MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History


As the summer of 107 bce drew to a close, Gaius Marius drove his legions deeper into the North African interior, determined to accomplish something great. A newly elected consul of the Roman Republic, he had recently taken command of Rome’s war against King Jugurtha, a canny foe whose Numidian kingdom sprawled across the north African coast in what today is Algeria. When Jugurtha refused to meet the legions head on in battle, preferring to use his mobile cavalry to raid and ambush rather than get chopped to bits by the Roman heavy infantry, Marius adopted the strategy of assaulting Numidian strongholds one by one.

His latest target was the fortified town of Capsa, which reconnaissance revealed would be difficult to capture. Aside from its solid defenses, it was nestled in a sun-baked desert bereft of water, lacking forage, and reportedly infested with venomous snakes. None of this deterred Marius. He led his army in a series of daring marches until they arrived by night just a few kilometers outside Capsa. After concealing his forces in some hills, he watched and waited until the light of dawn began stretching over the horizon. The inhabitants of Capsa, utterly unaware of the legions lurking nearby, opened the gates to the town and went about their morning business. Marius saw

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