147 B.C.

To 150 B.C.149 B.C.148 B.C.147 B.C.146 B.C.

The following timeline includes some of the more important events that took place during the third year of the Third Punic War, with references to relevant passages within our principal ancient sources.

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YEAR: 147 B.C.

CONSULS: P. Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus, G. Livius Drusus

147, Part I: Scipio’s Return

Early in the year, the new consul Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus sails from Rome to Utica by way of Sicily, ready to assume overall command of the war against Carthage; his entourage includes Gaius Laelius, Gaius Fannius, the young plebeian aristocrat Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and the Greek historian Polybius (Appian 113, 126, 132; Plutarch, Tiberius Gracchus 4.5; Polybius 38.19-22)

The outgoing commander Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus launches one final assault on the Carthaginians, laying siege to a town in the interior; Lucius Hostilius Mancinus is left in charge of the Roman naval blockade around Carthage herself (Appian 113)

Observing a poorly defended stretch of seaward wall around the Carthaginian district of Megara, Mancinus launches an audacious attack with 500 soldiers and a party of 3,000 unarmed sailors, overwhelming the small band of defenders stationed there; lacking provisions and quickly realising the precariousness of his situation, the unprepared legatus sends for help from Utica and spends the night with his men on a defensible perch near the cliff wall (Appian 113; Livy, Periochae 51.1; Cassius Dio 21.29)

Scipio arrives at Utica on the evening of the assault; around midnight, he receives word of Mancinus’ plight and immediately begins preparations for a rescue (Appian 114)

The following morning, a large Carthaginian force attacks Mancinus’ party from all sides, threatening to push the Romans over the precipice and into the churning sea below; the arrival of Scipio’s fleet forces a Carthaginian withdrawal and the raiders are taken to safety; Mancinus is promptly bundled off to Rome and his successor, Atilius Serranus, takes command of the fleet (Appian 114; but see Cassius Dio 21.29 for a somewhat different version of events)

Scipio sets up camp not far from Carthage; the defenders advance half a mile from the city wall and establish a fortified position directly opposite the Roman camp, where they are soon reinforced by 6,000 footsoldiers and 1,000 cavalrymen under the command of Hasdrubal and Bithya (Appian 114)

Disgusted by the degenerate moral state of the Roman army, Scipio addresses the assembled troops, promising that “[t]hose who obey shall reap large rewards” while “those who do not will repent it”; the legions are purged of useless camp-followers and luxuries in order to restore discipline (Appian 115-117)

In a daring night attack, Scipio successfully breaks into Megara with 4,000 legionaries, sowing panic among the Carthaginians and forcing them to retreat to the fortified citadel of Byrsa; alarmed, the defenders encamped just outside the city walls rush back into the city and quickly join their comrades, fearing that the rest of the city is lost (Appian 117; Cassius Dio 21.29)

The Romans discover that Megara, an agricultural suburb of Carthage, is “full of fruit-bearing trees divided off by low walls, hedges, and brambles, besides deep ditches full of water running in every direction”, all of which only add to the dangers associated with fighting in darkness; unwilling to run the risk of an ambush in unfamiliar territory, Scipio orders his men to withdraw (Appian 117)

The following morning, an enraged Hasdrubal orders the public torture and execution of all Roman prisoners in his custody, hoping to strengthen the Carthaginians’ willingness to fight by removing all hope of peace with Rome; when his actions backfire and draw only fierce condemnation from members of Carthage’s Senate, the commander puts some of the dissenters to death and begins to rule “more like a tyrant than a general” (Appian 118; Cassius Dio 21.29)

147, Part II: The Noose Tightens

Under Scipio’s orders, the abandoned enemy camp is burned to the ground and work begins on a land blockade to cut Carthage off from the rest of its territories; in just twenty days, and in the face of continued harassment from Carthaginian forces, the Romans complete a formidable series of fortifications consisting of a rectangular enclosure surrounded by trenches and twelve-foot-high palisades stretching all the way across the isthmus (Appian 119)

Scipio moves his legions into the new enclosure and, using it as his base of operations, intercepts “all the supplies sent to the Carthaginians from the interior, since Carthage was everywhere washed by the sea except on this neck”; the few supplies sent by the cavalry commander Bithya that manage to slip through the Roman naval blockade are reserved only for Hasdrubal and his 30,000 active soldiers, leaving the civilian population hungry and miserable (Polybius 38.8; Appian 119-120; Diodorus Siculus 32.22; Cassius Dio 21.29)

To complete his blockade, Scipio orders the construction of an enormous embankment that would close the mouth of Carthage’s merchant harbour; in response the defenders secretly dig out a new entrance for their military harbour and build a fleet of triremes and quinqueremes from scratch (Appian 121; Livy, Periochae 51.2; Cassius Dio 21.29; Florus 1.31.14-15)

Carthage’s last fleet sails out of the military harbour and assaults the Roman navy; although successful at first, the Carthaginians are eventually defeated and most of their ships are lost (Appian 122-123; Livy, Periochae 51.2; Florus 1.31.14-15)

Scipio launches an attack on the quay attached to Carthage’s merchant harbour, sending rams and other siege engines to assail the parapet that the defenders had erected there; under the cover of night, Carthaginians bearing lighted torches wade over to the Roman position and set the siege engines ablaze, sowing panic and confusion among the attacking legionaries; Scipio rides out with a cavalry squadron and orders them to slay “those [Romans] who would not desist from flight” (Appian 124; Florus 1.31.15)

At daybreak, the Carthaginians attempt to rebuilt their defensive parapet on the quay; Scipio’s men move in for another battle and drive away the defenders, then proceed to erect a brick wall of the same height as the Carthaginian one; from this new structure 4,000 Romans continuously harass the defenders with darts and javelins (Appian 125)

early winter: With Gulussa and Gaius Laelius as his lieutenants, Scipio initiates a combined land and sea attack on the Carthaginian field army — then under the command of Hasdrubal’s successor Diogenes — wintering near Nepheris; the Roman operation is successful and the camp and, after a 22-day siege, the city itself are taken; in the course of the assault some 70,000 people, including non-combatants, are slaughtered and 10,000 are taken prisoner while only 4,000 manage to escape (Appian 126; Livy, Periochae 51.3)

After the fall of Nepheris and the utter annihilation of Hasdrubal’s remaining land forces, most of Carthage’s remaining allies and territories either surrender to Rome or are taken without difficulty; the beleaguered city is now completely isolated and running dangerously short of supplies (Appian 126)

Hasdrubal meets with Gulussa and offers to submit to any terms that might be imposed by Scipio, provided that the city and all of its inhabitants are spared; Scipio replies a few days later with a guarantee of safety for Hasdrubal, his family, and the families of ten of his friends along with permission to keep ten talents of his personal fortune and as many as a hundred slaves of his choice, but the Carthaginian general proudly refuses the offer (Polybius 38.7-8; Diodorus Siculus 32.22; Cassius Dio 21.30)

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To 150 B.C.149 B.C.148 B.C.147 B.C.146 B.C.

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