A History of Rome, Vol 1 - During the late Republic and early Principate
by A H.J. Greenidge
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Albinus made rapid but ample preparation of supplies, money and munitions of war, and hurried off to the scene of his intended successes. The army which he found must have been in a miserable condition, if we may judge by the state which the last glimpse of it revealed; but his fixed intention of accomplishing something, no matter what, must have rendered adequate re-organisation impossible, and he took the field against Jugurtha with forces whose utter demoralisation was soon to be put to a frightful test. The war immediately assumed that character of an unsuccessful hunt, varied by indecisive engagements and fruitless victories, which it was to retain even under the guidance of the ablest that Rome could furnish. Jugurtha adhered to his inevitable plan of a prolonged and desultory campaign over a vast area of country; the size and physical character of his kingdom, the extraordinary mobility of his troops, the credulity and anxious ambition of his opponent, were all elements of strength which he used with consummate skill. He retired before the threatening column; then, that his men might not lose heart, he threw himself with startling suddenness on the foe; at other times he mocked the consul with hopes of peace, entered into negotiations for a surrender and, when he had disarmed his adversary by hopes, suddenly drew back in a pretended access of distrust. The futility of Albinus's efforts was so pronounced—a futility all the more impressive from the intensity of his preparations and his excessive eagerness to reach the field of action—that people ignorant of the conditions of the campaign began again to whisper the perpetual suspicion of collusion with the king.[971] The suspicion might not have been avoided even by a commander who declined negotiation; but Albinus's case had been rendered worse by his unsuccessful efforts to play with a master of craft, and it was with a reputation greatly weakened from a military, and slightly damaged from a moral, point of view that he brought the campaign to a close, sent his army into winter quarters, and left for Rome to preside at the electoral meetings of the people.[972] The Comitia for the appointment of the consuls and the praetors were at this time held during the latter half of the year, but at no regular date, the time for their summons depending on the convenience of the presiding consul and on his freedom from other and more pressing engagements.[973] Albinus may have arrived in Rome during the late autumn. Had he been able to get the business over and return to Africa for the last month or two of the year, his conduct of the war might have been considered ineffective but not disastrous, and the senate might have been spared a problem more terrible than any that had yet arisen out of its relations with Jugurtha. For Albinus, though sanguine and unpractical, seems to have been reasonably prudent, and he might have handed over an army, unsuccessful but not disgraced, and recruited in strength by its long winter quarters, to the care of a more fortunate successor. But, as it happened, every public department in Rome was feeling the strain caused by a minor constitutional crisis which had arisen amongst the magistrates of the Plebs. The sudden revival of the people's aspirations had doubtless led to a certain amount of misguided ambition on the part of some of its leaders, and the tribunate was now the centre of an agitation which was a faint counterpart of the closing scenes in the Gracchan struggles. Two occupants of the office, Publius Lucullus and Lucius Annius, were attempting to secure re-election for another year. Their colleagues resisted their effort, probably on the ground that the conditions requisite for re-election were not in existence, and this conflict not merely prevented the appointment of plebeian magistrates from being completed, but stayed the progress of the other elective Comitia as well.[974] The tribunes, whether those who aimed at re-election or those who attempted to prevent it, had either declared a justitium or threatened to veto every attempt made by a magistrate of the people to hold an electoral assembly; and the consequence of this impasse was that, when the year drew to a close,[975] no new magistrates were in existence and the consul Albinus was still absent from his African command.

Unfortunately the absence of the proconsul, as Albinus had now become in default of the appointment of a successor, did not have the effect of checking the enterprise of the army. It was now under the authority of Aulus Albinus, to whom his brother had delegated the command of the province and the forces during his stay at Rome. The stimulus which moved Aulus to action is not known. The unexpected duration of his temporary command may have familiarised him with power, stimulated his undoubted confidence in himself, and suggested the hope that by one of those unexpected blows, with which the annals of strategic genius were filled, he might redeem his brother's reputation and win lasting glory for himself. Others believed that the perpetually suspected motive of cupidity was the basis of his enterprise, that he had no definitely conceived plan of conquest, but intended by the terror of a military demonstration to exact money from Jugurtha.[976] If the latter view was correct, it is possible that Aulus imagined himself to be acting in the interest of his army as well as of himself. The long winter quarters may have betrayed a deficiency in pay and provisions, and if Jugurtha purchased the security of a district, its immunity would be too public an event to make it possible for the commander of the attacking forces to pocket the whole of the ransom.

It was in the month of January, in the very heart of a severe winter, that Aulus summoned his troops from the security of their quarters to a long and fatiguing march. His aim was Suthul, a strongly fortified post on the river Ubus, nearly forty miles south of Hippo Regius and the sea, and so short a distance from the larger and better-known town of Calama, the modern Gelma, that the latter name was sometimes used to describe the scene of the incidents that followed.[977] We are not told the site of the winter quarters from which the march began; but the ineffectiveness of the former campaign and the caution of Albinus, who did not mean his legions to fight during his absence, might lead us to suppose that the troops had been quartered in or near the Roman province; and in this case Aulus might have marched along the valley of the Bagradas to reach his destined goal, which would finally have been approached from the south through a narrow space between two ranges of hills, the westernmost of which was crowned at its northern end by the fortifications of Suthul. This was reported to be the chief treasure-city of Jugurtha; could Aulus capture it, or even bargain for its security with the king, he might cripple the resources of the Numidian monarch and win great wealth for himself and his army. By long and fatiguing marches he reached the object of his attack, only to discover at the first glance that it was impregnable—nay even, as a soldier's eye would have seen, that an investment of the place was utterly impossible.[978] The rigour of the season had aggravated the difficulties presented by the site. Above towered the city walls perched on their precipitous rock; below was the alluvial plain which the deluging rains of a Numidian winter had turned into a swamp of liquid mud. Yet Aulus, either dazzled by the vision of the gold concealed within the fortress which it had caused him such labour to reach, or with some vague idea that a pretence at an investment might alarm the king into coming to terms for the protection of his hoard, began to make formal preparations for a siege, to bring up mantlets, to mark out his lines of circumvallation,[979] to deceive his enemy, if he could not deceive himself, into a belief that the conditions rendered an attack on Suthul possible.

It is needless to say that Jugurtha knew the possibilities of his treasure-city far better than its assailant. But the simple device of Aulus was admirably suited to his plans. Humble messages soon reached the camp of the legate; the missives of every successive envoy augmented his illusion and stirred his idle hopes to a higher pitch. Jugurtha's own movements began to give proof of a state of abject terror. So far from coming to the relief of his threatened city, he drew his forces farther away into the most difficult country he could find, everywhere quitting the open ground for sheltered spots and mountain paths. At last from a distance he began to hold out definite hopes of an agreement with Aulus. But it was one that must be transacted personally and in private. The plain round Suthul was much too public a spot; let the legate follow the king into the fastnesses of the desert and all would be arranged. The legate advanced as the king retired; but at every point of the difficult march Numidian spies were hovering around the Roman column. The disgust of the soldiers at the hardships to which they had been submitted in the pursuit of this phantom gold, the last evidence of which had vanished when their commander turned his back on the walls of Suthul, now resulted in a frightful state of demoralisation. The lower officers in authority, centurions and commanders of squadrons of horse, stole from the camp to hold converse with Jugurtha's spies; some sold themselves to desert to the Numidian army, others to quit their posts at a given signal. The mesh was at last prepared. On one dark night, at the hour of the first sleep when attack is least suspected, the camp of Aulus was suddenly surrounded by the Numidian host. The surprise was complete. The Roman soldiers, in the shock of the sudden din, were utterly unnerved. Some groped for their arms; others cowered in their tents; a few tried to create some order amongst their terror-stricken comrades. But nowhere could a real stand be made or real discipline observed. The blackness of the night and the heavy driving clouds prevented the numbers of the enemy from being seen, and the size of the Numidian host, large in itself, was perhaps increased by a terrified imagination. It was difficult to say on which side the greater danger lay. Was it safer to fly into darkness and some unknown ambush or to keep one's ground and meet the approaching enemy? The evils of preconcerted treachery were soon added to those of surprise. The defections were greatest amongst the auxiliary forces. A cohort of Ligurian infantry with two squadrons of Thracian cavalry deserted to the king. Their example was followed by but a handful of the legionaries; but the fatal act of treason was committed by a Roman centurion of the first rank. He let the Numidians through the post which he had been given to defend, and through this ingress they poured to every part of the camp. The panic was now complete; most of the Romans threw their arms away and fled from slaughter to the temporary safety of a neighbouring hill. The early hour at which the attack had been made, prevented an effective pursuit, for there was much of the night yet to run; and the Numidians were also busied with the plunder of the camp. The dawn of day revealed the hopelessness of the Roman position and forced Aulus into any terms that Jugurtha cared to grant. The latter adopted the language of humane condescension. He said that, although he held the Roman army at his mercy, certain victims of famine or the sword, yet he was not unmindful of the mutability of human fortune, and would spare the lives of all his prisoners, if the Roman commander would make a treaty with him.[980] The army was to pass under the yoke; the Romans were to evacuate Numidia within ten days. The degrading terms were accepted: an army that before its defeat had numbered forty thousand men,[981] passed under the spear that symbolised their submission and disgrace, and peace reigned in Numidia—a peace which lacked no element of shame, dictated by a client king to the sovereign that had decreed his chastisement.

The Roman public had become so familiar with discredit as to be in the habit of imagining it even when it did not exist; but humiliation exhibited in an actual disaster on this colossal scale was sufficiently novel to stir the people to the profoundest depths of grief and fear.[982] To men who thought only of the empire, its glory seemed to be extinguished by the fearful blow; but many of the masses, who knew nothing of war or of Rome's relations with peoples beyond the seas, were filled with a fear too personal to permit their thoughts to dwell solely on the loss of honour. To yet another class, whose knowledge exempted them from such idle terror, the army seemed more than the empire. Rome had not yet learnt to fight with mercenary forces; and the men who had seen service formed a considerable element in the Roman proletariate. Such veterans, especially those whose repute in war could give their words an added point, were unmeasured in their condemnation of the conduct of Aulus. The general had had a sword in his hand; yet he had thought a disgraceful capitulation his only means of deliverance. On no side could a word be heard in defence of the action of the unhappy commander. The blessings of the wives and children of the men whom Aulus's treaty had saved were, if breathed, apparently smothered under a weight of patriotic execration.

The feeling of insecurity must have been rendered greater by the fact that the State still lacked an official head, and the African dependencies possessed no governor in whom any confidence could be reposed. The year must have opened with a series of interregna, since no consuls had been elected to assume the government on the 1st of January; Numidia had again been made by senatorial decree a consular province; but since no consul existed to assume the administration, Albinus was still in command of the African army.[983] It was the painful duty of the ex-consul to raise in the senate the question of the ratification of his brother's treaty. Even he could never have attempted to defend it; his dominant feeling was an overwhelming sense of the weight of undeserved ignominy under which he lay, tempered by an undercurrent of fear as to the danger that might follow in the track of the universal disfavour with which he and his brother were regarded. The action that he took even before the senate's opinion was known, was a proof that he regarded the continuance of the war as inevitable. He relieved his mind and sought to restore his credit by pushing on military preparations with a fevered energy; supplementary drafts for the African army were raised from the citizens; auxiliary cohorts were demanded of the Latins and Italian allies. While these measures were in progress, the judgment of the senate was given to the world. It was a judgment based on the often-repeated maxim that no legitimate treaty could be concluded without the consent of the senate and people.[984] It was a decision that recalled the days of Numantia or the more distant history of the Caudine Forks; but the formal sacrifice that followed and was thought to justify those famous instances of breach of contract, was no longer deemed worthy of observance, and Aulus was not surrendered to the vengeance or mercy of the foe with whom he had involuntarily broken faith. This summary invalidation of the treaty may have been the result of a deduction drawn from the peculiar circumstances which had preceded the renewal of the war—circumstances which, as we have seen, might be twisted to support the view that Jugurtha was not an independent enemy of Rome and was, therefore, not entitled to the full rights of a belligerent.

The senate's decision left Albinus free to act and to make use of the new military forces that he had so strenuously prepared. But a sudden hindrance came from another quarter. Some tribunes expressed the not unreasonable view that a commander of Albinus's record should not be allowed to expose Rome's last resources to destruction. Had they meant him to remain in command, their attitude would have been indefensible; but, when they forbade him to take the new recruits to Africa,[985] they were merely reserving them for a more worthy successor. Albinus, however, meant to make the most of his limited tenure. He had his own and his brother's honour to avenge, and within a few days of the senate's decree permitting a renewal of the war, he had taken ship for the African province, where the whole army, withdrawn from Numidia in accordance with the compact, was now stationed in winter quarters. For a time his burning desire to clear his name made him blind to the defects of his forces; he thought only of the pursuit of Jugurtha, of some vigorous stroke that might erase the stain from the honour of his family. But hard facts soon restored the equilibrium of his naturally prudent soul. The worst feature of the army was not that it had been beaten, but that it had not been commanded. The reins of discipline had been so slack that licence and indulgence had sapped its fighting strength. The tyranny of circumstances demanded a peaceful sojourn in the province, and Albinus resigned himself to the inevitable.

At Rome meanwhile the movement for inquiry that had been stayed for the moment by the co-operation of Jugurtha and his senatorial friends, and by the obstructive attitude of Baebius, had been resumed with greater intensity and promise of success. It did not need the disaster of Aulus to re-awaken it to new life. That disaster no doubt accelerated its course and invested it with an unscrupulous thoroughness of character that it might otherwise have lacked; but the movement itself had perhaps taken a definite shape a month before the result of Aulus's experiment in Numidia was known, and was the natural result of the feeling of resentment which the conspiracy of silence had created. It now assumed the exact and legal form of the demand for a commission which should investigate, adjudicate and punish. The leaders of the people had conceived the bold and original design of wresting from the hands, and directing against the person, of the senate the powerful weapon with which that body had so often visited epidemics of crime or turbulence that were supposed to have fastened on the helpless proletariate. Down to this time special commissions had either been set up by the co-operation of senate and people, or had, with questionable legality, been established by the senate alone. The commissioners, who were sometimes consuls, sometimes praetors, had, perhaps always but certainly in recent history, judged without appeal; and in the judicial investigations which followed the fall of the Gracchi, the people had had no voice either in the appointment of the judge or in the ratification of the sentence which he pronounced. Now the senate as a whole was to be equally voiceless; it was not to be asked to take the initiative in the creation of the court, the penalties were to be determined without reference to its advice, and although the presidents would naturally be selected from members of the senatorial order, if they were to be chosen from men of eminence at all, these presidents were to be merely formal guides of the proceedings, like the praetor who sat in the court which tried cases of extortion, and the verdict was to be pronounced by judges inspired by the prevailing feeling of hostility to the crimes of the official class.

Caius Mamilius Limetanus, who proposed and probably aided in drafting this bill, was a tribune who belonged to the college which perhaps came into office towards the close of the month of December which had preceded the recent disaster in Numidia. The bill, the promulgation of which was probably one of the first acts of his tribunate, proposed "that an inquiry should be directed into the conduct of all those individuals, whose counsel had led Jugurtha to neglect the decrees of the senate, who had taken money from the king whether as members of commissions or as holders of military commands, who had handed over to him elephants of war and deserters from his army; lastly, all who had made agreements with enemies of the State on matters of peace or war".[986] The comprehensive nature of the threatened inquiry spread terror amongst the ranks of the suspected. The panic was no sign of guilt; a party warfare was to be waged with the most undisguised party weapons: and mere membership of the suspected faction aroused fears almost as acute as those which were excited by the consciousness of guilt, There was a prospect of rough and ready justice, where proof might rest on prepossession and verdicts be considered preordained. The bitterness of the situation was increased by the impossibility of open resistance to the measure; for such a resistance would imply an unwillingness to submit to inquiry, and such a refusal, invidious in itself, would fix suspicion and be accepted as a confession of misdeeds which could not bear the light of investigation. With the city proletariate against them, the threatened members of the aristocracy could look merely to secret opposition by their own supporters, and to such moderate assistance as was secured by the friendly attitude which their recent agrarian measures had awakened in the Latins and Italian allies.[987] But the latter support was moral rather than material, or if it became effective, could only secure this character by fraud. The allies, whom the senate had driven from Rome by Pennus's law, were apparently to be invited to flood the contiones and raise cries of protest against the threatened indictment. But this device could only be successful in the preliminary stages of the agitation. The Latins possessed but few votes, the Italians none, and personation, if resorted to, was not likely to elude the vigilance of the hostile presidents of the tribunician assembly, or, if undetected, to be powerful enough to turn the scale in favour of the aristocracy. For the unanimity of opposition which the nobility now encountered in the citizen body, was almost unexampled. The differences of interest which sometimes separated the country from the city voters, seem now to have been forgotten. The tribunes found no difficulty in keeping the agitation up to fever-heat, and its permanence was as marked as its intensity. The crowds that acclaimed the proposal, were sufficiently in earnest to remain at Rome and vote for it; the emphasis with which the masses assembled at the final meeting, "ordered, decreed and willed" the measure submitted for their approval, was interpreted (perhaps rightly) as a shout of triumphant defiance of the nobility, not as a vehement expression of disinterested affection for the State.[988] The two emotions were indeed blended; but the imperial sentiment is oftenest aroused by danger; and the individuals who have worked the mischief are the concrete element in a situation, the reaction against which has roused the exaltation which veils vengeance and hatred under the names of patriotism and justice.

When the measure had been passed, it still remained to appoint the commissioners. This also was to be effected by the people's vote, and never perhaps was the effect of habit on the popular mind more strikingly exhibited than when Scaurus, who was thought to be trembling as a criminal, was chosen as a judge.[989] The large personal following, which he doubtless possessed amongst the people, must have remained unshaken by the scandals against his name; but the reflection amongst all classes that any business would be incomplete which did not secure the co-operation of the head of the State, was perhaps a still more potent factor in his election. Never was a more splendid testimonial given to a public man, and it accompanied, or prepared the way for, the greatest of all honours that it was in the power of the Comitia to bestow—the control of morals which Scaurus was in that very year to exercise as censor.[990] The presence of the venerable statesman amongst the three commissioners created under the Mamilian law, could not, however, exercise a controlling influence on the judgments of the special tribunal. Such an influence was provided against by the very structure of the new courts. The three commissioners were not to judge but merely to preside; for in the constitution of this commission the new departure was taken of modelling it on the pattern of the newly established standing courts, and the judges who gave an uncontrolled and final verdict were men selected on the same qualifications as those which produced the Gracchan jurors, and were perhaps taken from the list already in existence for the trial of cases of extortion. The knights were, therefore, chosen as the vehicle for the popular indignation, and the result justified the choice. The impatience of a hampered commerce, and perhaps of an outraged feeling of respectability, spent itself without mercy on the devoted heads of some of the proudest leaders of the faction that had so long controlled the destinies of the State. Expedition in judgment was probably secured by dividing the commissioners into three courts, each with his panel of judices and all acting concurrently. It was still more effectually secured by the mode in which evidence was heard, tested and accepted, and by the scandalous rapidity with which judgment was pronounced. The courts were influenced by every chance rumour and swayed by the wild caprices of public opinion. No sane democrat could in the future pretend to regard the Mamilian commission as other than an outrage on the name of justice; to the philosophic mind it seemed that a sudden turn in fortune's wheel had brought to the masses the same intoxication in the sense of unbridled power that had but a moment before been the disgrace of the nobility.[991] An old score was wiped off when Lucius Opimius, the author of the downfall of Caius Gracchus, was condemned. Three other names completed the tale of victims who had been rendered illustrious by the possession of the consular fasces. Lucius Bestia was convicted for the conclusion of that dark treaty with Jugurtha, although his counsellor Scaurus had been elevated to the Bench. Spurius Albinus fell a victim to his own caution and the blunder of his too-enterprising brother; the caution was supposed to have been purchased by Jugurtha's gold, and the absent pro-consul was perhaps held responsible for the rashness or cupidity of his incompetent legate, who does not seem to have been himself assailed. Caius Porcius Cato was emerging from the cloud of a recent conviction for extortion only to feel the weight of a more crushing judgment which drove him to seek a refuge on Spanish soil. Caius Sulpicius Galba, although he had held no dominant position in the secular life of the State, was a distinguished member of the religious hierarchy; but even the memorable speech which he made in his defence did not save him from being the first occupant of a priestly office to be condemned in a criminal court at Rome.[992]

We do not know the number of criminals discovered by the Mamilian courts, and perhaps only the names of their more prominent victims have been preserved. The worldly position of these victims may, however, have saved others of lesser note, and the dignity of the sacrifice may have been regarded in the fortunate light of a compensation for its limited extent. The object of the people and of their present agents, the knights, so far as a rational object can be discerned in such a carnival of rage and vengeance, was to teach a severe lesson to the governing class. Their full purpose had been attained when the lesson had been taught. It was not their intention, any more than it had been that of Caius Gracchus, to usurp the administrative functions of government or to attempt to wrest the direction of foreign administration out of the senate's hands. The time for that further step might not be long in coming; but for the present both the lower and middle classes halted just at the point where destructive might have given place to constructive energy. The leaders of the people may have felt the entire lack of the organisation requisite for detailed administration, and the right man who might replace the machine had not yet been found; while the knights may, in addition to these convictions, have been influenced by their characteristic dislike of pushing a popular movement to an extreme which would remove it from the guidance of the middle class.

The senate had indeed learnt a lesson, and from this time onward the history of the Numidian war is simplified by the fact that its progress was determined by strategic, not by political, considerations. There is no thought of temporising with the enemy; the one idea is to reduce him to a condition of absolute submission—a submission which it was known could be secured only by the possession of his person. It is true that the conduct of the campaign became more than ever a party question; but the party struggle turned almost wholly on the military merit of the commander sent to the scene of action, and although there was a suspicion that the war was being needlessly prolonged for the purpose of gratifying personal ambition, there was no hint of the secret operation of influences that were wholly corrupt. Such a suspicion was rendered impossible by the personality of the man who now took over the conduct of the campaign. The tardily elected consuls for the year were Quintus Caecilius Metellus and Marcus Junius Silanus. Of these Metellus was to hold Numidia and Silanus Gaul.[993] It is possible that, in the counsels of the previous year, considerations of the Numidian campaign may to some extent have determined the election of Metellus; the senate may have welcomed the candidature of a man of approved probity, although not of approved military skill, for the purpose of obviating the chance of another scandal; and the people may in the same spirit have now ratified his election. But, when we remember the almost mechanical system of advancement to the higher offices which prevailed at this time, it is equally possible that Metellus's day had come, that the senate was fortunate rather than prescient in its choice of a servant, and that, although the people in their present temper would probably have rejected a suspicious character, they accepted rather than chose Metellus. The existing system did not even make it possible to elect a man who would certainly have the conduct of the African war; and if we suppose that in this particular case the division of the consular provinces did not depend on the unadulterated use of the lot, but was settled by agreement or by a mock sortition,[994] the probity rather than the genius of Metellus must have determined the choice, for Silanus was assigned a task of far more vital importance to the welfare of Rome and Italy.

The repute of Metellus was based on the fact that, although an aristocrat and a staunch upholder of the privileges of his order, he was honest in his motives and, so far at least as civic politics were concerned, straightforward in his methods. Rome was reaching a stage at which the dramatic probity of Hellenic annals, as exemplified by the names of an Aristeides or a Xenocrates, could be employed as a measure to exalt one member of a government among his fellows; the incorruptibility which had so lately been the common property of all,[995] had become the monopoly of a few, and Metellus was a witness to the folly of a caste which had not recognised the policy of honesty. The completeness with which the prize for character might be won, was shown by the attitude of a jury before which he had been impeached on a charge of extortion. Even the jealous Equites did not deign to glance at the account-books which were handed in, but pronounced an immediate verdict of acquittal.[996] But the merely negative virtue of unassailability by grossly corrupting influences could not have been the only source of the equable repute which Metellus enjoyed amongst the masses. It was but one of the signs of the self-sufficient directness, repose and courtesy, which marked the better type of the new nobility, of a life that held so much that it needed not to grasp at more, of the protecting impulse and the generosity which, in the purer type of minds constricted by conservative prejudices, is an outcome of the conviction of the unbridgeable gulf that separates the classes. The nobility of Metellus was wholly in his favour; it justified the senate while it hypnotised the people. The man who was now consul and would probably within a short space of time attach the name of a conquered nationality to his own, was but fulfilling the accepted destiny of his family. Metellus could show a father, a brother, an uncle and four cousins, all of whom had held the consulship. Since the middle of the second century titles drawn from three conquered peoples had become appellatives of branches of his race. His uncle had derived a name from Macedon, a cousin from the Baliares, his own elder brother from the Dalmatians. It remained to see whether the best-loved member of this favoured race would be in a position to add to the family names the imposing designation of Numidicus.

Metellus was a man of intellect and energy as well as of character,[997] and he showed himself sufficiently exempt from the prejudices of his caste, and sufficiently conscious of the seriousness of the work in hand, to choose real soldiers, not diplomatists or ornamental warriors, as his lieutenants. If the restiveness of Marius had left a disturbing memory behind, it was judiciously forgotten by the consul, who drew the protege of his family from the uncongenial atmosphere of the city to render services in the field, and to teach an ambitious and somewhat embittered man that each act of skill and gallantry was performed for the glory of his superior. Another of his legates was Publius Rutilius Rufus, who like Marius had held the praetorship, and was not only a man of known probity and firmness of character, but a scientific student of tactics with original ideas which were soon to be put to the test in the reorganisation of the army which followed the Numidian war. For the present it was necessary to create rather than reorganise an army, and Metellus in his haste had no time for the indulgence of original views. The reports of the forces at present quartered in the African province were not encouraging; and every means had to be taken to find new soldiers and fresh supplies. A vigorous levy was cheerfully tolerated by the enthusiasm of the community; the senate showed its earnestness by voting ample sums for the purchase of arms, horses, siege implements and stores. Renewed assistance was sought from, and voluntarily rendered by, the Latins and Italian allies, while subject kings proved their loyalty by sending auxiliary forces of their own free will.[998] When Metellus deemed his preparations complete, he sailed for his province amidst the highest hopes. They were hopes based on the probity of a single man; for the impression still prevailed that Roman arms were invincible and had been vanquished only by the new vices of the Roman character. Such hopes are not always the best omen for a commander to take with him; a joy in the present, they are likely to prove an embarrassment in the immediate future.


The delay in his own appointment to the consulship, and the length of time required for collecting his supplementary forces and their supplies, had robbed Metellus of some of the best months of the year when he set foot on African soil; but his patience was to be put to a further test, for the most casual survey of what had been the army of the proconsul Albinus showed the impossibility of taking the field for some considerable time.[999] What he had heard was nothing to what he saw. The military spirit had vanished with discipline, and its sole survivals were a tendency to plunder the peaceful subjects of the province and a habit of bandying words with superior officers. The camp established by Aulus for his beaten army had hardly ever been moved, except when sanitary reasons or a lack of forage rendered a short migration unavoidable. It had developed the character of a highly disorderly town, the citizens of which had nothing to do except to traffic for the small luxuries of life, to enjoy them when they were secured, and, in times when money and good things were scarce, to spread in bands over the surrounding country, make predatory raids on the fields and villas of the neighbourhood, and return with the spoils of war, whether beasts or slaves, driven in flocks before them. The trader who haunts the footsteps of the bandit was a familiar figure in the camp; he could be found everywhere exchanging his foreign wine and the other amenities in which he dealt for the booty wrung from the provincials. Since discipline was dead and there was no enemy to fear, even the most ordinary military precautions had ceased to be observed. The ramparts were falling to pieces, the regular appointment and relief of sentries had been abandoned, and the common soldier absented himself from his company as often and for as long a period as he pleased.

Metellus had to face the task which had confronted Scipio at Numantia. He performed it as effectually and perhaps with greater gentleness; for the most singular feature in the methods by which he restored discipline was his avoidance of all attempts at terrorism.[1000] The moderation and restraint, which had won the hearts of the citizens, worked their magic even in the disorganised rabble which he was remodelling into an army. The habits of obedience were readily resumed when the tones of a true commander were heard, and the way for their resumption was prepared by the regulations which abolished all the incentives to the luxurious indolence which he had found prevalent in the camp. The sale of cooked food was forbidden, the camp followers were swept away, and no private soldier was allowed the use of a slave or beast of burden, whether in quarters or on the march. Other edicts of the same kind followed, and then the work of active training began. Every day the camp was broken up and pitched again after a cross-country march; rampart and ditch were formed and pickets set as though the enemy was hovering near, and the general and staff went their rounds to see that every precaution of real warfare was observed. On the line of march Metellus was everywhere, now in the van, now with The rearguard, now with the central column. His eye criticised every disposition and detected every departure from the rules; he saw that each soldier kept his line, that he filled his due place in the serried ranks that gathered round a standard, that he bore the appropriate burden of his food and weapons. Metellus preferred the removal of the opportunities for vice to the vindictive chastisement of the vicious; his wise and temperate measures produced a healthy state of mind and body with no loss of self-respect, and in a short time he possessed an army, strong in physique as in morale, which he might now venture to move against the foe.

Jugurtha had shown no inclination to follow up his success by active measures against the defeated Roman army, even after he had learnt the repudiation of his treaty with Aulus and knew that the state of war had been resumed. The miserable condition of the forces in the African province, of which he must have been fully aware, must have offered an inviting object of attack, and a sudden raid across the borders might have enabled him to dissipate the last relics of Roman military power in Africa. But he was now, as ever, averse to pushing matters to extremes, he declined to figure as an aggressive enemy of the Roman power; and to give a pretext for a war which could have no issue but his own extinction, would be to surrender the chances of compromise which his own position as a client king and the possibilities, however lessened, of working on the fears or cupidity of members of the Roman administration still afforded him. His strength lay in defensive operations of an elusive kind, not in attack; the less cultivated and accessible portions of his own country furnished the best field for a desultory and protracted war, and he seems still to have looked forward to a compromise to which weariness of the wasteful struggle might in the course of time invite his enemies. He may even have had some knowledge of the embarrassments of the Republic in other quarters of the world, and believed that both the unwillingness of Rome to enter into the struggle, and her eagerness, when she had entered, to see it brought to a rapid close, were to some extent due to a feeling that an African war would divert resources that were sorely needed for the defence of her European possessions.

The king's confidence in the weakness and half-heartedness of the Roman administration is said to have been considerably shaken by the news that Metellus was in command.[1001] During his own residence in Rome he may have heard of him as the prospective consul; he had at any rate learnt the very unusual foundations on which Metellus's influence with his peers and with the people was based, and knew to his chagrin that these were unshakable. The later news from the province was equally depressing. The new commander was not only honest but efficient, and the shattered forces of Rome were regaining the stability that had so often replaced or worn out the efforts of genius. Delicate measures were necessary to resist this combination of innocence and strength, and Jugurtha began to throw out the tentacles of diplomacy. The impression which he meant to produce, and actually did produce on the mind of the historian who has left us the fullest record of the war, was that of a genuine desire to effect a surrender of himself which should no longer be fictitious, and to throw himself almost unreservedly on the mercy of the Roman people.[1002] But Jugurtha was in the habit of exhibiting the most expansive trust, based on a feeling of his own utter helplessness, at the beginning of his negotiations, and of then seeming to permit his fears to get the better of his confidence. He was an experimental psychologist who held out vivid hopes in the belief that the craving once excited would be ultimately satisfied with less than the original offer, while the physical and mental retreat would meanwhile divert his victim from military preparations or lead him to incautious advances. It must have been in some such spirit that he assailed Metellus with offers so extreme in their humility that their good faith must have aroused suspicion in any mind where innocence did not imply simplicity of character, as Jugurtha perhaps hoped that it did in the case of this novel type of Roman official. The Numidian envoys promised absolute submission; even the crown was to be surrendered, and they stipulated only for the bare life of the king and his children.[1003] Metellus, convinced of the unreality of the promise, matched his own treachery against that of the king. He had not the least scruple in following the lead which the senate had given, and regarding Jugurtha as unworthy of the most rudimentary rights of a belligerent. Believing that he had seen enough of the Numidian type to be sure that its conduct was guided by no principles of honour or constancy, and that its shifty imagination could be influenced by the newest project that held out a hope of excitement or of gain,[1004] he began in secret interviews with each individual envoy, to tamper with his fidelity to the king. The subjects of his interviews did not repudiate the suggestion, and adopted an attitude of ready attention which invited further confidences. It might have been an attitude which in these subtle minds denoted unswerving loyalty to their master; but Metellus interpreted it in the light of his own desires, and proceeded to hold out hopes of great reward to each of the envoys if Jugurtha was handed over into his power; he would prefer to have the king alive; but, if that was impossible, the surrender of his dead body would be rewarded. He then gave in public a message which he thought might be acceptable to their master. It is sufficiently probable that the private dialogues no less than the public message were imparted to Jugurtha's ear by messengers who now had unexampled means of proving their fidelity and each of whom may have attempted to show that his loyalty was superior to that of his fellows; incentives to frankness had certainly been supplied by Metellus; but this frankness may have been itself of value to the Roman commander. It would prove to Jugurtha the presence of a resolute and unscrupulous man who aimed at nothing less than his capture and with whom further parleyings would be waste of time.

A few days later Metellus entered Numidia with an army marching with all the vigilance which a hostile territory demands, and prepared in the perfected carefulness of its organisation to meet the surprises which the enemy had in store. The surprise that did await it was of a novel character.[1005] The grimly arrayed column found itself forging through a land which presented the undisturbed appearance of peace, security and comfort. The confident peasant was found in his homestead or tilling his lands, the cattle grazed on the meadows; when an open village or a fortified town was reached, the army was met by the headman or governor representing the king. This obliging official was wholly at the disposal of the Roman general; he was ready to supply corn to the army or to accumulate supplies at any base that might be chosen by the commander; any order that he gave would be faithfully carried out. But Metellus's vigilance was not for a moment shaken by this bloodless triumph. He interpreted the ostentatious submission as the first stage of an intended ambush, and he continued his cautious progress as though the enemy were hovering on his flank. His line of march was as jealously guarded as before, his scouts still rode abroad to examine and report on the safety of the route. The general himself led the van, which was formed of cohorts in light marching order and a select force of slingers and archers; Marius with the main body of cavalry brought up the rear, and either flank was protected by squadrons of auxiliary horse that had been placed at the disposal of the tribunes in charge of the legions and the prefects who commanded the divisions of the contingents from the allies. With these squadrons were mingled light-armed troops, their joint function being to repel any sudden assault from the mobile Numidian cavalry. Every forward step inspired new fears of Jugurtha's strategic craft and knowledge of the ground; wherever the king might be, his subtle influence oppressed the trespasser on any part of his domains, and the most peaceful scene appeared to the anxious eyes of the Roman commander to be fraught with the most terrible perils of war.

The route taken by Metellus may have been the familiar line of advance from the Roman province, down the valley of the Bagradas. But before following the upper course of that river into the heart of Numidia, he deemed it necessary to make a deflection to the north, and secure his communications by seizing and garrisoning the town of Vaga, the most important of the Eastern cities of Jugurtha. Its position near the borders of the Roman province had made it the greatest of Numidian market towns, and it had once been the home, and the seat of the industry, of a great number of Italian traders.[1006] We may suppose that by this time the merchants had fled from the insecure locality and that the foreign trade of the town had passed away; but both the site of the city and the character of its inhabitants attracted the attention of Metellus. The latter, like the Eastern Numidians generally, were a receptive and industrious folk, who knew the benefits that peace and contact with Rome conferred on commerce, and might therefore be induced to throw off their allegiance to Jugurtha. The site suggested a suitable basis for supplies and, if adequately protected, might again invite the merchant. Metellus, therefore, placed a garrison in the town, ordered corn and other necessaries to be stored within its walls, and saw in the concourse of the merchant class a promise of constant supplies for his forces and a tower of strength for the maintenance of Roman influence in Numidia when the work of pacification had been done. The slight delay was utilised by Jugurtha in his characteristic manner. The seizure of one of his most important cities offered an occasion or pretext for fresh terrors. Metellus was beset by grovelling envoys with renewed entreaties; peace was sought at any price short of the life of the king and his children; all else was to be surrendered. The consul still pursued his cherished plan of tampering with the fidelity of the messengers and sending them home with vague promises. He would not cut off Jugurtha from all hope of a compromise. He may have believed that he was paralysing the king's efforts while he continued his steady advance, and turning his enemy's favourite weapon against that enemy himself. Perhaps he even let his thoughts dally with the hope that the envoys who had proved such facile traitors might find some means of redeeming their promises.[1007] But, unless he committed the cardinal mistake of misreading or undervaluing his opponent, these could have been but secondary hopes. He must have known that to penetrate into Western Numidia without a serious battle, or at least without an effort of Jugurtha to harass his march or to cut his communications, was an event beyond the reach of purely human aspiration.

Jugurtha had on his part framed a plan of resistance complete in every detail. The site in which the attempt was to be made was visited and its military features were appraised in all their bearings; the events which would succeed each other in a few short hours could be predicted as surely as one could foretell the regular movements of a machine; the Roman general was walking into a trap from which there should be no escape but death. The framing of Jugurtha's scheme necessarily depended on his knowledge of Metellus's line of march. We do not know how soon the requisite data came to hand; but there is little reason for believing that his plan was a resolution of despair or forced on him as a last resort, except in the sense that he would always rather treat than fight, and that to inflict disaster on a Roman army was no part of the policy which he deemed most desirable. But, since his ideal plan had stumbled on the temperament of Metellus, a check to the invading army became imperative.[1008] The sacrifice of Vaga could scarcely have weighed heavily on his mind, for it was an integral element in any rational scheme of defence; but, even apart from the obvious consideration that a king must fight if he cannot treat for his crown, the thought of his own prestige may now have urged him to combat. Unbounded as the faith of his Numidian subjects was, it might not everywhere survive the impression made by the unimpeded and triumphant march of the Roman legions.

Metellus when he quitted Vaga had continued to operate in the eastern part of Numidia. The theatre of his campaign was probably to be the territory about the plateau of Vaga and the Great Plains, its ultimate prizes perhaps were to be the important Numidian towns of Sicca Veneria and Zama Regia to the south. The nature of the country rendered it impossible for him to enter the defiles of the Bagradas from the north-west, while it was equally impossible for him to march direct from Vaga to Sicca, for the road was blocked by the mountains which intervened on his south-eastern side. To reach the neighbourhood of Sicca it was necessary to turn to the south-west and follow for a time the upward course of the river Muthul (the Waed Mellag). By this route he would reach the high plateaux, which command on the south-east the plains of Sicca and Zama, on the north-west those of Naraggara and Thagaste, on the south those of Thala and Theveste.[1009] Metellus's march led him over a mountain height which was some miles from the river.[1010] The western side of this height, down which the Roman army must descend, although of some steepness at the beginning of its declivity, did not terminate in a plain, but was continued by a swelling rise, of vast and even slope, which found its eastern termination on the river's bank. The greater portion of this great hill, and especially that part of it which lay nearest to the mountain, was covered by a sparse and low vegetation, such as the wild olive and the myrtle, which was all that the parched and sandy soil would yield. There was no water nearer than the river, and this had made the hill a desert so far as human habitation was concerned. It was only on its eastern slope which touched the stream that the presence of man was again revealed by thick-set orchards and cattle grazing in the fields. [1011]

Jugurtha's plan was based on the necessity which would confront the Romans of crossing this arid slope to reach the river. Could he spring on them as they left the mountain chain and detain them in this torrid wilderness, nature might do even more than the Numidian arms to secure a victory; meanwhile measures might be taken to close the passage to the river, and to bring up fresh forces from the east to block the desired route while the ambushed army was harassed by attacks from the flank and rear.

Jugurtha himself occupied the portion of the slope which lay just beneath the mountain. He kept under his own command the whole of the cavalry and a select body of foot-soldiers, probably of a light and mobile character such as would assist the operations of the horse. These he placed in an extended line on the flank of the route that must be followed by an army descending from the mountain. The line was continued by the forces which he had placed under the command of Bomilcar. These consisted of the heavier elements of the Numidian army, the elephants of war and the major part of the foot soldiers. It is, however, probable that there was a considerable interval between the end of Jugurtha's and the beginning of Bomilcar's line.[1012] The latter on its eastern side extended to a point at no great distance from the river; and according to the original scheme of the ambush the function assigned to Bomilcar must have been that of executing a turning movement which would prevent the Roman forces from gaining the stream. As it was expected that the impact of the heavy Roman troops would be chiefly felt in this direction, the sturdier and less mobile portions of the Numidian army had been placed under Bomilcar's command.

Metellus was soon seen descending the mountain slope,[1013] and there seemed at first a chance that the Roman column might be surprised along its length by the sudden onset of Jugurtha's horse. But the vigilant precautions which Metellus observed during his whole line of march, although they could not in this case avert a serious danger, possibly lessened the peril of the moment. His scouts seem to have done their work and spied the half-concealed Numidians amongst the low trees and brushwood. The superior position of the Roman army must in any case soon have made this knowledge the common property of all, unless we consider that some ridge of the chain concealed Jugurtha's ambush from the view of the Roman army until they should have almost left the mountain for the lower hill beneath it. Jugurtha must in any case have calculated on the probability of the forces under his own command soon becoming visible to the enemy, for perfect concealment was impossible amidst the stunted trees which formed the only cover for his men.[1014] The efficacy of his plan did not depend on the completeness or suddenness of the surprise; it depended still more on Jugurtha's knowledge of the needs of a Roman army, and on the state of perplexity into which all that was visible of the ambush would throw the commander. For the little that was seen made it difficult to interpret the size, equipment and intentions of the expectant force. Glimpses of horses and men could just be caught over the crests of the low trees or between the interlacing boughs. Both men and horses were motionless, and the eye that strove to see more was baffled by the scrub which concealed more than it revealed, and by the absence of the standards of war which might have afforded some estimate of the nature and size of the force and had for this reason been carefully hidden by Jugurtha.

But enough was visible to prove the intended ambush. Metellus called a short halt and rapidly changed his marching column to a battle formation capable of resistance or attack. His right flank was the one immediately threatened. It was here accordingly that he formed the front of his order of battle, when he changed his marching column into a fighting line.[1015] The three ranks were formed in the traditional manner; the spaces between the maniples were filled by slingers and archers; the whole of the cavalry was placed on the flanks. It is possible that at this point the line of descent from the mountain would cause the Roman army to present an oblique front to the slope and the distant river,[1016] and the cavalry on the left wing would be at the head of the marching column, if it descended into the lower ground.[1017] Such a descent was immediately resolved on by Metellus. To halt on the heights was impossible, for the land was waterless; an orderly retreat was perhaps discountenanced by the difficulties of the country over which he had just passed and the distance of the last watering-place which he had left, while to retire at the first sight of the longed-for foe would not have inspired his newly remodelled army with much confidence in themselves or their general.

When the army had quitted the foot of the mountain, a new problem faced its general. The Numidians remained motionless,[1018] and it became clear that no rapid attack that could be as suddenly repulsed was contemplated by their leader. Metellus saw instead the prospect of a series of harassing assaults that would delay his progress, and he dreaded the fierceness of the season more than the weapons of the enemy. The day was still young, for Jugurtha had meant to call in the alliance of a torrid sun, and Metellus saw in his mind's eye his army, worn by thirst, heat and seven miles of harassing combat, still struggling with the Numidian cavalry while they strove to form a camp at the river which was the bourne of their desires. It was all important that the extreme end of the slope which touched the river should be seized at once, and a camp be formed, or be in process of formation, by the time that his tired army arrived. With this object in view he sent on his legate Rutilius with some cohorts of foot soldiers in light marching order and a portion of the cavalry. The movement was well planned, for by the nature of the case it could not be disturbed by Jugurtha. His object was to harry the main body of the army and especially the heavy infantry, and his refusal to detach any part of his force in pursuit of the swiftly moving Rutilius is easily understood, especially when it is remembered that Bomilcar was stationed near to the ground which the Roman legate was to seize. An attack on the flying column would also have led to the general engagement which Metellus wished to provoke. The presence of Bomilcar and his force was probably unknown to the Romans. He in his turn must have been surprised, and may have been somewhat embarrassed, by Rutilius's advance; but the movement did not induce him to abandon his position. To oppose Rutilius would have been to surrender the part assigned him in the intended operations against the main Roman force; and, if this part was now rendered difficult or impossible by the presence of the Romans in his rear, he might yet divide the forces of the enemy, and assist Jugurtha by keeping Rutilius and his valuable contingents of cavalry in check. He therefore permitted the legate to pass him[1019] and waited for the events which were to issue from the combat farther up the field.

Metellus meanwhile continued his slow advance, keeping the marching order which had been observed in the descent from the mountain. He himself headed the column, riding with the cavalry that covered the left wing, while Marius, in command of the horsemen on the right, brought up the rear.[1020] Jugurtha waited until the last man of the Roman column had crossed the beginning of his line, and then suddenly threw about two thousand of his infantry up the slope of the mountain at the point where Metellus had made his descent. His idea was to cut off the retreat of the Romans and prevent their regaining the most commanding position in the field. He then gave the signal for a general attack. The battle which followed had all the characteristic features of all such contests between a light and active cavalry force and an army composed mainly of heavy infantry, inferior in mobility but unshakable in its compact strength. There was no possibility of the Numidians piercing the Roman ranks, but there was more than a possibility of their wearing down the strength of every Roman soldier before that weary march to the river had even neared its completion. The Roman defence must have been hampered by the absence of that portion of the cavalry which had accompanied Rutilius; it was more sorely tried by the dazzling sun, the floating dust and the intolerable heat. The Numidians hung on the rear and either flank, cutting down the stragglers and essaying to break the order of the Roman ranks on every side. It was of the utmost difficulty to preserve this order, and the braver spirits who preferred the security of their ranks to reckless and indiscriminate assault, were maddened by blows, inflicted by the missiles of their adversaries, which they were powerless to return. Nor could the repulse of the enemy be followed by an effective pursuit. Jugurtha had taught his cavalry to scatter in their retreat when pursued by a hostile band; and thus, when unable to hold their ground in the first quarter which they had selected for attack, they melted away only to gather like clouds on the flank and rear of pursuers who had now severed themselves from the protecting structure of their ranks. Even the difficulties of the ground favoured the mobile tactics of the assailants; for the horses of the Numidians, accustomed to the hill forests, could thread their way through the undergrowth at points which offered an effective check to the pursuing Romans.

It seemed as though Jugurtha's plan was nearing its fulfilment. The symmetry of the Roman column was giving place to a straggling line showing perceptible gaps through which the enemy had pierced. The resistance was becoming individual; small companies pursued or retreated in obedience to the dictates of their immediate danger; no single head could grasp the varied situation nor, if it had had power to do so, could it have issued commands capable of giving uniformity to the sporadic combats in which attack and resistance seemed to be directed by the blind chances of the moment. But every minute of effectual resistance had been a gain to the Romans. The ceaseless toil in the cruel heat was wearing down the powers even of the natives; the exertions of the latter, as the attacking force, must have been far greater than those of the mass of the Roman infantry; and the Numidian foot soldiers in particular, who were probably always of an inferior quality to the cavalry and had been obliged to strain their physical endurance to the utmost by emulating the horsemen in their lightning methods of attack and retreat, had become so utterly exhausted that a considerable portion of them had practically retired from the field. They had climbed to the higher ground, perhaps to join the forces which Jugurtha had already placed near the foot of the mountain, and were resting their weary limbs, probably not with any view of shirking their arduous service but with a resolution of renewing the attack when their vigour had been restored. This withdrawal of a large portion of the infantry was a cause, or a part, of a general slackening of the Numidian attack; and it was the breathing space thus afforded which gave Metellus his great chance. Gradually he drew his straggling line together and restored some order in the ranks; and then with the instinct of a true general he took active measures to assail his enemy's weakest point. This point was represented by the Numidian infantry perched on the height. Some of these were exhausted and perhaps dispirited, others it is true were as yet untouched by the toil of battle; but as a body Metellus believed them wholly incapable of standing the shock of a Roman charge. The confidence was almost forced on him by his despair of any other solution of the intolerable situation. The evening was closing in, his army had no camp or shelter; even if it were possible to guard against the dangers of the night, morning would bring but a renewal of the same miserable toil to an army worn by thirst, sleeplessness and anxiety. He, therefore, massed four legionary cohorts against the Numidian infantry,[1021] and tried to revive their shattered confidence by appealing at once to their courage and to their despair, by pointing to the enemy in retreat and by showing that their own safety rested wholly on the weapons in their hands. For some time the Roman soldiers surveyed their dangerous task and looked expectantly at the height that they were asked to storm. The vague hope that the enemy would come down finally disappeared; the growing darkness filled them with resolute despair; and, closing their ranks, they rushed for the higher ground. In a moment the Numidians were scattered and the height was gained. So rapidly did the enemy vanish that but few of them were slain; their lightness of armour and knowledge of the ground saved them from the swords of the pursuing legionaries.

The conquest of the height was the decisive incident of the battle, and it was clearly a success that, considered in itself, was due far more to radical and permanent military qualities than to tactical skill. It may seem wholly a victory of the soldiers, in which the general played no part, until we remember that strategic and tactical considerations are dependent on a knowledge of such permanent conditions, and that Metellus was as right in forcing his Romans up the height as Jugurtha was wrong in believing that his Numidians could hold it. With respect to the events occurring in this quarter of the field, Metellus had saved himself from a strategic disadvantage by a tactical success; but even the strategic situation could not be estimated wholly by reference to the events which had just occurred or to the position in which the two armies were now left. Had Bomilcar still been free to bar the passage to the river and to join Jugurtha's forces during the night, the position of the Romans would still have been exceedingly dangerous. But the mission of Rutilius had successfully diverted that general's attention from what had been the main purpose of the original plan. His leading idea was now merely to separate the two divisions of the Roman army, and the thought of blocking the passage of Metellus, although not necessarily abandoned, must have become secondary to that of checking the advance of Rutilius when the legate should have become alarmed at the delay in the progress of his commander. Bomilcar, after he had permitted the Roman force to pass him, slowly left the hill where he had been posted and brought his men into more level ground,[1022] while Rutilius was making all speed for the river. Quietly he changed his column into a line of battle stretching across the slope which at this point melted into the plain, while he learnt by constant scouting every movement of the enemy beyond. He heard at length that Rutilius had reached his bourne and halted, and at the same time the din of the battle between Jugurtha and Metellus came in louder volumes to his ear. The thought that Rutilius's attention was disengaged now that his main object had been accomplished, the fear that he might seek to bring help to his labouring commander, led Bomilcar to take more active measures. His mind was now absorbed with the problem of preventing a junction of the Roman forces. His mistrust of the quality of the infantry under his command had originally led him to form a line of considerable depth; this he now thought fit to extend with the idea of outflanking and cutting off all chance of egress from the enemy. When all was ready he advanced on Rutilius's camp.[1023]

The Romans were suddenly aware of a great cloud of dust which hung over the plantations on their landward side; but the intervening trees hid all prospect of the slope beyond: and for a time they looked on the pillar of dust as one of the strange sights of the desert, a mere sand-cloud driven by the wind. Then they thought that it betrayed a peculiar steadiness in its advance; instead of sweeping down in a wild storm it moved with the pace and regularity of an army on the march; and, in spite of its slow progress, it could be seen to be drawing nearer and nearer. The truth burst upon their minds; they seized their weapons and, in obedience to the order of their commander, drew up in battle formation before the camp. As Bomilcar's force approached, the Romans shouted and charged; the Numidians raised a counter cheer and met the assault half-way. There was scarcely a moment when the issue seemed in doubt. The Romans, strong in cavalry, swept the untrained Numidian infantry before them, and Bomilcar had by his incautious advance thrown away the utility of that division of his army on which he and his men placed their chief reliance. His elephants, which were capable of manoeuvring only on open ground, had now been advanced to the midst of wooded plantations, and the huge animals were soon mixed up with the trees, struggling through the branches and separated from their fellows.[1024] The Numidians made a show of resistance until they saw the line of elephants broken and the Roman soldiers in the rear of the protecting beasts; then they threw away their heavy armour and vanished from the spot, most of them seeking the cover of the hills and nearly all secure in the shelter of the coming night. The elephants were the chief victims of the Roman pursuit; four were captured and the forty that remained were killed.

It had been a hard day's work for the victorious division. A forced march had been followed by the labour of forming a camp and this in turn by the toil of battle. But it was impossible to think of rest. The delay of Metellus filled them with misgivings, and they advanced through the darkness to seek news of the main division with a caution that bespoke the prudent view that their recent victory had not banished the evil possibilities of Numidian guile.[1025] Metellus was advancing from the opposite direction and the two armies met. Each division was suddenly aware of a force moving against it under cover of the night; with nerves so highly strung as to catch at any fear each fancied an enemy in the other. There was a shout and a clash of arms, as swords were drawn and shields unstrung. It was fortunate that mounted scouts were riding in advance of either army. These soon saw the welcome truth and bore it to their companions. Panic gave place to joy; as the combined forces moved into camp, the soldiers' tongues were loosed, and pent up feelings found expression in wonderful stories of individual valour.

Metellus, as in duty bound, gave the name of victory to his salvation from destruction. He was right in so far as an army that has vanished may be held to have been beaten; and his compliments to his soldiers were certainly well deserved; for the triumph, such as it was, had been mainly that of the rank and file, and the Roman legionary had not merely given evidence of the old qualities of stubborn endurance which Metellus's training had restored, but had proved himself vastly superior to anything in the shape of a soldier of the line that Jugurtha could put into the field. The commendation and thanks which the general expressed in his public address to the whole army, the individual distinctions which he conferred on those whose peculiar merit in the recent combats was attested, were at once an apology for hardship, a recognition of desert and a means of inspiring self-respect and future efficiency. If it is true that Metellus added that glory was now satisfied, and plunder should be their reward in future,[1026] he was at once indulging in a pardonable hyperbole and veiling the unpleasant truth that combats with Jugurtha were somewhat too expensive to attract his future attention. His own private opinion of the recent events was perhaps as carefully concealed in his despatches to the senate. It was inevitable that a populace which had learnt to look on news from Numidia as a record of compromise or disaster, should welcome and exaggerate the cheering intelligence; should not only glory in the indisputable fact of the renewed excellence of their army, but should regard Jugurtha as a fugitive and Metellus as master of his land.[1027] It was equally natural that the senate should embrace the chance of shaking off the last relics of suspicion which clung to its honour and competency by exalting the success of its general. It decreed supplications to the immortal gods, and thus produced the impression that a decisive victory had been won. Everywhere the State displayed a pardonable joy mingled with a less justifiable expectation that this was the beginning of the end.

The man who raises extravagant hopes is only less happy than the man who dashes them to the ground. The days that followed the battle of the Muthul must have been an anxious time for Metellus; for he had been taught that it was necessary to change his plan of campaign into a shape which was not likely to secure a speedy termination of the war. For four days he did not leave his camp—a delay which may have had the ostensible justification of the necessity of caring for his wounded soldiers,[1028] and may even have been based on the hope that negotiations for surrender might reach him from the king, but which also proved his view that the pursuit of Jugurtha was wholly impracticable, and that in the case of a Numidian army capture or destruction was not a necessary consequence of defeat. He contented himself with making inquiries of fugitives and others as to the present position and proceedings of the king, and received replies which may have contained some elements of truth. He learnt that the Numidian army which had fought at the Muthul had wholly broken up in accordance with the custom of the race, that Jugurtha had left the field with his body-guard alone, that he had fled to wild and difficult country and was there raising a second army—an army that promised to be larger than the first, but was likely to be less efficient, composed as it was of shepherds and peasants with little training in war.[1029] We cannot say whether Metellus accepted the strange view that the vanished army, which had now probably returned to the peaceful pursuits of agriculture and pasturage, would not be reproduced in the new one; but certainly the news of the future weakness of Jugurtha's forces did not seem to him to justify an advance into Western Numidia, then as ever the stronghold of the king and the seat of that treasure of human life which was of more value than gold and silver. The Roman general, while recognising that the belligerent aspect of the king made a renewal of the war inevitable, was fully convinced that pitched battles were not the means of wearing down Numidian constancy. The pursuit of Jugurtha was impossible without conflicts, from which the vanquished emerged less scathed than the victors,[1030] and even this primary object of the expedition was for the time abandoned. He was forced to adopt the circuitous device of attracting the presence of the king, and weakening the loyalty of his subjects, by a series of mere plundering raids on the wealthiest portions of the country. It was a plan that in default of a really effective occupation of the whole country, especially of some occupation of Western Numidia, implied a certain amount of self-contradiction and inconsistency. The plunder of the land was intended to secure the end which Metellus wished to avoid—a conflict with the king; and the mobility which he so much dreaded could find no fairer field for its exercise than the rapid marches across country which might secure a town from attack, undo the work of conquest which had just been effected in some other stronghold, or harass the route of the Roman forces as they moved from point to point. Metellus was making himself into an admirable target for the most effective type of guerilla warfare; but the whole history of the struggle down to its close proves that this helplessness was due to the situation rather than to the man. The Roman forces were wholly inadequate to an effective occupation of Numidia; and a general who despaired of pushing on in an aimless and dangerous pursuit, had to be content with the chances that might result from the capture of towns, the plunder of territories, and secret negotiations which might bring about the death or surrender of the king.

Neither the movements which followed the battle of the Muthul nor the site of the winter quarters into which Metellus led his men, have been recorded. The campaign of the next year seems still to have been confined to the eastern portion of Numidia, its object being the security of the country between Vaga and Zama. This rich country was cruelly ravaged, every fortified post that was taken was burnt, all Numidians of fighting age who offered resistance were put to the sword. This policy of terrorism produced some immediate results. The army was well provisioned, the frightened natives bringing in corn and other necessaries in abundance; towns and districts yielded hostages for their good behaviour; strong places were surrendered in which garrisons were left.[1031] But the presence of Jugurtha soon made itself felt. The king, if he had collected an army, had left the major part of it behind. He was now at the head of a select body of light horse, and with this mobile force he followed in Metellus's tracks. The Romans felt themselves haunted by a phantom enemy who passed with incredible rapidity from point to point, whose stealthy advances were made under cover of the darkness and over trackless wastes, and whose proximity was only known by some sudden and terrible blow dealt at the stragglers from the camp. The death or capture of those who left the lines could neither be hindered nor avenged; for before reinforcements could be hurried up, the Numidians had vanished into the nearest range of hills. The most ordinary operations of the army were now being seriously hindered. Supply and foraging parties had to be protected by cohorts of infantry and the whole force of cavalry; plundering was impossible; and fire was found the readiest means of wasting country which could no longer be ravaged for the benefit of the men. It was thought unsafe for the whole army to operate in two independent columns. Such columns were indeed formed, Metellus heading one and Marius the other; but it was necessary for them to keep the closest touch. Although they sometimes divided to extend the sphere of their work of terror and devastation, they often united through the pressure of fear, and the two camps were never at a great distance from each other.[1032] The king meanwhile followed them along the hills, destroying the fodder and ruining the water supply on the line of march; now he would swoop on Metellus, now on Marius, harass the rear of the column and vanish again into his hiding places.

The painful experiences of the later portion of this march convinced Metellus that some decisive effort should be made, which would crown his earlier successes, give him some sort of command of the line of country through which he had so perilously passed, and might, by the importance of the attempt, force Jugurtha to a battle. The hilly country through which he had just conducted his legions, was that which lay between the great towns of Sicca and Zama.[1033] The possession of both these places was absolutely essential if the southern district which he had terrified and garrisoned was to be kept permanently from the king. Sicca was already his, for it had been the first of the towns to throw off its allegiance to Jugurtha after the battle on the Muthul had dissipated the Numidian army.[1034] He now turned his attention to the still more important town of Zama, the true capital and stronghold of this southern district, and prepared to master the position by assault or siege. Jugurtha was soon cognisant of his plan, and by long forced marches crossed Metellus's line and entered Zama.[1035] He urged the citizens to a vigorous defence and promised that at the right moment he would come to their aid with all his forces; he strengthened their garrison by drafting into it a body of Roman deserters, whose circumstances guaranteed their loyalty, and disappeared again from the vision of friends and foes. Shortly afterwards he learnt that Marius had left the line of march for Sicca, and that he had with him but a few cohorts intended to convoy to the army the corn which he hoped to acquire in the town. In a moment Jugurtha was at the head of his chosen cavalry and moving under cover of the night. He had hoped perhaps to find the division in the town, to turn the tide of feeling in Sicca by his presence, and to see the ablest of his opponents trapped within the walls. But, as he reached the gate, the Romans were leaving it. He immediately hurled his men upon them and shouted to the curious folk who were watching the departure of the cohorts, to take the division in the rear. Chance, he cried, had lent them the occasion of a glorious deed of arms. Now was the time for them to recover freedom, for him to regain his kingdom. The magic of the presence of the national hero had nearly worked conversion to the Siccans and destruction to the Romans. The friendly city would have proved a hornets' nest, had not Marius bent all his efforts to thrusting a passage through Jugurtha's men and getting clear of the dangerous walls. In the more open ground the fighting was sharp but short. A few Numidians fell, the rest vanished from the field, and Marius came in safety to Zama, where he found Metellus contemplating his attack.

The city lay in a plain and nature had contributed but little to its defence,[1036] but it was strong in all the means that art could supply and well prepared to stand a siege. Metellus planned a general assault and arranged his forces around the whole line of wall. The attack began at every point at once; in the rear were the light-armed troops, shooting stones and metal balls at the defenders and covering the efforts of the active assailants, who pressed up to the walls and strove to effect an entry by scaling ladders and by mines. The defending force betrayed no sign of terror or disordered haste. They calmly distributed their duties, and each party kept a watchful eye on the enemy whom it was its function to repel; while some transfixed those farther from the wall with javelins thrown by the hand or shot from an engine, others dealt destruction on those immediately beneath them, rolling heavy stones upon their heads and showering down pointed stakes, heavy missiles and vessels full of blazing pine fed with pitch and sulphur.[1037]

The battle raging round the walls may have absorbed the thoughts even of that section of the Roman army which had been left to guard the camp. Certainly they and their sentries were completely off their guard when Jugurtha with a large force dashed at the entrenchments and, so complete was the surprise, swept unhindered through the gate.[1038] The usual scene of panic followed with its flight, its hasty arming, the groans of the wounded, the silent falling of the slain. But the unusual degree of the recklessness of the garrison was witnessed by the fact that not more than forty men were making a collective stand against the Numidian onset. The little band had seized a bit of high ground and no effort of the enemy could dislodge them. The missiles which had been aimed against them they hurled back with terrible effect into the dense masses around; and when the assailants essayed a closer combat, they struck them down or drove them back with the fury of their blows. Their resistance may have detained Jugurtha in the camp longer than he had intended; but the immediate escape from the emergency was due to the cowards rather than to the brave. Metellus was wrapt in contemplation of the efforts of his men before the walls of Zama when he suddenly heard the roar of battle repeated from another quarter. As he wheeled his horse, he saw a crowd of fugitives hurrying over the plain; since they made for him, he judged that they were his own men. It seems that the cavalry had been drawn up near the walls, probably as a result of the impression that Jugurtha, if he attacked at all, would attempt to take the besiegers in the rear. Metellus now hastily sent the whole of this force to the camp, and bade Marius follow with all speed at the head of some cohorts of the allies. His anguish at the sullied honour of his troops was greater than his fear. With tears streaming down his face he besought his legate to wipe out the stain which blurred the recent victory and not to permit the enemy to escape unpunished.

Jugurtha had no intention of being caught in the Roman camp; but it was not so easy to get out as it had been to come in. Some of his men were jammed in the exits, while others threw themselves over the ramparts; Marius took full advantage of the rout, and it was with many losses that Jugurtha shook himself free of his pursuers and retreated to his own fastnesses. Soon the approach of night brought the siege operations to an end. Metellus drew off his men and led them back to camp after a day's experience that did not leave a pleasant retrospect behind it. Warned by its incidents that the cavalry should be posted nearer to the camp, he began the work of the following day by disposing the whole of this force over that quarter of the ground on which the king had made his appearance;[1039] more definite arrangements were also made for the detailed defence of the Roman lines, and the assault of the previous day was renewed on the walls of Zama. Yet in spite of these elaborate precautions Jugurtha's coming was in the nature of a surprise. The silence and swiftness of his onset threw the first contingents of Romans whom he met into momentary panic and confusion; but reserves were soon moved up and restored the fortune of the day. They might have turned it rapidly and wholly, but for a tactical device which Jugurtha had adopted as a means of neutralising the superior stability of the Romans—a means which permitted him to show a persistence of frontal attack unusual with the Numidians. He had mingled light infantry with his cavalry; the latter charged instead of merely skirmishing, and before the breaches which they had made in the enemy's ranks could be refilled, the foot soldiers made their attack on the disordered lines.[1040]

Jugurtha's object was being fulfilled as long as he could remain in the field to effect this type of diversion and draw off considerable forces from the walls of Zama. But his ingenious efforts attracted the attention of the besieged as well as of the besiegers. It is true that, when the assault was hottest, the citizens of Zama did not permit their minds or eyes to stray; but there were moments following the repulse of some great effort when the energy of the assailants flagged and there was a lull in the storm of sound made by human voices and the clatter of arms. Then the men on the walls would look with strained attention on the cavalry battle in the plain, would follow the fortunes of the king with every alternation of joy or fear, and shout advice or exhortation as though their voices could reach their distant friends.[1041] Marius, who conducted the assault at that portion of the wall which commanded this absorbing view, formed the idea of encouraging this distraction of attention by a feint and seizing the momentary advantage which it afforded. A remissness and lack of confidence was soon visible in the efforts of his men, and the undisturbed interest of the Numidians was speedily directed to the manoeuvres of their monarch in the plain. Suddenly the assault burst on them in its fullest force; before they could brace themselves to the surprise, the foremost Romans were more than half-way up the scaling ladders. But the height was too great and the time too short. Stones and fire were again poured on the heads of the assailants. It was some time before their confidence was shaken; but when one or two ladders had been shattered into fragments and their occupants dashed down, the rest—most of them already covered with wounds—glided to the ground and hastened from the walls. This was the last effort. The night soon fell and brought with it, not merely the close of the day's work, but the end of the siege of Zama.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15     Next Part
Home - Random Browse