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Battle of Baecula

Battle of Baecula
Part of the Second Punic War
Date 208 BC
Location Baecula (Santo Tomé, Jaén), present-day Spain
Result Roman victory; Hasdrubal departed Iberia without sufficient force to march on Italy immediately
Belligerents
Carthage Roman Republic
Commanders and leaders
Hasdrubal Barca Scipio Africanus Major
Strength
25,000 men + Iberian allies 35,000 men
Casualties and losses
About 6,000 killed,
10,000 captured
2,000

The Battle of Baecula was Scipio Africanus’s first major field battle after he had taken command of Roman interests in Iberia during the Second Punic War, in which he routed the Carthaginian army under the command of Hasdrubal Barca.

Contents

  • Prelude 1
  • Battle 2
  • Aftermath 3
  • References 4

Prelude

After Scipio’s surprise attack and capture of Carthago Nova, the three Carthaginian armies in Iberia remained separated, and their generals at odds with each other, thus giving the Romans a chance to deal with them one by one.

Early in 208 BC, Scipio moved against Hasdrubal, whose force had wintered at Baecula, on the upper reaches of the river Baetis (modern day Guadalquivir).

On learning of the Roman approach, Hasdrubal shifted his camp to a strong defensive position — a high and deep plateau south of Baecula, protected by ravines on the flanks and the river to the front and rear. Moreover, the plateau was formed into two steps, on which Hasdrubal posted his light troops on the lower one and his main camp behind.

After his arrival, Scipio was at first uncertain as to how to attack such a formidable position, but concerned that the other two Carthaginian armies might take advantage of his inaction and join with Hasdrubal, he took action on the third day.

Battle

Before his main attack, Scipio sent one detachment to block the entrance to the valley separating the two armies and one to the road leading north to Baecula, thus providing security to his main force, while harassing any Carthaginian attempt to retreat.

After these preliminary deployments were done, the Roman light troops advanced against their Carthaginian counterparts on the first step. Despite the steep slope, and under a shower of missile attack, the Romans had little difficulty driving back the Carthaginian light troops once they got into hand-to-hand combat.

After reinforcing his leading force, Scipio derived a pincer attack on the flanks of the Carthaginian main camp by ordering Gaius Laelius to lead half of the remaining heavy foot to the right of the enemy position, and he himself scaling the left.

Hasdrubal, meanwhile, was under the impression that the Roman attack was only a skirmish (Scipio had hidden his main army in camp until the final attack) and failed to properly deploy his main force, thus his ill-prepared army was caught on three sides by the Romans.

Despite being trapped, Hasdrubal was able to retreat unmolested with his elephants, main baggage train, and most of his Carthaginian troops. It appeared that his main losses in the battle were the majority of his light troops and Iberian allies. This was largely due to the legionnaries' choice to plunder the Carthaginian camp rather than pursue Hasdrubal with any earnestness.

Aftermath

After the battle, Hasdrubal led his depleted (and mainly gallic) army over the western passes of the Pyrenees into Gaul, and subsequently into Italy in an ill-fated attempt to join his brother Hannibal.

While Scipio could be criticised for letting Hasdrubal escape from Iberia, a pursuit by the Romans through unknown mountainous and hostile terrains, leaving two full strength and numerously superior Carthaginian armies to his rear, would have been to risk another disaster like the Battle of Lake Trasimene.

Instead, Scipio retired his army to Tarraco, and managed to secure alliances with most of the native Iberian tribes, who switched side after the Roman successes in Carthago Nova and Baecula.

Meanwhile, Carthaginian reinforcements landed in Iberia during the winter, and would soon launch a final attempt to recover their losses.

References

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