In 247 BC, in an effort to break the deadlock, a new commander was sent from Carthage to take over the troops in Sicily. Hamilcar would live up to his nickname, ‘Barca’, which appears to have meant ‘Lightning’ or ‘Flash’. The situation that faced him was grim. Carthage was confined to just two strongholds, while the remainder of the island was controlled by Rome and its allies. What was more, Hamilcar had few troops and no money to hire any fresh mercenaries. As one historian has recently put it, ‘Realistically then, his [Hamilcar’s] task was not so much to win the war as to avoid losing it.’

After first bringing his mutinous troops into line by executing the ringleaders, Hamilcar was ready to make his presence felt. After a first attack on an island close to Drepana was easily rebuffed, he wisely switched to softer targets with which to boast his own prestige and his troops’ morale. He launched a naval raid on the southern toe of the Italian peninsula, where there were no Roman forces. But Hamilcar Barca’s real genius lay not on the battlefield, where he appears to have been a proficient but not exceptional tactician, but in knowing how to generate an appropriate public image for himself. Faced with the overwhelming military superiority of the enemy, a hit-and-run strategy was to some extent forced upon him, but that strategy nevertheless suited a man who appears to have appreciated profoundly the symbolic capital which could accrue through a series of eye-catching, if strategically pointless, raids.

On the way back from the successful but ineffectual Italian expedition, he seized the height of Heircte, which most scholars now think was the mountain range centred around Monte Castellacio to the west of the Roman-held city of Panormus. From this easily defended point, which had access to fresh water, pasturage and the sea, Hamilcar planned a series of lightning strikes against enemy-held territory. His initial raid on the Italian mainland delivered morale-boosting booty and prisoners; thereafter things settled down to a ‘cat-andmouse’ war of attrition with the local Roman forces. By launching swift raids from his mountain refuge, Hamilcar was able to disrupt Roman supply lines and tie down a large number of Roman soldiers who could have been well used elsewhere. However, this strategy also tied down much-needed Carthaginian troops too. Thus, under Hamilcar, the Carthaginians came no closer to re-establishing their control of their old possessions on the island, let alone capturing new territory. Recognizing this, Hamilcar withdrew from Heircte in 244 BC and planned an even bolder venture: the recapture of Eryx.

Sailing in under the cover of night, Hamilcar led his army up to the town and massacred the Roman garrison there. The civilian population was deported to nearby Drepana, one of Carthage’s last outposts, but curiously Hamilcar seems to have made no initial attempt to capture a further Roman garrison stationed on the summit of Mount Eryx. The town, which lay just inland from Drepana, certainly had strategic advantages, for, at over 600 metres, it provided an incomparable view over the coastal plain and the sea. Yet taking it was a odd choice, since it left Hamilcar and his force perched halfway up a mountainside between Roman forces at the top and at Panormus. The one route to his anchorage, following a narrow twisting path, only added to his problems.

In terms of military strategy, Eryx would prove as fruitless as the heights of Heircte had done. Although Hamilcar continually harried the Roman forces who were besieging Drepana, his own side suffered as many losses as his opponents. Once again Hamilcar’s military strategy yielded a high profile for the dashing leader, but mixed results. At one point he was even forced to ask his Roman opposite number for a truce so that he could bury his dead. This was followed by a thousand-strong group of Gallic mercenaries in his army, fed up with the unrewarding war of attrition in which they were involved, attempting to betray Eryx and the Carthaginian army to the Romans. What Eryx lacked in strategic advantage, however, it more than made up for with its strong association with those halcyon days when the Carthaginians had been the dominant force on the island, rather than a defeated contender desperately clinging on to its last few enclaves. What could be better for the burgeoning reputation of a young ambitious general than seizing back a town which the Carthaginians had held for so long and in which they had such emotional investment? Eryx was the holy site where the goddess Astarte had for centuries held sway under the protection of her divine companion Melqart.

In fact matters were soon taken out of Hamilcar’s hands. In Rome, it had been decided that the only way of breaking the deadlock was to rebuild the fleet. As treasury funds were low, much of the money for this ship-construction programme had to be borrowed from private individuals. The result was a fleet of 200 quinqueremes modelled on the superior design of Hannibal the Rhodian’s ship. In a conscious attempt to create a confrontation, the blockade of Lilybaeum and Drepana was tightened, thereby forcing the Carthaginians to act. It took the Carthaginians nine months to assemble a fleet of 250 ships. Although they outnumbered the Romans, the ships were poorly prepared and the crews lacked training. Furthermore, the admiral, Hanno, hardly had a distinguished record against the Romans, having presided over previous defeats at Acragas and Ecnomus. The plan was to drop off supplies for the army in Sicily before taking on troops to serve as marines.

In 241 the fleet crossed over to the Aegates Islands, just to the west of Sicily, and waited for a favourable wind to carry them to Sicily itself. But the Roman fleet, already aware of their location, caught up with the Carthaginians as they were preparing to cross. For the first time, the Roman fleet had no need of the corvi, as it was superior in all areas of seamanship and naval warfare. The Carthaginian crews–poorly trained, with too few marines, and burdened down with supplies– stood no chance. The Romans sank 50 Carthaginian ships and captured 70 before the remainder managed to escape.

The disaster broke the Carthaginians’ resolve, and they sued for peace. The terms agreed in 241 were harsh, but not unexpected. The Carthaginians were to evacuate the whole of Sicily, to free all Roman prisoners of war, and to pay a ransom for their own. Lilybaeum, which had held out to the bitter end, was surrendered to the Romans. A huge indemnity of 2,200 talents was to be paid to Rome over a period of twenty years. Lastly, neither Carthage nor Rome was to interfere in the affairs of the other’s allies nor recruit soldiers nor raise money for public buildings on the other’s territory. When the treaty was put before the Roman Popular Assembly to be ratified, the terms were made even stiffer. The indemnity was raised to 3,200 talents, with 1,000 due immediately and the remainder within ten years. Carthage was also to evacuate all the islands between Sicily and North Africa, but was allowed to hold on to Sardinia. Faced with ruin if the war continued, the Carthaginians had little option but to accept.

There is, however, compelling evidence that the Carthaginians had begun to prepare for a future without Sicily. One of the reasons for the lack of resources to pursue the conflict against Rome in the latter stages of the war was that, astonishingly, the Carthaginians were concurrently fighting another war–against the Numidians in North Africa, and a great deal more successfully than the Sicilian campaign. Sometime in the 240s the Carthaginian general Hanno ‘the Great’ conquered the important Numidian town of Hecatompylon (modern Tebessa), which lay some 260 kilometres south-west of Carthage.50 Dexter Hoyos has suggested that the capture of Hecatompylus was part of a broader campaign of territorial acquisition marshalled by Hanno, which also included the subjugation of another significant Numidian town, Sicca, approximately 160 kilometres to the south-west. Was this part of a deliberate change of policy on the part of the Carthaginian ruling elite, and was it a reflection of the victory of those who wished to concentrate on Africa over those who wished to maintain the hold in Sicily?

Certainly there were interesting changes in the Carthaginian rural economy. In the third century BC the hinterland of Carthage experienced a dramatic increase both in population and in levels of agricultural production. As a result of an archaeological survey, Joseph Greene has argued that this was the result of dispossessed Punic farmers leaving Sicily and Sardinia and settling in North Africa, but there is reason to think that this reorganization of Carthage’s rural territory was part of the same process as the military action against the Numidians, for it seems that some members of the Carthaginian elite had finally decided that there were easier ways to prosper than the retention of the western Sicilian ports.

Trade between many of the Sicilian cities appears to have all but ceased. Local wine and agricultural products, which had previously dominated the market, were replaced by imports from Campania as Rome took control; but, even so, large numbers of amphorae from Carthage simultaneously start appearing in the archaeological record. It seems that the Carthaginians were now exporting large amounts of their own agricultural surplus to Sicily, so it was paradoxically its loss that finally created the circumstances under which Carthage could profit less problematically from the island.

Apart from a brief interlude of three years during the Second Punic War, Carthage would never regain a foothold on Sicily. The Carthaginians had been defeated by an enemy who had simply refused to play by the rules of engagement which had for so long held sway on the island. The destructive march of the Sicilian wars had continued for the best part of 130 years, but it had always been punctuated by intermittent periods of peace which allowed both Carthaginians and Syracusans to regroup. However, Rome, with its extraordinary ability quickly to integrate the human and material resources of those whom it had subjugated, had proved to be a very different proposition. Such had been its ability to sustain a war effort for decades, and at a high tempo without any respite, that it had been able to exhaust the stamina of Carthage, one of the best-resourced states of the ancient Mediterranean.

Moreover, after the first year of the war any chance that the Romans might have accepted some kind of territorial division of Sicily had completely disappeared. The Syracusans, who had been relatively content to maintain a strategic stand-off, had now been replaced by an uncompromising, expansionist enemy who demanded nothing less than the total retreat of the Carthaginians from the island. The latter, despite their initial advantage particularly in terms of sea power, had simply been unable to adapt to this new challenge.


Sicily was proverbial with mercenary service. The preconditions of tyranny, internecine warfare, and coinage all flourished on the island from the late archaic age. The tyrants of Syracuse attracted Peloponnesians into their service from at least the early fifth century. Dionysius I established diplomatic links with Sparta for this purpose and was one of the principal employers of mercenaries, not just Greeks, in the early fourth century. A series of wars against Carthage led to a boom in mercenary service on the island. Later tyrants of Hellenistic Sicily also hired mercenaries in great numbers, as much in response to Carthaginian hostility as for their own personal protection, and many came from the Greek mainland. Agathocles initially armed the poor of Syracuse for his own purposes (Diod. 19.5–9) and then in 316 hired a largely mercenary army to fight Carthage (Diod. 19.72.2). A generation later, Hieron recruited mercenaries for his own security (Polyb. 1.9.6). In addition to Greeks, these tyrants employed Celts and Italians. Just after Agathocles’s death circa 289, a large group of Campanians proved particularly troublesome in returning to Italy from Syracuse when they seized the city of Messana and became a permanent thorn in the side of their neighbors (see Diod. 21.18 and 22.7.4; Polyb. 1.7.2–8; Plut. Pyrrh. 23–24). They styled themselves the “Mamertini” after an Italian war god, Mamers. Their success burgeoned along with their numbers and ultimately they caused the first war between Carthage and Rome. As Roman allies they survived the Punic Wars and prospered. These mercenaries illustrate that the transition from renegade wanderer to established city dweller, though violent in its process, did happen (Griffith 1935: 194–207).

The Carthaginians had long held interests in Sicily and other western islands. Ancient sources, written by their enemies, principally the Romans or Greeks with Roman affiliations, stress the reliance Carthage had on mercenaries. Polybius (6.52.2) regularly implies that mercenaries made up Carthaginian armies. Griffith (1935: 225 n. 1) states “the Carthaginian armies were very like mercenary armies in practice, even if they were not actually mercenaries.” The heart of most Carthaginian armies, along with the officers, remained Carthaginian, and like the Greek cities, Carthaginians served in a citizen militia when necessary. But Roman prejudices tainted the Carthaginians as hucksters and traders rather than as land-holding farmer-soldiers using their wealth to buy fighters for their protection. The language of the pro-Roman sources often paints most Carthaginian soldiers as mercenaries (not subject allies). Roman auxiliaries fought under compulsion as much as for love of Rome, but are styled as allies (socii, auxilia). During the Second Punic War, for example, Livy (29.4.2) notes that Carthaginians hired (conducere) African auxiliaries (Afrorum auxilia), and he calls the African soldiers mercenaries (28.44.5, 29.3.13). In Spain also the Carthaginians hired Spaniards (Livy 23.13.8) and Livy (23.29.4, 24.49.7) notes specifically Spanish and Celtiberian mercenaries. But in both Africa and Spain Livy (24.42.6; cf. Polyb. 10.35.6) notes the existence of a levy (dilectus). Hannibal calls his Spaniards allies (Livy, 21.11.13, 21.3). These Roman references to Africans and Spaniards cover the range of relationships from mercenary to ally and no doubt the reality was more complex. Carthaginian forces may have been like mercenary armies, but so were the armies of the Hellenistic monarchs.

Carthaginian armies with their Hellenistic style and elaborate makeup of men from all over the Mediterranean must have presented a varied image to Roman adversaries. Carthage drew its armies from the many peoples in the western Mediterranean: local Libyans and Numidians, Gauls, Baleares and Celtiberians, while Sicilians, Etruscans and other Italians, Greeks and Macedonians and Indians were to be found too. The army which Hannibal led into Italy included the full array of Mediterranean peoples (Polyb. 11.19.3). Small wonder Romans saw this diversity as mercenary service in action.

The image of Carthaginian armies was not helped at the end of the First Punic War when their mercenaries, recently returned from Sicily without pay, revolted. Thus Carthage paid the price for its dependence on professionals. The Truceless War supposedly unparalleled in atrocity brought Carthage close to destruction (Polyb. 1.73; Diod. 25.3). The mercenaries fought for three years in Africa, until the genius of Hamilcar Barca, the resolve of the Carthaginian Republic, and the divisions of the rebels finally saw Carthage victorious. The war reveals that Libyans made up the majority of the “mercenaries” of Carthage, but all manner of men served, including Greeks from different regions (Polyb. 1.67.7; Diod. 25.2). The number of Libyans suggests a less mercenary and more subject-ally status of these men, and certainly the Libyan subjects of the Carthaginians contributed both men (Polyb. 1.70.8) and money (Polyb. 1.72.5) to the revolt.


‘The Whole North into Gaul’

A warrior Ostrogoth has just killed a Roman enemy on the Battle of the Catalaunian Fields. Behind you can see an archer Hun. In this battle the Ostrogoths (Eastern branch of the Cup tribe, from Ost goten, Goths of the East), who were a faithful contingent of Attila’s army. They came face to face their Visigoth cousins (from West Goten, Goths of the West), allied with the Romans.

As far back as the 370s when they were attacking Goths beyond the Black Sea, Huns were forcing others they had already subdued to fight alongside them. When they first attacked the Greuthungi, starting the avalanche that ended at the battle of Hadrianople, they were operating in alliance with Iranian-speaking Alan nomads. And whenever we encounter them subsequently, we find that Hunnic forces always fought alongside non-Hunnic allies. Although Uldin, was not a conqueror on the scale of Attila, once the east Romans had dismantled his following, most of the force they were left with to resettle turned out to be Germanic-speaking Sciri. Likewise, in the early 420s, east Roman forces intervening to curb Hunnic power west of the Carpathian Mountains found themselves left with a large number of Germanic Goths.

In the years preceding the rise of Attila, the process of incorporation continued apace. By the 440s, an unprecedented number of Germanic groups found themselves within the orbit defined by the formidable power of Attila the Hun. For example, his Empire contained at least three separate clusters of Goths. One group, dominated by the Amal family and their rivals, would later become central to the creation of a second Gothic supergroup: the Ostrogoths. Another Gothic group was led in the mid-460s by a man called Bigelis, while a third remained under the tight control of Attila’s sons until the later 460s. In addition, Germanic-speaking Gepids, Rugi, Suevi (left behind in 406), Sciri and Heruli were all by this point under direct Hunnic control, and a looser hegemony may also have been exercised over Lombards and Thuringians, as well as over at least some subgroups of the Alamanni and Franks. We can’t put figures on this vast body of Germanic-speaking humanity, but the Amal-led Goths alone could muster ten thousand-plus fighting men, and hence had maybe a total population of fifty thousand. And there is no reason to suppose that the other groups were much, if at all, smaller. Many tens of thousands, therefore, and probably several hundreds of thousands, of Germanic-speakers were caught up in the Hunnic Empire by the time of Attila. In fact, by the 440s there were probably many more Germanic-speakers than Huns, which explains why ‘Gothic’ should have become the Empire’s lingua franca. Nor do these Germani exhaust the list of Attila’s non-Hunnic subjects. Iranian-speaking Alanic and Sarmatian groups, had long been in alliance with the Huns, and Attila continued to grasp at opportunities to acquire new allies.

Every time a new barbarian group was added to Attila’s Empire, that group’s manpower was mobilized for Hunnic campaigns. Hence the Huns’ military machine increased, and increased very quickly, by incorporating ever larger numbers of the Germani of central and eastern Europe. In the short term, this benefited the embattled Roman west. The reason, as many historians have remarked, that the rush of Germanic immigration into the Roman Empire ceased after the crisis of 405–8 was that those who had not crossed the frontier by about 410 found themselves incorporated instead into the Empire of the Huns; and there is an inverse relationship between the pace of migration into the Roman Empire and the rise of Hunnic power.

In the longer term, however, the respite from assault was only illusory, and a succession of Hunnic leaders achieved something analogous to what the Sasanians had achieved in the Near East. For the first time in imperial Roman history, the Huns managed to unite a large number of Rome’s European neighbours into something approaching a rival imperial superpower.

The full ferocity of this extraordinary new war machine was felt in the first instance by the east Roman Empire, whose Balkan communities suffered heavily in 441/2 and again in 447. After the two defeats of the 447 campaign, the east Romans had nothing left to throw in Attila’s direction. Hence, in 449, their resorting to the assassination attempt in which Maximinus and Priscus found themselves unwittingly embroiled. Still Attila didn’t let Constantinople off the hook. Having refused to settle the matter of the fugitives and repeated his demands for the establishment of a cordon sanitaire inside the Danube frontier, he now added another: that the east Romans should provide a nobly born wife (with an appropriate dowry) for his Roman-born secretary. These demands, if unsatisfied, were possible pretexts for war, and his constant agitating shows that Attila was still actively considering another major assault on the Balkans.

In 450, the diplomatic mood was to change abruptly. A new Roman embassy followed the same path north that Priscus and Maximinus had trodden the previous year. This one comprised Anato-lius, one of the two most senior military commanders at the eastern court (magister militum praesentalis), and Nomus, the Master of Offices (magister officiorum). Anatolius was well known to Attila, having negotiated the interim peace deal that had followed the Hunnic victories of 447. It is hard to think of a grander ambassadorial duo – that he should treat only with the noblest had been one of Attila’s stipulations. The Roman view of what happened next is recorded by Priscus: ‘At first Attila negotiated arrogantly, but he was overwhelmed by the number of their gifts and mollified by their words of appeasement. . .’ In the end:

Attila swore that he would keep the peace on the same terms, that he would withdraw from the Roman territory bordering the Danube and that he would cease to press the matter of the fugitives . . . providing the Romans did not again receive other fugitives who fled from him. He also freed Vigilas . . . [and] a large number of prisoners without ransom, gratifying Anatolius and Nomus . . . [who were] given gifts of horses and skins of wild animals.

Rarely can an international summit have had such a satisfactory outcome. Back to Constantinople rode the jubilant ambassadors, bringing with them Attila’s secretary, who was to be found a suitable wife.

What quickly emerged, however, was that Attila had settled with Constantinople not because – as the stereotypical barbarian – he had been blown away by the wisdom of his east Roman interlocutors, but because he wanted a secure eastern front, having decided on a massive invasion of the Roman west.

As Priscus tells it, in launching this new attack Attila was motivated by his hunger for further and greater conquests, thereby playing out the destiny that the gods intended for him – as his finding of the sword of Mars proclaimed – to conquer the entire world. On his embassy to the Huns, Priscus had at some point in the summer of 449 witnessed Attila acting in what seemed to him an unreasonable manner towards some ambassadors from the western Roman Empire. Afterwards, the talk naturally turned to Attila’s character, and Priscus quotes with approval what one of the ambassadors had to say on the matter:

[Attila’s] great good fortune and the power which it had given him had made him so arrogant that he would not entertain just proposals unless he thought that they were to his advantage. No previous ruler of Scythia . . . had ever achieved so much in so short a time. He ruled the islands of the Ocean [the Atlantic, or west] and, in addition to the whole of Scythia, forced the Romans to pay tribute . . . and, in order to increase his empire further, he now wanted to attack the Persians.

Someone then asked how Attila proposed to get to Persia from central Europe, to which the reply was that the Huns remembered that, if you followed the north Black Sea coast all the way to the end, you could get there without having to cross Roman territory. True, of course, but going via the Caucasus would be an extremely long trek, and the last time the Huns had done this – in 395/6, as far as we know – they had been living north of the Black Sea, not on the Great Hungarian Plain so much further west. Ambitious plans of conquest, on the face of it, were being drawn up on the strength of half-remembered geography: here was pure lust for conquest aching to swallow up the known world.

But, as we know, Attila went west instead. The sources transmit a variety of reasons why he did so. According to one juicy piece of court gossip, he led his armies into the western Roman Empire because the sister of the western emperor Valentinian III, a high-spirited lady of considerable stamina by the name of Iusta Grata Honoria, offered him her hand in marriage with half the western Empire as her dowry. Supposedly, she sent him a brooch with her portrait on it, along with a letter, and this was enough to ensnare him. Honoria was the daughter of the formidable Galla Placidia who had a fondness for barbarians herself, having married and borne a son to Alaric’s brother-in-law Athaulf in the 410s. Placidia, with her Gothic bodyguard, had had what it took to play a major political role, until Aetius took over.

Having fallen pregnant, her daughter Honoria was caught in an illicit love affair with her business manager, a certain Eugenius. Eugenius was executed, and Honoria removed from public life and betrothed to a dull senator by the name of Herculianus. It was in her distress and frustration that she had written to the lord of the Huns and asked him to rescue her. But the story gives one pause. Even after it was discovered that she had written to Attila she escaped death, and was handed over to the custody of her mother; but before, irritatingly, breaking off in mid-sentence, the pertinent Priscus fragment hints that further escapades followed. Honoria’s antics are too well documented for there not to be some grain of truth in them, but I don’t believe that she was the reason why Attila eventually preferred the west Roman to the Persian option. Just consider the geography. As we will see in a moment, having decided to attack the west, Attila did not rush towards Italy, where Honoria was incarcerated, but first attacked Gaul. While no doubt sketchy, Attila’s knowledge of European geography was good enough for us to be sure he knew on which side of the Alps he was likely to find his putative bride. We don’t know what ultimately happened to Honoria. Heading west out of Hungary, the Huns turned right towards Gaul rather than left into Italy, and that’s enough in itself to relegate Honoria to a historical footnote.

The sources indicate that rescuing Honoria was only one of several reasons proposed for Attila’s invasion of the west. Another was the issue that had prompted his tantrum before the conversation in the summer of 449 in which his possible ambitions concerning Persia had been raised. That particular western embassy had been sent to answer the charge that a Roman banker by the name of Silvanus was in possession of some gold plate that was Attila’s by right of conquest. Trivial though the matter was, Attila was threatening war if it was not settled to his satisfaction. There are also vague, but quite convincing, hints of some kind of contact at this date between Attila and Geiseric, king of the Vandals, who is said to have bribed Attila to turn his armies westwards. Late in 450, Attila backed a different candidate for the recently vacant kingship of the Ripuarian Franks from the one Aetius had chosen to support. He had also recently given sanctuary to one of the leaders of a rebellion in north-west Gaul defeated by Aetius in 448. This suggests that Attila had in mind the possibility of using him to stir up trouble and to smooth the path of any Hunnic army operating in the west. Once his armies were on the move, in much the same vein the Hun sent out some mutually contradictory letters to different recipients, some of which claimed that the purpose of his campaign was to attack not the western Empire but the Visigoths of south-west Gaul, while others urged those same Visigoths to join him in attacking the Empire.

What emerges, therefore, is that Attila was simultaneously juggling with several possible pretexts for an attack on the western Empire in the years 449 and 450, as he prepared his next move. Whether an attack on Persia was ever seriously contemplated I doubt, but in 449 he still hadn’t decided whether to launch his next assault upon the eastern or the western half of the Empire; and he was not only stirring up trouble with the west, but also refusing to settle outstanding issues with Constantinople. The generous treaty he eventually granted Constantinople was the sign that he was ready to tie up loose ends in the east, having set his sights on the west.

In spring 451, Attila’s massive army surged westwards out of the Middle Danube, probably following the route taken by the Rhine invaders of 406. ‘It is said’ that the army consisted of a staggering half-million men, reported Jordanes, in his choice of words revealing that for once even he didn’t believe the figure; but there is no doubting the huge size of the force, or that Attila was drawing on the full resources of the Hunnic war machine. As Sidonius Apollinaris, a more or less contemporary Gallic poet, put it:

Suddenly the barbarian world, rent by a mighty upheaval, poured the whole north into Gaul. After the warlike Rugian comes the fierce Gepid, with the Gelonian close by; the Burgundian urges on the Scirian; forward rush the Hun, the Bellonotian, the Neurian, the Bastarnian, the Thuringian, the Bructeran, and the Frank.

Sidonius was writing metred poetry, and required names of the right length and stress to make it work. What he gives us here is an interesting mixture of ancient groups who had nothing to do with the Hunnic Empire (Gelonian, Bellonotian, Neurian, Bastarnian, Brauteran) and real subjects of Attila (Rugian, Gepid, Burgundian, Scirian, Thuringian and Frank), not to mention, of course, the Huns themselves. But, in essence, Sidonius was spot on. And we know from other sources that large numbers of Goths were also present.

No surviving source describes the campaign in detail, but we know roughly what happened. Having followed the Upper Danube northwestwards out of the Great Hungarian Plain, the horde crossed the Rhine in the region of Coblenz and continued west. According to some admittedly fairly dubious sources, the city of Metz fell on 7 April, shortly followed by the old imperial capital of Trier. The army then thrust into the heart of Roman Gaul. By June, it was outside the city of Orleans, where a considerable force of Alans in Roman service had their headquarters. The city was placed under heavy siege; there are hints that Attila was hoping to lure Sangibanus, king of some of the Alans based in the city, over to his side. At the same time, according to another pretty dubious source, elements of the army had also reached the gates of Paris, where they were driven back by the miraculous intervention of the city’s patron Saint Genevieve. It looks as if the Hunnic army was swarming far and wide over Roman Gaul, looting and ransacking as it went.

Ezio is an Italian masculine name, originating from the Latin name Aetius.

Aetius was still generalissimo of the west, and as we know from Merobaudes’ second panegyric, he had been anticipating the possibility of a Hunnic assault on the west from at least 443. When it finally materialized, nearly a decade later, he sprang into action. Faced with this enormous threat, he strove to put together a coalition of forces that would stand some chance of success. Early summer 451 saw him advancing north through Gaul with contingents of the Roman armies of Italy and Gaul, plus forces from many allied groups, such as the Burgundians and the Aquitainian Visigoths under their king Theoderic. On 14 June, the approach of this motley force compelled Attila’s withdrawal from Orleans. Later in the same month, Aetius’ men caught up with the retreating horde somewhere in the vicinity of Troyes, another 150 kilometres or so to the east.

On a plain called by different sources the Catalaunian fields or campus Mauriacus, which has never been conclusively identified, a huge battle took place:

The battlefield was a plain rising by a sharp slope to a ridge, which both armies sought to gain . . . The Huns with their forces seized the right side, the Romans, the Visigoths and their allies the left . . . The battleline of the Huns was so arranged that Attila and his bravest followers were in the centre . . . The innumerable peoples of diverse tribes, which he had subjected to his sway, formed the wings.

The Romans and Visigoths reached the ridge first and thwarted every attempt to dislodge them – so our main source tells us, but then lapses into rhetoric (though pretty good rhetoric it is):

The fight grew fierce, confused, monstrous, unrelenting – a fight whose like no ancient time has ever recorded . . . A brook flowing between low banks . . . was swollen by a strange stream and turned into a torrent by the flow of blood. Those whose wounds drove them to slake their parching thirst drank water mingled with gore.

Theoderic was killed in the fighting, either struck by a spear or trampled to death when he fell from his horse, but the accounts of his death are confusing. Again according to our main source, a total of 165,000 men died, but this figure is nonsense. At the end of the day’s fighting, Attila was distraught. Forced back inside a defensive wagon circle, for the first time ever his army had suffered a major defeat. His initial reaction was to heap up saddles to make his own funeral pyre. But his lieutenants persuaded him that the battle was only a tactical check, and he relented. A stalemate followed, with the two armies facing each other, until the Huns began slowly to retreat. Aetius didn’t press them too hard, and disbanded his coalition of forces as quickly as possible – a task made much easier by the fact that the Visigoths were keen to return to Toulouse to sort out the succession to their dead king. Attila consented to his army’s continued withdrawal and, tails between their legs, the Huns returned to Hungary. Although the cost to the Roman communities in the Huns’ line of march was enormous, Attila’s first assault on the west had been repulsed. Yet again, Aetius had delivered at the moment of crisis. Despite the limited resources available, he had put together a coalition that had saved Gaul.

Catalaunian Fields

Flavius Aetius (c.391–454)


Argyraspides at War

Johnny Shumate illustrations


Unlike the pezhetairoi and asthetairoi, the hypaspists (and the later Argyraspids) did not normally carry the sarissa. This (in Alexander’s time) fifteen- to eighteen-foot pike was far too unwieldy for the types of maneuvers required of the hypaspists. Instead, their weaponry and armor was similar to that of the Greek hoplite. The helmet was of the Phrygian variety, with cheek pieces (which the pezhetairoi did not need) and a tapering crest that cushioned and deflected blows from above. The cuirass was the linothorax, which gave ample protection but afforded greater mobility; at the bottom of the linen corselet, below the waist, were pteruges, which shielded the groin and upper thigh, but also gave the hypaspists the flexibility to mount a horse if called upon to do so. (Such activity is attested in Illyria and in the pursuit of Darius III south of the Caspian.) Hypaspists carried the larger hoplon (some three feet in diameter, as compared with the smaller shield of the pezhetairoi: see Heckel and Jones 2006 for details and literature) and the regular spear favored by hoplites (dory), keeping in reserve the thrusting and slicing sword (xiphos), instead of the cleaver (kopis) of the cavalryman. Greaves were probably also used in battle and sieges, though one suspects that these might have been discarded in mountain warfare. The infantrymen thus depicted, interspersed with the cavalrymen, on the Alexander Sarcophagus are undoubtedly the king’s hypaspists. Later, at Paraetacene, the Argyraspids fight against the mercenaries in Antigonus’s army, the latter almost certainly hoplites, and there is no suggestion that their success was owed in any way to the use of the sarissa; here again the former hypaspists of Alexander appear to have fought as hoplites.

Thus equipped, the hypaspists could fight in regular hoplite formation, disperse among the cavalry and serve as hamippoi, proceed more nimbly in broken terrain (unencumbered by the sarissa and the weight of leather or metal cuirasses), and scale the walls of cities under the protection of their larger shields.


In 324 it seemed that the Argyraspids had seen the end of an extremely long tour of duty. Antigenes and his men were sent home from Opis with the other demobilized forces under the command of Craterus, reaching Cilicia no earlier than the beginning of winter 324/3. But their return to Macedonia was preempted by events in Cilicia itself and, later, in Babylon and Greece. When Craterus and the veterans reached Cilicia, the satrapy was in disarray. Its governor, Balacrus son of Nicanor, had been killed in battle with the Pisidians (Diod. 18.22.1; contra Bosworth 1980: 219; Billows 1990: 44–5), and in the absence of authority the Imperial Treasurer, Harpalus, who had fled Babylon when he learned of Alexander’s impending return from the East, had paused for some time in Tarsus. When Craterus arrived, Harpalus was already in Athens. But the satrapy was in urgent need of reorganization and defense; furthermore, it may be the case that Craterus and his veterans turned their attention to Alexander’s fleet-building program, which looked ahead to his North African campaign (Ashton 1993: 127–9). Whatever their activities in Cicilia, these were thrown into further confusion by Alexander’s unexpected death at the beginning of June, and the outbreak of the Lamian War in Europe.

Torn between the need to secure his own authority in Babylon, where his supporters had secured for him the prostasia of the inept new king, Philip III Arrhidaeus (Arr. Succ. 1.3), and Antipater’s appeal for reinforcements in Europe (Diod. 18.12.1), Craterus eventually put the affairs of the homeland ahead of his personal ambitions. Craterus now resumed his march to Macedonia, leaving a certain number of his troops (probably around 1,000) with Cleitus, who had taken charge of the fleet and was preparing to bring it out of Levantine waters and into the Aegean. The three thousand Argyraspids under Antigenes’s command remained in Cilicia for the time, presumably guarding the treasures in Cilicia in his absence. When the Argyraspids were assigned the task of transporting the treasures from Susiana (Antigenes’s satrapy) to Cyinda in Cilicia soon after the settlement of Triparadeisus, they may have been reprising their earlier assignment, for it is clear that they could not have accompanied Perdiccas to the Nile in 320 unless they had remained behind in Cilicia. Guard duty appears to be the most plausible explanation. Craterus augmented his army with new recruits from Asia Minor.

Diodorus (18.16.4) describes the force that returned to Europe in the following words: “As far as infantry were concerned, he took six thousand of those who had crossed into Asia together with Alexander, and another four thousand whom he picked up along the march.” Some scholars have taken the Greek to mean that Craterus’s infantrymen were composed of two groups: those who had crossed the Hellespont with Alexander in 334 and those who joined him in the course of the campaigns. But would a historian actually be capable of making such a distinction. For it is unlikely that, after eleven or twelve years of service, the troops would have been distinguished in such a way. It is more likely that those who were picked up “along the march” were new recruits or satrapal units enlisted by Craterus on his way to Macedonia. The Argyraspids remained in Cilicia, entrusted with the protection of the satrapy, its new ruler (Philotas), and the treasury at Tarsus. Disappointed in their hopes of returning with their accumulated booty and their new families to Macedonia, they may still have found solace in the belief that guard duty in Cilicia promised them a condition of semiretirement in the company of their dear ones. But this was not to be.

In early 320, Antipater and Craterus, who had effectively brought the Lamian War to an end and had been forced to cut short their campaign against the Aetolians, crossed the Hellespont to deal with Perdiccas. This man, now the de facto guardian of the two kings, sent Eumenes toward the Hellespontine region with a portion of the army, while he himself marched on Egypt with the remainder. To augment his forces, he picked up the Argyraspids in Cilicia and led them against his enemy, Ptolemy son of Lagus (Arr. Succ. 24.2; Justin 13.6.16). For the highly decorated veterans, the mission marked the renewal of service in Asia and the beginning of the long road to ruin. Whatever the unit had endured in the service of Philip and Alexander, it was to be rivaled and surpassed in the wars of the Diadochoi. The Egyptian campaign was badly managed by Perdiccas, and the toll on the men in the royal army was considerable. Diodorus’s description of the unsuccessful attempt on Kamelon Teichos gives special attention to the hypaspists, who led the attack on the walls. But these are presumably the new hypaspists of the Royal Army, a unit created by Alexander in India soon after the Argyraspids received their visible signs of distinction and, with them (most likely), the promise of demobilization. The siege lasted less than a day before Perdiccas led his troops south and attempted another crossing of the Nile near Memphis. But the river crossing proved more difficult at this point, perhaps because Ptolemy had opened the floodgates and elevated the level of the river, which had even before then been treacherous. Unable to move the entire force across, Perdiccas was compelled to bring that portion which had already accomplished the crossing back. The result was disaster, as many drowned in the river and others were killed by crocodiles. Some two thousand were lost, including many of the officer class (18.36.1). The losses incurred by the Argyraspids themselves are hard to estimate, since they are not specifically mentioned by Diodorus, but the impact on their morale cannot be discounted. When a cabal of officers murdered Perdiccas during the night, Antigenes, the Argyraspid commander, played a leading role (Arr. Succ. 1.35; Diod. 18.39.6; Nepos, Eum. 5.1 [adding Seleucus]; for Peithon’s role see Diod. 18.36.5.

It must be from this time onward that the Argyraspids began to show greater regard for their own interests, even if this put them at odds with their leaders. Philip II had selected and trained them, and they trusted his leadership just as he could count on their loyalty. With Alexander, too, there was the knowledge that they would not be thrown recklessly into peril, and that their general shared their dangers and tribulations. But they did not feel the same devotion to the great king’s successors, and they would not tolerate incompetence or arrogance. Hence they rebelled against the authority of Perdiccas, rebuffed the entreaties of Ptolemy, and followed Eumenes with a certain reluctance. They had become a pampered and self-centered unit, inclined to influence (and even usurp) authority as often as they obeyed it. In this regard they are precursors of the Roman Praetorian Guard or the streltsy of Tsarist Russia. No doubt the roughly three thousand disgruntled veterans who caused such trouble for the interim epimeletai at Triparadeisus were none other than the Argyraspids.

For the commander, the move against Perdiccas won him the satrapy of Susa, though he was not to spend much time in his territory or in an administrative role. He and the Argyraspids were instructed to convey the treasures from the Persian capital to Cyinda in Cilicia and to guard them there. Perhaps the Argyraspids viewed it as one final mission before they could enjoy the fruits of their long labors. Little did they realize that their retirement would once again be preempted by the political convulsions of the unstable empire. But by this time they were no longer the tools of any general who aspired to supreme power. They would serve again, but only, as they (somewhat naïvely) believed, in the service of the royal house.

The death of Antipater in autumn of 319 gave rise to further disunity, for the dying regent had named as his successor Polyperchon. This man had been a steady phalanx commander in Alexander’s Asiatic expedition, but he was little known in the Macedonian homeland and one might reasonably doubt his political acumen. That, however, was to be revealed in the years that followed, and it is dangerous to assume that others were fully aware of his weakness. Instead, it was a case of Antipater’s son, Cassander, resenting the promotion of Polyperchon to a rank that he regarded as his birthright. And Cassander was able to challenge the man’s authority with the aid of his hetairoi, the longtime followers of Antipater, who may have hoped for greater power and influence with the son. Ultimately it became a struggle not only between the two contenders for the regency but between the rights of Alexander’s son by Roxane and the son and granddaughter of Philip II, Arrhidaeus and his wife Adea-Eurydice.

In 318, on the instructions of Polyperchon, the Argyraspids entered the service of Eumenes of Cardia, whom Antipater and his supporters had outlawed two years earlier. When he met them in Cilicia, Eumenes was careful to appeal to their loyalty to the family of Alexander. He depicted himself as the servant of the deceased king, and pretended to be the equal of the other commanders. The appeal to the authority of Alexander (who was offered proskynesis as a god: Diod. 18.61.2) and the Argead house won over the Silver Shields, who regarded Eumenes “as a man worthy of the solicitude of the kings” (Diod. 18.61.3). Subsequent attempts by agents of Ptolemy (Diod. 18.62.1–2) and Antigonus’s envoy, Philotas, the former satrap of Cilicia, failed to induce the Argyraspids to defect, for, although there were some who were tempted, Antigenes won them back to the cause of the royal house (18.63.1–4). Philotas had persuaded the second-in-command, Teutamus, to change his allegiance, but ultimately it was the forcefulness of Antigenes that prevailed, as well as the fact that “the kings and Polyperchon their guardian, and also Olympias, the mother of Alexander, had written to them that they should serve Eumenes in every way …” (Diod. 18.62.1). This decision proved to be the beginning of untold hardships and a commitment to the Second Diadoch War, which would lead ultimately to their destruction. Eumenes decided not to deal immediately with Antigonus in Asia Minor but instead to win over to his side the satraps of the Middle East and Central Asia. Indeed, these were easily recruited and ready for service, since they had mobilized their troops to meet the threat of Peithon son of Crateuas, who styled himself strategos of the Upper Satrapies and, together with his brother, Eudamus, was to assert his false authority. Eumenes thus became their champion by default, and Antigenes, whose satrapy of Susiana was equally threatened, now found a personal reason for throwing in his lot with the Cardian.

The power struggle between Cassander and Polyperchon in Europe and Antigonus and Eumenes in Asia constituted the Second Diadoch War, and it drew the Argyraspids away from Cilicia and Phoenicia to Mesopotamia and eventually to Susiana, Antigenes’s own satrapy. There he had left the loyal gazophylax Xenophilus, and from the treasures that he guarded the Argyraspids drew pay for six months. But eventually, with Antigonus and his army in pursuit, Eumenes and his supporters made their way to Persepolis and finally the region of Paraetacene (somewhere in the vicinity of Isfahan). There the two armies confronted each other for the first time. We can see in the deployment of Eumenes’s troops the changed role of the Argyraspids. The left side was anchored by six thousand mercenaries, and next to them were stationed five thousand foreign troops equipped and trained in the Macedonian fashion (something that was to become common in the armies of the Hellenistic kings), and next to them the Argyraspids themselves. But instead of forming the articulating force between the infantry and cavalry, as they had done in the battles of Alexander, they now found on their right a new unit of hypaspists (once again three thousand strong), which was entrusted with the responsibility of maintaining contact with the cavalry on that wing. The years had taken their toll on the veterans’ bodies, and they were no longer nimble enough to provide that vital link between phalanx and cavalry; for that purpose a younger force was required. While Eumenes’s horsemen on the right parried the attack of Peithon’s cavalry, the Argyraspids confronted and overpowered Antigonus’s mercenaries, the two units most likely fighting as hoplites versus hoplites. Some historians (cf. Billows 1990: 95) would suggest that “[o]pposite the formidable Silver Shields, Antigonos placed his relatively expendable mercenaries…” But rather than concede defeat at this point in the battle line, Antigonus was probably placing opposite the vaunted veterans his most experienced hoplites (cf. also Griffith 1935: 50).

Although Antigonus’s losses were undoubtedly greater, the battle proved indecisive (for the battle see Devine 1985a; Billows 1990: 94–8; Kromayer and Kahnes 1931; also Delbrück 1990: 1.238–40). We are told that Antigonus, short of supplies, sent the wounded and the heaviest part of the baggage train ahead to a neighboring village (Diod. 19.32.1). Eumenes, drawing on the resources of the satraps in his coalition, is unlikely to have separated the Argyraspids, even temporarily, from their women and children. Diodorus, in the section that follows, speaks of the rivalry of two Indian wives for the honor of performing suttee (on which see Heckel and Yardley 1981), a clear indication that the camp followers remained. Furthermore, the Argyraspids’ later concern for the loss of their dearest possessions makes it unlikely that they would have given up their only remaining comforts at this time.

The final engagement fought by the Argyraspids in the service of the Argead house came in Gabiene, and in the lead-up to the battle Antigenes sent a horseman to bring a message to the Macedonians in Antigonus’s army. It forms a thumbnail sketch of their careers and summarizes their high standing among the Macedonians, to say nothing of their own inflated sense of self-worth.

This man, riding up alone to within earshot opposite the place where the phalanx of Antigonus’s Macedonians were stationed, shouted: “Wicked men, are you sinning against your fathers, who conquered the whole world under Philip and Alexander?” and added that in a little while they would see that these veterans were worthy both of the kings and of their own past battles. At this time the youngest of the Silver Shields were about sixty years old, most of the others about seventy, and some even older; but all of them were irresistible because of experience and strength, such was the skill and daring acquired through the unbroken series of their battles. (Diod. 19.41.1–2, trans. R. Geer)

In the battle that followed they confirmed these words with deeds, and they routed the opposing phalanx, killing over five thousand without a single loss of life on their part (so Diod. 19.43.1). Even when they found themselves deprived of cavalry support—for which they laid the blame on Peucestas—they nevertheless formed a fighting square and extricated themselves from the danger of Peithon’s onrushing horsemen. It might have been regarded as one of their finest achievements on the field of Mars, were it not for the fact that the success they enjoyed was ruined by the loss of their families and possessions.

History remembers them for what happened next. Long-serving and long-suffering defenders of the royal house, the Argyraspids had seen retirement and homecoming taken from them in 323 and 320. Now the only thing of value that remained to them—their wives, their children, and their meager possessions—were in the possession of the enemy. Their loss was too high a price to pay for their loyalty to the inept kings who had become little more than the pawns of Alexander’s marshals. They entered into negotiations with Antigonus and ultimately agreed to exchange their commander for their captive families. Even in this difficult predicament there were those who remained true to the cause, among them their commander, Antigenes. Plutarch (Eumenes 18) makes it clear that the betrayal of Eumenes was the work of Teutamus, but the reputation of both commanders and all the Argyraspids suffered. Our primary source for these events is Hieronymus of Cardia, kinsman and admirer of Eumenes, and not surprisingly the extant sources are uniform in their condemnation of the Argyraspids, as are some modern historians (e.g., Bennett and Roberts 2008: 76).

… [Eumenes] turned from entreaty to anger. “You accursed scoundrels,” he said, “may the gods who punish perjury take note of your conduct and bring you to the end you yourselves have given your leaders. Yes, it was you who a short time ago bespattered yourselves with the blood of Perdiccas and also devised the same fate for Antipater. You would have killed Alexander himself, had Heaven willed that he could die at a mortal’s hand; you did your worst and bedevilled him with mutinies. Now I am the last victim of your treachery and I call down on you this infernal curse: may you spend all eternity exiled to this camp, poverty-stricken and homeless, and may you be destroyed by your own weapons with which you have more often destroyed generals of your own side than those of your enemies. (Justin 14.4.9–14, trans. J. C. Yardley)

Eumenes’s concluding remarks betray Hieronymus’s knowledge of what fate had in store for the majority of the Argyraspids, something that Eumenes himself could not have known. For Antigonus was to hand them over to Sibyrtius, satrap of Arachosia, ordering him to wear them out and destroy them in endless campaigning. Justin further remarks on their extradition of Eumenes as the action of “an army which, through the betrayal of its leader, was itself captive and was now conducting towards the victor’s encampment a triumphal procession in victory over itself” (14.4.16, trans. Yardley).

Antigenes, so often regarded as the villain of this episode, was seized by Antigonus, who placed him in a pit and burned him alive. Such was his reward for opposing Teutamus and the other Silver Shields who were desperate to recover their property. He does not deserve the condemnation of posterity. But, by the same token, it is probably wrong to fault the Silver Shields themselves for their action. If Eumenes did, in fact, curse them and hope that they “spend all eternity exiled to this camp, poverty-stricken and homeless,” he was merely enunciating what had been their lot for these past six or seven years. Cheated of their just rewards, the Argyraspids now clung to the little that was left to them, and they put their families ahead of the leaders who had rendered a lifetime of loyal and difficult service all but meaningless. They responded to Eumenes’s words as follows:

[I]t was not so dreadful a thing, they said, that a pest from the Chersonesus should come to grief for having harassed the Macedonians with infinite wars, as that the best of the soldiers of Philip and Alexander, after all their toils, should in their old age be robbed of their rewards and get their support from others, and that their wives should be spending the third night now in the arms of their enemies. (Plut. Eumenes 18.1, trans. B. Perrin)

As Roisman (2011) observes, it was not at all certain that the betrayal of Eumenes would result in his execution. Antigonus had a number of options and, although Plutarch claims that the general was murdered without Antigonus’s approval (an unlikely scenario), those who surrendered him could not have known what fate awaited Eumenes. So too the claim that the Argyraspids’ future service in the East was meant to destroy them may be wishful thinking on Hieronymus’s part. If nothing else, garrison duty in the solitudes of Asia allowed them to spend time with their families. The remoteness of Central Asia may not have been entirely unappealing to the Argyraspids. One wonders what kind of reception Alexander’s veterans would have received had they returned with Asiatic wives and children of mixed blood.

Carthage – The final act

Carthage had scrupulously followed the terms of the peace treaty of 201 BC, which included the paying off of the massive war indemnity in the fifty year period as prescribed then by Rome. Yet its rapid recovery (together with Hannibal’s dealings with the Syrian king, Antiochos) made the Romans apprehensive, and rekindled their bitter hatred and desire for vengeance. During this half century of uneasy peace with Rome, Carthage’s Numidian neighbour, Masinissa, who, after going over to the Romans during the closing stages of the Second Punic War, had been awarded the kingdom he now ruled, tirelessly badgered Carthage.

Even though Carthage offered, and gave, the Romans assistance in their imperial ventures, the Senate in Rome regularly countenanced Masinissa’s annoying encroachments upon its remaining dominions in North Africa. The pro-Roman Numidian king was determined to turn Numidia into a modern state and in the course of doing so to expand his boundaries at the expense of Carthage. As a ‘true and loyal friend’, the king knew very well that in any dispute the Senate would always back him. In fact on seven separate occasions Carthage was forced to appeal to Rome for redress against Numidia, and though on some of these occasions the Senate did act to restrain its client king, on none of them was he forced to disgorge his ill-gotten gains. To Carthage, Masinissa seemed like a felonious bad hat on the make, a daylight robber given to the impertinent singeing of Carthaginian beards. The Carthaginians therefore began to build up military forces, but for defence against the Numidian king and not for a war with Rome. All the same, a more truculent Carthage emerged, which led to the reiterated demand of the elder Cato that the city must be destroyed. And so it was, after the Third Punic War. But that is to anticipate.

A fresh dispute arose in 153 BC and the Senate responded by despatching an embassy to Africa, headed by Cato, in order to arbitrate. Masinissa was willing for Rome to settle the issue, but Carthage obviously declared there was no need. Naturally this aroused the Senate’s suspicions, especially as Cato, veteran of the war with Hannibal, had seen signs of Carthage’s military build up. From the time of his return to Rome, Cato argued for war, which led to a long-running dispute between him and those who opposed war, the Cornelii Scipiones faction led by Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica. A senator of considerable weight who had already been consul twice (162 BC, 155 BC), Scipio Nasica saw all this as an unjustified act of aggression by Rome, but Cato was impressed by the Carthaginian revival and saw the latest quarrel with Masinissa as just the start of an impending war with Rome. Plutarch continues the story by relating how Cato brought back a fresh fig from Carthage, robustly declaring in the Senate that he had only picked the fruit three days before. Many scholars have taken this anecdote as positive proof of Rome’s jealousy of Carthage’s economic revival, and the call for death which he repeated henceforth in the Senate merely jealous greed voicing itself. However, the message was loud and clear; Cato was only demonstrating to his fellow members of the Senate how close he thought the potential military threat was. Clever was Cato in the art of making the white look black.

Notwithstanding Cato’s blatant manipulation of his fellow senators’ fears, Scipio Nasica put forward two arguments. First, Rome should make no rash move without justification, in other words war required a iusta causa. Second, hostilis, that is the natural fear of a strong rival, was a salutary right by which the nobility kept ready and prepared for war. Without Carthage, in other words, Rome would have no worthy opponent and, as a consequence, the nobility would slowly slide into a moral decline. In matter of fact this is the celebrated argument put forward by writers of the Principate such as Livy and Tacitus, the year 146 BC and all that is seen as the pivotal date when the rot in Rome set in.

Like a dripping tap, Cato steadily wore down his opponents. Moreover, the Carthaginians finally played right into the Senate’s hands by attacking Masinissa and war was duly declared amid the raucous cries of Punica fides, the stock charge of Punic ill faith. The words of Cato had become the policy of the Senate. According to Polybios, the Romans ‘had long ago made up their minds to act thus, but they were looking for a suitable opportunity and a pretext that would appeal to foreign nations’. Legalistic pretext seized, the tragic end result would be the utter destruction of the hated city by Scipio Africanus’ adopted grandson and Polybios’ close friend, Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus who, ‘with tears in his eyes’, would carry out the brutal wishes of the Senate to root out Carthage like some old fig tree. A new Roman province, the sixth, would rise from the ashes of a once-proud metropolis: that of Africa.

It was back in 151 BC when a Carthaginian army under a hitherto-unknown Hasdrubal invaded Numidia, but was soundly beaten, and after being besieged in its camp was virtually wiped out through starvation and disease. Only Hasdrubal and a handful of survivors managed to escape back to Carthage, the remainder being butchered as soon as they laid down their arms to surrender. The attempt to check Masinissa’s encroachments had thus proved abortive; it had merely established the ambitious king in more territory and had roused the anger of Rome. Indeed, that clear breach of the peace terms (Carthage was not allowed to go to war without Rome’s permission), as well as Cato’s acerbic oratory in the Senate, convinced the Roman government military action was necessary.

In the summer of 149 BC Rome despatched a fleet and army (probably a double-consular one) to Carthage under Manius Manilius and Lucius Marcius Censorinus. When the two consuls landed on the African shore at Utica (which surrendered without a fight) they were at once met by a Carthaginian delegation begging for peace at any price. The Carthaginians were promptly told that peace could be had, but that Carthage first must give up 300 noble hostages and hand over all arms of any kind within the city. Since resistance seemed futile, Carthage agreed. The hostages were punctually given up, and apparently some 200,000 panoplies were turned over to the Romans, as well as 2,000 catapults, and a huge quantity of weapons and ammunition. Then with Carthage, as they thought, completely helpless, the consuls delivered the final blow: the citizens must quit the city. Carthage was to be utterly destroyed, but the inhabitants could build a new dwelling place wherever they liked, provided it was no less than 10 Roman miles (14.8km) from the sea.

Not for the first time, however, Rome had overplayed its hand. When the news reached the city, the people resorted to that age-old habit of peoples faced with an obstinate government: rebellion. When the populace erupted into violence, those who had counselled peace and complied with Rome’s harsh terms were lynched on the streets by an angry mob. This aggressive response by the citizens of Carthage is a classic case of how people are beaten only when they understand they have lost, and the government was now forced into attempting the defence of the city. Thus empowered, and despite the earlier surrender of war gear, the citizens went to work with such good effect that they started turning out new swords, spears, shields, and catapults at a prodigious rate. The women of the city willingly cut the tresses of their hair to serve as torsion springs for the new catapults. Within an incredibly short time Carthage was put in a state of defence and messengers sent into the hinterland to raise a relief force. Hasdrubal, who had managed to escape from certain crucifixion after his Numidian fiasco, was pardoned and soon took command of a field army of around 20,000 troops near Nepheris (Bou-Beker), some 30km southeast of Carthage.

Nevertheless, the Romans hardly anticipated any serious resistance, fully expecting to cross the walls and kill, and they were quite unprepared for the fanatical fury with which the city was defended. Not only was the expeditionary force poorly led and badly trained, it also lacked siege engines, and all direct assaults against the landward walls were beaten back with bloody loss before the armed militia that had sprouted from the streets of Carthage. Flabbergasted, the Romans withdrew to lick their wounds and settle down to a prolonged siege. Not content to watch events, the defenders made constant damaging sallies, and the Romans were also faced with a new enemy, as disease decimated their ranks in the insalubrious surroundings of the lagoon. Meanwhile, a foray across the lagoon to secure timber ran into serious opposition from Hasdrubal’s cavalry, under the very able command of one Himilco Phameas, but ultimately sufficient wood was gathered to construct two battering rams. These were brought up near a stretch of the fortifications near the lagoon, considered weaker here, and manned by one team supplied by the army and the other by the navy. Despite the competitive rivalry between the two services, spurred on by their respective officers, and two breaches being made, the defenders drove back all the assaulting parties. Worse still, under cover of darkness, a raiding party went out and managed to set fire to both of the Roman engines. As the summer heat intensified, the Roman camp was relocated away from the lagoon to the southern end of the city where the troops would benefit from the fresh sea breezes. Roman ships anchored there to provision the army, but they were almost completely destroyed by Carthaginian fire ships. The year drew to a close and Carthage remained unconquered.

The following year, only one of the new consuls went out to Africa. This was Lucius Calpurnius Piso, who brought with him Lucius Hostilius Mancinus to command the fleet. Six years earlier Piso had tasted defeat in Iberia, while Mancinus does not appear to have been any more gifted. In fact the pair made no progress, handling affairs with gross incompetence, and being saved from complete disaster only by the skilful efforts of Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus, who was serving as military tribune with legio IIII. Rather than press the siege it was decided to attack the stronghold near Nepheris, where Hasdrubal’s field army was ensconced. In a council of war Scipio Aemilianus advised against this operation but was overruled. When the Romans were on the verge of defeat at the hands of the Punic cavalry commander, Himilco Phameas, Scipio Aemilianus’ timely arrival with reinforcements covered the Roman retreat. He then played a key diplomatic role. Masinissa’s offer of assistance early in the siege had been brusquely rebuffed; now the Romans needed all the help they could get.

The king invited Scipio Aemilianus, as the grandson of his illustrious patron, Scipio Africanus, to join the Roman delegation visiting him. When they arrived, they found him dead (he was well into his eighties) and his three surviving legitimate sons awaiting Scipio Aemilianus, who was charged with choosing the successor. He chose all three: one to rule in the palace, one as minister of foreign affairs, one as minister of justice, each according to his talents. Scipio Aemilianus brought Gulussa, the most warlike of the three and the minister of foreign affairs, with him back to the Roman camp, along with a large cavalry force.

The arrival of Numidian reinforcements had a profound effect on Himilco Phameas, who perhaps sensed a change in the winds and defected to the Romans in exchange for a free pardon. Scipio Aemilianus, however, returned to Rome to seek office and was there nominated and elected consul by the people on account of his military record, though he was under the legal age and had not held the praetorship (he had intended to stand as a candidate for the more junior post of curule aedile). All opposition was swept aside and, as at the election of his adoptive grandfather, the constitution had to give way to the will of the people. It seemed the right thing to do, especially as his military record stood out in high relief against the recent military defeats, and intervention by one of the tribunes of the people then ensured that Scipio Aemilianus, rather than his colleague, was given Africa as his province.

With his return to Africa in the spring of 147 BC the whole aspect of affairs would be dramatically changed. Upon his arrival Scipio Aemilianus set about raising the morale and efficiency of the soldiers, expelling the swarm of prostitutes and traders and focussing the army on its task. He also ensued that from now on the soldiers were properly provisioned. In the meantime, Hasdrubal was recalled to take charge of the city’s defences, leaving one Diogenes (probably a Greek condottiere) in charge of the field army. Scipio Aemilianus pressed the siege with vigour, and an attack on the Megara quarter met with early success, but withdrew under pressure. Hasdrubal responded by concentrating his forces in the Byrsa, then for good measure tortured and mutilated his Roman prisoners on the walls. This was intended to stiffen the defenders’ resolve, but instead motivated the besiegers. Scipio Aemilianus spent the rest of the summer building a contravallation to isolate Carthage from landward approaches: a series of palisaded ditches with sharpened stakes at the bottom, an earthwork facing the city with regularly spaced watchtowers, and a four-storey tower in the centre to serve as an observation post. These siegeworks dominated the peninsula and made access to the city from the landward side out of the question.

Scipio Aemilianus next began attempts to block off Carthage’s seaward supplies. From its southern extremity the mercantile harbour was connected to the sea by a channel some 21m wide, and he began by building a mole running across its mouth. Concealed from sight behind the encircling harbour walls, the Carthaginians responded by cutting a new outlet to the sea due east from their naval harbour. They also secretly began constructing from scratch fifty triremes out of whatever material they could lay their hands on. When both fleet and outlet were complete they sailed out, but inexplicably did not attack the unmanned Roman ships. When they finally mounted an assault on the third day, the Romans were ready and drove them back. Unfortunately a bottleneck in the new outlet kept many Carthaginian ships exposed without, and the Roman ships hammered them. Scipio Aemilianus then assaulted the outer quay protecting the mercantile harbour, bringing in catapults and rams. This move suffered a setback when a night attack by the defenders destroyed most of them, but Scipio Aemilianus patiently rebuilt them and threw up defences too. Persevering with his attacks, Scipio Aemilianus eventually secured the harbour walls and took possession of the newly constructed harbour entrance. He spent the remainder of the year capturing what cities still remained loyal to Carthage, and defeated the field army near Nepheris. By the end of the year Carthage was entirely cut off from the outside world. This provoked an offer to negotiate from Hasdrubal, but he would not concede to Scipio Aemilianus’ demand that the city be razed. The final agony of Carthage was at hand.

In the spring of 146 BC Scipio Aemilianus gave the orders for the final assault. By now, the shortage of food had taken its toll in the city, and when the Romans launched a savage and slaughterous assault from the harbour area, where they had established themselves the previous autumn, a stretch of the city wall fell after brief resistance. Thence he advanced without difficulty to the agora, while the defenders fled to the Byrsa, and here the last desperate, half-starved remnant held out. Tall houses along narrow lanes proved to be individual strongholds, and the fighting was house-to-house, floor-to-floor, room-to-room, hand-to-hand for six days. The account given by Appian, which gives a graphic description of the bitter fighting, was probably taken from Polybios, whose own eyewitness record has been largely lost:

The streets leading from the agora to the Byrsa were flanked by houses of six storeys from which the defenders poured a shower of missiles onto the Romans; when the attackers got inside the buildings the struggle continued on the roofs and on the planks covering the empty spaces; many were hurled to the ground or onto weapons of those fighting in the streets. Scipio ordered all the sector to be fired and the ruins cleared away to give a better passage to his troops, and as this was done there fell with the walls the bodies of those who had hidden in the upper storey and been burned to death, and others who were still alive, wounded and badly burnt. Scipio had sections of men ready to keep the streets clear for rapid movement of his men, and dead or living were thrown together in pits, and it often happens that those who were not yet dead were crushed by the cavalry horses as they passed, not deliberately but in the heat of the battle.

Meanwhile the city below burnt and resounded to the shouts of the victors as they glutted themselves hideously upon the fruits of victory, looting, pillaging, and wiping out men, women, children, and even dogs indiscriminately. The blood lust of the Romans was such that they were still pulling victims out of the debris and butchering them as they cried in vain for quarter, hours after the streets had been won. Maybe they were just extremely brutal men. More likely they had been badly scared by the vicious street fighting, nerve-racking even for those trained in urban combat, and this was the only way to quench their fears. On the seventh day the citadel surrendered and supposedly 50,000 men and women, accompanied by their children and elderly parents, came forth to slavery.

Expecting short shrift if taken alive, 900 deserters from the Roman army made a final stand in the enclosure surrounding the temple of Eshmun. Crowning the summit of the Byrsa, it was reputed to be the most beautiful temple in the city, and, as their numbers gradually shrank, it was in the building itself, then on the roof, the renegades fought before finally immolating themselves in the temple’s blazing ruins. Here also the (unnamed) wife of Hasdrubal, with her two children, joined those who, unlike her husband, refused to give in and chose fire and death rather than captivity and slavery. The epic cycle was complete: a woman had presided over the birth of the city, and a woman witnessed its demise. For ten more days the fires of Carthage raged. The elder Pliny speaks of the ‘pitch-covered roofs’ of the tall many-storeyed houses, and therein lies the explanation for this terrible fire.

Finally, the ruins were systematically razed, a plough was symbolically drawn over the site and the salt of sterility scattered over its smoking remains, and a solemn curse was pronounced against its future rebirth, lesson and punishment from the proud conqueror. With this arcane rite the three exhausting wars between Rome and Carthage had ended in the extermination of one of the two cities. A terrible ending, which illustrates that the fight for survival, far from being just a concept, and often a metaphor, is in many cases a real and violent fact. Carthage was beyond destroyed; it was void as though it had never been.

Mycenaean Warfare and the End of the Minoans

Warriors and warfare were glorified in Greece and much of the rest of west ern Europe during the Bronze Age.- The stories of Homer, which were written down after 1000 BCE but likely reflect earlier values, glorify the actions of the ancient warriors involved in the Trojan War. Heroes like Achilles were glorified because of their skills at warfare, and the Homeric epics describe their battles and their accoutrements of warfare in great detail. In other parts of Europe in the Bronze Age, men were buried in elaborate armor and with weapons, suggesting a glorification of warfare beyond the grave.


The great Greek epic the Iliad recounts episodes from a ten-year war between Greeks of the heroic age and the inhabitants of Troy in coastal Anatolia. It is traditionally attributed to the Greek poet Homer, who lived during the eighth century BCE, and probably builds on earlier versions of the story. Long thought to be purely myth, the story was shown to reflect a real period of Greek prehistory when, in the late nineteenth century CE, Heinrich Schliemann excavated at Mycenae and revealed the existence of the Mycenaean civilization. Some details of Homer’s epic poem are anachronistic, but many genuinely re? ect Mycenaean society. One of the most famous elements in the Iliad, the Catalogue of Ships, has been lent support by information in Linear B tablets recently discovered at Thebes. Many of the places listed as contributors to the war fleet are named in these tablets, some of them settlements no longer occupied in Homer’s day. There is a much less good ft, however, between the place names of the catalog and those of the Pylos tablets. And there is no evidence that the Trojan War itself actually took place. The fall of Troy is dated in Greek tradition to 1184 BCE. Since the late 1990s, excavations at Troy and elsewhere have been revealing a historic picture into which the Trojan War could well fit. The large city of Troy VI, which may have housed 6,000-10,000 people within a walled citadel and a walled outer town, was destroyed by an earthquake around 1300 BCE. When the Trojans rebuilt their homes (Troy VIIa), they crowded inside the citadel wall as if for protection against an external threat such as a besieging enemy. A few letters exchanged between the ruler of Troy and his overlord, the Hittite king, refer to attacks on Trojan lands during the thirteenth century BCE, in some cases explicitly by Ahhijawa (probably identifiable as the Mycenaeans). The city of Troy VIIa was destroyed around 1200 (between 1230 and 1180) BCE. Piles of slingshots in the street ready for use by the defenders and bodies, spearheads, and arrowheads in the ruins show that it fell to enemy attack. There are other possible explanations for the sack of Troy. For example, this was the period when the Sea Peoples were actively raiding, but the evidence now available shows it possible that the Iliad has its roots in genuine Mycenaean history.


The Mycenaeans emerged on the southern Greek mainland in the seventeenth century BCE, when Minoan civilization was at its height. It is clear from their burials that theirs was a society in which the warrior played an important part. The most magnificent burials are those found in the Shaft Graves at Mycenae, some with gold death masks. Examination of their bones shows that many had suffered injuries and skeletal stress from years of fighting. Their grave goods included plates from boar’s-tusk helmets, gold decorative breastplates, and many weapons. Among these was a dagger inlaid with a hunting scene in which warriors are shown armed with swords, bows, and spears, and carrying figure-of-eight shields or tall rectangular (tower) shields with curved sides. The dappled appearance of shields depicted in frescoes shows that they were made from ox-hides, presumably over a wooden frame. These shields were particularly suitable for single combat, where they offered a full protective screen between the combatant and his opponent, but they were less useful in a pitched battle, where attack could come from any side. Depictions on stelae marking the graves show soldiers equipped in the same style. Spearheads from the Shaft Graves and other early contexts included a type with a split shaft mounted into a shoe on either side of the blade; this soon went out of use. A more efficient type, with a socket at its base to take the shaft, was current throughout the Mycenaean period. These spears were used for thrusting; there is no certain evidence of the throwing spear frequently mentioned in Homer’s Iliad.

Later Mycenaean frescoes and depictions on pottery show that many of these armaments continued in use, and new ones were added including greaves (shin guards) and corselets (cuirasses). A smaller round shield more suitable for maneuvering in pitched battle replaced the earlier types. A set of armor discovered near Midea (the Dendra Panoply) included a helmet, bronze greaves, and a corselet made of overlapping bronze half-rings and plates covering torso, shoulders, neck, and the tops of the arms, combining protection with flexibility. These seem to have been stitched to a linen garment, probably well padded, while the helmet originally consisted of a leather cap to which were added slices of boar’s tusk arranged in rows that curved right and left alternately and ear guards made of bronze. Helmets usually had a chin strap and might also have a neck guard. Boar’s-tusk helmets would have been restricted to the elite, since each required the tusks from 20 to 40 boars; ordinary soldiers wore helmets and body armor of leather or thick layers of linen to which bronze disks might be sewn as reinforcement.

Swords used by the Mycenaeans changed through time. In the Shaft Grave era, a narrow rapier was used: this was hafted with a very short tang that would easily have broken, and examples with longer tangs were also developed. The rapier was designed for thrusting into the body of an enemy or hunted animal. During the fourteenth century this was replaced by the two-edged slashing sword with an integral hilt to which a handle was fastened with nails. Arrows in this period were tipped with bronze heads, often with tangs; earlier arrowheads had been made of flint or obsidian.

Stelae from the shaft graves, terra-cotta models, and pottery decoration show that the elite drove chariots with four-spoked wheels drawn by a pair of horses; chariots, dismantled chariots, and chariot wheels are among the items in storage listed on the Linear B tablets from Knossos and Pylos. These allowed the aristocracy to move with speed as military messengers and to travel in style to the battlefield and, when necessary, in retreat from it; it is unlikely that they were used as mobile fighting platforms.

On a larger scale, ships were used as transports, but the depictions of two ships on a vase from Iolkos show that they were fitted with a ram and thus were also used offensively. A few late Mycenaean sherds may depict sea battles. The Pylos tablets refer to musters of troops as rowers for naval defense. Ships seem generally to have been propelled by oars but also had sails for use when winds were favorable.

By 1450 BCE the Minoans, who had strongly influenced the Mycenaeans in earlier centuries, were in decline. Of the palaces and towns, all but Knossos were destroyed at this time. The cause is still uncertain: it may have been internal strife or natural disasters, such as the earthquakes that frequently troubled the region, or the Mycenaeans may have been implicated. If they were not, they certainly stepped into the power vacuum left by the Minoan collapse, establishing themselves at Knossos sometime around or after 1450 and gradually taking over the eastern Mediterranean trade network that the Minoans had so successfully operated. Warrior graves on Crete, at Knossos, and elsewhere, were probably the burials of Mycenaeans, complete with swords, spears, and helmets. Minoan life on Crete nevertheless continued, though with a strong Mycenaean veneer. Around 1375-1350 BCE Knossos was destroyed, perhaps by the Mycenaeans, and the center of power on the island shifted to Khania in the west.

During the fourteenth century BCE, palaces emerged on the mainland, often on citadels with impressive walls that in some cases were constructed of massive stone blocks (cyclopean masonry). These may initially have been intended as much to impress as to defend, but in the thirteenth century many walls were extended to enclose far larger areas, and defensive measures were added. At Mycenae, for example, the extensions included a bastion with a sally port and a subterranean passage to an underground cistern, giving the inhabitants access to water if besieged. Similar arrangements for access to water were made at Tiryns and Athens, and at Tiryns the extended walls contained corbelled passages and storage chambers, again suggesting provision against a siege. Frescoes and decorated vessels portray sieges, with warriors fighting outside the walls-watched by women at the window- and slain defenders tumbling from the walls. Many of the palaces were destroyed by fire around 1200 BCE, perhaps as a result of social unrest or internecine conflict.

At Pylos in coastal southwest Peloponnese, however, the enemy came from the sea and may well have been raiders belonging to the Sea Peoples who were wreaking destruction in the eastern Mediterranean around this time. One of their victims may have been Crete: the remaining centers were destroyed, and the inhabitants fled to the hills where they established impoverished refuge settlements. At Pylos was found an archive of Linear B tablets covering the palace’s final year; a set of five tablets (headed “Thus the watchers are guarding the coastal regions”) deals with the provisions for coastal defense. Eight hundred men were deployed in groups along the coast; their purpose, it seems, was to give the palace early warning of any imminent attack from the sea, presumably so that a large force could be deployed to where danger threatened. Despite these precautions, the palace was sacked and burned, and the kingdom was largely abandoned. Some Mycenaeans who survived the troubles of this period fled to start a new life in Cyprus or farther afield; others, in small numbers, reoccupied many of the towns and citadels, although they did not refortify them. But the glories of Mycenaean society were over.

Bibliography Chadwick, John. The Mycenaean World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976. Dickinson, Oliver. The Aegean Bronze Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Fitton, J. Lesley. The Minoans. London: British Museum Press, 2002. Palmer, Leonard R. Mycenaeans and Minoans: Aegean Prehistory in the Light of the Linear B Tablets. 2nd rev. ed. London: Faber and Faber, 1965. Schofeld, Louise. The Mycenaeans. London: British Museum Press, 2007. Taylour, Lord William. The Mycenaeans. Rev. ed. London: Thames and Hudson, 1983

Late-Third Century Praetorian Guard

Aurelianus and the Praetorian guard by AMELIANVS on DeviantArt

Gallienus had also been directly challenged since 260 by Marcus Cassianus Latinius Postumus. This flamboyant pretender was governor of Germania Superior and Inferior when he was declared emperor by the Rhine garrisons. The western provinces had been placed under the rule of Gallienus’ teenage son Saloninus and it was not entirely surprising that the north-west Rhine garrisons preferred the option of an experienced leader. Postumus ended up creating and ruling a breakaway empire from Cologne that in every formal respect emulated the legitimate Empire; this probably included creating his own praetorians but there is no evidence to substantiate this. Postumus controlled Britain, Gaul and the German provinces in a regime now known as the Gallic Empire. Postumus, murdered in 268, produced a vast amount of coinage but, unlike that of Gallienus, none of it honoured specific military units, and the same applies to his short-lived successors who finally capitulated in early 274. Unusually for emperors of the era, Claudius II had died in 270 from the plague and not as a result of violence. He was briefly succeeded by his brother Quintillus, who was proclaimed emperor by the soldiers at Aquileia, but the declaration of Claudius’ cavalry commander Aurelian as emperor by the army in the Balkans proved a more enticing prospect. Quintillus committed suicide and Aurelian proceeded unchallenged, initiating a highly successful reign cut short by yet another conspiracy.

Aurelian’s praetorian prefect was Julius Placidianus, attested in the post on an inscription from the Augustan colony of Dea Augusta Vocontiorum (Drôme) in Gallia Narbonensis; he had previously served as prefect of the vigiles under Claudius II. The presence of Placidianus in Gaul reflected the very dangerous situation on Rome’s northerly borders, caused initially by the German Juthungi tribe, the Vandals, and next by the Alamanni. The absence of the praetorian prefect from Rome was certainly not new, and had become a necessary part of the increasing need to confront threats in various parts of the Roman world, especially in the third century. The idea of the Guard as an elite body of experienced and privileged troops with a permanent base in Rome was changing. The Guard now more resembled the ad hoc units of praetorians organized by the protagonists of the civil wars up to 31 BC.

The frontier threats faced by Aurelian were successfully fought off to begin with, but only at the price of rebellions breaking out in Rome. These seem to have included one by the mint-workers, led by the rationalis (official in charge) of financial affairs, Felicissimus. Aurelian returned to crush the rebels, which involved having to execute a number of senators and confiscate their property. Aurelian also devised a scheme in which estates were to be bought up along the Via Aurelia at state expense and then operated by slaves captured on campaign so that a perpetual free dole of wine, oil, bread and pork could be made to the Roman people. This peculiar brand of slave-serviced socialism never came off, either because of Aurelian’s premature death in 275 or because Julius Placidianus dissuaded him on the grounds that if the Roman people had been given wine then there would be nothing more to give them apart from chicken and geese.

During Aurelian’s reign the Castra Praetoria underwent its most significant change since its construction 250 years earlier. Aurelian ordered a vast new circuit of walls to be built round Rome. These would reflect the huge expansion of the settled area since Republican times, and also protect the city from the very real threat it faced from barbarian incursions across the frontiers. It may also have helped to contain a potentially volatile population. Building began in 271 and continued for the next decade. The walls survive in large part today and bear witness to the colossal effort and resources involved. The Castra Praetoria’s north and east walls formed part of this new circuit, the south and west stretches now facing inwards. The work was more complicated than simply joining the new walls up to the camp and bonding them in. The camp’s walls were raised again, adding to previous periods of elevation, and a new type of tower added which served as a buttress to help support the heightened walls.

Aurelian also faced a breakaway state in the east based around the great city of Palmyra under the queen, Zenobia. In 272 the regime’s city of Emesa fell to Aurelian in an engagement that included a hand-picked selection of praetorians as well as a huge array of legions and auxiliary forces.44 Palmyra fell too but Aurelian spared the city until a rebellion in 273 led him to destroy it. Aurelian could now turn his attention to the crumbling Gallic Empire. The last of Postumus’ successors, Tetricus I, capitulated to Aurelian in early 274 and participated in a triumph in Rome with Zenobia. In 275 Aurelian had to head east once more, this time to recover Mesopotamia from the Persians. En route in Thrace he became suspicious about his secretary Eros and evidently made an allegation to which Eros took exception. Eros decided to get his revenge by circulating a fictitious list of people whom he claimed Aurelian was planning to punish, encouraging them therefore to do what was necessary to save themselves. The outcome was almost inevitable: some of the accused, including a number of praetorian officers, watched Aurelian leave the city one day. They followed the emperor and killed him. The conspiracy and assassination were the consequence of an unfortunate misunderstanding but the incident proves that the Praetorian Guard was a routine part of the emperor’s field army.

Aurelian was succeeded by Marcus Claudius Tacitus, a senator of mature years. The Historia Augusta refers to an otherwise unknown praetorian prefect called Moesius Gallicanus, perhaps appointed under Aurelian, recommending Tacitus to the army on the grounds that the senate had made emperor the man the army wanted. Tacitus either replaced Gallicanus with, or appointed alongside Gallicanus, his brother Marcus Annius Florianus as praetorian prefect. Since Florianus was sent east by Tacitus to fight the Goths, we can legitimately assume that the Praetorian Guard went with him. Tacitus, however, died and Florianus seized the chance to declare himself emperor. This was not the intention of the army in Syria and Egypt, who preferred to sponsor their commander, Marcus Aurelius Equitius Probus instead. The two sides came to a potential battlefield at Tarsus but Probus avoided fighting and in the ensuing stand-off Florianus was killed by his own troops.

Prior to his accession in 276, Probus allegedly wrote to his praetorian prefect, Capito, reluctantly accepting the post of emperor. Unfortunately, Capito is otherwise unknown and the Historia Augusta for this period so unreliable in many ways that there is every possibility that ‘Capito’ and the letter to him were simply invented, unless Carus was meant. Even the hope expressed in the ‘letter’ that ‘Capito’ will stand alongside the emperor appears to have its origins in one of Cicero’s orations. However, there is perhaps a plausible basis in the context of Probus’ time where the praetorian prefect had become the emperor’s right-hand man. The reign was characterized by yet more endless frontier warfare. At Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica) in Pannonia (Serbia), Probus was killed in a rebellion led by Marcus Aurelius Numerius Carus who had been appointed by Probus as praetorian prefect early in the reign. Carus’ presence and involvement in the death of the incumbent emperor replicated a scenario that was becoming all too familiar. Carus did not last long. He was found dead in his tent in July 283 on campaign in Persia. This time the culprit seems not to have been an accidental lightning strike, as reported in the Historia Augusta, but his praetorian prefect and his son Numerian’s father-in-law, Lucius Flavius Aper, who allegedly believed his own chances of power were likely to be better served if Carus was extinguished and replaced by his sons. Carus’ adult sons, Carinus and Numerian, succeeded their father seamlessly, Carinus taking the western half of the Empire, Numerian the east. It was an arrangement that was to be used extensively in the century to come. By 284 Numerian had been killed. The Historia Augusta blamed Aper, which, if true, made him the first praetorian prefect to kill two emperors in succession. Aper was apprehended by the soldiers of the eastern army who nominated the commander of the domestici, ‘household troops’, Diocles, who immediately killed Aper. By 285 Carinus was in a position to challenge Diocles but was killed by one of his own officers during the battle at Margum on the Danube.

Diocles assumed the name Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus. As Diocletian he embarked on a sophisticated and disciplined recovery of the Empire. To begin with, he carried over Carinus’ praetorian prefect, Titus Claudius Aurelius Aristobulus. The reorganization culminated in 293 in the creation of the Tetrarchy, a collegiate system of emperors. He and another officer divided the Empire, Diocletian taking the east and Maximian the west as the Augusti. Each was assisted by a junior emperor, Galerius and Constantius Chlorus, known respectively as the Caesars. In time Diocletian and Maximian were to abdicate and hand over power to their Caesars who would then become the Augusti and appoint their own Caesars. The system was designed to avoid the appalling problems their immediate predecessors had experienced trying to govern a sprawling empire beset by endless frontier problems, internal rebellions and succession by force.

The logical inference is that each tetrarch had his personal Praetorian Guard, and this does appear to have been the case. The Guard, still referred to as the praetorian cohorts, was dispersed by Diocletian amongst each of the four tetrarchs, with only a skeleton garrison left behind in Rome to man the Castra Praetoria. In 303, during a period of Christian persecution, a church in Nicomedia was raided by the ‘prefect’ in a search for images of Christ. The attack was conducted while Diocletian and Galerius watched from the nearby palace, and was carried out by part of the Praetorian Guard in battle order suitably equipped with axes and iron weapons. They systematically destroyed the church. In the fourth century under the Tetrarchy and later the position of praetorian prefecture continued, even once the Guard itself had been disbanded.

From soon after Diocletian’s accession, Britain had been controlled by a rebellious former fleet commander called Marcus Aurelius Mauseaeus Carausius. Seizing power in 286, Carausius was a colourful usurper whose ideology of a renewed and revived Augustan Roman Empire in Britain was depicted on a highly unusual series of coins. Carausius’ power seems to have extended partly into northern Gaul since he was able to strike some of his coins at Rotomagus (Rouen), but this did not in any sense entitle him to the audacity of the military issues he had minted in Britain. These included coins which honoured some legions not based in Britain, such as the VIII legion Augusta and the XXII Primigenia, as well as those that were, such as II Augusta. Unless the coins were designated as a form of propaganda designed to entice these other legions into siding with Carausius, the only other explanation would be that detachments were then based in Britain. However, there is no other evidence to substantiate that, and so many legions are involved that the idea is implausible. It is much more likely that Carausius was simply trying to ingratiate himself with as much of the Roman army as possible. The series also included one with the legend COHR PRAET for the Praetorian Guard around four standards. The issue closely resembles one produced at Philippi in the first half of the first century AD in honour of the Praetorian Guard and was probably based on it. There are three possible explanations: Carausius had a detachment of Diocletian’s praetorians in Britain, he had his own praetorians, or he was trying to seduce the Guard into supporting him. The latter is the most likely, but there is no means of verifying this. It was the last time the Praetorian Guard was honoured on any coin issue. Clearly Carausius, who posed as a restorer of everything traditional about Rome, perceived the Praetorian Guard as an integral part of his manifesto and image.

Habiru/Apiru Mercenaries

Throughout history it has always been difficult for governments to find enough good soldiers. A soldier’s life was and is often very hard, and there is the ever-present danger of loss of life, so for many a military life was not desirable. Warfare in the period from 4000 to 1000 BCE generally involved either local disputes or in some cases wars waged far from home. For example, Thutmose III (ca. 1504-1450 BCE) waged 17 military campaigns outside of Egypt during his reign. Military life for the Egyptian soldiers at this time included long periods away from home and away from their families and professions. Life in the military was often not popular, and many societies in the ancient world suffered shortages in personnel.

Conscription was one obvious way to deal with the shortage, and many ancient cultures adopted it. In the Old and Middle Kingdoms (ca. 2600-1780 BCE) Egypt conscripted 1 in every 100 men into the army, and by the time of Ramses II (ca. 1279-1212 BCE) 1 in 10 men were being conscripted. This was very unpopular, and many Egyptians avoided conscription by hiding or running away. The only way for Egypt and other societies to gain enough soldiers to maintain a large enough standing army was by hiring mercenaries. The period from 4000 to 1000 BCE was premonetary, so mercenaries were not paid in coinage but instead were often given grants of land and a share in the loot from the battle. A military career in Egypt, whether as a mercenary or a regular soldier, was one of the only ways for a peasant or commoner to increase his status and fortune in life.

The first solid references to mercenaries are from the reign of King Sargon of Akkad in Mesopotamia and date to ca. 2350 BCE. Sargon employed perhaps as many as 5,000 mercenaries, mostly recruited from the edges of his empire. These mercenaries also sometimes saw regular police duty and were often used to put down internal riots and revolts. Since they were far from home, they would have no connection with the people they had to control, and Sargon did not have to make his soldiers use violence toward their own people. This allowed Sargon to see his will done without much unrest developing within his military. The Egyptian pharaohs often used the famous Medjay Nubian mercenaries in a similar way. By the time of the Egyptian New Kingdom, the Medjay were unoffcially known as the Egyptian police force.

The most notable force of mercenaries in the ancient world were the Habiru. This group or culture was known across the ancient Middle East and appears in the documents of many cultures from 2500 BCE through to about 1000 BCE. Its origin is unknown, and there were groups of Habiru in many regions. The ancient texts note that they were sometimes hired for domestic purposes but most often as mercenaries. By the fourteenth century BCE the Habiru had become very successful as mercenaries, and their population had grown to the extent that they were able to take control of various towns and cities in the Levant, including Hazor and Byblos.

The Canaanite kings supplemented their forces with hired freebooters called apiru (sometimes known as habiru). The apiru were a class of outcasts, debtors, outlaws, and restless nomads who formed themselves into wandering groups of raiders, often hiring themselves out to princes and kings for military duty. These wandering brigands were a serious threat and often had to be brought to heel by the Canaanite princes by force of arms. One of history’s greatest generals, David, was an apiru. When forced to leave Saul’s court for fear of being killed, David returned to his old mercenary occupation by raising a force of 600 “discontented men” and hiring his soldiers out to one of the Philistine kings. The size and military sophistication of these brigand groups could present a considerable threat to public order. A record from Alalakh tells of a band of apiru comprising 1,436 men, 80 of which were charioteers and 1,006 of which were shananu, probably some kind of archer. Another text records the capture of the town of Allul by a force of 2,000 apiru.

However, with the collapse of the great city-states at the end of the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1050 BCE), the Habiru disappear from history. It is possible that in all the upheaval of the period they were incorporated into what remained of society after the fall of the elite polities of the period

Bibliography Keegan, John. A History of Warfare. New York: Vintage Books and Random House, 1994. Yalichev, Serge. Mercenaries of the Ancient World. London: Constable and Company, 1997