Jugurthine War

Jugurthine War

Sulla Capturing Jugurtha
Date112–106 BC
Result Roman victory
Mauretania given some Numidian territory
Roman Republic Numidia
Commanders and leaders
Gaius Marius
Lucius Cornelius Sulla
Quintus Caecilius Metellus
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The Jugurthine War took place in 112–106 BC, between Rome and Jugurtha of Numidia, a kingdom on the north African coast approximating to modern Algeria. Jugurtha was the nephew and adopted son of Micipsa, King of Numidia, whom he succeeded on the throne, overcoming his rivals through assassination, war, and bribery.

The war constituted an important phase in the Roman subjugation of Northern Africa, but Numidia did not become a Roman province until 46 BC. Following Jugurtha's usurpation of the throne of Numidia,[1] a loyal ally of Rome since the Punic Wars,[2] Rome felt compelled to intervene.

Jugurtha and Numidia

Numidia was a kingdom located in North Africa (roughly corresponding to northern modern day Algeria) adjacent to what had been Rome's arch enemy, Carthage. King Masinissa, who was a steadfast ally of Rome in the Third Punic War, died in 149, and was succeeded by his son Micipsa, who ruled 149-118 BC. At the time of his death Micipsa had three potential heirs, his two sons, Adherbal and Hiempsal I, and an illegitimate nephew, Jugurtha. Jugurtha had fought under Scipio Aemilianus at the siege of Numantia, where, through friendship with Roman aristocrats, he had formed an acquaintance with Roman manners and military tactics. Micipsa, worried that at his death Jugurtha would usurp the kingdom from his own somewhat less able sons, adopted him, and bequeathed the kingship jointly to his two sons and Jugurtha.[3] After King Micipsa's death the three kings fell out, and ultimately agreed between themselves to divide their inheritance into three separate kingdoms;[4] however, they were unable to agree on the terms of division, and Jugurtha declared open war on his cousins; Hiempsal, who though the younger was the braver of the brothers, was assassinated by Jugurtha's agents, and Adherbal, unable to defend himself, was defeated and forced to fly to Rome, where he appealed for arbitration to the Roman Senate.[5]

Although the Senate were securities for Micipsa's will, they now allowed themselves to be bribed by Jugurtha into overlooking his crimes, and organized a commission, led by the ex-Consul Lucius Opimius, to fairly divide Numidia between the remaining contestants (116 BC). However, Jugurtha bribed the Roman officials in the commission into allotting him the better, more fertile and populace western half of Numidia, while Adherbal received the east.[6] Powerless against Roman corruption, Adherbal accepted and peace was made. Shortly after, in 113 BC, Jugurtha again declared war on his brother, and defeated him, forcing him to retreat into Cirta, Adherbal's capital.[7] Adherbal held out for some months, aided by a large number of Roman Equites who had settled in Africa for commercial purposes. From inside his siege lines, Adherbal appealed again to Rome, and the Senate dispatched a message to Jugurtha to desist. The latter ignored the demand, and the Senate sent a second commission, this time headed by Marcus Scaurus, a respected member of the aristocracy, to threaten the Numidian king into submission. The king, pretending to be open to discussion, protracted negotiantions with Scaurus long enough for Cirta to run out of provisions or hope. When Scaurus left without having forced Jugurtha to a commitment, Adherbal, gave up hope of relief, and surrendered. Jugurtha promptly had him executed, along with the Romans who had joined in the defense of Cirta.[8] But the deaths of Roman citizens caused an immediate furor among the commoners at home, and the Senate, threatened by the popular tribune Gaius Memmius, finally declared war on Jugurtha in 111 BC., though with reluctance.[9][10]


Lucius Calpurnius Bestia, consul for the year, was appointed to command the Roman army in Africa against Jugurtha; he was accompanied by Scaurus and other experienced officers, and received an offer of alliance from Bocchus, king of Mauretania. The defection of Bocchus, his own father-in-law, filled Jugurtha with alarm, and he sent to the Roman consul to surrender.[11] Whereupon the Roman senators, no longer looking on him as a threat, allowed themselves to be bribed into granting him a treaty on extremely lenient terms; Numidia was restored to Juguratha intact, and a small fine and the remital of his war-elephants (which he later bought back at reduced price from corrupt officers), was the only price he was forced to pray for his crimes.[12] In fact, so favourable were Jugurtha's terms of surrender that it led to a renewal of the popular outcry at Rome; at the demand of the Tribune Memmius, an investigation was launched into the proceedings of the treaty.[12] Jugurtha was summoned to Rome, -with the promise of a safe-conduct- and appeared as a witness, but, rather than complying with the inquisition, bribed two Roman Tribunes to veto the proceedings and prevent him from testifying. In the ensuing outrage, Juguratha's cousin Massiva, who had fled to Rome in fear of his cousin, seized the opportunity to press his own claim to the Numidian throne. Jugurtha assassinated him, and the Senate, though initially inclined to accept bribery again to allow him to escape retribution,[13] was ultimately compelled by his insolence and by the fury of the mob to expel him from the city and revoke the recent peace.[14]

Spurius, Aulus Postumius

The consul Spurius Postumius Albinus took command of the Roman army in Africa (110 BC.), but failed to carry out energetic action, due to incompetence, indiscipline in his army, and-it was alleged-bribery by Jugurtha. Later in the year Albinus returned to Italy, leaving the command to his brother, Aulus Postumius Albinus Magnus. The latter, more active though no more able than his brother, decided on a bold stroke, marching in mid-winter to besiege the town of Suthul, where the Numidian treasury was kept. However, the town was strongly garrisoned and excellently fortified, and could not be captured. Postumious, anxious not to have retreated without striking the enemy a blow, allowed Juguratha to lure him into the desolate wilds of the Sahara, where the cunning Numidian king, who had reportedly bribed Roman officers to facilitate his attack, was able to catch the Romans at a disadvantage. Half the Roman army were killed, and the survivors forced to pass under the yoke in a disgraceful symbolism of surrender.[15] The beaten Postumius signed a treaty resigning Numidia to Juguratha, and returning to the peace concluded with Bestia and Scaurus. The Roman Senate, however, when it heard of this capitulation, refused to honor the conditions, and continued the war.[16]


After Postumius' defeat, the Senate finally shook itself from its lathargy, appointing as commander in Africa the patrician Quintus Metellus, who had a reputation for integrity and courage. Metellus proved the soundness of his judgement by selecting as officers for the campaign men of ability rather than of rank, as the former tribune Gaius Marius (a plebeian from Arpinum) and the noted disciplinarian and military theorist Publius Rutilius Rufus.[17] Metellus arrived in Africa as consul in 109 BC., and dedicated the remainder of the year to a serious disciplinary reform of his demoralized forces.[18] In spring of 108, Meteluss led his reorganized army into Numidia; Jugurtha was alarmed and attempted negotiation, but Metellus prevaricated, and without granting Jugurtha terms, conspired with Jugurtha's envoys to capture Jugurtha and deliver him to the Romans. The crafty Jugurtha, guessing Metellus's intentions, broke up negotiation and retreated; withdrew south beyond the Numidian mountains and took up positiion on the plains behind.[19] Metellus followed and crossed the mountains into the desert, advancing to the river Muthul. Jugurtha had divided his army into two detachments, one of which (composed of cavalry and the best of his infantry) lay south of the mountain on the right flank of the Romans who were marching to the river Muthul, which lay parallel to the mountains, 18 miles to the south; the second lay further south, closer to the river (formed of war-elephants and the rest of the infantry).[20] Metellus handled the situation by sending one force directly south to the river under Rufus while the rest under Metellus and Marius marched obliquely south-west to dislodge Jugurtha from his position and prevent him from hindering the march of the first body to the river. Jugurtha, however, displaying excellent generalship, dispatched a column of infantry to hold the mountain passes as soon as the Romans had descended into the plain, thus cutting off their line of retreat; while his cavalry harried Metellus's detachment of infantry in swarms along the plain-to which the Romans were unable to properly respond, since they had no cavalry themselves.[21] Meanwhile, Rufus had advanced to the river, but was attacked by Jugurtha's southern force, thus the two Roman armies were incapable of coming to each other's relief. However, although Metellus' army was now entrapped in the desert with fewer troops and inferior generalship, the Romans still prevailed simultaneously on both fronts. Rufus overpowered the southern detachment by a forward charge, sending the elephants and infantry of the enemy flying over the desert; while Metellus and Marius, rallying a group of legionaries, charged to occupy the single hill on the plain, which commanded the situation. The inferior Numidian soldiers of Jugurtha were powerless before the charge of Roman infantry, and scattered backwards over the desert with loss.[22]

After this defeat a fresh round of negotiations ensued between Jugurtha and the Roman commander. Although Jugurtha offered heavy concessions, they were ultimately unsuccessful because Metellus believed the war could only end with the capture of Jugurtha, who refused to become a prisoner.[23] To resist the Romans more effectually, Jugurtha dismissed most of his low-quality recruits, keeping only the most active troops of infantry and light cavalry, in order to maintain the war by gurrila tactics.[24] In 108 BC. Metellus advanced once again, capturing town after town, but was unable to capture his enemy. Though another engagement took place in which Jugurtha was defeated, the latter was able to retreat, falling back with his family and treasure boxes to the desert fortress of Thala, which was inaccessible except by an excruciating march of three days through the desert without water. Metellus furnished his army with skins for water transport and followed to besiege the fortress, which fell after forty days. However, Jugurtha managed to escape from the flaming wreckage, undoing all of Metellus' efforts.[25]

At this point Jugurtha retired to the court of his father-in-law, king Bocchus I of Mauretania, who though previously professing friendship for the Romans, now received Jugurtha hospitably, and, without positively declaring war (on Rome), advanced with his troops into Numidia as far as Cirta, the capital.[26] Metellus, who had taken up winter quarters in the area after the conclusion of the campaign, began negotiation with Bocchus to hand over Jugurtha. But before an agreement could be reached, Metellus was deposed from his command by the Roman Tribal Assembly and replaced by his lieutenant, Gaius Marius.[27] An internal struggle in the Roman camp between Metellus and Marius led to this change of command. Metellus looked unfavorably on Marius' known ambitions in Roman politics and refused for days to allow him to sail to Rome and stand for the consulship. Eventually, Metellus permitted Marius to return to Rome and Marius was elected consul in 107 BC. Metellus was, however, unaware that Marius wanted his command in Numidia. Numidia was not an area designated to be protected by a consul by the Roman Senate. However, the populares passed a law in its Tribal Assembly which gave the command against Jugurtha to Marius in 107 BC. This was significant because the Assembly usurped the Senate's rights and powers in this matter and the Senate yielded.[28]


When Gaius Marius arrived in Numidia as consul in 107 BC he immediately ceased negotiation and resumed the war. His strategy was similar to Metellus', and yielded no better results; he continued the occupation of Numidian towns, making a dangerous desert march to Capsa in the far south-where, after the town surrendered, he put all the survivors to the sword.[29] Next he advanced far to the west, capturing a castle by the river Molochath where Jugrtha had moved a large part of his treasure. However, this advance very near to the dominions of Bocchus finally provoked the Mauretanian into direct war; and, in the deserts east of the Molochath, Marius was surrounded by a massive army of Numidians and Mauretanians under command of the two enemy kings, and appeared to be in danger of extinction. However, the Romans managed to hold off the enemy until evening-and the Africans retired to sleep confident of finishing the job the next morning. The Romans surprised their insufficiently guarded camp in the middle of the night, and were able to break through to march east to winter quarters in Cirta. The African kings harried the retreat with light cavalry, but were beaten back by Lucius Cornelius Sulla, an energetic aristocratic officer whom Marius had put in command of the rearguard.[30] Marius' army thus finished the year's campaigns in safety at Cirta, but it was by now evident that Rome could not defeat Jugurtha's guerrilla tactics through war. Over the winter, therefore, Marius resumed negotiations with Bocchus, who, though he had joined in the fighting, had not yet declared war. Ultimately, Marius reached a deal with Bocchus whereby Sulla, who was friendly with members of Bocchus' court, would enter Bocchus' camp to receive Jugurtha as a hostage. In spite of the possibility of treachery on the Mauretanian's part, Sulla agreed; Jugurtha's remaining followers were treacherously massacred, and he himself handed over in chains to Sulla by Bocchus.[31] In the aftermath, Bocchus annexed the western part of Jugurtha's kingdom, and was made a friend of the Roman people. Jugurtha was thrown into an underground prison (the Tullianum) in Rome, and ultimately died after gracing Marius' triumph in 104 BC.[32]


The Jugurthine War clearly revealed the problems of the Republic at that time. The fact that a man such as Jugurtha could rise to power by buying Roman military and civil officials reflected Rome's moral and ethical decline. Romans now sought individual power often at the expense of the state. This was illustrated by Marius's rise to power by ignoring Roman traditions. These events were also observed by Marius's quaestor, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who later came to rival Marius in the first of the great civil wars of the Late Republic. The beginning of this rivalry, according to Plutarch, was purportedly Sulla's crucial role in the negotiations for and eventual capture of Jugurtha, which led to Sulla wearing a ring portraying the capture despite Marius being awarded the victory for it.

The Roman historian Sallust wrote a monograph, Bellum Jugurthinum, on the Jugurthine War emphasising this decline of Roman ethics and placed it, along with his work on the Conspiracy of Catiline, in the timeline of the degeneration of Rome that began with the Fall of Carthage and ended with the Fall of the Roman Republic itself. Sallust is one of the most valuable sources on the war, along with Plutarch's biographies of Sulla and Marius.


  1. Sallust, The Jugurthine War, XII
  2. Matyszak, The Enemies of Rome, p. 64
  3. J. A. Froude, Caesar- A Sketch, (A. L. Burt Company, New York, 1903), ch. IV, pp. 33, 34
  4. T. Mommsen, The History of Rome, (The Colonial Press, Massachusetts, 1958), ch. III, p. 94
  5. Mommsen, p. 95
  6. Mommsen, p. 96
  7. Mommsen, Ibid
  8. Mommsen, p. 97
  9. Mommsen, p. 98
  10. The Encyclopedia of World History, (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1952), ch. II, p. 92
  11. Mommsen, ibid
  12. 1 2 Mommsen, p. 99
  13. Froude, p. 35
  14. Mommsen, p. 100
  15. Froude, p. 36
  16. Mommsen, Ibid
  17. Mommsen, p. 102
  18. Mommsen, ibid
  19. Mommsen, p. 103
  20. Mommsen, ibid
  21. Mommsen, Ibid
  22. Mommsen, p. 104
  23. Mommsen, p. 105
  24. Mommsen, p. 104
  25. Mommsen, p. 106
  26. Mommsen, ibid
  27. Mommsen, p. 107
  28. Mommsen, p. 108
  29. Mommsen, p. 108
  30. Mommsen, p. 109
  31. Mommsen, p. 110
  32. Mommsen, pp. 110, 111
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