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Hamilcar's victory with Navaras

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Title: Hamilcar's victory with Navaras  
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Subject: Siege of Tunis (Mercenary War), List of conflicts in Tunisia, Battle of Nola (216 BC), Battle of Sulci, Battle of Geronium
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Hamilcar's victory with Navaras

Defection of Naravas
Part of Carthage's Mercenary War
Date Autumn 240 BC
Location Exact Location Unknown
Result Carthaginian Victory
Carthage Rebel mercenaries
Rebelling Libyan towns and cities
Commanders and leaders
Hamilcar Barca[1] Spendius, Naravas, Autharitus
about 15,000–20,000 about 20,000–40,000
Casualties and losses
Unknown 10,000 killed
4,000 captured

The battle following the defection of Numidian chieftain Naravas to Hamilcar Barca was fought between Carthaginian forces commanded by Hamilcar Barca and part of the combined forces of Carthage's former mercenary armies during the Mercenary War, which Carthage had formerly employed during the First Punic War, and those of rebelling Libyan cities supporting the mercenaries, under the command of Spendius and the Gallic chief Autharitus. After the forces of Hanno the Great was defeated at Utica, and his subsequent failure to engage the mercenaries afterwards despite favorable conditions, Carthage raised a new army under Hamilcar Barca in Carthage. Hamilcar’s army managed to leave Carthage despite the rebel blockade of the city and cross the Bagradas river, then defeat the rebel armies busy besieging Utica and based in the camp guarding the river bridge.[2] Rebel survivors scattered to Tunes, and Hamilcar next moved along the Bagradas river, capturing towns either by force or by diplomacy. An army under the command of Spendius, which included a contingent of Gauls under Autharitus and a group of Numidians under Naravas, later shadowed Hamilcar’s army. Spendius managed to trap the Carthaginians in a valley mountain after some time. The defection of Naravas allowed Hamilcar to escape the trap. Spendius then chose to engage the Carthaginian army, and in a hard fought battle Hamilcar emerged victorious.[3]


The First Punic War ended with the Roman victory in the Battle of Aegates Islands in March 241 BC and Carthage authorizing Hamilcar Barca to start peace negotiations with Rome. The eventual settlement between Rome and Carthage included evacuation of Sicily by Carthage and payment of 3,200 silver talents to Rome as war reparations, 1000 (21 tons of silver) immediately and 2,200 (56 ton of silver) in ten year installments. After paying Rome the indemnity which was part of the treaty,[4] it could not easily pay the army of some 20,000 mercenaries it had employed to fight against Rome.[5]

Miscalculation, mistrust and mutiny

Hamilcar Barca, and Gisco the commander of Lilybaeum who actually conducted the talks, had forced the Romans to agree not to disarm the Carthaginian army in Sicily. After the garrisons of Drepana and Eryx gathered at Lilybaeum, Hamilcar left Sicily for Carthage, leaving Gisco to manage the demobilization. The mercenaries resented Hamilcar abandoning them in this fashion.[6]

This army had been commanded by Hamilcar Barca from 247 BC to 241 BC. Lacking numbers to fight set piece battles and resources from Carthage to build a larger one, Hamilcar relentlessly harassed the Roman forces, employing combined arms tactics, shrugged off failures, remained undefeated and kept the Romans occupied and financially bankrupted the Roman Republic. His charismatic leadership, combined with stern discipline (he executed mutineers)[7] and promise of rich rewards kept his mercenary army intact and combat ready for seven years. This force was now fully armed, awaiting discharge and the promised rewards. On top of the 1,220 talents owed to the Romans as war reparations, the mercenary back pay, which may have amounted between a few hundred to several thousand silver talents,[8] had to be disbursed by the3 Carthaginian government.[9]

Mishandling the discharge

Gisco, probably aware of the financial difficulties faced by Carthage, sensibly sent the troops to Carthage in small groups with intervals in between departures[10] so the government could pay them off without having to deal with a large force gathering in Carthage or making a large payment all at once. This sensible approach was totally foiled by the Punic authorities.

The Carthaginian government withheld all pay and allowed the mercenaries to gather in Carthage with their families and possessions. The government planned to negotiate with the mercenaries in accepting less than what was due to them in back pay. As their presence disrupted civil life in Carthage, they were sent to the inland town of Sicca with their families and a gold coin each.[11] The authorities refused to let the mercenaries keep their baggage in the city and rewarded the Punic officers who managed to get the mercenaries moving to Sicca. As a result, Carthage lost an opportunity to keep the families hostage to ensure future good behavior.[12]

Sicca to Tunis

Delays in dealing with the mercenaries eventually led to the gathering of the entire army and their families in Sicca Veneria (modern El Kef), where they demanded payment from the Carthaginian negotiator Hanno the Great.[13] The exact amount owed the mercenaries can only be guessed, but given the back pay, ration money and any other rewards promised, it probably was a substantial amount,[8] which the mercenaries inflated after they reached Sicca. When Hanno refused their demands, as Carthage actually hoped to reduce the payment amount, and mercenaries were unsympathetic about the financial difficulties of Carthage, the negotiations broke down and the mercenaries seized Tunis.[14] Carthage then sent provisions to Tunis and agreed to all the demands of the mercenaries, and sent Gisco to pay off the demanded amount.[15]

The Mutiny

Gisco began to pay off the mercenaries nationality by nationality,[16] and events may have ended there, but two mercenary leaders, Spendius and Mathos, fomented revolt among the Libyan troops, for their own personal reasons, and were able eventually to persuade the entire mercenary army to revolt. The mercenaries seized the Carthaginian negotiators and the money. Matho used the funds to pay off the amount due to the mercenaries and fund the war effort.[17] After settling the payments of the mercenaries, the rebels called upon the Libyan towns and cities under Carthaginian control to join the revolt. Several Libyan cities joined the revolt, providing men and funds (Libyan women donated personal possessions and jewels) [18] to gather a force of 70,000.[19] These events probably took place in the autumn/winter of 241 BC.

Rebel dispositions

Matho divided the rebel army into several detachments. Matho took two armies to cut off the cities of Utica and Hippacritae, while an army took up position along the only bridge over the River Macar linking Carthage and Utica. Spendius cut off Carthage from the mainland[20] while rebels made Tunes their main base. The rebels had no siege weapons and decided not to assault the besieged towns, but they would from time to tome advance on Carthage to terrorize the city.[21]

Carthage Counters

With their navy shattered in the First Punic War and their mercenaries in revolt, Carthage could do little but man the walls as an immediate response to the revolt. Carthage next raised an army from citizens, rebel deserters and newly hired mercenaries,[22] trained their cavalry and refitted her navy,[23] which probably took until the spring of 240 BC. Hanno the Great was put in command of the army, which included 110 elephants[24] but the exact number of troops is unknown. Hanno chose to relieve Utica,[25] since rebels had cut off Carthage from the mainland, Hanno and his army was probably ferried to Utica by the Punic fleet,[26] which was also under siege by the rebel army under Spendius. The exact size of the rebel force is not known. Hanno initially defeated the rebels encamped near Utica and captured the rebel camp, but his negligence and the lax discipline of the Carthaginian army enabled the rebels to regroup, launch a surprise attack, capture the Carthaginian camp and drive the Carthaginian survivors in Utica.[25] Hanno’s army later left Utica but failed to engage the rebels under favorable conditions several times. Carthage decided to raise a new army and recalled Hamilcar Barca to command. Rebels continued their blockade of Carthage, Utica and Hippo Acra.

Hamilcar Barca breaks out

Carthage raised another army numbering 8,000 foot, 2,000 horse and 70 elephants.[27] and put Hamilcar Barca in command of this force, and he spent some time training his soldiers. Hanno and his army continued watching the two rebel camps at Hippo Acra. Rebels under Spenius, numbering 15,000, was blockading Utica while another 10,000 strong rebel army was encamped near the only bridge across the River Bagradas,[28] the exact location is not known.[29] Hamilcar managed to slip his army out of Carthage undetected by the blockading rebels at night and cross the Bagradas rivers using a sandbar that is uncovered by the wind at certain time of the day. Spendius engaged Hamilcar’s army and was defeated in the Battle of Bagradas River.

Composition of Forces

Carthaginian citizens normally wore armor, leg greaves, Greek style helmets, carried a round shield, long spear and sword and fought in Phalanx formation.[30] Carthaginian citizens and the Libyo-Phoenicians provided disciplined, well trained cavalry equipped with thrusting spears and round shields. Any mercenaries in Carthage’s armies may have resembled the rebels they were facing. Carthage also used Elephants, probably African Forest and Indian Elephants as shock troops. The elephants were ridden by specially trained riders, some may have come from ancient India or Syria.

The rebel army had Libyans,[31] Ligurians, Iberians, Gauls, Greeks, and probably Thracians and Scythians present, along with Campanians and other Roman deserters.[32] The Libyan heavy infantry fought in close formation, armed with long spears and round shields, wearing helmets and linen cuirasses. The light Libyan and Numidian infantry carried javelins and a small shield, same as Iberian light infantry. The Iberian infantry wore purple bordered white tunics and leather headgear. The heavy Iberian infantry fought in a dense phalanx, armed with heavy throwing spears, long body shields and short thrusting swords.[33] Campanian, Sardinian, Sicel and Gallic infantry fought in their native gear,[34] but often were equipped by Carthage. Sicels, Sardinians and other Sicilians were equipped like Greek Hoplites, as were the Sicilian Greek mercenaries. Balearic Slingers fought in their native gear.

Numidians provided superb light cavalry armed with bundles of javelins and riding without bridle or saddle.[35] Iberians and Gauls also provided cavalry, which relied on the all out charge.

Hamilcar’s Campaign

After the defeat of Spendius at Bagradas River, the rebel survivors scattered to Utica and Tunes,[36] while Hamilcar captured the rebel camp by the river then cleared the area outside Utica of rebel forces. Hamilcar chose not to join forces with Hanno the Great and measure swords with Matho, who’s army was blockading Hippo Acra. Hamilcar instead launched a campaign to subdue towns along the River Bagrades, some by force and some through negotiations.[37] By doing so Hamilcar was reducing the rebel’s ability to draw recruits and supplies and securing for Carthage the same resources. It is not know if Hamilcar garrisoned any towns of any specifics regarding the terms offered to them. In response to Hamilcar’s activities, Spendius marshaled another army at Tunes, which included a Gallic contingent under Autharitus, and Numidians including a 2,000 strong cavalry detachment under Navaras, and moved out to confront Hamilcar. It is not known if Hamilcar had been reinforced by Carthage or he had incorporated the rebel prisoners into his army.

While Carthage’s armies were busy fighting rebels inland, the Carthaginian navy was patrolling the African coast. They happened to capture several Roman and Italian merchant ships running supplies to the rebels in 240 BC. The rebels had no fleet to counter these activities.

Spendius before Fabius

In 217 BC, Hannibal Barca, the eldest son of Hamilcar Barca, destroyed a Roman army in the Battle of Lake Trasimene. Romans elected a dictator, Quintus Fabius Maximus, who realized the Roman army was not ready for a head on clash with Hannibal’s soldiers. He chose to stick to higher ground, refused open combat, to nullify the Carthaginian advantage in cavalry, harassed Punic foragers and shadowed Hannibal. 33 years before Fabius, another Italian born soldier employed the strategy made famous by Fabius as “Fabian Tactics” against Hamilcar Barca, father of Hannibal and the future opponent of Fabius in Italy.

The army commanded by Spendius was probably larger than the Hamilcar’s army, although it had no elephants. Numidian cavalry gave Spendius a range of options. The Rebels army followed Hamilcar’ army, Spendius chose not to take the towns that had changed sides, but focused on keeping to the high ground, away from the cavalry and elephants of the Carthaginians, refused open combat and continually raided the Carthaginian soldiers. A war of attrition worked for the rebels with their superior numbers they could take more losses that the Carthaginians could. Spendius probably also awaited reinforcements and a favorable condition to engage Hamilcar’s army.[38]

Carthaginians cornered by Rebels

It is not known what measures Hamilcar employed to counter the harassment tactics of Spendius, or the exact path Hamilcar took since his victory over Spendius at Bagradas river. However, his army was on the move, helping to expand the sphere of Carthaginian control along the Bagradas river. In course of his march, Hamilcar entered a mountain valley and encamped against the advice of his staff.[39] Spendius blocked the valley exit with his Libyan contingent, threatened the camp with his main body while the Numidians took position on the Carthaginian rear.[40] Hamilcar’s army was trapped with no hope of relief. Cut off from provisions, Spendius only had to wait until hunger drove Hamilcar into desperate measures. The exact location of this mountain valley is not known, it is speculated to be either near the town of Nepehris,[41] or at some location further to the south or southwest.

Turncoat foils rebel trap

In 217 BC, Hannibal Barca was trapped by Roman armies commanded by Quintus Fabius Maximus at Ager Falernus. The Romans had blocked all exits from the plain. Hannibal used 2,000 oxen with torches tied to their horns to dupe a Roman contingent into thinking his army was escaping through a saddle at night, and after the Romans went after the oxen Carthaginians slipped from the plain through the pass the Romans had evacuated. Hamilcar did not have any oxen to try this trick, but his army was saved by pure fortune.[38][42]

Navaras defects to Hamilcar

Navaras was a Numidian chieftain[43] commanding 2000 horsemen and guarding the path through which Hamilcar Barca’s army had entered the valley. He had family ties with Carthaginians and decided to switch sides. Navaras approached the Carthaginian camp undetected with a small escort, signaled for a parley and entered the camp unarmed and alone. He won Hamilcar’s trust and was promised the hand of Hamilcar’s daughter in exchange for his help. Navaras returned to his army, and deserted to the Carthaginians at the agreed upon time and before the rebel army could take action.[44] Hamilcar exited the trap unopposed and regained his freedom of maneuver.

The Battle

Soon after Hamilcar’s army escaped the trap and was joined by Navaras, Spendius gave up his harassing tactics and decided to give battle. It is not know what brought about this change in tactics, but Hamilcar engaged the rebels in battle. Little is known of the numbers involved or formations used, except that the battle was hotly contested and Carthaginians ultimately emerged victorious. Rebel losses were 10,000 killed and 4,000 captured.[45] Spendius and Autaritus escaped the battle and made for Hippo. Carthaginian losses are not known.


Hamilcar decide to show clemency to the rebel prisoners. He offered to enlist those who were willing to serve under him, the others he offered to let go if they promised to leave Africa, and a substantial number joined the Carthaginian side. By doing this, Hamilcar could entice deserters away from the rebel army, a fact which the rebel leaders were keenly aware of. Hamilcar next began mopping up action of the surrounding countryside.[46]

A series of events also took place while Hamilcar was campaigning and Hanno the Great was keeping watch on Matho’s army, the sequence of these events can only be speculated on. The Carthaginian mercenaries posted in Sardinia rebelled and began a massacre of Carthaginians. Carthaginian general Boaster and the surviving Carthaginians were besieged in citadel, exact location not known, and no prisoners were taken once the fort fell. Rebels then seized control of the Carthaginian areas, cutting off supplies, taxes and recruits from Carthage. Carthage, although heavily engaged against the rebels in Africa, began preparations to send an expedition to recover Sardinia. Rome sent an embassy to Carthage to demand the release of the Italian traders held by Carthage. Carthage freed the prisoners, which would bring unexpected dividends in the short run.


  1. ^ Polybius 1:73.1
  2. ^ Polybius 1.75-76
  3. ^ Polybius 1.77-78
  4. ^ Polybius, 1:62.8-63.3.
  5. ^ Polybius, 66.5, and 1:68.12
  6. ^ Polybius 1.66.1, 68.12
  7. ^ Zonaras 8.16
  8. ^ a b Hoyos Dexter, The Truceless War, pp27-31
  9. ^ Polybius 1.66.12, Appian 5.2.2-3
  10. ^ Polybius 1.66.2-4
  11. ^ Polybius 1.66.6
  12. ^ Polybius 1.68.3
  13. ^ Polybius, 1:66.6-66.12.
  14. ^ Polybius 1.66.1-1.6712
  15. ^ Appian, 2.7; Polybius, 1:67.1-68.13.
  16. ^ Polybius 1.68.1, 1.69.3
  17. ^ Polybius 1.69.4, 1.70.6
  18. ^ Polybius 1.72.5-6
  19. ^ Polybius 1.70.8-9
  20. ^ Polybius, 1:68.4-68.13.
  21. ^ Polybius 1.73.7
  22. ^ Polybius 1.73.1-2
  23. ^ Polybius 1.73
  24. ^ Polybius 1.74.3-4
  25. ^ a b Polybius 1.74
  26. ^ Lancel Serge, Hannibal, pp14, ISBN 0-631-20631-0
  27. ^ Polybius 1.73.1, 1.75.2
  28. ^ Polybius 1.75.5
  29. ^ Lancel, Serge, Hannibal, pp17
  30. ^ Polybius 1.33.6, 1.34.6
  31. ^ Diodorus Siculus, 19.106.2
  32. ^ Polybius 1.67.7
  33. ^ Goldsworthy, Adrian, The fall of Carthage, p 32 ISBN 0-253-33546-9
  34. ^ Makroe, Glenn E., Phoenicians, p 84-86 ISBN 0-520-22614-3
  35. ^ Polybius 1.19.2
  36. ^ Polybius 1.77.1
  37. ^ Polybius 1.75
  38. ^ a b Bagnall, Nigel, The Punic Wars, pp117
  39. ^ Polybius 1.78.5
  40. ^ Bagnall, Nigel, The Punic Wars, p117
  41. ^ Lancel, Serge, Hannibal, p17
  42. ^ Miles, Richard, Carthage Must Be Destroyed, pp208
  43. ^ Hoyos, Dexter, The Truceless War, pp146-pp150
  44. ^ Polybius 1.78.9
  45. ^ Polybius 1.78.13
  46. ^ Polybius 1.82.2


Note: The main source for information about The Mercenary War comes from Polybius, a Greek historian writing many years after the events portrayed here, because no Punic primary sources survived into modern times. It is likely that he based much of his account on now-lost works of prior Greek and Roman historians, who are unlikely to have had an unbiased view of Carthage.

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