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Rome’s smartest enemy, or how Jugurtha led Rome by nose and how it ended

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Clash of the Numidian cavalry with the Romans
Clash of the Numidian cavalry with the Romans

Jugurtha (born around 160 BCE died in 104 BCE) was the grandson of Masinissa, meaning the ruler of Numidia who at the end of the Second Punic War went over to Rome, contributing to the victory of Scipio Africanus the Elder taken over Hannibal in the battle of Zama in 202 BCE and which he acknowledges he was crowned Numidia.

After Masinissa’s death in 148 BCE – during the ongoing Third Punic WarScipio Africanus the Younger (the conqueror of Carthage in this war of 146 BCE), guarding Masinissa’s will, divided the kingdom between his three legitimate sons as equals, Gulusse, Mastanabala and Micypsa. After the not fully explained death of Gulussy and Mastanabal (in 140 BCE), Micipsa became the sole ruler of Numidia. Jugurtha was the nephew of Micypsa (the illegitimate son of Mastanabal). As he became more and more popular among the people, the king decided to get rid of him and sent him to Spain. He hoped that by oblivion the popularity of Yoghurt would decline or, even better, that he would not see it again. Let us give the floor on this matter to the historian and politician Gaius Salustius Crispus, who described the king’s doubts that were the basis for making a decision that would have consequences for his family (as it turned out)

At first Micipsa was delighted with this conduct, believing that the prowess of Jugurtha would contribute to the glory of his kingdom; but when he realized that the man was young and constantly growing in power, while he himself was advanced in years and his children were small, he was seriously troubled by the situation and gave it constant thought. He dreaded the natural disposition of mankind, which is greedy for power and eager to gratify its heart’s desire, while his own years and the youthfulness of his sons offered that opportunity which through the hope of gain leads astray even men of moderate ambition. He observed too the devotion which Jugurtha had inspired in the Numidians, and was apprehensive of some rebellion or war from that source, if by treachery he should cause the death of such a man.

Embarrassed by these problems, and seeing that one so dear to the people could not be put out of way by violence or by stratagem, he resolved, inasmuch as Jugurtha was full of energy and eager for military glory, to expose him to dangers and thus put fortune to the proof. Accordingly, when Micipsa sent cavalry and infantry to aid the Romans in the war with Numantia, he gave Jugurtha command of the Numidians whom he sent to Spain, hoping that he would easily fall a victim either to a desire to display his valour or to the ruthless foe.

How wrong he was! Quite the opposite happened. For the abilities of Jugurtha, who took part in the siege of Numantia under the command of Scipio Africanus the Younger, caught the attention of the latter. He suggested that the king adopt his nephew, and it was known that the suggestions of such leaders as Scipio were not so rejected. Under the pressure of Scipio Africanus the Younger, the king decided to adopt Jugurtha and recognize him as his legal heir to the throne of Numidia, alongside his sons Hiempsal and Adherbal.

Numidia between 112 and 105 BCE and the main battles of the war.

Jugurtha’s prophecy and the march to power

It was during his stay in the Iberian Peninsula that the young man made many favourable contacts with significant personalities of the Roman republic. In addition, he had the opportunity to learn about the mentality of the Romans and their susceptibility to bribery, as evidenced by the statement attributed to him by Livius and Salustius about the future of Rome: “Urbem venalem et mature perituram, si emptorem invenerit”, that is, “a city for sale and doomed to quick destruction, if it should find a buyer”. The observations made at that time, in the future, he will effectively implement without scruples reaching into his purse and thus putting his nose in and compromising the power over the Tiber for a good few years.

Meanwhile, 118 BCE dies the king of Numidia Micypsa, who before his death (like his father Masinissa earlier) divided the country into three parts between the adopted Jugurtha, Hiempsal and Adherbal (two natural sons of Micypsa). Since the determination of the power of each of the claimants to the throne of Numidia was not made with the Romans this time, as was the case in 148 BCE, a conflict quickly arose between the heirs. According to the Roman historian Salustius, during the meeting of the three brothers regarding the separation of powers, Hiempsal was to make numerous hostile remarks towards Jugurtha and reproach him of his mother’s low ancestry. It soon turned out that it was not the smartest move on his part. In this way, he only won so much that he was the first to drop out of the power game. A year after Micypsy’s death, he was murdered by Jugurtha in Tirmida (117 BCE). This fact prompted Adherbal to take armed action against the murderer of his brother, but the confrontation with Jugurtha ended in defeat for him as well. To save his life, he fled to Rome, presenting his arguments to the Senate and asking for help. But when the question of dynastic problems in Numidia came to the attention of the Roman Senate, Jugurtha obviously denied his involvement in the murder of Hiempsal and blamed Hiempsal’s death … on Hiempsal himself. Namely, he stated that he had been killed by the Numidians “because of his cruelty.” Moreover, the teachings and observations of Jugurtha as to the nature of the Romans during his stay in Spain were clearly not in vain. How surprised Adherbal must have been when the Roman Senators, most likely due to the bribery of Jugurtha, although perhaps also due to a lack of willingness to fight hard in difficult terrain with a poor client state, decided to split Numidia into two parts. Jugurtha received the western part, Adherbal the eastern part with its capital at Cirta.

Romans from the period of the war with Jugurtha.

The concluded peace, however, did not last too long and in 112 BCE another conflict broke out. Jugurtha sought to unite the country and assume the full power that he did not intend to share with Adherbal. The troops of Jugurtha besieged Cirta where Adherbal was detained. The news of Jugurtha breaking the agreed compromise did not make a big impression in Rome. For the Romans, the dynastic turmoil in Numidia (which, with or without Adherbal, would have been Rome’s client state anyway) was, in fact, of secondary importance. However, because there was quite a sizeable Italian community in the besieged city and because of the rather large trade contacts conducted by this community, the Senate decided to send a commission to Numidia, led by Scaurus, to reach a compromise with Jugurtha. According to Cicero, Scaurus was one of the most talented and influential people, valued for wisdom, dignity, consistency and great achievements. The commission, having landed in Utica, sent a letter to Jugurtha urging him, on behalf of the Senate, to come to Africa as soon as possible. On the one hand, the Numidian was afraid of the anger of the Senate if he did not listen to the deputies, on the other hand, he wanted to continue his plans and besieged Cirta, trying to conquer the city before meeting with the deputies, wanting to present them with a fait accompli. Eventually, fearful of distracting Scaurus and his commission by prolonged delays, he came to the meeting. At this meeting, indignation was expressed on behalf of the Senate at the military actions taken by Jugurtha, and harsh threats were made (and how) against him for not withdrawing from the siege. Soon, talks aimed at resolving the conflict began, but the fruits of these talks were more than modest, and to put it simply, the commission headed by Scaurus, when it arrived with nothing, left with nothing. Needless to say, accusations quickly emerged that the worthy Scaurus had been simply bribed by Jugurtha. On the other hand, a compromise was also not reached because Jugurtha did not want to reach it. After all, this cunning ruler was aware that Scaurus could not declare war on him, and even if he did, the Senate would not support this idea. So the siege of the city continued, finally, until it was conquered. Needless to say, after taking over the city, Jugurtha immediately ordered the murder of Adherbal. Numidia’s coveted royal crown belonged to him and only to him. If he had only stopped there, perhaps things would have turned out differently for him, maybe happier… then they had turned out. Unfortunately, this time he made a mistake because he accelerated so much that he ordered to murder all the men in the city, including the Romans, together with Adherbal, and Rome could not forgive this. The mass slaughter of Cirta, including the Romans inhabiting it, caused that in 111 BCE the Senate declared war on him, which went down in history as the Jugurthian War (111-105 BCE). Meanwhile, however, Jugurtha was still “lucky”.

Fortune goes round

The command of the army that was to deal with Jugurtha was assigned to consul Lucius Calpurius the Beast, who, although he achieved several successes in military operations, in view of the difficult conditions for waging war on the dry and uncomfortable territory of Africa, led to peace negotiations under which The Numidian undertook to pay contributions, deliver fugitives and war elephants. When in Rome it was learned about the “extremely” favourable for Jugusta conditions on which peace had been concluded with him, it was taken as clear evidence that he had bribed Lucius the Beast. Thus, both recent “opponents” were summoned to appear in the Senate to be heard, further enticing Jugurtha with the possibility of obtaining forgiveness of sins for revealing the truth about the events leading to the conclusion of peace on such favourable terms. Jugurtha, although he did not fully trust the assurances of forgiveness for the truth – to Rome, of course, he did, but at the moment when he was about to testify before the people’s assembly, the people’s tribune, by virtue of his intercession, ordered him to be silent, thus protecting Jugurtha and his high-level supporters (including himself) before giving testimony against him. The trial turned into a farce. It was all too obvious that there had been bribery, also of that tribune. As if that was not enough, Jugurtha, even while in Rome, did not idle when it comes to consolidating the power he once won. He was so audacious that, staying in the very heart of the empire that was the City of Wolfs, he did not fail to order the murder of Masynissa’s grandson, and his cousin – Massiva, who (from the Roman instigation) had just begun to claim the Numidian crown. According to the Roman historian and politician Gaius Salustius Crispus, the murder was carried out by Bomilcar, a friend and confidant of Jugurtha, who came to Rome with the king. However, in the trial of Massiva’s death, neither Bomilkar nor Jugurtha was directly responsible, as they were defended by diplomatic immunity. Additionally, Bomilcar escaped secretly to Numidia. Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that Jugurtha was expelled from the Wolf City for his actions, and the hostilities against him were resumed.

After the resumption of the war, another clash between Numidia and Rome took place at the turn of 110/109. The successor of Lucius the Beast, praetor Aulus Postumus Albinus, headed with his legions north of Numidia with the intention of capturing the city of Suthul, which contained part of the royal treasury and funds to pay for the Numidian army. However, one night during the siege, it was the Roman army that was surrounded by the forces of Jugurtha. How could this happen? Again, Jugurtha came to the aid of the Roman mentality, their vanity and greed, and the military tactics they used. Jugurtha did it in the simplest and most proven way possible. Simply put, some of the Ligurian and Thracian troops allied with Rome were bribed so that when the besieged passed to the counterattack, they passed over to the Numidians. The Numidians struck on the remaining forces, forcing the Romans to flee to a nearby hill, during which many legionaries lost their weapons. Additionally, the Numidians plundered the Roman camp. Surrounded on a hill, the Romans, without water, food and mostly without weapons, were forced to avoid being cut into the trunk of the winner’s humiliating surrender. Let us again give the floor to Gaius Sallustius Crispus, who described this event in his work as follows:

Night and the pillaging of the camp delayed the enemy and prevented them from following up their victory. Then on the following day, Jugurtha held a conference with Aulus. He said that he had the general and his army at the mercy of starvation or the sword; yet in view of the uncertainty of human affairs, if Aulus would make a treaty with him, he would let them all go free after passing under the yoke, provided Aulus would leave Numidia within ten days. Although the conditions were hard and shameful, yet because they were offered in exchange for the fear of death, peace was accepted on the king’s terms.

Bust of Gaius Marius.

After such a disgrace, there could be no more talk of any kind of agreement with Rome. So when Jugurtha asked the Senate to recognize him as the legitimate and sole ruler of Numidia, the Senate refused. He also refused to accept the terms of peace signed by Albinus and appointed consul Quintus Cecilius Metellus as the commander of the army in Numidia. He took command – as Gaius Salustius Crispus describes it – “a lazy army, devoid of fighting spirit, unable to withstand toil and danger, stronger in language than in combat, plundering allies, and themselves a victim of plunder by their enemies, not knowing what it is. command or obedience. ” Despite this, having replenished losses and restored discipline in subsequent battles, in the years 109-107 BCE he managed to take the whole of Numidia (Battle of the Muthul River, Assault of Zama, the capture of Thali). While using a scorched earth tactic, he destroyed Jugurtha’s supply lines. This forced the Numidian army to start an artillery fight. Jugurtha himself, however, remained elusive. The tactic of warfare adopted by Quintus Metellus, although effective, led in turn to disagreement in the Roman ranks. There was a sharp disagreement between the Roman commander and one of his ambitious officers, Gaius Marius as to how to continue its conduct. He accused the commander of “deliberately postponing the war because being a vain man with royal pride he finds too much satisfaction in exercising command”. Marius, with the permission of Metellus, returned to Rome (which he believed that in this way he got rid of his disgusting subordinate) and thanks to the widespread dissatisfaction in Rome with the rule of Roman nobles, which also included Metellus, with the support of equites and commoners, he was for the first time in In his career, he was elected consul of 107 BCE. Thus, he took command of the army in Numidia after Quintus Cecilius Metellus. Despite the next year (106 BCE), at Cirta, a great victory over the combined army of Jugurtha and his father-in-law, King Bokchus of Mauritania, Marius also failed to capture Jugurtha.

He wore the wolf a few times and the wolf

It is not known how the war and the fate of the cunning and still elusive Jugurtha would have unfolded, had it not been for his father-in-law and, at the same time, the king of Mauritania, Bokchus, who, after two pogroms of his army at Cirta, quickly realized the military possibilities of the Wolf City. He saw that the protracted conflict into which he had been manoeuvred by Jugurtha only devastated his state, while the chances of a victory against Rome’s war machine remained highly illusory. The Romans were also fed up with the prolonged war and chasing all over Numidia for Jugruta, hiding and moving rapidly from place to place. From that moment on, events gain momentum, and the fortune, hitherto favourable to Jugurtha, finally begins to turn its face away from him. Gaius Salustius Crispus describes the initiation of bilateral negotiations over the head of Jugurtha:

[…] five days after the second defeat of the barbarians, to ask of Marius in the king’s name that he should send him two of his most trusty officers; they said that Bocchus wished to confer with them about his own interests and those of the Roman people. Marius immediately selected Lucius Sulla and Aulus Manlius, and they, although they had been sent for by the king, decided to address him, with the view of changing his purpose, if unfavourable, or of making him more eager for peace if he already desired it

The initiation of peace negotiations by the father-in-law did not escape the attention of the person concerned himself. There was a paradoxical situation. For this is because, during the officially conducted peace negotiations, Sulla’s Roman plenipotentiary secretly urged Bocchus to hand over Jugurtha to him, and Jugurtha to hand him over to Sulla, arguing that “if Bocchus wishes to benefit both of them and to keep the peace on the part of the Romans, he should try to do so, that all three should come together in one place, apparently to conduct peace talks, and let him hand over Sulla to him there: when he gets into his hands once such an outstanding man, the senate or the Roman people will certainly order to make peace because they will not leave man’s enemies in the hands of excellent, who was captured not through cowardice, but fulfilling a state function. ” Bocchus hesitated, not quite sure what to do. Ultimately, he chose to betray Jugurtha. He took him insidiously and then handed him over to Gajus Marius. The lucky star of Yoghurt has gone out forever this time. The Jugurthan War has just ended.

Jugurtha in chains before Sulla.

For two years, Gajus Marius brought order to post-war Numidia. In accordance with earlier secret agreements between Sulla and Bocchus, its western part was given to the king, while in the eastern part, victorious Rome placed another Masinissa grandson, Gauda, ​​on the throne. Gaius Marius himself returned to Rome in 104 BCE. He celebrated a solemn triumph, during which Yugurta was led in chains in front of the cheering crowd. Here is how Plutarch of Chaeronea describes this moment:

[…] when he had been led in triumph he lost his reason; and that when, after the triumph, he was cast into prison, where some tore his tunic from his body, and others were so eager to snatch away his golden ear-ring that they tore off with it the lobe of his ear, and when he had been thrust down naked into the dungeon pit, in utter bewilderment and with a grin on his lips he said: “Hercules! How cold this Roman bath is!”.

Plutarch of Cheronea, Life of Marius, 12

This is how Jugurtha died, the cleverest enemy of Rome, who for many years had successfully led the then world power by the nose. As for Jugurtha’s prophecy, it was only partially fulfilled, because the city, although it was fertile, did not die soon, and in changing fate survived Jugurtha (being the heart of the empire) for nearly 600 years – but this is a completely different story.

Author: Adrian Woźniak (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  • Sallust, The Jugurthine War
  • Wikipedia

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