Marius had been Consul five times already, but he was not yet content. He wished to be elected for the sixth time, and he determined to do all he could to gain his end.
But it was no easy task, for now that no enemy threatened Rome, she was ready to cast Marius aside.
Moreover, although on the battlefield Marius was brave above all others, in the Senate or the Assembly of the people his courage deserted him. He knew that he was not eloquent, and he no sooner stood up to speak than he grew timid and ill at ease.
Yet he did his best, and to the people he tried to behave more pleasantly than he felt, and that is at no time an easy thing to do, nor even, it may be, a right thing to attempt. But Marius smiled when he would much rather have frowned, and spoke kindly when a cross answer was hidden in his heart.
Metellus, from whom he had wrested the command of the army, was the man he feared most, and he thought if only he could have him banished from Rome all would be well. Although Marius at once began to plot and plan, it took a long time to get rid of Metellus. But this is how in the end he succeeded.
First, Marius joined Glaucia and Saturninus, who were popular with the people, but too daring not to be hated by the Optimates.
Saturninus had been tribune in 101 b.c. , and wished to be re-elected for the following year. When he found that the people had not voted for him, he was so angry that he did not scruple to order his successful rival to be put to death.
The people, subdued by the violence of Saturninus, then gave him the post he coveted without more ado.
Glaucia became prætor for the same year, while Marius achieved his ambition, and was made Consul for the sixth time.
Saturninus now brought forward a bill regarding the division of land. The people would, as usual, be asked to vote for or against this bill, but the tribune added an important clause to his measure, saying that whatever the people voted, to that the senators must take an oath to agree.
Marius, as Consul, pretended to be very angry with Saturninus for adding this clause to his bill, and he said that he, for one, would never take such an oath. The senators, he added, needed to take no oath to make them agree to anything that was for the good of the State.
The other members, among whom was Metellus, were equally indignant, and swore that they would never take the oath demanded by Saturninus. Marius was now satisfied that he had entrapped Metellus.
He himself had promised Saturninus secretly that he would take the oath, and as soon as the people had voted in favour of the bill he did so. Nor did he make any worthy excuse for breaking his word, but, as Consul, advised the other members of the Senate also to agree to the clause which before they had sworn to reject.
When Marius took the oath the people could not control their delight, but broke out into loud applause. But the nobles were angry with the Consul for saying one thing and doing another, yet, because they were afraid of the people, they took the oath, all save Metellus, who refused to break his word.
This was just what Marius had hoped would happen, for he knew that Metellus was too upright a man to stoop to act as he and the other senators had done.
Saturninus now demanded that the Consul should punish Metellus for refusing to confirm the vote of the people. He wished that the senator should be forbidden to stay under the shelter of any roof in the city, that he should be refused the use of fire or water.
The mob went even further, and would have killed Metellus had his friends not defended him.
But Metellus would not allow his friends to fight, telling them that he would leave the city rather than cause strife. "For," said he, "either, when the position of affairs is mended and the people repent, I shall be recalled, or if things remain in their present position it will be best to be absent."
Thus Marius, with the help of Saturninus, succeeded in driving Metellus from the city. But the price he had to pay for his success was heavy.
For Saturninus and Glaucia were determined that the bills which they brought forward, for the good of the people as they believed, should be passed. If any one ventured to oppose their measures or to become their rivals, they speedily perished. Saturninus hired assassins to slay such insolent folk.
At length even the people grew angry with the tribune and with Glaucia, and threatened to put them to death, so that the two men were forced to flee for refuge to the Capitol.
The Senate at once condemned them and their followers as public enemies, and called upon the Consuls to punish them.
Marius was now in a difficult position. He did not wish to punish those who had helped him to banish Metellus, yet as Consul he could not ignore the crimes that these men had committed. So at length he ordered them to be arrested, but he still hoped to save their lives.
Saturninus and Glaucia, however, continued to defy the Senate, until Marius was forced to order the water-pipes on the Capitol to be cut, and their thirst soon compelled the rebels to surrender.
Marius sent them for safety to the Senate-house. But it was useless to try to protect such evildoers. The Consul found that he was but turning the people's rage against himself, without doing his friends any good. For the mob broke in the door and took the tiles off the roof of the Senate-house, and rushing in, killed Saturninus and his friends.
The Senate not only did not punish the people for this deed, it approved of it.
Marius had now made himself hated by the nobles, because he had taken the oath he had declared he would never take, and by the people, because he had been the friend of Saturninus, and had tried to protect him from the just punishment of his cruel deeds.
When the Consul found that the people were clamouring for the return of Metellus, of whose honesty they had had proof, he left Rome. He could not bear to see the return of his rival.
He journeyed to Asia, and here he tried to rouse Mithridates, King of Pontus, to fight against an ally of Rome. For he thought that if war broke out he would once more be called upon to deliver his country from her foes.