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Appian's History of Rome: The Punic Wars §§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. 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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  [§26] [Early 203] This same winter, Syphax being near them, Massinissa asked of [proconsul Publius Cornelius] a third part of the Roman army as a reinforcement to his own, and with this force under the command of [Gaius] Laelius, he set out in pursuit of him. Syphax retreated until he came to a certain river, where he gave battle. The Numidians on both sides, as is their custom, discharged volleys of missiles at each other while the Romans advanced, holding their shields in front of them.

Syphax, seeing Massinissa, dashed upon him with rage. The latter encountered him eagerly. The battle between them continued until the forces of Syphax turned in flight and began to cross the river. Syphax's horse received a wound and threw his rider. Massinissa ran up and caught him and also one of his sons, and sent them forthwith to Scipio.

In this battle 10,000 of Syphax's men were killed. The Roman loss was seventy-five and Massinissa's 300. Four thousand of Syphax's men also were taken prisoners, of whom 2,500 were Massylians who had deserted from Massinissa to Syphax. These Massinissa asked Laelius to surrender to him, and having received them he put them to the sword.

[§27] After this they entered the country of the Massylians and of Syphax, and settled them under the government of Massinissa, persuading some and coercing others. Ambassadors came to them from Cirta offering them the palace of Syphax, and others came specially to Massinissa from Sophoniba, the wife of Syphax, to make explanations about her forced marriage. Massinissa accepted her explanations gladly and married her, but when he returned to Scipio he left her at Cirta, foreseeing what would happen.

Scipio asked Syphax: "What evil genius misled you, after inviting me as your friend to come to Africa, and caused you to forfeit your oath to the gods and your faith to the Roman people, and to join the Carthaginians in making war against us, when not long before we were helping you against the Carthaginians?"

Syphax replied: "Sophoniba, the daughter of Hasdrubal, with whom I fell in love to my hurt, is passionately attached to her country and she is able to make everybody subservient to her wishes. She turned me away from your friendship to that of her own country, and plunged me from that state of good fortune into my present misery. I advise you (for, being now on your side and relieved of Sophoniba, I must be faithful to you) to beware lest she draw Massinissa over to her designs, for it is not to be expected that this woman will ever espouse the Roman side, so strongly is she attached to her own country."

[§28] So he spoke, but whether he was telling the truth or was moved by jealousy and a desire to hurt Massinissa as much as possible, is not known. But Scipio called Syphax to the council, as he had shown himself sagacious and was acquainted with the country, and advised with him as Cyrus did with Croesus, king of Lydia.[1]

Laelius having returned and told him the same things about Sophoniba that he had learned from many others, he commanded Massinissa to deliver up the wife of Syphax. When the latter tried to beg off and related the facts concerning her as above, Scipio ordered him more sharply not to possess himself by force of the Roman spoils of victory, but to ask for her after she was delivered up and obtain her if he could.

Accordingly Massinissa went with a Roman detachment to fetch Sophoniba, but he went ahead secretly and gave her a dose of poison, explaining the circumstances and telling her that she must either drink it or go into voluntary captivity to the Romans. Without another word he mounted his horse. She showed the cup to her nurse, told her not to weep for her since she died gloriously, and drank the poison.

Massinissa showed her dead body to the Romans who had now come up, then gave her a royal funeral; after which he returned to Scipio. The latter praised him, and to console him for the loss of a worthless woman, crowned him for his successful attack upon Syphax and gave him many presents.

When Syphax arrived in Rome, some of the authorities thought that he ought to be spared because he had been their friend and ally in Spain, others, that he ought to be punished for fighting against his friends. In the meantime he sickened of grief and died.

[§29] When Hasdrubal had his forces well drilled he sent word to Hanno, the Carthaginian general, proposing to share the command with him, and intimating that there were many Spanish soldiers serving with Scipio under compulsion, who might be bribed with gold and promises to set fire to Scipio's camp. He said that he would lend a hand if he were duly notified.

Hanno, although he intended to cheat Hasdrubal, did not neglect the suggestion. He sent a trusty man, in the guise of a deserter, with gold to Scipio's camp, who, winning the confidence of those he fell in with, corrupted many, and having fixed a day for the execution of the plot, disappeared. Hanno communicated the date to Hasdrubal. To Scipio, while sacrificing, the victims revealed that there was danger from fire. Accordingly he sent orders all around the camp if any glowing fires were found to put them out. He continued sacrificing several days, and as the victims still indicated danger from fire he became anxious and determined to shift his camp.

[§30] At this juncture a Spanish servant of one of the Roman knights, suspecting something of the conspiracy, pretended to be one of the accomplices and in this way learned all about it, and told his master. The latter brought him to Scipio, and he convicted the whole crowd. Scipio put them all to death and cast their bodies out of the camp. Knowledge of this coming quickly to Hanno, who was not far off, he did not come to the rendezvous, but Hasdrubal, who remained in ignorance, did. When he saw the multitude of corpses he guessed what had happened and withdrew. But Hanno slandered him and told everybody that he had come to surrender himself to Scipio, but that the latter would not receive him. Thus Hasdrubal was made more hateful to the Carthaginians than ever.

About this time Hamilcar made a sudden dash on the Roman fleet and took one galley and six ships of burden, and Hanno made an attack upon those who were besieging Utica, but was beaten off.

As the siege had lasted a long time without result, Scipio raised it and moved his engines against the town of Hippo. As he accomplished nothing there, he burned his engines as useless, and overran the country, making allies of some and pillaging others.

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Punic wars   :   part 7
Note 1:
According to the Greek researcher Herodotus of Halicarnassus, the Achaemenid king Cyrus the Great (559-530) accepted king Croesus of Lydia as his adviser after he had defeated him.
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