An ancient instance of “disaster”: 6 October marks a dies ater, or “black day” of the ancient Roman calendar, as it was this day that marked the Battle of Arausio (105 BCE), one of the greatest defeats of the Roman army recorded in history.

By Alexis Culotta

An ancient instance of “disaster”: 6 October marks a dies ater, or “black day” of the ancient Roman calendar, as it was this day that marked the Battle of Arausio (105 BCE), one of the greatest defeats of the Roman army recorded in history. Feeling pressure from the Cimbri and Teutone, two Germanic tribes, that had begun congregating to the north of the Italian peninsula in the years prior, the Roman Senate initially sent forces to counter these incursions, resulting in the Battle at Noreia. This confrontation proved disastrous for Rome and resulted in Gaul’s revolt against Rome.

With the threat of attack growing, proconsul Quintus Servilius Caepio (the Elder) was sent along with consul Gnaeus Mallius Maximus to negotiate. In the midst of these negotiations, though, Caepio’s camaraderie with Mallius fell apart, causing disorder among the ranks, upon which the Germanic tribes capitalized. They attacked Caepio’s and Mallius’ troops near the city of Aurasio (present day Orange), resulting in a resounding defeat of the Roman forces.


Gaius Marius, Capeio’s sucessor, used this disastrous campaign as support for his reform of the Roman army and its management.

Bust of Quintus Servillius Caepio (?).

Denarius (obverse) of Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus and Quintus Servillius Caepio, 100 BCE. Minted in Rome. National Museums of Scotland.

Bust of Gaius Marius, 1st century BCE. Glyptothek, Munich.

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