Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Hannibal's Attack on Saguntum - by Livy (218/9 BC)

Livy relates the terrible story of the attack and conquest of Saguntum by Hannibal (Livy XX1 21.7-15 ).

…After carrying his ravages everywhere throughout the territory, Hannibal attacked the city from three separate points. There was an angle of the fortifications which looked down on a more open and level descent than the rest of the ground surrounding the city, and here he decided to bring up his vineae to allow the battering rams to be placed against the walls. But although the ground to a considerable distance from the walls was sufficiently level to admit of the vineae being brought up, they found when they had succeeded in doing this that they made no progress. A huge tower overlooked the place, and the wall, being here more open to attack, had been carried to a greater height than the rest of the fortifications.

As the position was one of especial danger, so the resistance offered by a picked body of defenders was of the most resolute character. At first they confined themselves to keeping the enemy back by the discharge of missiles and making it impossible for them to continue their operations in safety. As time went on, however, their weapons no longer flashed on the walls or from the tower, they ventured on a sortie and attacked the outposts and siege works of the enemy. In these irregular encounters the Carthaginians lost nearly as many men as the Saguntines. Hannibal himself, approaching the wall somewhat incautiously, fell with a severe wound in his thigh from a javelin, and such was the confusion and dismay that ensued that the vineae and siege works were all but abandoned.

For a few days, until the general's wound was healed, there was a blockade rather than an active siege, and during this interval, though there was a respite from fighting, the construction of siege works and approaches went on uninterruptedly. When the fighting was resumed it was fiercer than ever. In spite of the difficulties of the ground the vineae were advanced and the battering rams placed against the walls. The Carthaginians had the superiority in numbers-there were said to have been 150,000 fighting men-whilst the defenders, obliged to keep watch and ward everywhere, were dissipating their strength and finding their numbers unequal to the task.

The walls were now being pounded by the rams, and in many places had been shaken down. One part where a continuous fall had taken place laid the city open; three towers in succession, and the whole of the wall between them fell with a tremendous crash. The Carthaginians looked upon the town as already captured after that fall, and both sides rushed through the breach as though the wall had only served to protect them from each other. There was nothing of the desultory fighting which goes on when cities are stormed, as each side gets an opportunity of attacking the other. The two bodies of combatants confronted one another in the space between the ruined wall and the houses of the city in as regular formation as though they had been in an open field. On the one side there was the courage of hope, on the other the courage of despair. The Carthaginians believed that with a little effort on their part the city would be theirs; the Saguntines opposed their bodies as a shield for their fatherland now stripped of its walls; not a man relaxed his foothold for fear of letting an enemy in through the spot which he had left open.

So the hotter and closer the fighting became the greater grew the number of wounded, for no missile fell ineffectively amongst the crowded ranks. The missile used by the Saguntines was the phalarica, a javelin with a shaft smooth and round up to the head, which, as in the pilum, was an iron point of square section. The shaft was wrapped in tow and then smeared with pitch; the iron head was three feet long and capable of penetrating armour and body alike. Even if it only stuck in the shield and did not reach the body it was a most formidable weapon, for when it was discharged with the tow set on fire the flame was fanned to a fiercer heat by its passage through the air, and it forced the soldier to throw away his shield and left him defenceless against the sword thrusts which followed.

The conflict had now gone on for a considerable time without any advantage to either side; the courage of the Saguntines was rising as they found themselves keeping up an unhoped-for resistance, whilst the Carthaginians, unable to conquer, were beginning to look upon themselves as defeated. Suddenly the defenders, raising their battle-shout, forced the enemy back to the debris of the ruined wall; there, stumbling and in disorder, they were forced still further back and finally driven in rout and flight to their camp.

Meantime it was announced that envoys had arrived from Rome. Hannibal sent messengers down to the harbour to meet them and inform them that it would be unsafe for them to advance any further through so many wild tribes now in arms, and also that Hannibal in the present critical position of affairs had no time to receive embassies. It was quite certain that if they were not admitted they would go to Carthage. He therefore forestalled them by sending messengers with a letter addressed to the heads of the Barcine party, to warn his supporters and prevent the other side from making any concessions to Rome.

Hannibal's men were worn out with the fighting and the labours of the siege, and after placing detachments on guard over the vineae and other military engines, he gave his army a few days' rest. He employed this interval in stimulating the courage of his men by exasperating them against the enemy, and firing them by the prospect of rewards. After he had given out in the presence of his assembled troops that the plunder of the city would go to them, they were all in such a state of excitement that had the signal been given then and there it seemed impossible for anything to withstand them.

As for the Saguntines, though they had a respite from fighting for some days, neither meeting attacks nor making any, they worked at their defences so continuously by day and night that they completed a fresh wall at the place where the fall of the former wall had laid the town open.

The assault was recommenced with greater vigour than ever. In every direction confused shouts and clamour resounded, so that it was difficult to ascertain where to render assistance most promptly or where it was most needed. Hannibal was present in person to encourage his men, who were bringing up a tower on rollers which overtopped all the fortifications of the city. Catapults and ballistae had been put in position on each of the stories, and after it had been brought up to the walls it swept them clear of the defenders.

Seizing his opportunity, Hannibal told off about 500 African troops to undermine the wall with pick-axes, an easy task, as the stones were not fixed with cement but with layers of mud between the courses in the ancient fashion of construction. More of it consequently fell than had been dug away, and through the gaping ruin the columns of armed warriors marched into the city. They seized some high ground, and after massing their catapults and ballistae there they enclosed it with a wall so as to have a fortified position actually within the city which could dominate it like a citadel.

The Saguntines on their side carried an inside wall round the portion of the city not yet captured. Both sides kept up their fortifying and fighting with the utmost energy, but by having to defend the interior portion of the city the Saguntines were continually reducing its dimensions. In addition to this there was a growing scarcity of everything as the siege was prolonged, and the anticipations of outside help were becoming fainter; the Romans, their one hope, were so far away, whilst all immediately round them was in the hands of the enemy. For a few days their drooping spirits were revived by the sudden departure of Hannibal on an expedition against the Oretani and the Carpetani. The rigorous way in which troops were being levied in these two tribes had created great excitement, and they had kept the officers who were superintending the levy practically prisoners. A general revolt was feared, but the unexpected swiftness of Hannibal's movements took them by surprise and they abandoned their hostile attitude.

…The attack on Saguntum was not slackened; Maharbal, the son of Himilco, whom Hannibal had left in command, carried on operations with such energy that the general's absence was not felt by either friends or foes. He fought several successful actions, and with the aid of three battering rams brought down a considerable portion of the wall, and on Hannibal's return showed him the place all strewn with the newly-fallen wall. The army was at once led to an assault on the citadel; a desperate fight began, with heavy losses on both sides, and a part of the citadel was captured.

Attempts were now made in the direction of peace, though with but faint hopes of success. Two men undertook the task, Alco, a Saguntine, and Alorcus, a Spaniard. Alco, thinking that his prayers might have some effect, crossed over without the knowledge of the Saguntines to Hannibal at night. When he found that he gained nothing by his tears, and that the conditions offered were such as a victor exasperated by resistance would insist upon, harsh and severe, he laid aside the character of a pleader and remained with the enemy as a deserter, alleging that any one who advocated peace on such terms would be put to death. The conditions were that restitution should be made to the Turdetani, all the gold and silver should be delivered up, and the inhabitants should depart with one garment each and take up their abode wherever the Carthaginians should order them.

As Alco insisted that the Saguntines would not accept peace on these terms, Alorcus, convinced, as he said, that when everything else has gone courage also goes, undertook to mediate a peace on those conditions. At that time he was one of Hannibal's soldiers, but he was recognised as a guest friend by the city of Saguntum. He started on his mission, gave up his weapon openly to the guard, crossed the lines, and was at his request conducted to the praetor of Saguntum. A crowd, drawn from all classes of society, soon gathered, and after a way had been cleared through the press, Alorcus was admitted to an audience of the senate. He addressed them in the following terms:

"If your fellow-townsman, Alco, had shown the same courage in bringing back to you the terms on which Hannibal will grant peace that he showed in going to Hannibal to beg for peace, this journey of mine would have been unnecessary. I have not come to you either as an advocate for Hannibal or as a deserter. But as he has remained with the enemy either through your fault or his own-his own if his fears were only feigned, yours if those who report what is true have to answer for their lives-I have come to you out of regard to the old ties of hospitality which have so long subsisted between us, that you may not be left in ignorance of the fact that there do exist terms on which you can secure peace and the safety of your lives. Now, that it is for your sake alone and not on behalf of any one else that I say what I am saying before you is proved by the fact that as long as you had the strength to maintain a successful resistance, and as long as you had any hopes of help from Rome, I never breathed a word about making peace. But now that you have no longer anything to hope for from Rome, now that neither your arms nor your walls suffice to protect you, I bring you a peace forced upon you by necessity rather than recommended by the fairness of its conditions. But the hopes, faint as they are, of peace rest upon your accepting as conquered men the terms which Hannibal as conqueror imposes and not looking upon what is taken from you as a positive loss, since everything is at the victor's mercy, but regarding what is left to you as a free gift from him. The city, most of which he has laid in ruins, the whole of which he has all but captured, he takes from you; your fields and lands he leaves you; and he will assign you a site where you can build a new town. He orders all the gold and silver, both that belonging to the State and that owned by private individuals, to be brought to him; your persons and those of your wives and children he preserves inviolate on condition that you consent to leave Saguntum with only two garments apiece and without arms. These are the demands of your victorious enemy, and heavy and bitter as they are, your miserable plight urges you to accept them. I am not without hope that when everything has passed into his power he will relax some of these conditions, but I consider that even as they are you ought to submit to them rather than permit yourselves to be butchered and your wives and children seized and carried off before your eyes."

A large crowd had gradually collected to listen to the speaker, and the popular Assembly had become mingled with the senate, when without a moment's warning the leading citizens withdrew before any reply was given. They collected all the gold and silver from public and private sources and brought it into the forum, where a fire had already been kindled, and flung it into the flames, and most of them thereupon leaped into the fire themselves. The terror and confusion which this occasioned throughout the city was heightened by the noise of a tumult in the direction of the citadel. A tower after much battering had fallen, and through the breach created by its fall a Carthaginian cohort advanced to the attack and signalled to their commander that the customary outposts and guards had disappeared and the city was unprotected. Hannibal thought that he ought to seize the opportunity and act promptly. Attacking it with his full strength, he took the place in a moment. Orders had been given that all the adult males were to be put to death; a cruel order, but under the circumstances inevitable, for whom would it have been possible to spare when they either shut themselves up with their wives and children and burnt their houses over their heads, or if they fought, would not cease fighting till they were killed?

An enormous amount of booty was found in the captured city. Although most of it had been deliberately destroyed by the owners, and the enraged soldiers had observed hardly any distinctions of age in the universal slaughter, whilst all the prisoners that were taken were assigned to them, still, it is certain that a considerable sum was realised by the sale of the goods that were seized, and much valuable furniture and apparel was sent to Carthage. Some writers assert that Saguntum was taken in the eighth month of the siege, and that Hannibal led his force from there to New Carthage for the winter, his arrival in Italy occurring five months later.

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