, if they ventured to seek refuge from
Rather than fall into the hands of the Romans, many of
the men and women hanged themselves, after first
killing their little children. Although many of the
Cimbri died in this terrible way, more than sixty
thousand were taken prisoners.
Catulus claimed the victory of Vercellæ as his, and
was dissatisfied with Marius, who, he said, did not
wish to share the honour with any one.
However that may be, when the Consuls returned to Rome,
Marius was offered two triumphs, but he would only
accept one, and that one he shared with Catulus.