Young Folks' History of Rome HTML version

24. The Adventures Of Marius, 93—84
The chief foe of Marius was almost always his second in command, Publius Cornelius
Sulla, one of the men of highest family in Rome. He had all the high culture and elegant
learning that the rough soldier Marius despised, spoke and wrote Greek as easily as Latin,
and was as well read in Greek poetry and philosophy as any Athenian could be; but he
was given up to all the excesses of luxury in which the wealthy Romans indulged, and his
way of life had made him frightful to look at. His face was said to be like a mulberry
sprinkled with salt, with a terrible pair of blue eyes glaring out of it.
In 93 he was sent to command against Mithridates, king of Pontus, one of the little
kingdoms in Asia Minor that had sprung up out of the break-up of Alexander's empire.
Under this king, Mithridates, it had grown very powerful. He was of Persian birth, had all
the learning and science both of Greece and the far East, and was said in especial to be
wonderfully learned in all plants and their virtues, so as to have made himself proof
against all kinds of poison, and he could speak twenty-five languages.
He had great power in Asia Minor, and took upon himself to appoint a king of
Cappadocia, thus leading to a quarrel with the Romans. In the midst of the Social War,
when he thought they had their hands full in Italy, Mithridates caused all the native
inhabitants of Asia Minor to rise upon the Romans among them in one night and murder
them all, so that 80,000 are said to have perished. Sulla was ordered to take the command
of the army which was to avenge their death; but, while he was raising his forces, Marius,
angry that the patricians had hindered the plebeians and Italians from gaining more by the
Social War, raised up a great tumult, meaning to overpower the patricians' resistance. He
would have done more wisely had he waited until Sulla was quite gone, for that general
came back to the rescue of his friends with six newly-raised legions, and Marius could
only just contrive to escape from Rome, where he was proclaimed a traitor and a price set
on his head. He was now seventy years old, but full of spirit. First he escaped to his own
farm, whence he hoped to reach Ostia, where a ship was waiting for him; but a party of
horsemen were seen coming, and he was hidden in a cart full of beans and driven down
the coast, where he embarked, meaning to go to Africa; but adverse winds and want of
food forced him to land at Circæum, whence, with a few friends, he made his way along
the coast, through woods and rocks, keeping up the spirits of his companions by telling
them that, when a little boy, he robbed an eyrie of seven eaglets, and that a soothsayer
had then foretold that he would be seven times consul. At last a troop of horse was seen
coming towards them, and at the same time two ships near the coast. The only hope was
in swimming out to the nearest ship, and Marius was so heavy and old that this was done
with great difficulty. Even then the ships were so near the shore that the pursuers could
command the crew to throw Marius out, but this they refused to do, though they only
waited till the soldiers were gone, to put him on shore again. Here he was in a marshy,
boggy place, where an old man let him rest in his cottage, and then hid him in a cave
under a heap of rushes. Again, however, the troops appeared, and threatened the old man
for hiding an enemy of the Romans. It was in Marius' hearing, and fearing to be betrayed,
he rushed out into a pool, where he stood up to his neck in water till a soldier saw him,
and he was dragged out and taken to the city of Minturnæ.
There the council decided on his death, and sent a soldier to kill him, but the fierce old
man stood glaring at him, and said. "Darest thou kill Caius Marius?" The man was so
frightened that he ran away, crying out, "I cannot kill Caius Marius." The Senate of