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Sculpture of Gaius Marius
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Ancient Rome

Biography of Gaius Marius

Biographies >> Ancient Rome


Gaius Marius was one of the most important leaders of the Roman Republic. He was elected to consul a record seven times. He also made major changes to the Roman army which would change the future of Rome and make it the most powerful civilization in the world.

Where did Gaius Marius grow up?

Gaius Marius was born in the city of Arpinum in Italy. Although his family was likely an important local family, he was not part of Rome's elite. He was a regular person (called a plebeian) and not a an aristocrat (called a patrician). Because Marius was a plebeian he likely didn't have much of an education.

Childhood Legend

One Roman legend says that when Marius was still a boy he found an eagle's nest. Inside the eagle's nest were seven baby eagles. Finding seven baby eagles in the same nest was extremely rare. It is said that these seven eagles predicted the seven times that Marius would be elected to consul (the highest position in Rome).

Early Career

Marius had ambitions to become a great man of Rome. He joined the army and became known as a good leader. Men from important Roman families took notice of him. Marius then ran for public office in Rome. He was elected to quaestor and then represented the plebeians as the Plebeian tribune.

As tribune, Marius gained some enemies with the upper class. He passed laws changing how the votes were counted in order to keep the wealthy from intimidating voters. Although the patricians didn't like Marius, the people did. Marius then went to Spain where he became very wealthy.

Elected as Consul

Upon returning to Rome, Marius used his recently gained wealth to marry into a patrician family. With his newfound connections, Marius was elected consul for the first time. Over the next several years, Marius would be elected consul a total of seven times, more than anyone in the history of Rome.

Recruiting a New Army

While Marius was consul, Italy was invaded by several Germanic tribes. Marius needed men to fight the huge army of barbarians. In the past, soldiers had been rich landholders who would provide their own weapons and armor. However, there weren't enough landholders to form a strong army. Marius decided to create an army from the masses. He hired men and trained them to be professional soldiers. They agreed to join the army for 25 years. Marius paid the soldiers and provided them with weapons and armor. Becoming a soldier was a great opportunity for the average man in Rome. Marius soon had a large army ready to fight.

Changes to the Roman Army

Marius defeated the barbarian invaders with his new army. He also made several changes to the Roman army to make it stronger. He reorganized the army into cohorts rather than maniples. This made the army more flexible. He also had units that specialized in certain types of fighting and weapons. Other important changes included promoting soldiers to officers from within the ranks, improved weapons, three deep battle lines, and awarding retired soldiers with land. Marius also made the eagle the primary standard of the Roman army.


Marius spent the last several years of his life in internal battles with patrician leaders. His main rival was a powerful leader named Sulla. At one point Marius had to flee Rome in order to escape being executed by Sulla. Marius did return, however, and had just regained his power in Rome when he died of a fever in 86 BC.

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