Prelude To The Jugurthine War, And How To Bribe Yourself Out Of Charges Of Bribery

The Roman Republic and its people were of a modest and virtuous stock, despising excess luxuries in favour of adhering to higher moral values that set the Romans apart from most other ancient societies. It was not to last, however. As Rome got the upper hand in the Second Punic War, and captured the Greek city of Syracuse, its riches made it to Rome and planted the seeds of avarice in people of lesser character. Yet still, the threat and fear of Carthage remained, and Rome was more-or-less united against a common enemy, until the total destruction of the Punic city under Scipio Aemilianus in 146 BCE. Rome, being a de facto master of the Mediterranean grew richer than ever before. The excess riches and the overflooding of the slave market with the many Carthaginian and Greek prisoners let to an era of turmoil and distrust between the Senators and the common people. In this situation the worst vices of both were brought to the daylight. Greed an avarice for the former, and mob mentality for the latter. Political murder become a commonplace, culminating in the murders of the Gracchi brothers and their supporters. This was the socio-political situation in Rome, when King Micipsa of Numidia died in 118 BCE.

Micipsa had three potential heirs, his two sons, Adherbal and Hiempsal I, and an illegitimate nephew, Jugurtha, whom he adopted as his son. Jugurtha was a popular youth in both Numidia and in Rome, when he served under Scipio Aemilianus in Numantia. His own sons were no match in merit, and shortly after gaining their inheritance, Jugurtha had Hiempsal killed, while Adherbal escaped to Rome to plead for his case in front of the Roman Senate.

Numidia had been a close ally of Rome since the Second Punic War, and the Senate was supposed to be a security for Micipsa’s will. However, many senators were more inclined to enrich themselves by the generous bribes forthcoming from Jugurtha’s agents and ambassadors than to act on the moral values upon which the Roman Republic was founded. As a result, the crimes of Jugurtha were overlooked and a commission led by the ex-Consul Lucius Opimius was organized, to divide Numidia between Jugurtha and Adherbal. Again, Jugurtha bribed the Roman officials, into allotting him the more fertile and populous western half of Numidia, while Adherbal received the east.

Shortly after, in 113 BCE, Jugurtha declared war on Adherbal and forced him to retreat to his capital, Cirta. Adherbal managed to resist the siege, aided by Italians residing in the city. The senate, after being informed of the fighting, dispatched three deputies to Africa. After receiving an audience from Jugurtha in which he assured them that he held the Roman people in great honor and would soon send ambassadors to Rome to explain everything, the deputies left Africa for Rome. Jugurtha, however had no intention of letting his rival escape, and Adherbal sent another plea to the Roman Senate. Despite some secret opposition from some of the bribed senators, the Senate sent a second commission, headed by Marcus Scaurus, a respected and highly capable member of the aristocracy, yet not completely immune to the vices of the new order of the Roman world.

While Cirta was still under siege, Jugurtha took a small body of cavalry and rode to meet the Roman ambassadors. The ambassadors warned Jugurtha and demanded that he lift the siege. Nevertheless, after spending a long time in conference, the ambassadors departed without a result.

When the news reached Cirta, the Italians in the city advised Adherbal to surrender on the condition that his life will be spared, and leaving all other matters to the Roman Senate. Adherbal decided to follow on their advice, but as one would expect, Jugurtha massacred the adult population, including the Italians, and tortured Adherbal, before killing him.

When news of the massacre reached Rome, it became a matter of discussion in the Senate. As the bribed senators did everything in their power to interrupt the debates and to downplay the atrocity, It was Gaius Memmius, a tribune of the plebs, who became instrumental in taking action against Jugurtha. The Senators, partly conscious of their own misconduct, and partly afraid of the people, voted to the next years consul, Lucius Calpurnius Bestia to be appointed to Numidia. Bestia then chose Scaurus and other experienced officers to join the campaign against Jugurtha. Calpurnius was indeed a capable man with many good qualities, both mental and personal, but avarice interfered with the exercise of them.

Jugurtha, upon hearing the news from Rome, hastily send a delegation consisting of his son and two close friends to Rome with the intent of bribing himself out of his predicament, but they were denied entry to the eternal city and told to leave Italy within ten days, which they did.

The legions marched south to Rhegium, crossed to Sicily and from Sicily to Africa. Once in Africa, Calpurnius crossed into Numidia, taking several cities and many prisoners. Jugurtha, however sent many emissaries with large bribes to tempt the Romans. It was Scaurus, however, who was the first to abandon his honour by accepting vast bribes from the enemy, despite being extremely hostile towards Jugurtha prior the campaign. It was likely that Bestia had chosen Calpurnius for this very reason, so that his apparent integrity would help to control his own vices, but that was not to be the case.

Being confident in his ability to get favourable peace terms with the heavily bribed consul and his accomplishes, Jugurtha proposed to surrender to Rome. He attended the negotiations in person, and accepted the terms, by which he had to give to the Romans 30 elephants, a considerable amount of cattle and a small sum of money. Peace restored, the consul with his legions left for Rome.

When the rumors of the affairs reached Rome, the conduct of the consul become a topic of every discussion in Rome. The outwardly honourable reputation of Calpurnius was the main force which initially restrained the Senate from acting with justice and honour, and had it not been for the boldness of Gaius Memmius, the Senate may very well have ratified the peace terms.

It was Memmius, who in a speech to the people called them to stand against the injustice that had been inflicted to them by the Senate, both in the past and in the present. Thus, by popular sentiment, Memmius prevailed. Praetor Lucius Cassius, a wise, honourable and respected judge – to whom the Latin saying “Cui bono?” is attributed – was sent to Numidia, to summon Jugurtha to Rome to give testimony against Bestia and Scaurus who were charged for taking bribes.

Jugurtha was alarmed when Cassius reached him, but decided it to be more favourable to his interests to obey the Romans and followed Cassius – after receiving a guarantee for his personal safety – to Rome. Such, at that period, was the reputation of Cassius.

Jugurtha, though he was confident in the assistance of the friends he had paid for in Rome, opted to purchase for a vast sum the support of Gaius Baebius, a tribune of the people.

The Roman people were openly hostile towards the Numidian prince, with many of them wanting him dead, unless he named his accomplishes. Memmius however calmed the Roman people down by saying;

that the Roman people, though they were well aware by whose support and agency he had acted, yet desired further testimony from himself; that, if he disclosed the truth, there was great hope for him in the honor and clemency of the Romans; but if he concealed it, he would certainly not save his accomplices, but ruin himself and his hopes forever.

But just as Memmius had given his speech and Jugurtha was about to give his testimony, Baebius intervened and vetoed the proceeding. The people were enraged for this mockery, but the audacity of the tribune was triumphant, and the confidence of the charged parties was restored.

While this was going on, there was a certain Numidian called Massiva, a grandson of Masinissa, who with support of the next years consul Spurius Albinus was about to petition the Senate for the kingdom of Numidia.  With the help of well placed bribes, Jugurtha had Massica assassinated by his close friend Bomilcar. Bomilcar was caught in the process and made a full confession. Bomilcar, despite being in the retinue of a foreign nation, was put on a trial. Jugurtha, realizing that if Bomilcar were to be executed, it would have a detrimental effect on his other subjects following him. As such, he gave fifty of his friends as bail for Bomilcar, and left Italy. Once safely on his ship, he is reported as saying:

It was a venal city, and would soon perish, if it could but find a purchaser.

This is ultimately, how one bribes oneself out of charges of bribery.

That said, the Jugurthine War would commence, and Jugurtha himself would ultimately perish at the hands of the Romans.

Sources: Sallust, Catiline’s War, The Jurgurthine War, Histories