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Invasion of Cimbri and Teutons

(109-101 BCE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Battle of Vercellae
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Battle of Vercellae

Invasion on Italy by Cimbrii and Teutons took place in 109-101 BCE, when the Germanic tribes were forced to leave their homes and seek a new homeland. The great mass of people and determination were to put Rome in great danger.

Threat from the north

At the end of the 2nd century BCE, the Roman Republic took over the territory up to the foothills of the Alps, from where there were occasional attacks by the subalpine tribes. Among others, in the years 143-140 BCE the invasions were made by groups of Salassi, living in the valley, in which the Roman colony of Eporedia (today’s Ivrea) was later established. In 129 BCE and in the following years, the invasions of the Iapodes, Taurisci and Carni took place, and in 118 BCE Ligurians. There were also fights against the Scordists from the Sava River region.

Cimbri and Teutons in 120 BCE moved south through the lands of the Celtic Boii and Scordists. In the following years, they crossed the Danube and in 113 BCE. they defeated at Noreia two Roman legions, commanded by consul Gnaeus Papirius Carbo, trying to stop them.
Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

The local battles in the northern part of the Peninsula, however, were of no importance when it turned out that a powerful threat was looming from the north. The Germanic peoples of the Cimbrii and Teutons, forced to flee their homes on the Jutland Peninsula (possibly as a result of the disturbance of the sea due to the earthquake), began a mass exodus. Initially, they headed to Bohemia and present-day Moravia, and then to the Tauris territory in the lower Noarus River (today’s Drina). There they were also attacked by consul Papirius Carbo, who, however, suffered a defeat near Norea (present-day city of Neumarkt). After crossing the Helvetian state and going eastward along the Alps, they crossed the Rhine and entered Narbonne Gaul, the recently established Roman province. In 109 BCE the Roman army stood in their way but was defeated. With the entry of Germanic troops into these lands, an open rebellion of the Wolków Tektosagi broke out, and the Helvetians and the Tyguryns came to the provinces. The Romans took decisive countermeasures. Consul Servilius Caepio won in 106 BCE Tolosa and grabbed 15,000 zlotys in silver talents, which he found in the pond dedicated to the gods. However, this treasure was later completely stolen, which was accused by the consul himself.

Rome, however, had to declare an open battle against the invader, whose further invasion threatened to capture the capital. In 105 BCE two consular armies of Servilius Cepion and Manlius Maximus clashed near the town of Arausio (now Orange in southern France) with the barbarians. There was an unimaginable defeat of the Roman army, in which, according to some sources, up to 100,000 people were to die. Certainly, these numbers are overstated, but the scale of the defeat was enormous. The news of the loss of both armies shocked the senate and forced sudden decisions. At that time, an extremely popular commander and politician in Rome was Gaius Marius, who had just returned from a victorious campaign against the King of Numidia – Jugurtha. Gaius Marius was elected the consul of 104 BCE and remained uninterrupted until 100 BCE, which was a precedent – thus violating the constitutional procedure.

Marius, who had operated in Africa in the previous war, left his veterans on the spot with a promise to parcel the local public land. In the absence of soldiers, Marius decided to organize new, mass recruitment of landless volunteers (capite censi). Marius found out that, apart from the numbers, his army would gain enthusiasm and aggression thanks to an ambitious commoner. Volunteers, a proletariat hungry for land and money, fought mainly to meet their own needs and not to protect the public interest. It is certain, however, that both sides benefited only from this situation. Marius started the existence of the client army, which is a few decades will become a tool in the hands of ambitious Roman politicians. In addition, the armament reform initiated a few years earlier was completed and the construction of the legion, the number of which reached 6,000 people, divided into 10 cohorts of 600 legionaries each, was completed. The armament was standardized in all divisions, without distinguishing between light and heavy armour. Each legionary had a helmet, armour, oval shield, pilum, gladius. Economic and social differences did not matter. Light infantry disappeared from the army, replaced by archers and slingers. The cavalry was constituted by allied and provincial contingents.

Bust of Gaius Marius.

So, when the next barbarian hordes attacked, Marius already had a properly trained and prepared army. Numerous Teutons appeared in Narbonne Gaul, supported by other Germanic peoples, including Ambronów. Italy was their destination. Gaius Marius decided to let the barbarians pass, whom he then attacked in the fall of 102 BCE. nearby Aquae Sextiae (now Aix-en-Provence). In the battle that lasted two days, the Roman troops managed to arrange a huge slaughter, in which nearly 100,000 Germans were killed or captured. The Cimbri at this time turned back towards the Alps and descended to Italy along the Adige valley, intending to act with the Teutons waiting in the Padan Valley on a grand invasion plan. The army sent to meet them, under the command of Quintus Lutatius Catulus, did not stop the march, but managed to maintain control over them during the retreat to the Po.

During these events, Marius, at the head of his troops, caught up with them. Together with Catulus’ army of 50,000 legionaries, he faced a massive group of barbarians (about 200,000) on the plain of Campi Raudii (Campus Raudius) near Vercellae. The Romans completely defeated the enemy, killing 65,000 Cimbri and capturing the rest. The threat of the fall of Rome was eliminated for the second time in history.


Gajus Marius, after the victorious campaign, took all the credit for himself. His comrade-in-arms – Lutacius Catulus, despite the effective braking of the Cimbri, was not specially decorated. Marius was welcomed in Rome as the father of the motherland and the third founder of Rome – next to Romulus and Marcus Furius Camillus, and awarded with the sixth consulate for a year 100 BCE

The clash of the Romans with the Cimbri and Teutons was the first contact of the Roman world with the Germans. The invasion, although effectively stopped, clearly emphasized the need to tighten control over the Alpine passes. To this end, Rome had to take further steps to integrate the Padan Valley more closely with its capital.

  • Historia Powszechna t. 4. Konsolidacja hellenizmu. Początki Rzymu i przemiany świata klasycznego, kons. prof. dr hab. E. Papuci-Władyka, prof. dr hab. J. Ostrowski
  • Jaczynowska Maria, Dzieje Imperium Romanum, Warszawa 1995

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