Revolt In Carthage : The Mercenary War

Revolt In Revolt In Carthage : The Mercenary War

The Dead and the Dying

In 239 BC, the cities of Utica and Hippo executed their Carthaginian garrisons, joining the rebels instead. Utica was offered to the Roman Republic as an African province, but the senators maintained their stance of opposing mutineers and rejected the overture. The rebel army now moved south to besiege Carthage itself. With the advantage in cavalry, Hamilcar raided the rebel supply lines. And though he was joined by Hanno’s army, disagreement over how to manage the war hamstrung their efforts at cooperation. The choice of supreme commander was thus put to the army, and unsurprisingly Hamilcar was elected. Hanno left the army in disgrace.

Stele on the Tophet of Carthage
A lack of supplies forced the rebels to end their siege early the next year, retreating to Tunis.

Where Matho attempted to maintain a blockade while Spendius led 40,000 men against Hamilcar. Again, he kept to high terrain to harass the Carthaginian army, leading one column while his adjutants Autraritus and Zarzas led the other two. Hamilcar’s force was split betwixt himself, his adjutant Hannibal, and the Numidian defector Naravas. Despite having numerical superiority, the rebels were short on supplies. And were relying on a quick and decisive victory over Hamilcar to both end his attacks on their supply lines and also feed on his own army’s supply caravan.

Marching out in force, the rebels managed to repel Hamilcar and thus open a route for fresh supplied from Tunis. Hamilcar pulled his own force together and shadowed the rebels into the Tunisian uplands. Where the rebels hoped to hinder his supplies, nullify his advantage of cavalry and elephants, and bring him to battle on unfavourable terrain. The following months saw manoeuvres, ambushes, traps and strategy from both sides. There were wins and losses, and prisoners taken, and leaders killed from both the Carthaginians and the rebels.

A war of attrition suited the rebels, while Hamilcar was faxing increasing political pressure to bring the war to a swift conclusion. By this time Hamilcar had commanded the army for a decade, while Spendius was an escaped slave recently turned soldier. 

Eventually Hamilcar pinned the rebels against a mountain range called The Saw.

The rebels believed they had lost the Carthaginian army, though Naravas’ skilled Numidian scouts found them. Hamilcar surprised them and they dug in as his cavalry advanced. Realising too late that they were trapped as Hamilcar’s army fortified its position. The rebels had access to water but not food, and had already scoured the existing area, while the Carthaginians had access to food and supplies from a wide area.

The following weeks saw the rebel’s resort to desperate measures, their numbers now working against them. Firstly, they ate their horses. Secondly, the captured prisoners. Thirdly, their own slaves. Messengers were dispatched to Tunis, though it is likely none arrived. In addition, all that kept the rebels motivated was that Matho would sortie out of the city to relieve them – though he too was now pinned in place by 10,000 troops under Hanno. 

Ruins of ancient Punic housings on the Byrsa hill
The surrounded rebels blamed their leaders and forced them to seek a parley with Hamilcar.

Spendius, Autraritus, Zarzas and their lieutenants approached the Carthaginians, but were imprisoned. Knowing that the rebels were now leaderless, Hamilcar attacked their broken force, leading with his elephants, and utterly annihilated them. Any who surrendered were bound and trampled to death by the elephants.

An illustration by Victor-Armand Poirson which envisages the crucifixion of Spendius. And his lieutenants in front of Tunis. Revolt In Carthage : The Mercenary War

Hamilcar next marched on Tunis and besieged it, occupying the southern wall himself while his adjutant Hannibal attacked the north. The rebel leaders captured at The Saw were now crucified in full view of the city, their pitiful cries further demoralising their comrades holding fast within the walls. Matho launched a night attack which overran one of the Carthaginian camps and captured Hannibal and his entourage. Removing Spendius and his lieutenants from the crosses, Hannibal and his officers were now nailed to them instead.

Hamilcar abandoned the siege and withdrew north.

The Senate encouraged reconciliation between Hanno and Hamilcar, and the two generals now agreed to serve together.

Matho marched 100 miles south to the wealthy city of Leptis Parva, which had rebelled against Carthage. Hanno and Hamilcar now gave chase, with a 40,000-strong army now conscripting male Carthaginian citizens of military age. The rebels chose not to be besieged again. But instead met the attacking force in mid-238 BC. The remaining 30,000 rebels were wiped out. And Matho was captured in a decisive victory for Carthage, all of the prisoners were crucified. Save for Matho who returned to Carthage. To be dragged through the streets of the city. And then tortured to death by its residents.

Ruins of the Baths of Antoninus Pius

Those cities which had rebelled against what appeared to be the collapsing Carthaginian hegemony now sought terms of reconciliation. Two notable exceptions were Utica and Hippo, who feared vengeance for their massacres of the garrisons. They attempted to hold out but came to terms within a year. The captured towns were treated leniently, though their autonomy was greatly reduced as Carthaginian governors were imposed on them. Now Carthage had settled the Truceless War at home, it could look to settle its foreign rebellions in Sardinia and Corsica. Sensing the vengeance was fast approaching, the islanders sought support anew from their one remaining hope – Rome

“My son Hannibal will be a great general, because of all my soldiers he knows best how to obey.”

In 237 BC, the indigenous islands of Sardinia drove out the mutinous garrison, who took refuge in Italy. With the war in Africa drawing to a close, they appealed anew to Rome for assistance. Three years after the original request, this time Rome supported them.

And the legions were drawn up for an expedition to seize Sardinia and Corsica. Carthage sent an embassy to Rome, quoting from their Treaty of Lutatius and detailing that they were outfitting their own expedition to retake the island, which had been Carthaginian for three centuries. The Roman Senate audaciously declared that such an expedition would be deemed an act of war. And that peace terms to avoid this would include the ceding of both islands, plus an additional 1,200 talent indemnity. Crippled by three decades of war, Carthage now bowed to these demands rather than risk further war with Rome.

Rome would spend the next seven years developing its military strength on Sardinia and Corsica.

Moreover, struggling to suppress unrest from the islanders who saw their dreams of freedom following the expulsion of Carthage swiftly vanquished. The act of bad faith by Rome merely stirred popular resentment of the republic in Carthage, and ensured popular support for those who openly shunned Rome.

Revolt In Carthage Written by Jack Tappin

Revolt In Carthage : The Mercenary War

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Revolt In Carthage : The Mercenary War