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Appian's History of Rome: The Hannibalic War §§26-30


Legionary standard (of XXX Ulpia Traiana reenactment group). Photo Jona Lendering.
Appian of Alexandria (c.95-c.165) is the author of a Roman History and one of the most underestimated of all Greek historians. Although only his books on the Roman Civil Wars survive in their entirety, large parts of other books have also come down to us. Although his account of the War against Hannibal contains not much information that can not be found in other sources (Polybius of Megalopolis and Livy), it is fortunately well-preserved and certainly accessible.

The translation was made by Horace White; footnotes and additions in green by Jona Lendering. 


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  [§26] [216] Hannibal gained this rare and splendid victory by employing four stratagems in one day: by the force of the wind, by the feigned desertion of the Celtiberians, by the pretended flight, and by the ambuscades in the ravines. Immediately after the battle he went to view the dead. When he saw the bravest of his friends lying among the slain he lifted up his voice and wept, saying that he did not want another such victory. It is said that Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, made the same exclamation aforetime, when he too gained a victory over the Romans in Italy, with like loss to himself.

Some of those who escaped from the battle and who had taken refuge in the larger camp and in the evening had chosen Publius Sempronius [Tuditanus] as their general, forced a passage through Hannibal's guards, who were exhausted by weariness and want of sleep. These men, to the number of about 10,000, made their way to Canusium about midnight. But the 5,000 in the smaller camp were captured by Hannibal the following day.

[Consul Gaius Terentius] Varro, having collected the remains of the army and sought to revive their fainting spirits, put them under the command of [Publius Cornelius] Scipio, one of the military tribunes, and himself hastened to Rome.

[§27] When the disaster was announced in the city, multitudes thronged the streets uttering lamentations for their relatives, calling on them by name, and bewailing their own fate as soon to fall into the enemy's hands. Women went to the temples with their children and prayed that there might sometime be an end to the calamities to the city. The magistrates besought the gods by sacrifices and prayers that if they had any cause of anger they would be satisfied with the punishment already visited.

The Senate sent Quintus Fabius [Pictor] (the same who wrote a history of these events) to the temple of Delphi to seek an oracle concerning the present posture of affairs. They freed 8,000 slaves with their masters' consent, and ordered everybody in the city to go to work making arms and projectiles. They also made a conscription, as was allowed, even among certain of the allies. They also changed the destination of [praetor Marcus] Claudius Marcellus, who was about to sail to Sicily, and sent him to fight against Hannibal. Marcellus divided the fleet with his colleague [Publius] Furius [Philus] and sent a part of it to Sicily, while he himself took the manumitted slaves and as many others as he could collect of citizens and allies, amounting altogether to 10,000 foot and 2000 horse, and marched to Teanum in order to see what Hannibal would do next.

[§28] Hannibal allowed his captives to send messengers to Rome in their own behalf, to see if the citizens would ransom them with money. Three were chosen by them, of whom Gnaeus Sempronius was the leader, from whom Hannibal exacted an oath that they would return to him. The relatives of the prisoners, collecting around the senate house, declared their readiness to redeem their friends severally with their own money and begged the Senate to allow them to do so, and the people joined them with their own prayers and tears.

Some of the senators thought it was not wise, after such great calamities, to expose the city to the loss of so many more men, or to disdain free men while giving liberty to slaves. Others thought that it was not fitting to accustom men to flight by compassion, but rather to teach them to conquer or die, as would be the case if not even his relative should pity the runaway. Many precedents having been adduced on either side, the Senate finally decided that the prisoners should not be ransomed by their relatives, being of opinion that while so many dangers were still impending present clemency would tend to future harm, while severity, although painful, would be for the public advantage hereafter, and indeed at this very time would startle Hannibal by the very boldness of their action.

Accordingly Sempronius and the two prisoners who accompanied him returned to Hannibal. The latter in his anger sold some of his prisoners, put others to death, and made a bridge of their bodies with which he passed over a stream. The senators and other distinguished prisoners in his hands he compelled to fight with each other, as a spectacle for the Africans, fathers against sons, and brothers against brothers. He omitted no act of disdainful cruelty.

[§29] Hannibal next turned his arms against the territory of the Roman allies and, having devastated it, laid siege to Petilia. The inhabitants, although few in number, made courageous sallies against him (their women joining in the fight) and performing many noble deeds of daring. They burned his siege engines unceasingly, and in these enterprises the women were in no wise inferior to the men. But their numbers were reduced by each assault, and they began to suffer the pangs of hunger. When Hannibal perceived this he drew a line of circumvallation around them and left Hanno to finish the siege.

As their sufferings increased they first thrust outside the walls all those who were incapable of fighting and looked on without grieving while Hanno slew them, considering the dead better off than the living, for which reason the remainder, when reduced to the last extremity, made a sally against the enemy, and after performing many splendid acts of bravery, being nearly starved and completely exhausted, they were unable to return and were all slain by the Africans. Thus Hanno possessed himself of the town.

But yet a few escaped, who had sufficient strength to run. These wanderers the Romans carefully collected, to the number of about 800, and replaced them in their own country after the war, being moved by kind feeling toward them and admiration for their exceptional fidelity.

[§30] [215] As the Celtiberian horse, who were serving with Hannibal as mercenaries, were seen to be splendid fighters, the Roman generals in Spain obtained an equal number from the towns under their charge and sent them to Italy to contend against the others. These when encamped near Hannibal mingled with their fellow-countrymen and won them over. Thus it came about that many of them went over to the Romans and others deserted or ran away, while the remainder were no longer trusted by Hannibal, as they were under suspicion by him and he by them. Hannibal's affairs began to decline from this circumstance.

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Hannibalic war   :   part 7
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