Ancient History & Civilisation

THE RECKONING

Eventually Hamilcar managed to trap the majority of the rebel army in a pass called the Saw, and, with no way in or way out, the starving mercenaries turned to cannibalism in order to survive. After eating their way through their prisoners of war and their slaves, the rebels realized that there was little chance of their comrades sending a relief force. Knowing that to stand and fight would be futile, their leadership decided to try to negotiate with Hamilcar. The Carthaginian general received ten envoys, who included Spendius and other rebel leaders. Hamilcar once again showed what a shrewd political operator he was. The terms that he offered seemed extremely mild. All he demanded was that he should be able to choose ten men from among the rebels to detain, and then the rest would be free to leave with one tunic each. The rebel leaders agreed, but Hamilcar then promptly chose them as the hostages. Thus, without breaking the sacred rules of parley, which did not permit the seizure of enemy envoys, Hamilcar managed to detain most of the rebel high command. The remainder of the rebel army, which numbered nearly 40,000 men, was quickly cut to pieces.35

Understandably, after this disaster the revolt began to collapse. The native Libyans saw that the tide had now turned against the rebels and deserted in droves to the Carthaginian side. Hamilcar was now free to turn his attention to Tunes, the last rebel stronghold. To dampen the morale of the besieged rebels, Spendius and the other captured leaders were brought in front of the walls and crucified in full view of their comrades. Mathos had, however, noticed that Hamilcar’s co-general Hannibal, now confident of victory, was no longer guarding his own camp properly. The rebels launched a surprise attack, and not only managed to kill many of the Carthaginian troops, but also captured Hannibal himself. The unfortunate general was terribly tortured before being nailed up on to the cross which had previously held Spendius. As a macabre farewell offering to his fallen comrade, Mathos is said to have had thirty high-born Carthaginians slaughtered around Spendius’ body.36

Chastened by this gruesome reverse, the Carthaginian leadership pulled together once more. A committee of thirty councillors was formed which managed to persuade Hamilcar and his great political rival, Hanno, to put their differences aside so that the enemy could finally be crushed. A new force was raised, comprising all the remaining citizens of military age. The rebels, depleted of men and supplies, had realized that their only chance of victory lay in throwing everything into one final battle, but their strength was spent and they were easily defeated. The Libyans were then quickly pacified. Utica and Hippacritae, fearing Carthaginian vengence, held out for a while, but were both soon captured and forced to accept terms. All those rebels who were unlucky enough to be captured alive were crucified–all bar Mathos, who in 237 was led through the streets of Carthage in a mocking charade of the triumphal procession of which he had perhaps dreamed. As he was dragged through the city, its young men inflicted all kinds of terrible tortures on his body. Thus a war which, in the words of Polybius, ‘far excelled all wars we know of in cruelty and defiance of principle’ was perhaps fittingly concluded with a hideous death.37

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