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Quintus Sertorius (; c. 123–72 BCE) was a Roman statesman, general and rebel. He was a brilliant military commander which was shown most clearly in the civil war he waged in Hispania against the optimates of Lucius Cornelius Sulla (the Sertorian War, 80–72 BCE).
Early life and career
Sertorius was born in Nursia (a town in which citizens had received Roman citizenship in 268 BCE) in Sabine territory. The Sertorius family were minor aristocrats, almost certainly Equites Romani, the class directly below the senatorial class. Like many other young domi nobiles Sertorius moved to Rome in his mid-to-late teens trying to make it big as an orator and jurist. He made enough of an impression on the young Cicero to merit a special mention in a later treatise on oratory:
Of all the totally illiterate and crude orators, well, actually ranters, I ever knew - and I might as well add 'completely coarse and rustic' - the roughest and readiest were Q. Sertorius ...
After his undistinguished career in Rome as a jurist and an orator, he entered the military. His first recorded campaign was under Quintus Servilius Caepio and ended at the Battle of Arausio in 104 BCE, where he showed unusual courage. Serving under Gaius Marius, Sertorius succeeded in spying on the wandering tribes that had defeated Caepio. After this success, he almost certainly fought at the great Battle of Aquae Sextiae (now Aix-en-Provence, France) in 102 BCE in which the Teutones and the Ambrones were decisively defeated. He probably also fought at the battle of Vercellae in 101 BCE where the Cimbri were decisively defeated ending the German invasion. A few years after the Cimbric wars Sertorius' patron Gaius Marius fell out of grace for his support of the demagogue Lucius Appuleius Saturninus and he and Sertorius had to get out of Rome for a while. Sertorius served in Hispania as a military tribune under Titus Didius, winning the Grass Crown for crushing an insurrection in and around Castulo.
Social War and Civil War
In 91 BCE he was quaestor in Cisalpine Gaul, where he was in charge of recruiting and training legionaries for the Social War. During the war he sustained a wound that cost him the use of one of his eyes. Upon his return to Rome he ran for tribune, but Lucius Cornelius Sulla thwarted his efforts (for reasons unknown, but probably because he was in Marius clientele and Sulla and Marius were at odds), causing Sertorius to oppose Sulla. Sertorius however did manage to become a senator on the strengths of his earlier quaestorship.
In 88 BCE, after being sidelined by his political opponents, Sulla marched his legions on Rome and took the capital (see: Sulla's first civil war) he took revenge on his enemies and forced Marius into exile, he [Sulla] then left Italy to fight Mithridates (see: First Mithridatic War). After Sulla left violence erupted between the optimates, led by the consul Gnaeus Octavius, and the populares, led by the consul Lucius Cornelius Cinna. Sertorius declared for Cinna and the populares. Though he had a very bad opinion of Marius by then, he consented to Marius' return upon understanding that Marius came at Cinna's request and not of his own accord. In 87 BCE Cinna marched on Rome, Sertorius commanded one of Cinna's divisions and fought a battle with troops commanded by Pompeius Strabo. After Octavius surrendered Rome to the forces of Marius, Cinna, and Sertorius in 87 BCE, Sertorius abstained from the proscriptions his fellow commanders engaged in. Sertorius went so far as to rebuke Marius, and move Cinna to moderation, while annihilating Marius' slave army that had partaken in his atrocities.
Propraetor of Hispania
On Sulla's return from the East in 83 BCE a second civil war broke out. After having fallen out with the new popular leadership (Cinna and Marius were dead by then) Sertorius was sent to Hispania as propraetor, representing the popular cause in Spain. The governor of the two Hispanias, Gaius Valerius Flaccus did not recognize his authority, but Sertorius had an army at his back and used it to assume control. Sertorius sought to hold Hispania by sending an army, under Julius Salinator, to fortify the pass through the Pyrenees; however, Sulla's forces, under the command of Gaius Annius Luscus, broke through after Salinator was assassinated by a traitor (one Calpurnius Lanarius).
The North Africa success won him the fame and admiration of the people of Hispania, particularly that of the Lusitanians in the west (in modern Portugal and western Spain), whom Roman generals and proconsuls of Sulla's party had plundered and oppressed. The Lusitanians then asked Sertorius to be their warleader and, arriving on their lands with additional forces from Africa, he assumed supreme authority and began to conquer the neighbouring territories of Hispania (modern Spain). He achieved his first major victory at the battle of the Baetis River where he defeated Fufidius (the Roman general marching against the Lusitanians).
Brave, noble, and gifted with eloquence, Sertorius was just the man to impress them favourably, and the native warriors, whom he organized, spoke of him as the "new Hannibal". His skill as a general was extraordinary, as he repeatedly defeated forces many times his own forces' sizes. Many Roman refugees and deserters joined him, and with these and his Hispanian volunteers he completely defeated several of Sulla's generals (Fufidius, Domitius Calvinus and to some less-direct extent Thorius and Manlius) and drove Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius, who had been specifically sent against him from Rome, out of Hispania Ulterior.
Sertorius owed some of his success to his prodigious ability as a statesman. His goal was to build a stable government in Hispania with the consent and co-operation of the people, whom he wished to civilize along the lines of the Roman model. He established a senate of 300 members, drawn from Roman emigrants (probably including some from the highest aristocrats of Hispania) and kept a Hispanian bodyguard. For the children of the chief native families he provided a school at Osca (Huesca), where they received a Roman education and even adopted the dress and education of Roman youths. This followed the Roman practice of taking hostages and, late in his campaigns, a revolt of the native people arose and Sertorius killed several of the children that he had sent to school at Osca, selling many others into slavery.
Although he was strict and severe with his soldiers, he was particularly considerate to the people in general, and made their burdens as light as possible. It seems clear that he had a peculiar gift for evoking the enthusiasm of the native tribes, and we can understand well how he was able to use a famous white fawn, a present from one of the natives that was supposed to communicate to him the advice of the goddess Diana, to his advantage.
For six years he held sway over Hispania. In 76 BCE, he was joined — at the insistence of the forces he brought with him — by Marcus Perpenna Vento from Rome, with a following of Roman and Italian aristocrats and a sizeable Roman-style army (fifty-three cohorts). In the same year, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (now better known as Pompey) was sent to help Metellus take back Hispania and finish Sertorius off. Contemptuously calling Pompey 'the young pup' and Metellus 'the old woman' Sertorius proved himself more than a match for his adversaries. After the battle of Lauron, in which he out-generaled Pompey and massacred part of his army, he razed the city (proving Pompey and Metellus could not protect their allies). In 75 BCE, Pompey and Metellus made a comeback, Pompey defeated Sertorius' legates Herrenius and Perpenna in the battle of Valentia and Metellus was able to crush another Sertorian army when he defeated Hirtuleius at the battle of Italica. Sertorius responded by marching against Pompey and nearly capturing him at the battle of Sucro, when Pompey decided to fight him without waiting for Metellus. After these battles Sertorius was indecisively beaten at the battle of Saguntum and had to revert to guerilla combat again. Pompey wrote to Rome for reinforcements, without which, he said, he and Metellus would be driven from Hispania. With these reinforcements Pompey and Metellus were gaining the upper hand, grinding down their enemy by war of attrition, capturing stronghold after stronghold. Though Sertorius was still able to win some victories, he was losing the war, and his authority over his men was declining. He lost much of his acumen and authority, descending into alcoholism and debauchery
Sertorius was in league with the Cilician Pirates, who had bases and fleets all around the Mediterranean, was negotiating with the formidable Mithridates VI of Pontus, and was in communication with the insurgent slaves of Spartacus in Italy. But due to jealousies among his high ranking Roman officers and some Iberian chieftains as well a conspiracy was beginning to take form.
In 74 and 73 BCE, Pompey and Metellus had been slowly grinding down Sertorius' rebellion. Unable to defeat him in battle they had opted for attritional warfare, what had worked against Hannibal a century and a half before would now be brought to bear on Sertorius. Metellus seeing that the key to victory was removing Sertorius had made his pitch toward the Romans still with Sertorius. 'Should any Roman kill Sertorius he would be given a hundred talents of silver and twenty-thousand acres of land. If he was an exile he would be free to return to Rome'. This had turned Sertorius paranoid which in turn had worked to his enemies advantage since he now suspected his Roman retinue.
The war was not going well, so the Roman aristocrats and senators who made up the higher classes of his domain became discontent with Sertorius. They had grown jealous of Sertorius' power, and Perperna, aspiring to take Sertorius' place, encouraged that jealousy for his own ends. The conspirators took to damaging Sertorius by oppressing the local Iberian tribes in his name. This stirred discontent and revolt in the tribes, which resulted in a cycle of oppression and revolt, with Sertorius none the wiser as to who was creating such mischief.
Perperna and his fellow conspirator invited Sertorius to a feast to celebrate a supposed victory. While under most circumstances, any festivities to which Sertorius was invited were conducted with great propriety, this particular feast was vulgar, designed to offend the skillful general and get him off his couch and among the crowd where a knife could be shoved through his ribs without difficulty. Disgusted, Sertorius changed his posture on the couch, intent on ignoring them all. This presented something of a problem as Sertorius, although in late middle age, had a well deserved reputation as a skilled fighter. They changed their tactic, Perperna gave the signal to his fellow conspirators, and they rushed and stabbed the unsuspecting Sertorius until he was dead.
Upon learning of the death of Sertorius, some of his Iberian allies sent ambassadors to Pompey or to Metellus and made peace, most simply went home. To make matters worse for Perperna when Sertorius' will was read he had named him his chief beneficiary. Perperna already disgraced as the man who had slain his commander, the man who had given him sanctuary, was now also revealed to have killed his main benefactor and friend. And now that he was dead, the virtues of Sertorius were remembered, and his recent atrocities forgotten.
People are generally less angry with those who have died, and when they no longer see him alive before them they tend to dwell tenderly on his virtues. So it was with Sertorius. Anger against him suddenly turned to affection and the soldiers clamorously rose up in protest against Perperna.
Sertorius' independent "Roman" Republic in Spain crumbled with the renewed onslaught of Pompey and Metellus, who crushed Perperna's army and eliminated the remaining opposition.
- Plutarch, Life of Sertorius.
- Plutarch, Life of Pompey, 18.
- Appian, Bell. civ. (Civil Wars).
- Appian, Hispanica.
- the fragments of Sallust.
- Dio Cassius xxxvi.
- Frontinus, Stratagems
- Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the struggle for Spain, 2013.
- John Leach, Pompey the Great, 2. (1978)
- "Quintus Sertorius". Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
- Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the struggle for Spain, p.2.
- Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the struggle for Spain, p.3.
- Cicero, Brutus, 180.
- Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the struggle for Spain, p.11.
- Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the struggle for Spain, p.15.
- Plutarch, Life of Sertorius, 9; Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the struggle for Spain, p.22.
- John Leach, Pompey the Great, p.20.
- Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain, pp.28-29.
- Plutarch, Life of Sertorius, 6; Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the struggle for Spain, pp.32-33.
- Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain, p.57.
- Plutarch, Life of Sertorius, 9; Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the struggle for Spain, pp.60-61.
- Sertorius, by Plutarch
- Christian Müller in Hans Holbein the Younger: The Basel Years, 1515–1532, Christian Müller; Stephan Kemperdick; Maryan Ainsworth; et al, Munich: Prestel, 2006, ISBN 978-3-7913-3580-3, pp. 263–64.
- Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain, p.152.
- Plutarch, Life of Sertorius, 25.
- Plutarch, Life of Sertorius, 22.
- Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the struggle for Spain, pp.153-154.
- Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain, pp.156-157.
- Appian, Civil Wars, 1.114.