Historical Tales: 11—Roman - Charles Morris

Jugurtha, the Purchaser of Rome

Masinissa, the valiant old king of Numidia, who had ravaged Carthage in its declining days, left his kingdom to his three sons. On the death of Micipsa, the last remaining of these, in 118 B.C., he, in turn, left the kingdom to his two sons. They were still young, and Jugurtha, their cousin, was appointed their guardian and the regent of the kingdom.

Shrewd, bold, ambitious, and unscrupulous, Jugurtha was the most dangerous man in Numidia to whose care the young princes could have been confided. Scipio read his character rightly, and said to him, "Trust to your own good qualities, and power will come of itself. Seek it by base arts, and you will lose all."

Some of the young nobles in Scipio's camp gave baser advice. "At Rome," they told him, "all things could be had for money." They advised him to buy the support of Rome, and seize the crown of Numidia.

Jugurtha took this base advice, instead of the wise counsel of Scipio. He was destined to pay dearly for his ambition and lack of faith and honor. One of the young princes showed a high spirit, and Jugurtha had him assassinated. The other fled to Rome and sought the support of the senate. Jugurtha now, following the suggestions of his false friends, sent gold and promises to Rome, purchased the support of venal senators, and had voted to him the strongest half of the kingdom; Adherbal, the young prince, being given the weaker half.

But the young man was not left in peace, even in this reduced inheritance. Jugurtha sent more presents to Rome, and, confident of his strength there, boldly invaded the dominions of Adherbal. A Roman commission threatened him with Rome's displeasure if he did not keep within his own dominions. He affected to submit, but as soon as the commissioners turned their backs the daring adventurer renewed his efforts, got possession of his cousin through treachery, and at once ordered him to be put to death with torture.

Since Rome had become great and powerful no one had dared so openly to contemn its decrees. But Jugurtha knew the Romans of that day, and trusted to his gold. He bought a majority in the senate, defied the minority, and would have gained his aim but for one honest man. This was the tribune Memmius, who, seeing that the senate was hopelessly corrupt, called the people together in the Forum, told them of the crimes of Jugurtha, and demanded justice and redress at their hands.

And now a struggle arose like that between the Gracchi and the rich senators. Jugurtha sent more gold to Rome. An army was despatched against him, but he purchased it also. He gave up his elephants in pledge of good faith, and then bought them back at a high price. The officers divided the money, and the army failed to advance.

Jugurtha would have triumphed but for Memmius, who resolutely kept up his attacks. In the end the usurper was ordered to come to Rome,—under a safe-conduct. He came, and here by his gold purchased one of the tribunes, who protected him against the wrath of Memmius and the people. But Memmius was resolute and determined. Another Numidian prince was found and asked to demand the crown from the senate. Jugurtha learned what was afoot, and sent an agent, Bomilcar by name, to assassinate the new prince. An indictment was laid against Bomilcar, but Jugurtha, fearing to have his own share in the murder exposed, sent him off secretly to Africa.

This was too much, even for the purchased members of the senate. Such open disdain of the majesty of Rome no man, however avaricious, dared support. Jugurtha had a safe-conduct, and could not be seized, but he was ordered to quit Rome immediately. He did so, and as he passed out of the gates he looked back and said, "A city for sale if she can find a purchaser."

The remainder of Jugurtha's history is one of war. The time for winning power by bribery was past. The people were so thoroughly aroused and incensed that none dared yield to cupidity. The indignation grew. The first army sent against Jugurtha was baffled by the wily African, caught in a defile, and only escaped by passing under the yoke, and agreeing to evacuate Numidia.

This disgrace stirred Rome more deeply still. A new consul was elected and a new army raised. A commission was appointed to inquire into the conduct of the senate, and several of the leading members were found guilty of high treason and put to death without mercy. Rome had begun to purge itself.

The new general, Metellus, was not one to be sent under the yoke. He defeated Jugurtha in the field and pursued him so unrelentingly that soon the African usurper was a fugitive, without an army, and with only some fortresses under his control.

Metellus had with him as his principal officer a man who was to become famous in Roman history. This man, Caius Marius, was then fifty years of age. Yet he had years enough before him to play a mighty part. He was a man of the people, rough and uneducated; scorned learning, but had a vigorous ambition and a striking military genius. He claimed to be a New Man, knew no Greek, and boasted that he had no images but "prizes won by valor and scars upon his breast."

This man made himself the favorite of the populace, was elected consul, and by undisguised trickery took the conduct of the war out of the hands of Metellus just as the latter was about to succeed. With him to Africa went another man who was to become equally famous, L. Cornelius Sulla, the future chief of Rome. Sulla was not a New Man. He was an aristocrat, knew Greek better than Marius knew Latin, was educated and dissipated, and showed the marks of a dissolute life in his face. When he rode into the camp of Marius at the head of the cavalry he had seen no service, and the rugged soldier looked with contempt on this effeminate pleasure-seeker who had been sent as his lieutenant. He soon learned his mistake, and before the campaign ended Sulla was his most trusted officer and chief adviser.

In the subsequent conduct of the war there is an interesting story to tell. There were two hill-forts in Numidia which still remained in Jugurtha's control. One of these was taken easily. The other—which contained all that was left of the usurper's treasures—was a formidable place, which long defied the Roman engineers. It stood on a precipitous rock, with only a single narrow ascent; was well garrisoned and supplied with arms, food, and water; and so long defied all the efforts of Marius that he almost despaired of its capture.

In this dilemma a happy chance came to his aid. A Ligurian soldier, a practised mountaineer, being in search of water, saw a number of snails crawling up the rock in the rear of the castle. These were a favorite food with him, and he gathered what he saw, and climbed the cliff in search of more. Higher and higher he went, till he had nearly reached the summit of the rock. Here he found himself near a large oak, which had rooted itself in the rock crevices, and grew upward so as to overtop the castle hill.

The Ligurian, led by curiosity, climbed the tree, and gained a point from which he could see the castle, undefended on this side, and without sentinels. Having taken a close observation, he descended, carefully examining every point as he went. He now hastened to the tent of Marius, recounted to him his exploit, and offered to guide a party up the perilous ascent.

Marius was quick to seize this hopeful chance. Five trumpeters and four centurions were selected, who were placed under the leadership of the mountaineer. Laying aside all clothing and arms that would obstruct them, they followed the Ligurian up the rock. He, an alert and skilful climber, here and there tied ropes to projecting points, here lent them the aid of his hand, here sent them up ahead and carried their arms after them. At length, with great toil and risk, they reached the summit, and found the castle at this point undefended and unwatched, the Numidians being all on the opposite side.

Marius, being apprised of their success, ordered a vigorous assault in front. The garrison rushed to the defence of their outer works. In the heat of the action a sudden clangor of trumpets was heard in their rear. This unexpected sound spread instant alarm. The women and children who had come out to watch the contest fled in terror. The soldiers nearest the walls followed. At length the whole body, stricken suddenly with panic, took to flight, followed in hot pursuit by their foes.

Over the deserted works the Romans clambered, into the castle they burst, all who opposed them were cut down, and in a short time the place which had so long defied them was theirs, while the four trumpets to which their victory was due sounded loudly the war-peal of triumph.

Jugurtha was still at large. He was supported by Bocchus, king of Mauritania, whose daughter he had married. Sulla was sent to demand his surrender. Bocchus refused at first, but at length, through fear of Rome, consented, and the bold usurper was betrayed into Sulla's bands.

The end of Jugurtha was one in accordance with the brutal cruelty of Rome, yet it was one which he richly deserved. It was in the month of January, 104 B.C., three years after his capture, that Marius entered Rome in triumphal procession, displaying to the people the spoils of his victories, while before his car walked his captive in chains.

The African seemed sunk in stupor as he walked. He was roused by the brutal mob, who tore off his clothes and plucked the gold rings from his ears. Then he was thrust into the dungeon at the foot of the Capitoline Hill. "Hercules, what a cold bath this is!" he exclaimed. There he who had defied Rome and lorded it over Africa starved to death. A prince of the line of Masinissa succeeded him on the throne.