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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor

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GAIUS MARIUS BECOMES COMMANDER OF THE ARMY

[283] WHEN Metellus reached Africa, he found that the discipline of the army was so lax that it was unfitted to fight with any hope of success.

So he drilled and trained his men with great strictness and persistency, until he believed that they were again worthy to fight for their country.

Meanwhile Jugurtha found that here at length was a Roman who scorned to touch his gold. This same Roman, too, had so disciplined his troops that Jugurtha now distrusted his power to meet them. He therefore offered to submit, if Metellus would promise to spare his life and the lives of his children.

But the general paid no attention to this offer, and led his army into Numidia. Gaius Marius was with the Consul, in command of the cavalry.

Now Marius did not love his general, and he cared less that Metellus should be successful in battle than that he himself should win glory by his deeds.

But already the soldiers adored Marius, for he shared their life, giving up his own comfortable quarters to sleep, as did they, on a rough camp bed; often, too, eating their hard bread. When they found him even digging in the trenches their enthusiasm knew no bounds.

Jugurtha, meanwhile, had encamped in a strong position, but Metellus dislodged him, and at length defeated him, so that he was forced to flee.

The king determined that he would not risk another [284] battle, so for a time he took refuge among the hills of his native land.

But even as he had bribed the Romans, so now he found that Metellus had won some of his officers from their allegiance, either with gold or with promises. This made him gradually suspicious of all who surrounded him.

Growing more and more uneasy, Jugurtha at length marched across the desert to a town named Thala. Metellus, however, hastened after him and besieged the town, which after forty days was in his hands. But the Roman general was not satisfied, for it was Jugurtha himself whom he wished to capture, and the king and his children had escaped from the town by night.

Jugurtha knew that Metellus was more than a match for him alone, but if he could secure a powerful ally the Romans might yet be driven from his land.

So, in 108 B.C., Jugurtha persuaded his father-in-law, Bocchus, King of Upper Numidia, to join him, and together they marched upon Cirta, near which town the Romans were encamped.

It was here that Metellus learned that he had not been elected Consul for the following year.

Meanwhile, Marius had begun to show his dislike of his commander.

The general had entrusted the care of an important town in Numidia to a friend of his own named Turpulius.

Turpulius was honest and kind, but he was not clever, and he did not see that the inhabitants of the town were taking advantage of his kindness.

Before he was aware, they had succeeded in betraying the town into the hands of Jugurtha, while he, owing to the goodwill of the townsfolk, was allowed to escape uninjured.

Among the Roman officers there were some ready to blame Turpulius, not only for negligence, but for actually giving the town up to Jugurtha.

A council of war was held, and on this council was Marius. [285] He attacked Turpulius more fiercely than any other officer, and this he did knowing that he was the trusted friend of Metellus.

It was due to the influence of Marius that the other members condemned Turpulius, and Metellus was forced to sentence his friend to death.

Soon after the unfortunate man was executed it was clearly proved that he was innocent.

Metellus was overpowered with grief, and his officers did what they could to comfort him, all save Marius. He was heard to boast that he had caused the catastrophe, and he showed no sympathy for the distress of his general.

It was natural that from this time Metellus should look on Marius with aversion, and the two men were soon open enemies. Marius did not disguise that he hoped some day to supplant the general in his command.

During the winter of 108 B.C., Marius applied for leave, that he might go home to stand for election as Consul.

Metellus was indignant at what seemed to him the presumption of his officer, and he refused to let him go.

Marius was not disturbed by the refusal. He knew that in due time he would go to Italy, and meanwhile he wrote home unfavourable reports of his general, hinting, too, that if he had been in command of the army, Jugurtha would have been captured long ago.

The soldiers, he knew well, adored him, and when they sent messages home would say nothing but good of him.

After some time had passed, Marius again asked for leave to go to Rome.

Then Metellus scoffed at his desire, saying: "Will you not be content to wait and be Consul with this little son of mine?"

As the son of the general was a lad of about twenty, and as Marius was already forty-nine years of age, the taunt was not easy to bear.

But at length, as Marius persisted in asking leave, [286] Metellus was forced to let him go. Only a short time was now left before those who intended to stand for the Consulships must be in Rome.

The journey from the camp to the coast was a long one, but Marius accomplished it in two days and a night.

In spite of the need for haste, he waited to offer a sacrifice before he sailed. And it seemed to him well that he had done so, for the priest bade him go his way, assured that success, greater than he had dreamed, would be his.

So in great good temper Marius went on board ship, and in four days landed on Italian soil.

In Rome he was received with favour, and before long his ambition was satisfied. He was elected Consul, and given the command of the army of Africa.

When Marius returned to take up his new position in Africa, Metellus had already left the army in charge of an officer. His pride would not let him stay to receive his erstwhile subordinate, who, as he said in anger, had now usurped his command.

Soon after this Metellus sailed for Rome, with the miserable feeling that he had been disgraced. He was, however, surprised by the welcome the people gave to him. They had not forgotten that he had refused to touch the gold of Jugurtha.


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