History of Europe

Jugurtha the Corrupt

Numidius It was a satellite kingdom of the Roman Republic in the late 2nd century BC. It owed its existence to Rome after the prince of the Masilian and Masesilian tribes, the arrogant cavalry captain Masinissa , opted for the Roman side during the Second Punic War . Masinissa died of extreme old age in 148 BC. and he was succeeded by his son Micipsa . He continued with the policy of unconditional support for the Roman Republic, helping Scipio Emiliano in the Third Punic War , which concluded after three years of hostilities with the assault and total destruction of Carthage in 146 BC. It was in this conflict that his nephew Jugurtha , a very popular and daring young man and illegitimate son of his brother Mastanabal – at that time responsible for justice within the kingdom – entered the service of Scipio Emiliano and learned from within the glories and miseries of the most powerful nation of his time.


Once the war in Africa was resolved, Jugurtha accompanied Scipio Emiliano to Hispania when the Senate granted him the consulate, entrusting him to put an end to the Lusitanian rebellion and the Numantine problem. Serving under the Eagles he discovered the weak point of that imposing military force:greed . Jugurta learned much in Hispania, and not only the art of war; But he wasn't the only one who did it; Alongside him served a young tribune who promised great deeds, a certain Caius Marius .

At the death of Micipsa (which occurred in 118 BC), fulfilling the will of the king, the kingdom of Numidia was divided among the king's sons, Hiempsal and Aderbal , and his nephew and adopted son. Yugurtha Unscrupulous, devious and cruel, he did not waste the opportunity to eliminate his competitors. He quickly confronted Hiempsal, who was killed, and then did the same with Aderbal, who was luckier and was able to escape to Rome, requesting the Republic's help in retrieving his throne.

116 BC a Senate commission traveled to Numidia to seek an agreed solution to the conflict between the two heirs. That pact was extremely advantageous for Jugurta, perhaps because he, knowing the key that opened the wills of the Republic's tribunes, generously bribed the legates so that the City would grant him the best lands in the distribution. Aderbal had only to accept the Roman arbitration and settle for the unequal distribution of the kingdom.

But Jugurtha's immense ambition was not yet satisfied. In 113 BC he attacked the lands of Aderbal, besieging him in his capital, Cirta (today Qustantïna, Algeria) This deliberate action prompted a new Senate commission to sail to the Numidian shores and go to Cirta to mediate the conflict. Jugurtha also bribed the newcomers, who allowed him to enter the city and execute Aderbal and many of his followers. During the reprisals, numerous Roman and Italian citizens related to the vanquished were murdered, a fact that, together with the tremendous irregularities in the treaties and the well-founded suspicions of bribery, led to the declaration of war by the Senate in 111 BC .

Rome sent to Numidia the consul Lucius Calpurnius Bestia . After some irrelevant fighting, Jugurtha surrendered to the Roman legions, but again on extremely favorable terms. Beast, suspected of having accepted another succulent bribe, was ordered to return to Rome and give explanations in the Senate. There he acknowledged that he had accepted a bribe from the Numidian in favor of a dishonorable peace. The Senate demanded the concurrence of Jugurta in Rome to clarify the situation. The Numidian king traveled to the city, again bribed two of the tribunes who were guarding him to prevent him from testifying and for very little managed to articulate the murder of his nephew Massiva , resident in Rome, loyal to the Senate and possible replacement for him as satellite king. The Senate chose to expel him from the Republic.

In the year 110 B.C. Rome sent Spurius Postumius Albinus to fight Jugurtha. . When he had to return to Italy to stand for consular elections, Jugurtha attacked his brother and his legate, Aulus Postumius Albinus , who was easily defeated at the battle of Suthul . It seems that the Numidian, again thanks to his lavish bribes, knew from the Romans themselves the ideal time to strike at his opponents. After Albinus' defeat, Jugurtha again demanded that the Senate grant him the title of regent plenipotentiary of the kingdom of Numidia. Obviously, the Senate dismissed it.

After this war disaster, in 109 B.C. the Republic chose to send Quinto Cecilio Metelo . He was accompanied by his legacies Publius Rutilio Rufus and Gaius Marius . Metellus, a serious and upright man, put an end to the corruption that had taken over the African troops, imposing a strict discipline among the legions. He defeated Jugurtha in several inconsequential matches and had some successes like taking the city of Vacca . Thus passed the consular year and the spirits on the Roman side began to fray again. Mario stood out as what he was, a military man eager for action and power who did not share the passive strategy of the aristocrat Metellus and who did not skimp on informing the Senate about it in detail. Both publicly disqualified each other on campaign, creating a very complicated situation between men and commanders. The tension between the two men became so untenable that Mario was recalled to Rome. The Senate was tired of Jugurtha and the war in Numidia and trusted in the vehemence of Marius to solve the eternal African conflict. He was appointed consul in 108 BC. and sent to Africa. In order not to upset his predecessor Metellus, and his powerful clientele, the Senate granted him the honorary title of Numidic.

Meanwhile, Jugurtha allied himself with his mother-in-law, King Boco I of Mauretania (today Morocco) This Boco, as given to betrayal and bribery as his son-in-law, secretly negotiated with Mario the delivery of him in exchange for territorial concessions. Mario continued to squeeze the Numidians for more than a year, but without any clear and convincing victories. Jugurtha had learned in Hispania the technique of guerrilla warfare that Viriatus had used against the consular legions - and that, shortly afterwards, Sertorius would rescue -, avoiding at all costs a pitched battle for which he was not prepared.

But his clever tactic did not spare him from an unexpected betrayal.Boco and Mario closed their pact and Jugurtha was imprisoned in 106 BC and led in chains to Rome. After an ignominious public display he was executed in the Tullianum, (the Mamertine prison ) in the dark dungeons of the Forum.

This conflict uncovered the miseries of the Roman Republic . The corruption, the lack of ethics and the careerism of some of his most important men were shown before the glitter of Jugurtha's gold and the possibility of obtaining quick glory in strange lands. In addition to these generalities – according to Plutarch and Sallust – the end of Jugurtha marked the beginning of disagreements between two men, a personal and irreconcilable conflict that would drag the Republic into a bloody civil war a few years later. It seems that the quaestor of Gaius Marius , a young man named Lucius Cornelius Sulla – Exception witness to the intrigues and gossip of alleged illegality of his superior to displace Metellus – played a fundamental role in the capture of Jugurtha; That is why he paraded showing the Numidian ring in the Triumph despite the fact that the official Senate awards went to Mario.

To learn about the tricks between Mario, Sulla and Jugurtha I recommend “The First Man of Rome ” by Australian Colleen McCollough

Fifth installment of “Archienemies of Rome “. Collaboration of Gabriel Castelló

Previous Post