Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Hannibal Attacks Saguntum (218/9 BC)

The ruins of Saguntum
Hannibal's attach on Saguntum triggered the Second Punic War.

More than twenty years had elapsed since the termination of the First Punic War (264-241), during which period the Carthaginians had recovered their strength, and had obtained possession of the greater part of Spain; and now a favourable opportunity had arrived for renewing the war with the Romans.

About 225 BC, the Romans, disquieted by the growth of Carthaginian power in Iberia, concluded an alliance with the Carthaginian general Hasdrubal (Hannibal's brother-in-law) that guaranteed the independence of Saguntum and required his forces not to cross the Río Ebro (Iberus) - which was north of Saguntum.

However, when the small city of Saguntum, approached Rome asking for Roman friendship and alliance, the Romans must have relished having a friendly ally to help to monitor Carthaginian expansion in Iberia.

Saguntum (or Sagunto) is now called Murviedro (a corruption of muri veteres), just north-northeast of Valencia city, about three miles from the coast in eastern Spain, at the foot of the Peñas de Pajarito, on the western bank of the Río Palancia (Palantias),

Of Iberian origin, the ancient Saguntum, is said to have been founded by Greek colonists from Zákinthos (Zante; whence its name). It was  later a town of the Edetani or Sedetani. The ruins of a theatre and a temple of Bacchus still exist at Murviedro; the town was celebrated for its manufacture of beautiful cups.

After Hannibal assumed power in Spain (in 221 BC at the age of around 26) he gave the Saguntines a wide berth for he wished to avoid coming into conflict with Rome prematurely. Saguntum was indeed south of the Ebro but, as the Romans had "friendship" (though perhaps not an actual treaty) with the city, Hannibal must have expected that a Carthaginian attack on it would be regarded as an act of aggression by the Romans.

The Saguntines were over-confident of their new alliance and began playing politics with other Spanish cities.

In 219 BC Hannibal made his move - no doubt long-planned - and attacked Saguntum. However, the siege of Saguntum lasted eight months - probably much longer than was planned - and although the town was taken Hannibal was severely wounded. This delay meant that the plan for the invasion of Italy was set back.

During the siege, envoys from Rome had arrived to protest the attack. Rome then complained directly to Carthage, demanding Hannibal's surrender. This demand was rejected, triggering the Roman declaration of the Second Punic War.

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