Friday 31 October 2014

Hannibal Episode 71 Preview

Hello and welcome to A History Of – Hannibal and the Punic Wars. Episode 71 – Scipio in Spain. “A word on the site of the site of New Carthage: about half-way down the east coast of Spain there is a bay, open to the south-west; it runs about two and a half miles inland and in breadth is some three hundred yards less. At the mouth of the inlet a small island protects the anchorage from all winds except the south-west. From the head of the bag a peninsula runs out, high land, on which the town was built. Thus the town has sea to the east and south of it, while on its western and part of its northern sides it is surrounded by a lagoon in which the depth of water varies with the ebb and flow of the tide. It is connected with the mainland by a ridge about 250 yards wide. Fortification on this side would have involved little labour, but Scipio none the less had no earthwork constructed, perhaps out of ostentation, to show the enemy his confidence, perhaps to leave the way back unobstructed every time he had need to approach the walls.” Livy, Book 26, Chapter 42. I thought this quote would be the best way to kick start episode 71 as we left Scipio at the walls of New Carthage. That, and I would also like to begin with a correction of sorts as I didn’t check my footnotes when writing the end of last week. I said that Scipio and Laelius travelled from the Ebro to New Carthage in 7 days, but as the footnotes of my translation make clear Polybius writes that these two locations are 325 miles apart, which of course makes the 7 day travel time found in Livy a bit incredulous to say the least. As much as historians don’t like to admit it, an awful lot of the time the sources give information which disagree completely, meaning that either one or both sources is talking nonsense. For instance, Caesar writes in his commentaries on the Gallic War that he conquered 400 tribes. Then Cassius Dio writes that tribes varied size, with the largest having 200,000 fighting men and the smallest having 50,000. If we take an average then, the average tribe would have 125,000 fighting men. Now, to take into account women, children and those in old age we can multiply this figure by 4, giving an average tribe size of 500,000. Now, there were 400 tribes in Gaul, which, so it logically follows, means that when Caesar conquered Gaul there was a population of 200,000,000 people. 200 million people. 3 times the population of modern France. Just a nice, happy reminder that we really don’t know that much about anything.  Now, back to New Carthage.

Scipio prepared for the attack by stationing the fleet in the harbour, and the army right by the city so the townspeople would know that they were surrounded on all sides. We have lost the beginnings of the attack, so the first thing we know to have happened was that Mago, the commander in the town, but not one of the three Carthaginian generals in the peninsula, so began to organise a defence, sending out some troops to combat the Romans. The Romans drew back so that they would be nearer their reserves and could rapidly rotate troops, something which gave then a huge advantage and they successfully pushed the Carthaginians back. Scipio could see that now the walls were undefended, and so he launched an attack with ladders from both land and sea. The Romans launched the assault, but there was enough time for the Carthaginians to re-man the walls and to gather missiles, but the most useful factor in the defence of the city proved to be the walls. They were very high, and most of the Roman ladders were unable to reach the top, and those that could were extremely unstable. The first attack did not go particularly well, but as soon as it was over Scipio prepared for a second assault.