Hampsicora, Rebel against Rome

This is the second in a series of Historical posts centered on Sardinia, Rome, and Italy. Detailed as this may seem, it is by no means a full account of Hannibal’s military progress against the Roman legions, nor his political/diplomatic attempt to lure Italian towns away from Rome and under his influence. The account of the situation in Sardinia is also presented here in skeletal terms.

Rome took control of Sardinia in the year 237 BCE.

Carthaginians had been in Sardinia for three hundred years prior to their defeat by Rome-ie at least since the 6th century BCE. Whether or not their presence in Sardinia, before the Mercenary War there, was peaceful or not, Sardinia apparently did not quietly accept Rome’s presence.

Rome’s consul for 238 BC was Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (ancestor of the populist reformer Gracchi brothers.) Tiberius brought a fleet and troops to Sardinia to make official the changeover of power. 

Three years later it was apparent that Gracchus had not been successful. The consul for 235 BCE was T Manlius Torquatus. He brought troops to Sardinia, fought there, and was awarded a triumph that year for victory over the Sardinians.

The consul for the year 234 was Sp Carvilius Maximus. Earlier in the year, P Cornelius, a praetor (governor) from Rome, had been sent to Sardinia. Trouble arose perhaps due to his harsh method of  collecting taxes. Then he was sickened by malaria, and died, along with many of his forces. So Consul Carvilius was sent to keep order, and was successful enough to also be awarded a triumph for his efforts.

In the year 233 BC Consul Pomponius Matho once again brought forces to Sardinia to quell unrest, and was awarded a triumph for his success.

Both consuls -M Aemilius Lepidus and M Publicius Malleolus- for the year 232 BC were sent to Sardinia. While they had some success, neither were awarded triumphs as they eventually lost ground.

A relative peace apparently descended on Sardinia for the next sixteen years. At least, there are no textual accounts among the ancient historians about further Roman military action. The Fasti record also does not list any further triumphs.

By the year 220 Hannibal was beginning to cross Spain into territory protected by Rome. Because of this, Rome declared war on Carthage c 218 BC and Hannibal began his march across the Alps down into Italy. He crushed Rome’s legions at Ticinus and Trebia at the end of 218. In 217 he gained a third victory at Trasimene.

As Quintus Fabius, the dictator, with his co-commander Minucius, began making some progress against Hannibal’s army, Roman consul Geminus reportedly sailed to Sardinia and Corsica with a fleet of 120 ships. Taking hostages from both islands (unclear as to how many) he continued on to Africa, where they plundered until driven off by natives.

Then in 216 came the battle of Cannae, on the Adriatic/eastern side of the Italian peninsula, just at the “ankle” of the boot. Hannibal so crushed Rome’s legions that there was fear they may never recover. At the same time, because of Hannibal’s successes some of the more southern towns and cities, including Capua-roughly 16 miles north of Naples-considered, or did, defect over to Hannibal.

News of these Carthaginian successes reached all the way to Sardinia. The Roman historian Livy wrote that Hannibal’s brother was bringing him reinforcements after Cannae. Livy suggests perhaps the Carthaginians might have considered retaking Sardinia. Remember, the historian Polybius had noted that the loss of Sardinia was a sore point for Hannibal, helping push him into invading Italy. Livy adds that the Sardinians were tired of Roman dominion, finding it harsh, with oppressive tribute and unfair levy of grain to feed Rome, particularly its legions.

This information, according to Livy 23.32, had been “covertly” sent to Carthage by some “leading Roman citizens” the prime mover among them being a man named Hampsicora, described as a man who then “far surpassed the others in influence and wealth.” The Carthaginians sent a commander by ship to Sardinia with reinforcements. Unfortunately for Carthage, their ships never arrived to Sardinia. Bad weather forced them off-course toward the Balearic Islands, and damaged them badly. 

Livy 23.34 tells that the retiring governor of Sardinia reported back to Rome that the “entire population had its mind set on war and rebellion.” His successor Quintus Mucius Scaevola on his arrival had fallen ill and thus unable to command any military forces needed. Titus Manlius Torquatus, who as consul in 235 had won a triumph over Sardinia, was sent with reinforcements from Rome.

Hampsicora and his son Hostus had meanwhile gathered a force and made camp. Leaving his son in command, Hampsicora, Livy 23.40 says, went to gather the mountain people called Sardi Pelliti and add them into his army. Manlius landed at southern Sardinia, and with his force of 22,000 infantry and 1200 cavalry marched close to the Sardinian camp, near the town of Cornus, near the mountain called Montiferru.

Hostus, we are told, was reckless and headstrong, and without waiting for his father or the intended reinforcements, engaged the Romans in battle. He was defeated and his army routed or killed. Hostus and survivors fled to Cornus. Then the Carthaginian reinforcements finally docked in the south. The land troops joined up with Hampsicora.

Manlius turned south and met them as they were engaged in plundering the Sardinian countryside (“the farmlands of allies of the Roman people” according to Livy.)

The Romans and Carthaginians battled, resulting in the Sardinians and Carthaginians being routed and many killed or captured. Among the captured were the Carthaginian commander.  Among the dead was Hampsicora’s son Hostus. Hampsicora had escaped with a few men, [[unclear as to his purpose for leaving]] but when he received word of the defeat and of his son’s death, he committed suicide, according to Livy. All the towns which may have aided Hampsicora and the Carthaginians gave hostages and surrendered to the Romans.

Hampsicora and his son Hostus also appear in the historical account by Silius Italicus (c 28-103 ACE). For all his defeat, Hampsicora has become a hero figure.





The Truceless, or Mercenary, War

With my birthplace, Sardinia, struggling under COVID-19 I am starting a series of short posts outlining events and people through Sardinia’s history.

I begin with an account of the “Truceless” War (a label bestowed by the historian Polybius) that occurred in Sardinia, after the end of the First Punic War between Rome and Carthage.

Polybius was a Greek historian, born c 208 BC and died c 125 BC. His account of Rome’s history comes from his close connection with the Roman aristocrat Scipio Aemilianus, adoptive grandson of Scipio The Great Africanus who had defeated Hannibal in 203 BC ending the Second Punic War.

Rome and Carthage (across the seas from Sicily, in northern Africa) fought each other in three wars, Rome victorious in each. Collectively, the three have been called the Punic Wars. The first war, also called the war for Sicily was fought between the years 264 and 241 BC (Before Common Era), or AUC 489 (Abs Urbe Condita, after the founding of Rome).

Since the 5th century BC, Carthage had held a portion of the island of Sicily and had also established garrisons and settlements on Sardinia.

When the first Punic War ended in 241 BC, the treaty between Rome and Carthage included these terms: that Carthage would evacuate the whole of Sicily and pay to Rome by installments over twenty years, the sum of two thousand two hundred (2200) Euboean talents.

A ten-man commission sent from Rome reduced the term of payments by half, added one thousand talents to the sum, and then also demanded that the Carthaginians evacuate “all islands lying between Sicily and Italy.” Note that Sardinia is not mentioned in any specific way, although Polybius gives the opinion that as soon as the Romans had begun to take an interest in the sea [[ie during the First War c 255 BC when they built a navy]] that the Romans tried to gain control of Sardinia. Reference Polybius Book 1.24, and 63-65.

The Carthaginian army had included many mercenary forces, according to Polybius from Iberia (modern peninsula of Spain), Celts (northern Italy otherwise unspecified origin), Ligurians (also northern Italy), the Balearic Islands, Greek “half-breeds”, Libyans and Numidians (from northern Africa.) With its defeat and its need to pay the war indemnity to Rome, Carthage found itself unable to pay these mercenary groups.

A revolt arose in North Africa among the mercenary forces gathered near Carthage awaiting their pay. The revolt was led by a runaway Roman slave from Campania, named Spendius, and a free Libyan named Mathos. From 241 BC into 239 BC, the rebellion gathered strength as the mercenaries besieged Utica and other cities and then Carthage itself.

While Carthage sent out its regular army forces against the mercenaries in North Africa, Sardinia was still under Carthaginian “governance.” Polybius is unclear as to just how many garrisons of these mercenaries existed on Sardinia, or how many mercenaries the island hosted.

In Book 1.79 Polybius relates how the Revolt in Sardinia played out. Note two things: words in italics come directly from Polybius’s account. Words within brackets are my own paraphrasing or clarifying.

As Carthage’s regular army was fighting the mercenaries in north Africa, the mercenaries garrisoning Sardinia heard [[somehow-Polybius does not clarify]] of the rebellion under Spendius and Mathos. They then rose up and attacked the “Carthaginians in the island” [

First, the mercenaries closed up the citadel (what structure or location this is, is not given) and then killed the commander of the foreign contingent, whom Polybius names as Bostarus) and his men. The Carthaginians, hearing of this revolt, managed to send over a fresh army force under command of a Carthaginian named Hanno. This force deserted to the mutineers and killed Hanno. [[Polybius does not say how Carthage learned of the Sardinian revolt or how long it took for that news to arrive. Perhaps as the mercenaries swarmed over town after town, some Carthaginians on the island, or “Punicized” Sardinians, sent messages to Carthage requesting aid. News of such pleas could have increased the ire of the mercenaries against the population.]]

The rebel mercenaries then “tortured and murdered all Carthaginians in the island [[taking]] all the towns into their power[Polybius does not specify where in Sardinia these attacks occur or how many are killed.]]

The mercenaries “continued to hold forcible possession of Sardinia” [[the entire island?]] until they “quarrelled with the natives and were driven out by them to Italy.”

Note–the indigenous population of Sardinia, the original inhabitants, Sardinians from towns and mountains alike, drove these armed mercenaries out of Sardinia, and the rebels then fled to the peninsula of Italy.

Polybius in 1.83 seems to infer that the mercenaries begged Rome to intervene in Sardinia while they were still on the island, perhaps on their behalf to keep them in power, or, for them to “guard” the island on Rome’s behalf. To its credit at that time, Rome refused. It also refused to accept the offer of surrender to Rome by the North African city of Utica.

The mercenaries in north Africa were still in battle against Carthage’s regular forces until finally Carthage defeated the mercenaries and Libya submitted once again to Carthage.

In 1.88 Polybius says that once the Mercenary War was over in North Africa, and the Sardinian mercenaries were now in Italy, then Rome sent an expedition to take control of Sardinia. This time, Rome did just that.

Carthage objected, saying Sardinia came under their sovereignty, and it began to form its own expedition to keep Sardinia. Rome then took this as pretext to war against Rome. Carthage backed down, and agreed to turn Sardinia over to Rome, agreeing to pay yet another indemnity of 1200 talents.

Sardinia then came under Rome’s control in the year 237 BC, four years after Carthage and Rome had ended what would be the first of three wars.

The above is a very bare-boned account of the Mercenary War.

An addendum note–Polybius is the nearest to a contemporary historian for these events. Cassius Dio, who lived centuries later, c 155 ACE (after Common Era) to c 235 ACE, told of these events with a few, significant, differences. Much of Dio’s work is now in fragments, some expanded upon by an even later, Byzantine, historian of the 12th century ACE, named Zonaras. In Dio/Zonaras, as the first Punic War ended, the Carthaginians refused to evacuate from Sicily AND from Sardinia. This later account also alleges also that the Romans were able to acquire Sardinia after accusing the Carthaginians of harming Roman shipping. Very little is said about the Mercenary War in either north Africa or in Sardinia.

In any event, Rome took Sardinia from Carthaginian’s governance, under questionable circumstances. Carthage could do nothing. Polybius, so much closer to the events, and even with his close connection to the family of the Roman general Scipio  who defeated Hannibal, wrote that in his opinion, the causes of the war by Hannibal against Rome, which began more than a decade later, could be traced back to the Truceless War, wherein Sardinia was taken over by Rome.

For more reading on the Punic Wars and the events in between I offer the following books-by no means exhaustive:

Histories of Polybius, Loeb Classical Library, digitally found at Lacus Curtius: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Polybius/1*.html

A Commentary on Polybius Vol I, by Frank Walbank, 1957 Oxford by Clarendon Press

A Truceless War: Carthage’s Fight for Survival, 241-237 BC by Dexter Hoyos, 2007 published by Brill

Unplanned Wars: Origins of the First and Second Punic Wars by Dexter Hoyos, 2012 published by De Gruyter

The First Punic War: A Military history by John Lazenby 1996 published by Routledge

A Companion to the Punic Wars ed Dexter Hoyos 2015 published by Wiley-Blackwell

NEXT up in the series: The Sardinian man Ampsicora Rebels against Rome

Geography of Italy

Geography often plays an important part in human history. Where a people plan to live, whether or not they fight for that land with other peoples, whether or not they expand out of that land to colonize nearby, or cross oceans to settle elsewhere-geography plays an important part.

The people of a land form a part of the geography, and also matter in the history of a land. Rome’s history brought it into contact, both peaceful and warlike, with the Etruscans, the Latin Sabines, Volscians, and Samnites, the Greeks in southern Italy beyond Naples, the Celtic Gauls in northern Italy, and in Rome’s first foray outside its own shores, Carthaginians in the waters around Sicily.

Sicily lay just off the boot of Italy, across the narrow Straits of Messina. The island had an indigenous population, and attracted attention from the eastern Mediterranean, and was settled by Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Greeks. While Sicily played no significant role in Rome’s history until it became a province in 238 BC (before Hannibal invaded), its history was filled with battles and political wranglings. Eventually the wars between Greeks and Carthaginians, and between various Greek tyrants on the island, spilled onto the Italian mainland. First the Greek cities in southern Italy became involved-then Rome was drawn in. One cannot ignore one’s neighbors and events outside one’s borders.

Sardinia lies off the western coast of Italy.  It had an indigenous population, the nuraghic culture, but was also settled by Phoenicians and Carthaginians. Sardinia played no role in Rome’s history until it became a province in 238. Before that, its Carthaginian presence involved it in the so-called Mercenary War. Sardinia’s role in Rome’s history after it became part of Rome’s empire differed from that of Sicily.

The Italian peninsula is shaped like a boot. The Etruscan people lived mostly in the north, while various groups of Latin peoples lived in the center of Italy. The Greeks settled in the south of italy, from Naples down through and into the toe and the heel of the boot. The Greeks invariably came into conflict with other Latin peoples like the Samnites, who migrated south. Rome became involved in their business in the early 3rd century.

The Alps mountain range separates Italy from France and Austria. Celtic tribesmen crossed the Alps and settled in the rich Po Valley, named for the longest River in Italy. The Gauls marched to Rome and at some point in the late 4th century, sacked Rome. They also met and pushed out the Etruscans. The region of the Po valley became known as Cisalpine Gaul. In the fourth quarter of the 3rd century, Hannibal the Carthaginian general crossed the Alps from France and rampaged south through Italy. The Po River starts in the western Italian Alps, and flows west to east emptying into the Adriatic. The cities of Parma, Ravenna, Felsina (modern Bologna) were established here by the Etruscans.  One of the cities established there by a group of Gauls was Mediolanum (modern Milan).

The Apennines mountain range is said to form the spine for the Italian peninsula. The mountains begin in northwestern Italy in the area called Liguria, and run southeast, for a third of their length, thus forming the headwaters of the Tiber River which runs southwest to the Mediterranean Sea. The first two battles Hannibal waged in Italy against Rome, at Ticinus and Trebia, were fought in this first part of the Appenine range. They then run more or less south down the eastern side of Italy, leaving a narrow strip of land to the east, but a wider stretch of land along the west.

It is on this western side, the regions called Etruria and Latium that Latin and Etruscan cities such as Lavinium, Alba Longa, Caere, Veii, Tarquinii, Fidenae, Gabii, Praeneste, and of course, Rome near the mouth of the Tiber when it emptied into the Mediterranean,  were established. The land here opened into plain and hill country, suitable for pasturing sheep, pigs, goats and cattle. The soil was rich and fertile, due to the activity of a line of volcanoes in western Italy, no longer active today. The people with whom Romulus associated for much of his youth were shepherds and herdsmen. The region known as Etruria, north of Latium, was bounded by the Arno and Tiber rivers and by the Apennines. Its rich deposits of iron and copper helped encourage the Etruscans to become skilled and famous for their metalcraft. Latium lay between Etruria and Campania, where the Greeks began settling as early as the date of Rome’s founding. The Apennines turn back toward the Mediterranean, after Campania, and end in Bruttium, in the toe of Italy’s boot. The plain of Apulia stretches down the heel of Italy. Here, at Cannae, Hannibal gave the Romans a disastrous defeat. But it was also here that the Roman legions began anew thereafter.

More on Rome in the Next post.

Rome First Rulers were Seven Kings

For 255 years, according to the historians Livy, Dionysius Halikarnassus, and Plutarch, Rome was ruled by kings.  Modern scholars question the exactness of this king-list as to the length of the reigns, whether or other men also ruled as formally acclaimed as kings, or were merely warlord chiefs who conquered Rome for a time.

But for now, we must begin with the seven kings of Rome.

Romulus-the traditional founder of Rome who was a very fortunate warrior-king. Rome still celebrates April 21 as its birthday, the exact date that Romulus is said to have begun building the city. He reigns for 37 years, a small part of which is in partner-rule with the Sabine king Titus Tatius. The highlights of his reign are the betrayal that allows the Sabines to capture the Capitoline fortress, the “abduction-rape” of the Sabine women, and all Romulus’ military victories. Tatius and Romulus had been at war, and Tatius had occupied the fortress heights, before he and Romulus became co-kings. In scenes reminiscent of the story of Lysistrata, the Sabine women, now wives and mothers of Rome, walk onto a raging battlefield to end the bloodshed between their fathers, brothers, and husbands. The rich spoils Romulus brings home from his conquests do not stop the wealthy men of Rome from plotting against his life.

Numa Pompilius is a Sabine from the same city Tatius ruled. In fact, Numa was Tatius’ son-in-law. While Tatius ruled with Romulus, he was murdered, and Romulus may have been slow to bring his killers to justice. Perhaps that helped Numa be reluctant to become king in Rome after Romulus was gone. But he did—reigning for 43 years as a priest-king under whom Rome knew only peace.

Tullus Hostilius was a fierce warrior-king of Rome, from a city that Romulus had earlier conquered. The history of his 32-year reign is filled with war between Alba and Rome, secret conspiracies and betrayals of Rome by a pledged ally, and a battle-duel between two sets of triplet cousins- one Alban, one Roman- which leads to victory for Rome and the total destruction of Alba. It also ends in a heartbreaking family tragedy-which tangentially highlights some of the cultural mores of the time.

Ancus Marcius is Numa’s maternal grandson and thus another Sabine. By this time, cities that had treaties of peace with Rome’s earlier kings now decide that those treaties no longer have effect, and so Ancus takes Rome again into war. His 24-year reign is most notable because of the appearance in Rome of the Etruscan Tarquinius Priscus, grandfather of the last king of Rome. Priscus becomes a close friend and advisor to Ancus, even being appointed guardian for his sons.

Tarquinius Priscus becomes king of Rome, expelling the sons of Ancus. It is interesting to note that the revolt that eventually brings down his grandson Superbus is engineered by descendants of Priscus and his brother-making the fall of the monarchy one of history’s earliest royal family squabbles. Priscus is another warrior-king of Rome, fighting Latins and Etruscans at various times. During his 38-year reign, Servius Tullius, the next king of Rome is born in Priscus’ palace to a Roman captive servant.

Servius Tullius had humble origins, supposedly born to a servant in the Roman palace. He grows to become a trusted officer in Priscus’ army, and when Priscus is murdered in a plot by Ancus’ sons, his Etruscan wife sets up Servius to become the new king. He reign for 44 years, and new walls of Rome, divisions of the classes and army, are all attributed to Servius. Emperor Claudius, who was fascinated with Etruscan history, referred to Servius in a speech as having possibly been an Etruscan mercenary chief-an interesting fictional path to tread, to be sure.

Tarquinius Superbus is the last traditional king of Rome. He was depicted as a tyrant in the Greek style, lecherous, arrogant, and cruel-and his sons were no better. The commonly held story of his fall was that a beautiful honorable Roman matron was raped by his son, and her subsequent suicide inspired a group of Roman patricians to rebel and oust Superbus from the throne. Some research into Etruscan artifacts has presented a theory that Lucretia may have been engaged in an affair with Sextus, which proved a good excuse for her husband’s cousin to finally act on his own high ambitions. The ringleaders of this revolt are in fact close Tarquin relatives. The expelled Superbus seeks the help of the Etruscan king Lars Porsena, who invades Rome’s territory, occupies the Janiculum hill and, according to later Roman writers, may in fact have actually conquered Rome for a time. Porsena also takes some of the noble Roman youths as hostages, and one of these, Cloelia, becomes famous for engineering their rescue back to Rome, but then as a point of honor she returns to Porsena to remain a hostage.