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Appian's History of Rome: The Punic Wars §§21-25


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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  [§21] [203] Having spoken thus he [proconsul Publius Cornelius Scipio] sent the officers to arm the troops, and he offered sacrifice to Courage and also to Fear in order that no panic should overtake them in the night, but that the army should show itself absolutely intrepid. At the third watch the trumpet sounded lightly and the army moved, observing the most profound silence until the cavalry had completely surrounded the enemy and the infantry had arrived at the trenches. Then, with shouts mingled with the discordant blast of trumpets and horns for the purpose of striking terror into the enemy, they swept the guards away from the outposts, filled up the ditch, and tore down the palisades. The boldest, pushing forward, set some of the huts on fire.

The Africans, starting in consternation out of sleep, fumbled around for their arms and tried confusedly to get into order of battle, but on account of the noise could not hear the orders of their officers, nor did their general himself know exactly what was happening. The Romans caught them, as they were starting up and trying to arm themselves, with confusion on every hand. They fired more huts and slew those whom they met. The noise of the invaders, their appearance, and the fearful work they were doing in the midst of darkness and uncertainty made the catastrophe complete. Thinking that the camp had been taken, and being afraid of the fire of the burning huts, they were glad to get out of them; and they pushed on to the plain as a safer place. Thus they ran helter-skelter, just as it happened, and the Roman horse, who had completely surrounded them, fell upon them and slaughtered them.

[§22] Syphax, hearing the noise and seeing the fire in the night, did not leave his quarters, but sent a detachment of horse to the assistance of Hasdrubal. Massinissa fell upon these unawares and made a great slaughter. At daybreak, learning that Hasdrubal had fled and that his forces were destroyed, or taken prisoners, or dispersed, and that his camp and war material had fallen into the hands of the Romans, he fled precipitately to the interior, leaving everything behind, fearing lest Scipio should return from the pursuit of the Carthaginians and fall upon him. Massinissa took possession of his camp and belongings.

[§23] Thus by one act of daring and in a little part of a night, did the Romans demolish two camps and two armies much greater than their own. The Romans lost about 100 men killed, the enemy a little less than 30,000, besides 2,400 prisoners. Moreover, 600 horse surrendered themselves to Scipio on his return. Some of the elephants were killed and some wounded. Scipio, having gained a great store of arms, gold, silver, ivory, and horses, Numidian and other, and having prostrated the Carthaginians by one splendid victory, distributed prizes to the army and sent the richest of the spoils to Rome. Then he began drilling the army diligently, expecting the arrival of Hannibal forthwith from Italy, and of Mago from Liguria.

[§24] While Scipio was thus engaged, Hasdrubal, the Carthaginian general, who had been wounded in the night engagement, fled with 500 horse to the town of Anda, where he collected some mercenaries and Numidians who had escaped from the battle, and proclaimed freedom to all slaves who would enlist. Learning that the Carthaginians had decreed the penalty of death against him for his bad generalship, and had chosen Hanno, the son of Bomilcar, as commander, he made this an army of his own, recruited a lot of malefactors, robbed the country for provisions, and drilled his men to the number of 3,000 horse and 8,000 foot, resting his hopes solely on fighting. His doings were for a long time unknown to both the Romans and the Carthaginians.

And now Scipio, having his army in readiness, led it to Carthage itself and haughtily offered battle, but nobody responded. Meanwhile Hamilcar, the admiral, hastened with 100 ships to attack Scipio's naval station, hoping to outstrip him in reaching the place, and thinking that he could easily destroy the twenty Roman ships there with his hundred.

[§25] Scipio, seeing him sail away, sent orders ahead to block up the entrance to the harbor with ships of burden anchored at intervals so that the galleys could dart out, as through gates, when they should see an opportunity. These ships were bound together by their yard arms and fastened to each other so as to form a wall. This work done he entered into the action. When the Carthaginians made their attack their ships were battered by missiles from the Roman ships, from the shore, and from the walls, and they withdrew at evening discomfited. As they were retreating, the Romans pressed upon them, darting out through the open spaces, and when they were overpowered withdrawing again. They took one ship in tow without any men and brought it to Scipio. After this both combatants went into winter quarters. The Romans received plentiful supplies by sea, but the Uticans and Carthaginians, being pinched with hunger, robbed the merchant ships until new galleys, sent to Scipio from Rome, blockaded the enemy and put an end to their plundering, after which they were severely oppressed by hunger.

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Punic wars   :   part 6
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