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Impact of Gaius Marius’ Reforms

2346 words (9 pages) Essay in History

08/02/20 History Reference this

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The Ancient Roman Republic civilisation formed in c. 509 BCE and lasted until circa 27 BCE, whilst Rome was founded in c. 753 BCE. The Roman Republic would go on to conquer the entirety of the Italian Peninsula as well as large areas of the Mediterranean world. The Roman Republic was built upon various laws as well as a government hierarchy that thrived through 500 years of control (Ducksters, 2019). During this period, various successful battles and achievements were obtained, but the inevitable downfall of the Roman Republic was caused by corruption from the men in power (About History, 2017). In particular, Gaius Marius’ military reforms and the many problems that that followed. Gaius Marius’s political reforms were formed on the ideology of strengthening the Roman Republic by professionalising the Roman military. These reforms provided many military benefits as well as expansion but the political impact they had on the Republic carried long term consequences that contributed to the decline of the Roman Republic (u.osu, 2017).

Gaius Marius came from a wealthy family from Arpinum who was part of the Equestrian class. Men from the equestrian class often joined the lower ranks of the Senate in Ancient Roman society. Marius was regarded as an excellent soldier, who had climbed the ranks of the Roman military. During Marius’ rise in rank, the Metellus family optioned to sponsor Marius’s political career. Marius was considered an ambitious man whose goal was to gain Consulship of the Roman Republic (White, 2011). An opportunity arose in 108 BCE, where Marius had the possibility to run for consul, but unfortunately, Metellus refused to support Marius during his run for the Consulship. This resulted in Marius being furious with Mettelus, which was followed by Marius gaining the support of the Equestrian businessmen as well as the military by persuading them into believing that he could end the ongoing war against Jugurtha in a few days (Huennekens, 2016). Marius then gained the full support of the plebeians, who contributed largely to Marius’ election to Consulship in 107 BCE along with full command of the war against Jugurtha (Taylor, 2017).

During the Jugurtha war, the Roman army was forced into a stalemate. During these critical periods, Plutarch mentions an account of Marius’s actions “It is the most obliging sight in the world to the Roman soldier to see a commander eat the same bread as himself, or lie upon an ordinary bed, to assist the work in the drawing a trench and raising a bulwark” – (Plutarch, The Life of Marius). This primary quote from Plutarch is essentially showing how letting Marius experience the war in person allowed him to make the necessary military reforms to defeat the enemy (Norris, 2015).

Marius’ life has been well documented by many historians but most significantly by the great ancient historian, Plutarch. Plutarch wrote his accounts of Marius’ life based on sources of three men, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, Quintus Latatius Catulus and Rutilius Rufus. These men were present during the time of Gaius Marius’ rise to power and had extreme motives against him (Lyes, 1998). Quintus Lutatius Catulus wrote angrily of Gaius Marius as Marius attempted to steal the credit of victory from Quintus at the battle of Vercellae. Marius had Rutilius Rufus tried for extortion as he incurred the hatred of the equestrian order. Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who many historians consider Marius’ arch enemy. The motives behind Plutarch’s partial sources enables one to see how the text and documentation of Marius’ life may be misrepresented. Furthermore, Plutarch portrays Marius as what a law enforcer should not be (White, 2011). This is further reinforced by Carney’s, Journal of Hellenic Studies on page 28 of his 1960 book, “Plutarch had a conventionalised picture of good conservatives and bad demagogues”. This quote means that Plutarch is restricted to the various statesmen that do not operate the same views and perceptions of the plebeian class (Matthew, 2010). Having Plutarch being the only major primary source is problematic as the use of the sources he used as well as deriving from nobility provide modern researchers with an abundance of questions that also paint Marius negatively. This potential bias of Plutarch on Marius affects the role Marius played in the eventual downfall of the Roman Republic (Bartram, 2018).

Marius’s motivations behind the implementation of the reforms were forced upon as Rome had suffered four straight significant defeats to the Celtic and Germanic tribes. Marius faced a major issue as he needed more soldiers to combat the invading tribes. For Marius to have enough soldiers, he eliminated the land requirement that was present that only allowed the wealthier classes to represent the Roman army (Nofi, 2019). This opportunity opened the military to any Roman male citizen, including the Plebeian classes. Marius improved Roman military training by using various techniques developed by ancient gladiators. These military reforms also replaced the original three soldier classes to many cohorts of men who were all armed with a gladius (short sword) and used the eagle to formalise the standard of all legions in the army. Marius’s motivations behind the reforms did exactly what was wished, to professionalise and revolutionise Rome’s military (Matthew, 2006).

Marius’ military reforms relied on removing the land requirements needed to join the Roman army. This reform allowed Marius access to the largest class of population in Rome, the Capite Censi. Past Roman reforms only allowed the Capite Censi to join the military only if Rome were facing military emergencies. (Nofi, 2019). The benefit of allowing the Capite Censi to join the Roman army was the expansion of the Roman military. Consequently, the landless troops who had nowhere to live after serving posed a dangerous precedent for the Roman hierarchy as senators had to offer retirement benefits like grants of land from newly conquered areas (White, 2011).

After these reforms were introduced, the Germanic and Celtic tribes were crushed by the revolutionised Roman army. Marius fought for his soldier’s rights and persuaded the Senate to grant land to the retiring veterans. This one reform that impacted the lives of many Romans outside of serving in the army, ended up contributing significantly to the decline of the Republic (Daily History, 2019). There were many repercussions behind this reform which were politically problematic as it gave too much control and power to the Plebeian classes and further plagued the Republic until its inevitable collapse in 30 BCE (About History, 2017).

The problems that followed the reforms caused great political tension. Civil wars broke out all over Rome after the reforms were introduced to granting land to veterans. The Roman soldiers relied on their generals to present treasures and loot from the wars and battles that took place. In return, the generals gained the loyalty from their troops which created a dangerous precedent in the eyes of the Senate as the legions went from being Rome’s armies to the general’s personal army (Erenow, 2019). Consequently, civil wars erupted as the various generals fought over total power and played a significant role in the decline of the Republic. The reforms that granted the land to the veterans, had negative long-term effects as many of the veterans originated from the landless classes and did not know how to grow and farm produce. This issue lead to many veterans falling into debt and turning on the Roman Republic with the military skills that they acquired whilst serving in the Roman army (White, 2011).

Rome’s army became more of a political force rather than a military force as generals obtained the complete loyalty of their soldiers and used them against each other (Daily History, 2019). Marius pioneered this ambitious approach towards advancing his own agenda as well as his own political career. After the social war, this mentality was adopted by Lucius Cornelius Sulla and allowed him to gain Consulship in 88 BCE (Gill, 2018).

In summary, Marius’s reforms made the Senate lose a lot of power and loyalty amongst the legions and once the power-hungry generals understood that their soldiers were completely loyal to them; not the Republic, then their own agendas were pursed. This inevitably led to outbursts of civil wars between generals and their own private armies. Once the Senate lost control over its legions and generals, the power swayed into the hands of powerful men and generals of the Republic. Although, the Roman Republic was already slowly declining before Marius, Marius’s military reforms were introduced to fix short-term problems which inevitably carried long-term consequences and contributed significantly to the decline of the Roman Republic.


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My interest in Gaius Marius came from not knowing who he is whilst being a significant contributing factor to the fall of the Roman Republic. Gaius Marius was significant towards the inevitable collapse of the Republic but his rise in power caught my interest. 


The aspect of Gaius Marius’ contribution to the fall of the Roman Republic is relatable back to the task of one ancient Roman political personalities input into the fall of the Roman Republic. Gaius Marius rose through the ranks and pursued his ambitions whilst introducing reforms that both benefitted and affected the Republic.




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