Appian, The Punic Wars 1

Appian of Alexandria (c.95-c.165): one of the most underestimated of all Greek historians, author of a Roman History in twenty-four books.

Although only Appian's books on the Roman Civil Wars survive in their entirety, large parts of the other books, devoted to Rome's foreign wars, have also come down to us. The parts on the Punic wars, the wars in Iberia, and the Mithridatic Wars are very important historical sources. This is also true for Appian's account of the Third Punic War, the second part of the book presented on these pages, which is one of our main sources for this conflict.

Because these texts have to be reconstructed from several medieval manuscripts, not all editions of Appian's account of Rome's foreign wars are numbered in the same way. On these pages, the separate units of a book are counted strictly chronologically.

The translation was made by Horace White; notes by Jona Lendering.


[1] The Phoenicians settled Carthage, in Africa, fifty years before the capture of Troy. Its founders were either Zorus and Carchedon, or, as the Romans and the Carthaginians themselves think, Dido, a Tyrian woman, whose husband had been slain clandestinely by Pygmalion, the ruler of Tyre. The murder being revealed to her in a dream, she embarked for Africa with her property and a number of men who desired to escape from the tyranny of Pygmalion, and arrived at that part of Africa where Carthage now stands.

Being repelled by the inhabitants, they asked for as much land for a dwelling place as they could encompass with an ox-hide. The Africans laughed at this frivolity of the Phoenicians and were ashamed to deny so small a request. Besides, they could not imagine how a town could be built in so narrow a space, and wishing to unravel the mystery they agreed to give it, and confirmed the promise by an oath. The Phoenicians, cutting the hide round and round in one very narrow strip, enclosed the place where the citadel of Carthage now stands, which from this affair was called Byrsa, "hide".

[2] Proceeding from this start and getting the upper hand of their neighbors, as they were more adroit, and engaging in traffic by sea, like the Phoenicians, they built a city around Byrsa. Gradually acquiring strength, they mastered Africa and the greater part of the Mediterranean, carried war into Sicily and Sardinia and the other islands of that sea, and also into Spain. They sent out numerous colonies. They became a match for the Greeks in power, and next to the Persians in wealth.

But about 700 years after the foundation of the city the Romans took Sicily and Sardinia away from them, and in a second war Spain also.note

Then, assailing each the other's territory with immense armies, the Carthaginians, under Hannibal, ravaged Italy for sixteen years in succession, but the Romans, under the leadership of Cornelius Scipio the Elder,note carried the war into Africa, crushed the Carthaginian power, took their ships and their elephants, and required them to pay tribute for a time.

A second treaty was now made between the Romans and the Carthaginians which lasted fifty years, until, upon an infraction of it, the third and last war broke out between them, in which the Romans under Scipio the Youngernote razed Carthage to the ground and forbade the rebuilding of it.

But another city was built subsequently by their own people, very near the former one, for convenience in governing Africa. Of these matters the Sicilian part is shown in my Sicilian History, the Spanish in the Spanish History, and what Hannibal did in his Italian campaigns in the Hannibalic History. This book will deal with the operations in Africa from the earliest period.

The First Punic War

[3] About the beginning of the Sicilian war,note the Romans sent 350 ships to Africa,note captured a number of towns, and left in command of the army Atilius Regulus,note who took some 200 more towns, which gave themselves up to him on account of their hatred of the Carthaginians; and continually advancing he ravaged the territory. Thereupon the Carthaginians, considering that their misfortunes were due to bad generalship, asked the Lacedaemonians to send them a commander. The Lacedaemonians sent them Xanthippus.

Regulus, being encamped in the hot season alongside a lake, marched around it to engage the enemy, his soldiers suffering greatly from the weight of their arms, from dust, thirst, and fatigue, and exposed to missiles from the neighboring heights.note Toward evening he came to a river which separated the two armies. This he crossed at once, thinking in this way to terrify Xanthippus, but the latter, anticipating an easy victory over an enemy thus harassed and exhausted and having night in his favor, drew up his forces and made a sudden sally from his camp. The expectations of Xanthippus were not disappointed. Of the 30,000 men led by Regulus, only a few escaped with difficulty to the city of Aspis. All the rest were either killed or taken prisoners, and among the latter was the consul Regulus himself.

[4] Not long afterward the Carthaginians, weary of fighting sent him, in company with their own ambassadors, to Rome to obtain peace or to return if it were not granted.note Yet Regulus in private strongly urged the chief magistrates of Rome to continue the war, and then went back to certain torture, for the Carthaginians shut him up in a cage stuck full of spikes and thus put him to death. This success was the beginning of sorrows to Xanthippus, for the Carthaginians, in order that the credit might not seem to be due to the Lacedaemonians, pretended to honor him with splendid gifts, sent galleys to convey him back to Lacedaemon, but enjoined upon the captains of the ships to throw him and his Lacedaemonian comrades overboard. In this way he paid the penalty for his successes. Such were the results, good and bad, of the first war of the Romans in Africa,note until the Carthaginians surrendered Sicily to them. How this came about has been shown in my Sicilian History.

[5] After this there was peace between the Romans and the Carthaginians,note but the Africans, who were subject to the latter and had served them as auxiliaries in the Sicilian war, and certain Celtic mercenaries who complained that their pay had been withheld and that the promises made to them had not been kept, made war against the Carthaginians in a very formidable manner. The latter appealed to the Romans for aid on the score of friendship, and the Romans allowed them for this war only to hire mercenaries in Italy, for even that had been forbidden in the treaty. Nevertheless they sent men to act as mediators between them.

The Africans refused the mediation, but offered to become subjects of the Romans if they would take them. The latter would not accept them. Then the Carthaginians blockaded the towns with a great fleet, and cut off their supplies from the sea, and as the land was untilled in consequence of the war they overcame the Africans by the famine, but were driven to supply their own wants by piracy, even taking some Roman ships, killing the crews, and throwing them overboard to conceal the crime. This escaped notice for a long time.note When the facts became known and the Carthaginians were called to account, they put off the day of reckoning until the Romans voted to make war against them, when they surrendered Sardinia by way of compensation. And this clause was added to the former treaty of peace.