the links below the images to enlarge them.
Hamilcar was conducting a Guerilla campaign against the Romans when the
last two Punic cities in western Sicily surrendered at the end of the
First Punic War. He was authorized by Carthage to negotiate a
settlement. After rejecting a Roman demand that his force
surrender its arms (which would have ensured their enslavement) he got
the Romans to agree to an orderly evacuation (with their weapons) of
all Punic forces from the Island. He also agreed to large war
reparations that could be paid in annual installments. Hamilcar,
who felt that he had
been betrayed by shekel-pinching politicians in Carthage, then turned
everything over to his subordinate, Gisco, and went home to his rural
estate on the Cap Bon Peninsula. Gisco
arranged to send the Punic forces back to Carthage in small groups to
be paid off and mustered out. His plan would have prevented a
concentration of mercenary forces in and around Carthage.
Carthaginian politicians, led by Hanno "the Great", had a better
idea: they would keep the returning mercenaries in and around
Carthage until they all had returned and then negotiate down the pay
and bonuses that Hamilcar had promised during the war. Debate and
delays fueled discontent, and ugly incidents started to occur in the
capital. The politicians handed out a partial payment and sent
the whole mercenary army off to a nearby town called Sicca. After
further delays, the mercenaries chose leaders and marched on Tunis at
the base of the peninsula on which Carthage stood. They took
Tunis and cut off food shipments from the hinterland to Carthage.
hunger and a huge mercenary army on their doorstep, the politicians
finally offered full payment to the mercenaries. But it was too
late: the mercenaries had now realized their strength.
At the time of the mercenary revolt, the neck of the promontory was
only about half as wide as it is shown in this satellite image.
The food suply of carthage was outside the mercenary lines, so Carthage
was in real trouble.
The mercenaries also besieged Utica, up the coast. Carthage sent
Gisco to negotiate with the mercenaries, but they refused the
Carthaginian offer and imprisoned Gisco with his negotiating
team. Carthage appointed Hanno the great as its general and
mobilized a citizen force to face the mercenaries.
About 40 percent of the returned mercenaries were Libyans, i.e.,
members of the indigenous North African population. They were
easily able to enlist the support of the Libyan tribes which had long
chafed under Carthaginian rule. The leader of the Libyan
mercenaries was Mathos.
According to Polybius, Mathos and the other Mercenary leader,
Spendius, feared that they would be executed if the mercenaries
ever negotiated a settlement, so they instigated the torture and murder
of Gisco and the other negotiators to ensure that the Carthaginians
would refuse any offer to negotiate. They were right: from the
time of the death of Gisco, Carthage sought only to exterminate the
revolting mercenaries. All rules of warfare and negotiation were
suspended. Polybius described the situation as a "truceless war",
a term that is still used to describe a war in which no truce terms can
be offered or accepted.
Hanno managed a victory against the mercenaries at Utica, but,
according to Polybius, he didn't know scratch about protecting the city
and soon found himself besieged inside. The rest of the
Carthaginian politicians, with some trepidation, appealed to Hamilcar
to take over the war against the mercenaries (he was to be "joint
with the immobilized Hanno.)
Hamilcar "Barca" ("Lightning", due to the swiftness and devastation of
his guerilla raids in Sicily) was a charismatic leader and had no
trouble recruiting a new mercenary army to fight his old mercenaries
from the First Punic War. More importantly he squeezed the
Carthaginian shekel pinchers for enough money to buy a new elephant
Hamilcar, when he was in Sicily, had been the first to put
elephants in the Punic arsenal. They were to prove decisive in
the three big battles of the Mercenary War: Utica, Bagradas
River, and "the saw". At Utica Hamilcar surrounded the besieging
mercenaries and then ran his elephants at them. Fear of the
elephants (and no little fear of their former commander) broke the
confidence of the Mercenaries. At the appropriate time, Hanno
broke out with his elephants and the mercenaries fled. Hamilcar
offered amnesty to captured mercenaries if they would join his
force. Many did, and those who did not were exiled.
Hannibal also fought the mercenaries somewhere upstream from Utica,
which, before extension of the river delta over the intervening
centuries, stood at the mouth of the Bagradas River. The
mercenary/Libyan force of 15000 was heavily defeated: 6000 killed
and 2000 captured. Hamilcar's army lost 500 infantrymen
killed. The main problems of the mercenaries were
disorganization, factionalism, and lack of command experience in the
mercenary leadership: Carthage (unlike the Romans) never allowed
mercenaries into its officer corps.
Tunisia's Medjerda River is the ancient Bagradas.
"The Saw" was a zig-zag box canyon where Hamilcar's forces trapped
the 50,000 or so remaining rebels. It was more of a siege than a
battle (although usually sieges involve cities or fortresses. At
any rate the rebels soon ran out of food, ate all their animals, and,
according to Roman sources, finally resorted to cannibalism. They
sent out negotiators, but Hamilcar imprisoned them. Finally, in
desperation they tried to break out. After a short melee, the
40,000 survivors surrendered. Not needing any more new recruits,
Hamilcar executed all 40,000.
Gustav Flaubert's 1862 French novel, Salammbo
the love affair of a fictional Carthaginian
princess, Salammbo (Hamilcar's daughter, no less), and the mercenary
leader Mathos. Its sensual descriptions of Salammbo's love
rituals and incantations made it an international sensation. But
it's pretty tame by modern standards. The full English text of
Flaubert's novel is available on the Internet at http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=1290
art work, one complete and two incomplete
operas, and a pretty strange sounding computer game (review link: http://www.justadventure.com/reviews/salammbo/Salammbo.shtm
of course, anywhere near reality, but
generations of readers have learned all they "know" about Carthage from
. Flaubert got the
name of his book from a suburb of Carthage, now a small town near Tunis
Mercenary troops in Sardinia (who also had not been paid) seized the
Carthaginian territory in 240 BC and started selling off Carthaginian
assets on the island: Sardinia was famous for its close-grained
woods, useful for shipbuilding, and for its production of
foodstuffs. The obvious customer was Rome. Many of the
mercenaries on the island appear to have been from Roman territory, and
they, like the Mamerrtines of Sicily at the beginning of the First
Punic War, asked for Roman protection -- Rome refused. Carthage
sent out a military expedition to put down the revolt, but the
expeditionary troops, who were also mercenaries, quickly joined the
rebellion. Eventually the rebels, cut off from military supplies
from Carthage, were expelled from the island by the local Sardinian
populace. They took refuge in Italy in 237 BC and again asked for
Roman help. This time Rome responded with alacrity and
seized the island. Italy still has it.
Carthage raged and threatened Rome -- a big mistake. Rome
declared that the treaty ending the First Punic War had been violated
and said war would resume. To avoid immediate resumption of war,
Carthage had to cede Sardina to Rome and pay an additional 1200 talents
in indemnity to Rome.
Polybius said that the Romans had acted in bad faith and simply had
stolen the island while Carthage was engaged in the Mercenary
War. But under Roman law, the Carthaginian claim to Sardina had
lapsed as soon as the Sardinians had expelled the Mercenaries.
Rome was, therefore, justified in seizing Sardinia. Nobody seemed
to worry about the claims of the Sardinian natives.
Various theorists have, naturally, come up with various theories
about how Hamalcar and the "Barcids" (a modern nomination for his
extended family and clientele) came to take over the Carthaginian
colonies in Spain. Either they were handed Iberia to get them out
of town, or they were sent to Iberia to exploit it for Carthage and
they just kept the profits for themselves. It's clear, however
what happened: the same year that he won the the Mercenary War,
Hamilcar took off for Iberia with a large part of his loyal mercenary
army. He quickly expanded into the interior and captured
important silver mines: his coins and those of his successors are
still marvels of silver purity.
The image is a modern rendering of the oath Hamilcar is said to have
administered to his nine year old son, Hannibal: in early
versions of the story Hannibal swore to never be a friend of
Rome; in later iterations that he would always be an enemy of
Rome. Since no Carthaginian or "Barcid" version of the story
survives, the whole episode is suspect. Polybius, however, did
have Carthaginian informants, who could have witnessed (or made up)
some such event. As usual, it is the problem of our single source
(Polybius) for all later stories of Carthaginian events. There's
no reason not to trust him, but, on the other hand, .....
Hamilcar drowned in 229 while crossing a river under fire while on
campaign agains a Celt-Iberian tribe in the interior. He was
succeeded by his son in law, Hasdrubal "the Fair".
Hasdrubal continued the Barcid expansion in Iberia, but he used
diplomacy rather than Hamilcar's army. He married many of his
subordinates, including young Hannibal, to Iberian "princesses"
(daughters of tribal leaders). By 221 BC when Hannibal succeeded
Hasdrubal (who had been murdered by a disaffected tribesman), all
of the Iberian peninsula south of the Ebro River was under Barcid
control. All, that is, except for the former Greek colony city of
Saguntum which said it had informal protection of Rome. It was an
The Ebro Riber runs right across the Iberian Peninsula almost from the
North Sea to its mouth at Tortosa. The Ebro, of course was the
ancient Iberus/Iberos from which the peninsula and its inhabitants got
their names. Already by 226 BC the Romans had imposed the Ebro as
a limit of Barcid expansion. Hamilcar's expansion didn't
take him that far anyway, and Hasdrubal's more pacific nature found the
"border" agreeable. Hannibal was another story.
Within a year of coming to power in 221, Hannibal had Roman protected
Saguntum under siege. It's not clear how the crisis started, but
historians suggest that the "normal" pattern was followed:
factions within the city appealed to the Romans and to the Barcids for
assistance in gaining an edge over rivals. Hannibal jumped in
with both feet, first putting the city under siege and then capturing
it eight months later. Rome sent a warning. That had always
worked before, but not this time. Hannibal undoubtedly knew that
the Romans were embroiled in a struggle with Cis-Alpine Gauls for
control of their territory below the southern slopes of the Alps.
Because of seasonal transport problems, Rome couldn't respond, at any
rate, until the next spring, and by then it was too late.
Hannibal's successful defiance of the Romans played well with the
south of the Ebro and he was able, thereafter, to recruit a large army
for the next stage of his plan.
There are ruins to be seen today at Saguntum, but they are not from our
period. Remains of a Cyclopic wall, millennia earlier than the
Barcid siege can be found and much medieval and Napoleonic military
stuff. The best Carthaginian and Roman remains were torn bown by
Napoleon's Marshal Suchet to get materials for his fortress.
(Pictures of a different Cyclopic wall can be found at http://www.cronenburg.net/wall.htm
these walls were already ancient, thought they
were built by those one-eyed giants. We still don't know who
built them, but they are all over Europe, North Africa, and the Middle
East. Individuall stones are often meters thick and weigh more than
Hannibal's 8 month siege of Saguntum in 220 BC was just the
beginning. He left a subordinate in charge of the city and went
to New Carthage to assemble his expeditionary force. No army of
its size had ever moved in this area of Europe: 90,000 infantry, 12,000
cavalry, 37 elephants, and a huge pack train set off along the coast
and across the Ebro River.
Hannibal's passage through Catalonia made no lasting impression -- no
identifiable ruins, place names, local legends -- but the Iberians and
Celt-Iberians certainly made an impression on Hannibal's army.
More than a quarter of his force was killed in battle before he reached
the base of the Eastern Pyrenees (Pyrenees Orientale).
Southern Catalonia has gently rolling hills. The north becomes
rugged and merges into the Pyrenees Orientale. Hannibal's forces
were subject to ambush and guerilla attacks every step of the
Maps by their nature are flat. But if they show numerous
close together rivers flowing in the same direction, that means deep
and narrow mountain valleys with high peaks between: no room for
This Google satellite photomontage gives a better idea of the
terrain. About 11,000 of Hannibal's mercenaries simply refused to
make the climb -- they were probably flatlanders from southern
Iberia. He discharged them and sent them home, not wanting
to force discontented troop into the mountains. He also left
another 20,000 under command of his brother, Hasdrubal Barca as a rear
guard in the area that is now Catalonia. He had lost some 22,000
in battle, 11,000 refuseniks discharged, and 20,000 as a rear guard out
original 102 thousand effectives. He was able to hire a number of
Celt-Iberians as mercenaries, however, and probably entered the
Pyrenees with more than 50,000 fighters (and the smaller but still huge
pack train.) Ironically, after all the hard fighting on his
northward approach to the Pyrenees the passage through those mountains
was almost unopposed, and it was high summer by that time so it wasn't
Summer conditions in the Pyrenees can be quite balmy. Many
Spaniards go to the mountains to escape summer heat and send their kids
there for "adventure camp". The rope slide rider has a harness,
like the one on the girl traversing the cliff. Note the
already-established foot bars on the traverse: nobody wants things to
get too adventurous. There's also a lot of good skiing in the
On the northen side of the Pyrenees was what the Romans called
Trans-Alpine Gaul, which was, of course, inhabited by Trans-Alpine
Gauls. The Gauls were at first very suspicious, but Hannibal sent
forth more agents (there had also been pre-arrival agents) to assure
the leaders of the Gallic tribes that he was only seeking passage and
not conquest. He invited the leaders to a grand congress where he
lavishly distributed gifts. Their suspicions were largely
overcome, so there was no real opposition to Hannibal, asside from some
small random raids on his baggage train -- to good a target for the
young punks to resist. Everything went fine until the Barcid
expedition reached the Rhone River.
The march toward the Rhone was along an easy route. A Roman
miltary road, the Via Domatia was built later on the same route, and so
was the Euro-A9 "interstate" superhighway.
Massilia (modern Marseilles) was on one of the several mouthes of the
Rhone River. Because it already had strong connections with Rome,
Hannibal avoided the city and encamped his army several miles upstream.
About the same time Rome got word that Hannibal was on the move and
sent one of its Consular armies under Cornelius Scipio (father of
Africanus) to intercept Hannibal south of the Pyrenees. None of
the Romans had any idea that Hannibal was already over the Pyrenees and
camped on the west bank of the Rhone. (The other Consiular army
was deployed in Cis-Alpine Gaul protecting new Roman coloniae that had
been imposed on the Cis-Alpine Gallic tribes).
By chance, Scipio decided to take a rest break in Massilia.
Outriders of his
forces and of the Barcid army bumped against each other north of
Massilia -- the first indication that either force had of the presence
of the other. The Roman cavalry put the Barcid riders to flight,
but Scipio had no way to chase down Hannibal: all his gear was
still aboard ship in the port. By the time he could disembark,
Hannibal, he knew, would be long gone.
Hannibal also didn't want to fight Scipio along the Rhone -- his target
was Italy and Rome, and, to get there, he had to reach the Alpine
passes before the were blocked by snow. Hannibal led his army
northward along the Rhone until he could find a way across.
Meanwhile, Scipio made a very wise and very un-Roman decision to turn
his command over to subordinates (relatives -- other Scipios) and
immediately took ship back to northern Italy where he raised another
intercepting army. Hannibal's element of surprise had been lost.
The Rhone flows southward along the western froon of the foothills of
the French Alps and debouches into the Tyrhennian Sea (literally:
debouch is from the French, meaning issues from the mouth).
Hannibal's crossing point, like many things about his route from this
point on is widely debated. It could not have been to far
upstream, however, because the river at the crossing point was
described as wide and with low banks. Clearly if would have been
above the point where the river divides to flow through its several
Wherever it was, Hannibal had a problem. The Gauls on the west
side of the river wanted him to leave and were doing anything that they
could to help him on his way. They gave him all their boats and
taught his forces how to make dugout canoes and large rafts to take his
men and baggage across. But the Gallic tribes on the eastern bank
had assembled to prevent his crossing. Hannibal used the now
standard solution. (It's standard because Hannibal's solution is now
"war colleges" all over the world.) He sent a cavalry detatchment
-- about 300 horse -- upriver where they found a hidden crossing point.
and came back down behind the tribes assemble on the east bank.
One of several proposed Rhone crossing points for Hannibal's
On the signal of his hidden cavalry detachment, Hannibal started moving
his infantry "landing craft" across the Rhone. The Gauls started
throwing projectiles as soon as the Barcid boats got in range, but then
the cavalry attacked from the Gallic rear. Not knowing what was
happening or the size of the attacking cavalry force, the Gauls retired
in confusion, and Hannibal had control of both banks. He then
across the remainder of his cavalry, the elephants (which didn't like
the swaying rafts and jumped overboard, swimming ashore and killing
several of their mahouts), and that
still huge baggage train.
An artists conception of the elephants on rafts, drawn from the
description given by Polybius.
Hannibal went further north along the east bank of the Rhone looking
for a way into and through the Alps. Untrustworthy -- in fact
traitorous -- Gaulish guides were available.
Charles Joseph Minard was a French illistrator famed for his use of
graphics to illustrate industria processe and, in retirement, for his
graphic illustration of historic events. Minard did this
illustration of the size of Hannibals invasion force the year before he
died (at 88) in 1869.
Minard is most remembered for his 1861illustration of the losses of
Napoleon's armies in their advance into Russia and in their
retreat. (Various illustrations on the Internet at http://images.google.com/images?q=minard+napoleon
Hamilcar, the father of Hannibal, led the land forces of Carthage
in Sicily -- by the end of the First Punic War it was a ragtag guerilla
band. According to Polybius, it was Hamilcar who, in the period
between the First and Second Punic Wars, trained Hannibal in Spain and
inculcated Hannibal with a profound hatred of Rome.
The key to Carthaginian victory on land, when it occurred, was the
fierce Numidian mercenary cavalry. Their main weapon was a
throwing spear, and each always carried several into their attack.
Artists impression of Maharbal, who was Hannibal's cavalry
commander during the Second Punic War, gives us a view of what
Carthaginian officers wore. His name indicates that he was
Carthaginian, but he probably commanded mercenary cavalry.
Although the officer corps of the Carthaginian army was actually
composed of Carthaginians, all the troops were usually foreign
Forward edge of the Carthaginian army. Cavalry, foreground,
then phalanges (singular = phalanx) of infantry, then, of in the
distance, more cavalry. The image is somewhat defective because
it shows a uniformity of costume that was never present in the
Carthaginian armies. After the first few battles in the Second
Punic War, Hannibal's tactics were reduced to raiding and guerilla
warfare. The Romans simply refused to engage in set piece battles
until the Zamma battle that ended the war.
Iberian Scutari were light infantry (phalanx infantrymen were the
heavies) and were so called because of the kind of large oval shields
they used. Although the Iberians and Celt-Iberians initially fought
fiercely to prevent the Carthaginian army from passing through their
territory, after they were "pacified" they eagerly took Carthaginian
pay to fight the Romans.
Celtiberian mercenaries -- more Carthaginian light infantry.
Iberian mercenary. Carthaginian army.
Iberian Caetrati carried a Caetra shield and often used the
slashing falcata sword.
Another of the Iberian Caetrati.
A Carthaginian war elephant. Elephants were native to northern
Africa during this period. They were smaller than the sub-Saharan
breed, but still plenty scary when they ran at you. Carthage did
not originate the use of elephants in Mediterranean warfare: they
had been used for a long time in areas further east. The
Carthaginians originally used the much smaller "forrest elephant",
which, in those days, were still native to Mediterranean Africa.
Then they switched to larger sub-saharan African elephants which they
purchased from Egypt. Indian elephants and Indian trainers were
also available for purchase in Egypt. Hamilcar had elephants on
Sicily. Hannibal took 37 elephants on his Italian
expedition. Although all of them were said to have made it across
the Rhone, some accounts say only seven made it through the Alps.
A short time later, only one was left -- identified in later Arab
accounts as "Abullah Bassan" and, according to Polybius, known as "the
Syrian" to Roman troops. Hannibal received elephant
reinforcements during his sojourn in Italy.
An elephant trainer and driver -- probably an Indian -- carried his
goad and spears.
Roman infantry knew how to bring down an elephant, but the preferred
defensive strategy of goading them into turning around and running
back where they came from. This image shows both the wrong kind
of elephant and the wrong kind of goad in the hand of the mahout.
Celtiberian light infantry carrying a scutum shield and a Celtic long
sword. The Iberian short sword, which the Romans adopted and
called a gladius, was shorter and therefore more useful for close
An individual member of a phalanx was something you would never see
on a battlefield. They bunched together in groups of 256:
16 abreast and 16 deep and multiple phalanges would be arrayed side by
side. Each of these heavy infantrymen carried a
shield and a 18 to 20 foot long lance called a sarissa.
This phalangist is wearing a linothorax -- body armor made of layers of
linen glued together with animal glue.
A phalange member wearing chain mail. Carthaginian soldiers soon
learned to strip the mail from the bodies of slain Roman
infantrymen. Mail was much more efficient at turning a blade than
was the linothorax. Note also that his sarissa lance has a bronze
counterweight above the butt spike. This allowed the member of
the phalanx to carry his weapon with much less fatigue.
The standard infantry formation of Mediterranean armies was this 256
man phalanx. It theoretically could move in any direction -- all
the men would raise their spears, turn, and put their spears down again
to move in a new direction. In practice, changing direction was
extremely difficult, and protecting your flanks was virtually
Commanders would pack their phalanges in side by side and
flank them with protecting cavalry. Armies would face each
other and pointy shoving matches would ensue. Only the
first five ranks would point their spears downward toward the
enemies. This meant that between the front men in his phalanx
five spears would protrude. The next image shows what you faced
as a phalanx moved toward you.
The Phalanx was packed tighter than the opposing Roman maniple.
So individual Roman troopers (and they did fight as individuals) might
face ten advancing sarissae. Pretty tough duty.
So why did the Romans win on Punic War battlefields? At the
beginning, they didn't. Usually it was the Numidian cavalry that
gave the victory to Carthage. But in Sicily and in Italy (Second
Punic War) Roman maniples could beat the phalanx formations simply
because they could maneuver and were able to adapt to uneven ground,
obstacles, and even to dead men and horses on the field of
battle. Any of those things could cause gaps in the phalanges
that the Roman infantry could penetrate. Once inside, the
Carthaginian sarissae were useless against the deadly Roman short
swords (gladii, singular = gladius). That's what has
happened in this image. (Carthaginans, by the way, were never
that "uniform".) And once the Romans had learned how to panic and
turn charging elephants, things got really bad for the Carthaginian
phalanx formations. There was no way to get out of the phalanx
unless everyone dropped their lances and fled at the same time.
(In the Second Punic War, Hannibal began to adopt the Roman formation
but by that time the Romans had again changed tactics and were
completely avoiding set-piece battles in Italy. Instead,
Hannibal to wander around in southern Italy using up his ever more
scarce supplies and men in small skirmishes. Much more about that
about the big set-piece battle that the Romans finally did fight, at
be in a later unit.)