Concerning Jugurtha, King of Numidia

During the Second Punic War, there was an African king called Masinissa. This king aided the Romans, and when Scipio Africanus had subdued Carthage he allowed Masinissa to add a large part of Africa to his kingdom, Numidia. Masinissa grew old and died, and his son, Micipsa, became king. Micipsa had two sons, Hiempsal and Adherbal, and a nephew, Jugurtha. Though Jugurtha was older than the princes, he was reared with them. Growing into manhood, Sallust writes, he was endowed “with physical strength, a handsome person, but above all with a vigorous intellect.” Racing with his fellows, “although he surpassed them all in renown, he nevertheless won the love of all.” In hunting, “he distinguished himself greatly, but spoke little of his own exploits.” Seeing how much the people loved Jugurtha, the king grew to fear for his own sons. As Numidia now needed to aid Rome with wars in Spain, Micipsa decided to send Jugurtha as the leader of the Numidian force. In Spain, Jugurtha would probably “fall a victim either to a desire to display his valor or to the ruthless foe.”

In Spain, however, Jugurtha did not die. Instead, he grew honored and respected by both Numidians and Romans, and found many friends. “He was both valiant in war and wise in counsel, a thing most difficult to achieve.” However, Jugurtha also learned that “in Rome, anything could be bought.” Perhaps knowing of this, a Roman leader, Publius Scipio, advised Jugurtha at their parting “not to form the habit of bribery … to buy from a few what belonged to the many. If Jugurtha would continue as he had begun, fame and a throne would come to him unsought; but if he acted too hastily, he would bring about his ruin by means of his own money.” Dismayed by Jugurtha’s success, Micipsa adopted the young man and made him joint heir of Numidia. Micipsa, in time, died. Jugurtha, Hiempsal, and Adherbal became the three rulers of Numidia, with plans on Jugurtha’s part, antagonism on Hiempsal’s, and worry on Adherbal’s.

So Jugurtha, with renown, ability, and wisdom, became ruler of a third part of Numidia: and began with the murder of Hiempsal. Adherbal, defeated in battle with Jugurtha, fled to Rome. Jugurtha “began to be afraid of the Roman people and to despair of escaping their anger except through the avarice of the Roman nobles.” He sent envoys with a great amount of gold and silver to begin the work of bribery. Once Jugurtha’s envoys were sufficiently confident, they and Adherbal came before the Senate. Adherbal appealed to the Romans as the masters of Numidia under whom he was a steward. He reminded them of the old ties between Numidia and Rome, and of the help which his family had given to Scipio Africanus in the war with Carthage. He described Jugurtha’s wickedness. He appealed to Rome for justice. “Fathers of the Senate,” Adherbal said, “I beseech you in your own name, by your children and parents, and by the majesty of the Roman people, aid me in my distress, set your faces against injustice, do not permit the kingdom of Numidia, which belongs to you, to be ruined by villainy and the blood-guiltiness of our family.” The Senate divided Numidia between Jugurtha and Adherbal. Adherbal returned to Numidia. Jugurtha tortured him to death.

Rome had to take some notice of this. Despite Jugurtha’s senators, the Senate sent an army to Numidia. War began; so did negotiations by Jugurtha. Thirty elephants, with various cattle, horses, and silver, changed hands agreeably. As Sallust writes, “In Numidia and in our army peace reigned.”

G. K. Chesterton

I know you. You will hail the huge release,
Saying the sheathing of a thousand swords,
In silence and injustice, well accords
With Christmas bells. And you will gild with grease
The papers, the employers, the police,
And vomit up the void your windy words
To your New Christ; who bears no whip of cords
For them that traffic in the doves of peace.

The feast of friends, the candle-fruited tree,
I have not failed to honour. And I say
It would be better for such men as we,
And we be nearer Bethlehem, it we lay
Shot dead on scarlet snows for liberty,
Dead in the daylight upon Christmas Day.

2 thoughts on “Concerning Jugurtha, King of Numidia

    1. Well, yes… I prefer the sonnet too! As I was sitting on the back porch, knitting and reading Sallust and mourning indignantly for Jugurtha and the Senate, I thought I remembered a poem by Chesterton which had a similar theme. I looked it up and ended up memorizing the sonnet almost by accident!