First Punic War Battles > Battle of Mount Eryx (2)

Battle of Mount Eryx (2)

Punic Wars - Punic Wars DecorationHamilcar Survives at Eryx Hamilcar Survives at Eryx Despite Autaritus’ and the Gauls’ machinations and defection, Hamilcar was able to keep control of the town of Eryx. He would continue to survive from this base for the duration of the war, down into 241 BCE. He was also able to continue pressuring Roman forces in Sicily, though this would be more limited in scope occurring only in the surrounding areas. As we have seen, the navy was likely withdrawn back to Africa, leaving Hamilcar extremely isolated in the midst of Roman forces and without any Carthaginian reinforcements. Hamilcar Barca engraving from Ward, Lock, & Co.'s Illustrated History of the World. Hamilcar Barca engraving from Ward, Lock, & Co.’s Illustrated History of the World. Much like at Hercte, Hamilcar’s movements and operations while at Eryx are either lost or not mentioned by the ancient sources. The only specific details of any of Hamilcar’s actions come from fragments of Diodorus Siculus. He relates, in a segment on good discipline in the men, a few details about a successful raid against an unnamed target. “Although Hamilcar had given orders that the soldiers should not engage in plunder, Vodostor was disobedient and as a result lost many of his men.” (24.9)1 The infantry had been overzealous in their small victory and had now wasted any advantage gained. With Hamilcar’s depleted army and seemingly no prospect of being reinforced, any small losses in manpower would be magnified and irreplaceable. This raiding party under the command of Vodostor would have been completely annihilated had it not been for some superb cavalry coming to the rescue. Even though small in number, these 200 cavalry salvaged what was left of the situation and “not only came through safe themselves but provided safety for the others as well.” (Diodorus Siculus 24.9)2 Mt. Eryx is located in the north-western corner of Sicily. Not at War with the Dead Diodorus Siculus also includes a small diplomatic episode that hints at Hamilcar’s noble character, even in the face of hardship. It was fairly common in the ancient world to arrange for the safe recovery of the dead and wounded after battles, usually by both sides. In this way the proper rites, customs, and burials could be performed or administered to those lost. This was usually something of international understanding; it could perhaps be likened to the sacrosanctity of diplomats and envoys. Here is Diodorus Siculus’ account of Hamilcar’s request to allow this to take place. Hamilcar sent to Eryx to arrange for taking up the dead for burial. The consul Fundanius bade the messengers, if they were sensible men, request a truce to recover, not the dead, but the living. After giving this arrogant reply the consul straightway suffered serious losses, so that it appeared to many that his boastfulness had met with due retribution from the gods. When Fundanius sent heralds to arrange for the burial of the dead, Barca’s reply was very different from that given on the earlier occasion. For stating that he was at war with the living, but had come to terms with the dead, he granted permission for their burial. (Diodorus Siculus 24.9)3 Even though the one of the consuls of 243, Gaius Fundanius Fundulus, had broken an ancient traditional custom, Hamilcar was willing to grant the request he was earlier denied. It is hard to determine whether or not this is overly embellished due to Diodorus Siculus’ fragmentary nature in this section of his history as well as the general dearth of other source material during this point of the First Punic War. Still, it seems clear that Hamilcar’s honorable character preceded him and was well known. Two Years at Eryx This is just about all we know of the operations that took place around Mt. Eryx. Just like his description of Hamilcar’s three years based at Hercte, Polybius decides to give a more symbolic summary than detailed description of the events. Once again, it seems that constant skirmishing and mountainous guerilla warfare took precedence. The Romans felt no need to risk a costly battle against a wise opponent and Hamilcar was hamstrung severely by his limited resources and manpower and essentially abadnoned to his own devices. Here is Polybius’ vivid description of the two powers vying for control of Mt. Eryx. However, here again both sides employed every device and effort that the siege demanded: both endured every kind of privation and both essayed every means of attack and every variety of action. At length not, as Fabius Pictor says, owing to their exhaustion and sufferings, but like two uninjured and invincible champions, they left the contest drawn. For before either could get the better of the other, though the struggle in this place lasted for another two years, the war had been decided by other means. (Polybius 1.58)4 View from Mt. Eryx from Victor Duruy's History of Rome. View from Mt. Eryx from Victor Duruy’s History of Rome. And so it was that neither side was ultimately victorious in Sicily and Hamilcar, with some justification, could claim that he was not defeated on the field of battle after his return back to Carthage. When next we return, we will begin to look at Polybius’ declaration that the war was being decided by other means. Namely, both sides would make one final effort to take to the seas once again. Diodorus Siculus. Library of History. Translated by Francis Walton. 1957. Ibid. Ibid. Polybius. The Histories. Translated by W. R. Paton. 1922.

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