Hasdrubal and the Ebro: The Years 227-226 BCE


  • Hamilcar Barcas is killed in battle in Spain. He is succeeded by his son-in-law Hasdrubal (229 BCE);
  • Hasdrubal founds the city of Carthago Nova (ca. 228 BCE);
  • The number of praetors is increased from two to four (227 BCE);
  • Hasdrubal and Rome sign a treaty, making the river Ebro the border between their respective zones of influence (226 BCE);
  • The Colossus of Rhodos is destroyed in an earthquake (226 BCE).

After her victory over the Illyrians, Rome was at peace again. In 227 BCE, she began consolidating her grip on Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica. Probably around this time, the latter two were joined into a single province, Corsica et Sardinia. Roman provinces needed to be governed and for this reason the number of praetors was doubled from two to four. Gaius Flaminius was elected as one of them and sent to Sicily, where he served with distinction. The praetor sent to Sardinia was given a hot welcome by the local population, who resented his presence, but he was nevertheless able to quell the subsequent rebellion.

Foreign affairs

Rome had for a while been wary of Carthaginian – or rather: Barcid – expansion in Spain. The Romans themselves were not yet present on the Iberian peninsula, but they were allied to the Greek city of Massilia (present-day Marseilles), which served as Rome’s eyes and ears. After his departure to Spain in 238 BCE, the Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barcas had gradually occupied much of the coastal regions in the south and east of the peninsula. For nine years Hamilcar had successfully combined conquest and diplomacy, forming alliances and receiving hostages. Spain’s silver mines were legendary – they are even mentioned in the Bible[1] – and the Carthaginian commander seems to have acted almost entirely without instructions from Carthage itself. His behaviour has been compared to that of a Hellenistic prince.

Relations between Rome and Carthage continued to be uneasy. The Romans suspected the Carthaginians of stirring up trouble on Sardinia. At least once in the 230s they seem to have threatened them with a new war by making the Carthaginians choose between a spear and a herald’s staff. It is telling that, in 231 BCE, the Romans sent envoys directly to the Carthaginian commander in Spain and not to Carthage in Africa. The envoys were tasked with investigating the expansionist activities of Hamilcar, who responded that his campaigns were necessary to pay off the last part of the indemnity.

Bust of Hasdrubal in Cartagena (photo: Maarten Dirkse, CC BY 2.0 license).

Two years later, Hamilcar was dead. He was killed in battle, although the exact circumstances of his death have remained unclear. In an unprecedented move, the Carthaginian forces in Spain chose Hasdrubal, Hamilcar’s son-in-law, as their new commander. It seems that in doing so, the soldiers completely bypassed the authorities back in Carthage, especially the Council of Thirty Elders (i.e. the Carthaginian Senate). Carthaginian military and political offices were never intended to be hereditary, but the army’s choice was nevertheless endorsed by the popular assembly.

Hasdrubal proved to be a competent commander as well, although he seems to have preferred diplomacy. One of his most important actions was the founding, in about 228 BCE, of the city of Carthago Nova, present-day Cartagena. It was to Hasdrubal that, in 226 BCE, the Romans sent a second embassy. By now they – and their Massilian allies – seem to have become genuinely alarmed by the progress that the Carthaginians were making in Spain. According to Polybius, Hasdrubal and the envoys “made a treaty, in which no mention was made of the rest of Spain, but the Carthaginians engaged not to cross the Ebro in arms”. The Ebro was known as the Hiberus, Hiber or Iber in Latin, giving its name to the Iberian peninsula. It should be noted that the city of Saguntum, which was to become a casus belli for Rome in later years, is way south of the Ebro.

Colossal failure

The most significant event of 226 BCE took place way outside the Roman sphere of influence. The island of Rhodos was hit by a tremendous earthquake, which damaged many buildings and docks. It also caused the famous Colossus to fall over. In 305 BCE, the Macedonian general Demetrios Poliorketes had besieged Rhodos, but he was forced to abandon the siege after about a year. When the Macedonians sailed away, they left behind most of their siege equipment. The Rhodians sold this equipment and from the money they got in return they erected a large statue of the sun god Helios. It was some 33 metres high and possibly positioned near the harbour (but certainly not over the harbour entrance!). After the Colossus had been toppled and mostly destroyed during the earthquake, help was offered from all parts of the Greek world. But the Colossus was never rebuilt, as an oracle forbade it. As a result, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World remained in tatters for another 800 years, until the remains of the Colossus were sold for scrap by the Arabs.




  • Adrian Goldsworthy, The Fall of Carthage, p. 136-138 and p. 143.


[1] 1 Maccabees 8:1-3.


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