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Appian's History of Rome: The Punic Wars §§116-120


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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  [§116] [Spring 147] [Consul Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus said:] "Soldiers, when I served with you under the command of [former consul Manius] Manilius, I gave you an example of obedience, as you can testify. I ask the same from you, now that I am in command; for while I have ample powers to punish the disobedient, I think it best to give you warning beforehand. You know what you have been doing. Therefore why should I tell you what I am ashamed to speak of? You are more like robbers than soldiers. You are runaways instead of guardians of the camp. You are more like hucksters than conquerors. You are in quest of luxuries in the midst of war and before the victory is won.

For this reason the enemy, from the hopeless weakness in which I left him, has risen to such strength, and your labor has been made harder by your laziness. If I considered you to blame for this I should punish you now, but since I ascribe it to another, I shall overlook the past. I have come here not to rob, but to conquer, not to exact money before victory, but to overcome the enemy first.

Now, all of you who are not soldiers must leave the camp today, except those who have my permission to remain, and of those who go, I shall allow none to come back except such as bring food, and this must be for the army, and plain food at that. A definite time will be given to them to dispose of their goods, and I and my quaestor will superintend the sale. So much for the camp followers.

For you, soldiers, I have one order adapted to all occasions, and that is, that you follow the example of my habits and my industry. If you observe this rule you will not be wanting in your duty and you will not fail of your reward. We must toil while the danger lasts; spoils and luxury must be postponed to their proper time. This I command and this the law commands. Those who obey shall reap large rewards; those who do not will repent it."

Carthage. Map design Jona Lendering.
Carthage

[§117] Having spoken thus, Scipio forthwith expelled the crowd of useless persons and with them whatever was superfluous, idle, or luxurious. The army being thus purged, and full of awe for him, and keenly intent for his commands, he made an attempt one night, in two different places, to surprise that part of Carthage called Megara. This was a very large suburb adjacent to the city wall.[1]

He sent a force round against the opposite side, while he advanced directly against it a distance of 3½ kilometer with axes, ladders, and crowbars, without noise and in the deepest silence. When their approach was perceived and a shout was raised from the walls, they shouted back -first Scipio and his force, then those who had gone around to the other side- as loudly as possible.

 
The Carthaginians were at first struck with terror at finding such a large force of the enemy attacking them on both sides in the night-time, but Scipio with his utmost efforts was not able to scale the walls. There was a deserted tower outside the walls, belonging to a private citizen, of the same height as the walls themselves. He sent some of his bravest young men to the top of this tower, who with their javelins fought back the guards on the wall, threw planks across, and made a bridge by which they reached the walls, descended into the town, broke open a gate, and admitted Scipio.

He entered with 4,000 men, and the Carthaginians made a hasty flight to Byrsa, as though the remainder of the city had already been taken. All kinds of noises were raised and there was great tumult. Many fell into the hands of the enemy, and the alarm was such that those encamped outside left their fortification and rushed to Byrsa with the others. As Megara was planted with gardens and was full of fruit-bearing trees divided off by low walls, hedges, and brambles, besides deep ditches full of water running in every direction, Scipio was fearful lest it should be impracticable and dangerous for the army to pursue the enemy through roads that they were unacquainted with, and lest they might fall into an ambush in the night. Accordingly he withdrew.

[§118] When daylight came Hasdrubal, enraged at the attack upon Megara, took the Roman prisoners whom he held, brought them upon the walls, in full sight of their comrades, and tore out their eyes, tongues, and tendons with iron hooks; of some he lacerated the soles of the feet, he cut off the fingers of others, and some he flayed alive. All who survived these tortures he hurled from the top of the walls. He thus gave the Carthaginians to understand that there was no possibility of peace with the Romans, and sought to fire them with the conviction that their only safety was in fighting.

But the result was contrary to his intention, for the Carthaginians, conscience-stricken by these nefarious deeds, became timid instead of courageous, and hated Hasdrubal for depriving them of all hope of pardon. Their senate especially denounced him for committing these savage and unusual cruelties in the midst of so great domestic calamities. So he arrested some of the complaining senators and put them to death. Making himself feared in every way he came to be more like a tyrant than a general, for he considered himself secure only if he were an object of terror to them, and he trusted that he should be protected from danger in this way.

[§119] Now Scipio set fire to the camp of the enemy, which they had abandoned the day before, when they took refuge in the city. Being in possession of the whole isthmus he began a trench across it from sea to sea not more than a stone's throw from the enemy. The latter were not idle. Along the whole distance of 4½ kilometer he had to work and fight at the same time. When he had finished this one he dug another of the same length, at no great distance from the first, looking towards the mainland. He then made two others running transversely, giving the interior space the form of a quadrangle, and threw around the whole a palisade of chevaux-de-frise. In addition to the palisade he fortified the ditches also, and along the one looking toward Carthage he built a wall 4½ kilometer in length and 3 meters high, without counting the parapets and towers which surmounted the wall at intervals. The width of the wall was about one-half of its height. The highest tower was at the middle, and upon this another of wood, four stories high, was built, from which to observe what was going on in the city. Having completed this work in twenty days and nights, the whole army working and fighting and taking food and sleep by turns, he brought them all within the fortification.

[§120] This was at the same time a camp for himself and a rather long fort commanding the enemy's country. From this base he could intercept all the supplies sent to the Carthaginians from the interior, since Carthage was everywhere washed by the sea except on this neck. Hence this fort was the first and principal cause of famine and other troubles to them, for, while the great multitude betook themselves from the fields to the city, and none could go out on account of the siege, foreign merchants ceased to frequent the place on account of the war.

Thus they had to rely on food brought from Africa alone, little coming in by sea and only when the weather was favorable, much the greater part being forwarded by the land route. Deprived of this, they began to suffer severely from hunger. Bithya, their cavalry general, who had been sent out some time before to procure food, did not venture to make the attempt by attacking and breaking through Scipio's fortification, but he sent supplies a long way around by water, although Scipio's ships were blockading Carthage.

The latter did not keep their place all the time, nor did they stand thickly together, as they had no shelter and the sea was full of reefs. Nor could they anchor near the city itself, with the Carthaginians standing on the walls and the sea pounding on the rocks there worst of all. Thus the ships of Bithya and an occasional merchant, whom the love of gain made reckless of danger, watching for a strong and favorable wind, spread their sails and ran the blockade, the Roman galleys not being able to pursue merchant ships sailing before the wind.

But these chances were rare and only when a strong wind was blowing from the sea. These supplies Hasdrubal distributed to his 30,000 soldiers exclusively, for he despised the multitude; for which reason they suffered greatly from hunger.

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Punic wars   :   part 25
Note 1:
To the north of Byrsa.
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