The Punic Wars: Rome on the better hand
by: Q. Claudius Locatus Barbatus

For the first time since he had left Nova Carthago 12 years ago Hannibal had lost the initiative. He still owned a large piece of land in the South of Italy with some smaller ports (e.g. Locri and Croton). He had enough silver and food for his men. He was waiting for both consuls to attack him. Then he would avenge the disgraceful throwing with Hasdrubal’s head. But the news he got was bad: Rome had ended the famine along its citizens by loads of grain from Sicily, the fields of Latium were cultivated again and Macedonia had made peace with Rome. And Spain was getting in Scipio’s hands.

In Spain Mago had thrown his whole army into battle with Scipio at Ilippa. But Scipio was a smart commander and moved the front continuously during the fight. He defeated the Carthaginian army. The survivors were driven towards the sea. Only Gades was still in Carthaginian hands... But not for long: Scipio conquered the city almost immediately. The Iberian people were too late with their defenses. Indibilis fled, Ilurgi was conquered and Astapa was burnt with its people. Castulo, the city of Hannibal’s wife’s family, surrendered. Mago and his army (only 2000 soldiers were left) departed for Italy by boat. Spain was in Scipio's hands.

Scipio traveled for the first time to Africa in May 206 BC. He wanted to meet Syphax, chief of the Numidians (a man who was known for his talents in negotiating). The journey was dangerous and Scipio's ship was only guarded by one other galley. When he entered the port of Siga he saw 7 Carthaginian ships waiting for him. But he kept on sailing and walked fearless off the ship onto quay. In the palace he was introduced to a Carthaginian aristocrat called Hasdrubal (they must have been short on names in Carthago...), who had been an opponent of Scipio at Ilippa, together with Mago. Syphax organized a huge feast because of this meeting. Syphax didn't want to take part in the ongoing war and tried to create friendship between both men and proposed a treaty. Scipio saw what Syphax was trying and replied: "I want to be a friend of this Carthaginian prince, but I'm only doing what the Senate is telling me." Hasdrubal later told Syphax: "this man is even more dangerous with its tongue than he is in battle." Scipio departed for Rome with the promise that Syphax would be an ally. Hasdrubal departed for Carthago with the same promise...

Scipio knew he needed excellent cavalry when fighting in Africa. To get this support he succeeded to enlist Masinissa, an excellent commander, with his men. Masinissa (king of the Massylians) had been ally of Carthago until the Carthaginians fled after the battle of Ilippa. They refused to house his cavalry Ion Gades. Also Scipio released a nephew of Masinissa, who was captured. Masinissa was also fascinated by Scipio's charms. But there was more, The Carthaginians had just disinherited Masinissa. He promised to help Scipio on the African shores with loads of Numidian cavalry. But Scipio didn't invade Africa yet. Hannibal's power was still present there and the people of Astapa would rather kill themselves than surrendering to the Romans. So Scipio founded a colony in the valley of Betis, for Romanisation of the country. He went back to Italy together with Laelius, leaving his army, because of forthcoming elections. Some old law prevented Scipio from entering Rome because he had left his position without having had the order to do so. Finally the entire senate came outside the city walls (to the temple of Bellona) to hear what Scipio had to stay, thus bypassing the law. The Senate decided to allow Scipio to enter the city, which he did with great honor. The people loved him. Scipio was elected consul, Licinius Crassus (the Pontifex Maximus) became second consul. The tradition forebode the Pontifex to leave Italy, thus Scipio was sent to Sicily. But Scipio encountered a lot of opposition against an invasion of Africa. The land-owners accepted the presence of Hannibal in Italy and thought they would be able to have a peace treaty with him within a few years. Scipio tried to force the senate to allow an invasion of Africa by the threat to put the proposal before the peoples council. This was the same as rebelling against the Senate.

Fabius Maximus stood up to reprimand Scipio. "Why should we try to invade Africa, when Hannibal is still on our doorstep?" He also spoke condescending about Scipio's triumphs in Spain. "Scipio tries to establish his power, not the power of Rome". Scipio replied: "Is there a better example than Hannibal himself? He invaded Italy, knowing that the Roman army here would be waiting for him. There is no such army in Africa." Scipio got what he wanted: the authorization to act as he wanted, except he couldn't take legions from within Italy. or more than 30 ships with him to Africa. Scipio went back to Sicily. In Sicily were still some legions left. The veterans from the battle of Cannae had been banned to this isle. These men were waiting for revenge. Scipio also took 7000 volunteers with him to Sicily. There he became a favorite of Syracuse by paying compensation for the grief done by Marcellus. The Quaestor of Sicily was enraged about the expenses. His name was Marcus Porcius Cato. The feud between him and Scipio lasted for a long time. Scipio took great care of his army, counting 12000 - 20 000 soldiers at that time. Scipio sent Laelius to Africa with a part of his troops to encounter Masinissa. The Romans ransacked Hippo Regius (Bône) in Africa and met Masinissa. Masinissa told the Romans to hurry; Syphax already had chosen the side of Carthago. Laelius immediately sailed back to Sicily. When Carthago heard of this invasion they sent reinforcements to Hannibal (6000 Soldiers, 800 Numidians and 8 elephants and a convoy of ships with food and silver) and manned the city walls.
© 2001-2023 Societas Via Romana