Marius was brave and strong and able to cope with any in the rush of war, but he knew little of the arts of peace and the science of government. Sulla, his enemy, was at Rome, living in quiet, but the same, fiery, ambition that animated Marius, and the same jealousy of all who seemed to be growing in popularity, burned in his bosom and were ready to burst out at any time. The very first attempts of Marius at government ended in shame, and he retired from the city in the year 99. He had supported two rogations, called the Appuleian laws, from the demagogue who moved them, Lucius Appuleius Saturninus, and they were carried by violence and treachery. They enacted that the lands acquired from the barbarians should be divided among both the Italians and the citizens of Rome, thus affording relief to all Italy; and that corn should be sold to Romans by the state at a nominal price.

When Marius retired, the authority of the senate was restored, but the state was in a deplorable condition, for the violence and bloodshed that had been familiar for the half century since the triumph over Greece and Carthage, were bearing their legitimate fruits. Not only was the separation between the rich and poor constantly growing greater, but the effect of the luxury and license of the wealthy was debauching the public conscience, and faith was everywhere falling away. Impostors and foreign priests had full sway.

Opposed to Saturninus was a noble of the most exalted type of character, Marcus Livius Drusus, son of the Drusus who had opposed the Gracchi. A genuine aristocrat, possessed of a colossal fortune, strict in his morals and trustworthy in every position, he was a man of acknowledged weight in the national councils. In the year 91, he was elected tribune, and endeavored to bring about reform. He obtained the adherence of the people by laws for distributing corn at low prices, and by holding out to the allies hopes of the franchise. The allies had long looked for this, and as their condition had been growing worse year by year, their impatience increased, until at last they were no longer willing to brook delay. The Romans (whose party cry was "Rome for the Romans") ever opposed this measure, and now they stirred up opposition to the conservative Drusus, who paid the penalty of his life to his efforts at civil reform and the alleviation of oppression. Though he tried to please all parties, the senate first rendered his laws nugatory, and their partisans not satisfied with his civil defeat, afterwards caused him to be assassinated. [Footnote: Velleius Paterculus, the historian, relates that as Drusus was dying, he looked upon the crowd of citizens who were lamenting his fortune, and said, in conscious innocence: "My relations and friends, will the commonwealth ever again have a citizen like me?" He adds, as illustrating the purity of his intentions, that when Drusus was building a house on the Palatine, his architect offered to make it so that no observer could see into it, but he said: "Rather, build my house so that whatever I do may be seen by all."] It was then enacted that all who favored the allies should be considered guilty of treason to the state. Many prominent citizens were condemned under this law, and the allies naturally became convinced that there was no hope for them except in revolution.

Rome was in consequence menaced by those who had before been her helpers, and the danger was one of the greatest that she had ever encountered. The Italians were prepared for the contest, but the Romans were not. It was determined by the allies that Rome should be destroyed, and a new capital erected at Corfinum, which was to be known as Italica. On both sides it was a struggle for existence.

The Marsians were the most prominent among the allies in one division, and the Samnites were at the head of another. [Footnote: The Marsians were an ancient people of Central Italy, inhabiting a mountainous district, and had won distinction among the allies for their skill and courage in war. "The Marsic cohorts" was an almost proverbial expression for the bravest troops in the time of Horace and Virgil.] The whole of Central Italy became involved in the desperate struggle. The Etruscans and Umbrians took the part of Rome, being offered the suffrage for their allegiance. At the end of the first campaign this was offered also to those of the other antagonistic allies who would lay down their arms, and by this means discord was thrown into the camp of the enemy. The campaign of 89 was favorable to the Romans, who, led by Sulla, drove the enemy out of Campania, and captured the town of Bovianum. The following year the war was closed, but Rome and Italy had lost more than a quarter of a million of their citizens, while the allies had nominally obtained the concessions that they had fought for.

Ten new tribes were formed in which the new citizens were enrolled, thus keeping them in a body by themselves; and it was natural that there should be much discontent among them on account of the manner in which their privileges had been awarded. The franchise could only be obtained by a visit to Rome, which was difficult for the inhabitants of distant regions, and there was besides no place in the city large enough to contain all the citizens, if they had been able to come. The new citizens found, too, that there was still a difference between themselves and those who had before enjoyed the suffrage, something like that which existed between the freedmen and the men who had never been enslaved.