Battle of Tunis
|Battle of Tunis|
|Part of the First Punic War|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Marcus Atilius Regulus (POW)||Xanthippus|
|Casualties and losses|
|800 dead (According to Polybios)|
The Battle of Tunis, also known as the Battle of Bagrades, between the Roman Republic and Carthage occurred in the spring of 255 BC during the First Punic War. The battle ended in a decisive Carthaginian victory.
The mercenary general Xanthippus was hired by the city of Carthage following heavy-handed negotiations by Rome. He made the Romans fight on open ground, which allowed him to maximize the effect of the excellent Carthaginian cavalry and elephants.
The Roman army under Marcus Atilius Regulus was based at Tunis. Faced by the resurgent Carthaginian army Regulus was keen to gain another victory rather than risk the chance that someone else would get the glory of eventual victory. All we have from the sources is Polybios' report that Regulus had 15,000 Infantry and 500 Cavalry when he returned home.
Xanthippus is credited with the Carthaginian deployment, with a hastily raised phalanx of civilians in the centre, mercenary infantry on their right and a line of elephants in front of the infantry, with the elite Carthaginian cavalry split between the two flanks. The Romans were formed in their normal formation, with the legionary infantry in the centre and the outnumbered cavalry on the flanks.
The Carthaginians started the battle with an attack by the elephants. This tied up the main force of Roman infantry. The Roman cavalry, outnumbered eight to one, was quickly defeated. Only on their left did the Romans have any success, when 2,000 troops, possibly allied troops, defeated the mercenaries facing them, and chased them back past their camp. Meanwhile, in the centre the elephant attack had been withstood, but only a few isolated units of Roman infantry managed to get past them to attempt to attack the Carthaginian phalanx, and those were quickly defeated. Finally, the Carthaginian cavalry charged the already shaken Romans from both sides, destroying what cohesion was left. Only the 2,000 troops successful earlier in the battle escaped to be rescued by the Roman fleet. Regulus himself was taken prisoner. Some later Roman writers claim that his eyelids were cut off and he was trampled to death by an enraged elephant. However Polybius does not mention it and Diodorus, (a writer hostile to the Carthaginians) implies he died from natural causes. The defeat, and serious disasters in storms at sea, ended any chance that Rome would defeat Carthage in Africa, and ensured that the rest of the war was fought in Sicily and at sea.
- Lost Battles, Philip Sabin p174
- Lost Battles, Philip Sabin p175
- Kistler, John M. War Elephants. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006. p.100.
- Carthage and the Carthaginians, R Bosworth Smith.
Polybios: Histories, Book 1
9. It resulted that in this battle the Carthaginians lost about eight hundred of the mercenaries, who had faced the Roman left wing, while of the Romans there were saved but about two thousand, whom the pursuit of the mercenaries I mentioned above carried out of the main battle.