The Jugurthine War: The Years 111-110 BCE

View of the Forum Romanum.


  • The consul Lucius Calpurnius Bestia invades Numidia and captures a number of cities (111 BCE);
  • A truce is agreed after Bestia and his legate Marcus Aemilius Scaurus are allegedly bribed by Jugurtha (111 BCE);
  • Jugurtha surrenders and is subsequently summoned to Rome to testify in the assembly after the tribune Gaius Memmius has opened an investigation into corruption among leading Roman politicians (111 BCE);
  • Once in Rome, Jugurtha has his rival Massiva murdered (111 BCE);
  • The consul Spurius Postumius Albinus continues the war against Jugurtha, but fails to achieve anything (110 BCE).

Lucius Calpurnius Bestia had been people’s tribune in 120 BCE. As tribune, he had made the popular assembly pass a bill that allowed the former consul Publius Popilius Laenas to return from his exile. Laneas had been living abroad since 123 BCE because of his role in the persecution of Tiberius Gracchus’ supporters. It follows that Bestia was not a supporter of the popularis cause. In 112 BCE he had been elected consul for the next year and his province was to be the war with Jugurtha. Marcus Aemilius Scaurus, the consul of 115 BCE and princeps senatus, served as one of his legates. In 111 BCE, the consul marched his legions to Rhegium in the toe of Italy, crossed over to Sicily and then set sail for Africa. After making sure his logistics were in order, he invaded Numidia.

The Jugurthine War

Plate featuring two elephants (Villa Giulia, Rome).

Bestia was a capable commander, who made quick progress and captured a number of cities. However, according to Sallustius, he was also a greedy man and very susceptible to bribes. Jugurtha sent envoys to the consul, who offered him large sums of cash. If we are to believe Sallustius, Scaurus was also bribed, even though he had previously argued that Rome should take a tough stance against the Numidian. A truce was agreed, and Bestia sent his quaestor to Vaga to collect the grain he had demanded from the envoys. Jugurtha then formally surrendered and paid the Romans 30 elephants, some cattle and horses and a small sum of silver. The Jugurthine War seemed to be over. Rome had won an easy victory.

But it was not to be so. A people’s tribune named Gaius Memmius suspected Bestia, Scaurus and many others of blatant corruption. He had the popular assembly decide to summon Jugurtha to come to Rome to testify. The praetor Lucius Cassius was to travel to Numidia and offer the Numidian safe passage. Once in Rome, Jugurtha could be heard as a witness in Memmius’ investigation. The praetor convinced Jugurtha to come to Rome, where he dressed up in rags to arouse pity, and where he immediately bribed a people’s tribune named Gaius Baebius to sabotage Memmius’ investigation. When the king was asked to testify before the Roman people in the assembly, Baebius ordered him to keep his mouth shut. The hearing therefore turned into a failure and Memmius’ reputation was dented.

Now that he was in Rome, Jugurtha decided to rid himself of a rival. A man named Massiva was living in the Eternal City as an exile. He was the son of Gulussa and a grandson of Masinissa, which made him Jugurtha’s cousin and a possible claimant to the throne of Numidia.[1] After Jugurtha had taken Cirta in 112 BCE and had murdered his cousin Adherbal, Massiva had fled to Rome where he believed to be safe. As it turned out, he was not. Jugurtha ordered his confidant Bomilcar to hire assassins, which Bomilcar duly did. Massiva was subsequently murdered, but one of his assassins got caught. Jugurtha’s involvement in the crime was obvious, but since he had been offered safe passage, he could not be touched. The Senate decided to expel him and the king returned to Numidia. Sallustius claims that, after leaving Rome, he repeatedly looked back and finally exclaimed: “A city for sale and doomed to speedy destruction if it finds a purchaser!”

One of the consuls of 110 BCE, Spurius Postumius Albinus, was now charged with continuing the war against Jugurtha; his colleague Marcus Minucius Rufus was sent to Macedonia. Albinus thoroughly prepared himself and his army, but he was no match for Jugurtha’s delaying tactics. The king often promised to surrender, but then suddenly reneged on his word and continued to resist. Some people believed that Albinus had simply been bribed by Jugurtha, and that the consul’s failure was intentional. However this may be, Albinus soon returned to Rome to preside over the consular elections and left his brother Aulus in charge of the army. Aulus would quickly prove to be a disastrous choice.

Other events

The Arch of Septimius Severus in Leptis Magna (photo: David Gunn).

In 111 BCE, Marcus Caecilius Metellus, the consul of 115 BCE, was allowed to celebrate a triumph. After his consulship, he had been sent to Sardinia as a proconsul. Apparently there was some kind of rebellion on the island, but no details about this insurrection have been preserved. It was thoroughly crushed by the proconsul though, who celebrated his triumph in the same year as his younger brother Gaius Caecilius Metellus Caprarius, who had been consul in 113 BCE. As proconsul he had subsequently won an important (but poorly documented) victory in Thrace. Caprarius had probably succeeded the consul Marcus Livius Drusus as governor of Macedonia and was himself probably succeeded by the aforementioned consul Marcus Minucius Rufus.

Also in 111 BCE, Rome signed a treaty with the important city of Leptis Magna in what is now Libya. Leptis was originally a Phoenician colony that had been founded by colonists from Sidon. At the very start of the war with Jugurtha, its citizens had sent envoys to the consul Bestia with a request to become friends and allies of the Roman people. The request was granted, and the treaty gave Rome a foothold in Libya.


Primary sources

Secondary sources

  • Adrian Goldsworthy, In the name of Rome, p. 131.


[1] Masinissa had had three legitimate sons: Micipsa, Gulussa and Mastanabal. Jugurtha was a son of Mastanabal and a concubine, but he had been adopted by Micipsa.


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