Battle of Vercellae

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Battle of Vercellae
Part of the Cimbrian War
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The battle of Vercellae, 1725-1729
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The battle of Vercellae, 1725-1729
Date 101 BC
Location Vercellae in Cisalpine Gaul, Northern Italy
Result Decisive Roman victory
Cimbri Roman Republic
Commanders and leaders
Claodicus  (POW)
Caesorix  (POW)
Gaius Marius,
Quintus Lutatius Catulus
about 210,000 50,000 men (8 legions with cavalry and auxiliaries)
Casualties and losses
about 140,000 killed,
60,000 captured
about 1,000 killed
The migration of the Cimbri and the Teutons.
Battle icon gladii red.svg Cimbri and Teutons defeats.
Battle icon gladii green.svg Cimbri and Teutons victories.

The Battle of Vercellae, or Battle of the Raudine Plain, in 101 BC was the Roman victory of Consul Gaius Marius over the invading Germanic[dubious ] tribe of the Cimbri near the settlement of Vercellae in Cisalpine Gaul.

Much credit for this victory has been given to the actions of Proconsul Quintus Lutatius Catulus's legate, Lucius Cornelius Sulla who led the Roman and allied Italian cavalry. The Cimbri were virtually wiped out, with the Romans claiming to have killed 140,000 and captured 60,000, including large numbers of women and children. These numbers from only Roman sources have to be taken with great doubt as it is very unprobable that in a battle 140 000 people die on one side and only 1000 on the other side. Some of the surviving captives are reported to have been among the rebelling slaves in the Third Servile War.[1][not in citation given][dubious ]


Traditionally most historians locate the settlement of the battle in or near the modern Vercelli, Piedmont, in northern Italy. Some historians[2] think that "vercellae" is not a proper name and may refer to any mining area at the confluence of two rivers.

These historians think that the Cimbri followed the river Adige after having crossed the Brenner Pass, instead of "unreasonably" turning west to the modern Vercelli; this way, the location of the battle would be in the modern Polesine instead, possibly near the modern Rovigo. At Borgo Vercelli, near the river Sesia, 5 km from Vercelli, items have been found that supposedly strengthen the tradition.[citation needed]

Another suggested location is the hamlet of Roddi, in what is now the province of Cuneo, Piedmont.[3]

The battle[edit]

According to German historian Theodor Mommsen:

The two armies met below Vercellae not far from the confluence of the Sesia with the Po,(25) just at the spot where Hannibal had fought his first battle on Italian soil. The Cimbri desired battle and, according to their custom, sent to the Romans to settle the time and place for it; Marius gratified them and named the next day — it was the 30th July 653 (101 BC) — and the Raudine plain, a wide, level space which the superior Roman cavalry found advantageous for their movements. Here they fell upon the enemy expecting them and yet taken by surprise; for in the dense morning mist the Cimbrian cavalry found itself in hand-to-hand conflict with the stronger cavalry of the Romans before it anticipated attack, and was thereby thrown back upon the infantry which was just making its dispositions for battle. A complete victory was gained with slight loss, and the Cimbri were annihilated.[4]

Mommsen continues:

Those might be deemed fortunate who met death in the battle, as most did, including the brave king Boiorix; more fortunate at least than those who afterwards in despair laid hands on themselves, or were obliged to seek in the slave-market of Rome the master who might retaliate on the individual Northman for the audacity of having coveted the beauteous south before it was time. The Tigorini, who had remained behind in the passes of the Alps with the view of subsequently following the Cimbri, ran off on the news of the defeat to their native land. The human avalanche, which for thirteen years had alarmed the nations from the Danube to the Ebro, from the Seine to the Po, rested beneath the sod or toiled under the yoke of slavery; the forlorn hope of the German migrations had performed its duty; the homeless people of the Cimbri and their comrades were no more."[4]


Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, The defeat of the Cimbri, 1833

The victory of Vercellae, following close on the heels of Marius' destruction of the Teutones at the Battle of Aquae Sextiae the previous year, put an end to Germanic[dubious ] plans to invade Rome. The Cimbri were virtually wiped out, with the Romans claiming to have killed 140,000 and captured 60,000, including large numbers of women and children. Children of the surviving captives may have been among the rebelling gladiators in the Third Servile War.[5]

Politically, this battle had great implications for Rome as well. It marked a continuation in the rivalry between Marius and Sulla, which would eventually lead to the first of Rome's great civil wars. As a reward for their gallant service, Marius granted Roman citizenship to his Italian allied soldiers, without consulting or asking permission from the Senate first. When some senators questioned this action, he would claim that in the heat of battle he could not distinguish the voice of Roman from ally from the voice of the law. Henceforth all Italian legions would be Roman legions. This was also the first time a victorious general had openly defied the Senate and it would not be the last; in 88 BC, Sulla, in defiance of both the Senate and tradition, would lead his troops into the city of Rome itself. And Julius Caesar, when ordered by the Senate to lay down his command and return to Rome to face misconduct charges, would instead lead one of his legions across the Rubicon in 49 BC. This would mark the start of the civil war between himself and senatorial forces under Pompey which would effectively end the Roman Republic.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Strauss, Barry (2009). The Spartacus War. Simon and Schuster. pp. 21–22. ISBN 1-4165-3205-6. 
  2. ^ for instance: Zennari, Jacopo (1958). La battaglia dei Vercelli o dei Campi Raudii (101 a. C.) (in Italian). Cremona: Athenaeum cremonense. 
  3. ^ Descriptive material in the Ethnological Museum of the Castle of Grinzane Cavour.
  4. ^ a b Mossman, Theodor (1908). History of Rome. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 71. Retrieved 9 October 2009. 
  5. ^ Barry Strauss, The Spartacus War, p. 21


  • Mommsen, Theodor, History of Rome, Book IV "The Revolution", pp 71–72.
  • Florus, Epitome rerum Romanarum, III, IV, partim
  • Todd, Malcolm, The Barbarians: Goths, Franks and Vandals, pp121–122.