Scholia Reviews ns 5 (1996) 24.

Richard J. Evans, Gaius Marius: A Political Biography. Pretoria: University of South Africa Press, 1994. Pp. xiv + 247. ISBN 0-86981-850-3. R137.00 US$36.00 UKú24.00

Alex Nice
University of the Witwatersrand

Evans considers that 'Marius' role as a politician and pivotal figure . . . has to some extent been overlooked'; his belief is that 'an examination of Marius, and his part in various political crises, his allies and his opponents, remains fundamental not only to an understanding of the complexities of republican politics, but also to an awareness of the constant evolution which inevitably hurtled the Republic from its inception towards an autocracy. Marius,' he adds, 'played a full part in this process.' (preface, p. xii). Scullard once said that it was because Marius lacked political ability or ambition that he felt compelled to deal with Saturninus and Glaucia.[[1]] Evans sets out to show that this was not true in either respect.

Evans presents a prologue (pp. 1-17) followed by four main chapters: the Early Career of Marius (pp. 18-51); Marius and the Consulship (pp. 52-93); Marius and the Tribunate (pp. 94-138); Family Ties and Political Alliances in Marius' Career (pp. 139- 168). A short epilogue (pp. 169-174) sums up the work and there are full appendices concerning the Republican cursus honorum (pp. 175-194); the consilium of the Senatus Consultum de agro Pergameno (pp. 195-206); and Magistrates in the period 130-86 BC (pp. 207-216).

The prologue to Evans' work is essentially a critique of the source material available for a study of Marius' life. He begins with the most concrete form of the evidence: the elogium of C. Marius as reconstructed by Mommsen.[[2]] Evans' speculates on the reliability of the elogium. He suggests that although an artist entrusted with the task of creating the elogium at the end of the first century 'was relatively closer in time to the events than we are today, he was, nonetheless, not obviously in a better position to obtain accurate details . . . ' (p. 4). This suggestion later allows him to question the reliability of the elogium as evidence for Marius' quaestorship (pp. 32-35).

In the remainder of his prologue Evans considers the reliability of the literary source material. In the main he sees differing hostile strands; one exception is the evidence of Cicero which, however, he suggests should still be treated with caution (p. 10). Moreover, Evans argues that in order to reach the real and historical Marius (whose political significance was lost over time in favour of his military expertise) 'layer after layer of deliberate or unintentional obfuscation must first be stripped away' (p. 17).[[3]] But Evans' appreciation of the method by which ancient historians composed their histories does not rule out some occasional lapses. For example, Evans remarks that 'Marius' career was objectively [my italics] handled by historians such as Fenestella and Asellio' (pp. 13-14); or 'Sallust's proximity to the actual events and his first hand knowledge of Roman politics must make his evidence dependable' (p. 106);[[4]] or 'Marius' connections with various tribunes of the people are 'well- documented and indisputable' (p. 153). But the vagaries of the source material allows Evans to indulge in some moments of pure speculation. For example, he suggests that Marius may have held municipal office during his period of inactivity (p. 29); or that Marius may have spent time in Asia during the period when Pergamum was converted into a province and increased his considerable fortune there (p. 31); in the second chapter Evans states: 'a consular candidacy by Marius is unattested in the sources, but may be assumed with some confidence for either 113 or 112, even if Cicero's evidence (Off. 3.79) might appear to rule out such a contention.' (p. 58) This is a rash suggestion, and in view of what Evans relates about the presence of topoi in the Plutarchian and Sallustian sources it seems unlikely that they would have missed out on the opportunity to mention a repulsa for the highest office of state when repulsae are a feature of Marius' early career. It is simply more likely that, in fact, he did not stand for the consulship at this time.

Evans dates Marius' entry into the army to 141/140 (p. 27) and his subsequent military tribunate to 130/129 rather than the late 120s. Pursuing the tone of his prologue, Evans considers that the evidence of Valerius Maximus telescopes events and they can quite easily be reinterpreted. But Evans is surely right to suggest that any hiatus in Marius' career is more likely to have come after a period of military service and his military tribunate rather than before. As the table on p. 30 indicates, there were several politicians who had lengthy periods of apparent inactivity in their political careers.

On the subject of Marius' tribunate Evans again considers the problem of the source material. He suggests that the repulsa recorded by Valerius Maximus for 121 looks 'suspiciously more like a literary device than a historical episode' (p. 36). Repulsae are a motif in the early life of Marius (one for a municipal magistracy; one for the tribunate; two for the aedileship), and it is possible that if Valerius Maximus is not at fault then one of the sources was attempting to paint a picture of Marius struggling to rise to the top against adversity and the arrogance of the nobles.

Evans also questions the reliability of the source evidence for the course of Marius' tribunate. This time it is Plutarch's evidence that is disputed. Evans considers that Plutarch's presentation of Marius' voting law as a popular measure overrides all other aspects of this law, which posed no real threat to the senate; rather Marius was doing just enough to make his name known. Evans considers, too, that the lex frumentaria could be a literary topos rather than corresponding to real events; although if it did happen that Marius was actually defending the existing Gracchan legislation (contra Plutarch)[[5]] Evans' argument for the dating of the double defeat at the aedile elections to 117 and his election for the praetorship to 116 is convincing. As Evans points out, the double repulsa of 117 was a crucial factor in hastening Marius' career. In view of the evidence, he considers that Marius' early career was not retarded at all from the outset. In fact, when Marius became consul at the age of 50 he was only the same age as Sulla when he became consul, and few would accuse Sulla of a lack of political acumen.

On the subject of Marius' first consulship, Evans considers that he must have planned his campaign well in advance, as is implied by the account of Sallust (pp. 66-67). Evans argues that Sallust's account plays up the nature of Marius' triumph in the consular elections because he wants to stress the fact that a novus homo from Arpinum was able to defeat the corrupt aristocracy at their own game.[[6]]

Evans is right to play down the limit of Marius' military reforms especially in the light of modern research.[[7]] The number of capite censi enrolled may have been very small (p. 75)[[8]] and this represents a relatively small adjustment to what had probably already become normal practice. Greater emphasis is placed on the number of precedents that Marius, either himself or through tribunician assistance, set in the 100s: his subversion of C. Gracchus' tribunician law (p. 78); his illegal election to a second consulship (p. 81); the provision of land for his troops under the lex agraria of Saturninus (p. 118)) and on the mix of skill and luck that Marius had in securing six consulships. Evans is quite right to point out that, of these, three were accompanied by no military action whatsoever (p. 93). Yet while it is evident that Marius' political skills were very great, Evans wants to relegate his army reforms of the Roman army and his successes in warfare to a 'less prominent position where they probably belong' (p. 92). But Marius used his military success as one of the strongest weapons in his political armoury; in that sense his military ability should not be 'relegated' or overlooked, although it perhaps plays a lesser role than has previously been argued. An essential part of a Roman politician's road to gloria and virtus lay in his success on the battlefield: of this Marius had plenty and its contribution to his political success should not be underrated.[[9]]

Evans' procedure in chapters three and four is to explore in more detail Marius' personal relationships. Chapter three considers the importance of his own and others' tribunates' during the period 120-110; and the use that Marius, himself, made of tribunes. The chapter goes on to discuss the role that Marius played in the 90s. Evans disputes the evidence of Plutarch concerning the position of Marius after his suppression of Saturninus and Glaucia and his supposed incitation of Mithridates, and argues that 'it is rather more befitting to visualise [Marius] as a patriarchal figure in this period who did not stoop to the intrigue of those he now considered lesser and inferior figures in the senate.' (p. 131). There is, however, very little evidence to support this or any alternative view.

Evans argues that Marius' use of Sulpicius was a return to his policy of 107 and even the law to give him a command against Mithridates was not unprecedented since it paralleled that of 107 giving him command against Jugurtha. But Evans explains subsequent events by Marius' miscalculation of Sulla's response to the law that deprived him of command. This ultimately led to Marius' seizure of Rome. The murder of his political enemies is presented as simply one more in a long list of precedents. Evans misses the opportunity here to see this as evidence of Marius' slighted dignitas; just as Caesar had to cross the Rubicon in 49 so Marius had to regain Rome to regain his position. Rather Evans regards this as 'unquenchable ambitio that overcame an unusually astute sense of judgement; the result, the beginning of the Roman revolution' (p. 138, citing Badian).[[10]]

Evans attempts throughout chapters three and four to take into account current hypotheses on the nature of the republican senatorial oligarchy (p. xii). Particularly important is his realisation of the shifting and fluctuating nature of political, personal and even family relationships at Rome in the late Republic. Evans considers that Marius' use of tribunes in 107 and 103 does not imply the existence of a strong and devoted following (p. 121) and, moreover, he considers Saturninus as 'his own man and all the more daunting for this independence' (p. 85). The realisation, too, that Saturninus and Glaucia were using Marius at least as much as he was using them is in total accord with the consideration expressed by Cicero when considering the turbulent years of the 80s: 'The men involved did not want there to be no res publica at all, but rather that they should be the leading men (principes) in the res publica which was to continue to exist. They did not want to burn down this city, but rather to flourish within it.'[[11]] The pursuit of individual gloria was all important for the Roman[[12]] and within such a system the politician had to consider most of his contemporaries as rivals. This system was unlikely to produce stable political groupings which modern commentators have tried to reproduce (Evans criticises Mommsen for this [pp. 14-15]). 'The coalition of interests which each politician had to put together to get elected was complex, transitory and entirely personal to that individual.'[[13]]

On points of presentation and style it is unfortunate that Evans does not employ pictorial evidence more effectively. Apart from the photo of a 'Bust presumed to be that of C. Marius' (frontispiece from the Staatliche Antikensammlungen und Glyphotek Muenchen) there are no other photographs in the book, although there are line drawings of numismatic evidence. Since Evans refers to 'the value of numismatic evidence and its use to the historian' (p. xii) and effectively employs Crawford's Roman Republican Coinage we might expect greater deployment and strategic use of such evidence pictorially. None of this pictorial evidence is numbered or indexed and the siting of the sketches is unfortunate. For example, on p. 41 where Evans presents the denarius of C. Metellus, dated to c. 125 BC, Metellus' name does not appear either on p. 40 or 41 although numismatic evidence is cited in the form of a denarius issued by the monetalis, P. Licinius Nerva, which may have supported the Marius' tribunician voting bill. It would have been more relevant and helpful to Evans' discussion to have been able to see this coin issue. The coin issue of Herennius on p. 162 is the only sketch where there is direct relevance to the textual discussion. Coin evidence could have been more usefully introduced, for example, to back up pp. 40-42 on the monetalis Licinius Nerva or on pp. 161ff. which consider the coinage of various individuals including the denarii of Q. Lutatius Cerco, that of M. Herennius, and the denarii of Saturninus and Caldus.

Throughout the book Evans makes use of tables such as, for example, periods of political inactivity of politicians (p. 30) or magistrates who had a delay between the praetorship and consulship (p. 59). Together with Appendix One, these tables are helpful to elucidate Evans' arguments concerning the republican cursus honorum and Marius' political career in a clear and concise manner.

Evans' conclusions centre on Marius' all- consuming desire to be pre-eminent in the city. He considers that it was Marius 'who dealt the mortal blow from which no full revival could ever realistically be entertained.' And that in many respects the title 'The Deadly Reformer' belongs to Marius rather than his younger contemporary Sulla because his 'political schemes immeasurably weakened the Senate's ability to govern' (p.174). This conclusion will not satisfy all readers of this book but there is much to commend. Evans manages to combine a historical with a historiographical approach, analysing and exposing the flaws and lacunae in the literary evidence, while keeping sight of his objective to integrate numismatic and epigraphic evidence in order to reassess the political career of C. Marius.


[[1]] H.H. Scullard, From the Gracchi to Nero (London 1982[5]) 60.

[[2]] CIL 12.1 195 (XVIII), cf. 10.5782, 11.1831.

[[3]] See T.P. Wiseman, 'Practice and Theory in Roman historiography' Historia 66 (1981) 375-393.

[[4]] But see his comment on the composer of Marius' elogium (p. 4).

[[5]] This point of view is also expressed by A.W. Lintott, 'Political history, 146-95BC' CAH 9 (Cambridge 1994) 86.

[[6]] But in this context Evans argues that the election was not as remarkable as Sallust makes it out to be. It is even omitted by Livy's epitome and the surviving fragments of Diodorus and is played down by Plutarch who does not seem to have used Sallust at this point (p.70).

[[7]] For example, see M.J.V. Bell, 'Tactical reform in the Roman republican army' Historia 14 (1965) 404-422.

[[8]] J.W. Rich, 'The supposed manpower shortage of the later Second Century BC' Historia 32 (1983) 287-331; P.A. Brunt, Fall of the Roman Republic (Oxford 1988) 253-254.

[[9]] See for example, Cic. Mur. 30.1: 'There are two skills which can raise men to the highest level of dignitas: one is that of a general, the second that of a good orator.'

[[10]] E. Badian, 'Marius and the nobles' DUJ 25 (1963-64) 152.

[[11]] Cic. Cat. 3.25.

[[12]] T.P. Wiseman, (1985) 'Competition and co- operation' in T.P. Wiseman (ed.), Roman Political Life (Exeter 1985) 12; see N. Rosenstein, 'Competition and crisis in mid- Republican Rome' Phoenix 47 (1993) 313-338.

[[13]] J. Patterson, (1985) 'Politics in the late Republic' in T.P. Wiseman (ed.), Roman Political Life (Exeter 1985) 35.