Third Punic War Battles > Battle of Nepheris

Battle of Nepheris

Punic Wars - Punic Wars Decoration

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Primary Source Account

A primary source account of the battle has been described by Appian of Alexandria who documented the battle;

[§102] Manilius undertook an expedition to Nepheris against Hasdrubal, which Scipio disapproved of because the road was flanked by mountain crags, gorges, and thickets, and the heights were occupied by the enemy. When they had come within 500 meters of Hasdrubal, and to the bed of a river where it was necessary to go down and up again, in order to reach the enemy, Scipio urged him to turn back, saying that another time and other means would be more propitious for attacking Hasdrubal. The other tribunes, moved by jealousy, took the opposite view and held that it savored of cowardice, rather than of prudence, to turn back after coming in sight of the enemy, and that it would embolden him to attack them in the rear. Then Scipio gave another piece of advice, that they ought to fortify a camp on the hither side of the stream, to which they could retreat if they were overpowered, there being now no place where they could take refuge. The others laughed at this, and one of them threatened to throw away his sword if Scipio, instead of Manilius, were to command the expedition. Thereupon Manilius, who had not had much experience in war, crossed the river and on the other side encountered Hasdrubal. There was great slaughter on both sides. Finally Hasdrubal took refuge in his stronghold, where he was safe and from which he could watch his chance of attacking the Romans as they moved off. The latter, who already repented of their undertaking, retired in good order till they came to the river. As the crossing was difficult on account of the fewness and narrowness of the fords, it was necessary for them to break ranks. When Hasdrubal saw this he made a most brilliant attack, and slew a vast number of them who were more intent upon flight than upon defending themselves. Among the killed were three of the tribunes who had been chiefly instrumental in urging the consul to risk the engagement.

[§103] Scipio, taking 300 horsemen that he had with him and as many more as he could hastily collect, divided them into two bodies and led them, with many charges, against the enemy, discharging darts at them and retreating by turns, then straightway coming back at them and again retreating, for he had given orders that one half of them should advance by turns continually, discharge their javelins, and retire, as though they were attacking on all sides. This movement being constantly repeated without any intermission, the Africans, thus assailed, turned against Scipio and pressed less heavily on those who were crossing. The latter hurried across the stream and after them came Scipio with his men under a shower of darts and with great difficulty. At the beginning of this fight four Roman cohorts were cut off from the stream by the enemy and took refuge on a hill. These Hasdrubal surrounded, and the Romans did not miss them until they came to a halt. When they learned the facts they were in a quandary. Some thought they ought to continue their retreat and not to endanger the whole army for the sake of a few, but Scipio maintained that while deliberation was proper when you were laying out your plans, yet in an emergency, when so many men and their standards were in danger, nothing but reckless daring was of any use. Then, selecting some companies of horse, he said that he would either rescue them or willingly perish with them. Taking two days' rations, he set out at once, the army being in great fear lest he should never return. When he came to the hill where the men were besieged he took possession of another eminence hard by and separated from the former by a narrow ravine. The Africans pressed the siege vigorously, making signals to each other and thinking that Scipio would not be able to relieve his friends on account of the excessive fatigue of his march. But Scipio, seeing that the bases of the two hills curved around the ravine, lost no time but dashed around them and secured a position above the enemy. They, finding themselves surrounded, fled in disorder. Scipio did not pursue them, as they were much superior in numbers.

[§104] Thus Scipio saved these men also, who had been given up for lost. When the army at a distance saw him returning safe, and that he had saved the others contrary to expectation, they shouted for joy and conceived the idea that he was aided by the same deity that was supposed to have enabled his grandfather Scipio to foresee the future. Manilius then returned to his camp in front of the city, having suffered severely from not following the advice of Scipio, who had tried to dissuade him from the expedition. When all were grieved that those who had fallen in battle, and especially the tribunes, remained unburied, Scipio released one of the captives and sent him to Hasdrubal, asking that he would give burial to the tribunes. The latter searched among the corpses, and, recognizing them by their signet rings (for the military tribunes wore gold rings while common soldiers had only iron ones), he buried them, thus thinking to do an act of humanity not uncommon in war, or perhaps because he was in awe of the reputation of Scipio and thought to do him a service.

- Appian of Alexandria

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