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Helene A. Guerber

The Social War

T HE wars abroad were ended, but now Rome was threatened by a much more serious danger,—wars at home. These were brought about by the selfishness and ambition of a few persons, who cared far more for their own advantage than for the good of their country.

As you know, the Romans were very proud, and always thought themselves a little better than any of the other people in Italy. They had special rights, and they alone were allowed to vote or to hold office in the Roman republic; and when the senate granted the title of Roman citizen to any outsider, it was considered a very great honor indeed.

As the Italian states were now part of the republic, their inhabitants were anxious to enjoy the rights of Roman citizens. Marius was in favor of giving these rights to some of the Italian people, but Sulla was against it, and said that none but the Roman patricians ought to have them.

These great men thus became the heads of two parties which daily grew more powerful and more bitter. But, while the people fancied that Marius and Sulla were for or against them, and were quarreling for their benefit, the real truth was that both leaders were thinking of the best way to secure friends for themselves.

Not all the Romans were blind, however, and one named Metellus openly refused to obey a law which Marius had persuaded the people to pass, but which was not for the good of the state. To punish Metellus for daring to oppose the law, Marius sent him into exile, but he was soon recalled, and every one honored him greatly because he had had the courage to do what he felt was right, even though he brought down upon himself the anger of so powerful a man as Marius.

By and by the people grew tired of this man's tyranny, and treated him so badly that he left Rome in anger, and went to visit Mithridates, a king in Asia Minor. Here, too, Marius was unwelcome, because his manners were rough, and he was as insolent as he was selfish. To get rid of this unwelcome visitor, Mithridates gave him many gifts, and encouraged him to return to Italy.

Back in Rome once more, Marius joined his old party, and tried to make himself its leader. Meanwhile, the question of admitting all the Italian states to Roman citizenship was again brought up and hotly discussed. The Romans finally decided to keep all their rights to themselves, and then the Italians took up arms to gain their liberty.

The war which followed lasted about two years, and is known as the Social War, because the Italians were called socii,  or allies. The soldiers on each side hated those on the other so greatly that they showed no mercy; and we are told that more than three hundred thousand people perished in this short space of time. Many rich and prosperous cities were ruined before the Italian states were granted most of the rights they claimed, and the war came to an end.