The battles for control of the lands of Middle Sea
This book usefully, concisely and comprehensively describes the history of the conflict that raged for a century between the Roman Republic and the Carthaginian Empire. In the ancient world these were among the largest conflicts ever fought. At the outset of this struggle the Carthaginians, who had come from Phoenician beginnings, were the dominant power in the Mediterranean region. Rome was aggressively in the ascendant grasping territory with ruthless efficiency. Each side realised that there was only room for one power of imperial influence in the region and that this was a war without compromise—victory or annihilation. The famous and infamous commanders of both forces appear within these pages, including the indomitable Hannibal Barca and Scipio Africanus, together with the equally renowned battles and campaigns that they fought from Spain to Italy and upon the sands of North Africa itself. The contest resulted, of course, in the destruction of Carthage as Rome rose to be the most significant imperial power of the ancient world. Contains useful battle field maps.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket; our hardbacks are cloth bound and feature gold foil lettering on their spines and fabric head and tail bands.
About halfway between the promontories of Lilybaeum and Pachynus, and drawn back a mile or so from the southern coast, was the important city of Agrigentum. It had once boasted a population of 200,000 souls—a fact to which the size and extent of its majestic ruins still bear witness—and though its ruthless destruction by the Carthaginians (B.C. 405), and the misgovernment of domestic tyrants had shorn it of much of its grandeur and prosperity, it had been refounded by Timoleon, and was still at the time of the First Punic War the second Greek city in Sicily, and was able to give shelter to a garrison of 50,000 men.
Here Hannibal, son of Gisco, concentrated the forces which had been gathered from such distant countries; here he determined to make a stand in the field, and behind its bulwarks, after collecting vast stores of provisions and of materials for war, he was prepared, if need be, to stand a siege. Hither also came all the forces which the Roman Senate thought necessary to deal with a foe who during two campaigns had seemed anxious only to keep himself out of sight—a small army, so it is said, of two legions only!
The consuls of the year, L. Postumius and Q. Mamilius (B.C. 262), pitched their camp eight stadia from the town, and imprudently sent out their troops in large numbers to forage in the surrounding country. Hannibal seized the opportunity, and only the heroism of some Roman pickets who, to allow time for the foragers to get back into the camp, died to a man, fighting bravely at their posts, saved the Romans from disaster. Both sides now displayed greater caution. The Carthaginians contented themselves with harassing the Romans with missiles from a distance, while the Romans broke up their army into two separate camps, connected by a double line of entrenchments—the one to protect them against the sallies of the besieged, the other to guard against possible dangers from the rear.
The town of Erbessus, a few miles to the north, supplied them with abundant provisions, and seemed to remove famine, at all events, from the lists of contingencies to which they might be exposed. In this state of things five months passed away, and to all appearance the siege was no nearer a successful termination than at the beginning; but provisions had begun to fail in the closely-packed quarters of the defenders, and in deference to the urgent solicitations of Hannibal, Hanno was sent to Sicily with a new army, and with orders, if possible, to compel the Romans to raise the siege. Making Heraclea his headquarters, Hanno managed to surprise Erbessus, and so cut off the supplies of the enemy. The Romans now found themselves in the position of besieged rather than besiegers, and pestilence as well as famine was at work in their lines.
Decisive operations could not now be long delayed. In a preliminary engagement the Roman horse experienced, for the first time, the superiority of the famous Numidian light cavalry; but in the battle which ensued, the motley Carthaginian infantry found that they were, as yet, no match for the soldiers of the legion. Fifty elephants—wild beasts Polybius, with an air of horror, still calls them—fought on the side of the Carthaginians, a number many times as great as that which a few years before, in the time of Pyrrhus, had carried dismay and confusion into the Roman ranks; but on this occasion, as often afterwards, elephants were found to be a two-edged weapon, which might be fatal to the hand that wielded it. Thirty of the fifty were killed, and eleven remained alive in the hands of the Romans, as vast moving trophies of the victory that had been won.
Hanno saved a remnant of his army by his hasty flight to Heraclea, and Hannibal, whom the Romans looked upon as already within their grasp, sheltered by the darkness of a winter’s night, and helped by the energy of despair, made a last effort to break through the lines of his victorious foe. The Romans, overcome with fatigue, or giving the reins to their joy, had relaxed their vigilance. With bags stuffed with straw, Hannibal filled up the deep trenches, scaled the ramparts, and managed with the effective part of his army to pass through the Roman lines unobserved. In the morning the enemy, discovering what had happened, went through the form of pursuing the retreating Hannibal; but they were more eager to fall on the unhappy town which he had abandoned to their mercy.
The inhabitants surrendered at discretion; but they had to undergo all the horrors of a place taken by storm. The town was given up to plunder, and 25,000 freemen were sold into slavery. Nothing throughout the whole of Sicily now remained in the hands of the Carthaginians save a few fortresses on its western coasts; and this was the precise moment at which, according to the explicit statement of Polybius, it first dawned upon the Romans that they had embarked upon a war the true and only object of which must be to eject the Carthaginians altogether from the island.