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