PART IV: BATTLE LINES BEING DRAWN
Two senators, Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla, would come to embody the worst of the Senate's excesses, plunging Rome into the greatest crisis it had faced in centuries: its first civil war.
Marius and Sulla had similar origins and attributes: both came from less-distinguished patrician families, were accomplished generals and were highly-intelligent men. However, their ideologies and ambitions ultimately led them to support opposing sides, and to become deadly enemies. Marius championed the Populares, and Sulla was a staunch supporter of the Optimates.
For Rome, war in Numidia went as well as peace had gone, thanks to Jugurtha's deep pockets and the Senate's addiction to lining their own. Two generals sent against him were bribed, and when one of them was brought up on corruption charges, Jugurtha bribed two tribunes to sabotage his prosecution! The scandal rippled through Rome, destroying the careers of many senators (including, in a moment of karmic justice, Opimius, the senator who had driven Gaius Gracchus to his death).
Unfortunately for them, Jugurtha was not as convinced as the Romans were that Marius would defeat him, and continued to elude the Romans for three maddening years. Finally, Sulla took it upon himself to convince Jugurtha's father-in-law Bocchus to betray Jugurtha for a large sum of money. Bocchus obliged, and delivered the Numidian king directly into Sulla's hands. In keeping with the rest of this farce, the Jugurthine War ended as it had begun: with lots of palms being greased.
The capture of an enemy king, regardless of how it was achieved, was a great honor in Rome, and it would have tickled Sulla to have received it. But Marius, suddenly wary of his young protégé, seized the credit for himself, a move that cannot have sowed bonhomie between these two men of ambition.
Marius wasted none of his mandate. As an avowed populist with a deep contempt for the conservative Optimates, he set about transforming Roman law to strip as much of their power as he could. Many of the reforms of the Gracchi that had seemed to die with them were pushed through into law. However, the change that would resonate the furthest was his complete transformation of the Roman army.
The changes also came just in time to save Rome from an existential threat, in the form of a massive Germanic invasion known as the Cimbrian War (113-101 B.C.). A horde of Germans, the Cimbri and Teutones, had annihilated three Roman armies with such ferocity that the term terror cimbricus became a popular watchword of the time. Marius and his new army not only stopped them from invading Italy; they completely wiped them out in two breathtakingly one-sided battles. Marius was celebrated as "Third Founder of Rome," and the Germans did not again threaten Rome for nearly a century.
More immediately, Marius's aggressive governing style was getting out of hand. After his sixth consecutive election to consul (100 B.C.), the man was feeling invincible. He and his allies began ramming through more and more Gracchian legislation, utilizing brutal intimidation tactics, exile and even encouraging violence to get their way. Then, two of his tribunician allies, Saturninus and Glaucia, assassinated a rival in the elections of 99 B.C. and incited a riot among their supporters to tamp down protest. The Senate demanded that Marius denounce the tribunes and quell the revolt, which Marius did, reluctantly. He sheltered the two tribunes in his own home to keep angry citizens from murdering them, but the mob climbed the walls of his house and pelted them to death with tiles from his own roof. This incident cost Marius the trust of the people and made him vulnerable in the Senate, so when his consulship ended, he left Rome for several years as tempers cooled.
He had continued to distinguish himself as a general, serving again under Marius in the Cimbrian War, and was then sent east to be military governor of the province of Cilicia in modern Turkey, where he won a great victory in battle against the king of Armenia. While in Cilicia, a Chaldean seer told Sulla that he was meant to be the greatest of all the Romans. Sulla knew that, for this prophecy to be fulfilled, he would have to oppose Marius, which he was all too willing to do. Sulla was an arch-conservative, convinced that Marius's populist legislation had weakened the Senate and order of the Republic. (There was still the smoldering rivalry over who was the greater general.) On his return to Rome, he threw his full support to the Optimates against his former commander.
Marius scrambled to organize a defense, slapping together a force of gladiators to defend the city. Sulla's legions easily destroyed them, and Marius barely escaped with his life, fleeing to Carthage. Sulla had him declared an enemy of the state, executed several of his friends, then marched off to fight in the east.
On November 1, 82 B.C., the two factions clashed outside of Rome in the titanic Battle of the Colline Gate. Sulla was hard pressed, with his men literally fighting with one of their flanks against the city wall, but ultimately, his army broke the Marian forces. Over 50,000 men were killed in the fight. Sulla emerged as the sole master of Rome.