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Spain (210-206)







Final Act



The Spanish Command

Nero had only gone to Spain as a temporary measure, and in 210 it was decided to send reinforcements and a privatus cum imperio to take over command in Spain. But on the day of the election, no senior magistrates offered themselves for the task of campaigning in Spain against superior Carthaginian forces and two brothers of Hannibal. Disgruntled, the people milled about on the election field, when suddenly Scipio stepped up on a podium and declared his candidature. His election was unanimous, not only by every century, but by every man present at the election.

People began to have second thoughts later on though: not only was Scipio only 25 years old (the legal age for a praetor - the lowest rank that could have imperium - was set at 39 in 180 BCE), but they considered it a bad omen to send a Scipio into the heart of Spain, where his father and uncle were buried, while his family was still in mourning. Realizing this, Scipio called an assembly of the People to calm. At this assembly, the sagacity of his words, coupled with his profound self-confidence (and no doubt a good deal of religious fervor), did much to calm the worries of the people.

The First Year: Nova Carthago (209)

Scipio left Rome with ten thousand infantry, a thousand cavalry, and 30 quinquiremes - the only reinforcements that Rome would commit to Spain for the rest of the war. Basing himself at Tarracco, he attempted to strengthen the alliances with the Spanish tribes, whose loyalty had been severely strained by the Roman defeats. Marcius who, despite having saved the Roman armies in Spain, had been snubbed by the Senate, he honored and appointed one of his staff officers. The soldiers he visited one by one in their winter quarters, to boost morale, playing on their fondness for their old commanders:

"I will soon bring it to pass that, as you can now trace the likeness to my father and uncle in my features, countenance, and figure, I will so restore a copy of their genius, honour, and courage, that every man of you shall say that his commander, Scipio, has either returned to life, or been born again."

During the winter he scouted out the dispositions of his enemies, discovering that the Carthaginians had divided their armies in their efforts to pacify Spain. He also learnt details about the Carthaginian base of Kartagenea (New Carthage), treasury of the Carthaginian province of Spain, lying on the direct sea-crossing to Carthage, and almost the only city in Spain with harbours fit for substantial naval forces. It was a natural fortress of great strength. The Carthaginian garrison was only a thousand man strong - with the Carthaginians masters of Spain, and with strong Carthaginian armies within 10 days march of the city, they did not fear an attack on it.

During the winter of 210, he also made detailed inquiries into the location of the Kartagenea from local fishermen. The city was located on a narrow peninsula; the only way of approach a narrow isthmus some 300 meters across. Leaving some 3,000 men with his official second in command, Marcus Silanus, Scipio marched the rest of his men (around 25,000) south in the early spring of 209. His friend, and the only other man privy to Scipio's plan, Gaius Laelius, commanded the thirty warships that accompanied Scipio's forces.

Scipio's first act upon his arrival was to construct fortifications across the isthmus facing inland, thus ensuring that he would be able to defend his positions against any reinforcing forces. The next morning, he began the assault on the seemingly impregnable fortress. The commander of the city - yet another Mago - had armed the citizens and posted two thousand of the best citizen troops on the landward side in preparation for a sortie. Anticipating this, Scipio first sent a troop of men forward to attack with scaling ladders. When the expected sortie came, Scipio's men promptly retreated as ordered. Scipio then sent in his reserves and the sortie was driven back in disorder and so furiously that the Romans almost succeeded in forcing entrance on the heels of the sortie.

During the assault, Scipio took part in the battle, but took care to stay out of danger, and was accompanied by three soldiers carrying large shields to cover him from missile fire.

"...Thus he could both see what was going on, and being seen by all his men he inspired the combatants with great spirit. The consequence was that nothing was omitted which was necesarry in the engagement, but the moment that circumstances suggested any step to him, he set to work at once to do what was necesarry." (Polybius)

Such conduct, as Polybius points out, contrasts markedly with the typical general of his times (including Alexander the Great), who seemed to glory in putting themselves at risk, never thinking of the consequences to their army should they fall. Having proven his courage beyond a doubt, Scipio was wise enough not to risk his life unnecesarrily. Towards noon Scipio called off the assault, and settled down to wait for his plan to ripen.

The first assault had been merely a preliminary probe with limited forces. For the second assault which was launched late in the afternoon, Scipio brought up fresh troops; enough now to ensure that the whole landward side of the fortress would be under assault. At the same time, Gaius Laelius landed marines in the harbor to assault the city from the sea, thereby ensuring that every man of the garrisson was engaged. In the meantime, Scipio assembled 500 men at the edge of the lagoon that bounded one side of the city.

At the very moment when the assault was at its height, the tide began to ebb and the water gradually began to recede from the edge of the lagoon, exposing the walls of the city on the lagoon side. The sight seemed like a miracle to the Roman army, and the 500 men Scipio had detailed to the job quickly raced through the shallow water and mounted the undefended walls of the city on the lagoon side. Falling upon the city's defender's from the rear, they captured the main gates and opened them to the rest of the army.

While the Roman soldiers pouring over the walls set about systematically massacring the city population, Scipio himself organized an assault on the city's citadel, which was still garrisoned. Unnerved by the slaughter, and realizing that the city was lost, Mago surrendered, whereupon Scipio gave the signal for the massacre to end. It is noteworthy that, while the massacre of a city's population upon capture was normal in ancient times, the Romans were the only ones to use it in such a systematic, cold-blooded fashion to break the will to resist of the conquored city.

In one fell stroke, Scipio had taken the greatest Carthaginian city in Spain, captured immense quantities of military stores and treasure, and delivered a great moral blow to the enemy. As Livy makes Scipio tell his troops before the assault:

"You will in actuality attack the walls of a single city, but in that city you will have made yourselves masters of Spain" (Livy)

Once the city was captured, Scipio acted with great humanity toward the people thus put in his power. The Carthaginian citizens he set free and restored to their property; of two thousand artisans (Kartagenea was the main armory of Spain), he promised freedom if they would work in the Roman service. Others he enrolled as rowers for the ships he had captured in the harbor. The large number of Spanish hostages that had been kept in the city, he sent home, a calculated diplomatic move.

During the capture, some young Roman soldiers came across an exceptionally beautiful girl. Knowing that Scipio had an eye for beautiful women, they brought her to their commander as a present. Scipio was astonished at her beauty, but mindful of his position of Commander expressed his gratitude to his men, he showed his own moderation and self-restraint by refusing the gift. Learning that the girl was betrothed to a young Spanish chief named Allucius, Scipio sent for the young man and presented her to him. When the girl's parents came to thank him and presented him with gifts, Scipio turned the gifts over to Allucius as a dowry from himself. Thus Scipio's reputation for kindness and generosity was spread far and wide among the Spanish tribes. In addition, Allucius himself soon after joined Scipio with 1,400 Spanish warriors of his tribe.

Having reconstructed the defenses and adequately garrissoned City, Scipio sent Gaius Laelius off with a report to the Senate, and spent the rest of the year in training and drilling his men in the environs of Tarraco, while his newly acquired artificers turned out thousands of finely tempered, short Spanish cut-and-thrust swords - the Gladius Hispaniensis that was to become the standard sword of the later Roman Legions. In between overseeing the production and drilling his troops, Scipio spent his time in trying to convince the Spanish tribes to forsake their alliance with the Carthaginians.

The Conquest (208-207)

Without naval forces, the Carthaginians had no hope of recapturing Kartagenea, and they spend the winter trying to prevent the defection of the Spanish tribes. At the same time, Hadrsubal Barca had begun to recruit an army which he could march to reinforce that of his brother in Spain. Scipio's scouts kept him appraised of the Carthaginian plans, and early in the year he marched south, surprising Hadsrubal in the vicinity of Baecula.

   Hadsrubal Barca, brother of Hannibal
Coin showing Hadsrubal Barca, brother of 
HannibalScipio had with him around 35-40,000 men - his Roman troops reinforced by the crews of his ships (who were not needed at the moment), and perhaps some 10-15,000 Spanish auxiliaries. Hadsrubal, with only 25-30,000 men, retreated to his camp on a small but high plateau, and deployed his light troops on a lower terrace below the camp. A direct frontal assault looked impossible; Scipio's decision to send his own light troops (and a picked force of heavy infantry) forward in a frontal attack therefore took Hadsrubal by surprise. The Romans took heavy losses, but succeeded in taking the lower terrace, and Scipio now sent forward all his light troops.

Hadsrubal now began deploying his army in front of his camp to beat off the attack of the light troops coming up the hill, but was again surprised when Roman troops suddenly fell on the flanks of his only partially deployed formation. Scipio and Laelius had each taken half of the Roman troops and marched round the Carthaginian flanks while their attention had been fixed by the frontal attack. Now the Roman pincers closed on the Carthaginian army. Hadsrubal, realizing that all was lost immediately ordered a retreat. Extricating part of his army, including his elephants and the treasure chest, Hadsrubal retreated up the Tagus valley, but perhaps half to two-thirds of his army were either killed or captured.

Polybius tells us that Scipio did not think it advisable to pursue Hadsrubal (and agrees); but in spite of their expert opinion, later historians have used the escape of Hadsrubal to criticize Scipio, conveniently ignoring the lessons of two millenia of Spanish warfare. Away from the coast, Scipio would be reliant upon foraging to supply his army. Had he chosen to follow Hadsrubal, he would have had to forage in ground already picked bare by Hadsrubal's troops. At the same time, he would have placed himself in position to be encircled and surrounded by the two other Carthaginian armies, both of whom marched north to reinforce Hadsrubal and joined him short days after the battle. In view of these facts, to pursue Hadsrubal would not only have been the height of foolishness, but probably suicidal.

In the event, Hadsrubal - taking over command of Mago's army and adding to these the survivors of his own - slipped through one of the Western passes of the Pyrenees (Scipio had garissoned the Eastern passes). Even so, he spent most of the rest of the year in recruiting troops in Gaul, in preparation for the invasion of Italy. The remaining Carthaginian army in Spain retreated to Gades, while Massinissa with 3000 Numidian cavalry harrassed the Roman forces in Spain.

In the aftermath of Baecula, Scipio successfully stepped up his diplomatic efforts to secure the alliance of many more of the Spanish tribes. On the march south, the two Spanish leaders Edeco and Andobales had saluted him as King, but now after the battle, all of the Spanish tribes took up this form of salutation. Once again showing his mental stature and surprising clear-headedness for a man of twenty-eight whose word was now law in all of Northern-eastern Spain, Scipio called an assembly:

"...he told that he wished to be called kingly by them, and actually to be kingly, but that he did not wish to be king or to be called so by any one. Having said this, he ordered them henceforth to call him General." (Polybius)

One Carthaginian army had been effectively destroyed, and the other had been sent to Italy. The Carthaginian hold on Spain had been dangerously weakened; and the Carthaginian Government decided to send fresh reinforcements to Spain, under the command of a new general, Hanno. Hanno marched his troops inland to join up with Mago, who was recruiting new Spanish troops in central Spain, while Hadsrubal Gisgon marched from Gades to challenge Scipio.

Keeping a watchful eye on Hadsrubal Gisgon, Scipio sent Silanus with 10,000 foot and 500 horse on a forced march to attack Hanno and Mago in their training camp. Though inferior in numbers, Silanus attack was a total success; taken totally by surprise, the new Spanish levies were scattered beyond all hope of recall and Hanno himself was captured. Salvaging what he could from the wreck, Mago retreated to Gades, where he joined with Hadsrubal Gisgon who had also retreated when hearing of the attack. It is typical of Scipio's character that he was unstinting in his praise of his successful lieutenant.

Either during 207 (or the year before at Baecula), the Romans captured a young Numidian boy of royal lineage. His name was Massiva, a nephew of Massinissa who in disobeying his uncle had ridden into battle where he had been taken prisoner. True to his usual magnaminous treatment of his captives, Scipio sent the boy back to his uncle, bestowing rich gifts upon the boy.

While Scipio won magnificent victories in Spain, Fabius Maximus had succeeded in recapturing the Southern Italian city of Tarentum in 209. In 208 however, Hannibal succeeded in ambushing and killing the two Roman Consuls, one of them the famed Marcus Claudius Marcellus (referred to as "the Sword of Rome", where Fabius was "the shield"). Hadsrubal's invasion of Italy brought tensions to new heights, but Caius Claudius Nero, now Consul, tricked Hannibal and marched a picked force north to join with Marcus Livius Salinator. At the Metaurus, the Roman forces - totalling some 45,000 men - trapped and destroyed the army of Hadsrubal Barca. Hadsrubal himself, seeing his army surrounded and the battle lost, rode into the thick of the battle and fell fighting.

The Crowning Victory: Ilipa (206)

The Carthaginians had spent the winter in recruiting new troops and strengthening their army for the last great effort. They had ammassed a massive army of 70,000 infantry, 4,500 cavalry and 32 elephants at Gades and in the spring, Mago and Hadsrubal Gisgo marched this army east to challenge Scipio for dominion of Spain.

   A Spanish Scutatus
A Spanish Scutatus. These spanish mercenaries fought on both 
sides of the war; a large part of the army Hannibal took across the 
Alps consisted of spaniards.Scipio concentrated his forces near Baecula and Castulo. His army had been weakened by the need to garrisson his newly acquired possession, and the sending of Spanish troops to the army in Italy - but with the aid of his new allies, he was able to boost the size of his army to 45,000 infantry and some 3,000 cavalry - though less than half of these were his reliable Roman legionaries. So close to the grave of his father, Scipio could hardly avoid thinking of the fate of his father, betrayed by these same allies. In spite of his numerical inferiority, Scipio marched his army west to meet the Carthaginians and came upon them near Ilipa.

The Carthaginians had camped on a small hill; Scipio now placed his camp on certain low hills opposing them, but in such a position as to cut of the Carthaginians from retreating to their base at Gades. While the Roman army pitched camp, the Carthaginian and Numidian cavalry, led by Mago and Massinissa attempted a surprise attack on the Romans engaged in fortifying their camp. But Scipio was prepared for this eventuality and had placed his own cavalry in ambush. The Carthaginians were thus soon driven back to their own camp. Every day, for the next couple of days, the Carthaginians marched their army out to offer battle late in the day, deploying their forces with the steady African spearmen in the center, and the spanish allies on the flanks. Each day, even later, Scipio would simmilarly march out and place his roman legionaries in the centre and the spanish allies on the flanks. Neither side attacked, but since both sides set up identically each day, it was soon common talk in both camps that this would be the order of battle.

As soon as this idea had taken root, Scipio acted. He ordered his men fed and armed before daylight and sent his light troops and cavalry forward to attack the Carthaginian camp before dawn. The Carthaginians, caught napping, were forced to rush out and deploy their army without breakfast. Only now did they realize that Scipio had altered his own deployment - this day Scipio had deployed his Spaniards in the centre and his Romans out on the wings. With both armies deployed, the Romans ready and watchful, there was no chance for the Carthaginians to alter their own deployment.

During the next seven hours, the light troops and cavalry battled it out in front of the two armies, alternately advancing and retreating. Scipio was in no hurry: he wanted the Carthaginian army to feel their lack of a breakfast, and the Carthaginians dared not attack. Finally, Scipio recalled his exhausted light troops and ordered the advance - but the Spaniards only at a slow pace. As his army came withing 700 metres of the enemy, Scipio, with the right wing, wheeled the maniples of his wing into column and marched until the heads of the columns were opposite the end of the Carthaginian lines (which was longer than the Roman, due to numerical superiority). The columns then wheeled and advanced quickly toward the enemy, redeployed into line and attacked the Hadrsubal's spaniards, while the Roman cavalry and velites swept round their rear. Marcius and Silanus on the left wing duplicated this maneuvre.

There was little the Carthaginians could do. The African spearmen dared not move to assist their wings, lest they themselves be attacked by the slowly moving spaniards of the Roman centre. Hadsrubal's elephants stationed on the wings soon panicked and stampeded into his own troops, spreading additional confusion. Hadrsubal's spaniards fought well, but hungry and outclassed, they were soon routed. A sudden rainstorm which churned the ground into mud saved the Carthaginian army from immediate annihilation, but Scipio exploited his victory to the full despite the difficulties. Cut off by Scipio from Gades, the Carthaginians were forced to retreat away from their base; and Scipio's relentless pursuit ensured the complete destruction of the Carthaginian army.

Ilipa can be considered the crowning victory of the Roman army, showing what the manipular system was capable off at the height of it's development. It is generally considered the highest development of tactical skill in the history of the Roman army. If Cannae is the classic example of a double envelopment, Ilipa is the masterpiece: a perfect example of fixing and destroying the enemy at minimum cost. With this battle alone, Scipio establishes himself as one of the greatest generals of all time.

To his friends, who urged him to take a rest (possibly because his health was by this time deteoriating), Scipio replied:

"...that he had now to consider how he should begin the war against Carthage; for up to now the Carthaginians had been making war on the Romans, but now fortune had given the Romans the opportunity of making war on the Carthaginians." (Livy)
For now though, the subjugation of Spain still remained to be completed. A few tribes who had betrayed the Romans in 211 were now punished for their treachery - the inhabitants of one city committing mass suicide rather than surrender. He also sent an expedition to attempt to capture Gades, but the Gadetians who had promised to open the gates where discovered and killed before they could betray the city. At this point, Scipio fell seriously ill, and rumours of his death caused a mutiny in the Roman army and the revolt of Scipio's former Spanish allies. The main cause of the mutiny was arrears of pay; having received no reinforcements and very little support from Rome for the past four years, and with the lack of plunder from their recent campaigns, Scipio had been unable to pay his troops on time. Scipio, recovering from his illness, quelled the mutiny, executed the ringleaders of the mutiny, and had the troops paid in full from money contributed by allied spanish communities.

He then marched against Andobales and utterly defeated the Celtiberian army. Having thus pacified the Spaniards, he could afford to be merciful, as he concentrated on his true goal; Africa. Scipio had sent his friend Laelius to the King of the Western Numidians, Syphax, who was once again considering revolt against the Carthaginians. Syphax howr, refused to ratify any treaty except with Scipio, so sometime during 206, Scipio sailed with two quinquiremes to meet with Syphax, taking a considerable risk in doing so.

In fact he arrived at the Numidian harbor, at exactly the same time as Hadsrubal (who had fled from Spain) anchored there on his way back to Carthage. However, Scipio's ship managed to make harbor before Hadsrubal's seven Triremes could make out to intercept them, and in a neutral harbor, Hadsrubal dared not act against the Romans. Syphax, thrilled to be hosting two such august personages. Both were now invited to dinner with Syphax, and so great was Scipio's charm that not only Syphax, but Hadsrubal as well, were taken in by his personality. Having secured the alliance with Syphax, Scipio returned to Spain where he spoke with Massinissa (still resisting the Romans in Spain), heir to the throne of Eastern Numidia. Mago Barca, the last Carthaginian general in Spain, received orders from Carthage to sail for Italy. Along the way he attempted to assault Kartagenea, was repulsed and rorced to retreat. Gades however would not allow him entrance and soon after surrendered, and Mago was forced to recuperate on Minorca (the inhabitants of Mallorca would not allow him to land).

The stage was set for Scipio to go to Africa, and at the end of the year he returned to Rome stand for Consul in 205.

Author: Michael O. Akinde.
Created: May, 2000.    Last Modified: July 2, 2000.
Copyright © 2000 Michael O. Akinde. All rights reserved. 
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