[Edited 9/29/2014]


In some respects, the war with Jugurtha was relatively unimportant.  It was relatively brief (111-105 BC), involved only three countries (Rome, Numidia, and Mauritania), and, on the Roman sides at least, there were relatively few casualties.  Roman territorial gains as a result of the war were slight, and much of the territory gained was nothing but desert anyway.  So it is a bit strange to do what I have done, cramming three Punic Wars and four Macedonian wars into one lecture, then devoting a whole lecture to this much more minor war.

 And yet, is some ways, the war with Jugurtha was important turning point in Roman history.  This war brought to prominence the two men who would dominate the next twenty years of Roman history, Marius and Sulla.  The war with Jugurtha also was important for its effect o the balance of political power in Rome, breaking the lock the senatorial class held on political power.  Perhaps as important, the war with Jugurtha brought on a change in the makeup of the Roman army, a change whose repercussions would be felt for more than half a millennium. And, in addition to tall this, the story of Jugurtha is a first-rate story—in some ways, one of the most interesting of Roman wars.

 I follow here the count of Sallust, an interesting figure himself.  Sallust had been a Roman senator, active in politics until expelled for “immorality.”  He was accused of plundering the province of which he was governor, increasing his personal fortune at the expense of those he was supposed to be governing.  Having been shoved to the sidelines, he spends part of his time reflecting on recent history and current politics, writing a couple of splendid little works, the War with Jugurtha and the Conspiracy of Catiline.

 History, they say, is the propaganda of the victors.  Well, perhaps sometimes.  But, as in the case of Sallust, history is often written by those shoved to the sidelines, those who survived, but weren’t so busy ruling that they had no time to write and reflect. Sallust clearly does have time to reflect.  Here’s the introduction to his Jugurthine War:

Without reason do mankind complain of their nature, on the ground that it is weak and of short duration and ruled rather by chance than by virtue. For reflection would show on the contrary that nothing is greater or more excellent, and that nature has more often found diligence lacking in men than strength or endurance in itself.  But the leader and ruler of man's life is the mind, and when this advances to glory by the path of virtue, it has power and potency in abundance, as well as fame; and it needs not fortune, since fortune can neither give to any man honesty, diligence, and other good qualities, nor can she take them away.  But if through the lure of base desires the mind has sunk into sloth and the pleasures of the body, when it has enjoyed ruinous indulgence for a season, when strength, time, and talents have been wasted through indolence, the weakness of human nature is accused, and the guilty shift their own blame to circumstances.

But if men had as great regard for honourable enterprises as they have ardour in pursuing what is foreign to their interests, and bound to be unprofitable and often even dangerous, they would control fate rather than be controlled by it, and would attain to that height of greatness where from mortals their glory would make them immortal.

For just as mankind is made up of body and soul, so all our acts and pursuits partake of the nature either of the body or of the mind. Therefore notable beauty and great riches, as well as bodily strength and all other gifts of that kind, soon pass away, but the splendid achievements of the intellect, like the soul, are everlasting.

Pretty impressive stuff, I think—followed by a pretty impressive history.

Sallust starts his account of the Jugurthine War by returning to the days of the 2nd Punic War and the initial formation of close ties between Rome and Numidia.

Numidia (“land of the nomad”) was a Berber kingdom bordering Carthage. They had become more civilized in part through Carthaginian influence, but the Carthaginian king (Masinissa) had sided with Rome in the last stages of the war with Hannibal (204-202). Masinissa had lived into his 80’s dying in 149 BC.  His son Micipsa (149-118 BC) was also long lived, also quite able, and also an ally of the Romans.

Under monarchy, long-lived rulers tend to be good: the dangerous times for a kingdom typically involve the death of a ruler and jockeying for power during the transition.  But, when a ruler is long-lived, the transition period might be even more than usually dangerous.

Micipsa tried to make sure things would go smoothly after his death.  His plan was to split the kingdom among his two sons and their older, more capable cousin Jugurtha. Sallust gives Micipsa a fine speech urging unity:

When you were a small boy, Jugurtha, an orphan without prospects or means, I took you into the royal household, believing that because of my kindness you would love me as if you were my own child. And I was not mistaken; for, to say training of your other great and noble actions, of late on your return from Numantia you have conferred honour upon me and my realm by your glory, and by your prowess have made the Romans still more friendly to Numidia than before; while in Spain the name of our family has been given new life. Finally, by the glory you have won you have overcome envy, a most difficult feat for mortal man. Now, since nature is bringing my life to its close, I conjure and implore you by this right hand, by the loyalty due to the kingdom, hold dear these youths who are your kinsmen by birth and through my favour are your brothers; and do not desire to make new friends among strangers in preference to keeping the love of those who are bound to you by ties of blood. Neither armies nor treasure form the bulwarks of a throne, but friends; these you can neither acquire by force of arms nor buy with gold; it is by devotion and loyalty that they are won. But who is more bound by ties of friendship than brother to brother, or what stranger will you find loyal, if you become the enemy of your kindred? I deliver to you three a realm that is strong if you prove virtuous, but weak if you do ill; for harmony makes small states great, while discord undermines the mightiest empires. As for the rest, it devolves upon you, Jugurtha, rather than upon these children, since you are older and wiser than they, to see to it that my hopes are not disappointed. For in all strife the stronger, even though he suffer wrong, is looked upon as the aggressor because of his superior power. As for you, Adherbal and Hiempsal, love and respect this great man, emulate his virtues, and strive to show that I did not adopt better children than I begat.

Things don’t work out at all as Micipsa had hoped. His sons (apparently) insult Jugurtha, with Hiempsel refusing Jugurtha a place of honor.  Then when Jugurtha suggests reversing the decisions Micipsa had made during his declining years, the brothers chime in: good idea. Especially, let’s reverse the decision that gave you any power.

Jugurtha’s men attack and kill Hiempsel, and Adherbal and Jugurtha are at war.  Jugurtha, who had fought alongside Scipio Aemilianus (the Roman General who had masterminded the defeat of Carthage in the 3rd Punic War), was the far superior leader, and Adherbal was about to be crushed.  He appeals to Rome for help:

Fathers of the Senate, my sire Micipsa admonished me on his death-bed to consider that I was only a steward of the kingdom of Numidia, but that the right and authority were in your hands; at the same time he bade me strive to be as helpful as possible to the Roman people in peace and in war and to regard you as my kindred and relatives. He declared that if I did this, I should find in your friendship an army, and wealth, and bulwarks for my kingdom. As I was following these injunctions of my father, Jugurtha, wickedest of all men on the face of the earth, in despite of your power robbed me, the grandson of Masinissa and hereditary friend and ally of the Roman people, of my throne and all my fortunes.

And for myself, Fathers of the Senate, since I was doomed to such a depth of wretchedness, I could wish that I might ask your help rather because of my own services than those of my ancestors; I could wish above all that favours were due to me from the Roman people which I did not need; and failing this, that if they were needed I might accept them as my due. 4 But since virtue alone is not its own protection, and since it was not in my power to mould the character of Jugurtha, I have had recourse to you, Fathers of the Senate, to whom (and this is greatest part of my wretchedness) I am compelled to be a burden before I have been an aid. All other kings have been admitted to your friendship when they were vanquished in war, or have sought your alliance in their time of peril; our family established friendly relations with Rome during the war with Carthage, at a time when the plighted word of Rome was a greater inducement to us than her fortune. Therefore do not allow me, their descendant and the grandson of Masinissa, to implore your aid in vain.

If I had no other reason for asking the favour than my pitiable lot — of late a king, mighty in family, fame and fortune; now broken by woes, destitute and appealing to others for help — it would nevertheless be becoming to the majesty of the Roman people to defend me against wrong and not to allow any man's power to grow great through crime. 8 But in fact I am driven from the lands which the people of Rome gave to my forefathers and from which my father and grandfather helped you to drive Syphax and the Carthaginians. It is your gift, Fathers of the Senate, which has been wrested from me, and in the wrong done to me you have been scorned. Woe's me! O my father Micipsa, has this been the effect of your kindness, that the man whom you put on an equality with your own children, whom you made a partner in your kingdom, should of all men be the destroyer of your house?

Shall my family then never find rest? Shall we always dwell amid bloodshed, arms and exile? While the Carthaginians were unconquered, we naturally suffered all kinds of hardship; the enemy were upon our flank, you, our friends, were far away; all our hope was in our arms. After Africa had been freed from that pestilence, we enjoyed the delights of peace, since we had no enemy, unless haply at your command. But lo! on a sudden, Jugurtha, carried away by intolerable audacity, wickedness and arrogance, after killing my brother, who was also his kinsman, first made Hiempsal's realm the spoil of his crime; then, when he had failed to outwit me by the same wiles, and when under your sovereignty I was looking for anything rather than violence or war, he has made me, as you see, an exile from home and country, a prey to want and wretchedness, and safer anywhere than in my own kingdom.

I always used to think, Fathers of the Senate, as I had heard my father maintain, that those who diligently cultivated your friendship undertook an arduous duty, indeed, but were safe beyond all others. Our family has done its best to aid you in all your wars; that we may enjoy peace and safety, Fathers of the Senate, is in your power. Our father left two of us brothers; a third, Jugurtha, he hoped to add to our number by his favours. One of the three has been slain; I myself have barely escaped the sacrilegious hands of the other. What shall I do, or to what special protection shall I appeal in my troubles? All the defences of my house are destroyed. My father, as was inevitable, has paid the debt of nature. My brother has lost his life through the crime of a kinsman, the last man who ought to have raised a hand against him. Relatives, friends, and others who were near to me have fallen by one blow or another. Of those taken by Jugurtha some have been crucified, others thrown to wild beasts; a few, whose lives were spared, in gloomy dungeons amid sorrow and lamentation drag out an existence worse than death. But if all that I have lost, or all that has turned from affection to hostility, remained untouched, even then, if any unexpected misfortune had befallen me, I should appeal to you, Fathers of the Senate, whom it befits, because of the extent of your dominion, to take under your care all matters of right and wrong everywhere. As it is, however, an exile from home and country, alone, and stripped of all that becomes my station, where shall I take refuge or to whom shall I appeal? To nations or kings, all of whom are hostile to our family because of our friendship for you? To what land can I turn and not find there many a record of my ancestors' acts of hostility? Can anyone feel compassion for us who was ever your enemy? Finally, Fathers of the Senate, Masinissa instructed us to attach ourselves to none save the Roman people and to contract no new leagues and alliances; he declared that in your friendship there would be for us all an ample protection, and that, if the fortune of your empire should change, we must fall with it.

Through valour and the favour of the gods you are mighty and powerful, all things are favourable and yield obedience to you; hence you may the more readily have regard to the wrongs of your allies. My only fear is lest private friendship for Jugurtha, the true character of which is not evident, may lead some of your number astray; for I hear that his partisans are using every effort, and are soliciting and entreating each of you separately not to pass any judgment upon him in his absence without a hearing. They declare that I am speaking falsely and feigning the necessity for flight, when I might have remained in my own kingdom. As to that, I hope that I may yet see the man through whose impious crime I have been subjected to these woes making the same pretence, and that at last either you or the immortal gods may begin to take thought for human affairs! Then of a truth that wretch, who now exults and glories in his crimes, will be tortured by ills of every kind and pay a heavy penalty for his treachery to our father, for the murder of my brother, and for my unhappiness.

At last, brother dearest to my heart, although life has been taken from you untimely by the last hand that should have been raised against you, yet your fate seems to me a cause for joy rather than for sorrow. For when you lost your life it was not your throne you lost, but it was flight, exile, want and all these woes which weigh me down. While I, poor wretch, hurled from my father's throne into this sea of troubles, present a tragedy of human vicissitude, being at a loss what course to take, whether to try to avenge your wrongs when I myself am in need of aid, or to take thought for my throne when the very question of my life or death hangs upon the help of others. Would that death were an honourable means of escape for one of my estate! Would that, worn out by affliction, I could succumb to oppression without appearing justly contemptible! As it is, life has no charms for me, but death is impossible without shame.

Fathers of the Senate, I beseech you in your own name, by your children and parents, and by the majesty of the Roman people, aid me in my distress, set your faces against injustice, do not permit the kingdom of Numidia, which belongs to you, to be ruined by villainy and the blood-guiltiness of our family.

The Romans intervene and divide Numidia in a way that seems to them equitable—or, rather, seems to some equitable. Maybe Jugurtha got more than he deserved because he had bribed some of the senators. Suspicious!

And Jugurtha wants more anyway.  He attacks Cirta (Adherbal’s capital city).  Adherbal calls on Rome for help, but there’s too much delay while the senate debates: should we send immediate help, or just messages? Cirta falls, Adherbal is dead—and some Romans living in Cirta are massacred as well.

This means war: the Romans send Bestia, one of the consuls for 111 BC, to deal with Jugurtha. He doesn’t make much progress, and since 111 is an election year in Rome (every years is an election year!) he has to return to supervise the elections before any settlement can be reached.

Now back in Rome, prominent men are jockeying for political support, hoping to be elected consuls, praetors, or quaestors—or maybe as tribunes. Men from senatorial families are hoping to add additional “auctoritas” or “dignitas” to their family name, while the most successful equestrians are hoping to become “new men,” winning election and moving their own family into the senatorial ranks.

In general, the politically ambitious are in one of two camps. First of all, there are the “Optimates,” those who argue that Rome should be guided by the “best” men, i.e., those from old established Roman families.  Rivaling them are the “Populares,” those who argue that Rome should be guided by those who best represent popular opinion.  In general, the Optimates favor governance by the senate and the consuls while the Poplulares are more likely to work through the tribunes and the assembly. Now this isn’t an absolute: a consul might well be a Populare, and a tribune might well be an Optimate.

In any case, the Optimates had dominated Roman affairs almost completely since the time of Gaius Gracchus, having slaughtered man of those who would have led the Populare cause.  To get back into the game, the Populares needed an issue, and the Jugurtha situation seemed perfect for the 111 campaign, an ideal way to discredit the Optimates.

The initial division of Numidia in 117 looked suspicious.  The failure to send an army immediately to help the besieged Adherbal looked suspicious.  And Bestia’s failure to bring a quick end to the conflict looked even more suspicious.  Were prominent senators taking bribes from Jugurtha?  It seemed so.  One of the tribunes, Gaius Memmius, stated particularly clearly the Populare case against the senate:

Were not devotion to our country paramount, I should be deterred, fellow citizens, from addressing you by many considerations: the power of the dominant faction, your spirit of submission, the absence of justice, and especially because more danger than honour awaits integrity. Some things, indeed, I am ashamed to speak of how during the past fifteen years you have been the sport of a few men's insolence; how shamefully your defenders have perished unavenged; how your own spirits have been so demoralized because of weakness and cowardice that you do not rise even now, when your enemies are in your power, but still fear those in whom you ought to inspire fear.  But although conditions are such, yet my spirit prompts me to brave the power of this faction.  At least, I shall make use of the freedom of speech which is my inheritance from my father; but whether I shall do so in vain or to good purpose lies in your hands, my countrymen. I do not urge you to take up arms against your oppressors, as your fathers often did; there is no need of violence, none of secession. They must go to ruin their own way. After the murder of Tiberius Gracchus, whom they accused of trying to make himself king, prosecutions were instituted against the Roman commons. Again, after Gaius Gracchus and Marcus Fulvius were slain, many men of your order suffered death in the dungeon.  In both cases bloodshed was ended, not by law, but by the caprice of the victors 

But let us admit that to restore their rights to the commons was the same thing as to aspire to royal power, and that whatever cannot be avenged without shedding the blood of citizens was justly done. In former years you were silently indignant that the treasury was pillaged, that kings and free peoples paid tribute to a few nobles, that those nobles possessed supreme glory and vast wealth. Yet they were not satisfied with having committed with impunity these great crimes, and so at last the laws, your sovereignty, and all things human and divine have been delivered to your enemies.  And they who have done these things are neither ashamed nor sorry, but they walk in grandeur before your eyes, some flaunting their priesthoods and consulships, others their triumphs, just as if these were honours and not stolen goods.

Slaves bought with a price do not put up with unjust treatment from their masters; will you, Roman citizens born to power, endure slavery with patience?  But who are they who have seized upon our country? Men stained with crime, with gory hands, of monstrous greed, guilty, yet at the same time full of pride, who have made honour, reputation, loyalty, in short everything honourable and dishonourable, a source of gain. Some of them are safeguarded by having slain tribunes of the commons, others by unjust prosecutions, many by having shed your blood. Thus the more atrocious the conduct, the greater the safety. They have shifted fear from their crimes to your cowardice, united as they are by the same desires, the same hatred, the same fears. This among good men constitutes friendship; among the wicked it is faction. But if your love of freedom were as great as the thirst for tyranny which spurs them on, surely our country would not be torn asunder as it now is, and your favours would be bestowed on the most virtuous, not on the most reckless. Your forefathers, to assert their legal rights and establish their sovereignty, twice seceded and took armed possession of the Aventine; will you not exert yourself to the utmost in order to retain the liberty which they bequeathed to you? And will you not show the greater ardour, because it is more shameful to lose what has been won than never to have won it?

I seem to hear someone say, 'What then do you advise?' I reply, 'Let those who have betrayed their country to the enemy be punished, not by arms or by violence, which it is less becoming for you to inflict than for them to suffer, but by the courts and Jugurtha's own testimony.  If he is a prisoner of war, he will surely be obedient to your commands; but if he scorns them, you may well ask yourself what kind of peace or surrender that is from which Jugurtha has gained impunity for his crimes and a few powerful men immense wealth, while our country suffers damage and disgrace. Unless haply you are not even yet sated with their domination, unless these times please you less than the days when kingdoms, provinces, statutes, laws, courts, war and peace, in short all things human and divine, were in the hands of a few; and when you, that is to say the Roman people, unconquered by your enemies, rulers of all nations, were content to retain the mere breath of life. For which of you dared to refuse slavery?

For my own part, although I consider it most shameful for a true man to suffer wrong without taking vengeance, yet I could willingly allow you to pardon those most criminal of men, since they are your fellow citizens, were it not that mercy would end in destruction.  For such is their insolence that they are not satisfied to have done evil with impunity, unless the opportunity for further wrong-doing be wrung from you; and you will be left in eternal anxiety, because of the consciousness that you must either submit to slavery or use force to maintain your freedom.

Pray, what hope have you of mutual confidence or harmony? They wish to be tyrants, you to be free; they desire to inflict injury, you to prevent it; finally, they treat our allies as enemies and our enemies as allies. Are peace and friendship compatible with sentiments so unlike? They are not, and therefore I warn and implore you not to let such wickedness go unscathed. It is not a matter of plundering the treasury or of extorting money from our allies — serious crimes, it is true, but so common now-adays as to be disregarded. Nay, the senate's dignity has been prostituted to a ruthless enemy, your sovereignty has been betrayed, your country has been offered for sale at home and abroad. Unless cognizance is taken of these outrages, unless the guilty are punished, what will remain except to pass our lives in submission to those who are guilty of these acts? For to do with impunity whatever one fancies is to be king. I am not urging you, Romans, to rejoice rather in the guilt than in the innocence of your fellow citizens; but you should not insist upon ruining the good by pardoning the wicked. Moreover, in a republic it is far better to forget a kindness than an injury. The good man merely becomes less active in well doing when you neglect him, but the bad man grows more wicked. Finally, if there should be no wrongs, you would not often need help.

Now this is a great speech, but in order to bring corrupt senators to justice, one needs evidence: really solid evidence.  And who could give such evidence?  Well, how about Jugurtha?  Jugurtha is asked to come to Rome to help with the investigation—and he complies!  But, before he can say anything, one of the tribunes exercises his veto power and the investigation is stalled.

Meanwhile, Jugurtha’s thugs assassinate one of Jugurtha’s rivals in Rome (Massiva), and, since the investigation is going nowhere, the Romans send Jugurtha back home.

In 110, the newly-elected consul Albinus takes over in Numidia.  He doesn’t finish the job, and, toward the end of the year, returns to supervise elections, leaving his brother Aulus in charge. Aulus really messes things up, and, to the Populares, it seemed a deliberate failure.  The Populares use the issue to secure a (temporarily) dominant position.  Sallust unfortunately gives no details, but he says that the Populares used their dominant position to behave just as tyrannically as the senators had.

Under Populare pressure, the senate refuses to ratify the treaty Aulus had negotiated with Jugurtha, and, in 109, the senate sends yet another consul (Metellus) to take on Jugurtha.  Jugurtha plays cat-and-mouse, and Metellus isn’t able to finish the job.  Meanwhile, a subordinate of Metullus, Gaius Marius, wants to go back to Rome and run for a consulship.  Marius’ family had been clients of the Metelli, but the relationship was going sour.  It got even more sour when Marius based has campaign on the alleged incompetence of Metellus in dealing with Jugurtha. 

Marius won his consulship, and does get the command against Jugurtha.  He adopts a strategy not all that different from Metullus, and the victory isn’t quite as swift as he had promised.  Nevertheless, he does get Jugurtha on the run.  Jugurtha takes refuge with Bocchus of Mauretania. Marius sends his quaestor, Sulla, to negotiate.  Jugurtha wants Bocchus to betray Sulla—a man of patrician status who would make a valuable hostage. Sulla wants Bocchus to betray his guest, Jugurtha.  Bocchus perhaps might have won either way, but (quite rightly) saw greater advantage in siding with the Romans.  So Marius gets to return in Rome for a triumph.  Jugurtha is led through the streets with the other captives.  His royal robes are stripped off.  His earrings are torn off too—and he loses an earlobe. He’s then tossed into prison where he dies of starvation.

Our noble Romans aren’t looking quite so noble are they?  Well, it will soon get worse.