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Appian's History of Rome: The Punic Wars §§16-20


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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  [§16] [204] Soon afterward [proconsul Publius Cornelius] Scipio besieged Utica by land and sea. He built a tower on two galleys joined together, from which he hurled missiles three cubits long, and also great stones, at the enemy. He inflicted much damage and also suffered much, and the ships were badly shattered. On the landward side he built great mounds, and battered the wall with rams, and tore off with hooks what hides and other coverings were on it. The enemy, on the other hand, undermined the mounds, turned the hooks aside with slipknots, and deadened the force of the rams by interposing transverse wooden beams. They made sallies against the machines with fire whenever the wind was blowing toward them. Whereupon Scipio, despairing of the capture of the city by this means, established a close siege around it.

[§17] Syphax, when he learned how things were going, came back with his army and encamped not far from Hasdrubal. Pretending still to be the friend of both parties, and thinking to protract the war until the new ships which were building for the Carthaginians were ready, and the Celtic and Ligurian mercenaries arrived, he proposed an arbitration. He thought that it would be fair for the Romans to discontinue the war in Africa and the Carthaginians in Italy, and that the Romans should retain Sicily, Sardinia, and whatever other islands they now held, and also Spain. He said that if either party should refuse these terms he would join forces with the other. While he was doing this he attempted to draw Massinissa to himself by promising to establish him firmly in the kingdom of the Massylians and to give him in marriage whichever of his three daughters he should choose. The person who delivered this message brought gold also, in order that, if he could not persuade Massinissa, he might bribe one of his servants to kill him. As he did not succeed, he paid the money to one of them to murder him. The servant took the money to Massinissa and exposed the giver.

[§18] [203] Then Syphax, finding that he could not deceive anybody, joined the Carthaginians openly. He captured, by means of treachery, an inland town named Tholon, where the Romans had a large store of war materials and food, and slew all of the garrison who would not depart on parole. He also called up another large reinforcement of Numidians. And now, as the mercenaries had arrived and the ships were in readiness, they decided to fight, Syphax attacking those besieging Utica, and Hasdrubal the camp of Scipio, while the ships should bear down upon the ships; all these things to be done the next day and at the same time in order to overwhelm the Romans with numbers. 

[§19] Massinissa learned of these plans at nightfall from certain Numidians, and communicated them to Scipio. The latter was perplexed, being apprehensive lest his army, divided into so many parts, should be too weak to sustain the whole strength of the enemy. He forthwith called his officers to a council at night. Finding that they were all at a loss what to do, and after meditating for a long time himself, he said: "Courage and swiftness, friends, and desperate fighting are our only salvation. We must anticipate the enemy in making the attack. Just see what we shall gain by it. The unexpectedness of the attack and the very strangeness of the thing - that those who are so few in number should be the aggressors, will terrify them. We shall employ our strength not divided into several detachments, but all together. We shall not be engaged with all of our enemies at once, but with those we choose to attack first, since their camps are separate from each other. We are their equals in strength when we take them separately, while in courage and good fortune we are their superiors. If heaven shall give us victory over the first, we may despise the others. Upon whom the assault shall be made first, and what shall be the time and manner of delivering it, if you please, I will now tell you."

[§20] As they all agreed, he continued: "The time to strike is immediately after this meeting ends, while it is still night, since the blow will be the more terrifying and the enemy will be unprepared, and none will be able to give aid to their allies in the darkness. Thus we shall anticipate their intention of attacking us tomorrow. They have three stations; that of the ships is at a distance, and it is not easy to attack ships by night. Hasdrubal and Syphax are not far from each other. Hasdrubal is the head of the hostile force. Syphax will not dare to do anything at night; he is a barbarian, effeminate and timid. Come now, let us attack Hasdrubal with all our force. We will place Massinissa in ambush for Syphax, if, contrary to expectation, he should move out of his camp. Let us advance with our infantry against Hasdrubal's defenses, surround and storm them on every side, with high hope and resolute courage, for these are the things most needed now. As the cavalry are not of much use in a night attack, I will send them to surround the enemy's camp a little farther off, so that if we are overpowered we may have friends to receive us and cover our retreat, and if we are victorious they may pursue the fugitives and destroy them."

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Punic wars   :   part 5
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