This series has seven easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Romans Plan African Invasion.
By the third century BC there was two major powers in the western Mediterranean. Both were republics. Rome was a militaristic power. Carthage was a commercial power. They fought for dominance in three wars, the Punic Wars. The decisive war was the middle one. By 203 BC Carthage was clearly loosing. The Roman geneMral Scipio crossed the sea from Italy, landed in Africa and invaded Carthage’s homeland. Carthage, which had been skimping on the military for years, called its top general Hannibal to stop the invader.
This selection is from History of Rome, Book XII by Livy published in between 27 BC and 9 BC. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
The definitive account of what follows comes from the Roman historian Livy. He lived at the same time as Augustus Caesar.
Time: 202 BC
Place: Zama, Tunisia
Marcus Servilius and Tiberius Claudius, having assembled the senate, consulted them respecting the provinces. As both were desirous of having Africa, they wished Italy and Africa to be disposed of by lots; but, principally in consequence of the exertions of Quintus Metellus, Africa was neither assigned to anyone nor withheld. The consuls were ordered to make application to the tribunes of the people, to the effect that, if they thought proper, they should put it to the people to decide whom they wished to conduct the war in Africa. All the tribes nominated Publius Scipio. Nevertheless, the consuls put the province of Africa to the lot, for so the senate had decreed. Africa fell to the lot of Tiberius Claudius, who was to cross over into Africa with a fleet of fifty ships, all quinqueremes, and have an equal command with Scipio. Marcus Servilius obtained Etruria. Caius Servilius was continued in command in the same province, in case the senate resolved that the consul should remain at the city. Of the praetors, Marcus Sextus obtained Gaul, which province, together with two legions, Publius Quinctilius Varus was to deliver to him; Caius Livius obtained Bruttium, with the two legions which Publius Sempronius, the proconsul, had commanded the former year; Cneius Tremellius had Sicily, and was to receive the province and two legions from Publius Villius Tappulus, a praetor of the former year; Villius, as propraetor, was to protect the coast of Sicily with twenty men-of-war and a thousand soldiers; and Marcus Pomponius was to convey thence to Rome one thousand five hundred soldiers, with the remaining twenty ships. The city jurisdiction fell to Caius Aurelius Cotta; and the rest of the praetors were continued in command of the respective provinces and armies which they then had. Not more than sixteen legions were employed this year in the defense of the empire. And, that they might have the gods favorably disposed toward them in all their undertakings and proceedings, it was ordered that the consuls, before they set out to the war, should celebrate those games and sacrifice those victims of the larger sort which, in the consulate of Marcus Claudius Marcellus and Titus Quinctius, Titus Manlius the dictator had vowed, provided the commonwealth should continue in the same state for the next five years. The games were exhibited in the circus during four days, and the victims sacrificed to those deities to whom they had been vowed.
Meanwhile, hope and anxiety daily and simultaneously increased; nor could the minds of men be brought to any fixed conclusion, whether it was a fit subject for rejoicing that Hannibal had now at length, after the sixteenth year, departed from Italy and left the Romans in the unmolested possession of it or whether they had not greater cause to fear from his having transported his army in safety into Africa. They said that the scene of action certainly was changed, but not the danger. That Quintus Fabius, lately deceased, who had foretold how arduous the contest would be, was used to predict, not without good reason, that Hannibal would prove a more formidable enemy in his own country than he had been in a foreign one; and that Scipio would have to encounter, not Syphax, a king of undisciplined barbarians whose armies Statorius, a man little better than a soldier’s drudge, was used to lead, nor his father-in-law Hasdrubal, that most fugacious general, nor tumultuary armies hastily collected out of a crowd of half-armed rustics, but Hannibal, born in a manner in the pavilion of his father, that bravest of generals, nurtured and educated in the midst of arms, who served as a soldier formerly, when a boy, and became a general when he had scarcely attained the age of manhood; who, having grown old in victory, had filled Spain, Gaul, and Italy, from the Alps to the strait, with monuments of his vast achievements; who commanded troops who had served as long as he had himself; troops hardened by the endurance of every species of suffering, such as it is scarcely credible that men could have supported; stained a thousand times with Roman blood, and bearing with them the spoils not only of soldiers, but of generals. That many would meet the eyes of Scipio in battle who had with their own hands slain Roman praetors, generals, and consuls; many decorated with crowns in reward for having scaled walls and crossed ramparts; many who had traversed the captured camps and cities of the Romans. That the magistrates of the Roman people had not then so many fasces as Hannibal could have carried before him, having taken them from generals whom he had slain. While their minds were harassed by these apprehensions, their anxiety and fears were further increased from the circumstance that, whereas they had been accustomed to carry on war for several years in different parts of Italy, and within their view, with languid hopes and without the prospect of bringing it to a speedy termination, Scipio and Hannibal had stimulated the minds of all, as generals prepared for a final contest. Even those persons whose confidence in Scipio and hopes of victory were great, were affected with anxiety, increasing in proportion as they saw their completion approaching. The state of feeling among the Carthaginians was much the same; for when they turned their eyes on Hannibal, and the greatness of his achievements, they repented having solicited peace; but when again they reflected that they had been twice defeated in a pitched battle, that Syphax had been made prisoner, that they had been driven out of Spain and Italy, and that all this had been effected by the valor and conduct of Scipio alone, they regarded him with horror, as a general marked out by destiny, and born for their destruction.
Hannibal had by this time arrived at Adrumetum, from which place, after employing a few days there in refreshing his soldiers, who had suffered from the motion by sea, he proceeded by forced marches to Zama, roused by the alarming statements of messengers who brought word that all the country around Carthage was filled with armed troops. Zama is distant from Carthage a five days’ journey. Some spies whom he sent out from this place, being intercepted by the Roman guard and brought before Scipio, he directed that they should be handed over to the military tribunes, and after having been desired fearlessly to survey everything, to be conducted through the camp wherever they chose; then, asking them whether they had examined everything to their satisfaction, he assigned them an escort and sent them back to Hannibal.
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