The tragic history of Quintus Sertorius seems to define the complexion of late Roman Republican politics. One of the most capable generals of the late Republican era, Sertorius opposed the dictatorship of Sulla – and formed a successful shadow Roman Senate as well as Army in Spain. Somewhat surprisingly, Sertorius was not a bitter-ender, and attempted many times to reconcile with the Sullan faction. Ultimately unbeaten in battle, Sertorius was eventually assassinated by one of his own subordinates.
Historian Adrian Goldsworthy chronicles late Republican politics in his biography of Sertorius, as well as how the Marian and Sullan factions interacted post-Marius.
“The same belief in the superiority of Rome that made senators by the second century BC hold themselves the equals of any king ensured that no disappointed Roman politician sought the aid of a foreign power. Senators wanted success, but that success only counted if it was achieved at Rome.
“Roman commanders and senior subordinates were expected to lead and direct their soldiers from just behind the fighting line, a style of leadership which inevitably involved considerable risk of wounding or death. Sertorius led in an especially bold fashion, inspiring his men with his contempt for the enemy and trusting to his personal skill at arms to protect himself from any attack.
“The same drive for absolute victory which made the Romans so difficult to defeat in foreign wars ensured that their internal struggles between enemies were very rare and never proved permanent.
“Sertorius was a tragic, rather romantic, figure who had the misfortune to commit himself to the losing side in a civil war… Although a ‘new man’, he should under normal circumstances have had a highly successful career. His gifts as a leader, administrator and commander were of the highest order.
“A gifted orator and with some learning in law, he began to gain a reputation in the courts before embarking with enthusiasm on a period of military service. As mentioned in the last chapter, he managed to survive the disaster at Arausio in 105, swimming the Rhone in spite of his wounds and still managing to bring away his personal weapons.
*All excerpts have been taken from In the Name of Rome: The Men Who Won the Roman Empire, Orion Publishing Group.
Quintus Sertorius – Adrian Goldsworthy
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