They disembarked the troops without hindrance from the enemy, and established themselves on the hill; in a short time an entrenched naval camp was constructed, and the land army was at liberty to commence operations. The Roman troops ranged over the country and levied contributions: they were able to send as many as 20,000 slaves to Rome. Through the rarest good fortune the bold scheme had succeeded at the first stroke, and with but slight sacrifices: the end seemed attained. The feeling of confidence that in this respect animated the Romans is evinced by the resolution of the senate to recall to Italy the greater portion of the fleet and half of the army; Marcus Regulus alone remained in Africa with 40 ships, 15,000 infantry, and 500 cavalry. Their confidence, however, was seemingly not overstrained. The Carthaginian army, which was disheartened, did not venture forth into the plain, but waited to sustain discomfiture in the wooded defiles, in which it could make no use of its two best arms, the cavalry and the elephants. The towns surrendered -en masse-; the Numidians rose in insurrection, and overran the country far and wide. Regulus might hope to begin the next campaign with the siege of the capital, and with that view he pitched his camp for the winter in its immediate vicinity at Tunes.

Vain Negotiations For Peace

The spirit of the Carthaginians was broken: they sued for peace. But the conditions which the consul proposed--not merely the cession of Sicily and Sardinia, but the conclusion of an alliance on unequal terms with Rome, which would have bound the Carthaginians to renounce a war-marine of their own and to furnish vessels for the Roman wars --conditions which would have placed Carthage on a level with Neapolis and Tarentum, could not be accepted, so long as a Carthaginian army kept the field and a Carthaginian fleet kept the sea, and the capital stood unshaken.

Preparations Of Carthage

The mighty enthusiasm, which is wont to blaze up nobly among Oriental nations, even the most abased, on the approach of extreme peril--the energy of dire necessity--impelled the Carthaginians to exertions, such as were by no means expected from a nation of shopkeepers. Hamilcar, who had carried on the guerilla war against the Romans in Sicily with so much success, appeared in Libya with the flower of the Sicilian troops, which furnished an admirable nucleus for the newly-levied force. The connections and gold of the Carthaginians, moreover, brought to them excellent Numidian horsemen in troops, and also numerous Greek mercenaries; amongst whom was the celebrated captain Xanthippus of Sparta, whose talent for organization and strategical skill were of great service to his new masters.(6) While the Carthaginians were thus making their preparations in the course of the winter, the Roman general remained inactive at Tunes. Whether it was that he did not anticipate the storm which was gathering over his head, or that a sense of military honour prohibited him from doing what his position demanded--instead of renouncing a siege which he was not in a condition even to attempt, and shutting himself up in the stronghold of Clupea, he remained with a handful of men before the walls of the hostile capital, neglecting even to secure his line of retreat to the naval camp, and neglecting to provide himself with --what above all he wanted, and what might have been so easily obtained through negotiation with the revolted Numidian tribes --a good light cavalry. He thus wantonly brought himself and his army into a plight similar to that which formerly befell Agathocles in his desperate adventurous expedition.

Defeat Of Regulus

When spring came (499), the state of affairs had so changed, that now the Carthaginians were the first to take the field and to offer battle to the Romans. It was natural that they should do so, for everything depended on their getting quit of the army of Regulus, before reinforcements could arrive from Italy. The same reason should have led the Romans to desire delay; but, relying on their invincibleness in the open field, they at once accepted battle notwithstanding their inferiority of strength--for, although the numbers of the infantry on both sides were nearly the same, their 4000 cavalry and 100 elephants gave to the Carthaginians a decided superiority--and notwithstanding the unfavourable nature of the ground, the Carthaginians having taken up their position in a broad plain presumably not far from Tunes. Xanthippus, who on this day commanded the Carthaginians, first threw his cavalry on that of the enemy, which was stationed, as usual, on the two flanks of the line of battle; the few squadrons of the Romans were scattered like dust in a moment before the masses of the enemy's horse, and the Roman infantry found itself outflanked by them and surrounded. The legions, unshaken by their apparent danger, advanced to attack the enemy's line; and, although the row of elephants placed as a protection in front of it checked the right wing and centre of the Romans, the left wing at any rate, marching past the elephants, engaged the mercenary infantry on the right of the enemy, and overthrew them completely. But this very success broke up the Roman ranks. The main body indeed, assailed by the elephants in front and by the cavalry on the flanks and in the rear, formed square, and defended itself with heroic courage, but the close masses were at length broken and swept away. The victorious left wing encountered the still fresh Carthaginian centre, where the Libyan infantry prepared a similar fate for it. From the nature of the ground and the superior numbers of the enemy's cavalry, all the combatants in these masses were cut down or taken prisoners; only two thousand men, chiefly, in all probability, the light troops and horsemen who were dispersed at the commencement, gained--while the Roman legions stood to be slaughtered--a start sufficient to enable them with difficulty to reach Clupea. Among the few prisoners was the consul himself, who afterwards died in Carthage; his family, under the idea that he had not been treated by the Carthaginians according to the usages of war, wreaked a most revolting vengeance on two noble Carthaginian captives, till even the slaves were moved to pity, and on their information the tribunes put a stop to the shameful outrage.(7)

Evacuation Of Africa

When the terrible news reached Rome, the first care of the Romans was naturally directed to the saving of the force shut up in Clupea.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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