Authors: Colleen McCullough
Tags: #Literary, #Ancient, #Historical Fiction, #Caesar; Julius, #Biographical Fiction, #Fiction, #Romance, #Rome, #Rome - History - Republic; 265-30 B.C, #Historical, #Marius; Gaius, #General, #History
It is my intention that Fortune's Favorites be read with full enjoyment as a complete, free-standing novel, without the necessity of having previously read The Grass Crown or The First Man in Rome. The synopses below provide a brief summary of those two books for the reader's convenience and enhanced enjoyment.
The year is 110 B.C. More by accident than design, the Republic of Rome has begun to acquire her territorial empire, a process of expansion that has placed increasingly intolerable strains upon an antique constitution. This constitution had been designed to regulate the affairs of a small city-state and protect the interests of its ruling class, embodied still in 110 B.C. by the Senate.
The true profession of Rome was war, which she conducted superbly and had come to rely upon in order to maintain growth and a thriving economy; she also kept the various other nations within Italy in a subordinate position by denying their peoples the Roman citizenship and parity in commerce.
But the voice of the People had become louder, and a series of political demagogues like the Brothers Gracchi had arisen with the avowed intention of depriving the Senate of its power. Power was to be transferred to the People in the persons of a slightly lower echelon of Roman citizens, the knights, who were primarily wealthy businessmen. (Agitation for social change in the ancient world was never undertaken on behalf of the poor, but rather took the form of a struggle between the landed aristocracy and the commercial plutocracy.)
In 110 B.C. the forty-seven-year-old Gaius Marius was a relative nobody from the little Latin district of Arpinum. Thanks to his superlative military ability, he had managed to rise as far as the second-most-important position in elected government, the praetorship, and had accumulated vast riches. But Marius hungered to be consul (the top office), though he knew that his obscure birth and ancestry would not permit of his rising so high. The consulship belonged to the landed aristocrats of ancient family who had never grubbied their hands with making money in a commercial marketplace.
Then a chance meeting with an impoverished patrician (the most august class of these aristocrats) senator, Gaius Julius Caesar (grandfather of the great Caesar), enabled Marius to improve his chances of attaining the consulship. In return for funding the careers of old Caesar's two sons and providing a dowry for the younger of old Caesar's two daughters, Marius was given the elder daughter, Julia, in marriage. Thus ennobling Marius's family and greatly enhancing his electoral image.
Now married to Julia, in 109 B.C. Marius and his letter-writing friend Publius Rutilius Rufus went off to wage war against King Jugurtha of Numidia. But Marius was not the commander-in-chief; this position had gone to the aristocrat Metellus (who would later call himself Metellus Numidicus to commemorate his war against Numidia, but whom Marius called by a far more derogatory name, Piggle-wiggle). With Metellus Numidicus was his twenty-year-old son, Metellus Pius the Piglet.
The war in Africa went slowly, as Metellus Numidicus was not a very effective general. In 108 B.C. Marius asked to be released from his post as senior legate so that he could return to Rome to run for election as one of the two consuls for 107 B.C. Metellus Numidicus refused to let him go, so Marius through letters waged a campaign of complaint and criticism in Rome against his superior's conduct of the war. Eventually his campaign was successful, and Metellus Numidicus was forced to release Marius from service in Africa.
However, before Marius left Africa, the Syrian prophetess Martha foretold that Marius would be consul of Rome an unprecedented seven times and would be called the Third Founder of Rome; but she also told him that his wife's nephew named Gaius would be the greatest Roman of all time. This child was as yet unborn. Marius believed in the prophecy implicitly.
Returned to Rome, Marius was elected the junior of the two consuls for 107 B.C. He then used the legislative body called the Plebeian Assembly to pass a law stripping command of the war against Jugurtha of Numidia from Metellus Numidicus Piggle-wiggle; that same command was given to him instead.
However, his chief problem was a source of troops. The six legions Metellus Numidicus had commanded in Africa were now earmarked for the use of the other consul of 107 B.C. Italy was literally without recruitable men to serve in Rome's armies: too many men had died uselessly in battle over the preceding fifteen years, thanks to a series of utterly incompetent generals of impeccably aristocratic background. And the important friends of Metellus Numidicus, outraged at Marius's taking the war against Jugurtha away from him, now ganged up to prevent Marius's finding new soldiers.
But Marius, an iconoclastic thinker, knew of a source of troops as yet untapped-the capite censi or Head Count, which was the propertyless lowest class of Roman citizens- and resolved to find his army among the Head Count. A revolutionary concept!
Rome's soldiers had always been required to own land and have sufficient wealth to fund their armaments and gear out of their own purses; it was this class of fairly prosperous farmers that had supplied Rome with her soldiers for centuries. Now these men had almost ceased to exist, and their smallholdings had come into the ownership of men in the Senate or the top ranks of knight-businessmen. Vast ranches called latifundia which ran on slave labor had come into being, thus depriving free men of employment.
When Marius said he was going to recruit his soldiers from the Head Count, the furor was unimaginable. Fought every inch of the way by the senatorial aristocrats and many of the knight-businessmen as well, Marius went ahead and got his way through the Plebeian Assembly, then passed a further law in that body obliging the Treasury of Rome to fund the arming and equipping of his pauper legionaries.
When Marius sailed back to Africa he took with him six full legions of pauper troops the Senate deemed incapable of valor or loyalty. Also with him was his quaestor (a junior magistrate responsible for finances), one Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Sulla had just married Julilla, the younger daughter of old Caesar, and was therefore Marius's brother-in-law.
Sulla was almost the complete opposite of Marius. A handsome aristocrat of irreproachably patrician ancestry, he had been disqualified from entry into the Senate because of his extreme poverty-until a series of cunning murders enabled him to inherit the estates of his mistress, Nicopolis, and his stepmother, Clitumna. Ambitious and utterly ruthless, Sulla too believed in his destiny. But his first thirty-three years had been spent in a most ignoble world of theatrical riffraff, and had left Sulla possessed of a dangerous secret; in a Rome whose citizens were adamantly opposed to homosexuality, Sulla now began to claw his way upward suppressing his love for a Greek actor, Metrobius, at this time still an adolescent.
It took Marius almost three years to beat Jugurtha of Numidia, though the actual capture of the King was effected by Sulla, now one of Marius's legates and his most trusted right-hand man. So different in their natures and backgrounds, the two men nonetheless got along together very well. Marius's Head Count army distinguished itself in battle, thus leaving its senatorial critics with nothing to say.
While Marius and Sulla were engaged in the African war, a new threat to Rome had come upon the scene. A vast collection of Germanic peoples (the Cimbri, the Teutones and the Cherusci/Marcomanni/Tigurini) had migrated to Gaul (modern France) and inflicted several disastrous defeats upon Rome's armies, led by aristocratic incompetents who refused to cooperate with men they considered beneath them.
Without his knowledge, Marius was elected consul for the second time and given command of the war against the Germans; despite the opposition of Metellus Numidicus and Marcus Aemilius Scaurus Princeps Senatus (the Leader of the House), everyone in Rome had come to believe that Marius was the only man capable of defeating the Germans, hence this extraordinary and completely unsought second consulship.
Accompanied by Sulla and the seventeen-year-old Quintus Sertorius (a cousin of Marius's), in 104 B.C. Marius led his men of the Head Count-now seasoned veterans-to Gaul-across-the-Alps, there to await the coming of the Germans.
But the Germans didn't come. While Marius occupied his troops in public works, Sulla and Sertorius disguised themselves as Gauls and went off to discover what the Germans meant to do. In 103 B.C. Marius was again elected consul. And due to the efforts of a tribune of the plebs, Lucius Appuleius Saturninus, Marius was elected consul for the fourth time in 102 B.C. It was in that year the Germans came-and just in time. Marius's senatorial enemies were preparing to oust him for good.
Thanks to some successful spying by Sulla and Sertorius, Marius had been warned of a startling German strategy, for the Germans had produced a thinking leader, King Boiorix. He split his colossal mass of people into three divisions and embarked upon a three-pronged invasion of Italy. One division, the Teutones, was to journey down the river Rhodanus (the Rhone) and enter Italy across the western Alps; another division, the Cimbri (led by Boiorix himself), was to invade central northern Italy through the alpine pass now known as the Brenner; the third division, motley in composition, was to cross the eastern Alps into Italy and advance toward modern Venice. Then all three divisions would unite to invade the Italian peninsula and conquer Rome.
Marius's consular colleague in the year 102 B.C. belonged by blood to the Caesars; his name was Quintus Lutatius Catulus Caesar, and he was a haughty aristocrat with an inflated idea of his own ability but no real military talent, as Marius knew.
Electing to remain where he was in the neighborhood of modern Aix-en-Provence to intercept the German Teutones, Marius was obliged to leave interception of the German Cimbri to Catulus Caesar (the third division of Germans gave up and went back to Germania long before they were due to cross the eastern Alps). Endowed with an army of twenty-four thousand men, Catulus Caesar was ordered by the Senate to march north to intercept the Cimbri. But Marius, not trusting him, sent Sulla to him to be his second-in-command; Sulla's orders were to do everything in his power to keep Catulus Caesar's precious troops alive despite the worst blunders Catulus Caesar might make.
In late summer of 102 B.C. the Teutones, fielding over one hundred thousand men, reached Marius's position; the strength of his army was about thirty-seven thousand men. In a battle conducted with genius, Marius slaughtered the undisciplined and unsophisticated Teutones; the survivors scattered and the threat to Italy from the west was no more.
However, at about the same moment as Marius was extirpating the Teutones, Catulus Caesar, Sulla and their small army had penetrated up the alpine valley of the Athesis (now the Adige) River. There they encountered the Cimbri, just emerged from the Brenner Pass. Because there was no room to maneuver the legions, Sulla insisted that Catulus Caesar retreat; Catulus Caesar adamantly refused. So Sulla instigated a mutiny and brought the army safely into the Po Valley, quartering it in Placentia (now Piacenza) while the two hundred thousand men of the Cimbri-together with their women, children and animals-overran the eastern Po Valley.
Elected consul for the fifth time thanks to his resounding victory over the Teutones, in 101 B.C. Marius brought the bulk of his army to northern Italy and combined it with the army of Catulus Caesar; the force now numbered fifty-four thousand men. And at the height of summer the final battle against the Germans was fought on the field of Vercellae near the foot of the western Alps. Boiorix was killed and the Cimbri annihilated. Marius had saved Italy and Rome from the Germans, who were to remain an utterly spent force for the next fifty years.
However, Metellus Numidicus, Scaurus Princeps Senatus, Catulus Caesar and the rest of Marius's enemies were no less his enemies because Marius was now being hailed the Third Founder of Rome and was able to get himself elected consul for the sixth time, in 100 B.C.
That year saw the turmoil shift from the battlefield to the Forum Romanum, which became the scene of bloody riots and frenzied political demagoguery. Marius's adherent Saturninus had managed (with the aid of his confederate Glaucia and the murder of a tribune of the plebs) to be elected a tribune of the plebs for the second time, and through this office (famous for its radicals and demagogues) sought to secure land grants for Marius's veteran soldiers of the Head Count.
This was the one bad thing about enlisting propertyless men in the legions; owning nothing and receiving little by way of pay, these men when Rome had finished with their military talents had to be rewarded. Marius had promised them grants of land-but not in Italy. His aim was to spread Roman culture and habits throughout the mushrooming empire of provinces (in which Rome owned great tracts of public land) by settling his Head Count soldier veterans abroad. In fact, the vexed question of granting Rome's public lands to veterans of the lower classes was ultimately to contribute enormously to the downfall of the Republic of Rome, for the Senate, shortsighted and antipathetic, consistently refused to co-operate with Rome's generals by willingly granting land. This meant that as time went on, these veterans of the Head Count were to find it expedient to adhere first to their generals (because their generals wanted to give them land) and only after that to Rome (because, embodied in the person of the Senate, Rome was reluctant to give them land).
Senatorial opposition to Saturninus's two land bills was obdurate and violent, though he did not entirely lack support among the upper classes. The first land bill succeeded, but the second land bill was passed only after Marius forced the members of the Senate to swear an oath to uphold it. Metellus Numidicus could not be persuaded to take this oath, and voluntarily went into exile after paying a huge fine-the penalty for not swearing.
But Scaurus Princeps Senatus had tricked the politically less talented Marius during the debates about the second land bill by making Marius admit there was a possibility that both of Saturninus's land bills were invalid. Until that moment totally loyal to Marius, Saturninus now turned against Marius as well as against the Senate, and began to plot the downfall of both.
Unfortunately for Marius, his health chose this moment to break down; a small stroke forced him to retire from political life for some months, during which Saturninus intrigued. The harvest was due to arrive in Rome in the autumn, but a Mediterranean-wide drought blighted it. For the fourth year in a row Rome's populace faced high grain prices and an acute lack of grain. This gave Saturninus his chance. He decided to become the First Man in Rome: not as consul but as tribune of the plebs, in which position he could control the huge masses of people who now gathered each day in the Forum Romanum to protest against the coming winter's privation. It was not the lowest classes Saturninus was wooing when he introduced his grain law to provide State-funded grain; he was actually wooing the merchants and trade guilds whose businesses were threatened because the lowest classes would not eat well. The votes of the lowest classes were worthless, but the votes of the merchants and trade guilds carried enough weight for him-with their support-to overthrow both the Senate and Gaius Marius.