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Gaius Marius

Updated: Feb 22

Gaius Marius (b. ~157 BC - d. 13 January 86 BC) was the rival of Sulla in the Roman Civil Wars between 87-80 BC. Marius was seven times consul of Rome. This post highlights two coins from the lifetimes of Marius & Sulla. Marius was 20 years more senior than Sulla, and Sulla was a promising general under his command.


By legend there were early signs predicting his future as a leader:


"When, that is, he was quite young and living in the country, he had caught in his cloak a falling eagle's nest, which had seven young ones in it; at sight of this, his parents were amazed, and made inquiries of the seers, who told them that their son would be most illustrious of men, and was destined to receive the highest command and power seven times."


The first from the time he was a year in Spain as praetor and subsequently when he returned from Spain and married Julius Caesar's Aunt, Julia, ~113 BC.


"After his praetorship, however, the province of Farther Spain was allotted to him, and here he is said to have cleared away the robbers, although the province was still uncivilized in its customs and in a savage state, and robbery was at that time still considered a most honorable occupation by the Spaniards."

-Plutarch, Lives, Marius 6

Mn. Aemilius Lepidus, 114-113 BC, AR Denarius, Rome mint

Obv: Laureate, diademed, and draped bust of Roma right; mark of value to left

Rev: Equestrian statue right on three arches

Ref: Crawford 291/1; Sydenham 554; Aemilia 7; RBW 1124


Marius' first of seven consulships was in 107 BC and the moneyer responsible for this coin was the co-consul in 100 BC with Marius. At the time he was so aligned with Marius that this disparaging comment is shared by Plutarch:


"Then, according to Rutilius, who is generally a lover of truth and an honest man, but had a private quarrel with Marius, he actually got his sixth consulship by paying down large sums of money among the tribes, and by buying votes made Metellus lose his election to the office, and obtained as his colleague in the consulship, Valerius Flaccus, who was more a servant than a colleague"

-Plutarch, Lives, Marius 28.5


His political alignment moved, perhaps after his cousin was murdered by pro-Marian factions in Asia in 85 BC and he was responsible for introducing the bill to make Sulla dictator in 82 BC.

L. Valerius Flaccus, 108-107 BC, AR Denarius, Rome mint

Obv: Winged and draped bust of Victory right; mark of value below chin

Rev: Mars advancing left, holding spear and trophy; apex to left, stalk of grain to right

Ref: Crawford 306/1; Sydenham 565; Valeria 11; RBW 1147


By the time this quinarius (1/2 a denarius, 1.7g, and 15mm, 6h) was issued - Marius was consul for the fifth time:

C. Fundanius Q, AR Quinarius, 101

Obv: Laureate head of Jupiter right; behind, •/Q

Rev: C·FVNDA Victory r., holding palm branch and crowning trophy. Beside which stands carnyx and before, captive. In exergue, •Q

Ref: Babelon Fundania 2, Sydenham 584, Crawford 326/2


The Gallic carnyx suggests a reference to Marius' victories over the Cimbri and Teutones (Cimbrian War 113-101 BC). By 104 BC these tribes were seen as a serious threat to Rome and Marius turned the tide. The end of this war with Marius granting Roman citizenship to his Italian soldiers, was also the beginning of the Social War. The Numidian war from this same time period (104 BC) was the start of the rivalry between Marius and Sulla, as Sulla felt he wasn't properly credited for the role he played in the capture of Jugurtha, which delivered the victory and a triumph for Marius.

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