Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.02.31

Gareth C. Sampson, The Crisis of Rome: The Jugurthine and Northern Wars and the Rise of Marius.   Barnsley:  Pen & Sword Military, 2010.  Pp. xxvii, 259; 8 p. of plates.  ISBN 9781844159727.  $39.95.  

Reviewed by Colin Bailey, Grant MacEwan University (

Gareth Sampson offers a reassessment of the late second century, considering the war against Jugurtha and Numidia in light of contemporaneous wars on the northern frontiers. Sampson argues that a tendency to focus on the domestic political history of Rome in this period has resulted in a consistently skewed perception which emphasizes the rise of a political outsider, Marius, the introduction of significant military reforms, and the foundations for the demise of the Republic under later generals. Marius was the victim of a hostile source tradition and Rome was in the midst of a military crisis which threatened Roman interests on all sides of Italy. The book is directed towards a popular audience.

Sampson discusses Rome’s wars of the later second century BC in chapters one to three, suggesting that during this period the northern frontiers dominated Rome’s attention. Conflicts of varying scale prevented Rome from attending to events in North Africa and the Senate relied on and even encouraged an increasingly powerful Numidia in that region. Rome’s focus remained on the north until the final stages of the Numidian civil war and the massacre at Cirta, when popular opinion and outrage forced a military commitment to the growing war in Africa.

Chapters four and five focus on the roles of Rome’s early commanders against Jugurtha up to the command of Metellus in 108. Sampson suggests that “Jugurtha was … not seen as an implacable enemy of Rome” until 109 (69), despite the earlier assassination of Massiva (“the final break with the Senate”), the Battle at Suthul and Aulus Postumius’ shameful peace in 110. Only with Metellus’ command did senatorial goals coincide with “Roman public opinion [which] would brook no peace terms that did not end in [Jugurtha’s] being paraded though [sic] Rome” (91).

This level of commitment may have left Rome in a “potentially more dangerous” situation by the end of Metellus’ command through Jugurtha’s creation of a “grand alliance” with the Gaetulian and Mauri tribes. Sampson does, however, note that Metellus was able to split the alliance at Cirta, and that the war against Numidia had been “virtually won” by the time of Marius’ arrival (108). He then credits Marius in chapters five and seven with ensuring that the potential danger of the situation was not realized, particularly through his two victories at Cirta, won through a combination of location and the inferior quality of Jugurtha’s troops. Marius ensured that Rome would not have to accept an imminent defeat in the African war in the face of threats in the north and the evolving intentions of the Cimbri. Sampson suggests in chapter eight that the Cimbri had begun to seek a decisive confrontation with Roman forces in order to disrupt Roman authority in the region and thereby secure a safe place in which to settle. The resulting Roman defeat at Arausio in 105 was comparable to Cannae.

Chapters nine and ten focus on Marius’ efforts against the Cimbri upon their return from Spain. Sampson suggests that it was only now that they were joined by the Teutones and Ambrones, in a “grand tribal alliance” of their own, to facilitate “a single knock-out blow to Rome” (152). Marius, again, through his choice of battlefields, his “incredible patience”, his discipline, and his “simple but effective tactics” successfully prevented the tribal invasion (175).

Marius’ reforms and their results are delayed until the final chapter, where their import is challenged, as are the implied census level reductions as a means of increasing available manpower. Marius’ waiving of a land requirement for his soldiers was not necessarily intended to set a precedent and should be considered in the context of an emergency situation: in the absence of a standing army it could not have been a universal reform. Sampson notes the use of unmodified javelins after Marius and, following Bell’s 1965 article in Historia, the use of both the cohort and the maniple before and after Marius’ ‘reforms’. Marius’ major contribution to the northern wars was, then, not a series of lasting military innovations, but rather the training of his army in 104/103 “in the art of fighting a tribal enemy”, though he is not the only consul to have done so in the campaigns against the Cimbri (Rutilius Rufus, for example [140]).

Sampson concludes with a series of six appendices. Appendices I, II and IV discuss, respectively, Marius’ consulship of 100, the minor wars between 104 and 100, and the dominance of the Metellan family between 123 and 98. Appendix VI provides a list of African kings. Appendices III and V, however, are the most relevant to the main text. The former focuses on the question of Italian manpower. Sampson notes that manpower was problematic in 109, but argues that the defeats at the hands of the Cimbri were due to the failings of Roman commanders and the numbers of the tribal enemies more than to insufficient Roman numbers. Despite military overextension and a degree of military incompetence on the part of its consuls, Rome, Sampson concludes, faced temporary crises which would not have meant inevitable collapse; the implications of these crises are characterized as much more dire in the Preface (xxi).

Appendix V offers an introduction to a number of ancient authors used in the book which is helpful to a reader unfamiliar with the sources. Major and fragmentary authors are listed and briefly situated; one may note, though, the absence of Cicero and Dionysius here, both of whom are repeatedly used by Sampson, and the absence of Tacitus, whose brief note on the origins of the Cimbri at Germania 37 is missing in the discussion of their earliest migrations (52).

The fragmentary nature of the sources occasionally compels Sampson to speculate, especially regarding the scope and scale of the northern crisis. His efforts in assembling fragmentary sources, however, are commendable, as is his readiness to question some sources in light of others. Nonetheless, it may be noted that not all sources are treated alike: the reader is warned of the dangers of Plutarch’s Life of Sulla, which must have used sources hostile to Marius, but not of biases which Orosius incorporated into his History against the Pagans. The reviewer also has some concern about the use of sources in places. Thus, Livy’s accounts of Numidian support in Rome’s eastern wars are noted in a section detailing the second century background and Rome’s complicity in the rise of Numidia at the expense of Carthage, but Carthaginian support in the same passages of Livy is ignored, encouraging the traditional assumption of unrelenting Roman hatred of Carthage (31.19.4, 32.27.2, 36.4.8, 43.6.13).

Sampson's reappraisal of Marius and the late second century leaves some important issues unresolved. In suggesting that Marius’ reforms were not as far-reaching as is often assumed, he leaves the final assessment to “every reader to decide for themselves, based on the evidence they have analysed” (190). Similarly, apropos of the intentions of the Cimbri after their victory at Arausio, it is left “to the reader to draw their own conclusions” (133). The author does make an important distinction between the war on Jugurtha and that on Numidia, but a similar distinction between Metellus’ war or Marius’ war on Jugurtha and Rome’s war on Jugurtha is not as clear. Perhaps more problematic is the implication that Rome had a single, consistent policy in North Africa (and elsewhere), though it is evident that both Carthage and Numidia, both Jugurtha and Adherbal, had support within the Senate.

There are a number of editing errors. Thus, the List of Illustrations reads “[List of illustrations to follow once images are finalized]” (ix). The illustrations take the form of eight plates to which, however, reference is not made in the text. The bibliography is organized conveniently for a general reader by topic, but some important works, particularly for the questions of popular sovereignty and patronal dominance which figure in the background of Marius’ career, such as Millar’s The Crowd in Rome in the Late Republic and Mouritsen’s Plebs and Politics in the Late Roman Republic, are absent, perhaps understandably given the intended audience. Endnotes are numerous, but they are not always immediately relevant – thus, in a discussion of Rosenstein’s consideration of military service and census data, note 486 refers the reader to an earlier note, which references Cicero and E. Gabba for census reductions; Rosenstein and military service, however, appear in neither note. Inaccuracies also appear on occasion; thus, for example, on page 205 the censors are elected in the Senate rather than the comitia centuriata.

The book, then, is not without its problems, but it can be beneficial for a popular audience in reiterating the importance of viewing Rome and its frontiers together rather than focusing on political developments within the city or on the wars which are emphasized in our sources.

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