Another culture was growing and spreading in Italy that was jealous of Carthage’s near monopoly on trade in the Mediterranean. The city of Rome gathered strength and prepared to take control of the lucrative Carthaginian trading empire. The Romans contested the occupation of Sicily by Carthage, and invaded the city of Messina across the narrow straits between Italy and Sicily. The Carthaginians fought the Romans by sea and on land for 23 years, but in the end Rome had defeated the greatest navy in ancient history and taken Sicily.
This was the first Punic war, and for a while peace reigned until an uprising in North Africa brought the Carthaginian general, Hamilcar Barca, out of early retirement. He put down the rebellion, and in the process developed an affiliation with the Numidians of Africa. The joining of these fierce African warriors and the army of Carthage put Hamilcar in a position to expand into Iberia and claw back some of the lands Carthage had lost to the Romans.
In 236 BCE Hamilcar, with his two sons, Hannibal and Hasdrubal, crossed the straits, and after eight years of fighting and diplomacy had taken control of southern Iberia. He established the port of Cartagena on the south-eastern coast, and it quickly grew in size and importance. Rome was watching Hamilcar’s progress with greedy eyes, and waited for its chance to intervene. In 228 BCE Hamilcar was killed, and Hannibal took over control of the army.
The Roman senate was being urged by Cato to force the Carthaginians out of Iberia and destroy their civilisation entirely. Hannibal heard of their plans and decided pre-empt the senate and attack Rome itself. He began his famous march from Iberia, through southern France and across the Alps into Italy. The Romans fought him all the way, but were repeatedly beaten back as Hannibal advanced through Italy. In desperation they elected Quintus Fabius Maximus and gave him almost dictatorial powers to stop Hannibal’s army from overrunning Rome. Hannibal’s advance was brought to a standstill in the summer of 216 BCE at Cannae in southern Italy.
In a decisive battle, Hannibal defeated the Roman army and killed so many important Romans that he collected a bushel of gold rings from the dead nobility of Rome and sent them back to Carthage. Rome as a country was overrun, but the capitol was still unbowed and the Romans now backed into a corner fought for their lives. Carthage had no way of helping Hannibal, who was now trying to hold down the whole of Italy.
In Iberia, Hasdrubal raised an army and gathered the ships needed to transport it to Italy to help his brother, but the Roman navy met them at sea and defeated them. Shortly after, in 207 BCE, spurred on by their success, Rome sent an army to Iberia led by their top general, Scipio Africanus, who captured Cartagena and Gades. However, Scipio could not prevent Hasdrubal from going to support his brother Hannibal, who still controlled much of Italy.
Scipio crossed to Africa, and in 204 BCE attacked Carthage itself, forcing Hannibal to leave Italy and defend his homeland. Hannibal’s army was utterly defeated at Zama in 202 BCE, ending the Second Punic War.
This statue, now in the Louvre, shows Hannibal with a jar of golden rings taken from Roman nobility who were killed at Cannae.
The above painting of Hannibal’s war elephants is taken from the website of the town of Capua in Italy. The artist is unknown, but it depicts Hannibal’s army fighting the Romans. After his victory at Cannae in 216 BCE, Hannibal was welcomed by the city of Capua, which threw its gates open to the Carthaginian troops. Capua was a rich city and the Carthaginians became used to an easy life there which might have led to their eventual defeat. Capua was at that time the site of the gladiatorial training school for the games in Rome.
Rome tried several times to take the city when Hannibal was away fighting, but each time they did, Hannibal returned and defended it. It was not until 211 BCE that Rome finally laid siege to Capua while Hannibal was fighting in the south and forced it to surrender. The victors took all the gold and silver in the city and many of Capua’s 53 senators committed suicide. Those who did not were executed. Rome took away the political rights of the citizens, replaced their magistrates with Roman prefects and their farms were made common land. But the spirit of rebellion did not die in Capua, because 38 years later, a Roman slave called Spartacus began his own epic struggle against the might of Rome from here. When the revolt was over, all the contemporary historians say that Spartacus had been killed during the final battle, but one of them, Appian, reports that his body was never found. Six thousand survivors of the revolt were captured by the legions of Crassus and were crucified along the Appian Way from Rome to Capua.
The painting on the left depicts Scipio Africanus after the Battle of Baecula in Iberia, when he defeated the Carthaginian army. Hannibal’s army was composed of African and Iberian soldiers and Scipio recognised one of the captured leaders as Massiva, the nephew of Massinissa, a chief of Numidia and released him. Massinissa changed sides and fought with Scipio from then on in gratitude for his leniency. This painting is by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, who normally worked in Venice as one of a group of artists. He came to Spain to paint for Charles III, but died in 1770 in Madrid whilst painting for the king.
The picture now hangs in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore in the USA.
Scipio the film
In 1936, Benito Mussolini funded a propaganda film based on Scipio Africanus which was designed to induce patriotism for a proposed Italian invasion of North Africa. It was directed by Carmine Gallone, who was to become one of Italy’s most prolific film directors. An entire division of Il Duce’s army were dressed as Roman soldiers and served as extras during the filming. The film was released in 1937 and plainly displayed that Mussolini considered himself to be the modern-day equivalent of Scipio Africanus.
As soon as the battle scenes had been shot, the troops were shipped to Spain to assist the 15,000 strong Nationalist forces to take the port of Málaga. The opposing 13,000 strong Republican army defending the port was composed of Andalucian members of the National Confederation of Labour, only 8,000 of whom were armed. None of them were trained in modern warfare or knew how to build defences against armoured or air attack, and all were inadequately supplied with ammunition.
The attack started on February 3rd 1937 when the defenders of Málaga met the Nationalist troops at Ronda, and were soon forced back to the coast. The Italian Corpo Truppe Volontarie, along with Moroccan colonial troops and Carlist militia attacked Málaga from the high ground surrounding the city. They were all commanded by Queipo de Llano, though the Italian “Blackshirt” troops were led by Mario Roatta. The Italians formed nine mechanized battalions of about 5,000-10,000 soldiers and were equipped with light tanks and armoured cars. In the Alboran Sea, the Nationalist Cruisers, Canarias, Baleares and Velasco were in position to blockade and bombard Málaga, aided by the German cruiser, Admiral Graf Spee.
Facing a much stronger foe, the Republicans ordered the civilians to evacuate Málaga and the people began to leave by the N340 towards Almería. On February 8th 15,000 to 50,000 civilians, chiefly elderly, women, and children, fled the city and were mercilessly killed by the Nationalist forces, who bombed them from the air and shelled them from the sea. Approximately 3,000–5,000 citizens of Málaga were killed en-route to Almería. Mothers carrying children were slaughtered, leaving many children without parents. The elderly, the injured, and those incapable of completing the trek were swiftly eradicated. Various accounts from the 1960's claim that corpses were still being found alongside the highway. Those who decided to stay in Málaga (approximately 4,000 people) were systematically rounded-up, raped, killed, and piled into mass graves, such as the San Rafael Cemetery.
General Franco, who was fighting in the north, was asked to intervene and stop the slaughter, but his callous reply that he was busy, and could not be in two places at once damned the civilians to a brutal death. When the war was over, it was estimated that one third of the population of Málaga had disappeared.
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