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Helene A. Guerber

Two Great Battles

THE people of the Province were both peaceful and happy, when a new danger suddenly threatened to destroy them. News came that two great tribes of barbarians from the shores of the Baltic Sea—the Cimbri and Teutons—were marching southward in search of new homes. As they were not nearly so civilized as the Gauls, they recklessly destroyed everything they found which they could not appreciate or carry away.

The peaceful Gauls, unable to defend themselves against these great hordes of barbarians, fled in terror, watching from afar the destruction of their towns and farms, while the Romans and fighting Gauls bravely tried to drive the invaders away. But their efforts were vain against such huge numbers; they were defeated in battle after battle. The invaders swept on through Gaul, and even crossed the Pyrenees into Spain. Still, knowing that the barbarians would soon return to ravage the Pronvince on their way to Italy, the Romans sent Marius, their greatest general, thither to block the way and prevent their passing the Alps.

While waiting near Aix, Marius built fortifications and drilled his men, until he felt sure they could stand any fatigue or hardship, and would fear nothing. Fortunately, the invaders divided their forces: the Cimbri hastened directly to the Alps, while the Tuetons tried first to defeat Marius. When they came up, they tauntingly called out to the men: "Have you any messages to send to your wives in Italy? We shall be with them soon!"

The Roman soldiers, weary with many months of waiting, burned to avenge these insults, but Marius held them in check until the right time came, and then they fought so bravely that they utterly destroyed the immense force of barbarians. The men were slain, and their wives, rather than fall into the hands of the enemy, killed their children and defended themselves until they, too, were slain. Even the Teuton dogs had been trained to fight so fiercely that the Roman had to kill them before they could draw near the rude wagons which were heavily laden with spoil.

It is said that 150,000 bodies lay on the ground after this awful battle near Aix (102 b.c. ). In fact, so much blood was shed, and so many bodies decayed there, that the soil was made rich; and many years after, fences were still built of the bones of the fallen barbarians.

Marius having met and defeated one division of the foe, hastened back into Italy to check the advance of the second, for the Cimbri were now pouring over the Alps into Italy. On coming near Marius and his army, the Cimbri haughtily demanded land for themselves and for their allies the Teutons, who, they declared, would soon want some too. Marius grimly answered the Teutons already had all the land they needed, and that they could deep it forever; then, seeing the Cimbri did not understand the ghastly joke, he showed them some of the bloody heads of their slain allies.

The sight of these horrible trophies, instead of frightening the Cimbri, only spurred them on to greater efforts. They made ready for battle by binding themselves together with ropes to keep their ranks firm; but their movements were thus hampered, and in spite of their bravery they met the same fate as the Teutons.

It was thus that Marius saved the Roman Republic from the northern barbarians, and his two great victories (near Aix in Italy) won him so much renown that he became a great political leader at Rome. But his disputes with a powerful rival soon brought about a civil war, which lasted a long while, and prevented the complete conquest of Gaul for nearly a half century.