previous next


Scipio's Night Attack on Hasdrubal -- Speech to his Officers before the Attack -- Complete Victory of Scipio Retreat of Syphax -- Scipio advances against Carthage -- Indecisive Naval Engagement

[19] Masinissa learned of these plans at nightfall from certain Numidians, and communicated them to Scipio. The latter was perplexed, being apprehensive lest his army, divided into so many parts, should be too weak to sustain the whole strength of the enemy. He forthwith called his officers to a council at night. Finding that they were all at a loss what to do, and after meditating for a long time himself, he said: "Courage and swiftness, friends, and desperate fighting are our only salvation. We must anticipate the enemy in making the attack. Just see what we shall gain by it. The unexpectedness of the attack and the very strangeness of the thing,-- that those who are so few in number should be the aggressors, will terrify them. We shall employ our strength not divided into several detachments, but all together. We shall not be engaged with all of our enemies at once, but with those we choose to attack first, since their camps are separate from each other. We are their equals in strength when we take them separately, while in courage and good fortune we are their superiors. If heaven shall give us victory over the first, we may despise the others. Upon whom the assault shall be made first, and what shall be the time and manner of delivering it, if you please, I will now tell you."

[20] As they all agreed, he continued: "The time to strike is immediately after this meeting ends, while it is still night, since the blow will be the more terrifying and the enemy will be unprepared, and none will be able to give aid to their allies in the darkness. Thus we shall anticipate their intention of attacking us to-morrow. They have three stations; that of the ships is at a distance, and it is not easy to attack ships by night. Hasdrubal and Syphax are not far from each other. Hasdrubal is the head of the hostile force. Syphax will not dare to do anything at night; he is a barbarian, effeminate and timid. Come now, let us attack Hasdrubal with all our force. We will place Masinissa in ambush for Syphax, if, contrary to expectation, he should move out of his camp. Let us advance with our infantry against Hasdrubal's defences, surround and storm them on every side, with high hope and resolute courage, for these are the things most needed now. As the cavalry are not of much use in a night attack, I will send them to surround the enemy's camp a little farther off, so that if we are overpowered we may have friends to receive us and cover our retreat, and if we are victorious they may pursue the fugitives and destroy them."

[21] Having spoken thus he sent the officers to arm the troops, and he offered sacrifice to Courage and also to Fear1 in order that no panic should overtake them in the night, but that the army should show itself absolutely intrepid. At the third watch the trumpet sounded lightly and the army moved, observing the most profound silence until the cavalry had completely surrounded the enemy and the infantry had arrived at the trenches. Then, with shouts mingled with the discordant blast of trumpets and horns for the purpose of striking terror into the enemy, they swept the guards away from the outposts, filled up the ditch, and tore down the palisades. The boldest, pushing forward, set some of the huts on fire. The Africans, starting in consternation out of sleep, fumbled around for their arms and tried confusedly to get into order of battle, but on account of the noise could not hear the orders of their officers, nor did their general himself know exactly what was happening. The Romans caught them, as they were starting up and trying to arm themselves, with confusion on every hand. They fired more huts and slew those whom they met. The noise of the invaders, their appearance, and the fearful work they were doing in the midst of darkness and uncertainty made the catastrophe complete. Thinking that the camp had been taken, and being afraid of the fire of the burning huts, they were glad to get out of them; and they pushed on to the plain as a safer place. Thus they ran helter-skelter, just as it happened, and the Roman horse, who had completely surrounded them, fell upon them and slaughtered them.

[22] Syphax, hearing the noise and seeing the fire in the night, did not leave his quarters, but sent a detachment of horse to the assistance of Hasdrubal. Masinissa fell upon these unawares and made a great slaughter. At daybreak, learning that Hasdrubal had fled and that his forces were destroyed, or taken prisoners, or dispersed, and that his camp and war material had fallen into the hands of the Romans, he fled precipitately to the interior, leaving every-thing behind, fearing lest Scipio should return from the pursuit of the Carthaginians and fall upon him. Masinissa took possession of his camp and belongings.

[23] Thus by one act of daring and in a little part of a night, did the Romans demolish two camps and two armies much greater than their own. The Romans lost about 100 men killed, the enemy a little less than 30,000, besides 2400 prisoners. Moreover, 600 horse surrendered them-selves to Scipio on his return. Some of the elephants were killed and some wounded. Scipio, having gained a great store of arms, gold, silver, ivory, and horses, Numidian and other, and having prostrated the Carthaginians by one splendid victory, distributed prizes to the army and sent the richest of the spoils to Rome. Then he began drilling the army diligently, expecting the arrival of Hannibal forthwith from Italy, and of Mago from Liguria.

[24] While Scipio was thus engaged, Hasdrubal, the Carthaginan general, who had been wounded in the night engagement, fled with 500 horse to the town of Anda, where he collected some mercenaries and Numidians who had escaped from the battle, and proclaimed freedom to all slaves who would enlist. Learning that the Carthaginians had decreed the penalty of death against him for his bad generalship, and had chosen Hanno, the son of Bomilcar, as commander, he made this an army of his own, recruited a lot of malefactors, robbed the country for provisions, and drilled his men to the number of 3000 horse and 8000 foot, resting his hopes solely on fighting. His doings were for a long time unknown to both the Romans and the Carthaginians. And now Scipio, having his army in readiness, led it to Carthage itself and haughtily offered battle, but nobody responded. Meanwhile Hamilcar, the admiral, hastened with 100 ships to attack Scipio's naval station, hoping to outstrip him in reaching the place, and thinking that he could easily destroy the twenty Roman ships there with his hundred.

[25] Scipio, seeing him sail away, sent orders ahead to block up the entrance to the harbor with ships of burthen anchored at intervals so that the galleys could dart out, as through gates, when they should see an opportunity. These ships were bound together by their yard arms and fastened to each other so as to form a wall. This work done he entered into the action. When the Carthaginians made their attack their ships were battered by missiles from the Roman ships, from the shore, and from the walls, and they with-drew at evening discomfited. As they were retreating, the Romans pressed upon them, darting out through the open spaces, and when they were overpowered withdrawing again. They took one ship in tow without any men and brought it to Scipio. After this both combatants went into winter quarters. The Romans received plentiful supplies by sea, but the Uticans and Carthaginians, being pinched with hunger, robbed the merchant ships until new galleys, sent to Scipio from Rome, blockaded the enemy and put an end to their plundering, after which they were severely oppressed by hunger.

1 The Roman mythology was very comprehensive. "There were gods," says Duruy, "for every act of a man's life from the cradle to the grave."

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Greek (L. Mendelssohn, 1879)
hide References (2 total)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: