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Appian's History of Rome: The Punic Wars §§96-100

Appian of Alexandria (c.95-c.165) is the author of a Roman History and one of the most underestimated of all Greek historians. Although only his books on the Roman Civil Wars survive in their entirety, large parts of other books have also come down to us. His account of the Punic Wars, which deals with the wars in Africa, is fortunately among these better preserved parts.

The translation was made by Horace White; footnotes and additions in green by Jona Lendering.


  [§96] [149] The harbors had communication with each other, and a common entrance from the sea twenty meters wide, which could be closed with iron chains. The first port was for merchant vessels, and here were collected all kinds of ships' tackle. Within the second port was an island which, together with the port itself, was enclosed by high embankments. These embankments were full of shipyards which had capacity for 220 vessels. Above them were magazines for their tackle and furniture. Two Ionic columns stood in front of each dock, giving the appearance of a continuous portico to both the harbor and the island. On the island was built the admiral's house, from which the trumpeter gave signals, the herald delivered orders, and the admiral himself overlooked everything. The island lay near the entrance to the harbor and rose to a considerable height, so that the admiral could observe what was going on at sea, while those who were approaching by water could not get any clear view of what took place within. Not even the incoming merchants could see the docks, for a double wall enclosed them, and there were gates by which merchant ships could pass from the first port to the city without traversing the dockyards. Such was the appearance of Carthage at that time.
Aerial view of the ports of
Carthage (©!!!)

[§97] Now the consuls, having divided their work, moved against the enemy. [Manius] Manilius advanced from the mainland by way of the isthmus, intending to fill up the ditch, surmount the low parapet overlooking it, and from that to scale the high wall. [Lucius Marcius] Censorinus raised ladders both from the ground and from the decks of ships against the neglected angle of the wall.

Both of them despised the enemy, thinking that they were unarmed, but when they found that they were provided with new arms and were full of courage they were astounded and took to their heels. Thus they met a rebuff at the very beginning, in expecting to take the city without fighting.

When they made a second attempt and were again repulsed, the spirits of the Carthaginians were very much raised. The consuls, fearing Hasdrubal, who had pitched his camp behind them on the other side of the lake, not far distant, fortified two camps, Censorinus on the lake under the walls of the enemy, and Manilius on the isthmus leading to the mainland. When the camps were finished Censorinus crossed the lake to get timber for building engines and lost about 500 men, who were cutting wood, and also many tools, the Carthaginian cavalry general, Himilco, surnamed Phameas, having suddenly fallen upon them.

Nevertheless, he secured a certain amount of timber with which he made engines and ladders. Again they made an attempt upon the city in concert, and again they failed. Manilius, after some feeble efforts, having with difficulty beaten down a little of the outworks, gave up in despair of taking the city from that side.

 
[§98] Censorinus, having filled up a portion of the lake along the tongue of land in order to have more room, brought up two enormous battering rams, one of which was driven by 6,000 foot-soldiers under charge of the military tribunes, and the other by oarsmen of the ships under charge of their captains. Moved by a spirit of emulation among officers and men in the performance of their similar tasks, they beat down a part of the wall, so that they could look into the city.

The Carthaginians, on the other hand, drove them back and strove to repair the breaches in the wall by night. As the night time was not sufficient for the work and they feared lest the Roman arms should readily destroy by daylight their moist and newly made wall, they made a sally, some with arms and others with torches, to set fire to the machines. They did not succeed in destroying these entirely (the Romans rallying and not giving them sufficient time), but they rendered them quite useless and regained the city.

When daylight returned the Romans conceived the purpose of rushing in through the opening where the Carthaginians had not finished their work and overpowering them. They saw inside an open space, well suited for fighting, where the Carthaginians had stationed armed men in front and others in the rear provided only with stones and clubs, and many others on the roofs of the neighboring houses, all in readiness to meet the invaders.

The Romans, when they saw themselves scorned by an unarmed enemy, were still more exasperated, and dashed in fiercely. But [Publius Cornelius] Scipio [Aemilianus], who a little later took Carthage and from that feat gained the surname Africanus, being then a military tribune, held back, divided his companies into several parts, and stationed them at intervals along the wall, not allowing them to go into the city. When those who entered were driven back by the Carthaginians, who fell upon them from all sides, he gave them succor and saved them from destruction. And this action first brought him renown, as he had shown himself wiser than the consul.

[§99] Now the dog star began to rise [1] and sickness broke out in the camp of Censorinus, who was conducting his operations on a lake of stagnant water with high walls shutting off the fresh air from the sea, for which reason he moved his station from the lake to the sea. The Carthaginians, observing that the wind blew toward the Romans, attached ropes to some small boats and hauled them behind the walls, so that they should not be observed by the enemy, and filled them with dry twigs and tow. Then they pushed them back, and as they turned the corner and came in sight of the enemy, they poured brimstone and pitch over the contents, spread the sails, and, as the wind filled them, set fire to the boats. These, driven by the wind and the fury of the flames against the Roman ships, set fire to them and came a little short of destroying the whole fleet.

Shortly afterward Censorinus went to Rome to conduct the election. Then the Carthaginians began to press more boldly against Manilius. They made a sally by night, some with arms, others, unarmed, carrying planks with which to bridge the ditch of the Roman camp, and began to tear down the palisades. While all was in confusion in the camp, as is usual in nocturnal assaults, Scipio passed out with his horse by the rear gates where there was no fighting, moved around to the front, and so frightened the Carthaginians that they betook themselves to the city. Thus a second time Scipio appeared to have been the salvation of the Romans by his conduct in this nocturnal melee.

[§100] Manilius thereupon fortified his camp more carefully. He threw around it a wall in place of the palisade and built a fort on the seashore at the place where his supply ships came in. Then, turning to the mainland, he ravaged the country with 10,000 foot and 4,000 horse, collecting wood and forage and provisions. These foraging parties were in charge of the military tribunes by turns.

Now Phameas, the chief of the African horse -a young man eager for fighting, having small but swift horses that lived on grass when they could find nothing else, and could bear both hunger and thirst when necessary- hiding in thickets and ravines, when he saw that the enemy were not on their guard swooped down upon them from his hiding place like an eagle, inflicted as much damage on them as he could, and took refuge in flight.

But when Scipio's turn came he never made his appearance, because Scipio always kept his foot-soldiers in line and his horsemen on horseback, and in foraging he never broke ranks until he had encircled the field where his harvesters were to work, with cavalry and infantry. Moreover, he was always reconnoitering with other troops of horse around the circle, and if any of the harvesters straggled away or passed outside of the circle he punished them severely. For this reason he was the only one that Phameas did not attack.

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Punic wars   :   part 21
Note 1:
Sirius, the dog star, became visible near sunrise after ca. 27 July.
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