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.