What Was the Role of Hispanian Tribesmen in the Second Punic War?

During the Second Punic War, Rome and Carthage contended with each other for the loyalty and support of the native Spanish Tribes.

When Hannibal’s father, Hamilcar Barca, came to Spain to establish Carthaginian hegemony, he encountered resistance from some of the tribes. In fact, he was killed in a conflict with the Carpetani, a large Hispanian tribe. His successor, his son-in-law Hasdrubal the Fair, attempted to conciliate and make alliances with the tribes. He encouraged his high born Carthaginian nobles to marry high born tribeswomen, and, in fact, Hannibal married Imilce, the Princess of Castulo. Evidently there was still discontent among the Hispanian population; Hasdrubal the fair was assassinated by a Celtiberian tribesman eight years after he came to power. Hamalcar Barca’s eldest son Hannibal was then 26 and he assumed command of Carthaginian forces in Spain. He spent his first year brutally putting down rebellions among the tribes. He developed some of the strategies he eventually used on the Romans during battle with the Carpetani, whom he soundly defeated despite being seriously outnumbered.

Hasdrubal the Fair had made an agreement with the Romans that Carthage would confine its activities in Spain to south of the Iberus River, and that Rome would be free to operate north of that river. The Romans considered northern Hispania to be within their sphere of influence.

In 219 B.C. Hannibal attacked and besieged Saguntum. Saguntum was well south of the Iberus, but was an ally of Rome, and they appealed to Rome for protection. The Romans sent a delegation to Carthage to protest, but was not in a position militarily to come to the aid of the Saguntines. At the time they were tied up in Illuria. The city fell after eight months of siege, and the inhabitants were all killed or sold into slavery. Rome demanded that the Carthaginian Senate disown Hannibal and turn him over to Rome for punishment. When the Carthaginians refused, Rome declared war.

The Roman delegation, which included Fabius Maximus, Marcus Livius and Lucius Aemilius Paullus returned from Carthage via Hispania and attempted to persuade the tribes en route to support the Romans rather than the Carthaginians. The Roman Historian Livy quotes one of their leaders, the Chieftain of the Volciani, declining, saying “What sense of shame have ye, Romans, to ask us that we prefer your friendship to that of the Carthaginians when you, their allies, betrayed the Saguntines with greater cruelty than that with which the Carthaginians, their enemies destroyed them? Methinks you should look for allies where the massacre of Saguntum is unknown. The ruins of Saguntum will remain a warning, as melancholy as memorable, to the states of Hispania, that no one should confide in the faith or alliance of Rome.”

After destroying Saguntum, Hannibal recruited tens of thousands of Hispanian tribesmen for his planned invasion of Italy. Probably, a majority of the soldiers who left Spain and marched with Hannibal were Hispanian tribesmen. He left his brother, Hasdrubal, in charge of southern Hispania and stationed another Carthaginian general, Hanno with ten thousand soldiers in the north.

The Roman Consul for 218 B.C., Publius Cornelius Scipio (The father of Scipio Africanus) intended to bring his legions to northern Hispania and establish a military base there. However, while in southern Gall he discovered that Hannibal and his men were already on their way to the Alps, and he decided to return to Italy, take command of legions stationed in northern Italy, and confront Hannibal when he arrived. He figured that Hannibal’s forces would be much depleted and weakened by their arduous journey across the Alps. He sent his brother, Gneius Cornelius Scipio on to northern Hispania with the bulk of their legions. Gneius Scipio established a base camp at Emporion, and was fairly successful at making alliances with the tribes of Northern Spain. Unfortunately, the Ilergetes and Lacetani, under the chieftains Indibilis and his brother Mandonius, remained staunchly loyal to Carthage.

Unfortunately for the Romans, Hispanian mercenaries could be bribed to change sides, and the Carthaginians, with their highly productive silver mines in Southern Hispania, were in a far better position to do that than the Romans were. In 211 B.C. Gneius Scipio hired 20,000 Celtiberian tribesmen as mercenaries and traveled south to confront the Carthaginian forces on the Upper Baetis River. Having been paid off by Hasdrubal, the mercenaries deserted, leaving Gneius Scipio with only 10,000 men. They were soon nearly annihilated by the Carthaginians and their allies, the Numidian Masinissa, and the forces of Indibilis and Mandonius. His brother, Publius Scipio had been killed along with most of his own forces in a battle a few weeks before. Out of some 32 thousand Roman legionaries only about eight thousand survived these two battles.

The relationship between Carthage and the Hispanian tribes who were there allies was not as cozy as one might expect. The Carthagians required high born hostages from its various allies and kept them at New Carthage. When Publius Cornelius Scipio arrived in Hispania to take his deceased father and uncle’s place, the first thing he did was besiege and conquer New Carthage. He found hundreds of hostages there, including the wife of Mandonius and the daughters of Indibilis! He treated them well and sent them back to their various tribes. This enabled him to make alliances with many of the tribes that had served the Carthaginians previously. Even Indibilis and Mandonius agreed to ally with Rome for a time. (He had plenty of trouble with them later, however.)

Within four years Scipio had completely driven the Carthaginians out of Hispania. Rome established two provinces there, Nearer and Farther Spain. It took Rome about 150 years, however, to totally subdue Hispanian resistance to their rule.

Robin Levin

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