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Appian's History of Rome: The Spanish Wars (§§86-90)

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.


  [§86] [134] [Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus] did not venture to engage the enemy until he had trained his men by many laborious exercises. He traversed all the neighboring plains, and daily fortified new camps one after another, and then demolished them, dug deep trenches and filled them up again, constructed high walls and overthrew them, personally overlooking the work from morning till night. In order to prevent the men from straggling while on the march, as heretofore, he always moved in the form of squares, and no one was allowed to change the place assigned to him. Moving around the line of march he often visited the rear and caused horsemen to dismount and give their places to the sick, and when the mules were overburdened he made the foot soldiers carry a part of the load. When he had come to the end of the day's march he required those who had formed the vanguard during the day to deploy around the camping place, and a body of horse to scour the country, while the rest performed their allotted tasks, some digging the trench, others building the rampart, and others pitching the tents. He also fixed the time within which these tasks must be finished, and kept an accurate account thereof.

[§87] When he judged that the army was alert, obedient to himself, and patient in labor, he moved his camp near to Numantia. He did not place advance guards in fortified stations, as some do, because he did not wish to divide his army as yet, lest he should meet some disaster at the outset and gain the contempt of the enemy, who had so long despised the Romans. Nor did he proceed at once to attack the enemy because he was still studying the nature of this war, watching his opportunity, and trying to discover the plans of the Numantines. In the meantime he foraged through all the fields behind his camp and cut down the unripe grain. When those fields had been harvested and it was necessary to move forward, and a short road to Numantia was found across the country which many advised him to take, he said: "What I am afraid of is the coming back. Our enemies are very nimble. They can dart out of the city and dart back again, while our men, like soldiers who return from foraging, will be tired out with the booty, the wagons, and the burdens they bring. For this reason the fighting will be severe and unequal. If we are beaten the danger will be serious, and if victorious, neither the glory nor the gain will be great. It is foolish to incur danger for small results. He must be considered a reckless general who would fight before there is any need, while a good one takes risks only in cases of necessity."

He added by way of simile that physicians do not cut and burn their patients till they have first tried drugs. Having spoken thus, he ordered his officers to take the longer road. Then he made some excursions beyond the camp and later advanced into the territory of the Vaccaei, from whom the Numantines bought their food supplies, cutting down everything, taking for himself what was useful as food, and piling the rest in heaps and burning it.

[§88] In a part of Pallantia called Complanio the Pallantians had concealed a large force just below the brow of a hill while others openly annoyed the Roman foragers. Scipio ordered Rutilius Rufus, a military tribune (who afterwards wrote a history of these transactions), to take four troops of horse and drive back the assailants. Rufus followed them too sharply when they retreated, and darted up the hill with the fugitives. When he discovered the ambush he ordered his troops not to pursue or attack the enemy further, but to stand on the defensive with their spears presented to the enemy and merely ward off their attack.

Straightway Scipio, seeing that Rufus had exceeded his orders, and fearing for his safety, followed with all haste. When he discovered the ambush he divided his horse into two bodies and ordered them to charge the enemy on either side alternately, hurling their javelins all together and then retiring, not to the same spot from which they had advanced, but a little further back each time. In this way the horsemen were brought in safety to the plain.

As he was shifting quarters and retiring again, he had to cross a river which was difficult to ford by reason of its muddy banks, and here the enemy had laid an ambush for him. Having learned this fact, he turned aside and took a route that was longer, and where there was no water supply. Here he marched by night on account of the heat and thirst, and dug wells which yielded for the most part only bitter water. He saved his men with extreme difficulty, but some of his horses and pack animals perished of thirst.

[§89] While passing through the territory of the Caucaei, whose treaty with the Romans [Lucius Licinius] Lucullus had violated, he made proclamation that they might return in safety to their own homes. Thence he came again to the Numantine territory and went into winter quarters. Here Jugurtha, the grandson of Massinissa, joined him with twelve elephants and the body of archers and slingers who usually accompanied them in war.

While Scipio was constantly ravaging and plundering the neighboring country, the enemy laid an ambush for him at a certain village which was surrounded on nearly all sides by a marshy pool. On the remaining side was a ravine in which the ambuscading party was hidden. Scipio's soldiers were divided so that one part entered the village to plunder it, leaving the standards outside, while another, but not large party, was coursing around it on horseback. The men in ambush fell upon the latter, who began a desperate fight. Scipio, who happened to be standing in front of the village near the standards, recalled by trumpet those who had gone inside, and before he had collected a thousand men went to the aid of the horsemen who were in difficulties. The greater part of those who were in the village rushed out and put the enemy to flight. He did not pursue the fugitives, however, but returned to the camp, a few having fallen on each side.

[§90] Not long afterwards he established two camps very near to Numantia and placed his brother [Quintus Fabius] Maximus [Aemilianus] in charge of one while he commanded the other. The Numantines came out in large numbers and offered battle, but he disregarded their challenge, not thinking it wise to engage in battle with men who were fighting in sheer desperation, but rather to shut them up and reduce them by famine.

Placing seven towers around the city, he began the siege and wrote letters to each of the allied tribes, telling them what forces he desired them to send. When they came he divided them into several parts and afterwards subdivided his own army. Then he appointed a commander for each division and ordered them to surround the city with a ditch and palisade. The circumference of Numantia itself was 4¼ kilometers, that of the enclosing works more than twice as great. All of this space was carefully allotted to the several divisions, and he had given orders that if the enemy should make a sally anywhere they should signal to him by raising a red flag on a tall spear in the daytime or by a fire at night, so that he or Maximus might hasten to the aid of those who needed it.

When this work was completed and he could effectually repel any assaults, he dug another ditch not far behind this one and fortified it with palisades and built a wall 2½ meters wide and three meters high high, exclusive of the parapets. He built towers along the whole of this wall at intervals of thirty meters. As it was not possible to carry the wall around the adjoining marsh he threw an embankment around it of the same height and thickness as the wall, to serve in place of it.

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Spanish wars   : part 19
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