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Appian's History of Rome: The Spanish Wars (§§61-65)


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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The "War of fire" [1]

[§61] [147] Not long afterward those [Lusitanians] who had escaped the villainy of [consul Lucius Licinius] Lucullus and [praetor Servius Sulpicius] Galba, having collected together to the number of 10,000, overran Turditania.

Gaius Vetilius marched against them, bringing a new army from Rome and taking also the soldiers already in Spain, so that he had about 10,000 men. He fell upon their foragers, killed many of them, and forced the rest into a place where, if they stayed, they were in danger of famine, and if they came out would fall into the hands of the Romans. Being in these straits they sent messengers to Vetilius with olive-branches [2] asking land for a dwelling place, and agreeing from that time on to obey the Romans in all things.

He promised to give them the land, and an agreement was nearly made to that effect when Viriathus, who had escaped the perfidy of Galba and was then among them, reminded them of the bad faith of the Romans, told them how the latter had often set upon them in violation of oaths, and how this whole army was composed of men who had escaped from the perjuries of Galba and Lucullus. If they would obey him, he said, he would show them a safe retreat from this place.

[§62] Excited by the new hopes with which he inspired them, they chose him as their leader. He drew them up in line of battle as though he intended to fight, but gave them orders that when he should mount his horse they should scatter in every direction and make their way by different routes to the city of Tribola and there wait for him. He chose 1,000 only whom he commanded to stay with him. These arrangements having been made, they all fled as soon as Viriathus mounted his horse, Vetilius was afraid to pursue those who had scattered in so many different ways, but turning towards Viriathus who was standing there and apparently waiting a chance to attack, joined battle with him. The latter, having very swift horses, harassed the Romans by attacking, then retreating, again standing still and again attacking, and thus consumed the whole of that day and the next dashing around on the same field. As soon as he conjectured that the others had made good their escape, he hastened away in the night by devious paths and arrived at Tribola with his nimble steeds, the Romans not being able to follow him at an equal pace by reason of the weight of their armor, their ignorance of the roads, and the inferiority of their horses. Thus did Viriathus, in an unexpected way, rescue his army from a desperate situation. This feat, coming to the knowledge of the various tribes of that vicinity, brought him fame and many reinforcements from different quarters, and enabled him to wage war against the Romans for eight years.

[§63]  It is my intention here to relate this war with Viriathus, so very harassing to the Romans and so badly managed by them, and to take up hereafter the other events that happened in Spain at the same time.

Vetilius pursued him till he came to Tribola. Viriathus, having first laid an ambush in a dense thicket, retreated until Vetilius was passing through the place, when he turned, and those who were in ambush sprang up. On all sides they began killing the Romans, driving them over the cliffs and taking prisoners. Vetilius himself was taken prisoner; and the man who captured him, not knowing who he was, but seeing that he was old and fat, and considering him worthless, killed him. Of the 10,000 Romans, 6,000 with difficulty made their way to the city of Carpessus on the seashore (which I think was formerly called by the Greeks Tartessus, and was ruled by king Arganthonius, who is said to have lived one hundred and fifty years).

The soldiers, who made their escape to Carpessus, were stationed on the walls of the town by the quaestor who accompanied Vetilius, badly demoralized. Having asked and obtained 5,000 allies from the Belli and Titthi, he sent them against Viriathus who slew them all, so that there was not one left to tell the tale. After that the quaestor remained quietly in the town waiting for help from Rome.

[§64] [146] Viriathus overran the fruitful country of Carpetania without hindrance, and ravaged it until Gaius Plautius came from Rome bringing 10,000 foot and 1300 horse. Then Viriathus again feigned flight and Plautius sent 4,000 men to pursue him but Viriathus turned upon them and killed all except a few. Then he crossed the river Tagus and encamped on a mountain covered with olive trees, called Venus' mountain. There Plautius overtook him, and eager to retrieve his misfortune, joined battle with him, but was defeated with great slaughter, and fled in disorder to the towns, and went into winter quarters in midsummer not daring to show himself anywhere. Accordingly, Viriathus overran the whole country without check and required the owners of the growing crops to pay him the value thereof, or if they would not, he destroyed them.

[§65] [145] When these facts became known at Rome, they sent [consul Quintus] Fabius Maximus Aemilianus, the [adopted] son of [Lucius] Aemilius Paullus (who had [in 168] conquered Perseus, the king of Macedonia), to Spain, having given him power to levy an army. As Carthage and Greece had been but recently conquered, and the third [3] Macedonian war brought to a successful end, in order that he might spare the soldiers who had just returned from those places, he chose young men who had never been engaged in war before, to the number of two legions.

He obtained additional forces from the allies and arrived at Urso, a city of Spain, having altogether 15,000 foot and about 2000 horse. As he did not wish to engage the enemy until his forces were well disciplined, he made a voyage through the straits to Gades in order to sacrifice to Hercules.[4]

In the meantime Viriathus fell upon his wood-cutters, killed many, and struck terror into the rest. His lieutenant coming out to fight, Viriathus defeated him also and captured a great booty. When Maximus returned, Viriathus drew out his forces repeatedly and offered battle. But Maximus declined an engagement with the whole army and continued to exercise his men, frequently sending out skirmishing parties, making trial of the enemy's strength, and inspiring his own men with courage. When he sent out foragers he always placed a cordon of legionaries around the unarmed men and himself rode about the region with his cavalry. He had seen his father Paullus do this in the Macedonian war.

[144] Winter being ended, and his army well disciplined, he attacked Viriathus and was the second Roman general to put him to flight (although he fought valiantly), capturing two of his cities, one of which he plundered and the other burned. He pursued Viriathus to a place called Baecor, and killed many of his men, after which he wintered at Corduba.

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Spanish wars   : part 14
Note 1:
This is the name that the Greek historian Polybius of Megalopolis appropriately gives to this war.

Note 2:
A sign that one wanted peace.

Note 3:
Modern historians use the name "Third Macedonian War" for an earlier conflict. Appian refers to the insurrection of Andriscus.

Note 4:
Appian refers to the cult of the Phoenician god Melqart in Gades, modern Cadíz.

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