Ancient History & Civilisation

Peace Negotiations and the Return of Hannibal, Autumn 203 - Spring 202 BC

The Punic army in North Africa had been dispersed, Syphax, their most important ally, utterly defeated, and the minor success won by their fleet too late to pose a serious threat to the invader. The Roman expeditionary force remained at large, its numbers set to grow with the addition of more Numidians rallying to Masinissa. By the end of the campaigning season in 203 the voices in the Punic Senate calling for a continuation of the struggle were drowned out by those advocating peace. The thirty most senior members, thegerousia, were sent to Scipio's camp to begin negotiations to end the war. The delegation blamed Hannibal and his supporters for starting the war. Like all treaties which proved short-lived, it is difficult to know how much reliance can be placed on the terms listed in our sources. Livy says that Scipio demanded that the Carthaginians should release all captives, deserters and runaway slaves, withdraw their armies from Italy and Cisalpine Gaul, permanently sever their last ties with Spain, renounce their claim to the islands in the Mediterranean, and hand over all but twenty ships from their navy. In addition they were to supply large quantities of grain, 500,000 modii (c. 3,390 metric tonnes) of wheat for the men and 300,000 modii (c. 2,034 tonnes) of barley for the animals, to feed the Roman army in Africa. There were several different amounts given for the financial indemnity to be imposed.20

The Carthaginians accepted the terms, although Livy claims that they were simply playing for time, hoping that the return of Hannibal's army could restore the military situation. An embassy was dispatched to Rome to confirm the treaty, which needed approval from the Senate and ratification in the Comitia Centuriata. Rome had already received a report of the recent campaigns delivered by Laelius, resulting in the declaration of four days of public thanksgiving. There is now a conflict in our sources, for Polybius later tells us that the treaty was approved by Rome, whereas Livy describes the talks breaking down as the Carthaginian delegation attempted to alter the terms agreed with Scipio and return to a version of the Catulus treaty. He claims that the Senate decided to expel the ambassadors from Italy and voted to give Scipio, as the man on the spot, authority to advise whether or not future peace proposals should be accepted.21

The armistice continued throughout the winter months, in spite of the arrival in Africa of Hannibal and his forces. Scipio's army was still dependent on supplies brought by sea from Sicily and Sardinia, especially during the winter. During the armistice, probably at the beginning of spring 203, a convoy of 200 transports and thirty warships was brought by the propraetor Cnaeus Octavius from Sicily, but was struck by a sudden change in the weather. The oared warships were able to row against the wind and reach their intended landfall, but the sail-powered merchantmen were swept eastwards along the coast and scattered, many ending up in the wide bay overlooked by Carthage itself. Encouraged by popular demonstrations, the Punic Senate were unable to resist the temptation to profit from this opportunity. Hasdrubal was sent out with fifty warships to round up the Roman transports, most of which were abandoned by their crews. The prizes were then towed back to Carthage and their cargoes added to the city's grain reserves, which may well have been running short for a population swollen by the influx of refugees from the rural areas.22

Scipio sent a delegation of three ambassadors on board a quinquereme to Carthage to demand the return of the ships and their supplies, complaining that their seizure had violated the armistice and, if Polybius is right, the Peace Treaty agreed in Rome. The mood in Carthage had changed once again, encouraged by the return of Hannibal and his veteran soldiers. All classes were now overwhelmingly in favour of renewing the war, hoping for a victory which would allow them to gain far more favourable terms. The Roman delegation was mobbed and only escaped injury through the protection of the city's magistrates. The Roman galley was given an escort of two triremes to take it to within sight of its own fleet. As the quinquereme passed the Carthaginian fleet observing the Romans near Utica, three Punic triremes (or quadriremes in Livy's version) put out to intercept it. Skilful handling by the Roman captain and crew avoided the enemy rams, and the superior height and numerous marines of the 'five' deterred attempts at boarding, but the ship was deluged with missiles and suffered many casualties.23

Campaigning began again with renewed energy almost immediately. Scipio became more ruthless to demonstrate his determination to the end the war decisively. Cities which surrendered voluntarily were no longer offered terms, but their populations enslaved as if they had been taken by storm. The Roman general had been pleased by the Senate's acceptance of the peace terms he had framed, despite the swift collapse of the Treaty. It showed that he was still popular with the majority of senators. Particular glory was reserved for the Roman commander who completed a major war and there was always a danger that rivals would seek to replace a general in the closing stages of a conflict and steal much of the credit. In 203 the Senate had extended Scipio's command until the war had been won, but there was no guarantee that this decision might not be reversed. Now that Hannibal had left Italy, Africa offered by far the greatest chance of distinction. One of the consuls of 203, Cnaeus Servilius Caepio, is supposed to have travelled to Sicily late in the year, with a view to crossing to Africa. He seems to have been recalled by the dictator appointed to hold the elections for the following year. Both of the successful candidates for the consulship of 202 hoped to be given Africa as their province. Scipio still had enough supporters in the Senate, notably Quintus Caecilius Metellus, to refer the matter to the People, who voted overwhelmingly to continue Scipio's imperium. Nevertheless, one of the consuls was sent to Africa in command of a fleet of fifty quinqueremes. This was Tiberius Claudius Nero, cousin of the victor at Metaurus, who was ordered to support by sea the operations of Scipio's army. For the moment, Africanus' popularity with the people and allies within the Senate had defeated the attempts to replace him. The scene was now set for a direct clash between Scipio and Hannibal, without doubt the ablest commanders produced by each side in the Second Punic War.24

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