The Flight of Marius

I find some of the ancient battles hard to deal with - partly as the descriptions are sparse, and ... well, I suspect that soldiers are often too busy fighting during the confusion of battle to remember who exactly was where, so I have my doubts about the accuracy of ancient dispatches. I've tried to re-create them with little Lego figures on my coffee table, and a few real soldiers have been very kind in offering me their 'experience' in these matters ... But for today I've moved onto one of the better documented periods of Marius' life - his flight from Rome, through Italy, and into exile in Africa.

This painting shows an incident from his flight, when he was captured at Minturnae. None of the Romans wanted to execute Sulla's order to kill him, so they dispatched a Cimbrian German slave. The slave, one of those captured after their defeat by Marius himself, also refused to carry out the order. Shamed - and probably by then questioning whether Sulla's demand might have been unconstitutional - they let Marius flee.

The incident can be found in Plutarch, 39:
Upon deliberation, the magistrates and councillors of Minturnae decided not to delay, but to put Marius to death. No one of the citizens, however, would undertake the task, so a horseman, either a Gaul or a Cimbrian (for the story is told both ways), took a sword and went into the room where Marius was.
2 Now, that part of the room where Marius happened to be lying had not a very good light, but was gloomy, and we are told that to the soldier the eyes of Marius seemed to shoot out a strong flame, and that a loud voice issued from the shadows saying, "Man, does thou dare to slay Caius Marius?" At once, then, the Barbarian fled from the room, threw his sword down on the ground, and dashed out of doors, with this one cry: "I cannot kill Caius Marius."
3 Consternation reigned, of course, and then came pity, a change of heart, and self-reproach for having come to so unlawful and ungrateful a decision against a man who had been the saviour of Italy, and who ought in all decency to be helped. "So, then," the talk ran, "let him go where he will as an exile, to suffer elsewhere his allotted fate. And let us pray that the gods may not visit us with their displeasure for casting Marius out of our city in poverty and rags."
The good 'Fortune' of Marius - and the idea that the goddess Fortuna smiled on him - became a topos of history, firmly entrenched by Plutarch's day. This is considered one of the prime examples of it in his life.

Marius at Minturnae
by Jean-Germain Drouais (1763-1788)
oil on canvas
Louvre, Paris

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