Marius was delighted to hear of such expressions, and tried to calm the soldiers down by telling them that he did not distrust them, but in consequence of certain oracles was awaiting a fit time and place for his victory. And indeed he used to carry about ceremoniously in a litter a certain Syrian woman, named Martha, who was said to have the gift of prophecy, and he would make sacrifices at her bidding. She had previously been rejected by the senate when she wished to appear before them with reference to these matters and predicted future events.
Then she got audience of the women and gave them proofs of her skill, and particularly the wife of Marius, at whose feet she sat when some gladiators were fighting and successfully foretold which one was going to be victorious. In consequence of this she was sent to Marius by his wife, and was admired by him. As a general thing she was carried along with the army in a litter, but she attended the sacrifices clothed in a double purple robe that was fastened with a clasp, and carrying a spear that was wreathed with fillets and chaplets.
Such a performance as this caused many to doubt whether Marius, in exhibiting the woman, really believed in her, or was pretending to do so and merely acted a part with her.
The affair of the vultures, however, which Alexander of Myndus relates, is certainly wonderful. Two vultures were always seen hovering about the armies of Marius before their victories, and accompanied them on their journeys, being recognized by bronze rings on their necks; for the soldiers had caught them, put these rings on, and let them go again; and after this, on recognizing the birds, the soldiers greeted them, and they were glad to see them when they set out upon a march, feeling sure in such cases that they would be successful.
Many signs also appeared, most of which were of the ordinary kind; but from Ameria and Tuder, cities of Italy, it was reported that at night there had been seen in the heavens flaming spears, and shields which at first moved in different directions, and then clashed together, assuming the formations and movements of men in battle, and finally some of them would give way, while others pressed on in pursuit, and all streamed away to the westward.
Moreover, about this time Bataces, the priest of the Great Mother, 1
came from Pessinus announcing that the goddess had declared to him from her shrine that the Romans were to be victorious and triumphant in war. The senate gave credence to the story and voted that a temple should be built for the goddess in commemoration of the victory; but when Bataces came before the assembly and desired to tell the story, Aulus Pompeius, a tribune of the people, prevented him, calling him an impostor, and driving him with insults from the rostra.
And lo, this did more than anything else to gain credence for the man's story. For hardly had Aulus gone back to his house after the assembly was dissolved, when he broke out with so violent a fever that he died within a week, and everybody knew and talked about it.