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Appian's History of Rome: The Spanish Wars (§§26-30)


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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  [§26] [209 or 208] When his supplies began to fail and hunger attacked his army, [Publius Cornelius] Scipio considered that it would be base to retreat. Accordingly he sacrificed, and bringing the soldiers to an audience immediately after the sacrifice, and putting on again the look and aspect of one inspired, he said that the deity had appeared to him in the customary way and told him to attack the enemy, and had assured him that it was better to trust in heaven than in the size of his army because his former victories were gained by divine favor rather than by numerical strength.

In order to inspire confidence in his words he commanded the priests to bring the entrails into the assembly. While he was speaking he saw some birds flying overhead with great swiftness and clamor. Looking up he pointed them out and exclaimed this was a sign of victory which the gods had sent him. He followed their movement, gazing at them and crying out like one possessed. The whole army, as it saw him turning hither and thither, imitated his actions, and all were fired with the idea of certain victory. When he had everything as he wished he did not hesitate, nor permit their ardor to cool, but still as one inspired exclaimed: "These signs tell us that we must fight at once."

When they had taken their food he ordered them to arm themselves, and led them against the enemy, who were not expecting them, giving the command of the horse to [Marcus Junius] Silanus and of the foot to [Gaius] Laelius and [Lucius] Marcius [Septimius].

[§27] Hasdrubal, Mago, and Massinissa, when Scipio was coming upon them unawares, being only two kilometers distant, and their soldiers not having taken their food, drew up their forces in haste, amid confusion and tumult. Battle being joined with both cavalry and infantry, the Roman horse prevailed over the enemy by the same tactics as before, by giving no respite to the Numidians (who were accustomed to retreat and advance by turns), thus making their darts of no effect by reason of their nearness. The infantry were severely pressed by the great numbers of the Africans and were worsted by them all day long, nor could Scipio stem the tide of battle, although he was everywhere cheering them on. Finally, giving his horse in charge of a boy, and snatching a shield from a soldier, he dashed alone into the space between the two armies, shouting: "Romans, rescue your Scipio in his peril."

Then those who were near seeing, and those who were distant hearing, what danger he was in, and all being in like manner moved by a sense of shame and fear for their general's safety, charged furiously upon the enemy, uttering loud cries. The Africans were unable to resist this charge. They gave way, as their strength was failing for lack of food, of which they had had none all day. Then, for a short space of time, there was a terrific slaughter. Such was the result to Scipio of the battle of Carmo,[1] although it had been for a long time doubtful. The Roman loss was 800; that of the enemy 15,000.

[§28] After this engagement the enemy retreated with all speed, and Scipio followed dealing blows and doing damage whenever he could overtake them. After they had occupied a stronghold, where there was plenty of food and water, and where nothing could be done but lay siege to them, Scipio was called away on other business. He left Silanus to carry on the siege while he went into other parts of Spain and subdued them. The Africans who were besieged by Silanus deserted their position and retreated again until they came to the straits and passed on to Gades.

Silanus, having done them all the harm he could, rejoined Scipio at New Carthage.[2] In the meantime Hasdrubal, the son of Hamilcar, who was still collecting troops along the Northern ocean, was called by his brother Hannibal to march in all haste to Italy. In order to deceive Scipio he moved along the northern coast, and passed over the Pyrenees into Gaul with the Celtiberian mercenaries whom he had enlisted. In this way he was hastening into Italy without the knowledge of the Italians. 

[§29] Now Lucius [Cornelius Scipio], having returned from Rome, told [Publius Cornelius] Scipio that the Romans were thinking of sending the latter as general to Africa. Scipio had strongly desired this for some time and hoped that events might take this turn. Accordingly he sent Laelius with five ships to Africa on a mission to king Syphax, to make presents to him and remind him of the friendship of the Scipios, and ask him to join the Romans if they should make an expedition to Africa.

He promised to do so, accepted the presents, and sent others in return. When the Carthaginians discovered this they also sent envoys to Syphax to seek his alliance. When Scipio heard of this, judging that it was a matter of importance to win and confirm the alliance of Syphax against the Carthaginians, he took Laelius and went over to Africa with two ships, to see Syphax in person.

[§30] When he was approaching the shore, the Carthaginian envoys (who were still with Syphax) sailed out against Scipio with their warships, without Syphax's knowledge. But Scipio spread his sails, outran them completely, and reached the harbor. Syphax entertained both parties, but he made an alliance with Scipio privately, and having exchanged pledges sent him away. He also detained the Carthaginians, who were again lying in wait for Scipio, until he was a good distance out to sea. So much danger did Scipio incur both going and returning. It is reported that at a banquet given by Syphax, Scipio reclined on the same couch with Hasdrubal[son of Gesco] and that the latter questioned him about many things, and was greatly impressed with his gravity, and afterwards said to his friends that Scipio was formidable not only in war but also at a feast.

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Spanish wars   : part 7
Note 1:
The battle that, according to Appian, was fought at Carmo, can be identified with the battle at Baecula. It appears that the historian has confused the Carthaginian supply base with the battlefield.

Note 2:
In fact Tarraco.

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