Marius, as he had determined, proceeded to attack the fortified towns and places of strength, and to detach them, partly by force, and partly by threats or offers of reward, from the enemy. His operations in this way, however, were at first but moderate; for he expected that Jugurtha, to protect his subjects, would soon come to an engagement. But finding that he kept at a distance, and was intent on other affairs, he thought it was time to enter upon something of greater importance and difficulty. Amid the vast deserts there lay a great and strong city, named Capsa, the founder of which is said to have been the Libyan Hercules.1
Its inhabitants were exempted from taxes by Jugurtha, and under mild government, and were consequently regarded as the most faithful of his subjects. They were defended against enemies, not only by walls, magazines of arms, and bodies of troops, but still more by the difficulty of approaching them; for, except the parts adjoining the walls, all the surrounding country is waste and uncultivated, destitute of water, and infested with serpents, whose fierceness, like that of other wild animals, is aggravated by want of food; while the venom of such reptiles, deadly in itself, is exacerbated by nothing so much as by thirst. Of this place Marius conceived a strong desire2
to make himself master, not only from its importance for the war, but because its capture seemed an enterprise of difficulty; for Metellus had gained great glory by taking Thala, a town similarly situated and fortified; except that at Thala there were several springs near the walls, while the people of Capsa had only one running stream, and that within the town, all the water which they used beside being rain-water. But this scarcity, both here and in other parts of Africa, where the people live rudely and remote from the sea, was endured with the greater ease, as the inhabitants subsist mostly on milk and wild beasts' flesh,3
and use no salt, or other provocatives of appetite, their food being merely to satisfy hunger or thirst, and not to encourage luxury or excess.