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Appian's History of Rome: The Punic Wars §§121-125


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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Carthage. Map design Jona Lendering.
Carthage
[§121] [Summer 147] When [consul Publius Cornelius] Scipio [Aemilianus] perceived this he planned to close the entrance to the harbor on the west [1] side, not very far from the shore. For this purpose he carried a strong embankment into the sea, beginning on the tongue of land which lay between the lake and sea, advancing straight toward the harbor's mouth. He filled it with heavy stones so that it might not be washed away by the waves. The embankment was eight meters wide on the top and four times as much on the bottom.

The Carthaginians at first despised this work as likely to take a long time, and perhaps impossible of execution altogether. But when they saw the whole army proceeding eagerly, and not intermitting the work by day or by night, they became alarmed, and began to excavate another entrance at another part of the harbor in midsea, where it was impossible to carry an embankment on account of the depth of the water and the fury of the wind. Even the women and children helped to dig. They began the work inside, and carefully concealed what they were doing. At the same time they built triremes and quinqueremes from old material, and they left nothing to be desired in the way of courage and high spirit. Moreover, they concealed everything so perfectly that not even the prisoners could tell Scipio with certainty what was going on, but merely that there was a great racket in the harbor day and night; what it was about they did not know. Finally, everything being finished, the Carthaginians opened the new entrance about the dawn of day and passed out with fifty triremes, besides pinnaces, brigantines, and other small craft decked out in a way to cause terror.

 
[§122] The Romans were so astounded by the sudden appearance of this new entrance, and of the fleet issuing from it, that if the Carthaginians had at once fallen upon their ships, which were in disorder by reason of beleaguerment of the walls, neither sailors nor rowers being present, they might have possessed themselves of the whole fleet. But now (since it was fated that Carthage should perish) they only sailed out to make a show, and, having flouted the enemy in a pompous way, they returned inside the harbor.

Three days later they set out for a naval engagement, and the Romans advanced to meet them with their ships and other apparatus in good order. They came together with loud shouts on both sides and cheers from the rowers, steersmen, and marines, the Carthaginians resting their last hope of safety on this engagement and the Romans hoping to make it their final victory.

The fight raged till midday. During the battle the Carthaginian small boats, running under the sides of the Roman ships, which were taller, stove holes in their sterns and broke off their oars and rudders, and damaged them in various other ways, advancing and retreating nimbly. As the day verged toward evening the battle was still undecided, and the Carthaginians thought best to withdraw, not that they were beaten, but to renew the engagement the next day.

[§123] Their small boats retired first, and arriving at the entrance, and becoming entangled on account of their number, they blocked up the mouth so that when the larger ones arrived they were prevented from entering. They took refuge at a wide quay, which had been built against the city wall for unloading merchant ships some time before, and on which a small parapet had been erected during this war lest the space might sometime be occupied by the enemy.

When the Carthaginian ships took refuge here for want of a harbor, they ranged themselves with their bows outward and received the attack of the enemy, some of them standing on the ships, some on the quay, and still others on the parapet. To the Romans the onset was easy, for it is not hard to attack ships that are standing still, but when they attempted to turn around, in order to retire, the movement was slow and difficult on account of the length of the ships, for which reason they received as much damage as they had given; for while they were executing the movement they were exposed to the onset of the Carthaginians. 

Finally five ships of the city of the Sidetae, which were in alliance with Scipio, dropped their anchors in the sea at some distance, attaching long ropes to them, by which means they were enabled to dash against the Carthaginian ships by rowing, and having delivered their blow warp themselves back by the ropes stern foremost. Then the whole fleet, catching the idea from the Sidetae, followed their example and inflicted great damage upon the enemy. Night put an end to the battle, after which the Carthaginians withdrew to the city - as many of them as survived the engagement.

[§124] At daylight Scipio attacked this quay because it was well situated to command the harbor. Assailing the parapet with rams and other engines he beat down a part of it. The Carthaginians, although oppressed by hunger and distress of various kinds, made a sally by night against the Roman engines, not by land, for there was no passageway, nor by ships, for the water was too shallow, but naked and bearing torches not lighted, so that they might not be seen at a distance.

Thus, in a way that nobody would have expected, they plunged into the sea and crossed over, some of them wading in water up to their breasts, others swimming. When they reached the engines they lighted their torches, and becoming visible and being naked they suffered greatly from wounds, which they courageously returned. Although the barbed arrows and spearpoints rained on their breasts and faces, they did not relax their efforts, but rushed forward like wild beasts against the blows until they had set the engines on fire and put the Romans to disorderly flight.

Panic and confusion spread through the whole camp and such fear as was never before known, caused by the frenzy of these naked enemies. Scipio, fearing the consequences, ran out with a squadron of horse and commanded his attendants to kill those who would not desist from flight. He killed some of them himself. The rest were brought by force into the camp, where they passed the night under arms, fearing some desperate deed of the enemy. The latter, having burned the engines, swam back home.

[§125] When daylight returned the Carthaginians, no longer molested by the engines, rebuilt that part of the outwork which had been battered down and added to it a number of towers at intervals. The Romans constructed new engines and built mounds in front of these towers, from which they threw upon them lighted torches and vessels filled with burning brimstone and pitch, and burned some of them, and drove away the Carthaginians. 

The footway was so slippery with coagulated blood, lately shed in great quantity, that the Romans were compelled, unwillingly, to abandon the pursuit. Scipio, having possessed himself of the entire quay, fortified it and built a brick wall of the same height as that of Carthage, and at no great distance from it. When it was finished, he put 4,000 men on it to discharge darts and javelins at the enemy, which they could do with comparative safety. As the walls were of equal height the darts were thrown with great effect. And now the summer came to an end.

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Punic wars   :   part 26
Note 1:
An error: this must be the south side.
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