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Appian's History of Rome: The Punic Wars §§91-95

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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  [§91] [149] Meanwhile some of the Carthaginians were watching from the walls the return of the ambassadors, and tore their hair with impatience at their delay. Others, not waiting, ran to meet them in order to learn the news; and when they saw them coming with downcast eyes they smote their own foreheads and questioned them, now all together, now one by one, as each chanced to meet a friend or acquaintance, seizing hold of them and asking questions.

When no one answered they wept aloud as though certain destruction awaited them. When those on the walls heard them they joined in the lamentations, not knowing why, but as though some great evil were impending. At the gates the crowd almost crushed the envoys, rushing upon them in such number. They would have been torn in pieces had they not said that they must make their first communication to the Senate.

Then some of the crowd turned aside, and others opened a path for them, in order to learn the news sooner. When they were come into the senate chamber the senators turned the others out and sat down alone by themselves, and the crowd remained standing outside. Then the envoys announced first of all the order of the consuls. Immediately there was a great outcry in the senate which was echoed by the people outside.

When the envoys went on to tell what arguments and prayers they had used to get permission to send an embassy to Rome, there was again profound silence among the senators, who listened to the end; and the people kept silence also. When they learned that they were not even allowed to send an embassy, they raised a loud and mournful outcry, and the people rushed in among them.

[§92] Then followed a scene of indescribable fury and madness such as the Maenads are said to enact in the Bacchic mysteries. Some fell upon those senators who had advised giving the hostages and tore them in pieces, considering them the ones who had led them into the trap. Others treated in a similar way those who had favored giving up the arms. Some stoned the ambassadors for bringing the bad news and others dragged them through the city. Still others, meeting certain Italians, who were caught among them in this sudden and unexpected mischance, maltreated them in various ways, saying that they would make them suffer for the fraud practiced upon them in the matter of the hostages and the arms.

The city was full of wailing and wrath, of fear and threatening. People roamed the streets invoking whatever was most dear to them and took refuge in the temples as in asylums. They upbraided their gods for not being able to defend themselves. Some went into the arsenals and wept when they found them empty. Others ran to the dockyards and bewailed the ships that had been surrendered to perfidious men. Some called their elephants by name, as though they had been present, and reviled their own ancestors and themselves for not perishing, sword in hand, with their country, instead of paying tribute and giving up their elephants, their ships, and their arms.

Most of all was their anger kindled by the mothers of the hostages who, like Furies in a tragedy, accosted those whom they met with shrieks and accused them of giving away their children against their protest, or mocked at them, saying that the gods were now taking vengeance on them for the lost children. A few kept their wits about them, closed the gates, and brought stones upon the walls to be used in place of catapults.

[§93] The same day the Carthaginian senate declared war and proclaimed freedom to the slaves. They also chose generals and selected Hasdrubal for the outside work, whom they had condemned to death, and who had already collected 30,000 men. They dispatched a messenger to him begging that, in the extreme peril of his country, he would not remember, or lay up against them, the wrong they had done him under the pressure of necessity from fear of the Romans.

Within the walls they chose for general another Hasdrubal, the son of a daughter of Massinissa. They also sent to the consuls asking a truce of thirty days in order to send an embassy to Rome. When this was refused a second time, a wonderful change and determination came over them, to endure everything rather than abandon their city.

Quickly all minds were filled with courage from this transformation. All the sacred places, the temples, and every other unoccupied space, were turned into workshops, where men and women worked together day and night without pause, taking their food by turns on a fixed schedule. Each day they made 100 shields, 300 swords, 1,000 missiles for catapults, 500 darts and javelins, and as many catapults as they could. For strings to bend them the women cut off their hair for want of other fibers.

[§94] While the Carthaginians were preparing for war with such haste and zeal, the consuls, who perhaps hesitated about performing such an atrocious act on the instant, or because they thought that they could easily capture an unarmed city whenever they liked, kept delaying. They thought also that the Carthaginians would give in for want of means, as it usually happens that those who are in desperate straits are very eager to resist at first, but as time brings opportunity for reflection, fear of the consequences of disobedience takes possession of them.

Something of this kind happened in Carthage, where a certain citizen, conjecturing that fear had already come upon them, walked into the assembly as if on other business and dared to say that among evils they ought to choose the least, since they were unarmed, thus speaking his mind plainly.

Massinissa was vexed with the Romans, and took it hard that when he had brought the Carthaginians to their knees others should carry off the glory, not even communicating with him beforehand as they had done in the former wars. Nevertheless, when the consuls, by way of testing him, asked his assistance, he said that he would send it whenever he should see that they needed it. Not long after he sent to inquire if they wanted anything at present. They, not tolerating his haughtiness and already suspicious of him as a disaffected person, answered that they would send for him whenever they needed him.

Yet they were already in much trouble for supplies for the army, which they drew from Hadrumetum, Leptis, Saxo, Utica, and Acholla only, all the rest of Africa being in the power of Hasdrubal, from which he sent supplies to Carthage. Several days having been consumed in this way, the two consuls moved their forces against Carthage, prepared for battle, and laid siege to it.

Carthage. Map design Jona Lendering.

[§95] The city lay in a recess of a great gulf and was in the form of a peninsula. It was separated from the mainland by an isthmus about five kilometer in width. From this isthmus a narrow and longish tongue of land, about a kilometer wide, extended toward the west between a lake and the sea.[1] On the sea side the city was protected by a single wall. Toward the south [2] and the mainland, where the citadel of Byrsa stood on the isthmus, there was a triple wall. The height of each wall was fifteen meter without counting parapets and towers, which were separated from each other by a space of 60 meter, and each was divided into four stories. The depth was ten meter.

Each wall was divided vertically by two vaults, one above the other. In the lower space there were stables for 300 elephants, and alongside were receptacles for their food. Above were stables for 4,000 horses and places for their fodder and grain. There were barracks also for soldiers, 20,000 foot and 4,000 horse. Such preparation for war was arranged and provided for in their walls alone. The angle which ran around from this wall to the harbor along the tongue of land mentioned above was the only weak and low spot in the fortifications, having been neglected from the beginning.

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Punic wars   :   part 20
Note 1:
Probably, Appian means that the tongue of land continued from the town to the south, between the lake to the southwest of the city and the sea in the east.

Note 2:
An error: this must be the west.

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