Jugurtha, a Numidian king, born before the middle of the 2d century B. C, died in Rome in 104. He was the illegitimate son of Masta-nabal, youngest son of Masinissa, king of Nu-midia. Micipsa, his paternal uncle, on succeeding to the throne, adopted him, and had him brought up with his own sons, Hiempsal and Adherbal. Jugurtha's superior abilities and skill in all martial exercises soon excited the jealousy of Micipsa, who, to remove him out of the way, sent him in 134 with an auxiliary force to aid Scipio in the Numantine war. Jugurtha's courage and capacity won him the friendship of the Roman commander and officers. On the conclusion of the war he returned to Numidia, and was received with ceremonious respect by Micipsa, who, to purchase his forbearance, made him at his death (118) heir to the kingdom in common with his two sons. The three princes quarrelled on their first meeting after his death, and a little later Hiempsal was assassinated by Jugurtha. Adherbal and his party took up arms, but were defeated, when he fled for refuge to Rome, and submitted his case to the senate, which, despite the intrigues and bribes of Jugurtha, sent commissioners to Africa to divide Numidia between the rivals.
The commissioners took gifts from Jugurtha, and gave him the larger and better half of the kingdom. But he was not satisfied, and after trying in vain to provoke Adherbal to declare war, he invaded his territory, and compelled him to take refuge in Cirta, where on his surrender in 112 he massacred him and all his followers. The conduct of Jugurtha now excited loud indignation at Rome, and an army was despatched to Africa to depose him. But the Roman commander and legate suffered Jugurtha to purchase peace on terms which involved no greater sacrifice on his part than 30 elephants and an inconsiderable sum of money. This shameful transaction so weakened the confidence of the Roman people in the patricians, that the praetor Cassius was sent to Numidia to guarantee to Jugurtha a safe-conduct if he would go to Rome and give evidence against the generals.. The king consented, proceeded to Rome, and appeared in the comitia; but a tribune in the interest of the generals forbade him to testify, and the attempt to convict the corrupt officers proved a failure. Jugurtha remained at Rome for some time, intriguing and adding to his influence among the aristocracy.
Having however procured the assassination of Massiva, a Numidian prince, who since the death of Adherbal had been a competitor for that kingdom, he was ordered to quit Italy. It was while leaving Rome on this occasion that he uttered the memorable exclamation, which indicates how the Romans had fallen from their ancient integrity: "Behold a city for sale, could she but find a purchaser." The war was now renewed, and a division of the army of Spurius Albinus, under the command of his brother Aulus, was surprised by Jugurtha in its camp, the greater part cut to pieces, and the survivors compelled to pass under the yoke. This disgrace stirred up the Roman spirit, a new army was raised, and Q. Caecilius Metellus was sent to succeed Albinus. Metellus was at once an able general and an honest man. After the first campaign Jugurtha was willing to purchase peace on any conditions short of surrendering himself a prisoner of war. But Metellus was ambitious not only of terminating the war, but of adorning his triumph with the vanquished, and the contest was renewed. Jugurtha avoided a general engagement, and Metellus discontinued offensive operations on hearing that Marius was to supersede him in the command.
Marius arrived in Africa in 107, speedily reduced almost all the king's strongholds, and gradually subjected his territory to the dominion of Rome. Jugurtha, seeing his kingdom slipping from his grasp, had formed an alliance with Bocchus, king of Mauritania, and the united forces attacked the army of Marius on its march, but after a desperate contest were totally defeated. The Mauritanian king now deserted his ally, and enticed him into an ambuscade, where he was made prisoner, and delivered in chains to Sulla, the quaestor of Marius. He was taken to Rome, and, after adorning the.triumph of his conqueror (Jan. 1, 104), was cast into prison, where he died of starvation in six days. The details of the life of Jugurtha are chiefly known from the interesting history of the "Jugurthme War" by Sallust.