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Gaius Marius: The Rise and Fall of Rome’s Saviour, by Marc Hyden, Pen and Sword Books, Barnsley, U.K., 2017, $39.95

Gaius Marius (157 BC–86 BC) joined the Roman army at age 17, and in the 130s BC he fought ably in the Numantine War. Marius held a number of elected political offices between 133 BC and 109 BC before campaigning with the Roman army against King Jugurtha in Numidia. He distinguished himself as a talented field commander, was promoted to full general, captured Jugurtha and ended the war. As consul in 102 BC Marius destroyed the combined tribal armies of the Cimbri at Aquae Sextiae and a year later virtually exterminated the entire Cimbri nation at Vercellae in Cisalpine Gaul, ending the threat of invasion of Rome itself.

A decade later (90 BC) Marius’ mercenary armies clashed with those of Lucius Cornelius Sulla, his rival for the consulship. The result was a bloody civil war in which each side slaughtered its rival’s supporters and confiscated their property. Marius was forced to flee the city as a common criminal in 88 BC, only to return and reassert his dominance in 87 BC. Elected consul in 86 BC, he was assigned command of the Roman armies sent to put down Greek rebels led by Mithridates VI of Pontus. Marius’ death at age 70 in 86 BC was of natural causes.

Despite his side ventures into mercenary violence, Marius did revolutionize the Roman army, producing a fighting force capable of creating and defending the imperial realm. Between 107 BC and 101 BC he initiated five major reforms to the recruitment, equipment, deployment, logistics and training of the legions. The most momentous of these was opening the military ranks to the non-property-owning masses, effectively transferring legionaries’ loyalties from the state to the commanders who doled out pay and plunder. The legions subsequently turned mercenary, becoming violent political tools for ambitious commanders aspiring to higher political station.

Marius strengthened the legions’ combat effectiveness by replacing smaller maniples with the stronger infantry cohort, and he increased the legions’ range and mobility by having troops carry their own equipment and supplies. Thus it was he who gave rise to the professional legions that sustained the empire for nearly 500 years.

Marc Hyden has given us the best extant account of Gaius Marius’ leading role in the history of late Roman Republic. It is required reading for those interested in the period and highly recommended for the general reader.

—Richard Gabriel