Quintus Sertorius

Quintus Sertorius

Quintus Sertorius (123 BC-72 BC) was a Roman statesman and general, born in Nursia, in Sabine territory around 124 BC.

After acquiring some reputation in Rome as a jurist and an orator, he began a military career. His first recorded campaign was under Quintus Servilius Caepio at the Battle of Arausio, where he showed unusual courage. Serving under Gaius Marius in 102 BC, Sertorius succeeded in spying on the wandering German tribes that had defeated Caepio. After this success, he fought at the great Battle of Aquae Sextiae (now Aix-en-Provence, France) in which the Teutones were decisively defeated. In 97 BC, he served in Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula, comprising modern Spain and Portugal) as a military tribune under Titus Didius, winning the Grass Crown.

In 91 he was quaestor in Cisalpine Gaul, where he was in charge of recruiting and training legions for the Social War. During this time 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), causing Sertorius to oppose him.

After Sulla forced Marius into exile, and Sulla left Rome to fight Mithridates, violence erupted between the Optimates, led by the consul Gnaeus Octavius, and the Populares, led by the consul Lucius Cornelius Cinna. He now declared for Cinna and the Populares. Though he had a very bad opinion of Marius, he consented to Marius' return upon understanding that Marius came at Cinna's request and not of his own accord. After Octavius surrendered Rome to the forces of Marius, Cinna, and Sertorius in 87, 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, the Partyaei, as Marius himself called them, that partook in his atrocities.

Revolt in Hispania

On Sulla's return from the East in 83, and following the subsequent collapse of the Populares power, Sertorius retreated to Hispania as proconsul, representing the Populares. The Roman officials in Hispania did not recognize his authority, but Sertorius assumed control as he had an army. 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 Caius Annius, broke through after Salinator was killed by treachery.

Having been obliged to withdraw to North Africa, he carried on a campaign in Mauretania, in which he defeated one of Sulla's generals and captured Tingis (Tangier). This success won him the fame and admiration of the people of Hispania, particularly that of the Lusitanians in the west (in modern Portugal), whom Roman generals and proconsuls of Sulla's party had plundered and oppressed. The Lusitanians then offered Sertorius to be their general, and when arriving to their lands, bringing additional forces from Africa, he held supreme authority and started invading neighbouring territory.

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 size. Many Roman refugees and deserters joined him, and with these and his Hispanian volunteers he completely defeated several of Sulla's generals and drove Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius, who had been specifically sent against him from Rome, out of Lusitania, or Hispania Ulterior as the Romans called it at the time.

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 nobles 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, following the Roman practice of taking hostages. Late in his campaign, a revolt of the native people arose and Sertorius killed several of the children that he had sent to school at Osca, and sold many others into slavery. [ [http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/mirror/classics.mit.edu/Plutarch/sertoriu.html Sertorius by Plutarch ] ]

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 the famous white fawn, a present from one of the natives and was supposed to communicate to him the advice of the goddess Diana, to his advantage.

For six years he held sway over Hispania. In 77 he was joined by Marcus Perpenna Vento from Rome, with a following of Roman nobles and a sizeable Roman army. Also that year, Pompey was sent to help Metellus conquer Hispania and finish Sertorius off. Contemptuously calling Pompey Sulla's pupil, Sertorius proved himself more than a match for his adversaries: he razed Lauron, a city allied to Rome, after a battle in which Pompey's forces were ambushed and defeated; he nearly captured Pompey at the battle of Sucro when Pompey decided to fight Sertorius without waiting for Metellus Pius; and Sertorius utterly defeated the united forces of Metellus and Pompey on one occasion near Saguntum. Pompey wrote to Rome for reinforcements, without which, he said, he and Metellus Pius would be driven out of Hispania.

Sertorius was in league with the Cilician pirates, who had bases all across the Mediterranean, was negotiating with the formidable Mithridates VI of Pontus, and was in communication with the insurgent slaves in Italy. But due to jealousies among the Roman officers who served under him and the Hispanians of higher rank who began to weaken his influence with the Lusitani tribes, and though he won victories to the last, he was assassinated at a banquet at Perpenna Vento's instigation in 72 BC. Appian notes Sulla's consistent elimination of enemy commanders by means of treachery. At the time of his death, he was on the verge of successfully establishing an independent Roman republic in Hispania, which crumbled with the renewed onslaught of Pompey and Metellus, who crushed Perpenna's army and shored up all opposition.

See Plutarch's lives of Sertorius and Pompey; Appian, "Bell. civ." and "Hispanica"; the fragments of Sallust; Dio Cassius xxxvi.

ee also

* Timeline of Portuguese history - Roman Lusitania and Gallaecia (3rd Century BC to 4th Century AC).



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