In 88 BC the activities of king Mithridates of Pontus called for urgent action. The king had invaded the province of Asia and massacred 80'000 Roman and Italian citizens. Sulla, as elected consul and as the man who had won the Social War, expected the command, but Marius wanted it, too. The senate appointed Sulla to lead the troops against Mithridates.
But the tribune Sulpicius Rufus (124-88 BC), a political ally of Marius, passed through the concilium plebis an order calling for the transfer of command to Marius. Peaceful as these happenings may sound, they were accompanied by much violence.
Sulla rushed straight from Rome to his still undisbanded troops of the Social War before Nola in Campania, where the Samnites were still holding out.
There, Sulla appealed to the soldiers to follow him. The officers hesitated, but the soldiers did not. And so, at the head of six Roman legions, Sulla marched on Rome. He was joined by his political ally Pompeius Rufus. They seized the city gates, marched in and annihilated a force hastily collected by Marius.
Sulpicius fled but was discovered and killed. So, too, did Marius, by now 70 years old, flee. He was picked up at the coast of Latium and sentenced to death. But as no one could be found prepared to do the deed he was instead hustled onto a ship. He ended up in Carthage where he was ordered by the Roman governor of Africa to move on.