Ancient History & Civilisation



SCIPIO had ploughed the ground and sown the seeds for his African campaign. The time for reaping its fruits was not yet, however. He had first to complete the subjugation of Spain, and to deal out punishment to those tribes who had forsaken Rome in her hour of crisis on the Peninsula, after the death of the elder Scipios. Their heir had been too shrewd a diplomatist to show his hand earlier while the scales still hung in the balance, but now, with the Carthaginian power finally broken, it was essential for the future security of the Roman power that such treachery should not pass without retribution. The two chief offenders were Illiturgis and Castulo, cities in the neighbourhood of the battlefield of Bæcula, on the upper reaches of the Bætis (Guadalquiver). Sending a third of his forces under Marcius to deal with Castulo, he himself moved with the remainder on Illiturgis. A guilty conscience is an alert sentinel, and Scipio arrived to find that the Illiturgi had made every preparation for defence without awaiting any declaration of hostilities. He thereupon prepared to assault, dividing his army into two parts, giving command of one to Lælius, in order that they might “ attack the city in two places simultaneously, thus creating an alarm in two quarters at the same time ” (Livy). Here again it is interesting to note how consistently Scipio executes a convergent assault—his force divided into independently manoeuvring parts to effect surprise and strain the enemy’s defence, yet combining on a common objective. How strongly does his appreciation of this, the essential formula of tactics, contrast with its rarity in ancient warfare, in modern also, for how often do commanders wreck their plan either on the Scylla of a divided objective or on the Charybdis of a feint or “ holding ” attack to divert the enemy’s attention and reserves from their main blow.

His plan made, Scipio, realising the soldiers’ inherently lesser ardour against mere insurgents, strove to stimulate their determination by playing on their feelings for their betrayed comrades. He reminded them that the need for a salutary vengeance ought to make them fight more fiercely than against the Carthaginians. “ For with the latter the struggle was for empire and glory almost without any exasperation, while they had now to punish perfidy and cruelty.” Such an urge was needful, for the men of Illiturgis, fighting with the courage of despair, with no hope but to sell their lives as dearly as possible, repulsed assault after assault. Indeed, because of the circumstances that Scipio had evidently foreseen, the previously victorious army “showed such a want of resolution as was not very honourable to it.” At this crisis, Scipio, like Napoleon at the bridge of Lodi, did not hesitate to stake his own life. “ Considering it incumbent upon him to exert himself in person and share the danger, he reproved his soldiers for their cowardice, and ordered the scaling ladders to be brought up again, threatening to mount the wall himself since the rest hesitated.” “ He had now advanced near the walls with no small danger, when a shout was raised from all sides by the soldiers, alarmed at the danger to which their leader was exposed, and the scaling ladders were raised in several places at once.” This fresh impulse, coinciding with Lælius’s pressure elsewhere, turned the scales, and the walls were captured. During the resultant confusion the citadel, too, fell to an assault on a side where it was thought impregnable.

The treachery of Illiturgis was then avenged in a manner so drastic as to be an object-lesson of its requital, the inhabitants put to the sword, and the city itself razed to the ground. Here apparently Scipio made no attempt to restrain the fury of the troops, though, as he was to show on the morrow of Zama, he could be generous beyond comparison to an open foe. In all his acts he evidently envisaged the future, and even in allowing the obliteration of Illiturgis he had a direct purpose. For the news so shook the defenders of Castulo, an obstacle made the more formidable because the garrison had been reinforced by the remains of the Carthaginian forces, that the Spanish commander, throwing over his allies, secretly capitulated. The moral purpose of the Illiturgis sack thus accomplished, Castulo escaped more lightly.

Then, sending Marcius to clear up the few remaining centres of disaffection, Scipio returned to Cartagena to pay his vows to the gods, and to give a gladiatorial show in memory of his father and uncle. This deserves passing mention, for whether due to chance or, as seems more likely, to Scipio’s taste, its nature was different from the normal contest. Instead of the gladiators being slaves or captives, doomed to fight “ to make a Roman holiday,” they were all voluntary and unpaid, either picked representatives of tribes or soldiers anxious to show their prowess in compliment to their general or for desire of glory. Nor were they all of obscure position, but included several men of distinction, so that these games at Cartagena might be considered the birthplace of the mediaeval tourney. Some, too, used it as a means to settle personal disputes, forecasting that still later development, the duel.

It was shortly after this that deserters arrived at Cartagena from Gades, offering to betray to Scipio this last stronghold of the Carthaginian power in Spain, where Mago had collected ships, fugitive troops from outlying garrisons in Spain, and auxiliaries from the African coast across the straits. The opportunity was one not to be missed by Scipio, and he at once despatched Marcius “ with the light cohorts ” and Lælius “ with seven triremes and one quinquereme, in order that they might act in concert by land and sea ” (Livy). Apart from the light these few words shed on Scipio’s grasp of the advantage of combined land and sea operations, already made evident at Cartagena, the specific mention of “ light cohorts ” would seem to have a significance. From Cartagena to Gades is a full four hundred miles. To detach light troops, purely, for a move of this range—a landmark in military evolution—suggests Scipio’s appreciation not only of the time factor, but also of the advantage of a highly mobile striking force in situations where rapidity was the coping-stone on opportunity.

The likelihood also is that he intended to follow with his legions ; but if so, this and his plans in general were upset by a severe illness, which laid him low. Exaggerated by rumour, reports that he was dead soon spread throughout the land, causing such commotion that “ neither did the allies keep their allegiance nor the army their duty.”

Mandonius and Andobales, dissatisfied because after the expulsion of the Carthaginians the Romans had not obligingly walked out and left them in possession, raised the standard of revolt, and began harassing the territory of the tribes faithful to the Roman alliance. As so often in history, the disappearance of the oppressor was the signal for dependencies to find the presence of their protector irksome. Mandonius and Andobales were but the forerunners of the American colonists and the modern Egyptians. There is no bond so irksome as that of gratitude.

But the menace of the situation was made more acute through the mutiny of the Roman troops themselves at Sucro, midway on the line of communication between Cartagena and Tarraco. It is a truism that line of communication troops are ever the least reliable, the most prone to discontent and disorder. Lack of employment, lack of plunder, were aggravated in this case by lack of pay, which had fallen into arrears. Beginning at first with mere disregard of orders and neglect of duty, the men soon broke out into open mutiny, and, driving the tribunes out of the camp, set up in command two common soldiers, Albius and Atrius, who had been the chief instigators of the trouble.

The mutineers had anticipated that with the general disturbance resulting from Scipio’s death, they would be able to plunder and exact tribute at will, while escaping notice to a large extent. But when the rumour of Scipio’s death was refuted, the movement was, if not quenched, at least damped down. They were in this more subdued frame of mind when seven military tribunes arrived, sent by Scipio. These, evidently under instructions, took a mild line, inquiring as to their grievances instead of upbraiding them, and speaking to them by groups rather than attempting to address an assembly, where the mob spirit has full play at the expense of reason.

Polybius, and Livy clearly following him, tells us that Scipio, experienced as he was in war but not in dealing with sedition, felt great anxiety and perplexity. If this be so, his course of action does not suggest it. For a novice, or, indeed, for a veteran commander, his handling of the situation was a masterpiece of blended judgment, tact, and decision. He had sent collectors round to gather in the contributions levied on the various cities for the army’s maintenance, and took care to let it be known that this was to adjust the arrears of pay. Then he issued a proclamation that the soldiers should come to Carthage to receive their pay, in a body or in detached parties as they wished. At the same time he ordered the army at Carthage to prepare to march against Mandonius and Andobales. These chiefs, incidentally, had withdrawn within their own borders on hearing that Scipio was definitely alive. Thus the mutineers on the one hand felt themselves stripped of possible allies, and on the other, were emboldened to venture to Cartagena by the prospect of pay and, still more, of the army’s departure. They took the precaution, however, to come in a body.

The seven tribunes who had inquired into their grievances were sent to meet them, with secret instructions to single out the ringleaders, and invite them to their own quarters to sup. The mutineers arrived at Cartagena at sunset, and while encouraged by the sight of the army’s preparations to march, their suspicions were also lulled by their reception, being greeted as if they made a timely arrival to relieve the departing troops. These marched out, according to orders, at daybreak with their baggage, but on reaching the gate were halted and their baggage dumped. Then, promptly, guards were told off to bar all the exits from the camp, and the rest of the troops to surround the mutineers. Meanwhile the latter had been summoned to an assembly, a summons which they obeyed the more readily because they imagined that the camp, and, indeed, the general himself, were at their mercy.

Their first shock was when they saw their general vigorous and full of health, far from the sick man they had supposed, and their second followed when, after a disconcerting silence, he addressed them in a manner strangely inconsistent with the apparent insecurity of his position. Livy purports to give this speech word for word and at great length, and in his rendering it is a masterpiece of oratory and of style. Polybius’s is shorter and crisper, more natural too, and is prefaced by the remark that Scipio “ began to speak somewhat as follows.” The lover of literature will prefer Livy’s version; but the historian, weighing the evidence of date and circumstance, will prefer to accept Polybius’s version, and that as giving the general sense rather than the exact words of Scipio.

Despite these doubts, we will quote Livy for the opening phrases, because they are so telling, and because it is not unlikely that such a beginning might have been recorded with some exactitude. Saying that he was at a loss how to address them, he proceeded : “ Can I call you countrymen, who have revolted from your country ? Or soldiers, who have rejected the command and authority of your general, and violated your solemn oath ? Can I call you enemies ? I recognise the persons, faces, and dress, and mien of fellow-countrymen ; but I perceive the actions, expressions, and intentions of enemies. For what have you wished and hoped for, but what the Illitergi and Lacetani did ? ” Next he expresses wonderment as to what grievance or what expectations had led them to revolt. If it is simply a grievance over delays of pay, caused by his illness, is such action—jeopardising their country—justified, especially as they have always been paid in full since he assumed command ? “ Mercenary troops may, indeed, sometimes be pardoned for revolting against their employers, but no pardon can be extended to those who are fighting for themselves and their wives and children. For that is just as if a man who said he had been wronged by his own father over money matters were to take up arms to kill him who was the author of his life ” (Polybius). If the cause is not merely a grievance, is it because they hoped for more profit and plunder by taking service with the enemy ? If so, who would be their possible allies ? Men like Andobales and Mandonius ; a fine thing to put their trust in such repeated turncoats ! Then he turns his scorn on the leaders they have chosen, ignorant and baseborn, parodying their names, Atrius and Albius—“ Blackie ” and “ Whitie,”—and so appealing to their sense of the ridiculous and their superstition. He throws in a grim reminder of the legion which revolted at Rhegium, and for it suffered beheading to the last man. But even these put themselves under command of a military tribune. What hope of successful revolt could they have entertained ? Even had the rumour of his death been correct, did they imagine that such tried leaders as Silanus, Lælius, or Scipio’s brother could have failed to avenge the insult to Rome ?

When he has shattered their confidence and stimulated their fears by such telling arguments, the way is paved for him to detach them from the instigators of the revolt and to win back their loyalty. Changing his tone from harshness to gentleness, he continues: “ I will plead for you to Rome and to myself, using a plea universally acknowledged among men—that all multitudes are easily misled and easily impelled to excesses, so that a multitude is ever liable to the same changes as the sea. For as the sea is by its own nature harmless to voyagers and quiet, yet when agitated by winds it appears of the same turbulent character as the winds, so a multitude ever appears to be and actually is of the same character as the leaders and counsellors it happens to have.” In Livy’s version he makes also a deftly sympathetic comparison, well calcu lated to touch their hearts, between his own recent sickness of body and their sickness of mind. “ Therefore I, too, on the present occasion ... consent to be reconciled to you, and grant you an amnesty. But with the guilty instigators of revolt we refuse to be reconciled, and have decided to punish for their offences....” As he finished speaking, the loyal troops, who had encircled the assembly, clashed their swords on their shields to strike terror into the mutineers ; the herald’s voice was heard citing by name the condemned agitators ; and these offenders were brought bound and naked into the midst of the assembly, and then executed in the sight of all. It was a perfectly timed and concerted plan, and the mutineers were too cowed to raise a hand or utter a protest. The punishment carried out, the mass received assurance of forgiveness, and took a fresh oath of loyalty to the tribunes. By a characteristic touch of Scipio’s, each man received his full demand of pay as he answered his name.

This masterly handling of a gravely menacing situation has more than a reminder of Pétain’s methods in quelling the mutinies of 1917—had the great Frenchman perchance studied the mutiny of Sucro ?—not only in its blend of severity to ringleaders with the just rectification of grievances, but in the way the moral health of the body military was restored with the least possible use of the knife. This was true economy of force, for it meant that the eight thousand became not merely unwilling reinforcements, cowed into acquiescence with orders, but loyal supporters.

But the suppression of this mutiny was only one step towards restoring the situation caused by Scipio’s illness. The expedition against Gades had been abortive, primarily because the plot had been discovered by the Carthaginian commander, and the conspirators arrested. Though they won local successes, Lælius and Marcius found Gades prepared, and so, forced to abandon their project, returned to Cartagena.

There Scipio was about to march against the Spanish rebels. In ten days he reached the Ebro, a full three hundred miles, and four days later pitched his camp within sight of the enemy. A circular valley lay between the two camps, and into this he drove some cattle protected only by light troops, to “ excite the rapacity of the barbarians.” At the same time he placed Lælius with the cavalry in concealment behind a spur. The bait succeeded, and while the rival skirmishers were merrily engaged, Lælius emerged from cover, part of his cavalry charging the Spanish in front, and the other part riding round the foot of the hill to cut them off from their camp. The consequent reverse so irritated the Spanish that next morning at daybreak their army marched out to offer battle.

This suited Scipio excellently, for the valley was so confined that the Spanish by this act committed themselves to a cramped close quarter combat on the level, where the peculiar aptitude of the Romans in hand-to-hand fighting gave them an initial advantage over troops more adapted to hill fighting at longer ranges. And, furthermore, in order to find room for their horse they were forced to leave one-third of their foot out of the battle, stationed on the slope behind.

The conditions suggested a fresh expedient to Scipio. The valley was so narrow that the Spanish could not post their cavalry on the flanks of the infantry line, which took up the whole space. Seeing this, Scipio realised that his own infantry flanks were automatically secured, and accordingly sent Lælius with the cavalry round by the hills in a wide turning movement. Then, ever alive to the vital importance of securing his intended manœuvre by a vigorous fixing attack, he himself advanced into the valley with his infantry, with four cohorts in front, this being the most he could effectively deploy on the narrow front. This thrust, as he intended, occupied the attention of the Spanish, and prevented them from observing the cavalry manoeuvre until the blow fell, and they heard the noise of the cavalry engagement in their rear. Thus the Spanish were forced to fight two separate battles, their cavalry neither able to aid their infantry, nor the infantry their cavalry, and each doomed to the demoralising sound of conflict in their rear, so that each action had a moral reaction on the other.

Cramped and assailed by skilled close-quarter fighters, whose formation gave them the advantage of depth for successive blows, the Spanish infantry were cut to pieces. Then the Spanish cavalry, surrounded, suffering the pressure of the fugitives, the direct attack of the Roman infantry, and the rear attack of the Roman cavalry, could not use their mobility, and, forced to a standing fight, were slain to the last man after a gallant but hopeless resistance. It is a testimony to the fierceness of the fight and to the quality of the Spanish resistance, when hope had gone, that the Roman losses were twelve hundred killed and over three thousand wounded. Of the Spanish the only survivors were the lightarmed third of their force who had remained on the hill, idle spectators of the tragedy in the valley. These, along with their chiefs, fled in time.

This decisive triumph was a fitting conclusion to Scipio’s Spanish campaigns—campaigns which for all their long neglect by military students reveal a profound grasp of strategy—at a time when strategy had hardly been born,—and of its intimate relation to policy. But, above all, they deserve to be immortalised for their richness of tactical achievement. Military history hardly contains such another series of ingenious and inspired battle manoeuvres, surpassing on balance even those of Hannibal in Italy. If Scipio profited by Hannibal’s unintended course of instruction on the battlefields of Italy, the pupil surpassed even the master. Nor does such a probability diminish Scipio’s credit, for the highest part of the art of war is inborn, not acquired, or why did not later captains, ancient and modern, profit more by Scipio’s demonstrations. Wonderful as was Hannibal’s fertility of plan, there appears in Scipio’s record a still richer variety, a still more complete calculation, and in three directions a definite superiority. The attack on a fortified place was admittedly in Hannibal a weakness; in Scipio the reverse, for Cartagena is a landmark in history. The pursuit after Ilipa marks a new advance in warfare, as also the wide concealed turning movement in this last battle against Andobales, a development clearly beyond the narrow outflanking manœuvres which had hitherto been the highwater mark of tactical skill.

Scipio’s military motto would seem to have been “ every time a new stratagem.” Has ever a general been so fertile an artist of war? Beside him most of the celebrated captains of history appear mere dabblers in the art, showing in their whole career but one or two variations of orthodox practice. And be it remembered that with one exception Scipio’s triumphs were won over first-class opponents; not, like Alexander, over Asiatic mobs; like Cæsar, over tribal hordes; or like Frederick and Napoleon, over the courtier-generals and senile pedants of an atrophied military system.

This victory over Andobales and Mandonius proved to be the coping-stone not only on his military career in Spain, but on the political conquest of the country. So decisive had it been that Andobales realised the futility of further resistance, and sent his brother Mandonius to sue for peace unconditionally. One imagines that Mandonius must have felt some pessimism as to his reception and as to his tenure of life. It would have been natural to have dealt out to these twice-repeated rebels a dire vengeance. But Scipio knew human nature, including Spanish nature. No vengeance could improve his military or political position, now unchallenged, whereas, on the other hand, it would merely sow the seeds of future trouble, convert the survivors into embittered foes, biding their time for a fresh outbreak. Little as he counted on their fidelity, generosity was the one course which might secure it. Therefore, after upbraiding Mandonius, and through him, Andobales, driving home the helplessness of their position and the rightful forfeiture of their lives, he made a peace as generous as it was diplomatically foresighted. To show how little he feared them, he did not demand the surrender of their arms and all their possessions, as was the custom, nor even the required hostages, saying that“ should they revolt, he would not take vengeance on their unoffending hostages, but upon themselves, inflicting punishment not upon defenceless but on armed enemies ” (Livy). The wisdom of this policy found its justification in the fact that from this juncture Spain disappears from the history of the Punic War, whether as a base of recruitment and supply for the Carthaginian armies or as a distraction from Scipio’s concentration on his new objective —Carthage itself. True, revolts broke out at intervals, the first avowedly from the contempt felt by the Spanish for the generals who succeeded Scipio, and recurred for centuries. But they were isolated and spasmodic outbursts, and limited to the hill tribes, in whose blood fighting was a malarial fever.

Scipio’s mission in Spain was accomplished. Only Gades held out as the last fragment of the Carthaginian power, and this, being then an island fortress, was impregnable save through possible betrayal by its defenders. By some historians Mago’s escape from Gades is made an imputation on Scipio’s generalship, yet from a comparison of the authorities it would seem probable that Mago left there, under orders from Carthage, while Scipio was occupied with the far more pressing menace of the mutiny and Andobales’s revolt. Mago, too, was not such a redoubtable personality that his departure, with a handful of troops, for other fields was in itself a menace to the general situation, even if it could have been prevented, which militarily was impossible. Actually, on his voyage from Gades, he attempted a surprise assault on Cartagena in the absence of Scipio, and was so easily repulsed and so strongly counter-attacked, that the ships cut their anchors in order to avoid being boarded, leaving many of the defeated soldiers to drown or be slain. Forced to return to Gades to recruit afresh, he was refused entry to the city by the inhabitants, who shortly surrendered to the Romans, and had to retrace his course to the island of Pityusa (modern Iviça), the westernmost of the Balearic Isles, which was inhabited by Carthaginians. After receiving recruits and supplies, he attempted a landing on Majorca, but was repulsed by the natives, famous as slingers, and had to choose the less advantageous site of Minorca as his winter quarters, there hauling his ships on shore.

With regard to the chronology of this last phase, in Livy’s account the suppression of Andobales’s rebellion is followed by the story of a meeting between Scipio and Masinissa, and then by the details of Mago’s departure from Gades, from which it would appear that this happened while Scipio was still in Spain. But for accuracy of historical sequence Livy is a less reliable guide than Polybius, and the latter’s narrative definitely states that directly after the subjugation of Andobales Scipio returned to Tarraco, and then, “anxious not to arrive in Rome too late for the consular elections,” sailed for Rome, after handing over the army to Silanus and Marcius, and arranging for the administration of the province.

The meeting with Masinissa, whenever it occurred, is worth notice, for here the seeds of Scipio’s generous treatment of Masinissa’s nephew years before bore fruit in the exchange of pledges of an alliance, which was to be one of Scipio’s master-tools in undermining the Carthaginian power at its base in Africa.


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