When these things had been reported to the Cimbri, they once more advanced against Marius, who kept quiet and carefully guarded his camp. And it is said that it was in preparation for this battle that Marius introduced an innovation in the structure of the javelin. Up to this time, it seems, that part of the shaft which was let into the iron head was fastened there by two iron nails; but now, leaving one of these as it was, Marius removed the other, and put in its place a wooden pin that could easily be broken.
His design was that the javelin, after striking the enemy's shield, should not stand straight out, but that the wooden peg should break, thus allowing the shaft to bend in the iron head and trail along the ground, being held fast by the twist at the point of the weapon.
And now Boeorix the king of the Cimbri, with a small retinue, rode up towards the camp and challenged Marius to set a day and a place and come out and fight for the ownership of the country.
Marius replied that the Romans never allowed their enemies to give them advice about fighting, but that he would nevertheless gratify the Cimbri in this matter. Accordingly, they decided that the day should be the third following, and the place the plain of Vercellae, which was suitable for the operations of the Roman cavalry, and would give the Cimbri room to deploy their numbers.
When, therefore, the appointed time had come, the Romans drew up their forces for battle. Catulus had twenty thousand three hundred soldiers, while those of Marius amounted to thirty-two thousand, which were divided between both wings and had Catulus between them in the centre, as Sulla, who fought in this battle, has stated. 1
He says also that Marius hoped that the two lines would engage at their extremities chiefly and on the wings, in order that his soldiers might have the whole credit for the victory and that Catulus might not participate in the struggle nor even engage the enemy (since the centre, as is usual in battle-fronts of great extent, would be folded back); and therefore arranged the forces in this manner.
And we are told that Catulus himself also made a similar statement in defence of his conduct in the battle, and accused Marius of great malice in his treatment of him.
As for the Cimbri, their foot-soldiers advanced slowly from their defences, with a depth equal to their front, for each side of their formation had an extent of thirty furlongs;
and their horsemen, fifteen thousand strong, rode out in splendid style, with helmets made to resemble the maws of frightful wild beasts or the heads of strange animals, which, with their towering crests of feathers, made their wearers appear taller than they really were; they were also equipped with breastplates of iron, and carried gleaming white shields. For hurling, each man had two lances; and at close quarters they used large, heavy swords.