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Appian's History of Rome: The Punic Wars §§11-15


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. His account of the Punic Wars, which deals with the wars in Africa, is fortunately among these better preserved parts.

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


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  [§11] [204] Massinissa, getting wind of this plot, managed to escape, and made his inherited power strong by collecting a body of cavalry who were trained to hurl the javelin advancing and retreating and advancing again, either by day or by night; for their only method of fighting was flight and pursuit. The Numidians also know how to endure hunger. They often subsist on herbs in place of bread, and they drink nothing but water. Their horses never even taste grain; they feed on grass alone and drink but rarely. Massinissa collected about 20,000 such and led them in the chase and in pillaging expeditions against other tribes, thinking to keep them exercised in this way. The Carthaginians and Syphax, thinking that these preparations of the young man were made against them (for they were conscious of the affront they had put upon him), decided to make war on him first, and after crushing him to march against the Romans.

[§12] Syphax and the Carthaginians were much the more numerous. They marched with wagons and a great load of luggage and luxuries. On the other hand, Massinissa was an example in all doing and enduring and had only cavalry, no pack animals and no provisions. Thus he was able the more easily to retreat, to attack, and to take refuge in strongholds. Often, when surrounded, he divided his forces so that they might scatter as best they could, concealing himself with a handful until they should all come together again, by day or by night, at an appointed rendezvous. Once he was one of three who lay concealed in a cave around which his enemies were encamped. He never had any fixed camping place. His generalship consisted especially in concealing his position. Thus his enemies never could make a regular assault upon him, but were always warding off his attacks. His provisions were obtained each day from whatever place he came upon toward evening, whether village or city. He seized and carried off everything and divided the plunder with his men, for which reason many Numidians flocked to him, although he did not give regular pay, for the sake of the booty, which was better.

[§13] In this way Massinissa made war on the Carthaginians. In the meantime [proconsul Publius Cornelius] Scipio, having completed his preparations in Sicily, and sacrificed to Jupiter and Neptune, set sail for Africa with fifty-two war-ships and 400 transports, with a great number of smaller craft following behind. His army consisted of 16,000 foot and 1,600 horse. He carried also projectiles, arms, and engines of various kinds, and a plentiful supply of provisions. And thus Scipio accomplished his voyage.

When the Carthaginians and Syphax learned of this they decided to pretend to make terms with Massinissa for the present, until they should overcome Scipio. Massinissa was not deceived by this scheme. In order to deceive them in turn he marched to Hasdrubal with his cavalry as though he were reconciled to him, fully advising Scipio beforehand. Hasdrubal, Syphax, and Massinissa encamped not far from each other near the city of Utica, to which Scipio had been driven by the winds, and he also was camped hard by. Not far from him was Hasdrubal with an army of 20,000 foot, 7,000 horse, and 140 elephants.

[§14] Now Syphax, either being moved by fear, or being faithless to all parties in turn, pretended that his country was harassed by the neighboring barbarians, and set out for home. Scipio sent out some detachments to feel the enemy, and at the same time several towns surrendered themselves to him. Then Massinissa came to Scipio's camp secretly by night, and, after mutual greeting, advised him to place not more than 5,000 men in ambush on the following day, about five kilometer from Utica, near a tower built by Agathocles, the tyrant of Syracuse.

At daybreak he persuaded Hasdrubal to send Hanno, his master of horse, to reconnoiter the enemy and throw himself into Utica, lest the inhabitants, taking advantage of the proximity of the enemy, should start a revolution. He promised to follow if ordered to do so. Hanno set out accordingly with 1,000 picked Carthaginian horse and a lot of Africans. Massinissa followed with his Numidians. Thus they came to the tower and Hanno passed on with a small force to Utica. Hereupon a part of the men in ambush showed themselves, and Massinissa advised the officer who was left in command of the cavalry to attack them as being a small force. He followed at a short distance, as if to support the movement. Then the rest of the men in ambush showed themselves and surrounded the Africans; and the Romans and Massinissa together assailed them on all sides and slew all except 400, who were taken prisoners. After he had accomplished this, Massinissa, as though a friend, hastened after Hanno, who was returning, seized him and carried him to Scipio's camp, and exchanged him for his own mother, who was in Hasdrubal's hands.

[§15] Scipio and Massinissa ravaged the country and released the Roman prisoners who were digging in the fields, who had been sent thither by Hannibal from Spain, from Sicily, and from Italy itself. They also besieged a large town called Locha, where they met great difficulties. As they were putting up the scaling ladders, the Lochaians asked a parley and offered to leave the city under a truce. Thereupon Scipio sounded a retreat; but the soldiers, angry at what they had suffered in the siege, refused to obey. They scaled the walls and slaughtered indiscriminately, not sparing women and children. Scipio dismissed the survivors in safety; he then deprived the army of its booty and compelled the officers who had disobeyed orders to cast lots publicly, and punished three of them, upon whom the lot had fallen, with death.[1]

Having done these things he began ravaging the country again. Hasdrubal sought to draw him into ambush by sending Mago, his master of horse, to attack him in front, while he fell upon his rear. Scipio and Massinissa being surrounded in this way divided their forces into two parts, turning in opposite directions against the enemy, by which means they slew 50,00 of the Africans, took 1,800 prisoners, and drove the remainder over a precipice.

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Punic wars   :   part 4
Note 1:
A mild form of decimation.
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