Gaius Marius

Gaius Marius was a Roman military general and consul of the Roman Republic.

He was one of the most important leaders and was elected to consul seven times! He was famous for growing the army by having fewer rules on what sort of people could join and for defeating invading tribes.

Marius was born around 157 BC in Arpinum, a town south of Rome, to a family who did not belong to an important class or to aristocracy.

As only important families were educated, Marius was not taught much and did not learn law or how to write good speeches, unlike most other politicians.

Marius joined the army at 16 years old and soon rose through the ranks to become a respected leader. His potential was seen by politicians and other important citizens.


He was elected as plebeian tribune, which was the first political position available for common people to hold, and made changes to the voting system which stopped aristocrats intimidating voters.

Marius made enemies from the upper class because of this ruling, which made it difficult for him to get positions of power.

Marius was sent to be Governor of Spain for two years but did not gain much support for his time there when he returned to Rome, however he did become very wealthy.

Marius married Julia

To further his political career, Marius married Julia, the aunt of Julius Caesar, as this was an aristocratic family. The marriage into the upper class gave him good connections in politics.

Marius ran for consul and won after convincing some Roman traders that he could quickly end wars stopping their trade.

He was elected on the basis that someone who was born a commoner could fix the state’s problems better than someone who had always been privileged.

During the seven times that Marius was consul, there were different invaders and the Roman army was short of recruits.

Marius reorganised the army into small individual units to make it more flexible when planning strategies.

He trained different units to fight in certain ways, for example archers, cavalry and defence.

He also hired men without land; normally only rich landowners could join the army. Being a soldier was an honour so many people joined up.

In his final consulship, Marius spent lots of time in political battles with the aristocracy.

He fled Rome when it was seized by force by Sulla, a rival. Marius shortly returned and began to execute anyone who was part of the rebellion, dying only seventeen days after regaining power.

Facts about Gaius Marius

  • Gaius Marius was elected to consul seven times!
  • Unlike many Roman leaders, Marius did not come from an important family or have a good education.
  • Marius was a good military general and then moved into politics to represent the common people.
  • Marius made enemies of aristocracy for giving poorer people more voting powers.
  • Julius Caesar’s aunt, Julia, married Marius, giving him political power.
  • The senate thought Marius, a commoner, was a better consul than someone from the upper class could be.
  • Marius reorganised the army and allowed people who didn’t own land to join.
  • Marius spent his final consulship fighting a rebellion, dying 17 days after it ended.

Questions :

  • Why was Marius such a surprising politician?
    He was a commoner and usually only the aristocracy did well in politics.
  • Why did the aristocracy hate Marius?
    He changed the voting system so that important people couldn’t intimidate poor people into voting for them
  • How did Marius change the army?
    He let people who didn’t own land join up and sorted the army into smaller units for flexible strategy and for specific uses.
  • Why did the senate elect Marius over a more well-known politician?
    They thought that Marius could do a better job than someone whose family had lots of power!