In the south the free Gaetulian tribes of the desert began at the call of Jugurtha a national war against the Romans. In the west Bocchus king of Mauretania, whose friendship the Romans had in earlier times despised, seemed now not indisposed to make common cause with his son-in-law against them; he not only received him in his court, but, uniting to Jugurtha's followers his own numberless swarms of horsemen, he marched into the region of Cirta, where Metellus was in winter quarters. They began to negotiate: it was clear that in the person of Jugurtha he held in his hands the real prize of the struggle for Rome. But what were his intentions--whether to sell his son-in-law dear to the Romans, or to take up the national war in concert with that son-in-law--neither the Romans nor Jugurtha nor perhaps even the king himself knew; and he was in no hurry to abandon his ambiguous position.
Thereupon Metellus left the province, which he had been compelled by decree of the people to give up to his former lieutenant Marius who was now consul; and the latter assumed the supreme command for the next campaign in 648. He was indebted for it in some degree to a revolution. Relying on the services which he had rendered and at the same time on oracles which had been communicated to him, he had resolved to come forward as a candidate for the consulship. If the aristocracy had supported the constitutional, and in other respects quite justifiable, candidature of this able man, who was not at all inclined to take part with the opposition, nothing would have come of the matter but the enrolment of a new family in the consular Fasti. Instead of this the man of non-noble birth, who aspired to the highest public dignity, was reviled by the whole governing caste as a daring innovator and revolutionist; just as the plebeian candidate had been formerly treated by the patricians, but now without any formal ground in law. The brave officer was sneered at in sharp language by Metellus--Marius was told that he might wait with his candidature till Metellus' son, a beardless boy, could be his colleague--and he was with the worst grace suffered to leave almost at the last moment, that he might appear in the capital as a candidate for the consulship of 647. There he amply retaliated on his general the wrong which he had suffered, by criticising before the gaping multitude the conduct of the war and the administration of Metellus in Africa in a manner as unmilitary as it was disgracefully unfair; and he did not even disdain to serve up to the darling populace--always whispering about secret conspiracies equally unprecedented and indubitable on the part of their noble masters-- the silly story, that Metellus was designedly protracting the war in order to remain as long as possible commander-in-chief. To the idlers of the streets this was quite clear: numerous persons unfriendly for reasons good or bad to the government, and especially the justly-indignant mercantile order, desired nothing better than such an opportunity of annoying the aristocracy in its most sensitive point: he was elected to the consulship by an enormous majority, and not only so, but, while in other cases by the law of Gaius Gracchus the decision as to the respective functions to be assigned to the consuls lay with the senate (p. 355), the arrangement made by the senate which left Metellus at his post was overthrown, and by decree of the sovereign comitia the supreme command in the African war was committed to Marius.
Conflicts Without Result
Accordingly he took the place of Metellus in the course of 647; and held the command in the campaign of the following year; but his confident promise to do better than his predecessor and to deliver Jugurtha bound hand and foot with all speed at Rome was more easily given than fulfilled. Marius carried on a desultory warfare with the Gaetulians; he reduced several towns that had not previously been occupied; he undertook an expedition to Capsa (Gafsa) in the extreme south-east of the kingdom, which surpassed even that of Thala in difficulty, took the town by capitulation, and in spite of the convention caused all the adult men in it to be slain--the only means, no doubt, of preventing the renewed revolt of that remote city of the desert; he attacked a mountain-stronghold--situated on the river Molochath, which separated the Numidian territory from the Mauretanian--whither Jugurtha had conveyed his treasure-chest, and, just as he was about to desist from the siege in despair of success, fortunately gained possession of the impregnable fastness through the coup de main of some daring climbers. Had his object merely been to harden the army by bold razzias and to procure booty for the soldiers, or even to eclipse the march of Metellus into the desert by an expedition going still farther, this method of warfare might be allowed to pass unchallenged; but the main object to be aimed at, and which Metellus had steadfastly and perseveringly kept in view-- the capture of Jugurtha--was in this way utterly set aside. The expedition of Marius to Capsa was a venture as aimless, as that of Metellus to Thala had been judicious; but the expedition to the Molochath, which passed along the border of, if not into, the Mauretanian territory, was directly repugnant to sound policy. King Bocchus, in whose power it lay to bring the war to an issue favourable for the Romans or endlessly to prolong it, now concluded with Jugurtha a treaty, in which the latter ceded to him a part of his kingdom and Bocchus promised actively to support his son-in-law against Rome. The Roman army, which was returning from the river Molochath, found itself one evening suddenly surrounded by immense masses of Mauretanian and Numidian cavalry; they were obliged to fight just as the divisions stood without forming in a proper order of battle or carrying out any leading command, and had to deem themselves fortunate when their sadly-thinned troops were brought into temporary safety for the night on two hills not far remote from each other. But the culpable negligence of the Africans intoxicated with victory wrested from them its consequences; they allowed themselves to be surprised in a deep sleep during the morning twilight by the Roman troops which had been in some measure reorganized during the night, and were fortunately dispersed.