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Appian's History of Rome: The Spanish Wars (16-20)

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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Coin of Hasdrubal.Hasdrubal (!!)

[16] [213] The Carthaginians, having made peace with Syphax, again sent Hasdrubal into Spain with a larger army than before, and with thirty elephants. With him came also two other generals, Mago[Barca] and another Hasdrubal the son of Gesco. After this the war became more serious to the Scipios. They were successful, nevertheless, and many Africans and elephants were destroyed by them.

Finally, winter coming on, the Africans went into winter quarters at Turditania,[1] Gnaeus [Cornelius] Scipio at Orso, and [proconsul] Publius [Cornelius Scipio] at Castolo. When news was brought to the latter that Hasdrubal was approaching, he sallied out from the city with a small force to reconnoiter the enemy's camp and came upon Hasdrubal unexpectedly. He and his whole force were surrounded by the enemy's horse and killed. Gnaeus, who knew nothing of this, sent some soldiers to his brother to procure corn, who fell in with another African force and became engaged with them. When Gnaeus learned this, he started out, with such troops as he had under arms, to assist them. The Carthaginians who had cut off the former party made a charge on Gnaeus, and compelled him to take refuge in a certain tower, which they set on fire, and burned him and his comrades to death.

[17] In this way the two Scipios perished, excellent men in every respect, and greatly regretted by those Spaniards who, by their labors, had been brought over to the Roman side. When the news reached Rome the people were greatly troubled. They sent Marcellus,[2] who had lately come from Sicily, and with him [Gaius] Claudius [Nero], to Spain, with a fleet and 1,000 horse, 10,000 foot, and sufficient means.

As nothing of importance was accomplished by them, the Carthaginian power increased until it embraced almost the whole of Spain, and the Romans were restricted to a small space in the Pyrenees. When this was learned in Rome the people were greatly discouraged, and apprehensive lest these same Africans should make an incursion into northern Italy while Hannibal was ravaging the other extremity. Although they desired to abandon the Spanish war, it was not possible, because of the fear that that war would be transferred to Italy.

Portrait bust of P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus. Musei Capitolini, Roma (Italy). Photo Marco Prins.
 P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus
(Musei Capitolini)

[18] [211] Accordingly a day was fixed for choosing a general for Spain. When nobody offered himself the alarm was greatly augmented, and a gloomy silence took possession of the assembly. Finally [Publius] Cornelius Scipio, son of that Publius Cornelius who had lost his life in Spain, still a very young man (for he was only twenty-four years of age), but reputed to be discreet and high-minded, advanced and made an impressive discourse concerning his father and his uncle, and after lamenting their fate said that he was the only member of the family left to be the avenger of them and of his country. He spoke copiously and vehemently, like one possessed, promising to subdue not only Spain, but Africa and Carthage in addition. To many this seemed like youthful boasting, but he revived the spirits of the people (for those who are cast down are cheered by promises), and was chosen general for Spain in the expectation that he would do something worthy of his high spirit.

The older ones said that this was not high spirit, but foolhardiness. When Scipio heard of this he called the assembly together again, and repeated what he had said before, declaring that his youth would be no impediment, but he added that if any of his elders wished to assume the task he would willingly yield it to them. When nobody offered to take it, he was praised and admired still more, and he set forth with 10,000 foot and 500 horse. He was not allowed to take a larger force while Hannibal was ravaging Italy. He received money and apparatus of various kinds and twenty-eight war-ships with which he proceeded to Spain.

[19] [210] Taking the forces already there, and joining them in one body with those he brought, he performed a lustration,[3] and made the same kind of grandiloquent speech to them that he had made at Rome. The report spread immediately through all Spain, wearied of the Carthaginian rule and longing for the virtue of the Scipios, that Scipio the son of Scipio had been sent to them as a general, by divine providence.

When he heard of this report he took care to give out that everything he did was by inspiration from heaven. He learned that the enemy were quartered in four camps at considerable distances from each other, containing altogether 25,000 foot and above 2500 horse, and that they kept their supplies of money, food, arms, missiles, and ships, besides prisoners and hostages from all Spain, at the city formerly called Saguntum (but then called Carthage),[4] and that it was in charge of Mago with 10,000 Carthaginian soldiers. He decided to attack these first, on account of the smallness of the force and the great quantity of stores, and because he believed that this city, with its silver mines and its rich and prosperous territory abounding in everything, and its very short passage to Africa, would constitute a secure base of operations by land and sea against the whole of Spain.

[20] Excited with these thoughts and communicating his intentions to no one, he led his army out at sunset and marched the whole night toward New Carthage. Arriving there the next morning he took the enemy by surprise and began to enclose the town with trenches and planned to open the siege the following day, placing ladders and engines everywhere except at one place where the wall was lowest and where, as it was encompassed by a lagoon and the sea, the guards were careless. Having charged the machines with stones and darts in the night, and stationed his fleet in the harbor so that the enemy's ships might not escape (for he had high hopes of capturing everything the city contained), at daylight he manned the engines, ordering some of his troops to assail the enemy above, while others propelled the engines against the walls below.

Mago stationed his 10,000 men at the gates, some to sally out at a favorable opportunity with swords alone (since spears would be of no use in such a narrow space), and others to man the parapets. He made good use of his machines, stones, darts, and catapults, and did effective work. There was shouting and cheering on both sides, and neither was wanting in dash and courage. Stones, darts, and javelins filled the air, some thrown by hand, some by machines, and some by slings; and whatever other apparatus or force was available was made use of to the utmost.

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Spanish wars   : part 5

Note 1:

Note 2:
A strange error: Marcellus, who had captured Sicily, was active in Italy. Appian probably means Lucius Marcius Septimius.

Note 3:
A religious purification.

Note 4:
The same error as at the end of 12.

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