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Mary Macgregor

Marius Returns to Rome

Sulla, you remember, entered the city with his troops as Marius fled from Rome. He at once revoked the laws of Sulpicius, and ruled in his own way.

But he was impatient to go to war against Mithridates, and so, in the summer of 87 b.c. , he set out with his army for Greece.

No sooner was he gone than Cinna, one of the Consuls, proposed that Marius and his friends should be recalled. But Octavius, his colleague, was greatly opposed to this, and determined to frustrate Cinna's schemes.

The Consul soon gave Octavius the opportunity he wished. For when the citizens assembled to vote for or against the return of the exile, Cinna led a band of armed men to the Forum, that they might be too frightened to vote save as he wished. He drove away, too, the tribunes who attempted to speak against him.

This was against all laws of justice, and Octavius did not hesitate to go to the Forum at the head of an armed force to punish Cinna's men.

In the struggle many of the rioters were killed, while Cinna himself was forced to flee. The Senate then declared that he was no longer Consul, but had become a public enemy.

When Cinna heard of the Senate's decree he was very angry, and determined to gather together troops to fight against Octavius. He was speedily joined by Marius, who was no sooner told what had happened in Rome than he hastened back to the city.

When he arrived Cinna received the exile with great honour, and urged him to wear the robes of a pro-Consul.

But Marius pretended to be too humble to don such garments, and he persisted in wearing old and shabby clothes.

His hair, which had not been cut since his banishment, he left still untouched, although it now reached to his shoulders, while he walked as though bent with the weight of his seventy years. It did not seem, to judge from his pitiable appearance, as if the old man could be of much use to Cinna.

But his enemies muttered that Marius was only trying in these ways to make the people sorry for all he had suffered. They needed only to look in his face to see that he was harbouring grim thoughts of revenge on those who had ever shown themselves to be his enemies.

Soon Cinna had four armies ready to march on Rome. One was under Marius, another Cinna himself intended to lead, while two more were under his legates, Sertorius and Carbo.

The city walls were in no fit state to stand an attack, for in many places they were even broken down. Octavius ordered these weak places to be repaired and strengthened by fortifications, while at the same time he sent messengers to the lieutenants of Sulla, bidding them hasten to the aid of the city.

Two of these officers, Metellus and Strabo, hastened to obey Octavius. But they did, perhaps, more harm than good, so many of their troops deserted and joined Cinna's army.

Metellus did not stay in the city long, and refused to take the command of the troops, as Octavius wished.

Strabo did his best, for although his men were suffering from fever he attacked Sertorius. But the battle was undecided, and soon after this Strabo was killed by lightning. Octavius was thus left without the officers on whose help he had relied.

Marius, meanwhile, had, as it seemed, thrown off the weight of his years. He was as active and as successful as in his earlier battles.

Ostia, the port of Rome, was taken by his troops, and this, as he meant it to do, kept the corn supply from reaching the city, and Rome began to fear that famine was before her.

Before long Cinna and Marius were able to meet on the Janiculum. Large numbers of the troops under Octavius continued to desert and to join their army.

Then the Senate saw that they would gain nothing by continuing to defy the successful generals. So they bent their pride, and invited Cinna and Marius to meet them within the city.

When the generals arrived, the Senate begged that they would spare the lives of the citizens, even if they saw fit to punish them.

Cinna did not scruple to promise that all should be as the Senate wished. Marius, who stood close to the chair of Octavius, said not a word, but his face was stern and forbidding. And again those who looked at him foresaw that dire punishment would overtake his enemies.

Marius and his followers were still under the ban of exile, so the first thing Cinna demanded was that the sentence should be withdrawn.

But Marius was now within sight of his revenge, and he was too impatient to begin his cruel work to wait for the decision of the people.

When only a few tribes had voted, he dashed into the Forum, closely followed by a band of slaves, which band he called his bodyguard.

The slaves were ruffians hired to do his bidding, and now, at a word or sign from their master, they began to murder the citizens. The glance of Marius was enough to show them whom to slay. Soon they did not even look to him for a sign, but simply fell upon all whose greetings Marius did not return.

Octavius was cut down as he sat in his consular chair, and his head was taken to Cinna.

Catulus, too, who had fought side by side with Marius against the Cimbri, was doomed, although his friends begged that his life might be spared. Marius answered their petitions roughly, saying only, "He must die."

But Catulus did not wait for the cruel sentence to be carried out. He shut himself up in a room, and making a huge fire, he suffocated himself.

These were days of terror in Rome, for no man knew if his life was safe.

At length even Cinna grew ashamed of the cruelty of Marius's slaves, and he and Sertorius put a number of the ruffians to death. After this the citizens' lives were in less danger.

The time had now come to elect Consuls for the year 86 b.c. As usual the people assembled, but they had no choice save to vote for Marius and Cinna. To do otherwise would have been to court death.

Thus, as Marius had believed would happen, even during the miserable days of his flight, he became Consul for the seventh time. But he did not live many days to enjoy the new honour, if honour it could be called, when fear alone had bestowed it upon him. Worn out with the passion of revenge to which he had yielded, and attacked by fever, he died on the 13th of January 86 b.c.

Cinna was now the most powerful man in Rome. He had no difficulty in making the people elect himself and Carbo Consuls for the years 85 and 84 b.c.

There was but one name Cinna dreaded, and that was the name of Sulla. But he thought that, if he proclaimed that the great general who was fighting for Rome in the East was a public enemy, he soon would have no reason to fear him. So he did this, and at the same time ordered Sulla's house in the city to be pulled down.

Cinna, however, had now gone too far. Many of the Optimates, who belonged to the best families in Rome, at once left the city and fled to Greece to the camp of Sulla. So many senators also joined the general, that Sulla could act in the name of the Senate more truly than could his rival in Rome herself. He therefore proclaimed that when the war was over he would come back to Rome with his army and overthrow Cinna and his government.

The Consuls, when they heard this, at once began to enrol troops, that they might be prepared to hold the city against Sulla when he came.

But Cinna, after all, was not alive to meet his dreaded enemy. For in 84 b.c. the soldiers of the Consul mutinied and murdered him. Sulla did not return to Italy until the spring of 83 b.c.