The Punic Wars: Back in Carthago
by: Q. Claudius Locatus Barbatus

Meanwhile Scipio had concluded a provisional treaty with the Carthaginians (return of all prisoners to Rome, the withdrawal of all Carthaginian forces out of Italy and Spain, Sardinia and Corsica went to Rome, all galleys except 20 went to Rome and a compensation of 5000 silver talents; (about 8 000 000 euro)). Both parties used this treaty only to gain more time to build up there strength. Hannibal was marching towards Carthago and mustering new forces; Scipio was receiving reinforcements from Italy. Scipio had expected Hannibal to return, but not this quick and with an unharmed army. Laelius went to Rome to ask for more troops and more supplies. 120 supply ships and 20 galleys reached Castra Cornelia, under rule of praetor Lentulus. Another fleet didn't completely reach Castra Cornelia because of the bad weather. The galleys and the troops were saved, but 200 supply ships were lying at a distance offshore. In the night the fleet of the starved Carthaginians stole the ships. Roman Legates went protesting in Carthago, but the citizens of Carthago were enraged and the Romans merely were able to escape alive. On the way back their ship was attacked by three galleys of Hannibal, who didn't care about the treaty. The Roman legates saved themselves by stranding their galley on the beach not very far away of Castra Cornelia.

Scipio was still waiting for reinforcements from Rome and Masinissa, who was gathering Numidian Cavalry in the West. He got a message from his spies that some of Syphax' old allies were gathering with Hannibal. Scipio decided not to wait any longer and marched towards Carthago. He ransacked and burnt all villages on his way and let the people march behind his army, tied as slaves. The council of Carthago quickly sent a message to Hannibal. His army (about 37 000 men and 80 elephants) came to Carthago to defend it from its Roman offenders. He knew the Romans didn't have any Numidian cavalry. The irony was that Hannibal was marching in areas which he didn't know, he only had been there as a 9 year old, and the Romans knew the terrain.

Scipio marched on up to a place called Zama. There he met a Carthaginian envoy. He did a stunning proposition: Hannibal wanted to meet Scipio between the enemy lines. While thinking about the proposal Scipio saw dust coming from the west. It was Masinissa, with 6000 cavalry and 4000 infantry. Now Scipio had a bigger cavalry than his enemy. Scipio decided to meet Hannibal. The both of them only took only an interpreter with them (for winning time, both of them spoke fluently Greek and Latin). Polybius tells about this extraordinary meeting:
"You have had success, Roman Consul. You also had luck."
Scipio waited.
"Did you ever think about the fact if there is still something to win for Rome if you continue battle? Do you know that if you are defeated here, you will lose your whole army? I wouldn't propose a treaty if it wouldn't give advantage to the both of us."
Scipio still waited. There was no doubt that Hannibal knew of the conditions of the provisional treaty. He asked the conditions Hannibal would offer him. Hannibal answered that Carthago would cede all Isles and Spain would be abandoned by Carthago. He didn't say anything about compensation, returning prisoners or galleys. Scipio replied that he couldn't accept less than what was foreseen in the provisional treaty. The two men saluted and departed for their own army.

That night Hannibal's forces marched towards the Romans. In front were the elephants. But Scipio countered him. There were unusual "gaps" in his order of battle. When the elephants came into sight, the Romans blew on all their horns and trumpets. The elephants went wild, running into these "gaps". There they were taken care of by javelins; the elephants turned around and ran into their own army. The Roman cavalry, under the rule of Masinissa and Laelius, attacked the Carthaginian cavalry, which fled across the plains; the Romans pursued them. In the meanwhile the Roman legions attacked the Carthaginian infantry. After heavy and long fights the Roman Legions destroyed the first and second line of Carthaginian soldiers. But now they were in front of Hannibal's veterans of the Italian front. Scipio made his lines longer than the Carthaginians, thus trying to defeat the weaker Carthaginian flanks. But at that very moment the Roman cavalry returned and attacked the Carthaginians in the back. They were completely destroyed. In the same way the Romans were at Cannae. Hannibal managed to flee. Scipio said later that Hannibal had done anything a man could do in his situation.

Suddenly the sons of Syphax appeared with Numidian cavalry. Too late, and they were quickly defeated by the Romans. With this cavalry Hannibal might have won the battle. But Scipio had token the good chance by attacking the Carthaginians immediately after Masinissa showed up. Also the new consules of Rome arrived with reinforcements. But Scipio remained the uncontested commander. Rome expected him to destroy Carthago, but Scipio observed the defences and didn't want to besiege the city. He proposed a treaty (surrender of all ships except ten and all elephants, no wars without the authorisation of Rome, a compensation of 10000 silver talents over 50 years and Carthago became 'the friend of Rome', something the Barcas never have wanted, and which they started the war for). Masinissa became king of all of Numidia. The Roman deserters were crucified, other Italian deserters were killed.

Publius Cornelius Scipio returned to Rome in 210BC. He had with him 123000 pounds of silver. The people were euphoric. The senate was less euphoric. They were afraid that the citizens of Rome would try to make him king and Carthago still existed. The Claudii were jealous. The Senate limited the honour by granting him the titles of 'princeps senatus' and 'Africanus'.
© 2001-2023 Societas Via Romana