1902 Encyclopedia > Jugurtha

Libyan King of Numidia
(ca. 160 – 104 BC)

JUGURTHA. After the final conquest of Carthage by the Romans in 146 B.C., the larger part of the north of Africa was practically under Roman control. The so-called province, indeed, of Africa, as then constituted, was but a small strip of territory, comprising the possessions retained by Carthage during the few years previous to her downfall. It coincided with the north-eastern portion of Tunis. Around it, to the west, south, and east, was the region to which the Romans gave the name of Numidia, the country of the "Nomads," which stretched westwards to Mauretania, the river Malucha (Maliiwi), which flows into the gulf of Melillah, being here roughly its boundary, and eastwards to the Great Syrtis, thus bordering on Cyrene and Egypt. We may say that Numidia corresponds with what is now Algiers, the south of Tunis, and Tripoli, including in addition a region of indefinite extent to the south. Over this extensive territory, parts of which were rich and populous, Masinissa had ruled for many years, and had rendered Rome substantial aid in her war with Carthage. On his death in 149 B.C. his sovereign power was divided under the direction of Scipio Africanus the younger, the conqueror of Carthage, between his three sons Micipsa, Gulussa, and Mastanabal. The actual government how-ever, was chiefly in the hands of an illegitimate son of Mastanabal, Jugurtha. The Numidian princes were by no means mere barbarous chiefs. Micipsa, though too weak to be a king, is said to have been imbued with a consider-able tincture of Greek philosophy, and Jugurtha's father too was a man of some literary culture. Jugurtha himself had many of the qualities which command success. He was strong and active; he had a handsome face and keen intelligence; he was a skilful rider, and was a thorough adept in all warlike exercises. In fact, he was in many respects a very worthy grandson of Masinissa, and he inherited much of his political ability and adroitness. Micipsa was naturally rather afraid of him, and knowing his military tastes he sent him to Spain in command of a Numidian force, to serve under Scipio, who was then engaged in the war with Numantia. Jugurtha soon won Scipio's good opinion, and he became a favourite with the Roman nobles serving in the camp, some of whom put into his head the idea of making himself the sole king of Numidia, hinting that at Rome anything could be done for money. There was truth in the hint, as subsequent events proved.

In 118 B.C. Micipsa died. He had thought it politic to adopt Jugurtha, and to provide by his will that he should be associated with his own two sons, Adherbal and Hiempsal, in the government of Numidia. Scipio had written to Micipsa a strong letter of recommendation in favour of Jugurtha; and to Scipio, accordingly, Micipsa entrusted the execution of his will. His testamentary arrangements thus had the Roman guarantee, but they utterly failed. The princes soon quarrelled ; and Jugurtha, who was thoroughly unscrupulous, claimed the entire kingdom. His cousin Hiempsal he contrived to have assassinated; and Adherbal he quickly drove out of Numidia by force of arms, compelling him to take refuge in the Roman province of Africa. He had next the audacity to send envoys to Eome to defend his usurpation. Hiempsal, they were to say, had been murdered by his subjects for his cruelty, and Adherbal, who was now at Rome to get redress, had been himself the aggressor. The senate decided that Numidia was to be divided between the two princes, and the division, which was arranged under the superintendence of Roman commissioners, gave the western, the richest and most populous half of the country, to Jugurtha, while the sands and deserts of the eastern half were left to Adherbal. Jugurtha's envoys appear to have found several of the Boman nobles and senators accessible to judicious bribery. So far, however, was he from being satisfied with having secured the best of the bargain that he at once began to molest Adherbal's dominions and to provoke him to a war of self-defence. He so completely defeated him, somewhere near, it would seem, the modern Philippeville, that Adherbal sought safety in Cirta (Constantina), the chief town of Numidia, and a very strong fortress. Here he was besieged by Jugurtha, who, notwith-standing the interposition of a Roman embassy headed by Marcus Scaurus, a leading Roman senator, ultimately forced the place to capitulate, and then treacherously massacred all the inhabitants, his cousin Adherbal among them, and a number of Italian merchants who had settled in the town. There was great wrath at Rome and throughout all Italy; and the senate, a majority of which still clung to Jugurtha in spite of the proof they had just had of his atrocious treachery and cruelty, were persuaded in the same year, 111 B.C, on the motion of the tribune Caius Memmius, to allow a declaration of war against the Numidians. An army was despatched to Africa under the command of the newly elected consul, Calpurnius Bestia, and several of the Numidian towns voluntarily surrendered, while Bocchus, the king of Mauretania, and Jugurtha's father-in-law, offered the Bomans his alliance. Jugurtha was alarmed, but, having plenty of money at his command out of the accumulated treasures of his grand-father Masinissa, he again acted on his experience of Roman venality, and he was successful in arranging for himself with the Roman general a peace which left him in undisturbed possession of the whole of Numidia. When the facts were known at Rome, the tribune Memmius insisted that Jugurtha should appear in person and be questioned as to the precise nature of the negotiations. Jugurtha indeed appeared under a safe conduct, but he had partisans who took care that his mouth should be closed. The treaty, however, was set aside, and war was again declared, Spurius Albinus, the new consul, having the command. The Roman army in Africa was thoroughly demoralized, and quite unfit to take the field. An unsuccessful attempt was made on a fortified town, Suthul, in which the royal treasures were deposited. Worse followed: the army was surprised by the enemy in a night attack, and the camp was taken and plundered. Jugurtha was master of the situation, and every Roman was driven out of Numidia.

By this time the feeling at Rome and in Italy against the corruption and incapacity of the nobles had become so strong that prosecutions on a wholesale scale struck down a number of the senators, and Bestia and Albinus were sentenced to exile. The Numidian war was now entrusted to Quintus Metellus, an aristocrat indeed in sentiment, but at the same time an able soldier and a stern disciplinarian. With him was associated the famous Caius Marius, who had risen from the rank of a centurion. The army was soon in a condition to face the enemy, and from the year 109 B.C. to the close of the war in 106 the contest was carried on with credit to the Roman arms. Jugurtha was defeated in an action on the river Muthal, after an obstinate resistance and a display of much military skill. Once again he even succeeded in surprising the Roman camp and forcing Metellus into winter quarters. There were fresh negotiations, but Metellus insisted on the surrender of the king's person, and this Jugurtha refused. Numidia on the whole seemed disposed to assert its independence, and Rome had before her an indefinite prospect of a long and troublesome guerilla war. The country was a particularly trying one for a regular army, and a victory seemed to lead to no substantial result. Nothing could be really accomplished unless Jugurtha himself could be secured; and to this end negotiations, reflecting little credit on the Romans, were set on foot with Bocchus, who for a time, as his interest seemed to dictate, played fast and loose with both parties. The war dragged on till in 106 B.C. Marius was called on by the vote of the Roman people to supersede Metellus. Marius found that he had a difficult work, and bis army was once seriously imperilled on the borders of Mauretania, whither he had led them to overawe Bocchus, who had just made a friendly treaty with Jugurtha. Shortly afterwards this cunning and treacherous prince again offered his friendship to the Romans, and it was through his perfidy and not by Boman skill or valour that the war with Jugurtha was ended. In the final negotia-tions Lucius Sulla, who was Marius's quasstor and com-manded the cavalry, had the honour, such as it was, of winning over to the Roman side the king of Mauretania, and prevailing on him to sacrifice Jugurtha. The Numidian fell into an ambush through his father-in-law's treachery, and was conveyed a prisoner to Rome. Two years after-wards, in 104 B.C., he figured with his two sons in Marius's triumph, and in the subterranean prisonbeneaththe Capitol, " the bath of ice," as he called it, he was either strangled or starved to death. The war had been an inglorious one for Rome, and its end with all its attendant circumstances was deplorably disgraceful

Jugurtha, though doubtless for a time regarded by his African and Numidian countrymen as their deliverer from the yoke of Rome, mainly owes his historical importance to the very full and minute account of him which we have from the hand of Sallust, himself afterwards governor of Numidia. The Jugurthine war happened to coincide with a period of considerable political interest at Rome. The symptoms of revolution were beginning to make them-selves visible. The weakness and corruption of the govern-ment of the senate was forcing itself on the notice of all men, and popular opinion was becoming too strong to be disregarded. One general after another had been super-seded and disgraced, and Marius, a man of the humblest origin, had been summoned by the public voice to put an end to a war in which the incapacity and disloyalty of consuls and senators had been grievously exposed. The names of both Marius and Sulla became famous for the first time in a struggle with a Numidian chief. The time was clearly at hand when the old system of Rome's govern-ment could sustain itself no longer.

The best modern account of Jugurtha and the Jugurthine war is to he found in Mommsen, Hist. of Rome, book iv. chap. v. (W. J. B.)

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