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Appian's History of Rome: The Punic Wars §§41-45


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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  [§41] [202] [Proconsul Publius Cornelius]  had about 23,000 foot and 1,500 Italian and Roman horse. He had as allies Massinissa with a large number of Numidian horse, and another prince, named Dacamas, with 1,600 horse. He drew up his infantry, like those of Hannibal, in three lines. He placed all his cohorts in straight lines with open spaces so that the cavalry might readily pass between them. In front of each cohort he stationed men armed with heavy stakes two cubits long, mostly shod with iron, for the purpose of assailing the oncoming elephants by hand, as with catapult bolts. He ordered these and the other foot-soldiers to avoid the impetus of these beasts by turning aside and continually hurling javelins at them, and by darting around them to hamstring them whenever they could. In this way Scipio disposed his infantry.

He stationed his Numidian horse on his wings because they were accustomed to the sight and smell of elephants. As the Italian horse were not so, he placed them all in the rear, ready to charge through the intervals of the foot-soldiers when the latter should have checked the first onset of the elephants. To each horseman was assigned an attendant armed with plenty of darts with which to ward off the attack of these beasts. In this way was his cavalry disposed. [Gaius] Laelius commanded the right wing and Octavius the left.

In the middle both Hannibal and himself took their stations, out of respect for each other, each having a body of horse in order to send reinforcements wherever they might be needed. Of these Hannibal had 4,000 and Scipio 2,000, besides the 300 Italians whom he had armed in Sicily.

[§42] When everything was ready each one rode up and down encouraging his soldiers. Scipio, in the presence of his army, invoked the gods, whom the Carthaginians had offended by their frequent violation of treaties. He told the soldiers not to think of the numbers of the enemy but of their own valor, by which aforetime these same enemies, in even greater numbers, had been overcome in this same country. If fear, anxiety, and doubt oppress those who have hitherto been victorious, how much more, he said, must these feelings weigh upon the vanquished. Thus did Scipio encourage his forces and console them for their inferiority in numbers.

Hannibal reminded his men of what they had done in Italy, their great and brilliant victories won, not over Numidians, but over those who were all Italians, and throughout Italy. He pointed out, in plain sight, the smallness of the enemy's force, and exhorted them not to show themselves inferior to a less numerous body in their own country. Each general magnified to his own men the consequences of the coming engagement. Hannibal said that the battle would decide the fate of Carthage and all Africa; if vanquished, they would be enslaved forthwith, if victorious, they would have universal supremacy hereafter. Scipio said that there was no safe refuge for his men if they were vanquished, but if victorious there would be a great increase of the Roman power, a rest from their present labors, a speedy return home, and glory forever after.

[§43] Having thus exhorted their men they joined battle. Hannibal ordered the trumpet to sound, and Scipio responded in like manner. The elephants began the fight decked out in fearful panoply and urged on with goads by their riders. The Numidian horse flying around them incessantly thrust darts into them. Being wounded and put to flight and having become unmanageable, their drivers took them out of the combat. This is what happened to the elephants on both wings. Those in the center trampled down the Roman infantry, who were not accustomed to that kind of fighting and were not able to avoid or to pursue them easily on account of their heavy armor, until Scipio brought up the Italian cavalry, who were in the rear and more lightly armed, and ordered them to dismount from their frightened horses, and run around and stab the elephants. He was himself the first to dismount and wound the front-tramping elephant. The others were encouraged by his example, and they inflicted so many wounds upon the elephants that these also withdrew.

[§44] The field being cleared of these beasts the battle was now waged by men and horses only. The Roman right wing, where Laelius commanded, put the opposing Numidians to flight, and Massinissa struck down their prince, Massathes, with a dart, but Hannibal quickly came to their rescue and restored the line of battle. On the left wing, where Octavius commanded and where the hostile Celts and Ligurians were stationed, a doubtful battle was going on. Scipio sent the tribune [Quintus Minucius] Thermus thither with a reinforcement of picked men, but Hannibal, after rallying his left wing, flew to the assistance of the Ligurians and Celts, bringing up at the same time his second line of Carthaginians and Africans. Scipio, perceiving this, brought his second line in opposition. When the two greatest generals of the world thus met, in hand to hand fight, there was, on the part of the soldiers of each, a brilliant emulation and reverence for their commanders, and no lack of zeal on either side in the way of sharp and vehement fighting and cheering.

[§45] As the battle was long and undecided, the two generals had compassion on their tired soldiers, and rushed upon each other in order to bring it to a more speedy decision. They threw their javelins at the same time. Scipio pierced Hannibal's shield. Hannibal hit Scipio's horse. The horse, smarting from the wound, threw Scipio over backwards. He quickly mounted another and again hurled a dart at Hannibal, but missed him and struck another horseman near him.

At this juncture, Massinissa, hearing of the crisis, came up, and the Romans seeing their general not only serving as a commander but fighting also as a common soldier, fell upon the enemy more vehemently than before, routed them, and pursued them in flight. Nor could Hannibal, who rode by the side of his men and besought them to make a stand and renew the battle, prevail upon them to do so. Therefore, despairing of these, he turned to the Italians who had come with him, and who were still in reserve and not demoralized. These he led into the fight, hoping to fall upon the Romans in disorderly pursuit. But they perceived his intention, and speedily called one another back from the pursuit and restored the line of battle. As their horse were no longer with them and they were destitute of missiles, they now fought sword in hand in close combat. Great slaughter ensued and innumerable wounds, mingled with the shouts of the combatants and the groans of the dying, until, finally, the Romans routed these also and put them to flight. Such was the brilliant issue of this engagement.

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