Hannibal of Carthage

    Invasion  of Africa, the Tide Turns 

               Scipio Africanus 

           

          Much to the surprise of no nation, the anticipated Roman invasion of Africa began in 204 B.C. Numidia, Spain, Gaul, and even Carthage allies in Italy could see the tide had turned and knew that time and fortunes had been fleeting for Carthage.  Several hundred transport ships carried the Roman army led by Scipio of no more than 35,000 soldiers to Cape Farina, about 35 km west of Carthage. By his very arrival Scipio had turned the table on what Carthage had done to the Italian homeland throughout the war. Suddenly he was able to cause much anxiety and fear throughout the African countryside just as Hannibal had done in Italy, and he used the resulting confusion to capture several towns and plunder the countryside. But Gaul, Spain, Numidia, and Italy were not the only nations that knew the invasion would soon arrive. Carthage, as well, knew that after the loss of Spain that Scipio would inevitably begin his invasion. Carthage responded by enlisting a mercenary army, procured an alliance with Syphax cemented with marriage, and had reinforced many of her allied cities in Africa.  The main Carthaginian commander who Carthage sent to oppose Scipio  was Hasdrubal Gisgo, who along with Mago Barca, Scipio had crushed in Spain at Ilipa.  Faced with Scipio laying waste to the African countryside, and intent upon protecting Carthage allies, Hasdrubal dispatched a significant portion of his cavalry force in order to stop the destruction and plunder and restrict Scipio’s manoeuvrings, but the Romans destroyed this contingent of Hasdrubal's army  near the town of Salaeca.  Thus Scipio would receive a temporary advantage, which was strengthened when Scipio was joined by Massinissa and a large number of Numidian cavalry.  Carthage and Hasdrubal were at first impeded by the wavering of Syphax, who failed to render strong assistance until later , and then only by the pleas of his new bride, Sophonisba, thus allowing the Romans to ravage the country without Carthage interference.

          Having collected abundant supplies throughout the summer, in the autumn Scipio moved with force to Utica. Roman attempts to sway Utica to abandon Carthage had proven negative. Perhaps Utica, not yet sure that Carthage would lose the war, feared respite from Carthage should Scipio be defeated. After all,Carthage had always defeated anyone who invaded her African soil. His intention was to capture the ancient  city and make it a base for his further operations against Carthage. The city had a formidable infantry force and was reinforced by Carthage mercenaries to resist the Roman attack.  The direct assault on the walls was repulsed, even though it was supported by siege engines and the Roman fleet, so that Scipio was forced to lay siege to her walls. The emergence of two large armies from Carthage effectively ended the siege. These were the forces of Hasdrubal Gisgo and his son-in-law Syphax, who no longer hesitated with his support of Carthage. Their numerical superiority 50,000/35,000, rendered Scipio to lift the siege of Utica and retreat to a promontory not far from the city, which was later called Castra Cornelia. He fortified the narrow neck of land and set his winter quarters, relying on supplies of corn and clothing that were being sent to him from Sicily, Sardinia and Iberia. Hasdrubal and Syphax built their separate, fortified camps some distance from Castra Cornelia.

          Throughout the winter the Carthaginians continued to build up their forces. They prepared a fleet in order to cut the supply routes and blockade fully the Roman army. They also took part in numerous raids on the supply fleets that were supplying the Roman army and were awaiting additional mercenaries from Iberia and Liguria . The actual hostilities ceased for a time due to the efforts of Syphax to arbitrate for a reconciliation and due to the winter weather. Hasdrubal accepted the proposed terms, which stipulated that both Rome and Carthage should recall their armies respectively from Africa and Italy, but did not go so far as to stop the aforementioned military preparations. Peace under such conditions was definitely not the purpose, with which Scipio negotiated with Syphax. At first he used the negotiations as a cover for trying to win over the Numidian to Rome. As these attempts proved to be of no avail, the Roman leader nevertheless continued to send envoys to the Numidian camp. Scipio aimed, firstly, to mislead the enemy that he was insecure and therefore anxious to conclude peace and, secondly, to study the position and organization of the enemy. His envoys, who were carefully selected for the latter purpose, informed him that the two camps consisted primarily of huts built from wood, reed and other flammable material.

         On the basis of this information Scipio elaborated his plan for the battle. He knew that the Carthaginian preparations to attack Castra Cornelia were continuing due to their continued build-up of troops, and with the first signs of the spring he launched a preemptive strike. According to Roman historians, Scipio placed a detachment (2,000 strong) on a hill overlooking Utica so as to deceive the enemy’s scouts that he was preparing to once again attack the city. Another small detachment was left to guard the Roman camp against possible attack from the city’s defenders. The main forces marched at night, more than 10 kilometers, and reached the camps of Hasdrubal and Syphax before dawn. Scipio separated the army in two halves and ordered Laelius and Massinissa’s Numidians to set fire and destroy the camp of Syphax. Laelius and Massinissa left almost no chances for escape of Syphax’s warriors, who were caught sleeping and utterly unprepared. The flames that started from the huts outside the palisades spread easily and engulfed the whole camp. All the exits were blockaded by the Romans, and numbers of unarmed soldiers were slaughtered; others were caught by the flames, as well as many pack animals, or trampled themselves to death at the gates. The same happened with the army of Hasdrubal. Its soldiers were awakened by the news that the neighbouring camp was ignited, and some of them rushed to help the Numidians without arms, thinking that the flames were result of an accident. Scipio waited for this moment of confusion to attack with his part of the Roman army. The Carthaginians could not offer any organized resistance and were crushed. Only their general (as well as Syphax), with a small body of troops, managed to escape. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    As said, Hasdrubal and Syphax had both succeeded in escaping from their camps which Scipio and his Numidian allies Masinissa and Laelius had destroyed. Hasdrubal and Syphax fell back, with the few followers who had also escaped the massacre at the Carthaginian camps. The arrival of four thousand mercenaries from southern Spain made the Carthaginians determined to make one more effort to stop the armies of Scipio Africanus from advancing across North Africa. New levies were raised in Carthage and in Numidia, and soon Hasdrubal and Syphax found themselves at the head of an army of 30,000 men. In 203 BC Scipio, whose command had been extended until the end of the war, marched from his camp at Utica to meet Hasdrubal and Syphax at a place called the Great Plains.         

          Hasdrubal first offered battle and positioned the Spanish mercenaries in the center, subsequently flanked by the Carthaginian infantry and Numidian cavalry. The Roman infantry was drawn up in three lines with the Roman horse on the left flank and Masinissa with his Numidians on the right flank.

          The charge of the Roman cavalry made the Carthaginian infantry and the Numidian cavalry under Syphax flee from the field. Only the Spanish infantry remained standing while the Roman cavalry chased their Carthage counterparts from the field.  The Spanish infantry defended themselves fiercely. The number of Spanish mercenaries was about equal to the first line of the Romans.  Then Scipio ordered his second and third lines, not yet engaged, to swing around the first line and to attack the flanks of the Spanish mercenaries. In this way, the Spanish mercenaries were caught in a vice. The Spanish mercenaries were all but a few killed. Only a handful managed to escape.

          Syphax fled back to his kingdom in Numidia with what men he could gather, but was pursued by Masinissa and Laelius. Syphax would quickly gather another army to meet his enemies but when they were confronted in battle, most turned to flee at the Battle of Cirta. Syphax would attempt to rally his army by charging straight at the Roman cavalry, however, his horse was injured and this felled him to the ground where he was captured and brought back to the Roman camp as a prisoner. Masinissa was given command of Syphax's kingdom, the land from which he had originally been exiled.

          Following the battle, with their African armies destroyed, the Carthaginians had little choice but to sue for peace with Rome. Scipio proposed modest terms for the Carthaginians in a peace treaty and it was initially accepted by Carthage. However, they had little resolve to abide by the treaty, only initially agreeing to give them time for their next course of action. This was to to recall Hannibal, who had the army of elite veterans loyal to his command, from Italy, , as well as the armies of Mago, now operating in northern Italy, for one more stand against Rome.

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