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Appian's History of Rome: The Punic Wars §§81-85


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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  [§81] [Consul Lucius Marcius Censorinus said to the Carthaginian envoys:] "Your ready obedience up to this point, Carthaginians, in the matter of the hostages and the arms, is worthy of all praise. In cases of necessity we must not multiply words. Bear bravely the remaining commands of the Senate. Yield Carthage to us, and betake yourselves where you like within your own territory at a distance of at least fifteen kilometers from the sea, for we are resolved to raze your city to the ground."

While he was yet speaking, the Carthaginians lifted their hands toward heaven with loud cries, and called on the gods as avengers of violated faith. They heaped reproaches on the Romans, as if willing to die, or insane, or determined to provoke the Romans to sacrilegious violence to ambassadors. They flung themselves on the ground and beat it with their hands and heads. Some of them even tore their clothes and lacerated their flesh as though they were absolutely bereft of their senses. After the first frenzy was past there was great silence and prostration as of men lying dead.

The Romans were struck with amazement, and the consuls thought it best to bear with men who were overwhelmed at an appalling command until their indignation should subside, for they well knew that great dangers often bring desperate courage on the instant, which time and necessity gradually subdue. This was the case with the Carthaginians, for when the sense of their calamity came over them, during the interval of silence, they ceased their reproaches and began to bewail, with fresh lamentations, their own fate and that of their wives and children, calling them by name, and also their country, as though she could hear their cries like a human being. The priests invoked their temples, and the gods within them, as though they were present, accusing them of being the cause of their destruction. So pitiable was this mingling together of public and private grief that it drew tears from the Romans themselves.

[§82] The consuls, although moved to pity by this exhibition of the mutability of human affairs, awaited with stern countenances the end of their lamentations. When their outcries ceased there was another interval of silence, in which they reflected that their city was without arms, that it was empty of defenders, that it had not a ship, not a catapult, not a javelin, not a sword, nor a sufficient number of fighting men, having lost 50,000 a short time ago. They had neither mercenaries, nor friends, nor allies, nor time to procure any. Their enemies were in possession of their children, their arms, and their territory. Their city was besieged by foes provided with ships, infantry, cavalry, and engines, while Massinissa, their other enemy, was on their flank. Seeing the uselessness of lamentation and reproaches they desisted from them, and again began to talk. Banno, surnamed Tigillas, the most distinguished man among them, having obtained permission to speak, said:

[§83] "If it is permitted to repeat what we have already said to you, Romans, we would speak once more, not as though we were contending for rights (since disputation is never timely for the unfortunate), but that you may perceive that pity on your part toward us is not without excuse and not without reason. We were once the rulers of Africa and of the greater part of the sea, and we contended with yourselves for empire. We desisted from this in the time of [Publius Cornelius] Scipio [Africanus], when we gave up to you all the ships and elephants we had. We agreed to pay you tribute and we pay it at the appointed time.

Now, in the name of the gods who witnessed the oaths, spare us, respect the oath sworn by Scipio that the Romans and Carthaginians should be allies and friends. We have not violated the treaty. We have no ships, no elephants. The tribute is not in default. On the contrary, we have fought on your side against three kings. You must not take offense at this recital, although we mentioned it before when you demanded our arms. Our calamities make us verbose, and nothing gives more force to an appeal than the terms of a treaty. Nor can we take refuge in anything else than words, since we have given all other power over to you. Such, Romans, were the former conditions, for which Scipio was our surety.

Of the present ones you, consuls, are yourselves the doers and the witnesses. You asked hostages, and we gave you our best. You asked for our arms, and you have received them all, which even captured cities do not willingly give up. We had confidence in your habits and your character. Your Senate sent us word, and you confirmed it, when the hostages were demanded, that if they were delivered, Carthage should be left free and autonomous. If it was added that we should endure your further commands it was not to be expected that in the matter of the hostages you would, in your distinct demand, promise that the city should be independent, and then besides the hostages would make a further demand that Carthage itself be destroyed. If it is right for you to destroy it, how can you leave it free and autonomous as you said you would?

[§84] "This is what we have to say concerning the former treaties and those made with yourselves. If you do not care to hear it we will omit it altogether and have recourse to prayers and tears, the one refuge of the unfortunate, for which there is ample occasion in the greatness of our calamity.

We beseech you, in behalf of an ancient city founded by command of the gods, in behalf of a glory that has become great and a name pervading the whole world, of the many temples it contains and of its gods who have done you no wrong. Do not deprive them of their festivals, solemnities, and sacrifices. Deprive not the dead who have never harmed you, of the offerings which their children bring to their tombs. If you have pity for us (as you say that out of pity you yield us another dwelling place), spare our shrines, spare our forum, respect the deity who presides over our council, and all else that is dear and precious to the living. What fear can you have of Carthage when you are in possession of our ships and our arms and our hateful elephants?

As to a change of dwelling place (if that is considered in the light of a consolation), it is impracticable for our people, a countless number of whom get their living by the sea, to move into the country. We propose an alternative more desirable for us and more glorious for you. Spare the city which has done you no harm, but if you please, kill us, whom you have ordered to move away. In this way you will seem to vent your wrath upon men, not upon temples, gods, tombs, and an innocent city.

[§85] "Romans, you desire a good name and reputation for piety in all that you do, and you announce and claim moderation in all your successes and acquisitions. Do not, I implore you in the name of Jove and of your other gods, as well as of those who still preside over Carthage (and may they never remember ill against you or your children), do not tarnish your good name for the first time in your dealings with us. Do not defile your reputation by an act so horrible to do and to hear, and which you will be the first in all history to perform.

Greeks and barbarians have waged many wars, and you, Romans, have waged many against other nations, but no one has ever destroyed a city whose people had surrendered before the fight, and delivered up their arms and children, and submitted to every other penalty that could be imposed upon men. Reminding you of the oaths sworn before the gods, of the mutability of the human lot, and the avenging Nemesis that ever lies in wait for the fortunate, we beseech you not to do violence to your own fair record, and not to push our calamities to the last extremity.

Or, if you cannot spare our city, grant us time to send another embassy to your Senate to present our petition. Although the intervening time is short, it will bring long agony to us through the uncertainty of the event. It will be all the same to you whether you execute your purposes now or a little later, and in the meantime you will have performed a pious and humane act."

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Punic wars   :   part 18
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