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Appian's History of Rome: The Spanish Wars (§§46-50)


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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  [§46] [153] The Arevaci convened immediately, even in the night, at Numantia, which was a very strong city, and chose Ambo and Leuco as their generals. Three days later [the praetor Quintus Fulvius] Nobilior advanced and pitched his camp at some four kilometers from the place.

Here he was joined by 300 horse and ten elephants sent to him by Massinissa. When he moved against the enemy he placed these animals in the rear where they could not be seen. Then when battle was joined the army divided and brought the elephants into view. The Celtiberians and their horses, who had never seen elephants before, were thunderstruck and fled to the city.

Nobilior advanced at once against the city walls, where the battle raged fiercely, until one of the elephants was struck on the head with a large falling stone, when he became savage, uttered a loud cry, turned upon his friends, and began to destroy everything that came in his way, making no distinction between friend and foe. The other elephants, excited by his cries, all began to do the same, trampling the Romans under foot, scattering and hurling them this way and that. (This is always the way with elephants when they are enraged. Then they take everybody for foes; wherefore some people call them the common enemy, on account of their fickleness.)

The Romans took to disorderly flight. When the Numantines perceived this they sallied out and pursued them, killing about 4,000 men and three elephants. They also captured many arms and standards. The loss of the Celtiberians was about 2,000.

[§47] Nobilior, recovering a little from this disaster, made an attack upon the stores which the enemy had collected at the town of Axinium, but he accomplished nothing, and having lost many of his men there, he returned by night to his camp. Thence he sent Biesius, his master of horse, to secure the alliance of a neighboring tribe and to ask for assistance in the way of cavalry. They gave him some, and as he was returning with them the Celtiberians laid an ambush for him. The ambush was discovered and the allies escaped, but Biesius, who engaged the enemy, was killed and many of his soldiers with him.

Under the influence of such a succession of disasters to the Romans, the town of Ocilis, where their provisions and money were stored, revolted to the Celtiberians. Then Nobilior in despair went into winter quarters in his camp, sheltering himself as well as he could. He suffered much from scantiness of supplies, having only what was inside the camp, and from heavy snowstorms and severe frost, so that many of his men perished while outside gathering wood, and others inside fell victims to confinement and cold.

[§48] [152] The following year [Marcus] Claudius Marcellus succeeded Nobilior in the command, bringing with him 8,000 foot and 500 horse. The enemy laid an ambush for him also, but he moved with circumspection and pitched his camp before Ocilis with his whole army. As he was renowned for good fortune in war, he brought the place to terms at once and granted it pardon, taking hostages and imposing a fine of thirty talents of silver.

The Nergobriges, hearing of his moderation, sent and asked what they could do to obtain peace. In reply he ordered them to furnish him 100 horsemen as auxiliaries, and they promised to do so, but in the meantime they were attacking the rear guard of the Romans and carried off a lot of baggage. When the leaders of the hundred horse arrived according to agreement, and were interrogated about the attack on the rear guard, they replied that this had been done by some of their people who did not know of the agreement.

Marcellus then put the hundred horsemen in chains, sold their horses, devastated their country, distributed the plunder to his soldiers, and besieged the city. When the Nergobriges saw the engines advanced and the mounds thrown up against their walls they sent a herald, who wore a wolf's skin instead of bearing a caduceus,[1] and begged forgiveness.

Marcellus replied that he would not grant it unless all the Arevaci, the Belli, and the Titthi would ask it together. When these tribes heard of this, they sent ambassadors eagerly, and begged that Marcellus would let them off with a light punishment and renew the terms of the agreement made with Gracchus. This petition was opposed by some of the country people who had been incited to war by them.

[§49] Marcellus sent ambassadors from each party to Rome to carry on their dispute there. At the same time he sent private letters to the Senate urging peace. He desired that the war should be brought to an end by himself, thinking that he should gain glory thereby. Some of the ambassadors from the friendly faction on coming to the city were treated as guests, but, as was customary, those from the hostile faction lodged outside the walls.

The Senate rejected the proposal of peace and took it ill that these people had refused terms to the Romans when they were asked by Nobilior, the predecessor of Marcellus. So they replied that Marcellus would announce the Senate's decision to them. And now for the first time they chose an army for Spain by lot, instead of the customary levy, for since many had complained that they had been treated unjustly by the consuls in the enrollment, while others had been chosen for easy service, it was decided now to choose by lot. The consul [Lucius] Licinius Lucullus was appointed to the command, and he had for his lieutenant [Publius] Cornelius Scipio [Aemilianus], who was not long afterwards distinguished as the conqueror of Carthage and of Numantia.

[§50] [151] While Lucullus was on the march Marcellus notified the Celtiberians of the coming war, and gave back the hostages in response to their request. Then he sent for the chief of the Celtiberian embassy in Rome and conferred with him privately a long time. From this circumstance it was then suspected, and was strongly confirmed by later events, that he sought to persuade them to put their affairs in his hands, because he tried in every way to bring the war to an end before the arrival of Lucullus. Directly after this conference 5,000 of the Arevaci took possession of the city of Nergobriga. Marcellus marched against Numantia, encamped at a distance of one kilometer from it, and was driving the Numantines inside the walls when their leader Litenno halted and called out that he would like to have a conference with Marcellus.

This being granted he said that the Belli, Titthi, and Arevaci would put themselves entirely in his hands. He was delighted to hear this and having demanded and received hostages and money, he let them go free. Thus the war with the Belli, the Titthi, and the Arevaci was brought to an end before Lucullus arrived.

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Spanish wars   : part 11
Note 1:
A herald's staff. Obviously, the wolf's skin signified negotiations with the intention to continue war, and the caduceus negotiations with the will to seek peace.
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