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Appian's History of Rome: The Spanish Wars (§§1-5)


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 Spanish Wars is fortunately among these better preserved parts. It describes all Roman conflicts on the Iberian peninsula from the moment on which they conquered the Mediterranean coast during the war against Hannibal Barca until the final pacification by the emperor Augustus.

The translation was made by Horace White; footnotes and additions in green by Jona Lendering.


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[§1] The Pyrenees extend from the Tyrrhenian sea to the Northern ocean. The eastern part is inhabited by Celts, otherwise called Galatians, and more lately Gauls. From this part westward, beginning at the Tyrrhenian sea and making a circuit by way of the Pillars of Hercules to the Northern ocean, the Iberians and Celtiberians dwell. Thus the whole of Iberia is sea-girt, except the part embraced by the Pyrenees, the largest and perhaps the most precipitous mountains in Europe. In coasting they follow the Tyrrhenian sea as far as the Pillars of Hercules. They do not traverse the Western and Northern ocean, except in crossing over to Britain, and this they accomplish by availing themselves of the tide, as it is only half a day's journey.[1] For the rest, neither the Romans nor any of the subject peoples navigate that ocean. The size of Iberia (now called Hispania by some) is almost incredible for a single country. Its breadth is reckoned at 6,000 kilometers, and its length is equal to its breadth. Many nations of various names inhabit it, and many navigable rivers flow through it.

[§2] What nations occupied it first, and who came after them, it is not very important for me to inquire, in writing merely Roman history. However, I think that the Celts, passing over the Pyrenees at some former time, mingled with the natives, and that the name Celtiberia originated in that way. I think also that from an early time the Phoenicians frequented Spain for purposes of trade, and occupied certain places there. In like manner the Greeks visited Tartessus and its king Arganthonius, and some of them settled in Spain; for the kingdom of Arganthonius was in Spain. It is my opinion that Tartessus was then the city on the seashore which is now called Carpessus.[2] I think also that the Phoenicians built the temple of Hercules which stands at the straits. The religious rites performed there are still of Phoenician type, and the god is considered by the worshippers the Tyrian, not the Theban, Hercules.[3] But I will leave these matters to the antiquaries.

[§3] This fruitful land, abounding in all good things, the Carthaginians began to exploit before the Romans. A part of it they occupied and another part they plundered, until the Romans expelled them from the part they held, and immediately occupied it themselves. The remainder the Romans acquired with much toil, extending over a long period of time, and in spite of frequent revolts they eventually subdued it and divided it into three parts and appointed a praetor over each. How they subdued each one, and how they contended with the Carthaginians for the possession of them, and afterwards with the Iberians and Celtiberians, this book will show, the first part containing matters relating to the Carthaginians, since it was necessary for me to introduce their relations with Spain in my Spanish history. (For the same reason the doings of the Romans and Carthaginians in respect to Sicily from the beginning of the Roman invasion and rule of that island are embraced in the Sicilian history.)

[§4]  The first external war waged by the Romans against the Carthaginians in reference to Sicily was waged in Sicily itself. In like manner the first one concerning Spain was waged in Spain, although in the course of it the combatants sent large forces into, and devastated, both Italy and Africa. [218 BCE] This war began about the 140th Olympiad by the infraction of a treaty which had been made at the end of the Sicilian war.

Bust of Hamilcar
Bust of Hamilcar (©!!!)

The infraction came about in this way. Hamilcar, surnamed Barca, while commanding the Carthaginian forces in Sicily, had promised large rewards to his Celtic mercenaries and African allies, which they demanded after he returned to Africa; and thereupon the African war was kindled. In this war the Carthaginians suffered severely at the hands of the Africans, and they ceded Sardinia to the Romans as compensation for injuries they had inflicted upon Roman merchants during this war. When Hamilcar was brought to trial for these things by his enemies, who held him to blame for such serious calamities to the country, he secured the favor of the chief men in the state (of whom the most popular was Hasdrubal [the Fair], who had married Barca's daughter), by which means he escaped punishment; and as a disturbance with the Numidians broke out about this time, he secured the command of the Carthaginian forces in conjunction with Hanno the Great, although he had not yet rendered an account of his former generalship.

[§5] At the end of this war, Hanno was recalled to answer certain charges against him in Carthage, and Hamilcar was left in sole command of the army. He associated his son-in-law Hasdrubal with him, crossed the straits to Gades and began to plunder the territory of the Spaniards, although they had done him no wrong. Thus he made for himself an occasion for being away from home, and also for performing exploits and acquiring popularity. For whatever property he took he divided, giving one part to the soldiers, to stimulate their zeal for future plundering with him. Another part he sent to the treasury of Carthage, and a third he distributed to the chiefs of his own faction there.

[229] This continued until certain Spanish kings and other chieftains gradually united and put him to death in the following manner. They loaded a lot of wagons with wood and drove them in advance with oxen, they following behind prepared for battle. When the Africans saw this they fell to laughing, not perceiving the stratagem. When they came to close quarters the Spaniards set fire to the wagons and drove the oxen against the enemy. The fire, being carried in every direction by the fleeing oxen, threw the Africans into confusion. Their ranks being thus broken the Spaniards dashed among them and killed Hamilcar himself and a great many others who came to his aid.[4]

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Spanish wars   :   part 2
Note 1:
A common mistake, often made by ancient geographers.

Note 2:
Tartessus: the common name for the Iron Age cultures of ancient Spain.

Note 3:
Appian refers to the cult of the Phoenician god Melqart in Gades, modern Cadíz.

Note 4:
Other sources say that he drowned.

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