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Revolt of Vaga, 108 BC

The revolt of Vaga (108 BC) saw this Numidian city massacre a Roman garrison, before almost immediately being recaptured by the Romans, at the same time opening up a feud between the Roman commanders Metellus and Marius (Jugurthine War).

Vaga, an important trading centre, had fallen into Roman hands early in Quintus Caecilius Metellus's campaign of 109 BC. Towards the end of the year, when Jugurtha entered into peace negotiations, Metellus placed a garrison in the city, under the command of Titus Turpilius Silanus, one of his family retainers, who was serving with the army as chief of engineers.

After the failure of the peace negotiations, Jugurtha attempted to win over the towns that were then held by the Romans. The leading citizens of Vaga decided to side with him, and planned to massacre the garrison. They decided to act quickly, picking a festival only three days after the decision was made. The Roman centurions and military tribunes were all invited to parties at various houses. The soldiers were effectively on leave, with their arms and armour secured in the citadel and guarded by Numidian troops. The city gates were closed against them and they were hunted through the streets and all killed.

The revolt began with the massacre of all of the Roman officers apart from Turpilius. There are two versions of his escape. Plutarch has him released on the orders of Jugurtha as reward for his moderation as governor of Vaga, but this is part of a story aimed at undermining the reputation of Marius. Sallust says he doesn't know if he was allowed to escape by his host or was just lucky.

News of the revolt quickly reached Metellus, who was camped quite close by with one of his legions and some Numidian cavalry. He ordered his men to set off at sunset on the day that the news arrived, and was within a mile of the city at the third hour on the following morning. He then stopped to rouse his men, promising them all of the plunder from the city, before advancing with the cavalry in front and the Roman infantry hidden behind them.

At first the citizens of Vaga assumed that the approaching army must be Roman, and prepared to defend the city. They then saw the cavalry, and mistakenly believed that this was actually Jugurtha's army. They emerged from the city to greet their king, but instead found themselves under attack. Metellus's army split into three - one part captured the city gates, another the towers on the walls, and the third part massacred the citizens who had come out to meet Jugurtha. The city was back in Roman hands only two days after the revolt, and was thoroughly plundered.

According to Sallust Turpilius was summoned by Metellus to answer for his conduct, was unable to defend himself and was executed.

Plutach, in his life of Marius, gives a longer story in which Metellus had to summon a council to judge his friend. Marius turned the rest of the council against Turpilius and forced Metellus to condemn him to death. After the execution Turpilius was found to have been not guilty of treason. Metellus was grief stricken, and most of his men sympathized with him, part from Marius, who gloated that he had fastened a demon onto Metellus who would avenge the murder of a client and friend. Eventually Metallus agreed to let Marius return to Rome to stand for election as one of the Consuls for 107 BC. Marius was duly elected, and then convinced the Roman people to give him the Numidian command, replacing Metellus.

The Crisis of Rome: The Jugurthine and Northern Wars and the Rise of Marius, Gareth C. Sampson. A study of a forgotten crisis of the Roman Republic, threatened by wars in Gaul, Macedonia and North Africa, and by a series of massive defeats at the hands of the Cimbri. Rome was saved by Marius, the first of a series of soldier-statesmen who eventually overthrew the Republic. [read full review]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (1 January 2018), Revolt of Vaga, 108 BC , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/revolt_vaga.html

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