Battle of Tunis, 255 BC

Battle of Tunis, 255 BC

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Battle of Tunis, 255 BC

After the Roman invasion of Africa in 256, Carthage was close to defeat in the First Punic War. With a Roman army on African soil, Carthage even began negotiations in 256 BC, but the Roman terms were harsher than those eventually agreed on fifteen years later, and Carthage refused them. Over the winter of 255 Carthage reformed her defeated army, importing a group of Greek mercenaries, amongst whom was the Spartan Xanthippus, who after making noisy public criticism of the defeated Punic commanders was appointed as a military advisor. Hellenistic warfare was much more professional than either Roman or Punic, and Xanthippus appears to have been able to train the Carthaginian army to a much higher standard than before. Finally, Carthage was able to field an army of 12,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry and 100 elephants, probably equal in size to the Roman army.

The Roman army under Marcus Atilius Regulus was based at Tunis. Faced by the resurgent Carthaginian army Regulus was keen to gain another victory rather than risk the chance that someone else would get the glory of eventual victory. Xanthippus is credited with the Carthaginian formation, with a hastily raised phalanx of civilians in the centre, mercenary infantry on their right and a line of elephants in front of the infantry, with the cavalry split between the two wings. The Romans were formed in their normal formation, with the legionary infantry in the centre and the outnumbered cavalry on the wings.

The Carthaginians started the battle with an attack by the elephants. This tied up the main force of Roman infantry. The Roman cavalry, outnumbered four to one, was quickly defeated. Only on their left did the Romans have any success, where 2,000 troops, possibly allied troops, defeated the mercenaries facing them, and chasing them back past to their camp. Meanwhile, in the centre the elephant attack had been withstood, but only a few isolated units of Roman infantry managed to get past them to attempt to attack the Carthaginian phalanx, and they were quickly defeated. Finally, the Carthaginian cavalry charged the already shaken Romans from both sides, destroying what cohesion was left. Only the 2,000 troops successful earlier in the battle escaped, to be rescued by the Roman fleet. Regulus himself was taken prisoner. The defeat, and a serious disasters in storms at sea, ended any chance that Rome would defeat Carthage in Africa, and made sure that the rest of the war was fought on Sicily and at sea.

Prelude [ edit | edit source ]

The mercenary Spartan general Xanthippus was hired by the city of Carthage following heavy-handed negotiations by Rome. He made the Romans fight on open ground, which allowed him to maximise the effect of the excellent Carthaginian cavalry and elephants. ΐ]

The Roman army under Marcus Atilius Regulus was based at Tunis. Faced by the resurgent Carthaginian army, Regulus was keen to gain another victory rather than risk the chance that someone else would get the glory of eventual victory. ΐ]

255 BC

The Battle of Adis (or Adys) is fought near the city of that name, 40 miles (64 kilometers) southeast of Carthage , between Carthaginian forces and a Roman army led by Marcus Atilius Regulus. The Romans inflict a crushing defeat upon the Carthaginians, and the latter then sue for peace. The ensuing negotiations between the parties lead to Regulus demanding Carthage agree to an unconditional surrender, cede Sicily, Corsica and Sardinia to Rome, renounce the use of their navy, pay an indemnity, and sign a vassal-like treaty. These terms are so harsh that the people of Carthage resolve to keep fighting.
The Carthaginians, angered by Regulus' demands, hire Xanthippus, a Spartan mercenary, to reorganize the army. The revitalised Carthaginian army, led by Xanthippus, decisively defeat the Romans in the Battle of Tunis and capture their commander Marcus Atilius Regulus. A Roman fleet, sent to rescue Regulus and his troops, is wrecked in a storm off Sicily.

In the Second Syrian War, Ptolemy II loses ground in Cilicia, Pamphylia, and Ionia, while Antiochus II regains Miletus and Ephesus. A peace is then concluded between Antiochus and Ptolemy under which Antiochus is to marry Ptolemy's daughter Berenice Syra.

Diodotus I, Seleucid satrap of Bactria, rebels against Antiochus II and becomes the founder of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom.
Hui of Eastern Zhou becomes the last claimant King of the Zhou Dynasty of China.
Qin Shi Huang becomes the first King of the Qin Dynasty of China.

Eratosthenes invents the armillary sphere, a model of the celestial sphere.

Thread: The Battle of Tunis - 255 BC

The Battle of Tunis was Carthage’s only major land victory of the First Punic War. It stands out amongst other battles of the Punic Wars namely because the majority of the Carthaginian army consisted not of mercenaries, as was their custom, but of ordinary citizens. However, the Punic victory was not due to the willingness of the Carthaginian populace to fight - an area in which the Romans were far superior - but to the charismatic leadership and sound tactical decisions of a Greek (possibly Lacedaemonian) Mercenary named Xanthippus.

My major source for this battle is, of course, Polybius. The relevant sections of his Histories are 1.32 - 1.35. Among the other resources I have consulted, two of the most useful were Hannibal: A History of the Art of War Among the Carthaginians and Romans, by Theodore Ayrault Dodge, and The History of Rome, by Thomas Arnold.

Of everything I’ve ever read on this battle, nothing has mentioned the size or kind of the elephants which made up the front line of the army of Xanthippus. If anyone knows something I don’t or has an idea of what elephants to use, please let me know.

The same goes for the heavy mercenaries. I tend to believe that they were Greek, since Carthage had sent a recruiting agent to Greece looking for mercenaries prior to this battle. According to Polybius, the agent brought back “a large number of men with him.” Xanthippus only accounts for one of these men.

The following numbers are on a 10:1 scale.

1 unit of 5 Sacred Band Cavalry
2 units of 100 Ezrahim Parasim Ponnim
2 units of 100 Numidian Skirmisher Cavalry
5 units of 150 Misteret Izrahim Tsorim
1 units of 150 Dorkim Lubim-Ponnim Mookdamim
1 unit of 100 Misthophoroi Hoplitai
1 unit of 100 Toxotai Kretikoi
1 unit of 100 Balearic Slingers
10 elephants

Marcus Atilius Regulus: (all units are Camillan except for Velites)
1 unit of 5 Eqvites Consvlares
2 units of 25 Eqvites Romani
4 units of 108 Velites
4 units of 108 Hastati
4 units of 108 Principes
4 units of 54 Triarii

Surprise Attack on Censorinus' Camp

After fortifying his camp, Censorinus dispatched his men to gather timber from the far side of Lake Tunis, intending to build new siege engines. The Carthaginian cavalry commander Himilco Phameas, seizing on this opportunity, raided the workers as they gathered timber, resulting in a loss of 500 men and a great deal of tools for constructing siege works. Nevertheless, Censorinus acquired sufficient timber to create siege engines and ladders, and he and Manilius launched another attack on the city in concert, which was again repulsed. [Appian 2] Manilius decided against launching another assault on the walls from the isthmus, but Censorinus, having filled up parts of the lake to provide room, constructed two battering rams, one for his fleet and another supported by 6000 infantry. In the subsequent assault on the walls from Lake Tunis, Censorinus' troops managed to breach Carthage's wall before being driven off by the defenders, who hastily began repairing the breach. Fearing a second assault, the Carthaginians sallied from the unrepaired wall that evening and assaulted the camp on Lake Tunis, torching a great deal of the Roman siege engines. [Appian 3]

The next day, the Roman troops attempted to break through the gap in the wall, though Scipio Aemilianus, then serving as military tribune under Censorinus refused to enter and held his troops in reserve, instead spacing them at regular intervals along the wall. While Aemilianus' troops avoided the battle, the other troops were met by staunch resistance from the Carthaginians fighting back in the gap, and the Roman troops suffered heavy casualties as the defenders attacked from the broken wall. [Appian 4]


The Battle of Lake Tunis was a naval battle of the Third Punic War that was fought between the Carthaginians and the Roman Republic in 149 BC. The Romans sent two consuls, Manius Manilus and Lucius Marcius Censorinus who landed at two separate points around the city of Carthage. Manilius established his camp on the isthmus leading to Carthage facing the citadel of Byrsa, while Censorinus established his across from the western wall of Carthage, on Lake Tunis.

The Roman siege plan was to have Manilius fill in the ditch on the southern wall and then scale them and siege the city. On the western wall siege ladders would be raised as well was from the decks of Roman ships. Encamped on the other side of Lake Tunis was the Carthaginian general named Hasdrubal the Boetharch. Worried about a surprise attack from the Carthaginians, the Romans decided to fortify their military encampments with additional defenses. (Appian, 97)

Manilius planned to fill the ditch facing the southern wall and from there scale it, while Censorinus intended to raise ladders to the western wall from the ground and the decks of the ships. Two initial assaults were enacted, with the consuls thinking the Carthaginians were without arms, but they were surprised to find the citizens re-armed and were subsequently repelled on both attempts. Fearing the approach of Hasdrubal the Boetharch, who was encamped on the other side of Lake Tunis, both consuls fortified their camps.[Appian 1]

When the Romans invaded Africa during the First Punic War, Carthage hired Xanthippus — a Spartan mercenary general — to professionally train the army. He led the Carthaginians to considerable success against the Romans during the course of the war and defeated them at the Battle of Tunis in 255 BC.

Xanthippus caught the attention of Carthage when he criticized the inexperience of its generals, claiming that it was they who were causing their setbacks during the war, not the Romans. When Rome won a series of naval battles against Carthage, they dispatched a large legionary force under Marcus Atilius Regulus in Northern Africa near Apsis. A joint Carthaginian army was defeated at the Battle of Adys by Regulus, and Carthage sued for peace.

However, the peace terms Regulus demanded were so harsh that Carthage pursued war. Understanding the circumstances they were in, they hired a certain Spartan mercenary general Xanthippus to train their army in Carthage. Xanthippus likely fought against Pyrrhus of Epirus in Sparta, and was therefore familiar with war elephants which the Carthaginians had a corps of. He trained the Carthaginian citizenry army to a professional status under the supervision of Carthaginian generals. Pleased with his efforts, Carthage gave him full command of their army to face Regulus (a rare occurrence), that was composed of mostly citizens, as well as Spartan mercenaries, Iberians, and Celts, along with a sizable cavalry force and elephants.

The battle took place in or around Tunis, a mere 10 miles south of Carthage and too close for comfort, where Xanthippus decisively defeated the Roman army and captured Regulus. Having fulfilled his duties, Xanthippus took his pay and went back to Greece. He was perhaps the most experienced general employed by the Carthaginians during the First Punic War prior to Hamilcar Barca.


"Scipio, when he looked upon the city as it was utterly perishing and in the last throes of its complete destruction, is said to have shed tears and wept openly for his enemies. After being wrapped in thought for long, and realizing that all cities, nations, and authorities must, like men, meet their doom that this happened to Ilium, once a prosperous city, to the empires of Assyria, Media, and Persia, the greatest of their time, and to Macedonia itself, the brilliance of which was so recent, either deliberately or the verses escaping him, he said:

Marine archaeology

Since 2010 eleven bronze warship rams have been found by archaeologists in the sea within a 1 square kilometre (0.4 square miles) area off Phorbantia, along with ten bronze helmets and hundreds of amphorae. ⏬] ⏭] ⏮] The rams, seven of the helmets, and six intact amphorae, along with a number of fragments, have since been recovered. ⏯] Inscriptions allowed four of the rams to be identified as coming from Roman-built ships, one from a Carthaginian vessel, with the origins of the remaining two being unknown. 𖏜] It is possible that some of the Roman-built vessels had been captured by the Carthaginians earlier in the war and were crewed by them when they were sunk. 𖏝] It is believed that the rams were each attached to a sunken warship when they were deposited on the seabed. 𖏞] Six of the helmets were of the Montefortino type typically used by the legions, three with one or both bronze cheek pieces still attached the seventh, badly corroded, was of a different design and may be Carthaginian. 𖏟] 𖏠] The archaeologists involved stated that the location of artefacts so far discovered supports Polybius's account of where the battle took place. 𖏡] Based on the dimensions of the recovered rams, the archaeologists who have studied them believe that they all came from triremes, contrary to Polybius's account of all of the warships involved being quinqueremes. ⏮] 𖏢] However, they believe that the many amphora identified confirm that the Carthaginian ships were laden with supplies. 𖏣]

Tubero’s Version

According to the Roman jurist, statesman, and writer, Quintus Aelius Tubero who flourished in 11 BC, Regulus, while camping at the Bagradas River met a serpent of extraordinary size more than the size of the Amazon’s green Anaconda. The serpent had been based in that region and Regulus and his soldiers fought a stubborn and fierce battle with it. The entire army kept attacking it with different weapons for a very long time until it was finally subdued and finally killed.

In fact, its skin was reported to be a hundred and twenty feet long which was then sent to Rome as a trophy.


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Carthage, Phoenician Kart-hadasht, Latin Carthago, great city of antiquity on the north coast of Africa, now a residential suburb of the city of Tunis, Tunisia. Built on a promontory on the Tunisian coast, it was placed to influence and control ships passing between Sicily and the North African coast as they traversed the Mediterranean Sea. Rapidly becoming a thriving port and trading centre, it eventually developed into a major Mediterranean power and a rival to Rome. The archaeological site of Carthage was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1979.

According to tradition, Carthage was founded by the Phoenicians of Tyre in 814 bce its Phoenician name means “new town.”

Carthage was probably not the earliest Phoenician settlement in the region Utica may have predated it by half a century, and various traditions concerning the foundation of Carthage were current among the Greeks, who called the city Karchedon. The Roman tradition is better known, however, because of the Aeneid, which tells of the city’s foundation by the Tyrian princess Dido, who fled from her brother Pygmalion (the name of a historical king of Tyre). The inhabitants of Carthage were known to the Romans as Poeni, a derivation from the word Phoenikes (Phoenicians), from which the adjective Punic is derived. The traditional date of the foundation of Carthage as 814 bce was probably exaggerated by the Carthaginians themselves, for it does not necessarily agree with the archaeological data. Nothing earlier than the last quarter of the 8th century bce has been discovered, a full century later than the traditional foundation date.

The Phoenicians selected the locations of their maritime colonies with great care, focusing on the quality of harbours and their proximity to trade routes. The site chosen for Carthage in the centre of the shore of the Gulf of Tunis was ideal the city was built on a triangular peninsula covered with low hills and backed by the Lake of Tunis, with its safe anchorage and abundant supplies of fish. This location offered access to the Mediterranean but was shielded from many of the violent storms that afflicted other Mediterranean ports. The site of the city was well protected and easily defensible, and its proximity to the Strait of Sicily placed it at a strategic bottleneck in east-west Mediterranean trade. On the south the peninsula is connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land. The ancient citadel, the Byrsa, was on a low hill overlooking the sea. Some of the earliest tombs have been found there, though nothing remains of Carthage’s domestic and public buildings.

Although Punic wealth was legendary, the standard of cultural life enjoyed by the Carthaginians may have been below that of the larger cities of the Classical world. Punic interests were turned toward commerce rather than art, and Carthage controlled much of the Western trade in the luxurious purple dye from the murex shell. Arguments about the virtual lack of Punic literature are largely moot when the Romans sacked the city, Carthage’s libraries and archives were either given to Numidian kings or did not survive the destruction. One notable exception was the work of a Carthaginian writer named Mago, whose 28 books on agriculture were translated into Greek by Cassius Dionysius and later cited by Romans such as Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella. In Roman times Punic beds, cushions, and mattresses were regarded as luxuries, and Punic joinery and furniture were copied. Much of the revenue of Carthage came from its exploitation of the silver mines of North Africa and southern Spain, begun as early as 800 bce near Gadir (modern Cádiz, Spain) and in the 3rd century bce near what is now Cartagena, Spain. From the middle of the 3rd century to the middle of the 2nd century bce , Carthage was engaged in a series of wars with Rome. These wars, which are known as the Punic Wars, ended in the complete defeat of Carthage by Rome and the expansion of Roman control in the Mediterranean world. When Carthage finally fell in 146 bce , the site was plundered and burned, fulfilling the demand by the senator and orator Cato the Elder that had been distilled in the phrase delenda est Carthago: “Carthage must be destroyed.” See also North Africa: The Carthaginian period.

In 122 bce the Roman Senate entrusted Gaius Gracchus and Marcus Fulvius Flaccus with the foundation of a colony on the site of Carthage. Though the venture was largely unsuccessful, Julius Caesar later sent a number of landless citizens there, and in 29 bce Augustus centred the administration of the Roman province of Africa at the site. Thereafter it became known as Colonia Julia Carthago, and it soon grew prosperous enough to be ranked with Alexandria and Antioch. Carthage became a favourite city of the emperors, though none resided there. Of its history during the later empire, very little is known, but in the mid-3rd century, the city began to decline.

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