Battle of Aquae Sextiae

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Battle of Aquae Sextiae
Part of the Cimbrian War
Die Frauen der Teutonen verteidigen die Wagenburg by Heinrich Leutemann.jpg
Date102 BC
Result Decisive Roman victory
Roman Republic
Commanders and leaders
Teutobod (POW) Gaius Marius
ca. 130,000 warriors ca. 40,000 men (37,000 Romans, 6 legions with cavalry and auxiliaries)
Casualties and losses
ca. 113,000 warriors killed
ca. 17,000 warriors captured
150,000+ women and children captured
less than 1,000 killed
The migration of the Cimbri and the Teutons.
BattleL Roman victories.
BattleW Cimbri and Teutons victories.

The Battle of Aquae Sextiae (Aix-en-Provence) took place in 102 BC. After a string of Roman defeats (see: the Battle of Noreia, the Battle of Burdigala, and the Battle of Arausio), the Romans under Gaius Marius finally defeated the Teutones and Ambrones. The Teutones and the Ambrones were virtually wiped out, with the Romans claiming to have killed 200,000 and captured 90,000,[1] including large numbers of women and children who were later sold into slavery. Some of the surviving captives are reported to have been among the rebelling gladiators in the Third Servile War.[2] The battle of Aquae Sextiae is still commemorated by the local name of the area, as Mont St. Victoire.[3]


According to ancient sources, sometime around 120–115 BC, the Cimbri left their homeland around the North Sea due to climate changes. They supposedly journeyed to the south-east and were soon joined by their neighbours the Teutones. On their way south they defeated several other Germanic, Celtic and Germano-Celtic tribes (like the Boii). A number of these defeated tribes joined their trek. In 113 BC the Cimbri-Teutones confederation, led by Boiorix and Teutobod, defeated the Scordisci. The invaders then moved on to the Danube, arriving in Noricum, home to the Roman-allied Taurisci people. Unable to hold back these new, powerful invaders on their own, the Taurisci appealed to Rome for help.[4]

The Senate commissioned Gnaeus Papirius Carbo, one of the consuls, to lead a substantial Roman army to Noricum to force the barbarians out. An engagement, later called the battle of Noreia, took place, in which the invaders, to everyone's surprise, completely overwhelmed the Legions and inflicted a devastating loss on Carbo and his men.[5]

After the Noreia victory the Cimbri and Teutones moved westward towards Gaul. A few years later, in 109 BC, they moved along the Rhodanus River towards the Roman province in Transalpine Gaul. Another consul, Marcus Junius Silanus, was sent to take care of the renewed Germanic threat. Silanus marched his army north along the Rhodanus River in order to confront the migrating Germanic tribes. He met the Cimbri approximately 100 miles north of Arausio, a battle was fought and the Romans suffered another humiliating defeat. The Germanic tribes then moved to the lands north and east of Tolosa in south-western Gaul.[6]

To the Romans the presence of the Germanic tribes in Gaul posed a serious threat to the stability in the area and to their prestige. Lucius Cassius Longinus, one of the consuls of 107, was sent to Gaul at the head of another large army. He first fought the Cimbri and their Gallic allies the Volcae Tectosages just outside Tolosa, and despite the huge number of tribesmen, the Romans routed them. Unfortunately for the Romans, a few days later they were ambushed while marching on Burdigala. The battle of Burdigala destroyed the Romans hope of finishing off the Cimbri and the Germanic threat continued to exist.[7]

In 106 the Romans sent their largest army yet; the senior consul of 106, Quintus Servilius Caepio, was authorized to use eight legions in an effort to end the Germanic threat once and for all. While the Romans were busy getting their army together the Volcae Tectosages had quarrelled with their Germanic guests, and had asked them to leave the area. When Caepio arrived he only found the local tribes and they sensibly decided not to fight the newly arrived legions. In 105 Caepio's command was prorouged and a further six legions were raised in Rome by Gnaeus Mallius Maximus, one of the consuls of 105, he led them to reinforce Caepio who was near Arausio. Unfortunately for the Romans, Caepio who was a patrician and Mallius Maximus who was a 'new man' did not get along. Caepio refused to take orders from Mallius Maximus who as consul outranked him. All this led to a divided Roman force with the two armies so far apart they could not support each other when the fighting started. Meanwhile, the Germanic tribes had combined their forces. First they attacked and defeated Caepio's army and then, with great confidence, took on Mallius Maximus's army and defeated it too. The battle of Arausio was considered the greatest Roman defeat since the slaughter suffered at the battle of Cannae during the Punic Wars.[8]

In 104 BC the Cimbri and the Teutones seemed to be heading for Italy. The Romans sent the senior consul of 104, Gaius Marius, a proven and capable general, at the head of another large army. The Germanic tribes never materialized so Marius subdued the Volcae Tectosages capturing their king Copillus.[9] In 103, Sulla, one of Marius's lieutenants, succeeded in persuading the Germanic Marsi tribe to become friends and allies of Rome; they detached themselves from the Germanic confederation and went back to Germania.[10] In 102 BC the Teutones and Ambrones moved into Gallia Transalpina (the Roman province in the south of Gaul) while the Cimbri moved into Italy. Marius, as senior consul, ordered his junior partner Quintus Lutatius Catulus Caesar to keep the Cimbri out of Italy while he marched against the Teutones and Ambrones.[11]


About a quarter of a million Germans, led by king Teutobod, had crossed the Durance river, east of where it entered the Rhône. They spread out for miles: there were about 130,000 warriors, as well as wagons, cattle, horses and their women and children. With the Teutones, who made up the bulk of the invaders, were the Ambrones, around 30,000 warriors strong. They came across a lone Roman fortress on a hill. This was the army of Gaius Marius, who had arrived a while earlier and had used his time wisely and constructed a heavily fortified camp. The Ambrones tried to lure out the Romans, by catcalling and shouting insults, which were ignored. They then attacked the fort, but the fortifications held and a number of Ambrones were killed by some well-placed javelins. The Romans did not come out and the Teutones decided to move on south toward Massilia, which they intended to plunder. It took several days for their entire wagon train to clear the area, but once they were out of sight, Gaius Marius marched his six over-strength legions across the river and took up position on a ridge on the south bank and dug in. The Ambrones found a new Roman camp waiting for them and decided to attack despite having to charge uphill.[12]

The battle[edit]

This time the Romans did not stay behind their fortifications. They marched out of their camp, formed battle lines, and cast their pila (the Roman throwing spears) to good effect at the charging Ambrones, killing several warriors or rendering their shields useless. The legionaries then drew their swords and advanced downhill in formation. Nearly all of the attacking Ambrones were killed. Losses on the Roman side were very low. The fighting was over very quickly and the Romans started to pile up the barbarian dead as a rampart, and waited behind it for the Teutones to arrive.[12]

While waiting Marius sent one of his legates, Manius Aquillius, downstream with 4,000 troops and ordered him to cross the river. He intended for Aquillius to fall on the Teutones' rear in the coming engagement.[12]

When Teutobod's horde arrived, the first thing he saw was the rampart made up of the dead Ambrones; behind it the Romans were waiting. Marius had expected the Teutones to attack him right away, but Teutobod kept his warriors on the other side of the river.[12]

The following day brought no action from the Germans, and Marius was starting to be concerned. The weather was very hot and the piled-up bodies of the Ambrones were beginning to rot. Marius had no intention to stay in a position where his army could catch a disease from the decomposing corpses. He was obliged to find a way to get Teutobod to attack.[13]

Marius addressed his troops, then his six legions drew themselves up in battle lines and moved slowly down the slope. This triggered the Teutones to attack. The Germans rushed across the river, charged the Romans and immediately came under a barrage of Roman pila. It was a gruelling battle, for the Teutones kept on coming, thousands and thousands of their warriors, until it seemed the Romans could not contain them any more. It was at this moment that Manius Aquillius and his 4,000 soldiers launched their attack against the German rear. The Teutones were thrown into confusion by this surprise attack and the battle became a rout. By the afternoon most of the barbarian warriors were dead.[14]

Plutarch mentions (Marius 10, 5-6) that during the battle, the Ambrones began to shout "Ambrones!" as their battle-cry; the Ligurian troops fighting for the Romans, on hearing this cry, found that it was identical to an ancient name in their country which the Ligurians often used when speaking of their descent ("οὕτως κατὰ ὀνομάζουσι Λίγυες"), so they returned the shout, "Ambrones!".

Marius sent a Manius Aquillius with a report to Rome. It said that 37,000 superbly trained Romans had succeeded in defeating over 100,000 Germans in two engagements. Teutobod was said to be among the fallen.[14]


There were around 17,000 surviving warriors and many thousands of women and children who were to be sold into slavery. Roman historians recorded that 300 of the captured women committed mass suicide, which passed into Roman legends of Germanic heroism (cf Jerome, letter cxxiii.8, 409 AD [1]):

By the conditions of the surrender three hundred of their married women were to be handed over to the Romans. When the Teuton matrons heard of this stipulation they first begged the consul that they might be set apart to minister in the temples of Ceres and Venus; and then when they failed to obtain their request and were removed by the lictors, they slew their little children and next morning were all found dead in each other's arms having strangled themselves in the night.

The proceeds from the sale of slaves usually went to the commanding General, but in this case Marius decided to donate the profits from the sale to his soldiers and officers. This of course made him even more popular then he already was with his men.[14]

Upon hearing the news, Rome went wild with relief. Finally one of their generals had defeated the Germans. Gaius Marius, as an act of gratitude, was again voted Senior Consul in absentia, with his legate Manius Aquillius as his Junior Consul. The Senate also voted for a three-day Thanksgiving; the people voted him two days more.[3]

The following year (101) Marius and the proconsul Catullus Caesar defeated the Cimbri at the battle of Vercellae, ending the German threat.

In fiction[edit]


  1. ^ Livy Ep. 68
  2. ^ Strauss, Barry (2009). The Spartacus War. Simon and Schuster. pp. 21–22. ISBN 1-4165-3205-6.
  3. ^ a b Lynda Telford, Sulla: A Dictator Reconsidered, p. 64.
  4. ^ Lynda Telford, Sulla: A Dictator Reconsidered, p. 40; Theodore Mommsen, A History of Rome, IV.
  5. ^ Lynda Telford, Sulla: A Dictator Reconsidered, p. 41.
  6. ^ Lynda Telford, Sulla: A Dictator Reconsidered, p. 42.
  7. ^ Lynda Telford, Sulla: A Dictator Reconsidered, pp 42-43.
  8. ^ Lynda Telford, Sulla: A Dictator Reconsidered, pp 45-51.
  9. ^ Lynda Telford, Sulla: A Dictator Reconsidered, p.58.
  10. ^ Lynda Telford, Sulla: A Dictator Reconsidered, pp 57-58.
  11. ^ Lynda Telford, Sulla: A Dictator Reconsidered, pp 61-62.
  12. ^ a b c d Lynda Telford, Sulla: A Dictator Reconsidered, p. 62.
  13. ^ Lynda Telford, Sulla: A Dictator Reconsidered, pp 62-63.
  14. ^ a b c Lynda Telford, Sulla: A Dictator Reconsidered, p. 63.

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