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Scipio Plans To Attack the Punic Camp

While the Consuls were thus engaged,1 Scipio in Libya learnt during the winter that the Carthaginians were fitting out a fleet; he therefore devoted himself to similar preparations as well as to pressing on the siege of Utica.
B. C. 203. Cn. Servilius Caepio, C. Servilius Geminus Coss. Livy, 30, 1.
He did not, however, give up all hopes of Syphax; but as their forces were not far apart he kept sending messages to him, convinced that he would be able to detach him from the Carthaginians. He still cherished the belief that Syphax was getting tired of the girl2 for whose sake he had joined the Carthaginians, and of his alliance with the Punic people generally; for the Numidians, he knew, were naturally quick to feel satiety, and constant neither to gods nor men. Scipio's mind, however, was distracted with various anxieties, and his prospects were far from seeming secure to him; for he shrank from an engagement in the open field on account of the enemy's great superiority in numbers. He therefore seized an opportunity which now presented itself. Some of his messengers to Syphax reported to him that the Carthaginians had constructed their huts in their winter camp of various kinds of wood and boughs without any earth; while the old army of the Numidians made theirs of reeds, and the reinforcements which were now coming in from the neighbouring townships constructed theirs of boughs only, some of them inside the trench and palisade, but the greater number outside. Scipio therefore made up his mind that the manner of attacking them, which would be most unexpected by the enemy and most successful for himself, would be by fire. He therefore turned his attention to organising such an attack.
The proposal of Syphax.
Now, in his communications with Scipio, Syphax was continually harping upon his proposal that the Carthaginians should evacuate Italy and the Romans Libya; and that the possessions held by either between these two countries should remain in statu quo. Hitherto Scipio had refused to listen to this suggestion, but he now gave Syphax a hint by the mouth of his messengers that the course he wished to see followed was not impossible. Greatly elated at this, Syphax became much bolder than before in his communications with Scipio; the numbers of the messengers sent backwards and forwards, and the frequency of their visits, were redoubled; and they sometimes even stayed several days in each other's camps without any thought of precaution. On these occasions Scipio always took care to send, with the envoys, some men of tried experience or of military knowledge, dressed up as slaves in rough and common clothes, that they might examine and investigate in security the approaches and entrances to both the entrenchments. For there were two camps, one that of Hasdrubal, containing thirty thousand infantry and three thousand cavalry; and another about ten stades distant from it of the Numidians, containing ten thousand cavalry and about fifty thousand infantry. The latter was the easier of approach, and its huts were well calculated for being set on fire, because, as I said before, the Numidians had not made theirs of timber and earth, but used simply reeds and thatch in their construction.

1 Caepio was commanding in Bruttium, Servilius in Etruria and Liguria. Livy, 30, 1.

2 Sophanisba, the daughter of Hasdrubal son of Gesco. Livy, 29, 23; 30, 12, 15.

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    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 29, 23
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 30, 1
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 30, 12
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 30, 15
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