The Battle of the Metaurus River and the Battle of Ilipa, the Carthage Tide Ebbs
Coin thought to be depicting Hasdrubal Barca
Meanwhile, as said before, the Carthage senate finally was becoming aware that the tide of the war was turning against them and that their only hope was to finally act upon the reinforcement of Hannibal in Italy and they ordered Hasdrubal to march to join his brother. Carthage had already made the painful realization that Spain was lost to them after the fall of Cartegena, their loss at the Battle of Baecula, and the subsequent defection to Rome of most of their Spanish allies. Furthermore, Carthage was no longer powerful enough to fund a war on so many fronts and action needed to be swift. Hasdrubal's campaign to come to his brother's aid in Italy would come about quickly. Messengers were sent to Hannibal by both Carthage and Spain with news that his brother would be marching to join him with his army intact. Rome became aware that Hasdubal was able to raise large levies after Baecula and was rumored to be on the march to Italy. After adeptly escaping the Roman army after the Battle of Baecula and making his way into Gaul in the winter of 208, Hasdrubal waited until the spring of 207 to make his way through the Alps and into Northern Italy. Hasdrubal made much faster progress than his brother had during his crossing, partly due to the constructions left behind by Hannibal's army a decade earlier, but also due to the removal of the Gallic threat that had plagued Hannibal during that expedition. He also benefited by making his passage during the spring as Hannibal was forced to cross during the winter to gain the initiative of surprise over the Romans. The Gauls now feared and respected the Carthaginians, and not only was Hasdrubal allowed to pass through the Alps unmolested, his ranks were swelled by many enthusiastic Gauls. Hasdrubal, in the same fashion as his brother, succeeded in bringing his war elephants, raised and trained in Hispania, over the Alps.
Although Rome was still reeling from the series of devastating defeats Hannibal had put upon them, Rome had regained the upper-hand. However, the prospect of fighting two sons of "the Thunderbolt",a rough translation of Hamilcar's surname, at once, terrified the Romans and brought back echoes of the previous disasters. The hastily elected consuls Claudius Nero and Marcus Livius were dispatched to face Hannibal and Hasdrubal respectively. Neither consul engaged his intended target initially. Claudius Nero's force of over 40,000 men was too formidable for Hannibal to engage openly, and so the two played an unproductive game of cat and mouse in Bruttium; meanwhile, Marcus Livius, despite the added bulwark of two of the many Roman armies scattered across Italy — yielded cautiously to Hasdrubal, allowing him to push beyond the Metaurus as far south as the town of Sena. Rome made it very clear to their two consul's, however, that they were to ensure that the two Carthage armies did not unite. Such an event not only would strike fear among the citizens of Rome, but would test their remaining allies in Italy as well. It was not until Hasdrubal sent messengers to Hannibal, two Gauls and two Numidians, that decisive measures were finally taken. Hasdrubal wished to meet with his brother in South Umbria. However, Hasdrubal's messengers were captured and tortured, and his plans fell into the hands of the consul Claudius Nero. Nero, opposite Hannibal, realized that action upon his part must be swift. That evening he ordered his camp to set many campfires and under the cover of darkness, unknown to Hannibal, he ordered most of his army to make a forced march north to join Marcus Livius and his army that was opposite Hasdrubal. Nero, recognizing the urgency of the situation and the enormous threat that a merging of the Carthaginian brothers' armies would present to Rome, circumvented the authority of the Senate, and leaving his future in doubt, left Rome unprotected against Hannibal's army, instead advising them to organize levies for their own protection.
Claudius Nero reached Marcus Livius the following evening, who was camped at Sena along with the praetor Porcius. Hannibal had awakened the morning after Nero's forced march to an abandoned Roman camp and immediately sent scouts out to bring word where the Roman army had gone. Hasdrubal was camped approximately a half-mile to the north of Sena and was eagerly waiting word from Hannibal. However, since Claudius Nero had conveniently arrived at night, his presence was not detected until the next day, when the Romans drew themselves up for battle. Hasdrubal drew his army up as well, but upon closer observation of the forces assembled before him, noticed that Marcus Livius' army seemed to have grown considerably over the course of the night, and that he had a much larger contingent of cavalry,of which was from Nero's army. Hasdrubal remembered hearing a trumpet in the Roman camp heralding the arrival of an important figure the night before, a sound he had become familiar with during his entanglements with the Romans in Spain and was aware that it was different from the trumpets that he had been hearing from Livius. Furthermore, he sent spies to infiltrate the Roman army and to look for anything suspicious, such as a large number of sun-burned troops who would have made a forced march the previous day in the sun. His spies returned with the news that many of the Romans were severely sun-burned and correctly concluded that they was now facing two Roman armies. Hasdrubal immediately sent cavalry to scour the countryside and bring word of Hannibal's presence. Surely if both Roman armies had united his brother would be near. When they later returned with word that Hannibal was nowhere to be found, Hasdrubal made the incorrect determination that Hannibal and his army must have met a horrible fate and that he now stood alone against Rome in her own backyard. After his failures against Rome in Spain, commanding the only army that he thought Carthage had in the field, and with his army now badly outnumbered, Hasdrubal became unnerved, and retired his troops from the field and returned to his camp that he had been fortifying throughout the previous evening.
The rest of the day passed without event, for the Romans did not endeavour to advance on Hasdrubal's fortifications. When nightfall came, Hasdrubal quietly led his army out of his camp with the intent of retreating into Gaul, where he could safely establish communications with Carthage and hope that Hannibal had not met the fate that he thought that he had. He also would feel more comfortable in Gaul surrounded by allies. Early on in the march, however, Hasdrubal's guides deserted and betrayed him, and left him lost and confused along the banks of the Metaurus, searching futilely for a ford at which to cross with his army. Lost, betrayed, far from home, and fearing the worst in regards to his brother, Hasdrubal realized that his situation was hard-pressed when his cavalry informed him that their march from camp that evening had not gone unnoticed by the Roman army as the bulk of their enemies were closing in fast.
The night passed with no change in Hasdrubal's misfortunes, and the morning found his army disarrayed, confused, and trapped against the banks of the Metaurus among swampy terrain, and with a great many of his Gallic troops drunk. With the Roman cavalry fast approaching and the legions under the two consuls not far behind, Hasdrubal reluctantly prepared for battle as Carthage awoke to another day, unaware of the impending disaster that was about to unfold.
The battle was most likely fought on the southern banks of Mataurus River. The exact site of the battle is uncertain. Indeed sites both to the north and to the south of the river have been proposed. The exact numbers of troops on both sides are not known. The Carthage force probably was near 40,000 strong and the combined Roman armies at near 56,000 strong with Rome holding the upper-hand in cavalry. Rome at this stage in the war also was able to field troops that were far better that the previous troops that Hannibal had fought. Years of fighting against Hannibal had seasoned their skills. Hasdrubal had in his army men that were a far cry from Hannibal's army that he had brought to Italy a decade before. Many of his Iberian contingents were newly recruited. His Gauls that had just joined his army were also poorly trained and not of the caliber of the Romans. His best troops also still had in their recent memory the beating that they had been given by the Romans in Spain at Baecula. So as Hasdrubal met with his staff officers and devised his plans that he thought would best give them the chance to succeed, the possibility of battle became reality. The Carthage army expected to lose and the Romans expected to win. The propraetor L. Porcius Licinius commanded two legions — as many men as the consul. This means that Livius and Porcius had between them four legions — equal to 32,000-40,000 men, including their Allies. However, the numbers of the allied contingents could have been less than usual due to the refusal of some of the Roman clients to provide auxiliaries. With the addition of Nero and his troops, their force would have probably been the before stated 56,000. The Roman force was probably diminished by earlier fighting with Hasdrubal by way of smaller skirmishes, the evidence of which is the presence of several thousand prisoners in Hasdrubal's camp.
Like most Carthaginian armies, Hasdrubal's was a mix of many different cultures and nationalities, including Iberians, Ligures, Gauls and few were of African origins. Hasdrubal right flank was on the Metaurus and left flank at an inaccessible hilly terrain. He placed his cavalry at right wing to guard it against superior Roman cavalry that could out flank its right wing. Contrary to this Hasdrubal's left flank was well guarded by hills at left and ravines on front. Hasdrubal's best troops were his Iberians, although their defeat at Baecula was still fresh in their minds, armed with shields and swords, making his right flank, along with the few African troops that he did have (not much is known about these troops — they may have been spear men drawn from some Carthaginian territory, or from another part of Africa). The center was composed of Ligures from north western Italy who were not as well-trained as the men on his right flank. Finally, on his left, he placed the disorderly Gauls, who he hoped would be shielded by the difficult terrain (a deep ravine) in front of them. Hasdrubal also had ten elephants in his army. Marcus Livius, deployed the Roman army in front of the Carthaginian force. The Roman left wing he was to command, right wing was under Nero, facing the inaccessible Gauls and center was under the command of Porcius Licinus. The Roman Cavalry was placed on left wing in facing the Carthaginian cavalry. The battle line that Hasdrubal placed before the Romans did show that he was a strategist in the art of warfare based upon the different calibers within the contingents of his army and the manner that he formed his line.
The battle started with the Roman left flank charging the Carthaginian right, followed a little later by the Roman center clashing with the Carthage front. The outnumbered Carthaginian cavalry tumbled against the onslaught of Roman cavalry. Carthaginian right wing and center, however, held the ground and the war elephants, initially, before being overcome, succeeded in breaking the Roman lines and spreading mass confusion making the initial combat favorable to Hasdrubal. His Iberian troops held their own and began pushing back the Roman center. Claudius Nero at the Roman right flank, struggled to overcome the terrain that blocked his path to the unprepared Gauls on Hasdrubal's left, and, seeing the futility in wasting further time attempting to reach them, instead took half of his men and led them from behind the battling Roman lines to the extreme Roman left, swinging his troops around and crashing into the Carthaginian right flank with sudden force and intensity. The Carthaginian right wing composed of the Iberians, could not withstand this two prong attack, Marcus Livius from the front and Claudius Nero at flank. They soon panicked and fled in confusion, collapsing onto the Carthaginian center and creating mass confusion, the disordered Carthaginian center faced a three prong attack, Porcius from front, Marcus Livius from their flank and Claudius Nero from the rear. By now Roman cavalry had completely defeated the Carthaginian cavalry and with the retreat of the Carthaginian center a general retreat of Hasdrubal's army started. The Romans chased the retreating Carthaginians and met almost no resistance from the unfit Gauls. Most of the Carthaginian casualties occurred during this disordered retreat. The brave Carthaginian general, seeing that there was nothing more he could do as his massive army fled, and presumably doubtful of his own prospects of escape, and simply unwilling to be taken captive, charged alone upon his horse into the thick of the approaching Roman army as the battle was concluding and met a glorious, if pointless death.
Claudius Nero showed no respect for his fallen adversary. He had Hasdrubal's head severed from his body, taken south, and thrown into Hannibal's camp as a token of the brother's defeat. When his brothers head was brought to him, Hannibal was said to have murmured, "I now can see the fate of Carthage,Rome will now be the mistress of the world". He then retired to his tent where he remained for several days. The fate of Carthage not only weighed upon his mind, but the loss of his brother whom he was anxious to once again see must also have been a horrible pill to swallow for Hannibal. Weeks passed and word made its way to Carthage about the disaster. Of the 40,000 troops in Hasdrubal's army, nearly all perished or were taken prisoner. Roman losses were said to have been 6,000-8,000. The cruelty of the Romans in regards to the treatment of Hasdubal after his death is in stark contrast to Hannibal who always sought out the bodies of fallen Roman commanders so that they could be sent to their families for burial.
Had Hasdrubal succeeded in linking up with his brother, the outcome of the Second Punic War might have been very different. The addition of Hasdrubal's men to his ranks would have swelled Hannibal's army to a number great enough for him to lead a direct advance on Rome itself, and in the event of such a siege, it is quite possible that Hannibal's forces would have succeeded in taking the city. Even if Rome did not fall to Hannibal, the presence of the brothers' combined armies in Italy would only add to the political strife that already existed there, not to mention the anxiety that lingered throughout Rome. History is too unpredictable to say what might have happened had the Battle of the Metaurus not occurred, however, the fact that it did was clearly in the best interests of Rome.
In Hasdrubal Carthage lost her best general after Hannibal. It is hard to measure him against Hannibal, he lacks here with great aptitude. However, when looking at his record without comparing to his brother, Hasdrubal does figure prominently among the Carthaginian generals. . Roman historians point out that he was able to hold command over a huge army for an extended time and that after reverses against the Romans in Spain was always able to raise large numbers of recruits which would lead one to belive he had a certain level of charisma such as Hannibal . He had within him the "Barcid hatred" for the Romans and as his father and two brothers never stopped in his pursuit to destroy Rome. Although he did command armies that were defeated in Spain against the Romans he did have a mark of success against the Romans as he destroyed the two armies of the Scipio's and he also was successful in quelling revolts in both Spain and also Africa. He, as his two brother's, spent little time in Carthage during his life, always serving his city in the field.
Hannibal upon seeing the head of his brother Hasdrubal
After news reached Carthage of the disaster at the Metaurus River, Carthage was placed into a situation that called for complex discussions within the senate chambers as what to do next. Perhaps the most logical at the time would still be to send aid to Hannibal in Italy, however, after serious debate they decided once again against this. The next action in the war with Rome that Carthage enacted was to make one final stand in Spain and hopefully not only reverse their fortunes in that theater of the war, but to also prevent Scipio from invading Italy. With victory they may once again have the vast resources of Spain's raw materials and also their manpower to enlist in their armies to later arrive in Italy with Hannibal's aid. As said before, 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 that one final attempt. 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. Perhaps if Hannibal or another general of his ability had commanded this last great Carthage force in Spain, the tide of the war would have turned back in Carthage's favor, however, Carthage was left with Mago and Hasdrubal Gisco to determine her fate.
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 procure 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.
Another event that also befell Carthage soon after the defeat of Ilipa would prove to have serious ramifications for not only the rest of the second war, but also for the remaining years that Carthage would exist. It seems that during the Battle of Ilipa, a very young nephew of Masinissa had entered into the battle without the knowledge of Masinissa, who had refused his pleas to be allowed to fight the Romans because he did not want him to get hurt or worse, killed. It seems that this nephew was captured by the Romans and when Scipio was made aware who he was, he treated the young man very well and had him returned to his uncle. This kind treatment towards his nephew from his enemy and also the fact that he was able to foresee the downfall of Carthage in the war, caused Masinissa to abandon Carthage to her fate and to join Scipio and Rome against his former ally.