One of the most influential figures in the history of the Roman Empire was Gaius Marius. He was an important politician and military leader who oversaw several huge changes during his lifetime.
His impact on the Empire was huge. Let’s take a look at 10 interesting facts about Gaius Marius.
Gaius Marius Facts
1: Gaius Marius was born in 157BC
Gaius Marius was born in 157BC in the Italian town of Aprinum, which is located in Southern Latium. The town had been given Roman Citizenship not long before his birth in 188BC. While there is no conclusive proof, it is speculated, given the path that Gaius Marius’s life would later take, that he was born into a family who was well-connected, at least locally.
This is reinforced by the fact that both Gaius Marius and his older brother, Marcus Marius, would be able to enter Roman public life.
2: The Legend of the Eagle’s Nest
One of the most popular legends surrounding the life of Gaius Marius is that of the eagle’s nest. As a teenager, it is said that Marius stumbled across an eagle’s nest that contained 7 eggs. A clutch of eagle’s eggs would commonly only have two or three eggs in it so to make such a discovery was incredibly rare.
At the time, eagles were considered to be sacred animals and as such, finding this was viewed as a prophecy for the rest of Marius’s life, an interesting fact about Gaius Marius. It is said that this predicted his election to consul 7 times. He would later make the eagle the symbol of the senate and the people of Rome.
3: Gaius Marius completed his first military service in 134BC
Gaius Marius would go on to become of the most influential leaders in the history of Rome, and he had his first taste of the military in 134BC when he joined Scipio Aemilianus’s personal legion for an expedition to Numantia.
It was during this time period that Marius began to earn the respect of those in positions of power within the military and in Rome itself. It is said that during one famous dinner, Scipio Aemilianus highlighted Gaius Marius as a future leader and this recognition was an early sign of what was to come for Marius.
4: Gaius Marius was elected to the Tribune of the Plebians
After being successful in the army and making some good relationships with those in positions of power in Rome, Gaius Marius entered into politics for the first time in 119BC. He would later become assigned to govern the province of Spain thanks to his excellent performance in the role.
Even his early days, Marius was seen as innovative and an astute politician, and while some of his earlier moves may have angered certain parts of the population, the changes that he made have all generally been seen as good ones.
5: Gaius Marius’s victory in the Jugurthan War
The ongoing conflict with Jugurtha, king of Numidia was a frustrating one for the Romans and it led to one of Gaius Marius’s greatest victories. Marius returned to Rome following a political hiatus and immediately sought election to the consul. Once he had achieved this, he set about making changes to the military structure and returned to Numidia to defeat Jugurtha.
Marius was successful in his plan and his forces captured Jugurtha and brought him to Rome, where he would late die in prison. An interesting fact about Gaius Marius is that this was seen as one of the most important victories of Marius’s life.
6: He was elected to the consul a record 7 times
Gaius Marius was famously elected to the consul in Rome on seven different occasions, a record number of election victories at that time.
He was first elected to the consul in 107BC and in this period he abolished land ownership qualifications for military service, this was one of his most significant political moves. He would then be elected five times in a row between 104BC and 100BC.
His final election, thus fulfilling the supposed prophecy from his teenage years, took place just before his death following his return to Rome in 86BC.
7: He was responsible for a lot of military reforms
During his long service as a military commander, Gaius Marius received a lot of recognition for his innovative approach to the military, especially its recruitment.
One of the most notable changes that Gaius Marius made to the army was during the conflict in Africa with Jugurtha. During this time, Marius allowed Romans of all classes to join the army, including the poor. This was seen as a big honour for those from poorer backgrounds and it considerably increased the size of his army, a fun fact about Gaius Marius.
While the move was openly criticised at the time, it would later become standard practice for the Roman army.
8: Involvement in the Social War in Rome
After a peaceful few years, chaos broke out in Rome in 91 BC when the tribune, Marcus Livius Drusus was assassinated. This led to a revolt in Rome and led to what became known as the Social War.
It was requested that Gaius Marius lead an army of Romans against the revolting forces. He did this but only survived one campaign before retiring.
The story behind this retirement is that he was struggling with health issues but many scholars believe it to have been a political move, with Marius facing a lot of pressure from political opponents during this time period.
9: Gaius Marius was married to Julius Caesar’s Aunt
Gaius Marius was married to Julia, who was the daughter of Gaius Julius Caesar II, the sister of Gaius Julius Caesar III and subsequently, the aunty of Julius Caesar.
The two married in 110 BC and it was this marriage that really established Gaius Marius as a significant mover in Roman society. The two would be happily married for many years and they had one son together, Gaius Marius the Younger, who himself was elected to the consul in 82BC, though, he committed suicide the same year.
Julia outlived her husband and died in 69BC. Her nephew, Julius Caesar gave an impassioned reading at her funeral.
10: Gaius Marius died in 86BC
After spending his life engaged in a conflict of one kind or another, Marius’s final years were to be no different.
After returning to Rome with Cinna to help defeat Octavian’s army, Marius was elected to the consul for a seventh, and what would be the final time, an interesting Gaius Marius fact. Just days into his reign, he began to lose focus and was showing signs of illness. This led to his death just seventeen days after his election at the age of 70.
There has been a lot of speculation as to the cause of death of Gaius Marius but the most commonly held theory is that he had contracted pleurisy and had died as a result of that.
Gaius Marius’s impact on the Roman Empire was undeniable. His progressive approach to warfare and his political changes paved the way for the likes of Julius Caesar and Augustus who came after him.
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