Just before the time of Caesar, there existed a great rivalry between two men who had filled the world with their hatred for each other.
This was the rivalry between Marius and Sylla.
At that time Rome was divided into two great parties:
1. The patrician
2. The plebeian
Sylla was a patrician.
Marius was a plebeian.
The Patrician party
It consisted of the rich and aristocratic people of the community. Sylla was the favorite among the patricians.
The Plebeian party
It consisted of the poor people of the community. Marius was the favorite among the plebeians.
The nature of the contests
However in the contests, they did not trust to the mere influence of votes. They relied much more upon the soldiers they could gather and they were used to intimidate the Roman assemblies.
Sylla’s command stolen
Mithridates was a very powerful Asiatic king. There was a war that was about to be waged by Rome against him. It provided great opportunities for acquiring fame and plunder. Sylla was appointed to command the army.
But when Sylla was absent due to a campaign in Italy, Marius contrived to have the decision reversed and had the command transferred to him.
Two officers were sent to Sylla’s camp to inform him about the change. Sylla killed the officers for daring to bring him such a message, and immediately began to march toward Rome. In retaliation for the murder of the two officers, the party of Marius in the city killed some of Sylla’s prominent friends there, and a general alarm spread throughout the population.
When Sylla arrived within a few miles of the city the Senate, which was mainly in support of Sylla, urged him to not come any closer to the city. He pretended to comply. He only delayed his march.
The Defeat of Marius
The next morning he was in possession of the city. The friends of Marius attempted to resist him, by throwing stones upon his troops from the roofs of the houses. Sylla ordered such houses to be set on fire. Thus the whole population of the city was thrown into a condition of extreme danger and terror, by the conflicts of two great bands of armed men, each claiming to be their friends.
Marius lost this struggle and fled for his life. Many of the friends whom he left behind him were killed. The Senate was assembled and at Sylla’s orders, a decree was passed declaring Marius a public enemy and offering a reward to anyone who would bring his head back to Rome.
The Flight of Marius
Friendless and alone, Marius fled to the south. He was hunted everywhere by men who were eager to get the reward offered for his head. After various narrow escapes, he succeeded in making his way across the Mediterranean Sea and found at last a refuge in a hut among the ruins of Carthage. By this time, he was over seventy years old.
The Return of Marius
Sylla thought that his enemy was now finally disposed of and he began to make preparations for his Asiatic campaign. He raised his army, built and equipped a fleet, and went away.
As soon as he was gone, Marius’s friends in the city began to come forth, and to take measures for reinstating themselves in power. Marius returned from Africa and soon gathered a large army. He collected a large number of revolted slaves, outlaws, and advanced toward Rome.
He listened to the terms which the Roman Senate sent out to him from time to time as he advanced toward the city, but refused to make any terms.
Executions by Marius
As soon as he had gained possession of the city, he began his work of destruction. He first beheaded one of the consuls and ordered his head to be set up as a public spectacle. All the prominent friends of Sylla were then killed wherever they could be found.
He also had some of his enemies thrown down from the Tarpeian Rock.
Marius made every effort to find Sylla’s wife and child, with a view to destroying them also, but they could not be found. Some friends of Sylla, taking compassion on their innocence and helplessness, concealed them.
Some men preferred to commit suicide rather than being killed by Marius.
Death of Marius
The city had now started to recover but by the time that Marius was quite established, he fell sick. The disease was aggravated by the great mental excitements through which he had passed.
He was in a constant tensed state of mind as Sylla was still not subdued. Sylla was still conducting his war against Mithridates. Marius had had him pronounced by the Senate an enemy to his country, and was creating plans to reach him in his distant province. He considered his triumph incomplete as long as his great rival was alive. The sickness cut short these plans.
Marius, due to his illness, became delirious and imagined that he had succeeded in supplanting Sylla in his command and that he was himself in Asia at the head of his armies. He shouted orders to imaginary troops. He struggled to break away from his bed restraints to attack the phantom foes. This continued for several days and at last he died.
The Return of Sylla
Marius had a son of the same name who attempted to retain his father’s power, but Sylla had brought his war with Mithridates to a conclusion and was now on his return from Asia, and it was very evident that a terrible conflict was about to start. Sylla advanced triumphantly through the country, while Marius and his party men concentrated their forces about the city, and prepared for defense.
The people of the city were divided.
Sylla found, therefore, as he advanced, everything favorable to the restoration of his own party to power. He destroyed the armies which came out to oppose him. He shut up the young Marius in a city not far from Rome, where he had endeavored to find shelter and protection, and then advanced himself and took possession of the city.
Executions by Sylla
There he enacted again the horrid scenes of murder which Marius had done before. He gave out lists of the names of men whom he wished to have killed. Bands of reckless soldiers hunted these men and killed them by the sword wherever they could be found.
Sylla himself went through with this work in the most cool and unconcerned manner, as if he were performing the most ordinary duties of an officer of state.
Sylla’s orders for the execution of were not confined to Rome. They went to the neighboring cities and to distant provinces.
Sylla made Dictator
Sylla was now in the possession of absolute power. He was master of Rome, and of all the countries over which Rome held sway. Still he was only a general returning victoriously from his Asiatic campaign.
After disposing his enemies, he laid aside the sword and submitted himself to the control of law. He placed himself at the disposition of the city. They chose him dictator, which was investing him with absolute and unlimited power. He remained as dictator for a short time and then resigned his power.
He then devoted the remainder of his days to literary pursuits and pleasures. Monster as he was in the cruelties which he inflicted upon his political foes, he was intellectually of a refined and cultivated mind.