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Ch. 9
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Romans
on the Riviera and the Rhone

by W. H. Hall

originally published by Macmillan & Co., Ltd.,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Ch. 11

 p101  Chapter X
Marius and the Cimbro-Teuton Invasion

Before the Romans had fairly got into the saddle of the government of the Province, to which the colony of Narbonne was eventually to give its name, they were disturbed by disquieting rumours of the movement of hordes of northern barbarians from the region of the Baltic towards the Mediterranean.

Beyond the fact, that in the year B.C. 118 the orator Licinius Crassus duly conducted his colony to Narbonne, we know almost nothing of the proceedings of the Romans in Southern Gaul during the twenty years which intervened between the conquest and the barbarian invasion.

We are not even told of how many Roman citizens the first Transalpine colony consisted, nor what resistance Narbonne offered to the waves of barbarism — 'fluctibus barbariae' as Cicero picturesquely expresses it.

Although well-nigh three centuries had elapsed since the sack and burning of Rome by the Gauls, a vague dread of the repetition of a similar catastrophe was still kept alive in Roman breasts.

Yet from the succession of defeats, which the Romans had inflicted first on the Cisalpine, and next on the Transalpine Gauls during centuries preceding Julius Caesar, it had been abundantly proved that there was no solid ground for further apprehension of purely Gallic invasion.

 p102  As I have stated above in my Introductory Chapter, the palmy days of the Gauls, when their exploits were signalized by the sack of Rome, Delphi, etc., were over at least two centuries before Julius Caesar. As Caesar himself reminded them, the Gauls of his day had to choose between becoming Roman or being overrun by Germans. For the real source of danger lay beyond the Rhine and the Danube, where the accumulations of half-starved barbarian hordes, pressing on each other's heels, threatened the fertile plains of Gaul, Italy and Spain alike with common invasion.

It soon became clear to the Romans that invaders, with whom they had to deal in Provincia, were a far more terrible foe than any "Gauls" they had yet encountered. Flushed as they were with their recent victories over the Salluvii, Allobroges and Arverni, the Romans were at first quite unprepared to cope with these gigantic northerners, who had left their homes to conquer or to die.

That the formidable invaders called Cimbri and Teutones who now threatened to overwhelm Italy were of German origin is beyond a doubt. On this point Strabo, Livy, Pliny, Tacitus, are all agreed.

Strabo​1 informs us that in his day the Cimbri still occupied the same part of the coast of Germany, whence they sallied forth in search of southern settlements, and that in his day they sent an embassy to Augustus, to deprecate his resentment for the offences of their ancestors. Velleius Paterculus (an accurate historian who dedicated his work to the Consul M. Vincius A.D. 30) writes of the invaders as "immanis vis Germanarum gentium, quibus nomen Cimbris et Teutonis erat." (Lib. II.12.)

On their passage southwards, the barbarians dropped a contingent 6,000 strong at the junction of the Meuse and Sambre to guard the heavy baggage, which they could not convey further. Harassed at first by the  p103 Belgae as intrusive strangers, this German contingent soon won the esteem of their neighbours by their conspicuous bravery and were already incorporated amongst the Belgae under the name of Aduatuci when Caesar entered upon his conquest of Gaul. It is to be notted that in the case of the Aduatuci, half a century had sufficed to convert Germans directly into Belgae and indirectly into 'Galli.'

Writing about seventy years later than Caesar, Strabo tells us that the Belgae were in his day included in the general name of Gauls, and still considered the bravest people in Gaul from having alone withstood the invasion of the Germans, the Cimbri, and the Teutons. We thus find the Cimbro-Teuton Aduatuci becoming Belgae, while the Belgae in their turn are admitted to rank as Gauls. Although there is a line to be drawn originally between Gauls and Germans, it becomes a vanishing one on the Gallic or left bank of the Rhine. For there is much truth in the French proverb, which says, "La Gaule fait des Gaulois."

It was in the Eastern Alps that the Roman legions first came into contact with the advancing wave of barbarism, when the Consul Cnaeus Carbo sustained defeat near Noreia, B.C. 113, at the hands of the Cimbri. However, instead of descending into Italy after this first success, the Cimbric host appears to have made tracks through the central and western Alps, the Helvetian Tigurini being tempted by the prospect of rich spoil to follow in their wake. It was these same Tigurini, as we learn from Julius Caesar,​2 who in the year B.C. 107 destroyed the army of Cassius Longinus with which Lucius Piso, Caesar's own relative, was serving as Legatus.

Joined on the Rhone by the Teutones, the united host swept southwards towards the Mediterranean, further swollen by the Ligurian Ambrones from the Durance valley.

 p104  Between B.C. 113 and B.C. 104 when Marius took the field against them five Roman armies in succession went down before the irresistible northern barbarians. Of these disasters the most famous was the annihilation of the combined consular armies of Caepio and Manlius, near Orange, by the Ambrones — the most valiant of the combined invaders. Their very name according to Plutarch means 'valiant' in Ligurian, and was used as a battle-cry by the Ligurians on both sides in the subsequent campaign of Marius in Provence.

When the news of this culminating catastrophe, where at least 80,000 Roman lives were sacrificed, was brought over the Alps, the sober historian Sallust wrote,​3 "quo metu Italia omnis contremuit."

There was but one Roman whose general­ship inspired the Roman people with any confidence at this crisis, namely the plebeian Consul Caius Marius, who had just brought the Jugurthine war to a triumphal conclusion. In violation of the provision of the constitution that an interval of ten years must elapse between successive consul­ships of the same individual, Marius was forthwith elected to a second term of office and Gallia Transalpina assigned as his province.

For almost all the military facts, which have been handed down to us of the campaign against the Cimbri and Teutones, we are indebted to Plutarch's life of C. Marius. As Plutarch had before him the commentaries of Sylla, who played an important part in the campaign, we may rely upon their substantial accuracy.

For Sylla, who had served under Marius in Africa as his Quaestor, accompanied him into Transalpine Gaul first as Legatus to Marius himself, and subsequently to his patrician colleague Catulus in Gallia Cisalpina.

During his service on the Rhone Valley as Legatus to Marius, Sylla distinguished himself by the capture of Copillus, chief or king of the Volcae Tectosages, who  p105 was carrying on an intrigue with the barbarian invaders. Of all the lately subdued provincials the Volcae Tectosages alone appear to have openly rebelled. For in the year B.C. 105, they rose and massacred the Roman garrison of their capital Tolosa (Toulouse). It was on the occasion of being sent to punish this revolt that the Roman Consul Caepio got possession of the accumulation of gold which had been stored there and which became so disastrous to his fortunes.

What proportion of his African army followed Marius into Gaul we are unfortunately not informed, but it can hardly be doubted that the services of such trained and seasoned soldiers would have been secured at any price at such a national crisis. Having already paid the heavy price of the sacrifice of five or six untrained and extemporized armies which had proved their utter incapacity to withstand the wave of invasion, the Romans at length awoke to the conviction of the hopelessness of trusting to a citizen army.

It is from this crisis that the institution of a standing army at Rome dates, and that military service became professional.

The African veterans however on the present occasion can in any case only have sufficed to form a more or less substantial nucleus to the newly levied legions, with which Marius started for that ill-omened Rhone valley, which had swallowed up a succession of Roman armies.

That Marius adopted the most expeditious course of conveying his troops to the Massiliot mouth of the Rhone by sea — a passage which it will be remembered was accomplished by Scipio at the time of Hannibal's invasion in five days from Pisae — may be assumed as practically certain. For there was as yet no continuous road along the shore from Italy into Gaul, and, even if there had been one practicable for armies, forty days' marching at fifteen miles a day would hardly have sufficed to accomplish the 600 miles from the Tiber to the Rhone.

 p106  Luckily for the fortunes of Rome, Marius was not called upon to encounter the barbarian host till two years after the disembarkation of his army at the mouth of the Rhone. For the Cimbri, instead of making at once for the passages of the Maritime Alps leading into Italy, unexpectedly directed their course towards the Pyrenees and Spain. What became of their associates the Teutones during the Cimbric raid into Spain we have no means of determining exactly. All that is certain is, that they were ready on the return of the Cimbri to turn their attention to a combined invasion of Italy.

The respite of two years, B.C. 104‑102, proved of priceless value to Marius. For it enabled him to convert his mostly raw levies, of whom an important section consisted of 'Italian' Ligurian socii, into trained and disciplined troops. For Marius, excellent as he was as a general, was above all first-rate and indefatigable as a drill-sergeant. But although a stern disciplinarian, he won the affections of his men by sharing all their labours and hardships and by his inflexible justice.

The severest labour to which he set them was the cutting a new mouth to the Rhone. Near the village of Fos, conspicuous on its isolated rock on the Eastern edge of the Delta of the Rhone, unmistakeable vestiges still exist of a Roman encampment. These are believed to mark the site of the first camp of Marius, and the name of Fos is considered to be derived from the "Fossa," which Marius cut to give clear access to the Rhone from the sea, the old Massiliot mouth having become closed up.

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Village of 'Fos' (Fossa Mariana) at mouth of Rhone

The second and main camp of Marius, to which that near Fos was subsidiary, was pitched on a level with Tarascon, on the western extremity of the picturesque range of Les Alpinesºa mile or two east of the Rhone. This little range, conspicuous for its jagged outline, commands the most ancient passage of the Rhone — the Trajectus Rhodani of the classical Itineraries between  p107 Spain and Italy. It was obviously the best point for military observation.

Entrenched behind the solid ramparts of their camp at Glanum (the site of which is commemorated by a triumphal arch and a perfectly preserved three-storied monument surmounted by statues of Marius and Catulus) the Roman legionaries and socii, now a perfectly disciplined force, quietly waited the arrival of the barbarians.

These last had meanwhile decided to divide their forces for a combined descent upon Italy. While the Ambrones and the Teutones were to follow the coast and cross the maritime Alps by the pass now marked by the monument of La Turbie, the Cimbri and Tigurini were to retrace their steps across Switzerland and descend by the valley of the Adige.

That the so‑called barbarians should have conceived and duly proceeded to put into execution this combined plan of campaign, proves them to have possessed no inconsiderable powers of organization. All details however are unfortunately wanting of their method of procedure. We only know that they travelled in huge caravans, conveying their women and children in heavy covered waggons, doubtless drawn by oxen. How they contrived to provision themselves and their cattle, or to cross rivers, swamps and mountains without roads or bridges, we are left entirely without authentic information.

Some faint light is thrown on this invasion of Gaul by the Cimbri and Teutones by the harangue of Critognatus, an Arvernian chief, delivered to the beleaguered garrison during the siege of Alesia.4

From the speech of Critognatus we learn that on the approach of what we may describe as the German invasion, the Gallic inhabitants took refuge within their oppida or hill fortresses with all their belongings,  p108 where they were besieged by the barbarians. Critognatus urges his hearers not to shrink from following the example set at the period of the Cimbro-Teuton invasion by their ancestors, in supporting life on the bodies of those who were unfitted to bear arms, rather than surrender.

The Author's Notes:

1 Strabo, p292.

2 De Bello Gallico, II.3.

3 Bellum Jugurthinum, c. 114.

4 De Bello Gallico, VII.77.

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Page updated: 26 Aug 16