Ancient History & Civilisation


In 205 Hannibal's remaining brother, Mago, landed near Genoa with 2,000 cavalry and 12,000 infantry, some recruited during the past winter from the Balearic Islands. Subsequently he was sent a draft of seven elephants, 800 horse and 6,000 foot along with funds to recruit from amongst the enthusiastic and warlike Ligurian tribesmen. Mago's campaign never really gathered momentum and he does not appear to have made a concerted effort to join his elder brother. Perhaps the objective was simply to keep the war going on another front. In 203 he was brought to battle in the territory of the Insubres by the praetor Publius Quinctilius Varus and the proconsul Marcus Cornelius Cethegus with an army of four legions. According to Livy's problematic account, the Romans once again deployed the legions in more than one line. Mago was hit by a javelin in the thigh and his withdrawal from the field is supposed to have triggered the collapse of his army. Soon afterwards he was ordered to return with his army to Carthage to defend it against the Roman invaders, but died of his wound en route. His expedition had not caused the same level of panic as Hasdrubal's invasion in 207. By this stage of the war, the Romans were beginning to reduce their war effort, demobilizing some of their legions and encouraging citizens to return to their farms.35

In 203 the same order came to Hannibal himself, instructing him to evacuate Italy and return to the defence of his homeland. He embarked his army at Croton and sailed back to Africa, allegedly after massacring all the Italian soldiers who refused to come with him, although this is most probably a piece of Roman propaganda. He spent sixteen campaigning seasons in Italy and, if he had in the end found himself forced into an ever decreasing corner of the Peninsula, he had not been defeated in a single important battle. For many years his soldiers had been vastly outnumbered by their enemies, but even the more experienced, better drilled and more flexible Roman armies, which had defeated his brothers with such dismissive ease, lacked the confidence to face up to and beat Hannibal and his veterans. Hannibal had failed to win the war in Italy, but neither had he truly lost it. In the meantime the Romans had proved successful on every other front, establishing peace with Macedonia and winning outright victories in Spain and Sicily, so that they were in position to mount an invasion of Africa. It is to these campaigns that we must now turn.36

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