Battle of Vercellae

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Battle of Vercellae
Part of the Cimbrian War
Tiepolo Vercellae.jpg
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The battle of Vercellae, from the Ca' Dolfin Tiepolos, 1725-1729
Date30 July 101 BC
Result Decisive Roman victory
Roman Republic Cimbri
Commanders and leaders
Gaius Marius
Quintus Lutatius Catulus Caesar
Lucius Cornelius Sulla
Claodicus  (POW)
Caesorix  (POW)
52,300 men (8 legions with cavalry and auxiliaries) 65,000–220,000 warriors and civilians, including 15,000 cavalry
Casualties and losses
1,000 killed[1]

160,000 killed (Livy)
60,000 captured

140,000 killed (Orosius)
60,000 captured
120,000 killed (Plutarch)
60,000 captured
100,000 killed or captured (Paterculus)
65,000 killed (Florus)
The migration of the Cimbri and the Teutons.
BattleL Roman victories.
BattleW Cimbri and Teutons victories.

The Battle of Vercellae, or Battle of the Raudine Plain, in 101 BC was the Roman victory of Consul Gaius Marius over the invading Celto-Germanic[2][3] tribe of the Cimbri near the settlement of Vercellae in Cisalpine Gaul.

The Cimbri had invaded northern Italy and repeatedly defeated the 20,000 men strong army of consul Quintus Lutatius Catulus. After defeating the Teutones at Aquae Sextiae, Marius arrived with 32,000 soldiers to reinforce Catulus and defeat the Cimbri; the two armies met on the Raudian plain (or plain of Vercellae) and the Romans won a total victory over the invaders.

Much credit for this victory has been given to the actions of Proconsul Catulus' legate, Lucius Cornelius Sulla who led the Roman and allied Italian cavalry; the Cimbri were virtually wiped out, with the Romans claiming to have killed 65,000–160,000 and captured 60,000, including large numbers of women and children.


In 101 BC the Cimbri invaded Italy through the Eastern Alpine passes. No enemy army had invaded Roman Italy since Carthage in the Second Punic War. Roman Consul Catulus, who had only 20,000 men to guard all of the passes, was forced to retreat before the Cimbrians. Catulus mounted a surprise attack on the Cimbric camp and was afterwards able to retreat to the north Italian plain; the Romans retreated to the Adige river, built fortifications on both banks and a bridge between the two positions, to fight on the defensive against Cimbric attacks.[4]

After the Cimbrians had dammed the river and sent heavy objects downriver to destroy the bridge, many of the Romans panicked and abandoned their second defensive position as well. Catulus retreated along with his men; some of his cavalry retreated all the way to Rome. A significant Roman force stayed behind to hold the Adige line but were defeated by the Cimbrians, who attacked and captured the fort.[5]

Catulus retreated to his third defensive position south of the Po; the Cimbrians had defeated him twice and now proceeded to sack Cisalpine Gaul. They did not pursue the Romans, as they intended to settle in northern Italy.[5]

Having defeated the Teutones at Aquae Sextiae and having returned to Rome without his army, consul Gaius Marius regathered his men and marched to the Po.


After merging Catulus' army with his own, Marius began negotiations with the Cimbrians, who demanded land to settle on. Marius refused and instead sought to demoralize the Cimbri by parading captured Teuton nobles before them. Neither side genuinely sought negotiations, the Romans not intending to hand over their land to foreign invaders and the Cimbri believing themselves to be on brink of a successful peace after their recent victories over the Romans.[6]

Over the next few days the armies maneuvered against each other, the Romans initially refusing to give battle. Marius chose the optimal location for the battle, an open plain near Vercelli; the Roman consul then met with the Cimbri leader Boiorix to agree on the time of battle. Marius had 32,000 men and Catulus 20,300.[7]


Traditionally most historians locate the settlement of the battle in or near the modern Vercelli, Piedmont, in northern Italy; some historians[8] think that "vercellae" is not a proper name and may refer to any mining area at the confluence of two rivers.

The latter historians think that the Cimbri followed the river Adige after having crossed the Brenner Pass, instead of "unreasonably" turning west to the modern Vercelli; this way, the location of the battle would be in the modern Polesine instead, possibly near the modern Rovigo. At Borgo Vercelli, near the river Sesia, 5 km from Vercelli, items have been found that supposedly strengthen the tradition.[citation needed]

Another suggested location is the hamlet of Roddi, in what is now the province of Cuneo, Piedmont.[9]


The 15,000 strong Cimbric cavalry rode onto the battlefield. Behind them came the infantry. According to Plutarch, Marius made a final sacrifice to the gods.

"Marius washed his hands, and lifting them up to heaven, vowed to make a sacrifice of 100 beasts should victory be his".

Marius had split up his own army in two lots of 15,000 each. Catulus Caesar and his 24,000 less experienced troops formed the centre. Marius took command of the left wing, with Sulla commanding the cavalry on the extreme right.[10] Marius had also very sensibly formed up his lines facing west, therefore the Cimbri had to fight with the sun in their eyes.[1]

The Romans got into position first, the sun reflected off their armor; the Cimbri thought the sky was on fire and were very unnerved. Sensing their sudden anxiety, the Romans attacked. Marius led his wing against the Cimbri right, he marched into a huge dust cloud created by a quarter of a million men on the move across dry fields. When he emerged he did not find the enemy, the battle was taking place somewhere else; the Cimbri had launched themselves in a huge wedge towards Catulus' centre their cavalry to the front. Unfortunately for the Cimbri their horsemen were taken completely by surprise by the superior Roman cavalry under the command of Sulla; the Cimbri horse were forced back into the main body of their infantry causing a lot of chaos. Seeing a opportunity Catulus threw his men forward and they were soon in hand to hand combat; the other wings of the Roman army soon moved in on the German flanks heming them in. The Roman forces were smaller but more highly trained and disciplined, furthermore, Roman legionaries excelled at close-quarters-combat and so thightly packed they were in their element; the battle became a rout stopped by the wagons drawn up (as was customary among Germanic and Celtic peoples) at the rear of the battle field. At this point the rout became a massacre that stopped only when the Cimbri began to surrender en masse. Boiorix and his noblemen made a last stand in which they were all killed; the Romans had won a complete and stunning victory.[11]


Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, The defeat of the Cimbri, 1833

The victory of Vercellae, following close on the heels of Marius' destruction of the Teutones at the Battle of Aquae Sextiae the previous year, put an end to the Celto-Germanic[dubious ] threat on Rome's northern frontiers. The Cimbri were virtually wiped out, with the Romans claiming to have killed 120,000 and captured 60,000, including large numbers of women and children. Children of the surviving captives may have been among the rebelling gladiators in the Third Servile War.[12]

Politically, this battle had great implications for Rome as well, it marked a continuation in the rivalry between Marius and Sulla, which would eventually lead to the first of Rome's great civil wars. As a reward for their gallant service, Marius granted Roman citizenship to his Italian allied soldiers, without consulting or asking permission from the Senate first; when some senators questioned this action, he would claim that in the heat of battle he could not distinguish the voice of Roman from ally from the voice of the law. Henceforth all Italian legions would be Roman legions; this was also the first time a victorious general had openly defied the Senate and it would not be the last; in 88 BC, Sulla, in defiance of both the Senate and tradition, would lead his troops into the city of Rome itself. And Julius Caesar, when ordered by the Senate to lay down his command and return to Rome to face misconduct charges, would instead lead one of his legions across the Rubicon in 49 BC; this would mark the start of the civil war between himself and senatorial forces under Pompey which would effectively end the Roman Republic.

See also[edit]

In literature[edit]


  1. ^ a b Lynda Telford, Sulla: A Dictator Reconsidered, p. 65.
  2. ^ "A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information". The Encyclopædia Britannica. 5–6 (11 ed.). Pennsylvania State University: The University Press. 1911.
  3. ^ Dawson, Edward. "Cimbri & Teutones". The History Files. Kessler Associates. Retrieved 18 May 2016.
  4. ^ Sampson 2010, pp. 164-165.
  5. ^ a b Sampson 2010, pp. 166-167.
  6. ^ Sampson 2010, p. 168.
  7. ^ Sampson 2010, p. 169.
  8. ^ for instance: Zennari, Jacopo (1958). La battaglia dei Vercelli o dei Campi Raudii (101 a. C.) (in Italian). Cremona: Athenaeum cremonense.
  9. ^ Descriptive material in the Ethnological Museum of the Castle of Grinzane Cavour.
  10. ^ Lynda Telford, Sulla: A Dictator Reconsidered, p. 64.
  11. ^ Lynda Telford, Sulla: A Dictator Reconsidered, p. 65; Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain, pp 13-14; Plutarch, Life of Marius, section 27.
  12. ^ Barry Strauss, The Spartacus War, p. 21
  • Sampson, Gareth (2010). The Crisis of Rome: The Jugurthine and Northern Wars and the Rise of Marius. Pen & Sword Military. ISBN 978-1-84415-972-7.
  • Mommsen, Theodor, History of Rome, Book IV "The Revolution", pp 71–72.
  • Florus, Epitome rerum Romanarum, III, IV, partim
  • Todd, Malcolm, The Barbarians: Goths, Franks and Vandals, pp 121–122.