Manius Aquillius (died 89/88 B.C.) was a Roman consul and general who successfully crushed a major slave uprising on Sicily before suffering defeat and a painful death at the start of the First Mithridatic War.
He first came to prominence at the end of 103 B.C., during the war against the Cimbri. The great general Marius, who had command of the troops awaiting the Cimbri in southern France, returned to Rome in order to secure his fourth term as consul, leaving Aquillius in command of his troops. Marius returned in time to take command when the Cimbri finally made their appearance, but Aquillius performed well enough to be elected as one of the consuls for 101 B.C., alongside Marius.
Aquillius was sent to Sicily, where the Second Servile War had been raging since 104 B.C. On Sicily he demonstrated military ability, but possibly a tendency towards corruption. After averting the danger of a famine, Aquillius defeated the rebels in a battle in which their leader, Athenion, was killed. He then spent the next year or so chasing down the last fugitives before restoring law and order so firmly that the island remained peaceful throughout the revolt of Spartacus. In 99 B.C., on his return to Rome, he was awarded a triumph, but in the following year he was accused of corruption while on Sicily. A combination of his bravery during the fighting and the influence of Marius gained him an acquittal.
Manius Aquillius was probably the son of another Manius Aquillius, who had been consul in 129 B.C., and who had organised the Roman province of Asia. This may explains why Aquillius was appointed to head a commission that was appointed to deal with Mithridates VI of Pontus. In 90/1 B.C. Mithridates had persuaded his son-in-law Tigranes of Armenia to invade Cappadocia, and had then himself invaded Bithynia, overthrowing the young king Nicomedes IV. Nicomedes had appealed to Rome, and the Senate had ordered Mithridates and Tigranes to abandon their conquests and restore the previous kings.
When Aquillius reached Asia Minor and issued his demands Mithridates did indeed pull out of Bithynia, even executing his own pretender to the throne. Aquillius then sent a small army towards Cappadocia, and Tigranes also retreated.
The Romans, and in particular Aquillius, then made a dangerous mistake, assuming that Mithridates would continue to retreat regardless of the provocation. They put pressure on the nearly restored kings of Bithynia and Cappadocia to invade Pontus in order to earn the money they now owed the Roman republic. Ariobarzanes refused, but Nicomedes invaded western Pontus, and refused to let Pontic ships out of the Black Sea.
This time Mithridates did not back down. First he sent his general Pelopidas to meet with the Romans to complain about Nicomedes. When this failed to produce results, he sent his son Ariarathes to invade Cappadocia, then once again sent Pelopidas to meet with Aquillius and the Roman generals. This time the Romans arrested Pelopidas, then sent him back to Pontus with orders never to return. This marked the beginning of the First Mithridatic War.
The Romans and their allies gathered four armies to oppose Mithridates. Even if all four had combined they would still have been outnumbered, but the four armies were spread out along the western border of the area under Pontic control. Aquillius took command of the northernmost army, a mixed force with troops from Bithynia, Paphlagonia, Galatia and Cappadocia. Our only evidence for the size of this army comes from Appian, who claimed that the three armies commanded by Roman generals were each 40,000 strong, while the fourth army, under Nicomedes, contained 50,000 infantry and 6,000. Mithridates was said to have 250,000 infantry and 40,000 cavalry. Although all of these figures are too high, they do give an idea of the relative balance of power in the area.
The scattered Roman forces were quickly swept aside. Nicomedes, who had advanced into Paphlagonia, was defeated at the Amnias River, and retreated back to join Aquillius, before deciding to head south to join C. Cassius, the Roman governor of Asia.
Aquillius also decided to retreat, pulling back from his advanced position in eastern Bithynia, but the Pontic army caught up with him at Protopachium, and destroyed a quarter of his army before Aquillius was able to escape.
After the defeat at Protopachium Aquillius fled to Pergamum. When it became clear that the city would probably fall to Mithridates he fled to Lesbos, but under pressure the inhabitants of Mytilene handed him over. Mithridates clearly felt that Aquillius's greed had caused the war, and after exposing him to public ridicule killed him by having molten gold poured down his throat.