Siege of Saguntum
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|Siege of Saguntum|
|Part of the Second Punic War|
Medieval castle of Saguntum
|Commanders and leaders|
|Casualties and losses|
|9,100||near whole fighting force was killed, number of civilian casualties|
The Siege of Saguntum was a battle which took place in 219 BC between the Carthaginians and the Saguntines at the Roman Hill town of Saguntum, near the modern town of Sagunto in the province of Valencia Spain. The battle is mainly remembered today because it triggered one of the most important wars of antiquity, the Second Punic War.
After Hannibal was made supreme commander of Iberia (221 BC) at the age of 26, he spent two years refining his plans and completing his preparations to secure power in the Mediterranean. The Romans did nothing against him though they received ample warning of Hannibal's preparations. The Romans even went so far as turning their attentions to the Illyrians who had begun to revolt. Because of this, the Romans could not react when news reached them that Hannibal was besieging Saguntum. They were disgruntled that Hannibal had broken the Ebro Treaty signed in 226 BC after the First Punic War by Hasdrubal and the Romans, which fixed the river Ebro as the boundary between the two powers of Rome and Carthage. Under the terms of the treaty, Carthage would not expand north of the Ebro, as long as Rome likewise did not expand to the south of the river.
Here Hannibal acted in a way not too different from that of Rome who had recently annexed Sardinia despite a treaty which had explicitly forbidden them from doing so. The capture of Saguntum was essential to Hannibal in his overall plan. The city was one of the most fortified in the area and it would be a poor move to leave such a city in the hands of his enemy. Hannibal also looked for plunder to keep his army happy (mostly mercenaries from North Africa, the Iberian Peninsula and Gaul). The money from the city could also be spent on keeping any political opponents down back in Carthage.
During Hannibal's assault on Saguntum he suffered some losses due to the extensive fortifications and the tenacity of the defending Saguntines, but his troops stormed and destroyed the city's defenses one at a time. The Saguntines turned to Rome for aid, but none was sent. In 218 BC after enduring eight months of siege the Saguntines' last defences were finally overrun. Hannibal offered to spare the population on condition that they were "willing to depart from Saguntum, unarmed, each with two garments". When they declined the offer and began to sabotage the town's wealth and possessions, every adult was put to death.
This marked the beginning of the Second Punic War. Hannibal now had a base from which he could supply his forces with food and extra troops.
After the siege, Hannibal attempted to gain the support of the Carthaginian Senate. The Senate (controlled by a relatively pro-Roman faction led by Hanno the Great) often did not agree with Hannibal's aggressive means of warfare, and never gave complete and unconditional support to him, even when he was on the verge of absolute victory only five miles from Rome. In this episode however, Hannibal was able to gain limited support which permitted him to move to Carthago Nova where he gathered his men and informed them of his ambitious intentions. Hannibal briefly undertook a religious pilgrimage before beginning his march toward the Pyrenees, the Alps, and Rome itself. The next phase of the war was marked by extraordinary Carthaginian victories at Trebia, Lake Trasimene and, perhaps most notably, at the Battle of Cannae.
At the end of the 1st century AD the siege of Saguntum was described with much detail by the Latin author Silius Italicus in his epic poem Punica. In his verses several Saguntine leaders and heroes stand up (Sicoris, Murrus, Theron a.o.), as well as a Libyan warrior princess fighting for Carthage (Asbyte), but very few historians give the tale any credit as a historic source.
In 1727 the English dramatist Philip Frowde drew from Silius' poem a tragedy entitled The Fall of Saguntum, which obtained only about three representations.
- Polybius, The Histories
- Livy (21.13-14) History of Rome, xxi) at Project Gutenberg