In 93 he was sent to command against Mithridates, king of Pontus, one of the little kingdoms in Asia Minor that had sprung up out of the break-up of Alexander’s empire. Under this king, Mithridates, it had grown very powerful. He was of Persian birth, had all the learning and science both of Greece and the far East, and was said in especial to be wonderfully learned in all plants and their virtues, so as to have made himself proof against all kinds of poison, and he could speak twenty-five languages.
He had great power in Asia Minor, and took upon himself to appoint a king of Cappadocia, thus leading to a quarrel with the Romans. In the midst of the Social War, when he thought they had their hands full in Italy, Mithridates caused all the native inhabitants of Asia Minor to rise upon the Romans among them in one night and murder them all, so that 80,000 are said to have perished. Sulla was ordered to take the command of the army which was to avenge their death; but, while he was raising his forces, Marius, angry that the patricians had hindered the plebeians and Italians from gaining more by the Social War, raised up a great tumult, meaning to overpower the patricians’ resistance. He would have done more wisely had he waited until Sulla was quite gone, for that general came back to the rescue of his friends with six newly-raised legions, and Marius could only just contrive to escape from Rome, where he was proclaimed a traitor and a price set on his head. He was now seventy years old, but full of spirit. First he escaped to his own farm, whence he hoped to reach Ostia, where a ship was waiting for him; but a party of horsemen were seen coming, and he was hidden in a cart full of beans and driven down the coast, where he embarked, meaning to go to Africa; but adverse winds and want of food forced him to land at Circaeum, whence, with a few friends, he made his way along the coast, through woods and rocks, keeping up the spirits of his companions by telling them that, when a little boy, he robbed an eyrie of seven eaglets, and that a soothsayer had then foretold that he would be seven times consul. At last a troop of horse was seen coming towards them, and at the same time two ships near the coast. The only hope was in swimming out to the nearest ship, and Marius was so heavy and old that this was done with great difficulty. Even then the ships were so near the shore that the pursuers could command the crew to throw Marius out, but this they refused to do, though they only waited till the soldiers were gone, to put him on shore again. Here he was in a marshy, boggy place, where an old man let him rest in his cottage, and then hid him in a cave under a heap of rushes. Again, however, the troops appeared, and threatened the old man for hiding an enemy of the Romans. It was in Marius’ hearing, and fearing to be betrayed, he rushed out into a pool, where he stood up to his neck in water till a soldier saw him, and he was dragged out and taken to the city of Minturnae.