The Second Punic War: The Year 210 BCE

Scipio Africanus.


  • Publius Cornelius Scipio, just 26 years old, is elected proconsul and sent to Spain;
  • The Romans disband the only legion fighting the war in Macedonia and continue the war with just the fleet and marines;
  • The Romans capture the island of Aigina and sell it to Pergamum for thirty talents;
  • The consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus recaptures Salapia in Apulia after it is betrayed to him;
  • The Tarentines defeat a Roman relief fleet bringing supplies to the garrison at the citadel;
  • After the defection of the Liby-Phoenician commander Muttines, the other consul Marcus Valerius Laevinus recaptures Agrigentum;
  • Laevinus ends the war on Sicily and sends a band of thugs to Bruttium to pillage the region;
  • At the second Battle of Herdonea, Hannibal once again annihilates a Roman army;
  • Marcellus and Hannibal fight each other to a draw at Numistro.

Once again, the consular elections were slightly unusual. This year the century of iuniores of the tribus Voturia was the centuria praerogativa, the century that was allowed to vote first and whose vote carried a lot of weight. The iuniores voted for Titus Manlius Torquatus and Titus Otacilius. The former was an experienced politician and general who had been consul twice and who had defeated the Carthaginians and local insurgents on Sardinia in 215 BCE. The latter was a former praetor who had missed out on the consulship in 214 BCE. During the elections of that year, the centuria praerogativa had been asked by Quintus Fabius Maximus to reconsider its initial vote for Otacilius and another candidate. Otacilius would miss out on the consulship again, because now it was Titus Manlius Torquatus who asked the iuniores to change their vote. Torquatus cited poor eyesight and it seems likely he was rather elderly as well, having first held the consulship in 235 BCE. The senior century of the same tribe was called in and after some deliberation, the seniores convinced the iuniores to choose candidates that had a better chance of defeating Hannibal.

The iuniores now voted for Marcus Claudius Marcellus and Marcus Valerius Laevinus, the man who had led the war against Macedonia and had done so competently. Both were elected in absentia. It seems that poor Otacilius, who was not in Rome either, died soon afterwards on Sicily, his second attempt to become consul thwarted as well. The former consul Publius Sulpicius Galba was charged with taking over the war against King Philippos V from Laevinus, who was sent to Sicily to stamp out the last embers of resistance. The province had originally been allotted to Marcellus, but he voluntarily gave it up after members of several Sicilian communities had gone to the Senate in mourning garb to complain about the general’s heavy-handed actions on their island. It seems that quite a few senators believed that Marcellus had treated the Sicilians, and especially the Syracusans, too harshly, but the Senate nevertheless decided to ratify Marcellus’ settlement of affairs on the island. The Sicilians had to content themselves with Laevinus as the new supreme commander on Sicily.

Domestic affairs

Roman ship on a tomb from Classe, near Ravenna (Archaeological Museum of Ravenna).

The Romans reduced the numbers of legions in the field to just 21 this year. Fewer soldiers were needed now that Capua and Syracuse had been retaken. But Rome did once again have trouble recruiting enough sailors for the fleet. As was the case four years ago, Roman citizens were asked to provide the fleet with crews, provisions and payment for the sailors, but this time the request was widely resented. This is hardly surprising, as Rome had already asked so much of her citizens during the war. In a wonderfully moralistic tale told by Livius, the consul Laevinus is supposed to have argued for a top-down approach, with the magistrates and senators setting an example by donating much of their own gold, silver and minted copper for the war effort. The valuables were deposited with the three finance commissioners (triumviri mensarii) that had been appointed in 216 BCE. The equestrians and the common people now followed willingly. It should be pointed out that these donations were strictly speaking loans, and that the money would be paid back six years later.

The most important decision taken this year was the appointment of a new supreme commander for Spain. Livius claims that the Senate deliberated about this issue for a long time, but could not make up its mind, ultimately delegating the task of choosing a commander to the popular assembly. A more plausible explanation is, however, that the Senate chose a new commander and subsequently had that choice ratified by the people, more specifically the comitia centuriata. 26-year-old Publius Cornelius Scipio was unanimously appointed or elected proconsul and charged with fighting the armies of Hasdrubal, son of Gisgo, Mago and Hasdrubal Barcas in the Spanish peninsula. This was an unprecedented move, for not only was Scipio still very young, he had also so far only held the junior office of curule aedile. He did have some military experience, having likely fought at the Ticinus, perhaps at the Trebia and certainly at Cannae, where he had rallied survivors. But he had never commanded an entire army and he was now just an ordinary Roman citizen. This may be the reason why the matter of the appointment was referred to the popular assembly.

Marcus Junius Silanus was appointed as Scipio’s legatus. Late in 210 BCE or early in the next year, Scipio travelled to Spain with a fleet of 30 quinqueremes. He had taken reinforcements with him, some 10.000 infantry and 1.000 cavalry. The young general landed his forces at Emporiae and made his headquarters at Tarraco. The next spring, Scipio would strike at the heart of Carthaginian rule in Spain.


King Philippos V (photo: PHGCOM/British Museum).

The war between Rome and her allies on the one side and the energetic young King Philippos V and his allies on the other was still dominated by raids and skirmishes. The king seems to have never really considered the option of crossing the Adriatic to invade Italy and it seems very unlikely that he even had the manpower to come to the aid of Hannibal there. The Romans realised that Philippos would never constitute a threat to Italy, which is exactly why after his return to Rome this year, the consul Laevinus proposed to disband the legion under his command and to continue the war with just the fleet and the marines.

Philippos did manage to take the city of Echinos, a member of the Aetolian League, after a formal siege this year. The Romans on the other hand took the island of Aigina, a member of the rival Achaean League. The citizens of Aigina were allowed to ransom themselves, but they could not raise enough funds. Publius Sulpicius Galba, the new Roman commander and Laevinus’ successor, was not inclined to show any clemency and sold the inhabitants as slaves. The island itself was sold to King Attalos of Pergamum for a mere thirty talents. The Romans and their allies also captured the city of Antikyra in Phokis this year.

Italy and Sicily

After the fall of Capua, Hannibal was blamed by his Italian allies for not having done enough to protect them. The Carthaginian commander could not split up his army, but he did peel off a few detachments to serve as garrisons in allied cities. One of these cities was Salapia in Apulia, where Hannibal had made his winter camp in 214 BCE. He had left a garrison of 500 Numidians there to protect it. Salapia, however, was betrayed to the Romans this year by one of its political leaders. The consul Marcellus was admitted into the city with his army and surrounded the Numidians on all sides. The Numidians could not make use of their horses, but they decided to put up a fight anyway. Most of them were killed and a mere fifty were captured by the Romans. The loss of these experienced men was blow for Hannibal.

Map of Southern Italy (source: Ancient World Mapping Center. “À-la-carte”; CC BY 4.0).

The situation at Tarentum had developed into a stalemate. The Tarentines had still not managed to capture the citadel of the city, which was courageously defended by Gaius (or Marcus) Livius and his men. The situation was pretty desperate for both the defenders and the besiegers, as both were almost starving. There was some success for the Tarentines when they managed to defeat a Roman relief fleet that was trying to bring supplies to the defenders in the citadel. Some 20 Romans ships commanded by one Decimus Quinctius had set out from Rhegium, escorting a fleet of cargo ships headed for Tarentum. At Sapriportis, some 24 kilometres from Tarentum, the fleet was intercepted by Tarentine ships, and in the ensuing battle the Roman flagship was captured and Quinctius killed. This Tarentine success proved to be short-lived. Most of the cargo ships managed to get away and Livius sent a strong detachment of soldiers from the citadel to the fields around Tarentum to attack scattered citizens harvesting the grain. Many were killed and the harvest was lost. Later this year, the Romans managed to break through the naval blockade anyway and succeeded in providing the defenders with grain bought in Etruria.

Meanwhile, the consul Laevinus had ended the war on Sicily by capturing the city of Agrigentum. The consul had been greatly aided by the defection of Muttines, the Liby-Phoenician officer who had successfully fought against the Romans in previous years, but who had also suffered from discrimination by his own superiors. Muttines had been dismissed by Hanno, who had appointed his own son instead, but his Numidian cavalry had remained loyal to him. The Liby-Phoenician now opened secret negotiations with the consul and agreed to open a gate in the walls of Agrigentum to admit the Romans. When the Roman soldiers were in the streets, Hanno and Epicydes fled the city and managed to escape back to Carthage. Their men were not so lucky, as most were slaughtered. Laevinus proved to be just as harsh a victor as Marcellus. He had the leading magistrates of Agrigentum scourged and beheaded, while the other citizens were sold as slaves.

Map of Sicily (source: Ancient World Mapping Center. “À-la-carte”; CC BY 4.0)

Muttines was lavishly rewarded by the Romans and was even granted Roman citizenship, taking the nomen gentilicium of his principal benefactor Laevinus. As Marcus Valerius Muttines he would continue to serve in the Roman army for many years to come. The consul Laevinus now ended the war on Sicily by recapturing the remaining Sicilian cities that were still in revolt. Most surrendered voluntarily and only a handful were taken by storm. Since none of these cities are mentioned by name in our sources, we may assume that these were mostly smaller towns. Laevinus then decided to focus on rebuilding the agricultural infrastructure of Sicily. This was important, as the island was to supply the Romans with grain for the remainder of the war. The consul also started to employ new methods of warfare. He gathered some 4.000 armed thugs and transported them from Agathyrna on Sicily to Rhegium. There they were set free and ordered to pillage Bruttium, which was still on Hannibal’s side.

The war in Italy seemed to be going very much the Romans’ way, but once again, they underestimated Hannibal. At Herdonea, the site of a Roman defeat two years previously (see the map above), the brilliant Carthaginian commander again managed to annihilate a Roman army that had strayed too close. Now it was the proconsul Gnaeus Fulvius Centumalus who became a victim of Hannibal’s tactical genius. Details of the battle are hazy, but the proconsul and between 7.000 and 13.000 of his men were killed, together with 11 military tribunes. The city of Herdonea was burned to the ground by the Carthaginians, who suspected the inhabitants of having gone over to the Romans again.

Later this year, the consul Marcellus confronted Hannibal and his army at Numistro in Lucania. The ensuing battle ended in a draw, so Hannibal remained undefeated in Italy. It was a status the Carthaginian general would continue to hold right up until the moment he was recalled to Africa.


Primary sources

Secondary sources

  • Adrian Goldsworthy, The Fall of Carthage, p. 236-237, p. 258-259 and p. 267-271;
  • Richard Miles, Carthage must be destroyed, p. 296-300.


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