In his military position he had shown himself a brave and upright man, who administered justice impartially, disposed of the spoil with rare honesty and disinterestedness, and was thoroughly incorruptible; a skilful organizer, who had brought the somewhat rusty machinery of the Roman military system once more into a state of efficiency; an able general, who kept the soldier under discipline and withal in good humour and at the same time won his affections in comrade-like intercourse, but looked the enemy boldly in the face and joined issue with him at the proper time. He was not, as far as we can judge, a man of eminent military capacity; but the very respectable qualities which he possessed were quite sufficient under the existing circumstances to procure for him the reputation of such capacity, and by virtue of it he had taken his place in a fashion of unparalleled honour among the consulars and the triumphators. But he was none the better fitted on that account for the brilliant circle. His voice remained harsh and loud, and his look wild, as if he still saw before him Libyans or Cimbrians, and not well- bred and perfumed colleagues. That he was superstitious like a genuine soldier of fortune; that he was induced to become a candidate for his first consulship, not by the impulse of his talents, but primarily by the utterances of an Etruscan -haruspex-; and that in the campaign with the Teutones a Syrian prophetess Martha lent the aid of her oracles to the council of war,--these things were not, in the strict sense, unaristocratic: in such matters, then as at all times, the highest and lowest strata of society met. But the want of political culture was unpardonable; it was commendable, no doubt, that he had the skill to defeat the barbarians, but what was to be thought of a consul who was so ignorant of constitutional etiquette as to appear in triumphal costume in the senate! In other respects too the plebeian character clung to him. He was not merely--according to aristocratic phraseology--a poor man, but, what was worse, frugal and a declared enemy of all bribery and corruption. After the manner of soldiers he was not nice, but was fond of his cups, especially in his later years; he knew not the art of giving feasts, and kept a bad cook. It was likewise awkward that the consular understood nothing but Latin and had to decline conversing in Greek; that he felt the Greek plays wearisome might pass--he was presumably not the only one who did so--but to confess to the feeling of weariness was naive. Thus he remained throughout life a countryman cast adrift among aristocrats, and annoyed by the keenly-felt sarcasms and still more keenly--felt commiseration of his colleagues, which he had not the self-command to despise as he despised themselves.

Political Position Of Marius

Marius stood aloof from the parties not much less than from society. The measures which he carried in his tribunate of the people (635)--a better control over the delivery of the voting-tablets with a view to do away with the scandalous frauds that were therein practised, and the prevention of extravagant proposals for largesses to the people(1)--do not bear the stamp of a party, least of all that of the democratic, but merely show that he hated what was unjust and irrational; and how could a man like this, a farmer by birth and a soldier by inclination, have been from the first a revolutionist? The hostile attacks of the aristocracy had no doubt driven him subsequently into the camp of the opponents of the government; and there he speedily found himself elevated in the first instance to be general of the opposition, and destined perhaps for still higher things hereafter. But this was far more the effect of the stringent force of circumstances and of the general need which the opposition had for a chief, than his own work; he had at any rate since his departure for Africa in 647-8 hardly tarried, in passing, for a brief period in the capital. It was not till the latter half of 653 that he returned to Rome, victor over the Teutones as over the Cimbri, to celebrate his postponed triumph now with double honours--decidedly the first man in Rome, and yet at the same time a novice in politics. It was certain beyond dispute, not only that Marius had saved Rome, but that he was the only man who could have saved it; his name was on every one's lips; the men of quality acknowledged his services; with the people he was more popular than any one before or after him, popular alike by his virtues and by his faults, by his unaristocratic disinterestedness no less than by his boorish roughness; he was called by the multitude a third Romulus and a second Camillus; libations were poured forth to him like the gods. It was no wonder that the head of the peasant's son grew giddy at times with all this glory; that he compared his march from Africa to Gaul to the victorious processions of Dionysus from continent to continent, and had a cup--none of the smallest--manufactured for his use after the model of that of Bacchus. There was just as much of hope as of gratitude in this delirious enthusiasm of the people, which might well have led astray a man of colder blood and more mature political experience. The work of Marius seemed to his admirers by no means finished. The wretched government oppressed the land more heavily than did the barbarians: on him, the first man of Rome, the favourite of the people, the head of the opposition, devolved the task of once more delivering Rome. It is true that to one who was a rustic and a soldier the political proceedings of the capital were strange and incongruous: he spoke as ill as he commanded well, and displayed a far firmer bearing in presence of the lances and swords of the enemy than in presence of the applause or hisses of the multitude; but his inclinations were of little moment. The hopes of which he was the object constrained him. His military and political position was such that, if he would not break with the glorious past, if he would not deceive the expectations of his party and in fact of the nation, if he would not be unfaithful to his own sense of duty, he must check the maladministration of public affairs and put an end to the government of the restoration; and if he only possessed the internal qualities of a head of the people, he might certainly dispense with those which he lacked as a popular leader.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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