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Appian's History of Rome: The Spanish Wars (§§71-75)

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.


  [§71] [138] Emulating the example of Viriathus, many other guerilla bands made incursions into Lusitania and ravaged it. [Praetor] Sextus [1] Junius Brutus, who was sent against them, despaired of following them through the extensive country bounded by the navigable rivers Tagus, Lethe, Durius, and Baetis, because he considered it extremely difficult to overtake them while flying from place to place after the manner of robbers, and yet disgraceful not to do so, and a task not very glorious even if he should conquer them. He therefore turned against their towns, thinking that thus he should take vengeance on them, and at the same time secure a quantity of plunder for his army, and that the robbers would scatter, each to his own place, when their homes were threatened. With this design he began destroying everything that came in his way. Here he found the women fighting and perishing in company with the men with such bravery that they uttered no cry even in the midst of slaughter. Some of the inhabitants fled to the mountains with what they could carry, and to these, when they asked pardon, Brutus granted it, taking their goods as a fine.

[§72] [137?] He then crossed the river Durius, carrying war far and wide and taking hostages from those who surrendered, until he came to the river Lethe, being the first of the Romans to think of crossing that stream.[2] Passing over this he advanced to another river called the Nimis, where he attacked the Bracari because they had plundered his provision train. They were a very warlike people, the women bearing arms with the men, who fought never turning, never showing their backs, or uttering a cry. Of the women who were captured some killed themselves, others slew their children with their own hands, considering death preferable to captivity. There were some towns that surrendered to Brutus and soon afterwards revolted. These he reduced to subjection again.

[§73] One of the towns that often submitted and as often rebelled was Talabriga. When Brutus moved against it the inhabitants begged pardon and offered to surrender at discretion. He first demanded of them all the deserters, the prisoners, and the arms they had, and hostages in addition, and then he ordered them to vacate the town with their wives and children. When they had obeyed these orders, he surrounded them with his army and made a speech to them, telling them how often they had revolted and renewed the war against him. Having inspired them with fear and with the belief that he was about to inflict some terrible punishment on them, he ceased his reproaches. Having deprived them of their horses, provisions, public money, and other general resources, he gave them back their town to dwell in, contrary to their expectation. Having accomplished these results, Brutus returned to Rome. I have united these events with the history of Viriathus, because they were undertaken by other guerilla bands at the same time, and in emulation of him.

[§74] [140?] Viriathus sent his most trusted friends Audax, Ditalco, and Minurus to [Quintus Servilius] Caepio to negotiate terms of peace. The latter bribed them by large gifts and promises to assassinate Viriathus, which they did in this way. Viriathus, on account of his excessive cares and labors, slept but little, and for the most part took rest in his armor so that when aroused he should be prepared for every emergency. For this reason it was permitted to his friends to visit him by night. Taking advantage of this custom, those who were associated with Audax in guarding him entered his tent as if on pressing business, just as he had fallen asleep, and killed him by stabbing him in the throat, which was the only part of his body not protected by armor. The nature of the wound was such that nobody suspected what had been done.

The murderers fled to Caepio and asked for the rest of their pay. For the present he gave them permission to enjoy safely what they had already received; as for the rest of their demands he referred them to Rome.

When daylight came the attendants of Viriathus and the remainder of the army thought he was still resting and wondered at his unusually long repose, until some of them discovered that he was lying dead in his armor. Straightway there was grief and lamentation throughout the camp, all of them mourning for him, fearing for their own safety, thinking what dangers they were in, and of what a general they had been bereft. Most of all were they grieved that they could not find the perpetrators of the crime.

[§75] They arrayed the body of Viriathus in splendid garments and burned it on a lofty funeral pile. Many sacrifices were offered for him. Troops of horse and foot in armor marched around him singing his praises in barbarian fashion. Nor did they depart from the funeral pile until the fire had gone out. When the obsequies were ended, they had gladiatorial contests at his tomb. So great was the longing for Viriathus after his death - a man who had the highest qualities of a commander as reckoned among barbarians, always foremost in facing danger and most exact in dividing the spoils. He never consented to take the lion's share, even when friends begged him to, but whatever he got he divided among the bravest. Thus it came about (a most difficult task and one never before achieved by any other commander so easily) that in the eight years of this war, in an army composed of various tribes, there never was any sedition, the soldiers were always obedient and fearless in the presence of danger.

After his death they chose a general named Tantalus and made an expedition against Saguntum, the city which Hannibal had overthrown and reestablished and named New Carthage,[3] after his own country. When they had been repulsed from that place and were crossing the river Baetis, Caepio pressed them so hard that Tantalus became exhausted and surrendered his army to Caepio on condition that they should be treated as subjects. The latter took from them all their arms and gave them sufficient land, so that they should not be driven to robbery by want. In this way the Viriathic war came to an end.

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Spanish wars   : part 16
Note 1:
His first name was, in fact, Decimus.

Note 2:
Lethe was the name of another river, in the Underworld. Brutus' superstitious soldiers refused to cross the Spanish Lethe, until Brutus personally carried a standard across the river.

Note 3:
Appian consistently confuses New Carthage with Saguntum. See this note.

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