Battle of Arausio

Battle of Arausio

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Arausio
partof=the Cimbrian War

caption=The migrations of the Cimbri and the Teutons
battle_name=Battle of Arausio
|date= October 6 105 BC
place=Arausio, on the Rhône River France
result=Decisive Cimbrian and Teutonic victory
combatant2=Roman Republic
commander1=Kings Boiorix,
commander2=Quintus Servilius Caepio,
Gnaeus Mallius Maximus
strength1=About 200,000
strength2=80,000 troops (10-12 legions),
up to 40,000 auxiliaries and camp followers
casualties1=Unknown, perhaps several thousand
casualties2=80,000 [Valerius Antias (1st century BC). "Manubiae".] [Albert A. Howard (1906). "Valerius Antias and Livy", "Harvard Studies in Classical Philology" 17, p. 161-182.] [Canon Rawlinson (1877). "On the Ethnography of the Cimbri", "The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland" 6, p. 150-158.] or up to 120,000 if support troops and camp followers included [Mommsen, Theodor; The History of Rome, Book IV ] [According to Publius Rutilius Rufus, the figure concerning regular and light-armed troops was 70,000. Valerius Antias' figure includes 40,000 suppliers.]

The Battle of Arausio took place on October 6, 105 BC, at a site between the town of Arausio (modern day Orange, Vaucluse) and the Rhône River. Ranged against the migratory tribes of the Cimbri under Boiorix and the Teutoni were two Roman armies, commanded by the proconsul Quintus Servilius Caepio and consul Gnaeus Mallius Maximus. However, bitter differences between the commanders prevented the Roman armies from cooperating, with devastating results. The terrible defeat gave Gaius Marius the opportunity to come to the fore and radically reform the organisation and recruitment of Roman legions. Roman losses are quoted at up to 80,000 troops, as well as another 40,000 auxiliary troops (allies) and servants and camp followers. By comparison, the much more famous Battle of Cannae in 216 BC saw around 45,000 Romans killed according to modern scholars, [Daneta Billau and Donald A. Graczyk, “Hannibal: Father of Strategy Reconsidered,” "Comparative Strategy" 22, No. 4 (Oct/Nov2003): 338 ] though the ancient Roman historians Livy, Plutarch, and Appian say 50,000, Quintilian says 60,000 and Polybius claims as many as 70,000. [Appian, "The History of Rome, The Hannibalic War", Sect. 25; Livy, "Ab Urbe Condita", 22.49, 25.6; Plutarch, “Life of Fabius Maximus,” Sect. 16; Polybius, "The Histories", 103.17; Quintilian, "Institutio Oratio", 7.6.26.]


The migrations of the Cimbri tribe through Gaul and adjacent territories had disturbed the balance of power and incited or provoked other tribes, such as the Helvetii into conflict with the Romans. An ambush of Roman troops and the temporary rebellion of the town of Tolosa caused Roman troops to mobilize in the area, with three strong forces.

Having regained Tolosa, the proconsul Quintus Servilius Caepio adopted a defensive strategy, waiting to see if the Cimbri would move toward Roman territories again. In October of 105 BC, they did.

A skirmish and two routs

Even before battle was joined, the Romans were in trouble. Two of the major Roman forces available were camped out on the Rhone River, near Arausio: one led by the consul Gnaeus Mallius Maximus, and the other by the proconsul Quintus Servilius Caepio. As the consul of the year, Maximus was by law the senior commander of the combined armies. However, because Maximus was a new man and therefore lacked the noble background of the Roman aristocracy, Caepio refused to serve under him and made camp on the opposite side of the river.

The initial contact between the two forces occurred when a detached picketing group under the legate
Marcus Aurelius Scaurus met an advance party of the Cimbri. The Roman force was completely overwhelmed and the legate was captured and brought before Boiorix. Scaurus was not humbled by his capture and advised Boiorix to turn back before his people were destroyed by the Roman forces. The king of the Cimbri was indignant at this impudence and had Scaurus executed by being burned alive in a wicker cage.

Meanwhile, Maximus had managed to convince Caepio to move his force to the same side of the river, but Caepio still insisted on a different camp, and actually pitched his closer to the enemy. The sight of two Roman armies gave Boiorix pause for thought, and he entertained negotiations with Maximus.

Caepio, presumably motivated into action by the thought that Maximus might be successful in negotiations and claim all the credit for a successful outcome, launched a unilateral attack on the Cimbri camp on October 6. However, Caepio's force was annihilated due to the hasty nature of the assault and the tenacity of Cimbri defence. The Cimbri were also able to ransack Caepio's own camp, which had been left practically undefended.

With a great boost in confidence from an easy victory, the Cimbri then proceeded to destroy the force commanded by Maximus. Already at a low ebb due to the infighting of the commanders, this Roman force had also witnessed the complete destruction of their colleagues. In other circumstances the army might have fled, but the poor positioning of the camp left them with their backs to the river. Many tried to escape in that direction, but legionaries of the time were not known for their prowess at swimming, and certainly not when encumbered. Certainly, the number of Romans who managed to escape were very few. This includes the servants and camp followers, who usually numbered at least half as many again as the actual troops. Though the actual casualty figure remains debated, Livy claims that the total number of Roman casualties (not including camp followers or other non-combatants) amounted to 80,000. Mommsen claims that besides the 80,000 Roman soldiers, half as many of the auxiliaries and camp-followers perished.


Rome was a warfaring nation, and was accustomed to setbacks. However, the recent string of defeats ending in the calamity at Arausio was alarming for all the people of Rome. The defeat left them critically short on manpower, with a terrifying enemy camped on the other side of the undefended Alpine passes. In Rome, it was widely thought that the defeat was due to the arrogance of Caepio rather than a lacking in the Roman Army. Popular dissatisfaction with the ruling classes grew.

As it turned out, the Cimbri next clashed with the Averni tribe, and after a hard struggle set out for the Pyrenees instead of immediately marching into Italy. This gave the Romans time to re-organise, and elect the man who would become known as the saviour of Rome, Gaius Marius.

Roman chronicles did mention that the soil of the fields the battle had been fought upon were made so fertile by human remains that they were able to produce "magna copia" (a great quantity) of yield for many years.

ee also

*Battle of Noreia
*Battle of Vercellae
*Battle of Aquae Sextiae



* Gilman, Arthur; The Story of Rome From the Earliest Times to the End of the Republic
* Livy Book LXVII
* Mommsen, Theodor; The History of Rome, Book IV
* McCullough, Colleen; The First Man in Rome (historical fiction)

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