Soon, however, all this envy and hatred and slander of Marius was removed and dissipated by the peril which threatened Italy from the west, as soon as the state felt the need of a great general and looked about for a helmsman whom she might employ to save her from so great a deluge of war. Then the people would have nothing to do with anyone of high birth or of a wealthy house who offered himself at the consular elections, but proclaimed Marius consul 1
in spite of his absence from the city.
For no sooner had word been brought to the people of the capture of Jugurtha than the reports about the Teutones and Cimbri fell upon their ears. What these reports said about the numbers and strength of the invading hosts was disbelieved at first, but afterwards it was found to be short of the truth. For three hundred thousand armed fighting men were advancing, and much larger hordes of women and children were said to accompany them, in quest of land to support so vast a multitude, and of cities in which to settle and live, just as the Gauls before them, as they learned, had wrested the best part of Italy from the Tyrrhenians and now occupied it.
They themselves, indeed, had not had intercourse with other peoples, and had traversed a great stretch of country, so that it could not be ascertained what people it was nor whence they had set out, thus to descend upon Gaul and Italy like a cloud. The most prevalent conjecture was that they were some of the German peoples which extended as far as the northern ocean, a conjecture based on their great stature, their light-blue eyes, and the fact that the Germans call robbers Cimbri.
But there are some who say that Gaul was wide and large enough to reach from the outer sea and the subarctic regions to the Maeotic Lake on the east, where it bordered on Pontic Scythia, and that from that point on Gauls and Scythians were mingled. These mixed Gauls and Scythians had left their homes and moved westward, not in a single march, nor even continuously, but with each recurring spring they had gone forward, fighting their way, and in the course of time had crossed the continent.
Therefore, while they had many names for different detachments, they called their whole army by the general name of Galloscythians.
Others, however, say that the Cimmerians who were first known to the ancient Greeks were not a large part of the entire people, but merely a body of exiles or a faction which was driven away by the Scythians and passed from the Maeotic Lake into Asia under the lead of Lygdamis; whereas the largest and most warlike part of the people dwelt at the confines of the earth along the outer sea, occupying a land that is shaded, wooded, and wholly sunless by reason of the height and thickness of the trees, which reach inland as far as the Hercynii;
and as regards the heavens, they are under that portion of them where the pole gets a great elevation by reason of the declination of the parallels, and appears to have a position not far removed from the spectator's zenith, and a day and a night divide the year into two equal parts; which was of advantage to Homer in his story of Odysseus consulting the shades of the dead. 2
From these regions, then, these Barbarians sallied forth against Italy, being called at first Cimmerians, and then, not inappropriately, Cimbri. But all this is based on conjecture rather than on sure historical evidence.
Their numbers, however, are given by many writers as not less, but more, than the figure mentioned above. Moreover, their courage and daring made them irresistible, and when they engaged in battle they came on with the swiftness and force of fire, so that no one could withstand their onset, but all who came in their way became their prey and booty, and even many large Roman armies, with their commanders, who had been stationed to protect Transalpine Gaul, were destroyed ingloriously;
indeed, by their feeble resistance they were mainly instrumental in drawing the on-rushing Barbarians down upon Rome. For when the invaders had conquered those who opposed them, and had got abundance of booty, they determined not to settle themselves anywhere until they had destroyed Rome and ravaged Italy.