After acquiring some reputation in Rome as a jurist and orator, he entered upon a military career. He is first recorded as serving under Marius in 102 BC, at the great battle of Aquae Sextiae (mod. Aix) in which the Teutones were decisively defeated. In 97 he was serving in Spain. In 91 he was quaestor in Cisalpine Gaul, and on his return to Rome he would have been elected to the tribuneship but for the decided opposition of Sulla.
He now declared for Marius and the democratic party, though of Marius himself as a man he had the worst opinion. He must have been a consenting party to the hideous massacres of Marius and Cinna in 87, though he seems to have done what he could to mitigate their horrors. On Sulla's return from the East in 83, Sertorius went to Spain, where he represented the Marian or democratic party, but without receiving any definite commission or appointment.
Having been obliged to withdraw to Africa in consequence of the advance of the forces of Sulla over the Pyrenees, he carried on a campaign in Mauretania, in which he defeated one of Sulla's generals and captured Tingis (Tangier). This success recommended him to the people of Spain, more particularly to the Lusitanian tribes in the west, whom Roman generals and governors of Sulla's party had plundered and oppressed.
Brave and kindly, and gifted with a rough telling eloquence, Sertorius was just the man to impress them favourably, and the native militia, which he organized, spoke of him as the "new Hannibal." Many Roman refugees and deserters joined him, and with these and his Spanish volunteers he completely defeated one of Sulla's generals and drove Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius, who had been specially sent against him from Rome, out of Lusitania, or Further Spain as the Romans called it.
Sertorius owed much of his success to his statesmanlike ability. His object was to build up a stable government in the country with the consent and co-operation of the people, whom he wished to civilize after the Roman model. He established a senate of 300 members, drawn from Roman emigrants, with probably a sprinkling of the best Spaniards, and surrounded himself with a Spanish bodyguard. For the children of the chief native families he provided a school at Osca (Huesca), where they received a Roman education and even adopted the dress of Roman youths.
Strict and severe as he was with his soldiers, he was particularly considerate to the people generally, and made their burdens as light as possible. It seems clear that he had a peculiar gift for evoking the enthusiasm of rude tribes, and we can well understand how the famous white fawn, a present from one of the natives, which was his constant companion and was supposed to communicate to him the advice of the goddess Diana, promoted his popularity.
For six years he may be said to have really ruled Spain. In 77 he was joined by M. Perperna (or Perpenna) Vento from Rome, with a following of Roman nobles, and in the same year the great Pompey was sent to conquer him. Sertorius proved himself more than a match for his adversaries, utterly defeating their united forces on one occasion near Saguntum. Pompey wrote to Rome for reinforcements, without which, he said, he and Metellus would be driven out of Spain.
Sertorius was in league with the pirates in the Mediterranean, was negotiating with the formidable Mithridates, and was in communication with the insurgent slaves in Italy. But owing to jealousies among the Roman officers who served under him and the Spaniards of higher rank he could not maintain his position, and his influence over the native tribes slipped away from him, though he won victories to the last. In 72 BC he was assassinated at a banquet, Perperna Vento, it seems, being the chief instigator of the deed.
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.