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Jugurthine War
Sulla Coin2.jpg
Sulla Capturing Jugurtha
Date112–106 BC
Result Roman victory
Mauretania given some Numidian territory
Roman Republic Numidia
Commanders and leaders
Marius, Sulla Jugurtha

The Jugurthine War took place in 112–106 BC, between Rome and Jugurtha of Numidia, a kingdom on the north African coast approximating to modern Algeria. The Romans defeated Jugurtha. The war takes its name from the Berber king Jugurtha (Berber: Yugerten, ⵢⵓⴳⴻⵔⵜⴻⵏ), nephew and later adopted son of Micipsa, King of Numidia.

The war constituted an important phase in the Roman subjugation of Northern Africa, but Numidia did not become a Roman province till 46 BC. Following Jugurtha's usurpation of the throne of Numidia,[1] a loyal ally of Rome since the Punic Wars,[2] Rome felt compelled to intervene.

Jugurtha and Numidia

Numidia was a Berber kingdom located in North Africa (roughly corresponding to northern modern day Algeria) not far from Rome's arch enemy, Carthage. King Micipsa died in 118 BC. He was survived by two natural sons, Adherbal and Hiempsal, and his adopted nephew, Jugurtha. It was Micipsa's wish that all three would share his kingdom after his death. After King Micipsa's death, Jugurtha proved to be a ruthless and unscrupulous man who would do anything to achieve what he wanted, including murder, bribery, treachery, and assassination. Jugurtha learned Roman ways and military tactics while commanding the Numidian army under Scipio Aemilianus at the Siege of Numantia.

After Micipsa died, Jugurtha ordered Hiempsal assassinated and Adherbal fled to Rome for assistance against his half-brother. A Roman commission was sent to Numidia in 116 BC to make peace and divide the country among the two brothers. However, Jugurtha bribed the Roman officials in the commission and the best regions of Numidia were given to Jugurtha. Nevertheless, it was accepted and peace was made. Shortly after, in 113 BC, Jugurtha provoked a war with his brother and cornered Adherbal in Adherbal's capital city of Cirta. Adherbal along with the Italians living there resisted. A second Roman commission was sent and, after being bribed, allowed Jugurtha to take the city. Jugurtha then executed his brother, Adherbal, along with many of the Italians who helped Adherbal defend Cirta. This execution of Italians and Romans moved the Roman Senate to declare war on Numidia in 112 BC.


The Roman consul Lucius Calpurnius Bestia led an army against Jugurtha but Jugurtha surrendered and was given unusually favorable terms. It appears that Bestia was bribed. So favorable were Jugurtha's terms of surrender that it led to an investigation in Rome. Jugurtha was summoned to Rome. Upon his arrival in Rome, Jugurtha bribed two Roman Tribunes of the Plebs who in turn protected him and prevented him from testifying. Jugurtha then attempted to arrange for the assassination of a potential rival (his cousin Massiva, staying in Rome) and was expelled from the city. In late 110 or early 109 Jugurtha defeated a Roman army led by the praetor Aulus Postumius Albinus Magnus, brother of the consul of that year, apparently by using bribery, treachery, and trickery. He then demanded to be recognized as the rightful ruler of Numidia. The Senate refused.


The consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus was sent to North Africa to defeat Jugurtha. For his efforts Metellus was later given the title "Numidicus" although he accomplished precisely nothing in his time there. Quintus Caecilius Metellus was honest and able as a commander but was buying time in order to maximise his glory when he did actually defeat them. His successful war plan was to destroy Jugurtha's supply lines and this forced Jugurtha to guerilla tactics. An internal Roman struggle developed between Metellus and his subordinate commander (legate), Gaius Marius. Metellus permitted Marius to return to Rome and Marius was elected consul in 107 BC. Metellus was fully aware of Marius' ambitions in Roman politics and refused for days to allow him to sail to Rome and stand for the consulship. Metellus was, however, unaware that Marius wanted his command in Numidia. Numidia was not an area designated to be protected by consul by the Roman Senate. However, the populares passed a law in its Tribal Assembly which gave the command against Jugurtha to Marius in 107 BC. This was significant because the Assembly usurped the Senate's rights and powers in this matter and the Senate yielded.


When Gaius Marius arrived in Numidia, Jugurtha had joined forces with his father-in-law, Bocchus, the King of Mauretania. Marius continued Metellus's plan and won several victories, but, just like the earlier Fabian strategy, Jugurtha's tactics prevented a Roman victory. It soon became evident that Rome could not defeat Jugurtha through war. Instead, Bocchus negotiated a peace with the Romans that included betraying and turning Jugurtha over to them and in return, Bocchus received part of the Numidian Kingdom. However, Bocchus was tempted to do the opposite to the lightly armed Sulla against the more well-armed Jugurtha. After a public display, Jugurtha was thrown into a pit under the Tullianum in Rome to die.


The Jugurthine War clearly revealed the problems of the Republic at that time. The fact that a man such as Jugurtha could rise to power by buying Roman military and civil officials reflected a Roman moral and ethical decline. Romans now sought individual power often at the expense of the state, also displayed by Marius's rise to power by ignoring Roman traditions. These events were also observed by Marius's quaestor, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who later came to rival Marius in the first of the great civil wars of the Late Republic. The beginning of this rivalry, according to Plutarch, was purportedly Sulla's crucial role in the negotiations for and eventual capture of Jugurtha, which led to Sulla wearing a ring portraying the capture despite Marius being awarded the victory for it.

The Roman historian Sallust wrote a monograph, Bellum Jugurthinum, on the Jugurthine War emphasising this decline of Roman ethics and placed it, along with his work on the Conspiracy of Catiline, in the timeline of the degeneration of Rome that began with the Fall of Carthage and ended with that of the Republic. He is one of our most valuable sources on the war, along with Plutarch's biographies of Sulla and Marius.


  1. Sallust, The Jugurthine War, XII
  2. Matyszak, The Enemies of Rome, p. 64

External links

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