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Hamilcar Barca 2

Posted April 2nd, 2011 at 11:33 PM by markdienekes

Part 3: The African Revolt up to the Battle of the Macar
240 BC


With the end of the First Punic War, things seemed to go from bad to worse for Carthage. The end of the war did not herald peace for either the Carthaginians or the Romans in the gap between the end of the First and the start of the Second Punic War, Carthage saw war against its own mercenaries and Libyan subjects, and war in Spain, while the Romans fought against the Gauls and Illyrians.

With obvious difficulties facing Carthage in regards to paying the mercenaries, a rather clever plan was adopted by Gisco to manage the crisis. Gisco sent them to Carthage in groups over a period of several months, but this was soon discontinued by the republic. Carthage was now too impoverished to pay them, and too inept to fob them off. The 20,000 mercenaries made up of people from all over the western Mediterranean and Libyan conscripts had plenty of grievances, not to mention the fact they were armed and suspicious.

Through a series of disorders in the city of Carthage where the mercenaries had been staying, they were asked to move to Sicca which they accepted, but this soon led to boredom and dissatisfaction free from the constraints of discipline. With this inactivity came the desire to get what they deserved for their years of hard campaigning; arrears of pay, and the high rewards promised them by officers for the difficulties and dangers they had faced. Being responsible for affairs in Africa, Hanno the Great arrived at Sicca unable to pay the mercenaries and only offered them a settlement on greatly reduced terms. This resulted in an explosion of anger and the mercenaries took up arms, which ignited the discontented Libyans to join them. The lands around Carthage and her sister Phoenician colonies of Utica and Hippou Arca erupted in revolt (Hoyos, p.34). The mercenaries then marched on Carthage and set up position at Tunis.

The arrival of this army alarmed the Carthaginians, who immediately set about trying to placate the mercenaries with provisions of every kind being sent to the camp. The Senate itself consented to their demands, which simply increased the mercenaries confidence, who proceeded to ask unreasonable demands of Carthage. The Carthaginians asked them if they were willing to mediate with one of the generals they had fought with in Sicily, but they did not want to mediate with Hamilcar Barca, who some blamed for abandoning them so soon after the defeat, and showed a lack of interest in their fate, but they were willing to talk to Gisco who had handled affairs in Lilybaeum so well.

Sadly, affairs broke down and Gisco was retained by the mercenaries and met a horrible fate, being stoned to death. Hamilcar Barca, being only too aware of their irritation with him, had not shown during the mediations and had avoided such a fate. This may well be due to the mercenaries disposition towards him, but also because his political enemies had launched a prosecution against him; the charge was that of misconduct in his Sicilian command.

Hamilcar's case would have been before the tribunal of 104, and a guilty verdict would have no doubt led to crucifixion or flight into exile. Hamilcar Barca managed to win the support of the leading men however, and the case was dropped. We do not know who his enemies were or who accused him of misconduct but we hear of one rescuer of Hamilcar being Hasdrubal, who would later marry his daughter and become a son-in-law. Hanno is regarded by Hoyos as remaining neutral during the trial (Hoyos, p.36)

Despite his failure to negotiate with the rebels, Hanno the Great still had great repute and was given command to fight the rebels. Though he had success fighting Numidians and taxing Libyans, he met a good deal less success against the veterans. By early 240 BC, he had managed to get himself cut off from Carthage, on the far-side of Utica between the rebels besieging the town and those against Hippou Arca to the north. His army was destroyed, though Hanno managed to escape. Devoid of revenue and without an ally or friend the situation looked hopeless. The Carthaginians decided it was time to appoint a second general, and that man was Hamilcar Barca.

Hamilcar raised an army made up of mercenaries, rebel deserters and citizens that consisted of some 10,000 men with 70 elephants to face an army, according to Polybius, of some 90,000 men. This rebel army was led by two appointed generals called Spendius, a fugitive Roman slave, and Matho, an African, who divided their army between them. Matho mounted attacks on Utica and Hippou Arca, while Spendius set to siege Carthage, cutting the city off and confining the garrison within the city walls.

Hamilcar's decision was to strike without delay, but this was hampered by confinement. To the south was the route to the mainland made up of a range of hills guarded strongly by Matho's troops. He could not move to the north because the swift running river known as the Macar had only one crossing point that was guarded by a force of mercenaries 10,000 strong. His only option was to break out into the open countryside using surprise as a weapon, as his force was too small to face the mercenaries at Macar and on the southern hill passes.

This was the situation facing Hamilcar. He achieved the breakout by noticing a tide and westerly wind revealed a sand bar across the river mouth which enabled it to be forded. When this happened again, he was ready and led his men out of the city gate under the cover of darkness, and managed the crossing by dawn without detection. He then went inland and followed the course of the Macar, his goal to secure the bridge, advancing in extended line northwards across the plain with the elephants in front, followed by the light troops and cavalry, his heavy infantry bringing up the rear.(Bagnell, p116)

Spendius soon found out that Hamilcar had crossed however, and being joined by a further 15,000 men, advanced to meet Hamilcar 25,000 strong. Spendius felt confident of victory and extended his left flank to overlap and encircle Hamilcar's force, but Hamilcar had a trick up his sleeve. The Carthaginians wheeled off to their right flank, turned about and made to withdraw. Believing they were retreating and victory was at hand, the mercenaries rushed forward, only to discover that that was not the case and Hamilcar had in fact executed a great tactical manoeuvre.

Hamilcar had skillfully inverted his dispositions so that his leading troops withdrew only until the heavy infantry had marched forward into the van, and the elephants, cavalry and light troops then turned about to face their front and come into line alongside the heavy infantry. (Bagnell, p.116)

Spendius' left flank was now no longer overlapping the Carthaginian right flank, and the rush had disorganised the advance. They were no longer in a position to fight against the regular ranks of Hamilcar's force. They began to fall back in disorder, and the army was thrown into confusion, which Hamilcar took full advantage of. He set loose his elephants and cavalry, which rode down the enemy without mercy. The mercenaries lost about 6000 men with 2000 taken prisoner, while the rest fled to Utica and Tunis. With this victory, the morale of Hamilcar's army was high, itself a battle-winning factor. According to Bagnell, Hamilcar's battle on the banks of the Macar river 'provides a classic example of imaginative and skillful leadership' (Bagnell, p.117)

Part 4: The African Revolt
240-237 BC


Hamilcar's success against Spendius at the Macar allowed him to move inland where he raised the siege of Utica, freeing Hanno and the forces left after his earlier defeat, and assaulted and captured Libyan towns opposed to him while persuading others to submit peacefully. His actions threatened the rebel supply lines and future reinforcements. While Mathos continued his siege of Hippou Arca, he advised Spendius and another instigator of the revolt, a Celt known as Autaritus to harass the enemy, but to remain as best they could from level ground and avoid terrain best suited to elephants and cavalry. They set out with a force 8000 strong from Tunes, having sent ahead messengers to the Libyans and Numidians asking for assistance, much to the delight of Hamilcar, who must have realised the best way to win was to separate the rebel army.

They found Hamilcar on a plain surrounded by mountains and waited for reinforcements, who arrived to bolster their numbers, but Polybius does not say how long it took. Hamilcar was in a dangerous position, outnumbered, with Libyans in their front, Numidians in their rear and Spendius their flank.

Then a fortunate event happened, much to the initial distrust of the Carthaginian general. A Numidian prince called Naravas arrived shortly after the rebel reinforcements with a hundred horsemen, and dismounting and throwing down his weapons, walked unarmed into the Carthaginian camp. He expressed his admiration for Hamilcar and his desire to serve Carthage, in particular, the Barcas. Impressed by the man's courage and in order to gain his further loyalty, Hamilcar swore he would give him his daughter in marriage. With this alliance settled, Naravas left and returned with 2000 horsemen. With his force strengthened by the Numidian cavalry, Hamilcar offered battle, in which Spendius was all too happy to oblige. The battle was a bloody fight, but Hamilcar won, killing, according to Polybius, 10,000 men, and taking four thousand prisoners with the elephants once again wrecking havoc and the Numidians rendering excellent service. Spendius and Autaritus escaped. After the battle, Hamilcar pardoned the prisoners and told them they could go free. He also said they could also join his forces if they so wished. It was a much publicized policy. He warned those that were freed that if they were to fall into Carthaginian hands again, they would be severely punished.

While this happened in Africa, a chain of events in Sardinia reached exploding point, and the mercenaries stationed there rebelled and attacked the Carthaginians on the island, executing the commander Bostar and attacking Carthaginian towns. Carthage sent a force over led by an officer named Hanno, but this force quickly deserted and joined the rebels and crucified Hanno. What followed is described by Polybius:

devising the most exquisite torments, they tortured and murdered all the Carthaginians in the island, and when they had got all the towns into their power continued to hold forcible possession of Sardinia, until they quarrelled with the natives, and were driven out by them to Italy. Thus was Sardinia lost to the Carthaginians, an island of great extent, most thickly populated and most fertile. Most authors have described it at length, and I do not think it necessary to repeat statements which no one disputes. (Polybius, 1.79)

Worried by Hamilcar's magnanimity towards prisoners, Spendius and Autaritus devised a scheme to counter the pardon extended by Hamilcar. They spread word that it was a trick merely to disarm them, and once they were thus impotent, Carthage would exact terrible vengeance throughout the subject territories. They also spread the rumour that there were traitors in the army, plotting to free the prisoners they had captured like Gisco, who had yet to meet his horrible fate. The mercenaries suspicion and anger was roused, and they promptly murdered Gisco and a further 100 Carthaginian prisoners. Spendius then declared that this would be how they treated all future prisoners. In response to the rebels, Hamilcar decided to end his policy of leniency to prisoners, and began to execute them using extreme measures:

while those brought to him captive prisoners he threw to the elephants to be trampled to death, as it was clear to him that the rebellion would never be stamped out until the enemy were utterly exterminated. (Polybius, 1.82)

Hamilcar had persuaded Hanno to join his forces, but this resulted in much bickering and possibly began the mutual dislike of each other. They lost many opportunities to attack the rebels due to disagreements, while presenting the rebels with many. Things were so bad that Carthage ordered one general to remain and one to stay, the choice was given to the army who decided on Hanno retiring, and Hamilcar remaining in charge. Hamilcar was joined by a Carthaginian officer called Hannibal at this time.

Carthage suffered some major setbacks at this time. The fleet that was conveying supplies for their commissariat and other needs from Emporia was destroyed at sea in a storm, but the biggest blow of all was the defection of Hippou Arca and Utica:

their sympathies so suddenly changed, that they exhibited the greatest friendship and loyalty to the rebels, while beginning to show every symptom of passionate and determined hatred of Carthage. After butchering the troops the Carthaginians had sent to assist them, about five hundred in number, together with their commander, they threw all the bodies from the wall, and surrendered the city to the Libyans. They would not even give the Carthaginians the permission they requested to bury their unfortunate compatriots. (Polybius, 1.82)

Mathos and Spendius in the meantime, enthusiastic after these events, undertook the siege of Carthage once more. Hamilcar began to scour the country, intercepting supplies intended for Mathos and Spendius, making great use of Naravas' Numidians.

After a brief dispute between Rome and Carthage involving captured traders coming from Italy to Libya with supplies for the enemy, and diplomatically resolving the situation peacefully, setting even their own Carthaginian prisoners from the First Punic War free, Rome offered Carthage help. They stuck to the treaty engagements, and gave permission to their merchants to export all requirements for Carthage, but not for the enemy while refusing offers to occupy Sardinia and Utica (Polyb. 1.83). With this help, Carthage managed to continue to withstand the rebel siege while Hamilcar went about destroying Spendius and Mathos' supply lines until they were forced to give up the siege.

Spendius and Mathos then took a force fifty thousand strong, which included Zarzas the Libyan and resorted to former tactics, hounding Hamilcar, but staying away from level ground as they were afraid of the elephants and Naravas' horse. Instead, they tried to anticipate Hamilcar's movements, but were worsted in any assaults they tried on his forces:

Hamilcar, like a good draught-player, by cutting off and surrounding large numbers of the enemy, destroyed them without their resisting, while in the more general battles he would sometimes inflict large loss by enticing them into unsuspected ambuscades and sometimes throw them into panic by appearing when they least expected it by day or by night. All those he captured were thrown to the elephants. (Polybius, 1.84)

This game of cat and mouse finally ended when Hamilcar had taken the enemy force by surprise while encamped against a mountain barrier. Hamilcar went about entirely surrounding them with Carthaginian troops holding the peaks in the rear and entrenchments on the flank and front. According to Polybius, the rebels dared not risk battle, and facing starvation, some took to cannibalism.

Hamilcar was satisfied with starving them into submission and did not attack them. The rebels themselves expected no quarter, and refused surrender, relying on reinforcements promised them from Tunis. With no such arrival, the mercenaries grew frustrated with their leaders, and fearful that they may come to harm, Spendius, Autaritus and Zarzas gave themselves up, and hoped to discuss terms with Hamilcar. A herald was despatched to the Carthaginans, who told them to send ten envoys, which included the rebel leaders. Immediately once they had entered into camp, and thinking they had been betrayed, the rebel army rushed to attack but weakened through starvation, Hamilcar's force of around 10,000 infantry and 2000 cavalry, and his elephants annihilated them, leaving more than forty thousand rebels dead, and was named the Battle of the Saw. With this victory Hamilcar moved through the country, winning over many Libyan towns, while those that resisted he raised, before marching on Tunis and for Mathos.

When Hamilcar arrived at Tunis, he set up camp to the south, while Hannibal set up camp to the north. Hamilcar then took to intimidation, and took his prisoners, including the rebel leaders, and crucified them in sight of the town before retiring back to camp to await events. Mathos however, did not seek peace terms, but noticed Hannibal had neglected his post. Mathos attacked the northern camp with a sudden foray, and killed many of the Carthaginians, forcing many to flee abandoning the baggage. This was unfortunate timing, as a delegation of prominent Carthaginian citizens had come to Hannibal's camp to investigate the situation and were captured along with Hannibal. They were tortured and executed before being nailed in their place.

Hamilcar raised the siege and withdrew to the mouth of the Macar, while Mathos abandoned Tunis and headed to a town near Leptis Minor eighty miles to the south. Shortly afterwards, Hamilcar was joined by Hanno the Great and thirty senators who managed to convince them both to work together once more, and put behind them their petty squabbles. Hamilcar and Mathos mustered their forces to their full strengths and prepared for a final battle. There is no mention of the details of the battle, but Carthage carried the day and broke the back of the rebels and any effective resistance was over.

Utica and Hippou Arca held out for a while longer, but eventually surrendered. After three years of bitter costly fighting, the Mercenary War was over. Early in 237 BC Africa was once again at peace and Hamilcar Barca received public favour as saviour of the city.
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