The Fall of Capua and Cartagena
Ruins of Capua
Meanwhile, back in Italy, Rome was now more determinned than ever to capture Capua. Hannibal had returned to Tarentum in southern Italy after forcing the Romans to lift their first siege. In early 211 B.C., the two Roman consuls, Quintus Fulvius Flaccus and Appius Claudius Pulcher, marched their two armies to Capua and laid siege to her walls. Capua quickly sent urgent pleas to Hannibal to come to their aid. Hannibal at once struck his tents and marched with lightening speed to Capua. Upon arriving at the city, he found that the Romans were firmly entrenched around the entire wall of Capua. He was able to coordinate an attack with the forces which he had left the previous winter to garrison the city led by one of his generals named Bostar. These troops, along with the army of Capua, sallied forth from the walls at the same time that Hannibal launched an assault upon the Roman rear. The attacks, however, proved costly and unsuccessful as the Romans were firmly entrenched and could not be driven from the field. Hannibal, with losses of several thousand men, including a large number of his remaining veterans, realized that another attack was useless and decided to use trickery to gain his allies safety. Striking north, cutting a large path of destruction as he went, Hannibal decided to finally march to the walls of Rome. During all the years that he had been in Italy he had never laid eyes upon the city of his eternal enemy until now. He was hoping that his march to Rome would strike fear among the city and the two armies that were at Capua would be recalled to assist the city. When this happened, he would then elude the Roman armies and return to Capua. When Hannibal arrived at Rome, the city at first was thrown into a frenzy. Fabius assembled, once again, a rag-tag force to defend the walls. But as the days passed, Rome became aware that Hannibal had no siege machines and calm was restored. Furthermore, Rome sent word to their two consuls ordering them to remain at Capua with their armies. Hannibal remained at the walls of Rome for several days at which time he paraded his army around the countryside in a show of force for the city to see. Then he quickly left and struck for Capua, confident that his feint on Rome had drawn the Romans from the siege of his allies. He was well on his way when news arrived that shocked the Carthaginian general. Capua had fallen! The leaders who had befriended him were beheaded and the surviving citizens were sold into slavery. The Carthaginian and Numidian defenders of the city were captured and the Romans cut off their hands before sending them, still alive , to Hannibal.
To Hannibal, the fall of Capua was far more discerning than the fall of Syracuse. Capua, as said before, was the leading city of Italy after Rome. Her defection to him from Rome held a strong measure of pride and he felt extremely loyal to her. With her fall, Hannibals hopes of procurring additional allies among those still loyal to Rome were no longer possible. He marched back to the south of Italy near Tarentum and waited to take additional action against the Romans. With the fall of Capua, so fell other cities who had joined Hannibal, and with them, the garrisons that Hannibal had placed inside the cities to defend against Roman attacks. Soon he would be forced to recall all of his garrisons from these cities, leaving his friends to their fate. If only Carthage would have responded and aided him at this time perhaps he could have left the cities garrisoned. But such was not the case.
As the fortunes favored Carthage during the early part of 211 B.C. with their success in Spain, the fall of Capua would end the year on a sour note for Carthage. Hannibal would remain in southern Italy near Tarentum during the winter of 211 and was not until the spring of 210 B.C. that a major action took place. Hannibal would march north to Apulia in an attempt to halt two Roman armies who were besieging and harrassing his remaining allies.
As the Roman advance in southern Italy continued in 210 BC., the two armies were commanded by the two consuls, Marcus Claudius Marcellus and Gnaeus Fulvius Centumalus. Their overall strength was four Roman legions plus an approximately equal allied contingent who were starting to waver in their support of the Republic. Since they operated not far from each other Hannibal did not dare to challenge them as he was outnumbered almsot two-to-one. The numerical superiority of the Romans allowed for Marcellus to capture the city of Salapia who had defected to Hannibal after Cannae. A small portion of the populace betrayed the city and the majotrity of the populace who had supported Hannibal were killed or sold as slaves. The Carthaginian garrison that Hannibal had sent to the city for aid was totally destroyed.
Following this setback Hannibal retreated and a rumor was spread by Hannibal and his spies that he was going away to Bruttium in the south of Italy. Upon learning this Marcellus moved to Samnium and reduced two more towns that served as Carthaginian bases in this region. Meanwhile Hannibal returned to northern Apulia with forced marches unknown to the two Roman armies and managed to catch Centumalus when the latter was besieging the city of Herdonia. Despite the Carthaginian numerical superiority the consul did not decline the battle as he hoped to end the war with the swift defeat of Hannibal. His generals and men encouraged him to fight and he offered battle. He arranged his army in two battle lines and clashed with the Carthaginian infantry. Hannibal waited until the Romans and their allies were fully engaged and sent his Numidian cavalry to surround them. Part of the Numidians attacked the Roman camp which was insufficiently protected. The others fell upon the rear legion and dispersed it. The same happened to the Romans fighting in the front line. Centumalus, eleven (out of twelve) military tribunes and over 13,000 soldiers were slain. The rest were scattered and some escaped to Marcellus in Samnium where they told the one consul of the others fate.
The victory did not bring strategic advantages to Hannibal, although in did inspire his restless allies to remain loyal. Realizing that in the long run he could not expect to hold Herdonia against the onslaught of Roman troops, the Carthaginian general decided to resettle its population in Metapontum and Thurii to the south where he would be more able to defend them from his base in the south,and he ordered the destruction of Herdonia. Before that he set an example to other eventual traitors by executing some of the distinguished citizens who had conspired to betray Herdonia to Centumalus. For the rest of the summer he was forced to fight off the second Roman army. The battle with Marcellus at Numistro was inconclusive and Hannibal was unable to regain the positions, lost in the beginning of the campaign.
In the spring of 209 B.C., Rome would elect again Fabius and Marcellus as the two consuls to face Hannibal. Rome would put into place a four-pronger attack against Hannibal in Italy. One force, commanded by Fabius, was to march against Tarentum and punish the Greek city for joining Hannibal. Another, smaller force, was to attack Hannibal's Bruttian allies. The other two, led by Marcellus and Q. Fulvius Flaccus, were to harrass Hannibal in Apulia along with his remaining allies in the area. It was Marcellus who was operating near Canusium, hoping to persuade its inhabitants to break their allegiance to Rome. Canusium was not far from Salapia, a town whose Numidian garrison had been betrayed to and slaughtered by Marcellus the preceding year. Hannibal’s intention was to restore his influence in the area . However, as soon as the proconsul approached, Hannibal was compelled to withdraw from Canusium. The loss of the Numidian contingent in Salapia had deprived him of one of his advantages over the Romans, that being his cavalry wing of his army. The terrain here now no longer favorable to him, particularly against a general of the calibur of Marcellus. That is why Hannibal retreated, endeavoring to lure Marcellus into an ambush. The Romans, relentlessly pursuing, forced a battle. Initial skirmishes grew to a general battle which ended only when night fell and both sides disengaged and fortified their camps.
On the next day Hannibal decided to stand his ground and in the renewed fighting the Romans were heavily beaten. One of the wings of the first battle line, composed of allied levies, was forced to give ground. Marcellus ordered the legion positioned in the rear to relieve the retreating allies. This proved to be an error, as the ensuing manoeuvre and the continuing Carthaginian advance threw the entire Roman army into disorder. The Romans were put to flight and 2,700 of them were killed before the rest could take refuge behind the palisade of the camp.
Marcellus was undaunted by this setback, and although many of his men were wounded, he led them to yet another long and inconclusive fight on the third day. Hannibal's elite Spanish troops were unable to break the Romans, and Hannibal brought into action his war elephants. At first they produced the desired effect by trampling and scattering the Roman front, but a successful counterstrike by the Roman infantry turned the beasts against their own troops and caused disorder among the Carthaginian ranks. Marcellus seizing the opportunity, threw his cavalry, kept so far in reserve, into the action. The cavalry charge was followed by an all-out infantry attack. Hannibal's forces fell back to their camp with heavy losses. The toll on Marcellus' troops was even heavier than that of the preceding day (3,000 killed and many wounded), so he declined to pursue Hannibal when the latter broke camp and marched south the following night.
As a result of the battle of Canusium, the army of Marcellus was effectively put out of action due to the fact that most of his soldiers who had fought were wounded and they were to retire to Campania for the rest of the summer, which would allow Hannibal to remain free to move about southern Italy.
Later that summer, Marcellus again was to become active against Hannibal while the army of Flaccus was able to effect the submission of most of the cities and towns in Lucania. It was soon after that Hannibal received word from his allies in Tarentum that they were surrounded by Fabius and that he should come with all haste to their aid. Evading Marcellus, Hannibal marched with all haste to Tarentum, however, he was not able to reach the city in time. Hannibal was a mere five mile away when he heard the news that Tarentum was betrayed by a small group of citizens and that Fabius had taken the city. His supporters were in the process of being slaughtered as they informed him of the disaster.
Faced with these abrupt losses of valuable allies, Hannibal had to retreat to the farthest corner of southeastern Italy, for Bruttium was also under Roman attack and some of its people invited Flaccus to receive their submission. Unopposed by the main Roman forces, the Carthaginian commander managed to intercept and destroy near Caulonia an 8,000 strong detachment, that had attacked the Bruttians from Regium, and thus was able to regain control over this small region in Italy. The Roman's, however, had gained the upper-hand with the capture of so many of Hannbal's allies. Hannibal would spent the rest of 209 B.C. contained in this area of Italy and no further action was to take place until the following spring at Venusia. Hannibal would languish during the winter months over the fate of his fallen allies. Still no help would arrive from Carthage.
Leaders of Spanish Tribes paying homage to Scipio after the Fall of Cartagena
As 209 B.C. ended, there was great reason for optimism in Rome. In the spring of 208 B.C., Rome would elect a young consul named Scipio the Younger, son of the Scipio who was killed in Spain, to reinforce their army in Spain with another 10,000 troops and to avenge his father's death. He had fought against Hannibal at the Battle of Ticinus, where he had saved his father from certain death, and had also witnessed first-hand the destruction of the Roman army at Cannae. Scipio, was unlike any other Roman general at the time as he studied every move Hannibal made that he could. He would remember exactly how Hannibal deployed his troops and what caused them to succeed. Also he payed notice to how Roman generals failed to effectively counter Hannibal's strategies and what they could have done better. Further, he studied the personality of Hannibal to understand how he was able to hold such a diverse group of men together for so long, under such extreme conditions. With all these attributes, Scipio marched to Spain and took over command of the army from Nero, who was now re-called to Rome.
With an army of 30,000 men, Scipio first realized that his army lacked discipline and organization. He would spend several months training his troops under every condition. With the three Carthage armies still operating separately, it did not take Scipio long to understand that there was a disagreement between the three Carthage generals and that none of them were operating near their Spanish capitol at Cartagena. With the aid of the Roman navy, his army was transported to Cartagena where he blockaded the city from land and the navy did the same from the sea. The city was ill-prepared to defend against an army of 30,000 strong. A Carthaginian garrison commanded by another Mago, a cousin of Hannibal, was only 1,000 strong and was joined by every able-bodied man from the city in her defense. Scipio at first attempted an attack upon the walls of the city, but was beaten back with heavy losses. Another attempt was also made with the same results.
Aided by an unexpected squall (which drained some of the lagoon into the Mediterranean, reducing the depth of the lagoon), the third attempt managed to scale the undefended northern wall and attacked the rear of the defenders defending the isthmus. At the same time, the naval forces managed to penetrate the town from the south. Mago and his 1,000 troops retreated to the citadel where they surrendered several days later. The entire eastern Spanish coast was now under Roman control, but more importantly, they had secured the vast Carthaginian silver mines as their own. Hasdrubal Barca, who was marching as quickly as he could to the aid of the city was stunned to hear of the fall. Not being strong enough to attack the city with 30,000 Romans defending, he retired into the Spanish interior. How Hasdrubal could have ensured that the vital city was so unprotected has to be one of the biggest blunders of the war. Scipio would not press against the Carthaginian armies for the rest of the year. Instead he would continue to train his troops and use diplomacy to win over numerous vital Spanish tribes.
After Scipio’s surprise attack and capture of Cartagena, the three Carthaginian armies in Spain were still separated, and their generals at odds with each other, thus giving the Romans a chance to deal with them one by one. Scipio, using the cunning of a Hannibal, decided that the most formidable opponent was Hasdrubal Barca and he made plans for an engagement with this arm of the Carthage forces in Spain.
Early in 208 B.C, Scipio, eager to avenge the death of his father and uncle, moved against Hasdrubal, whose veteran force was wintered at Baecula, on the upper reaches of the river Baetis (modern day Guadalquivir).
Upon learning the approach of the Romans from his cavalry, Hasdrubal shifted his camp to a strong defensive position on a high and deep plateau south of Baecula, protected by ravines on the flanks and the river to the front and rear. Moreover the plateau was formed into two steps, on which Hasdrubal posted his light troops, primarily new Spanish recruits, on the lower one, and his main camp behind.
After his arrival, Scipio at first was uncertain how to attack such a formidable position, but concerned that the other two Carthaginian armies might take advantage of his inaction and join with Hasdrubal, he took action on the third day. This was also the first major battle that he was involved in with the role as commander.
Before his main attack, Scipio sent one detachment to block the entrance to the valley separating the two armies and one to the road leading north to Baecula, thus providing security to his main force while harassing any Carthaginian attempt to retreat.
After these preliminary deployments were done, the Roman light troops advanced against their Carthaginian counterparts on the first step. Despite the steep slope and under a shower of missile attack, the Romans had little difficulty driving back the Carthaginian light troops once they got into hand to hand combat.
After reinforcing his leading force, Scipio derived a pincer attack on the flanks of the Carthaginian main camp, by ordering Gaius Laelius to lead half of the remaining heavy foot to the right of the enemy position, and he himself scaling the left.
Hasdrubal, meanwhile, was under the impression that the Roman attack was only a skirmish as Scipio had hidden his main army in camp until the final attack, and therfore failed to properly deploy his main force, thus his ill-prepared army was caught on three sides by the Romans. Hasdrubal, however, was still able to hold off the main Roman force long enough with a fierce counter attack to allow for his departure.
Despite being trapped, Hasdrubal was able to retreat unmolested with his elephants, his main baggage train, and most of his Carthaginian troops. His army suffered losses of around 7,500 from the original 25,000 which he had commanded. The Roman army of 35,000 recorded minimul losses. It appeared that the main Carthage losses in the battle were most of Hasdrubal's light troops and Spanish allies. This was largely due to the legionnaries' choice to plunder the Carthaginian camp rather than pursue Hasdrubal with any earnestness. Hasdrubal then marched north and crossed the Ebro river where he would busy himself recruiting troops among the Spanish tribes. He would then cross the Rhone River and recruit from the Gallic tribes before acting on orders from Carthage to finally begin his ill-fated march to Italy to reinforce his brother Hannibal.
As you will later read, Carthage would then send reinforcements the following spring to Spain under the command of Hanno, son of Bolmicar, to join the armies of Mago and Hasdrubal Gisco as Carthage would make one final attempt to reverse her fortunes in Spain. Hanno landed and marched to join Mago. The two generals then spent several months recruiting a powerful army. While they were doing this, Hasdrubal Gisco would lead his army out of Gades and march in an attempt to join the other army. Thus Scipio was facing two concentrated enemy forces, one of which would no doubt fall upon his rear if he tried to attack the other.
After careful planning, Scipio decided to send a detachment under a subordinate to strike Mago first. Marching with great speed this Roman force was able to achieve complete surprise when he fell on the Carthaginian camps, which resulted in the dispersion of Mago’s Spanish recruits and the capture of Hanno, son of Bolmicar.
Thus Hasdrubal was left alone in facing Scipio’s concentrated force, but the Carthaginian general was able to avoid battle by splitting his troops among fortified cities. The campaign of 207 B.C. in Spain was ended without any further major action.
The next spring the Carthaginians launched their last great effort to recover Spain. Mago was joined at Ilipa by Hasdrubal Gisco, creating a force estimated at 54,000 to 70,000, considerably larger than Scipio’s army of 43,000 men, which was composed of a large number of Spanish allies who were not as seasoned as the Roman legionaries.
Upon the arrival of the Romans, Mago unleashed a daring attack on the Roman camp with most of his cavalry, under his Numidian ally, Massinissa. However this was foreseen by Scipio, who had concealed his own cavalry behind a hill, which charged into the Carthaginian flank, and threw back the enemy with heavy losses on Mago’s side.
The two opponents spent the next few days observing and testing each other, with Scipio always waiting to lead out his troops only after the Carthaginians had advanced from their camp first. The Roman formation always presented the legions in the center and Spanish allies on the wings, thus leading Hasdrubal and Mago to believe that this would be the Roman arrangement on the day of battle. This would be a fatal assumption.
Believing his deception had taken firm hold of the Carthaginian commanders, Scipio made his move. First he ordered the army to be fed and armed before daylight. He then promptly sent his cavalry and light troops against the Carthaginian outposts at daybreak while advancing with his main force behind, all the way to the front of the Carthaginian position. This day his legions stood at the wings and the Spanish allies in the centre.
Surprised by the sudden attacks by the Romans, the Carthaginians rushed to arm themselves and sallied forth without breakfast. Still believing that Scipio would arrange his force in the earlier fashion, Hasdrubal deployed his elite Africans in the centre and Spanish mercenaries on his wings and was not able to change formation after he discovered the new Roman arrangement because the opposing army was too close to his lines.
For the next few hours Scipio held back his infantry behind the skirmishing light troops and thus amplified the effect of the missed breakfast on his enemy. When he finally decided to attack, the light troops were called back through the space between the heavier troops to position themselves behind the legions on the wings, then the main advance began. With his wings advancing at a faster pace than the Spanish allies in his center, Scipio formed a concave, or Reversed Cannae, battle line. Furthermore, the Roman general expanded his wings by ordering the light troops to the flanks of the legionaries, and the cavalry to the flank of the light troops, thus enveloping the whole Carthaginian line on both sides.
Still refusing his center, Scipio’s legions, light troops, and cavalry attacked the half-trained Iberians on the Carthaginian wings from front, flank, and rear respectively. The Carthaginian center was helpless to reinforce its wings with the threat of the Spanish force that was looming large in close distance but not yet attacking.
With the inevitable destruction of its wings, the Carthaginian center was further demoralized and confused by the trampling of their own maddened elephants which were being driven towards the center by the Roman cavalry attacking the flanks. Combined with hunger and fatigue, the Carthaginians started to withdraw, at first in good order. But as Scipio now pressed his advantage by ordering his Iberian center into battle, the Carthaginians crumbled, and a massacre which may have rivaled the one in Cannae was only averted by a sudden downpour, which brought a hold to all actions on the field, and enabled the remaining Carthaginians to seek refuge in their camp.
Although temporarily safe in their camp, the Carthaginians were not able to rest. Facing the inevitable Roman attack the next morning, they were obliged to strengthen their defenses. But, as more and more Spanish mercenaries deserted the Carthaginians as night drew forward, Hasdrubal tried to slip away with his Africans in darkness.
Scipio immediately ordered a pursuit. Led by the cavalry, the whole Roman army was hot on Hasdrubal’s tail. When the Romans finally caught up with the Carthaginian host the butchery began. Hasdrubal was left with only 6,000 men, who then fled onto a mountain top without any water supply. This remnant of the Carthaginian army surrendered a short time later, but not before Hasdrubal and Mago had made good their escape.
Hasdrubal Gisco would then sail to Africa to meet with Syphax, hoping to procur an alliance. Mago would sail to the Baelaric Islands where he would raise another army and ready for another invasion of northern Italy. But the loss of Spain would forever cripple her and would change the course of the war forever.