Ancient History & Civilisation


The End

AFTER THE DISASTROUS defeat at the Aegates Islands, the Carthaginians gave Hamilcar Barca full authority to negotiate a peace with Rome. In fact, Hamilcar, eager to disassociate himself from any admission of defeat, acted through one of his subordinate officers, Gesgo. The consul Catulus' year of office had almost expired and the desire to gain credit for completing such a major war before his successors arrived to steal the glory may well have made him more conciliatory. An initial Roman demand that Hamilcar's Sicilian army should immediately surrender its weapons and hand over for punishment all the Roman and Italian deserters in its ranks was swiftly rejected. The mercenaries would leave the island as an army, their arms and honour both intact.1 Yet this seems to have been the only concession that the Carthaginians were able to gain, for in other respects the peace terms made it clear that they had been defeated and that Rome was not negotiating with an equal. Peace was declared between Rome and Carthage providing that the following conditions were met:

a The Carthaginians were to evacuate all of Sicily.

b Neither side was to make war on the other's allies, nor seek to subvert their allegiance by allying with them directly or becoming involved in their internal affairs. They were not to recruit soldiers or raise money for the construction of public buildings in the territory of the other.

c The Carthaginians were to give up all Roman prisoners freely, whilst paying a ransom for their own.

d The Carthaginians were to pay an indemnity to the Roman State of 2,200 Euboean talents over a twenty-year period.

A Roman consul did not have the authority to conclude a final peace himself, since a treaty could only be ratified by the Roman People voting in the Comitia Centuriata, the same assembly which had the power to declare war. Therefore Catulus referred the terms back to Rome for approval. Not uncharacteristically, the Roman People decided that the terms were too lenient and a senatorial commission was sent to Sicily to modify the treaty. The indemnity was increased to 3,200 talents, 1,000 payable immediately and the remainder over ten years, which was perhaps a reflection of the desire for the State to repay the loans made for the construction of Rome's last fleet. The Romans had traditionally expected defeated enemies to contribute to the costs of their war effort.2The only other change was the addition of a clause requiring Carthage to evacuate all of the small islands between Sicily and Africa.3

It is clear that the complete expulsion of the Carthaginians from Sicily had become the Romans' main war aim, whether or not we should follow Polybius and date this ambition to the fall of Agrigentum in 261. The invasion of Africa in 256 had never been intended to establish a permanent Roman presence, but was a means of applying further pressure on the Carthaginians in the hope of forcing their submission. This primary objective had been fully achieved. In addition to this, Punic naval power had been broken and no longer dominated the western Mediterranean, more as a result of the loss of its island bases than the losses in ships which it had suffered, since in time the latter could be replaced. Yet Carthage had lost none of its power in Africa or Spain, and, for the moment, held on to Sardinia. There was no attempt to absorb Carthage into Rome's network of allies in the way that she had come to conclude most of her wars fought in Italy. In part this was a reflection of the reality of the situation. At the end of the twenty-three-year struggle both sides were exhausted and eager to settle. A continuation of the war until one or the other side was destroyed as an independent political entity was simply not feasible. Carthage in its sheer size, territories and economic prosperity was on an utterly different scale to the states of Italy with whom Rome had dealt in the past. In addition the Romans seem to have acknowledged the differences between the Italian Peninsula and lands separated from their own by sea. Sicily was not to be absorbed in the same way as the communities of mainland Italy and was not settled with colonies of citizens. Initially much of the island was administered by Hiero's Syracuse, but at some point a Roman governor, usually a praetor, was appointed to govern the western part of the island, creating Rome's first province, as we would understand the term. It is unclear precisely when this occurred, but it may have been as late as c. 227, when the number of praetors annually elected was increased to four, quite probably to provide governors for Sicily and Sardinia where permanent Roman garrisons appear to have been established.4 Unlike the Italian allies, the communities within the Roman province had a different bond to the Roman State, their main obligation being to pay tax, rather than supply soldiers to fight with the Roman army. Grain from Sicily rapidly became a major source of food for Rome itself, and many Romans, especially equestrians, probably became wealthy from its exploitation.5

With hindsight it is difficult to see any occasion during the course of the war when the Carthaginians came close to victory. The most serious Roman losses were due to bad weather and not to enemy action. Perhaps in the earliest phases, if they had been able to prevent the Roman expedition from crossing the Straits of Messina or had defeated Claudius' army after it had landed, then they might have dissuaded the Romans from further overseas adventures, at least in the short term, but that in effect would have been to prevent the crisis developing into a war in the first place. Yet it was extremely difficult for squadrons of galleys to block a stretch of water and the Punic forces in Sicily in 264 were utterly inadequate to achieve such a quick victory over a Roman consular army. Apart from the decision to continue the struggle and send a large army to Sicily after Rome's defeat of Syracuse, the Carthaginian war effort was essentially passive, a series of reactions to Roman moves, all intended to protect their position in Sicily.6 Even when they sought to harass the enemy by raiding the Italian coast, the main objective was to draw Roman forces away from Sicily. On the island itself their strategy followed the traditional Carthaginian pattern of enduring the enemy onslaught and trying to maintain control of as many strongholds as possible, waiting for the enemy to weaken so that eventually the lost ground could be regained. Carthage had been involved in sporadic conflict in Sicily for centuries before the Romans arrived, and if she had never gained full control of the island, neither had she been completely expelled.

The Romans were not like Pyrrhus, who would abandon his offensive when he failed to gain widespread support from the Greek communities of Sicily, nor was their power as precarious as that of the successive tyrants of Syracuse. Roman persistence was at least the equal of Punic, but was married to an extremely aggressive mode of war-making, applying continuous pressure on the enemy in an effort to force a decision. Throughout the conflict they consistently assumed the offensive, methodically expanding the territory which they controlled in Sicily, continuing to do so even when their armies' morale reached a low ebb after the defeat of Regulus. More importantly they were willing to escalate the conflict in an effort to defeat the enemy, invading Africa and, most of all, deciding to create a fleet and pursue the war at sea in spite of their colossal losses. Rome's huge reserves of manpower made it possible to absorb appalling losses, but this in itself does not explain the willingness with which the population continued to be ready to serve in the war.

The annual replacement of Roman commanders may have meant that they were usually less experienced than their opponents, but it is hard to find clear examples of Zonaras' claim that this was the cause of numerous Roman defeats.7 All but two of the major battles fought on land and sea were Roman victories and it seems likely that most of their defeats were very small-scale affairs. Hamilcar Barca, whom Polybius considered the ablest commander on either side, displayed his talent in relatively low-level raiding and skirmishing. In one respect the annual arrival of new Roman commanders may have proved an asset, for it ensured that the army and navy were commanded very aggressively, by men hoping to gain distinction in their short term of office. Roman strategy remained continuously aggressive, even if it sometimes lacked consistency. If this produced acts of great boldness or even recklessness, such as the failed surprise attacks on Lipara in 260 and Drepana in 249, it also produced some notable successes, such as Regulus' victory at Adys. On the whole Roman commanders performed fairly well.

As the war progressed the number of men holding office for the second time increased, which may have provided more experienced commanders, although in the case of Scipio Asina, consul in 260 and 254, this was experience of defeat and capture. Of the forty-seven consuls elected during the twenty-three years of war - the odd number a result of the death of Quintus Caecidius soon after taking office in 256 and his replacement by Regulus - eleven had held the office before, all but two during the war itself. Two others would go on to second consulships after 241. The proportion of multiple consulships was much the same in the decades before the war and may well be more a reflection of the politics of the day and the dominance of a few aristocratic families than a desire on the part of the electorate to choose experienced commanders during a hard war. A shift in the political balance may explain the slight decline in the number of multiple consulships in the years between the First and Second Punic Wars. Following the disaster at Drepana in 249, the Senate certainly did select a commander on the basis of experience as well as his political influence, when it took the very rare step of appointing a military dictator to take charge of the operations in Sicily. The man chosen was Aulus Atilius Caiat-inus, who had been praetor in 257, and as consul in 258 and 254 had already commanded in two Sicilian campaigns earlier in the conflict.8 However, the Senate made little use of its power to prorogue a magistrate's imperium (the prolonging of the command of those of proven ability), something which became common in the Second Punic War. This was partly due to the more restricted theatre of operations in the First War, but also a reflection of the low casualty rate amongst Roman senior officers compared to the Hannibalic war. The campaigns of the First War involved both consuls serving together more often than had been the case in the past. Disagreements between men of equal rank sharing command of an army were to figure prominently in the explanations for the Roman disasters of the Second War, but there is no trace of this in the earlier conflict, perhaps because there were fewer defeats to excuse. The bickering between Catulus and Falto occurred after their victory and had not apparently been reflected by any difficulties during the actual conduct of the campaign. Both of the major defeats of the war occurred when only one consul was in command and Agrigentum, the only land battie where command was shared, was a clear Roman success. However, pitched land battles were rare during the conflict and it was the subtie manoeuvring in the days before these which offered most opportunity for a divided command to lead to confusion.

Carthaginian commanders may have been more 'professional' than their Roman counterparts, and certainly remained in their posts for much longer periods, but few would have had much experience of commanding such large forces as were frequently employed during the war. This was especially true of the admirals appointed to control the operations of the unprecedentedly large fleets which were formed on several occasions. Their inexperience of command at this level added to the already major practical difficulties in co-ordinating the movements of hundreds of oared warships and was perhaps another factor in denying the Carthaginian navy the advantages it ought to have derived from the superior skill of its crews. Several Punic generals were crucified in the aftermath of military failures during the war, usually, it seems, by order of their own immediate subordinates. Yet other defeated leaders escaped punishment and went on to hold further commands which suggests that political influence as much as actual responsibility determined their fate.9 The Romans were considerably more lenient towards their magistrates who had presided over disasters, awarding triumphs to successive admirals who had lost most of their fleets to bad weather. Only Claudius was prosecuted on the charge of perduellio (in a sense 'bringing the state into disrepute') for his behaviour at Drepana, but narrowly escaped condemnation and was instead found guilty of a lesser charge and fined.10 However, the subsequent arraignment of his sister suggests that the family was perceived to be politically vulnerable in the years immediately afterwards.

The Mercenary War

Within months of the end of the war, Carthage was plunged into a conflict which, if shorter than the struggle with Rome, seemed to pose a far greater threat to her very existence. It took over three years to suppress the rebellion of former mercenaries and African subjects, who for this time ravaged the territory up to the walls of Carthage itself. It was a bitter campaign, punctuated by acts of extreme barbarity on both sides. It was also completely unnecessary, if the Punic authorities had not consistently mishandled all their dealings with Hamilcar's veterans from the Sicilian campaign.11

Hamilcar Barca had led his army to Lilybaeum following the conclusion of the war with Rome, but had then surrendered his command and sailed back to Africa, full of contempt for what he believed to be an unnecessary peace. He left the task of demobilizing his mercenaries to the same Gesgo who had conducted the negotiations with Catulus. This officer performed the new role with great competence, dividing the 20,000 strong army into smaller detachments which he then dispatched one at a time to Carthage. Once there, each contingent should ideally have received their arrears of several years' backpay and been returned to their country of origin before the next group arrived, spreading the burden placed on the state treasury and preventing any problems arising from the presence of so many unruly foreign soldiers in Carthage at one time. However, the Carthaginians chose to ignore these sensible arrangements and refused to pay anyone until the whole force had been shipped to Africa, convinced that the mercenaries could be persuaded to accept a lower settlement, in the light of the unsuccessful outcome of the war and Carthage's difficult financial position. It was a small-minded decision they were soon to regret.

After numerous disturbances on the streets of Carthage, the mercenaries were sent to the town of Sicca, where they encamped without a commander and with no duties to maintain their discipline. Understandably, the mercenaries who had fought loyally and well for their masters according to their contracts were reluctant to accept payment of less than their due and felt betrayed. They were especially bitter towards Hamilcar, who had made lavish promises of future reward during the operations in Sicily, only to abandon them to the whims of a government and generals they did not know. The Carthaginians soon realized that the negotiations were not succeeding and, aware that they would have difficulty in controlling 20,000 well-equipped veteran soldiers, agreed to pay the full amounts the men were due, but it was too late. The disgruntled mercenaries had become aware of their own strength and steadily increased their demands, forcing one concession after another out of their former masters. Resentment at their unfair treatment gradually turned into deep hostility towards the Carthaginians. Like all Punic armies, the veterans from Sicily were a mixture of many races, Libyans, Gauls, Spaniards, Ligurians, Sicilian Greeks and half-breeds, runaway slaves and deserters. Lacking a common language and without the unifying force of a Carthaginian command structure, the mercenaries at Sicca had fragmented into groups along ethnic lines. The Libyans were the largest group and it was they who finally turned mutiny into open revolt when they seized and imprisoned the unfortunate Gesgo, the man the mercenaries themselves had chosen to deal with as the only Punic officer they trusted.

It was the presence of this Libyan element within the army which was to make the rebellion so serious, for they were swiftly able to rally most of their countrymen to their cause. Carthaginian rule had always been harsh and unpopular for the Libyan peasantry, but during the war with Rome the burdens of taxation and conscription had grown far worse. With very few exceptions the Libyan communities declared for the rebels and swelled the size of their forces. They were joined by many of the Numidian princes whom the Carthaginians had been fighting to control in the last decade and who now saw an opportunity for revenge and booty. Soon an army many times the size of the one Regulus had led began the blockade of Carthage. The main rebel leaders were Mathos, a Libyan, and Spendius, an escaped Campanian slave who feared being returned to his former master for execution, supported by the Gaul Autariatus, the chieftain of a remarkably unreliable band of warriors. Some of his followers had deserted to the Romans during the war and later went on to betray successive employers.12 Though veteran soldiers (Spendius had an especially distinguished record during the war with Rome) none of these men had experience of high command and the movements of the rebel armies were clumsy and poorly co-ordinated.

This was one of the very few advantages the Carthaginians enjoyed in the conflict. It was always difficult for them to raise large armies quickly, but the situation was worsened when their own mercenaries turned against them. In addition the rebellion in Libya denied them access to the revenue and resources of manpower on which they could normally rely. The forces which they were able to raise, composed of still loyal mercenaries who felt no particular bond with the unfamiliar Sicilian veterans, and newly raised citizen soldiers, were heavily outnumbered by their enemies. Further problems were caused by a divided command, similar to the appointment of three generals to lead the operations in 256-255. Hamilcar Barca and Hanno, who was a better organizer than commander, did not get along with each other and the operations of their armies were hindered by the sort of disputes which are normally held to be more typical of the Roman than Punic military systems. Hanno was later forced to resign by vote of the army, or perhaps the senior officers, and replaced by the more amenable Hannibal. It is in these campaigns far more than the war in Sicily that we see evidence of Hamilcar's skill as a general, consistently outmanoeuvring the larger rebel forces. Force was combined with diplomacy, for instance when Navaras, a Numidian prince, offered to defect with his followers and was rewarded by marriage to Hamilcar's daughter. Both sides made extensive and escalating use of horror and atrocity, Barca ordering captured mercenaries to be trampled to death by his elephants. Mathos and Spendius were both eventually crucified, but so was Hannibal who had been captured in a night raid on his camp, whilst Gesgo and the other hostages were dismembered and tossed into a ditch where they bled to death. Eventually, by 237, the rebel armies had all been defeated, the Libyan communities surrendered and the revolt collapsed.

The Roman attitude towards her recently defeated enemy at this time of crisis was at first scrupulously correct. Early in the war the Senate sent a Commission to Carthage following reports that Roman traders dealing with the rebels had been arrested or killed.13In fact, the merchants had merely been imprisoned and when the Carthaginians readily agreed to their repatriation the Romans responded warmly. Italian traders were in future banned from supplying the mercenaries and actively encouraged to trade in Carthage itself. In addition, all Punic prisoners not yet ransomed according to the treaty of 241 were immediately returned without charge. Hiero's Syracuse also made every effort to sell Carthage the supplies it needed for its war effort, although Polybius believed that in part this was to ensure that the city continued to exist as a balance to Roman power.14 Around 240-239 the Punic mercenaries in Sardinia mutinied and murdered their officers, and persuaded the punitive expedition sent by Carthage against them to repeat the mutiny and join them. Together the mercenaries seized the island and tried to make an alliance with Rome, rather as the Mamertines had once done. The Senate refused to countenance such an alliance, a decision all the more striking if Polybius correctly judged that the acquisition of Sardinia had become a Roman ambition as soon as they constructed their first fleet. Nor, subsequentiy, did it accept approaches from Utica for similar protection when this Libyan city finally abandoned its loyalty to Carthage and joined the rebels.15Instead it respected the protection offered to each sides' allies set down in the treaty of 241.

Eventually, probably in 237, the mutinous soldiers in Sardinia were expelled from the island by the native population and fled to Italy where they once again approached the Senate. This time the Romans decided to send an expedition to occupy the island and, when the Carthaginians objected, threatened them with a war which they were in no position to fight. Cartilage had no choice but to surrender to Rome a second time, accepting their seizure of Sardinia, and paying a further indemnity of 1,200 talents. It was an act as shamelessly opportunistic as the initial intervention in Sicily in 265, an injustice which highlighted Carthage's weakness and was to create a far greater legacy of bitterness and resentment towards Rome than the initial defeat of 241. Our sources do not explain why the Romans chose to act in this way after their earlier refusal. However, it is important to remember that the Senate consisted of a collection of individuals, all competing to win glory in the service of the state and with differing views on how best to conduct its affairs. The groups based around the stronger families were loose and rarely espoused a consistent policy on anything, whilst the influence of individual senators fluctuated gready from year to year. It may simply have been that the consul of238, Tiberius Sem-pronius Gracchus, who was to lead the expedition, was eager to command in a war and had enough influence at the time to persuade the Senate to answer the mercenaries' appeal. Alternatively the anarchy in Sardinia may have been seen as a potential threat to Italy's maritime trade, but our sources lack any detailed discussion of the reasons for the Roman change of heart.16 However, most, and especially Polybius, agreed that the action was morally indefensible.17

Sardinia did not prove an easy conquest and for much of the 230s fierce campaigning continued there, with both of the year's consuls active there in 232 and 2 31.18 Whether or not there was truth in the accusation, the Romans certainly seem to have believed that Carthaginian agents actively encouraged Sardinian resistance to Rome and the island remained a continued source of friction between the two states during these years.19

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