The War with Jugurtha, 48–55

Sallust  translated by J. C. Rolfe

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48When Jugurtha came to compare the words of Metellus with his actions, he realized that he was being attacked with his own weapons; for ostensibly peace was offered him but in reality the bitterest warfare was on foot. His principal city had been taken from him, the country was now familiar to the enemy, the loyalty of his subjects was being undermined. 2He was therefore compelled to try the fortune of battle. Accordingly, having reconnoitred the enemy’s march, he was led to hope for victory from the nature of the country, and after assembling the greatest possible forces of all kinds, he got in advance of Metellus’ army by obscure by-paths.

3In that part of Numidia which the partition had given to Adherbal there was a river flowing from the south called the Muthul, and about twenty miles from it was a naturally desolate and uncultivated range of hills running parallel with the river. From about the middle of this range an elevation branched off and extended for a long distance, clothed with wild olive, myrtles, and other varieties of trees which grow in a dry and sandy soil. 4The intervening plain was uninhabited from lack of water except the parts along the river, which were covered with shrubs and frequented by cattle and farmers.

49On this hill then, which flanked the Romans’ line of march, as I have said, Jugurtha took his position with his line greatly extended. He gave the command of the elephants and a part of the infantry to Bomilcar and told him what his plan was. He placed his own men nearer the mountain with all the cavalry and the flower of his infantry. 2Then going about to the various squads and companies, he admonished and besought them to be mindful of their old time valour and victories, and to defend themselves and their country from the greed of the Romans. They were to fight, he said, with men whom they had already vanquished and sent under the yoke; their leader was changed but not their spirit. For his own part, he had provided for his men everything that a leader ought: that on higher ground and prepared for action they might fight against men taken by surprise; that they might not have to fight few against many nor untrained against better soldiers. 3Therefore they must be ready and eager to attack the Romans when the signal was given, for that day would either crown all their toil and victories, or would be the beginning of the utmost wretchedness. 4He also addressed them individually and recalled his favours to the mind of every soldier whom he had ever rewarded with money or honour for any deed of arms, and pointed out the recipient to his comrades. Finally, by promises, threats or entreaties he incited one man after another, each in a different way according to his disposition, when meanwhile Metellus, unaware of the enemy and coming down the mountain with his army, caught sight of them. 5At first the Roman wondered what the unusual appearance of things meant, for the Numidians with their horses had taken their places amid the woods, and while because of the lowness of the trees they were not entirely covered, yet it was difficult to make out just what they were, since the men and their standards were concealed both by the nature of the place and by disguise. But the consul soon detected the ambuscade, halted his army for a space, and then made a change in its formation. 6His right flank, which was nearest the enemy, he strengthened with three lines of reserves. Between the maniples he placed the slingers and archers, while on the wings he stationed all the cavalry. Then after exhorting the soldiers briefly, as the time demanded, he led his army down into the plain, just as he had drawn it up, with those who had been in the van now forming the flank.

50When Metellus saw that the Numidians remained quiet and did not come down from the hill, he feared that at that season of the year and because of the scarcity of water his army might be exhausted by thirst. He therefore sent his lieutenant Rutilius with the light-armed cohorts and a part of the cavalry towards the river, with instructions to occupy in advance a position for the camp; for he thought that the enemy would try to delay his progress by frequent assaults on the flank, and since they put little trust in their arms, that they would try the effect of fatigue and thirst upon his soldiers. 2Then, as the circumstances and situation demanded, he advanced slowly in the same order in which he had come down from the mountain, keeping Marius behind what had been the front line, while he himself was with the cavalry on the left wing, which had now become the van.

3As soon as Jugurtha saw that Metellus’ rear had passed by the first of his own men, he stationed a force of about two thousand infantry on the mountain at the point from which the Romans had just come, so that if his opponents should give ground, they might not have this refuge and protection in their rear. Then he suddenly gave the signal and launched his attack. 4Some of the Numidians cut down the hindermost Romans, while a part attacked them on the right and left, pressing on with vigour and energy and throwing the ranks into general confusion. For even those who had withstood the charge with a stout heart were baffled by this irregular manner of fighting, in which they were only wounded from a distance, without having the opportunity of striking back or of joining in hand to hand conflict. 5Jugurtha’s horsemen, following the instructions given them beforehand, whenever a squadron of the Roman cavalry began to attack them, gave way; not, however, in a body or in one direction, but dispersing as widely as possible. 6Thus even if they had been unable to check the enemy’s pursuit, with their superior numbers they cut off the stragglers in the rear or on the flanks. If the hill proved to be more favourable for their flight than the plains, there too the horses of the Numidians, being acquainted with the ground, easily made their escape amid the thickets, while the steep and unfamiliar ground proved a hindrance to our men.

51Thus the aspect of the whole affair was confused, uncertain, horrible and lamentable. Separated from their comrades, some of our men gave way, others attacked. They could neither follow the standards nor keep their ranks; but wherever each man had been overtaken by danger, there he stood his ground and defended himself. Arms and weapons, men and horses, Numidians and Romans were mingled in confusion. There was no opportunity for advice nor command; chance held sway everywhere.

2In this way a considerable part of the day had passed and the outcome of the battle was still uncertain. 3Finally, when all the Romans were growing wearied from their exertions and the heat, Metellus noticed that the Numidians also were attacking with less vigour. He therefore gradually united his soldiers, reformed the ranks, and opposed four legionary cohorts to the enemy’s infantry, the greater part of which through fatigue had taken refuge on the higher ground. 4At the same time he begged and implored his men not to weaken or allow a fleeing enemy to win the victory; he pointed out that the Romans had no camp or fortress as a refuge, but must rely wholly upon their arms. 5Meanwhile Jugurtha in his turn was not quiet, went about and encouraged his men, and endeavoured to renew the battle; in person with the flower of his troops he tried every device, aided his men, charged the enemy where they wavered, and by attacks at long range held at bay those whom he had found to be unshaken.

52Thus did these two men, both great commanders, struggle with each other; personally they were on an equality but they were ill matched in their resources; 2for Metellus had valiant soldiers but an unfavourable position, while Jugurtha had the advantage in all except his men. 3At last the Romans, realizing that they had no place of refuge and that the foe gave them no opportunity for fighting (and it was already evening), charged up the hill as they had been ordered and broke through. 4Losing that position, the Numidians gave way and fled. A few were killed; the greater number were saved by their quickness and the Romans’ lack of familiarity with the country.

5In the meantime Bomilcar, who had been put in command of the elephants and a part of the infantry by Jugurtha, as I have already said, when Rutilius had passed him, slowly led his forces down into the plain; and while the lieutenant was hastily making his way to the river, to which he had been sent on, Bomilcar drew up his line quietly, as the circumstances demanded, continuing to keep an eye on the enemy’s movements in all parts of the field. 6When he found that Rutilius had encamped and was now easy in mind,while the din from Jugurtha’s battle increased, he feared that the lieutenant, if he knew the critical condition of his countrymen, might go to their aid. Accordingly, wishing to intercept the enemy’s march, he extended his line, which he had drawn up in close order through distrust of his soldiers’ courage, and in that formation approached Rutilius’s camp.

53The Romans on a sudden became aware of a great cloud of dust, for the bushes which covered the ground cut off their view. At first they thought that the wind was blowing up the dry soil; but later, as they saw that the cloud remained unchanged and came nearer and nearer as the line advanced, they realized the truth, and hastily catching up their arms, took their places before the camp, as they were ordered. 2Then, when they were at close quarters, both sides charged with loud shouts. 3The Numidians stood their ground only so long as they thought the elephants could protect them; but when they saw that the brutes became entangled in the branches of the trees and were thus separated and surrounded, they took to flight. The greater number, after throwing away their arms, escaped unhurt, thanks to the hill and the night, which was now close at hand. 4Four elephants were taken, and all the rest to the number of forty were killed. 5But although the Romans were wearied by their march, by the work on the camp, and by the battle, yet because Metellus was later than they expected, they went to meet him in order of battle on the alert; 6for the craft of the Numidians admitted of no relaxation or carelessness. 7It was now dark night, and at first, when the armies were not far apart, the sound, as of a hostile force approaching, caused fear and confusion on both sides; and the mistake might have led to a deplorable catastrophe, had not the horsemen who were sent out by both sides to reconnoitre discovered what the situation was. 8Thereupon in place of fear a sudden joy arose. The exultant soldiers called out to one another, told of their exploits and heard the tales of others. Each man praised his own valiant deeds to the skies. For so it is with human affairs; in time of victory the very cowards may brag, while defeat discredits even the brave.

54Metellus remained in the same camp for four days, giving careful attention to the wounded, rewarding good service in the battles with military prizes, and praising and thanking all the troops in a body. He urged them to have like courage for the easy tasks which remained; their fight for victory was at an end, the rest of their efforts would be for booty. 2Meanwhile, however, he sent deserters and other available spies to find out where in the world Jugurtha was and what he was about, whether he had but few followers or an army, how he conducted himself in defeat. 3As a matter of fact, the king had retreated to a wooded district of natural strength and was there recruiting an army which in numbers was larger than before, but inefficient and weak, being more familiar with farming and grazing than with war. 4The reason for this was, that except for the horsemen of his bodyguard not a single Numidian follows his king after a defeat, but all disperse whithersoever they choose, and this is not considered shameful for soldiers. Such are their customs.

5Accordingly, when Metellus saw that the king was still full of confidence, and that a war was being renewed which could be carried on only as his opponent chose, he realized that his struggle with the enemy was an unequal one, since defeat cost them less than victory did his own men. He accordingly decided that he must conduct the campaign, not by pitched battles, but in another fashion. 6He therefore marched into the most fertile parts of Numidia, laid waste the country, captured and burned many strongholds and towns which had been hurriedly fortified or left without defenders, ordered the death of all the adults and gave everything else to his soldiers as booty. In this way he caused such terror that many men were given to the Romans as hostages, grain and other necessities were furnished in abundance, and garrisons were admitted wherever Metellus thought it advisable.

7These proceedings alarmed the king much more than the defeat which his men had suffered; 8for while all his hopes depended upon flight, he was forced to pursue, and when he had been unable to defend favourable positions, he was obliged to fight in those which were unfavourable. 9However, he adopted the plan which seemed best under the circumstances and ordered the greater part of the army to remain where it was, while he himself followed Metellus with a select body of cavalry. Making his way at night and through by-paths he suddenly fell upon the Roman stragglers when they least expected it; 10the greater number of them were killed before they could arm themselves, many were taken, not one escaped unscathed. Before aid could be sent from the camp, the Numidians, as they had been ordered, scattered to the nearest hills.

55Meanwhile, great joy had arisen at Rome from the news of Metellus’ exploits, when it was learned that he conducted himself and treated his army after the fashion of old, that he, though caught in an unfavourable position, had nevertheless won the victory by his valour, was holding possession of the enemy’s territory, and had compelled Jugurtha, who had been made insolent by Aulus’ incapacity, to rest his hopes of safety on the desert or on flight. 2The senate accordingly voted a thanksgiving to the immortal gods because of these successes, while the community, which before this had been in fear and anxiety as to the outcome of the war, gave itself up to rejoicing. Metellus’ fame was brilliant. 3He therefore strove the harder for victory, hastened matters in every way, yet was careful not to give the enemy an opening anywhere, remembering that envy follows hard upon glory. 4Hence the greater his fame, the more caution he showed; after Jugurtha’s ambuscade he no longer ravaged the country with his army in disorder; when he required grain or fodder, a number of cohorts stood on guard along with all the cavalry; he led part of the army himself and Marius the rest. 5But fire did more than plundering to devastate the land. 6The consul and his lieutenant used to encamp in two places not far apart. 7When necessity demanded the use of strength, they joined forces; otherwise they acted separately, in order that the enemy’s terror and flight might be more widespread.

8Meanwhile Jugurtha would follow along the hills, watching for a suitable time or place for battle: he spoiled the fodder and contaminated the springs, which were very few, in the places to which he had heard that the enemy were coming; showed himself now to Metellus, again to Marius; made an attempt on the hindermost in the line and at once retreated to the hills; again threatened others and afterwards others, neither gave battle nor let the enemy rest, but merely prevented them from carrying out their plans.

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