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Appian's History of Rome: The Punic Wars §§36-40


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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The ports of Carthage, seen from the Byrsa. Photo Jan van Vliet.
The ports of Carthage
[§36] [202]Hannibal, in view of the magnitude of the war, asked them to call in Hasdrubal and the force he had in hand. Hasdrubal was accordingly forgiven for his offense, and he delivered his army over to Hannibal. Yet he did not dare to show himself to the Carthaginians, but concealed himself in the city.

Now [proconsul Publius Cornelius]  blockaded Carthage with his fleet and cut off their supplies by sea, while from the land they were poorly supplied by reason of the war.

About this time there was a cavalry engagement between the forces of Hannibal and those of Scipio near Zama, in which the latter had the advantage. On the succeeding days they had sundry skirmishes until Scipio, learning that Hannibal was very short of supplies and was expecting a convoy, sent the military tribune, [Quintus Minucius] Thermus, by night to attack the supply train. Thermus took a position on the crest of a hill at a narrow pass, where he killed 4,000 Africans, took as many more prisoners, and brought the supplies to Scipio.

[§37] Hannibal, being reduced to extremity for want of provisions and considering how he might arrange for the present, sent messengers to Massinissa, reminding him of his early life and education at Carthage, and asking that he would persuade Scipio to renew the treaty, saying that the former infractions of it were the work of the common people, and of fools who had stirred them up.

Massinissa, who had in fact been brought up and educated at Carthage, and who had a high respect for the dignity of the city, and was the friend of many of the inhabitants, besought Scipio to comply, and brought them to an agreement on the following terms: That the Carthaginians should surrender the men and ships bringing provisions to the Romans, which they had taken, also all plunder, or the value of it, which Scipio would estimate, and pay 1,000 talents as a penalty for the wrong done. These things were agreed upon. An armistice was concluded until the Carthaginians should be made acquainted with the details; and thus Hannibal was saved in an unexpected way.

[§38] The Carthaginian council warmly welcomed the agreement and exhorted the people to adhere to its terms, explaining all their misfortunes and their immediate want of soldiers, money, and provisions. But the people, like a mere mob, behaved like fools. They thought that their generals had made this arrangement for their own private ends, so that, relying upon the Romans, they might hold the power in their own country. They said that Hannibal was doing now what had been done before by Hasdrubal, who had betrayed his camp to the enemy by night, and a little later wanted to surrender to Scipio, having approached him for that purpose, and was now concealed in the city.

Thereupon there was a great clamor and tumult, and some of them left the assembly and went in search of Hasdrubal. He had anticipated them by taking refuge in his father's tomb, where he destroyed himself with poison. But they pulled his corpse out, cut off his head, put it on a pike, and carried it about the city. Thus was Hasdrubal first banished unjustly, next falsely slandered by Hanno, and then driven to his death by the Carthaginians, and loaded with indignities after his death.

[§39] Then the Carthaginians ordered Hannibal to break the truce and begin war against Scipio, and to fight as soon as possible on account of the scarcity of provisions. Accordingly he sent word that the truce was at an end. Scipio marched immediately, and took the great city of Partha and encamped near Hannibal.

The latter moved off, but he sent three spies into the Roman camp who were captured by Scipio. The latter did not put them to death, however, according to the custom of dealing with spies, but ordered that they should be taken around and shown the camp, the arsenals, the engines, and the army under review. He then set them free so that they might inform Hannibal concerning all these things.[1]

The latter deemed it advisable to have a parley with Scipio, and when it was granted he said that the Carthaginians had rejected the former treaty on account of the money indemnity. If he would remit that, and if the Romans would content themselves with Sicily, Spain, and the islands they now held, the agreement would be lasting. "Hannibal's escape from Italy would be a great gain to him," said Scipio, "if he could obtain these terms in addition." He then forbade Hannibal to send any more messages to him. After indulging in some mutual threats they departed, each to his own camp.

[§40] The town of Cilla was in the neighborhood and near it was a hill well adapted for a camp. Hannibal, perceiving this, sent a detachment forward to seize it and lay out a camp. Then he started and moved forward as though he were already in possession of it. Scipio having anticipated him and seized it beforehand, Hannibal was cut off in the midst of a plain without water and was engaged all night digging wells. His army, by toiling in the sand, with great difficulty obtained a little muddy water to drink, and so they passed the night without food, without care for their bodies, and some of them without removing their arms.

Scipio, mindful of these things, moved against them at day-light while they were exhausted with marching, with want of sleep, and want of water. Hannibal was troubled, since he did not wish to join battle in that plight. Yet he saw that if he should remain there his army would suffer severely from want of water, while if he should retreat the enemy would take fresh courage and fall upon his rear. For these reasons it was necessary for him to fight.

He speedily put in battle array about 50,000 men and eighty elephants. He placed the elephants in the front line at intervals, in order to strike terror into the enemy's ranks. Next to them he placed the third part of his army, composed of Celts and Ligurians, and mixed with them everywhere Moorish and Balearic archers and slingers. Behind these was his second line, composed of Carthaginians and Africans. The third line consisted of Italians who had followed him from their own country, in whom he placed the greatest confidence, since they had the most to apprehend from defeat. The cavalry were placed on the wings. In this way Hannibal arranged his forces.

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Punic wars   :   part 9
Note 1:
The same anecdote is told by the Greek researcher Herodotus of Halicarnassus about Greek spies who were pardoned by the Achaemenid king Xerxes (more...).
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