The harbour at Carthage was divided into an rectangular harbour that consisted of a square basin of 500 x 200 meters used for merchants ships followed by by a circular inner protected harbor reserved for military use only of approximately 300 x 300 meters. Ώ] This inner harbour was circular and surrounded by an outer ring of structures divided into a series of docking bays for ship maintenance, along with an island structure at its centre that also housed navy ships. ΐ] Each individual docking bay featured a raised slipway. Above the raised docking bays was a second level consisting of warehouses where oars and rigging were kept along with supplies such as wood and canvas. Α]
On the island structure there existed a raised 'cabin' where the admiral in command could observe the whole harbour along with the surrounding sea. Altogether the inner docking complex could house up to 220 ships. Β] The entire harbour was protected by an outer wall and the main entrance could be closed off with iron chains. Both ports were man made, about twenty meters deep, and they possibly date to 220-210 BC. Γ] At the centre of the naval harbour was a tower structure known as the ‘the admiral’s island, of 140 meters in diameter the facilities included over 220 docks. Δ]
Military and Warfare
The military of Carthage was one of the largest military forces in the ancient world. Although Carthage’s navy was always its main military force, the army acquired a key role in the spread of Carthaginian power over the native peoples of northern Africa and southern Iberian Peninsula, from the 6th century BC to the 3rd century BC. Carthage’s military also allowed it to expand into Sardinia and the Balearic Islands. This expansion transformed the military from a body of citizen-soldiers into a multinational force composed primarily of foreign mercenary units.
Ancient Carthage was almost constantly at war with the Greeks or the Romans. One set of wars was called the Punic Wars. They were fought with Rome from 265 BCE to 146 BCE. The main cause of the Punic Wars was the conflict of interest between the existing Carthaginian Empire and the expanding Roman Republic. The Romans were initially interested in expansion via Sicily (at that time a cultural melting pot), part of which lay under Carthaginian control. At the start of the first Punic War, Carthage was the dominant power of the Western Mediterranean, with an extensive maritime empire. Rome, meanwhile, was the rapidly ascending power in Italy, which still lacked the naval power of Carthage.
It was during the Second Punic War that the Carthaginian leader Hannibal launched his famous overland attack on Rome. By the end of the third war, which began in 149 BCE, many hundreds of thousands of soldiers from both sides had been lost, and Rome succeeded in conquering Carthage’s empire. The Romans completely destroyed Carthage, and became the most powerful state in the Western Mediterranean. During this period, Rome emerged as the dominant Mediterranean power and one of the most powerful cities in classical antiquity. The Roman victories over Carthage in these wars gave Rome a preeminent status, a status it would retain until the 5th century CE.
Hannibal’s Invasion of Italy
Leaving his brother, also named Hasdrubal, to protect Carthage’s interests in Spain and North Africa, Hannibal assembled a massive army, including (according to Polybius’ probably exaggerated figures) as many as 90,000 infantry, 12,000 cavalry and nearly 40 elephants. The march that followed–which covered some 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) through the Pyrenees, across the Rhone River and the snowcapped Alps, and finally into central Italy–would be remembered as one of the most famous campaigns in history. With his forces depleted by the harsh Alpine crossing, Hannibal met the powerful army of the Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio on the plains west of the Ticino River. Hannibal’s cavalry prevailed, and Scipio was seriously wounded in the battle.
Late in 218 B.C., the Carthaginians again defeated the Romans on the left bank of the Trebia River, a victory that earned Hannibal the support of allies including the Gauls and Ligurians. By the spring of 217 B.C., he had advanced to the Arno River, where despite a victory at Lake Trasimene he declined to lead his exhausted forces against Rome itself. In the summer of the following year, 16 Roman legions𠄼lose to 80,000 soldiers, an army said to be twice the size of Hannibal’s𠄼onfronted the Carthaginians near the town of Cannae. While the Roman general Varro massed his infantry in the center with his cavalry on each wing𠄺 classic military formation–Hannibal maintained a relatively weak center but strong infantry and cavalry forces at the flanks. When the Romans advanced, the Carthaginians were able to hold their center and win the struggle at the sides, enveloping the enemy and cutting off the possibility of retreat by sending a cavalry charge across the rear.
Trade City of Carthage
Carthage was founded for trade, which created great wealth and helped it to dominate parts of North Africa and the central and eastern Mediterranean. Metals from North Africa were traded for wine, cloth, and pottery. By the sixth century b.c.e. it was ruled by an aristocratic oligarchy through a senate. Carthaginian trade in Sicily and Italy led to clashes with the Greeks and the Etruscans. Carthage occupied the island of Ibiza off the Mediterranean coast of Iberia in 591 b.c.e, and in the 540s b.c.e. it conquered Sardinia.
Hannibal's Military Innovations
The causes of the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage are unclear. Carthage was a coastal trading empire in northern Africa. The land-locked Roman empire did not directly challenge the Carthaginian interests at sea. Lacking motive to do so, the Carthaginians did not provoke the Romans (Bagnall 30). The actual catalyst for war between the two was alliances that each power entered on opposite sides of two opposing forces. Hiero of Syracuse, a rival of Carthage, condemned the Mamertines, who had massacred and obtained the nation of Messana. Hiero pursued the Mamertines and defeated them decisively. Carthage quickly came the the aid of the Mamertines against Syracuse, with whom they had a long history of war. Hiero, determined to not allow Carthage to control the harbor at Messana, sought an alliance with Rome. Although hesitant to enter conflict with the sea power of Carthage, Rome had an interest in expanding to the South (Bagnall 34). The alliances that Rome and Carthage formed in self interest catapulted these two powerful empires into decades of war with each other.
Out of the Punic Wars came arguably one of the greatest generals in World History. Hannibal Barca proved to be a brilliant strategist and tactician. In many cases, he outwitted an opponent that far outnumbered him, causing mass casualties to the Roman army. Hannibal’s brilliance as a military commander is evident throughout the Second Punic War, also known as the Hannibalic War. His innovative use of chemistry, incredible feats of transportation, war animals, environmental factors, and battle field tactics render him a military genius, and the greatest opponent that the Roman Empire ever faced (Anglim et al. 164).
The Germanic tribe called the Vandals had conquered Roman North Africa in 439 AD. They also controlled the islands of Corsica , Sardinia and the Balearics .
The Vandals were fearsome warriors having spread terror wherever they went. In 455 they sacked Rome itself sending shock waves through the ancient world.
In 468 AD the Eastern Roman Empire tried to take back Africa in the Battle of Carthage only to fail.
The Romans called them barbarians even though they had become somewhat Romanized. They had adopted Arian Christianity. Very little is known about the Vandalic language itself, which was of the East Germanic linguistic branch. The Goths have left behind the only text corpus of the East Germanic language type: a 4th-century translation of the Gospels. All Vandals that modern historians know about language is they were able to speak Latin , which also remained the official language of the Vandal administration.
But Romanized or not, the Emperor Justinian wanted their lands for himself.
|Roman Carthage in Tunisia.|
Background to Invasion: The Emperor Justinian was determined to drive out the barbarian invaders holding the western provinces of the Roman Empire. The obstacles were enormous and after the disastrous fiasco of 468, and he needed someone to successfully lead the army in this new invasion. A young general from Thrace named Belisarius had just made a name for himself on the Eastern Front by defeating a Persian army nearly twice his size. Justinian felt he had found his man.
Finding a general was only the fist step. Justinian was responsible for defending an incredibly long border against many enemies. The main enemy at the moment was the Persian Empire. For the first five years of his reign Justinian reluctantly waged a costly and unprofitable war against the Persians. The victory by Belisarius at Dara (and a truck load of gold) helped in negotiating (or at least buying) the "Endless Peace" with the Persians. Now eastern regiments were freed up for the invasion of Africa.
Video: Roman - Byzantine North Africa
The Roman provinces of North Africa were very important to the Empire. Africa provided tax revenue, trade and food exports to support the rest of the Empire. Re-capturing these provinces was a high priority for Emperor Justinian.
|The Emperor Justinian and his court.|
Justinian's advisors were solid in their opposition to the campaign. From a military point of view they felt it was folly to send an invasion fleet of heavy transport ships over 1,000 miles from its' home base into enemy controlled waters, and then to land an outnumbered army (with no reinforcements available) to attack entrenched land forces. In addition the fleet could only sail in the summer calm of May to November. The autumn and winter storms would leave the army cut totally cut off. The finance ministers warned of the huge drain on the treasury and pointed out how the failed attack in 468 nearly bankrupted the nation.
John of Cappadocia warned the Emperor that their land forces were already spread very thin: "Have you dragon's teeth to sow? Well, then, summon up twenty thousand swordsmen . . . Can they win their way past the Vandalic battle fleets? Let a miracle destroy the Vandals! What follows? Caesar, can your army master and hold a continent? . . . You undertake to besiege Carthage: by land, the distance is not less than one hundred and forty days journey on the sea, a whole year must elapse before you can receive any intelligence from your fleet. If Africa should be reduced, it cannot be preserved without the additional conquest of Sicily and Italy. Success will impose the obligations of new labors a single misfortune will attract the Barbarians into the heart of your exhausted empire." Justinian's answer was that God was on their side.
The Gathering of the Fleet: The Roman Empire was still the only world power. No other nation had the resources to assemble such a strike force. The logistics alone must have been a nightmare: 36,000 soldiers and sailors, some 6,000 horses, arms, engines, military stores, water and provisions to last for a three month voyage of over 1,000 miles.
|A wider view of the political divisions in Europe and Africa at the time of Justinian.|
Procopius said of the invasion fleet: "And for the whole force five hundred ships were required, no one of which was able to carry more than fifty thousand medimni, nor any one less than three thousand. And in all the vessels together there were thirty thousand sailors, Egyptians and Ionians for the most part, and Cilicians, and one commander was appointed over all the ships, Calonymus of Alexandria. And they had also ships of war prepared as for sea-fighting, to the number of ninety-two, and they were single-banked ships covered by decks, in order that the men rowing them might if possible not be exposed to the bolts of the enemy. Such boats are called "dromones" by those of the present time for they are able to attain a great speed. In these sailed two thousand men of Byzantium, who were all rowers as well as fighting men for there was not a single superfluous man among them."
At the harbor of Constantinople the navy brought together from Egypt, Cilicia and Ionia some 20,000 sailors and 500 transports ranging from 30 up to 500 tons. The proud galleys of old that had made the Mediterranean a Roman lake were long gone. Protecting the fleet were only 92 light brigantines.
Army regiments were withdrawn from the Eastern Front courtesy of the "Endless Peace" with Persia. About 10,000 infantry from Thrace and Isauria marched to Constantinople. Another 5,000 excellent cavalry were assigned. There were two additional bodies of Allied Troops: 600 Huns and 400 Heruls, all mounted horse archers.
|A Byzantine dromone.|
The strike force of the Eastern Romans was the cavalry. They had adopted the metal stirrups invented by the Huns. This made the cavalry an effective shock force that could charge pell-mell with no fear of falling off. They also adopted from the Persians the "Cataphract." This was a horse and rider in armor. The cataphracts were skilled archers. They made initial assaults from a distance with their armor making them almost invulnerable to enemy fire. When the enemy fell into disorder the horsemen could close in for the kill. The Vandals and Goths did not copy this method of warfare. The cataphract was much more than just a horse, a bow and some armor. It took long years of training for a man to be able to control his horse with his knees while aiming his bow in any direction at full gallop.
In supreme command of both the navy and the army was Belisarius. Justinian granted Belisarius the title of Autocrator with almost boundless power to act as if the Emperor himself were present. In June 533 the fleet was ready. The Emperor and the Patriarch went in procession down to the docks. Icons waved behind them while marching choirs sang "Rex gloriae, Domine virtutum . . . King of Glory, Lord of armed hosts . . . " The Patriarch offered prayers for the success of the expedition. Most of those who witnessed the sailing felt that they would never return.
Small as the forces looked on paper this was a major effort by the Empire. Failure could do serious damage to the defense of the nation. At the very best the Eastern Roman's army and navy numbered no more than 150,000. The hard core professional battlefield regiments was a much smaller number. The force of 36,000 committed to the invasion amounted to 24% of their armed strength. No more troops could be committed without leaving their huge borders defenseless.
Smoothing the Way: Facing the Romans would be a Vandal land force of perhaps 30,000 plus a large fleet. The Emperor recognized that diplomacy was a vital ingredient to a successful invasion. Perhaps a revolution or two would draw Vandal attention and troops from the main attack. He encourage a rising of Pro-Roman factions in Tripolitana with a small military force and successfully drove out the Vandals.
|Roman Amphitheatre of El Jem, Tunisia |
The 3 rd biggest amphitheater known to man, so impressive that they filmed Russel Crowe’s Gladiator here. It could hold up to 35,000 people. Built in 300AD.
Justinian urged the Vandal governor of Sardinia to rebel, which he did. There was also a dynastic quarrel among Vandals. Gelimer had deposed Hilderic as king three years before and was keeping him and a few supporters as prisoners. Justinian also used a dispute between the Goths of Italy and the Vandals to his advantage. The Goths granted the Romans permission to dock their invasion fleet in Sicily on the way to Africa.
Vandal King Gelimer reacted to the revolutions just as Justinian had hoped. The King dispatched his brother Zano with 5,000 soldiers and 120 galleys to re-capture Sardinia. Now there would be no Vandal fleet nearby to attack the Roman troop transports when they were at their most vulnerable and a large part of the army would be wasted on a distant island. What's more, by making no attempt to recover Tripolitana, Gelimer ensured that if a Roman army made it to Africa they would be landing on a somewhat more friendly soil.
The Invasion: It was vital to keep the large fleet together. Procopius said, "The sails of the three ships in which he (Belisarius) and his following were carried he painted red from the upper corner for about one third of their length, and he erected upright poles on the prow of each, and hung lights from them, so that both by day and by night the general's ships might be distinguishable then he commanded all the pilots to follow these ships. Thus with the three ships leading the whole fleet not a single ship was left behind."
| Flavius Belisarius . |
Belisarius was granted a Roman triumph
(the last ever given) when he returned to
Constantinople. He was also made consul of
the Roman Empire in 535, one of the last
individuals ever to hold this office .
The fleet suffered thirst having been becalmed for 16 days. An additional 500 men died from disease. Finally after many weeks they were able to dock at Caucana on the southern shore of Sicily where Gothic officers had been ordered to help provision the Roman troops.
Belisarius was at a loss how to proceed. He had no idea where the Vandal navy and army was deployed. His own soldiers were openly afraid of the military legend of Vandal power. Procopius reports that men in the Roman navy talked of turning their ships fleeing if Vandal ships approached. While soldiers in the army said if they made it to dry land they would "try" to be brave against the enemy.
Belisarius sent Procopius, his adviser, to Syracuse to gather intelligence on the Vandal's movements. In entering Syracuse, Procopius ran into a fellow Roman and childhood friend who was engaged in the shipping business. He discovered that the Vandal King Gelimer had reacted to the two revolutions just as Justinian had hoped.
Tripolitana was too far away for the Vandals and the Romans in Egypt could easily support that revolt. So the King had just dispatched his brother Zano with 5,000 soldiers and 120 galleys to re-capture Sardinia. Now there would be no Vandal fleet nearby to attack the Roman troop transports when they were at their most vulnerable and a large part of the army would be wasted on a distant island.
Video: Carthage, North Africa
Today we see only the ruins of a great civilization. At the time of the invasion by Belisarius, these Roman cities and buildings would have been alive with merchants, farmers, teachers, soldiers, churches and more.
Gelimer had no idea there was a Roman invasion force at sea. After dispatching his brother the King was staying in Hermione, which is in Byzacium, four days' journey distant from the coast and Carthage.
Procopius rushed back to Belisarius with the news. The general urged everyone to speed the operation. The fleet set sail again, passed Malta, and finally dropped anchor 5 days south of Carthage.
Before landing Belisarius had a council or war with some of his generals. They urged that they sail straight for Carthage and surprise it. Belisarius overruled this view. No one knew the exact location of the Vandal fleet. With the disaster of 467 A.D. in mind he felt is was better to get on dry land without delay.
Making Camp in Africa: Some three months after their departure from Constantinople the army and its' supplies safely made it to shore. The fleet was formed into a semicircle with five bowmen stationed on each ship as a guard. The rest of the army built a camp on the sea shore "which they fortified, according to ancient discipline, with a ditch and rampart.," and a stockade was also completed and the pointed stakes were fixed in place all around.
|Outline of a traditional Roman fort. Being deep inside enemy territory, Belisarius made sure his men and their supplies were protected by building the standard Roman fortifications while on the march to Carthage.|
On the next morning Belisarius awoke to find neighboring gardens pillaged by his troops. He inflicted strong corporal punishment on the men involved and then sharply rebuked the offenders saying: "This using of violence and the eating of that which belongs to others seems at other times a wicked thing only on this account, the Libyans, being Romans from of old, are unfaithful and hostile to the Vandals, and for this reason I thought that no necessaries would fail us and, besides, that the enemy would not do us any injury by a sudden attack. But now this your lack of self-control has changed it all and made the opposite true. For you have doubtless reconciled the Libyans to the Vandals, bringing their hostility round upon your own selves."
Belisarius imposed s rigid discipline which soon resulted in the natives selling all supplies possible to the Romans.
The capture of Syllectus: Procopius said, "The city of Syllectus was distant one day's journey from the camp, lying close to the sea on the road leading to Carthage, and that the wall of this city had been torn down for a long time, but the inhabitants of the place had made a barrier on all sides by means of the walls of their houses, on account of the attacks of the Moors, and guarded a kind of fortified enclosure he, accordingly, sent one of his spearmen, Boriades, together with some of the guards, commanding them to make an attempt oh the city, and, if they captured it, to do no harm in it, but to promise a thousand good things and to say that they had come for the sake of the people's freedom, that so the army might be able to enter into it. And they came near the city about dusk and passed the night hidden in a ravine."
"But at early dawn, meeting country folk going into the city with waggons, they entered quietly with them and with no trouble took possession of the city. And when day came, no one having begun any disturbance, they called together the priest and all the other notables and announced the commands of the general, and receiving the keys of the entrances from willing hands, they sent them to the general."
|Roman Cavalry from the 6th Century.|
The March to Carthage: Belisarius began the 10 to 12 day march to Carthage along a Roman road that followed the coast. He sent out 3 miles ahead of the main army 300 horse of his own guard under John the Armenian as advanced scouts. I f John should see anything of the enemy he was to report it with all speed, so that the main force would be ready for battle.
The Allied contingent of 600 Huns were ordered to march the same distance to the left of the road to protect against a flank attack. The entire Roman fleet was instructed to sail within sight of the land forces to cover the right flank aganist the Vandal navy. The Roman infantry and remaining cavalry marched as a group shielded on three sides.
Belisarius had no worries about his rear. Tripolitana was controled by the Romans and the locals had been made friendly with kind treatment.
Procopius writes "when Belisarius reached Syllectus, the soldiers behaved with moderation, and they neither began any unjust brawls nor did anything out of the way, and he himself, by displaying great gentleness and kindness, won the Libyans to his side so completely that thereafter he made the journey as if in his own land for neither did the inhabitants of the land withdraw nor did they wish to conceal anything, but they both furnished a market and served the soldiers in whatever else they wished. And accomplishing eighty stades each day, we completed the whole journey to Carthage, passing the night either in a city, should it so happen, or in a camp made as thoroughly secure as the circumstances permitted.
"Thus we passed through the city of Leptis and Hadrumetum and reached the place called Grasse, three hundred and fifty stades distant from Carthage. In that place was a palace of the ruler of the Vandals and a park the most beautiful of all we know. For it is excellently watered by springs and has a great wealth of woods. And all the trees are full of fruit so that each one of the soldiers pitched his tent among fruit-trees, and though all of them ate their fill of the fruit, which was then ripe, there was practically no diminution to be seen in the fruit."
The Vandals React: News of the invasion reached King Gelimer and put the Vandals in a panic. A Roman army had suddenly appeared out of nowhere and was within a few miles of Carthage itself. It was the last thing he had expected. The King needed to prolong the war as long as possible until his brother could return from Sardinia with the army and fleet.
Gelimer sent word to kill the old king who was a prisoner and all the others connected with him either by birth or otherwise. The Vandals quickly mobilized what troops were at hand for battle.
| The Ad Decimum battlefield area. |
General Belisarius marched up from the south along a coastal Roman road. In the march to Tunis he sent an advanced guard of hand picked cavalry several miles ahead to act as scouts. Some 6oo Hun warriors marched several miles to his left as a screen against a Vandal flank attack and the Roman fleet followed just off shore to his right in case the Vandal fleet appeared.
The Vandal battle plan was to cut off the Roman Army from their fleet when Belisarius moved away from the ocean on the march to Tunis. The Vandals would surround the Romans with three different Vandal forces and push them up against the Lake of Tunis.
The Battle of Ad Decimum (or Ten Mile Post)
Unfortunately the Vandals had destroyed, or allowed to decay, many of the old fortifications of the Romans leaving the King only two options: abandon Carthage or engage in battle on open ground.
King Gelimer chose to fight at the ten mile mark outside of the city called Decimum. At that point the coast road turns inland and the Romans would be separated from their fleet.
The Vandal Battle Plan: Even though seriously pressed for time, Gelimer came up with an excellent battle plan. The King knew that the Romans would have to leave their fleet behind them as Belisarius turned away from the coast at the Lake of Tunis.
So Gelimer divided his quickly thrown together army of perhaps 10,000 men into three forces. A smaller force under his brother Ammatas would march to the defile of Decimum some ten miles from Carthage just below Tunis. There they would try to hold the position against the Roman advanced guard. A second force under the King's nephew Gibamund with 2,000 men would march across a salt plain southwest of Tunis to strike the Roman left flank.
The main Vandal cavalry force under Gelimer with 7,000 men would make a wide sweep to the south around the entire Roman army and hit them in the rear. The Romans would be out of reach of their fleet and pinned with their backs against the Lake of Tunis by three Vandal armies.
It was a bold plan. But plans never survive first contact with the enemy.
|First phase, the Roman advance parties defeat |
the Vandal flanking detachments.
|Vandal and Alan warriors.|
The Vandal Holding Force: W hen the Romans bivouacked in Grasse, scouts coming from both armies met each other, and after an exchange of blows they each retired to their own camp. Both sides were now aware the enemy was not far away. As the Romans marched from there it became impossible to discern their ships at sea.
The Vandal holding force under Ammatas never came together properly. Ammatas made a serious error by showing up at the Decimum defile hours ahead of time with only a few men. The rest of his troops were strung out in small groups of 20 to 30 men each on the road from Carthage. While surveying the ground Ammatas ran into John the Armenian's troop.
Ammatas was a brave warrior and killed by his own hand 12 of John's best men before he himself was slain. After Ammatas fell the Vandals, fleeing at top speed, swept back all those who were coming from Carthage to Decimum.
John's men gave chase right up to the city gates leaving a 10 mile trail of large numbers of dead Vandals.
March on the Roman Left Flank: Gelimer had commanded his nephew Gibamund to take 2,000 Vandals and march through a salt plain south of Tunis and attack the Roman left flank.
If Belisarius had not arranged his forces with John to take the lead, and the 600 Huns to march on the left of the army, the Romans would never have been able to escape the Vandals.
Gibamund and his two thousand Vandals came to Pedion Halon, which is forty stades distant from Decimum on the left as one goes to Carthage. It is destitute of human habitation or trees or anything else, since the salt in the water permits nothing except salt to be produced there. In that place they encountered the Huns and were all destroyed.
The Vandals had no experience of battle with the Hun, but heard that the nation was very warlike. They were terrified at the danger. Though outnumbered 3 to 1, when the Hun cavalry charged the Vandals could not withstand them. They broke ranks and ran and never thinking of resistance. The Vandals were all disgracefully destroyed and Gibamund killed.
Video: Byzantine Cavalry
|Second phase, King Gelimer routs the Roman foederati.|
King Gelimer's Attack from the South: Belisarius knew nothing at all of what had happened with John's advanced guard. But seeing a place well adapted for a camp some thirty-five stades distant from Decimum, he surrounded it with a stockade which was very well made, and placing all the infantry there.
Belisarius made a speech to his troops. He was fearful of going directly to the enemy stronghold of Carthage. But he pointed out the advantages the Romans had. The Romans had fought many wars with Persians and Scythians.
The general said, ". . . but the Vandals, since the time they conquered Libya, have seen not a single enemy except naked Moors. And who does not know that in every work practice leads to skill, while idleness leads to inefficiency? Now the stockade, from which we shall have to carry on the war, has been made by us in the best possible manner. And we are able to deposit here our weapons and everything else which we are not able to carry when we go forth and when we return here again, no kind of provisions can fail us. "
Belisarius did not want to risk the entire army at this point in the campaign. He left the infantry and supplies in the stockade and took the cavalry on the road.
There was a brief skirmish between the Roman Foederati and the vanguard of the Vandals. The Foederati fled for about a mile down the road where they met up with another 800 Romans. Seeing the Foederati galloping toward them in disorder they joined the panic and rode back to the main force.
|Third phase, the final clash between Belisarius and Gelimer.|
Victory was now within reach of Gelimer. The historian Procopius personally witnessed the terror of the fleeing Roman cavalry. "Had Gelimer pursued immediately," said Procopius, "I do not think that even Belisarius would have withstood him, but our cause would have been utterly ruined, so large appeared the multitude of the Vandals and so great the fear they inspired or if he had made straight for Carthage he would have slain easily all the men with John, and would have preserved the city and its treasurers, and would have taken our ships which had approached near, and deprived us not only of victory but of the means of escape."
Instead Gelimer descended from the hill at a walk, and when he reached the level ground and saw the corpse of his brother. H e became completely unmanned and expressed loud lamentations. Rather than pursue the fleeing Romans, he could only think of burying the corpse of his family member.
Meantime Belisarius, meeting the fugitives stopped their flight, and arrayed them all in order and rebuked them at length then. After hearing of the death of Ammatas and the pursuit of John, and learning what he wished concerning the place and the enemy, he proceeded at full speed against Gelimer and the Vandals.
The Vandals believing the fighting was at an end had dismounted and were inspecting the battlefield while Gelmer arranged funeral rites. Belisarius charged the barbarians bringing with him a large cloud of drifting dust that gave the impression of a much larger Roman force. The Vandals could not withstand the onset of the Romans, but fled with all their might, losing many men. The battle only ended at nightfall.
Procopius reported, " Now the Vandals were in flight, not to Carthage nor to Byzacium, whence they had come, but to the plain of Boulla and the road leading into Numidia. So the men with John (the Armenian) and the Massagetae (Huns) returned to us about dusk, and after learning all that had happened and reporting what they had done, they passed the night with us in Decimum.
4. War of the Triple Alliance
Can you find Paraguay on the map? If so, then pat yourself on the back. Now, see how small the country is? Take a look at Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. Now imagine that this small country went to war with these other, giant countries. It’s kind of like a chihuahua fighting a pit bull, a rottweiler, and a bulldog, all at the same time.
This is what the “War of the Triple Alliance” was, with the same results of that rhetorical dog brawl. The War of the Triple Alliance is one of those dumb conflicts in history that was both ultra-destructive and utterly meaningless. All the official reasons were just plain dumb, like wanting ownership of the Río de la Plata region, anger over meddling by other countries in Uruguayan life, and boundary arguments.
Oh, and we cannot forget the ego of Francisco Solano López, the President of Paraguay. This is all you need to know in regards to how inane this thing was. And the worst part of all is that Paraguay lost most of its male population to the war. If casualties are measured by a death-to-combatant ratio, this war was among the deadliest in all of modern warfare.
Not only was Paraguay defeated straight-up on a ground combat basis, to add insult to injury, it turned into a protracted guerrilla war, with the other countries laying absolute waste to the country, with 60% of its population slaughtered.
1870’s Battle of Cerro Corá saw President Lopez on the run from the Brazilian army. Rubbing salt in the wound, his detachment abandoned him and became scouts for the Brazilians. When they caught up with him, he tried to make a heroic last stand, and was promptly cut down. At that point, he probably regretted starting the war. But maybe not — after all, we are talking about a man who had his 70-year-old mother flogged and executed.
The Ancient Carthaginian Army: 10 Things You Should Know
Carthaginian elephants vs. Roman soldiers. Illustration by Angus McBride
From humble beginnings as just another Phoenician colony in a ‘distant part’ of the world, Carthage or Kart-hadasht (Phoenician – ‘new city’) – known as Karchedon by the Greeks and Carthago by the Romans , emerged as one of the greatest Mediterranean powers that challenged the might of both Syracuse and Rome. Located in what is now Tunisia, in North Africa, the city by late 4th century BC flaunted both its commercial and military significance after the original Phoenician city-states in the Levant were politically sidelined due to Alexander’s invasion.
In essence, Carthage took over the remnants of many of the various Phoenician colonies, especially along the western Mediterranean, ranging from North Africa, Sicily to Iberia (Spain and Portugal), thus establishing itself as the predominant maritime power in this part of the world – borne by commercial colonies, military outposts, and charismatic generals (including the great Hannibal Barca). So, without further ado, let us take a gander at ten things you should know about ancient Carthage and its ‘multifarious’ Carthaginian army.
1) The Figurative ‘Leash’ –Hannibal Barca and his Carthaginian warriors. Illustration by Guiseppe Rava.
It is known that by 6th century BC, Carthage was governed by an oligarchic system headed by two chief magistrates (initially one) known as sufetes , who presided over a council of possibly 104 men, simply called ‘the hundred’ by Aristotle. And while this body resembled the senate of the later Romans (albeit in a smaller form), Carthaginians made a distinction when it came to electing such civilian councilors and choosing or employing military generals. Simply put, such offices were kept separate (as opposed to other Mediterranean power-centers like Greece and Rome), with ‘the hundred’ given the executive power to judge and scrutinize the actions of the employed military generals.
Now it should be noted that Carthaginian army commanders, in general, were given full autonomy to conduct their campaigns and military maneuvers. However, the magistrates could interfere and pass their judgments in cases where the commander failed to achieve his objective or more importantly transgressed his authority. Pertaining to the latter, the system sort of acted as a counterbalance to the perceived rising power of the generals who could have usurped the civilian administration of Carthage – with similar episodes happening in both contemporary Greece and Rome.
On occasions, such transgressions were possibly dealt harshly, including the death penalty by crucifixion – as was the gruesome fate of Bomilcar, who according to Diodorus , wanted to make himself the tyrant of Carthage in circa 308 BC. However, at the same time, the seemingly equitable system was sometimes abused by members of ‘the hundred’ who wanted to keep their figurative ‘leash’ on the successful commanders, so as to consolidate their own power and political mileage.
2) The Privatization of War –The Carthaginian Citizen Militia. Illustration by Steve Noon
It was not only this civilian-military hierarchy that differentiated Carthage from other Mediterranean powers. The core divergence also was mirrored by the ancient Carthaginian army, borne by the inherent situations faced by the city-state. To that end, the state made a distinction between its native subjects and the free citizens of Carthage (basically the native ‘Punic’ Carthaginians – of Phoenician ancestry). The former were required to serve in the military while the latter was not obligated to do so – partly because their numbers were not sufficient for regular martial services.
This logistical ‘void’, coupled with the commercial might and network of Carthage, led to the unique military scope of the ancient Carthaginian army employing entire mercenary contingents from near and distant lands. Initially, many of these mercenaries were sourced from the western Mediterranean realms (including Greece). Over time, Carthage began to induct warriors and even soldiers of fortune from the Iberian peninsula (comprising Spain and Portugal), Campania (in southern Italy), and the northern Celtic lands – so much so that by 3rd century BC, native Carthaginians stopped serving in the army with the exception of high-ranking positions.
In contrast, the Carthaginian navy continued to employ free citizens of the state, thus providing this military arm with a small yet consistent number of better trained marine soldiers and officers – many of whom had commercial interests in overseas colonies and trading posts.
3) The ‘Sacred Band’ of the Carthaginian army –Image Source: Taleworld Forums
It should be however be noted that Carthaginian (Punic) citizens could be called to arms during times of emergency, with one pertinent example relating to the momentous Battle of Zama (circa 202 BC), fought between Hannibal Barca and Scipio Africanus. Furthermore, in the earlier centuries, the Carthaginian army did have an elite corps of citizen soldiers, known as the Sacred Band (or heiros lochos in Greek), and they were instrumental in fighting against the Greeks of Sicily.
According to Plutarch, the members of the Sacred Band (not be confused with the Sacred Band of Thebes) were picked noble citizen-soldiers who flaunted their magnificent armor and best equipment. Diodorus further added how these citizens soldiers were distinguished by their “valor and reputation as well as their wealth”. In essence, this elite regiment only inducted Punic members, with 2,500 of the core troops being recruited directly from Carthage.
There is also a possibility that an additional 7,500 men served in the unit (or at least in an extended version of the corps), and these men, armed with their characteristic white shields, may have been recruited from the Punic populace in the nearby African cities and colonies. In any case, the Sacred Band was probably all but destroyed in the 4th century BC, after their heavy defeat at the Battle of the Crimissus (circa 341 or 339 BC), at the hands of a Syracusan army led by the Greek general Timoleon.
4) Libyans and Numidians –Libyan spear infantrymen on the left and a Liby-Phoenician infantryman in the middle (with chain mail) flanked by a Carthaginian officer on the right. Illustration by Johnny Shumate.
So as the citizenry militia and army were gradually being phased out by the Carthaginian army, Carthage made use of its commercial enterprises and territorial possessions to bolster its armed forces. Pertaining to the latter, one of the major sources of conscripting troops came from the ancient Libyans who served as subject levies. Many of these Libyans were probably simple peasants who worked in the fields of massive Carthaginian estates. When levied, they were trained as spearmen to hold the line, much like the relatively light-armored theureophoroi of the Greeks, thus serving as the hardy backbone of the field army.
Curiously enough, Carthage also relied on a certain segment of the populace known as the Liby-Phoenicians for its military needs. As their name suggests, the particular group had mixed ancestry (of native and colonial blood), and as such, tended to have better rights than their Libyan brethren. Coming from merchant and artisan backgrounds, these men were mostly found in various Carthaginian colonies in Africa and later even Iberia. Mirroring the proverbial ‘middle class’, they were possibly equipped in relatively better armor and fought as heavy hoplites.
Quite intriguingly, by late 3rd century BC, many of the Liby-Phoenicians (along with some of their Libyan compatriots) serving in Iberia, under the military umbrella of the famed Barcid family (the lineage of Hannibal Barca), might have been trained to fight with Iberian style cut-and-thrust swords and the scutum shields. This, in turn, may have allowed the members of Hannibal’s African contingent to re-equip themselves with the weapons and armor captured as booty from the Romans during the Second Punic War (as mentioned by Polybius), and yet maintain their original fighting cohesion and style.
And since we brought up Hannibal Barca, very few units showcased their on-field efficacy against the tightly packed Romans as the general’s Numidian riders armed with only javelins. Espousing daredevilry on horseback, they probably rode without reins – instead of using just a rope around the horse’s neck and a small stick to give it commands. In many cases (like at the Battle of Trebbia), Hannibal utilized their nigh-perfected mobility and zig-zag maneuvering ability to draw the attention (and ire) of the Romans.
Such skirmishing tactics, often mixed with vocal insults, in turn, forced the roused Roman to give battle even when they were under-prepared. However, when it came to their recruitment, unlike the Libyans and Liby-Phoenicians, it is more probable that the Numidians were drawn from allied states of Carthage (as opposed to subjects). Simply put, these expert horsemen were probably supplied by the Numidian princes on friendly terms with the Carthaginian empire, thus bridging the gap between allies and actual mercenaries.
5) The Motley of Mercenaries –Iberian, Gaulish, and African mercenaries in the Carthaginian army. Illustration by Johnny Shumate.
Reverting to the military scope of employing mercenaries en masse, the system of ‘foreign’ troops serving in the Carthaginian army was already adopted by early 5th century BC. For example, in 480 BC (as mentioned by both Herodotus and Diodorus), in a war against the Greeks of Sicily, one Hamilcar recruited his soldiers from Italy, Liguria, Sardinia, Corsica, Iberia, and Gaul.
Almost two centuries later, by circa late 4th century BC, the tradition clearly continued, with Carthage employing warriors from distant Etruria, the Balearic Islands, and even contingents of Greek auxiliaries. Hannibal Barca’s renowned army (that invaded Italy after bypassing the Alps) was described by Livy as “a hotchpotch of the riff-raff of all nationalities” – comprising his core African contingent, complemented by Numidians, Iberians, and Celts.
However, it should be noted that over time, some of the ‘distant lands’ were gradually transformed (either annexed or acquired) into overseas territories or client states of Carthage. In essence, while the troops recruited from these regions were initially perceived as mercenaries, in the later centuries, many of these ‘foreigners’ were simply levied subjects who were obligated to serve in the Carthaginian army.
One pertinent example would relate to the caetrati , the lightly armored yet highly effective Iberian skirmishers who mostly served as levies in the armies of the Barcid family (that maintained its grip in Hispania). On the other hand, the heavier armored scutarii (known for carrying their bigger scutum shields) were possibly employed as valued mercenaries – thus fulfilling their roles as the crack troops tasked with holding the battle lines in strenuous scenarios.
6) Carthage and the Greek Inspiration –Heavy Carthaginian spearmen inspired by the Greek hoplite. Source: Pinterest
It should be noted that before the influence of the Barcid family on ancient Carthage and its military colonies (especially in Hispania, in the Iberian peninsula), the Carthaginian army was thoroughly inspired by their Greek counterparts. Part of it probably had to do with their heavy defeat at the hands of the Greek hoplites during the aforementioned Battle of the Crimissus (circa 341 BC).
In essence, the encounter proved to be a watershed moment for the Carthaginian military, after which they tended to ‘phase out’ the citizen army (including the Sacred Band) in favor of hiring even more mercenaries and foreigner Greeks – many of whom possibly fought in the hoplite phalanx formation. To that end, it is highly probable that Carthage also trained some of its own subject levies (like Libyans) to fight in a roughly hoplite style, at least in the time period preceding the Second Punic War.
The question may arise – what exactly is this hoplite style? Well, Xenophon talked about the tactical side of a hoplite phalanx, which was more than just a closely-packed mass of armored spearmen. He drew comparison to the construction of a well-built house (in Memorabilia ) – “just as stones, bricks, timber and tiles flung together anyhow are useless, whereas when the materials that neither rot nor decay, that is, the stones and tiles, are placed at the bottom and the top, and the bricks and timber are put together in the middle, as in building, the result is something of great value, a house, in fact.”
Similarly, in the case of a phalanx of Greek hoplites, the Greek historian talked about how the best men should be placed both in front and rear of the ranks. With this ‘modified’ formation, the men in the middle (with presumably lesser m orale and physical prowess) would be inspired by the front-placed men while also being ‘physically’ driven forth by the rear-placed men.
7) The Professional Soldier –The heavy Iberian scutarus. Illustration by Johnny Shumate.
With all the talk of Carthage employing mostly mercenaries instead of opting for citizen armies (like Athens, Sparta, and Rome), a credible query can be put forth – was there any particular advantage to this system or was it just a way of the Carthaginian army compensating for its ‘native’ military shortcomings? Well, the answer is – both. Pertaining to the first part, there is no question about the military proficiency of mercenaries, since they could be trained and ‘hardened’ through the rigorous passage of battles after battles.
In contrast, most citizen militias were dispersed after major engagements since they needed to tend to their agricultural fields. Simply put, a mercenary could be viewed as a professional soldier who was drilled in the art of war, as opposed to an ordinary citizen who was more accustomed to the rigors of agriculture and domestic affairs. Of course, there were exceptions to this scope, like the ‘citizen’ Spartans and their warrior culture.
As for the second part, as we fleetingly mentioned before, there were simply not enough number of Punic citizens in North Africa that could have accounted for a formidable force. The situation was rather exacerbated by the lack of enthusiasm of many high-ranking noble and mercantile families to take part in martial activities. Now when viewed through the lens of practicality, hiring mercenaries had its fair share of burdens and troubles, especially when the said group was not paid in accordance with the agreements.
One pertinent example would relate to the devastating Mercenary War (or Libyan War), fought from circa 240 – 238 BC, which was instigated by the mercenaries of the First Punic War whose payments were delayed, simply because Carthage faced crippling blows to its economy following their defeat at the hands of the Romans. Furthermore, a citizen-soldier could be ‘motivated’ by the prospect of gaining more lands or at least defending his homeland, while mercenaries were prone to be driven by the allure of payments and plunder.
8) Recruiting Far and Wide –Balearic slingers recruited by Carthaginian officers. Illustration by Steve Noon
Till now we have talked about the military effect of mercenaries. But what about their scope of recruitment? Well, to that end, the Carthaginian army mainly employed three processes to procure foreign fighters. The first of these entailed the relatively straightforward treaties and pacts that allowed for a specific quota of warriors from foreign or neighboring states (that were mostly allied to Carthage) to take part in Carthaginian campaigns. Many Sicilians and Numidians were possibly sourced by this method.
The second process involved a more complex method wherein specially appointed military officers were sent far and wide (ranging from Iberia, southern Gaul to Italy and Greece) to recruit their quota of mercenaries. Provided with a lump sum amount of money, these men had to maintain their ‘channels’ and make contact with the mercenary captains.
The contract was then negotiated and penned, and subsequently, the mercenary band, commanded by their local captains, marched (albeit temporarily) under the banner of Carthage. A famous example would pertain to the employment of Xanthippus, the famed Spartan mercenary general who led the Carthaginian army to score a rare victory (at the Battle of Tunis) during the First Punic War.
The third process basically boiled down to rampant bidding wars and outright reversal in numbers of ‘enemy’ mercenaries. To that end, ancient Carthage, often by virtue of its commercial might (at least before the advent of the First Punic War), was sometimes able to lure mercenaries serving in the enemy camp by promises of higher payments and rewards. In that regard, there are examples of both Greek and Celtic mercenaries leaving their former paymasters to join Carthaginian ranks.
9) The Importance of Shield –
Given the wide multitude of foreign warriors who fought for Carthage and the variety of arms and accouterment they brought to the field, it is indeed a complex task to focus on the equipment and armor preferred by individual groups. To that end, in our previous articles, we have already discussed the ancient Celtic warrior, Greek hoplite, Italic fighter, and even the Republican Roman soldier (many of whose armor were possibly adopted by Hannibal’s crack force in Italy).
In any case, when it came to offensive weapons, the melee spectrum mainly ranged from the trusty spear, a secondary sword to a complementary dagger. On the missile front, ancient troops around the Mediterranean tended to use bows, javelins or smaller spears (the trademark of both light Iberian skirmishers and frontline Roman soldiers), and slings (with some form of expertise brought forth by the Balearic regiments).
But the sense of self-preservation far outweighed the will to kill, and thus individual soldiers – whether he be a citizen militia or a hardened mercenary, mostly preferred better defensive equipment. In essence, the societal position of a warrior often mirrored this psychological attribute, with lowly troops being offered little-to-no body armor, while nobles draped themselves in exquisite metallic cuirasses and breastplates. However, almost all soldiers of the time endeavored to protect their heads by wearing various types of helmets, ranging from intricate Corinthian models (or their pilos variants) to the modest conical caps made of boiled leather ( cuir bouilli ).
The other ‘ubiquitous’ defensive equipment pertained to the shield. And like in the case of the helmets, the size and heaviness of the shield rather defined the role (and sometimes status) of the soldier in the battlefield. For example, the caetrati Iberian skirmishers (pictured above) derived their name from the caetra , a small round buckler made of hardwood and reinforced with a central metal boss and fittings. On the other hand, some of their Iberian brethren also carried the heavier rectangular scutum shield, and thus these scutarii formed the heavy infantry contingents in Hannibal’s Carthaginian army.
10) A Profile of a Carthaginian Veteran –The heavy African infantry veteran in Hannibal’s army. Source: Pinterest
Battles were the crucibles where experience, killer-instinct, martial skill, and discipline were forged. Simply put, the longer a soldier survived in these bloody encounters, the greater became his capacity to establish his martial nature and ruthlessness mixed with a paradoxical dash of self-confidence and fatalistic attitude. The former came from familiarity in such brutal scenarios and the latter emerged from the acceptance of the proverbial ‘dance of death’.
The Carthaginian army veteran, possibly a member of Hannibal’s crack African infantry (pictured above) or a mercenary of various wars, must have matched up with this character profile. In essence, the mark of a true soldier didn’t come from his impetuous (but fleeting) courage in battles, but his ability to react calmly and swiftly in strenuous scenarios.
This was coupled by his willingness to take orders and be subordinate to the commanding officer – thus establishing clear boundaries where groups functioned as a whole (as opposed to individuals) to dictate the course of the encounter. Furthermore, the veteran, by virtue of his greater martial prowess, also tended to showcase better physical aptitude and agility – qualities that were paramount to surviving in bloody scenarios, especially when the war was one’s trade.
Book References: Carthaginian Warrior 264-146 BC (By Nic Fields) / Pride of Carthage (By David Anthony Durham)
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Carthage, Phoenician Kart-hadasht, Latin Carthago, great city of antiquity on the north coast of Africa, now a residential suburb of the city of Tunis, Tunisia. Built on a promontory on the Tunisian coast, it was placed to influence and control ships passing between Sicily and the North African coast as they traversed the Mediterranean Sea. Rapidly becoming a thriving port and trading centre, it eventually developed into a major Mediterranean power and a rival to Rome. The archaeological site of Carthage was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1979.
According to tradition, Carthage was founded by the Phoenicians of Tyre in 814 bce its Phoenician name means “new town.”
Carthage was probably not the earliest Phoenician settlement in the region Utica may have predated it by half a century, and various traditions concerning the foundation of Carthage were current among the Greeks, who called the city Karchedon. The Roman tradition is better known, however, because of the Aeneid, which tells of the city’s foundation by the Tyrian princess Dido, who fled from her brother Pygmalion (the name of a historical king of Tyre). The inhabitants of Carthage were known to the Romans as Poeni, a derivation from the word Phoenikes (Phoenicians), from which the adjective Punic is derived. The traditional date of the foundation of Carthage as 814 bce was probably exaggerated by the Carthaginians themselves, for it does not necessarily agree with the archaeological data. Nothing earlier than the last quarter of the 8th century bce has been discovered, a full century later than the traditional foundation date.
The Phoenicians selected the locations of their maritime colonies with great care, focusing on the quality of harbours and their proximity to trade routes. The site chosen for Carthage in the centre of the shore of the Gulf of Tunis was ideal the city was built on a triangular peninsula covered with low hills and backed by the Lake of Tunis, with its safe anchorage and abundant supplies of fish. This location offered access to the Mediterranean but was shielded from many of the violent storms that afflicted other Mediterranean ports. The site of the city was well protected and easily defensible, and its proximity to the Strait of Sicily placed it at a strategic bottleneck in east-west Mediterranean trade. On the south the peninsula is connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land. The ancient citadel, the Byrsa, was on a low hill overlooking the sea. Some of the earliest tombs have been found there, though nothing remains of Carthage’s domestic and public buildings.
Although Punic wealth was legendary, the standard of cultural life enjoyed by the Carthaginians may have been below that of the larger cities of the Classical world. Punic interests were turned toward commerce rather than art, and Carthage controlled much of the Western trade in the luxurious purple dye from the murex shell. Arguments about the virtual lack of Punic literature are largely moot when the Romans sacked the city, Carthage’s libraries and archives were either given to Numidian kings or did not survive the destruction. One notable exception was the work of a Carthaginian writer named Mago, whose 28 books on agriculture were translated into Greek by Cassius Dionysius and later cited by Romans such as Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella. In Roman times Punic beds, cushions, and mattresses were regarded as luxuries, and Punic joinery and furniture were copied. Much of the revenue of Carthage came from its exploitation of the silver mines of North Africa and southern Spain, begun as early as 800 bce near Gadir (modern Cádiz, Spain) and in the 3rd century bce near what is now Cartagena, Spain. From the middle of the 3rd century to the middle of the 2nd century bce , Carthage was engaged in a series of wars with Rome. These wars, which are known as the Punic Wars, ended in the complete defeat of Carthage by Rome and the expansion of Roman control in the Mediterranean world. When Carthage finally fell in 146 bce , the site was plundered and burned, fulfilling the demand by the senator and orator Cato the Elder that had been distilled in the phrase delenda est Carthago: “Carthage must be destroyed.” See also North Africa: The Carthaginian period.
In 122 bce the Roman Senate entrusted Gaius Gracchus and Marcus Fulvius Flaccus with the foundation of a colony on the site of Carthage. Though the venture was largely unsuccessful, Julius Caesar later sent a number of landless citizens there, and in 29 bce Augustus centred the administration of the Roman province of Africa at the site. Thereafter it became known as Colonia Julia Carthago, and it soon grew prosperous enough to be ranked with Alexandria and Antioch. Carthage became a favourite city of the emperors, though none resided there. Of its history during the later empire, very little is known, but in the mid-3rd century, the city began to decline.