The Jugurthine War and the Great Threat from the North: The Year 105 BCE

View of the Forum Romanum.


  • Sulla convinces King Bocchus of Mauretania to betray his son-in-law Jugurtha; Jugurtha is delivered to the Romans in chains and sent to Rome;
  • Much to Marius’ annoyance, Sulla gets most of the credit for capturing Jugurtha;
  • Marius is elected consul for a second time (in absentia);
  • The former suffect consul Marcus Aurelius Scaurus is defeated and killed by the Cimbri;
  • At the Battle of Arausio, the armies of the consul Gnaeus Mallius Maximus and the proconsul Quintus Servilius Caepio are destroyed by the Cimbri and Teutones;
  • The other consul, Publius Rutilius Rufus, begins raising a new army.

This year, there was both joy and sadness in the streets of Rome. The people celebrated because the war against King Jugurtha of Numidia had finally been won. The king himself was betrayed by his father-in-law Bocchus and sent off to Rome in chains. But many tears were shed as well. Near Arausio, in Southern Gaul, two Roman armies were annihilated by the Cimbri and Teutones. Bickering between the two Roman generals seems to have contributed to the defeat. Although it is difficult to establish the exact number of casualties, the Battle of Arausio easily ranks among the worst defeats in Roman history. The people cried out for a hero to save them, and that hero would be Gaius Marius.

The Jugurthine War

Bust of Gaius Marius (Glyptothek, Munich; photo: Bibi Saint-Pol).

There was little fighting in Numidia this year. In fact, Sallustius – our main source for the conflict – only mentions the siege of a Numidian tower that was manned by Roman and Italian deserters. Marius, whose command had been prolonged again, had every reason to want to punish these traitors. Although it is not explicitly mentioned in the sources, the proconsul probably took the tower and had all the deserters that survived the siege executed.

Much of the year was spent on diplomatic missions to the court of King Bocchus of Mauretania, Jugurtha’s father-in-law. The king was still a Numidian ally, but his loyalty was shaky at best and he always kept an eye on his own interests. Marius had entrusted the diplomatic part of the campaign to his quaestor Sulla, who quickly proved he had all the skills required for his task. It should be noted that Sulla’s missions to Bocchus were a case of ‘armed diplomacy’, for the Roman was always accompanied by cavalry, infantry and missile troops. Sallustius claims his small army included Balearic slingers, archers and a cohort of lightly-armed Paeligni.[1] No doubt these troops were needed to protect Sulla from attacks by Jugurtha, who was after all still on the run and who still had some loyal supporters under his command. But Sulla could also have used these armed men to impress King Bocchus.

Bust of a man who is usually identified as Sulla.

It took Sulla the better part of the year to convince Bocchus to betray his son-in-law. The king kept weighing his options and changing his mind. He was certainly not fond of the Romans, but ultimately concluded that it was better to have them as distant friends than as enemies. The king apologised for his former hostility, set a trap for Jugurtha and then arrested him, just as Sulla had requested. The Numidian was clapped in chains and delivered to Sulla, who in turn took him to Marius. Much to the latter’s chagrin, Sulla got most of the credit for Jugurtha’s capture. Plutarchus claims that Sulla added fuel to the fire by having a signet ring made which featured an image of Bocchus surrendering Jugurtha to him (there are coins with a similar image). The king was sent to Rome and would be paraded in Marius’ triumph that was celebrated on 1 January of the next year.

Late in the year, while still in Africa, Marius was elected consul for a second time. This was unusual, and perhaps illegal, for a number of reasons. First of all, he had been elected in absentia, whereas the law required candidates for the consulship to at the very least announce their candidacy in public on the Forum Romanum. Secondly, it had been only three years since his previous election and under normal circumstances a ten year interval had to elapse between two successive consulships. The ten year interval was perhaps introduced by a Lex Genucia of 342 BCE[2], but even if this was the case, the Romans tended to set aside such laws in emergency situations. This is exactly what the comitia centuriata, the assembly of the centuries, did. The current situation certainly qualified as an emergency, as the Romans had suffered another disastrous defeat in Gaul at the hands of the Cimbri and Teutones, two wandering Germanic tribes who had given them trouble since 113 BCE.

The Great Threat from the North

Equipment of a warrior from Picenum. The Piceni were Roman allies and served in the Roman armies.

The proconsul Quintus Servilius Caepio was a scion of an ancient patrician family, the gens Servilia. His ancestors had fought during the First Punic War, the Second Punic War and the War against Viriathus. In 139 BCE, a certain Quintus Servilius Caepio, perhaps Caepio’s father or uncle, had bribed Viriathus’ friends to murder him in his sleep. As consul, Caepio had recaptured Tolosa in Southern Gaul the previous year, but his role in the disappearance of the so-called ‘Gold of Tolosa’ had made him a very controversial figure. He still commanded a Roman army in the province of Gallia Transalpina and was now joined by one of the consuls of this year, Gnaeus Mallius Maximus. Mallius is often erroneously called Manlius, which wrongly suggests that he was a member of the ancient patrician gens Manlia. Mallius was, however, a scion of the fairly obscure plebeian gens Mallia. He was a ‘new man’ (homo novus), the first of his family to reach the consulship. As consul, Mallius outranked the proconsul Caepio, but the latter considered the newcomer every inch his social inferior, and this attitude would have grave consequences.

Mallius had brought along his own army, and together the two Roman armies may have comprised some 40-50.000 infantry and 4.000 cavalry (two standard consular armies). If the number of infantry had been increased, there may have been up to 60.000 foot soldiers. Certainly these numbers would have been enough to defeat the forces of the Cimbri and Teutones, if only the two armies worked together. Unfortunately for the Romans, they did not. Mallius seems to have crossed the river Rhône and sent ahead his legate Marcus Aurelius Scaurus, the man who had been suffect consul in 108 BCE. This Scaurus was then defeated, captured and killed by the Cimbri. Livius claims that, before his death, he had warned the tribes against crossing the Alps, stating that the Romans were an invincible people. He was wrong of course, as the subsequent Battle of Arausio would show.

Theatre of the War against the Cimbri and Teutones (source: Ancient World Mapping Center. “À-la-carte”; CC BY 4.0).

After the death of Scaurus, a desperate Mallius summoned Caepio to join him on the other side of the Rhône so that they could defeat the tribes with their combined armies. Caepio at first refused to come; then he came anyway, fearing that all the glory would go to Mallius, but he refused to cooperate. He made a separate camp and declined to discuss a battle plan with the man who was formally his superior. The Cimbri and Teutones were nevertheless impressed by the two Roman armies. They decided to negotiate and ask for land on which to settle. Granius Licinianus, perhaps writing in the second century, claims that Caepio was incredibly rude to the Germanic envoys, and Cassius Dio, writing about a century later, states that he almost had them killed. After the negotiations broke down, a battle had become inevitable. It was fought on 6 October in the vicinity of the town of Arausio (modern Orange). Since Caepio still refused to cooperate with Mallius, the Cimbri and Teutones simply attacked one Roman army at a time. Dio claims that Caepio had made his camp between that of Mallius and the tribes, so the Germans probably attacked Caepio’s army first. After destroying it, they also made short work of Mallius’ army.

Republican legionaries, late 2nd century BCE (photo: Jastrow).

Although the consul and proconsul themselves managed to escape, Roman casualties were horrendous. Granius quotes Publius Rutilius Rufus, the other consul of 105 BCE, who claimed that 70.000 soldiers and light troops were killed.[3] Livius, who relied on Valerius Antias, mentions 80.000 soldiers and 40,000 servants (calones) and camp followers (lixae) killed.[4] These numbers were repeated by Orosius (4th-5th century), but seem much too high, especially considering the fact that – given his usually scathing critiques – Livius did not think too highly of Valerius Antias. But Rufus was a contemporary, and a total of 70.000 Roman deaths – soldiers, servants and camp followers – does not seem implausible. This was Cannae all over again. The Romans were exceptionally lucky that, for reasons which have never been adequately explained, the Cimbri and Teutones did not press on into Italy. Instead the tribes seem to have split. The Cimbri invaded Spain, where they pillaged the countryside, but suffered a reverse against the Celtiberians. The Teutones wandered north and ultimately arrived in the territory of the Belgian tribe of the Veliocasses. There the two tribes would reunite at least two years later. This gave the Romans valuable time to get their house in order again.

And the Romans certainly did not sit on their hands. Rutilius Rufus, already mentioned above, had immediately begun raising a new army. The consul had plenty of experience in military matters, having recently served in Numidia as a legate under Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus (see 109 BCE). Rufus knew Gaius Marius well, as both men had served in Numidia together, and before that in Spain. Like Marius, he probably drafted many of the proletarii into the army. Valerius Maximus claims he also hired instructors from the slain Aurelius Scaurus’ gladiatorial school to train the soldiers. The two generals who had lost at Arausio were punished. Caepio and Mallius were stripped of their offices, and Rufus remained the sole consul for the rest of the year. Since Caepio was blamed the hardest for the defeat, he would face further prosecutions in the years to come. These saw him being stripped of his seat in the Senate and all his possessions, and ultimately sent into exile.


Primary sources

Secondary sources

  • Adrian Goldsworthy, In the name of Rome, p. 140 and p. 143.


[1] The War With Jugurtha 105.

[2] See Livius 7.42.

[3] Granius Licinianus, History of Rome, Book 33. Interestingly, he still mentions velites for the Roman armies.

[4] Livius, Periochae, Book 67.


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