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The Numantine war.
17 July 2020 @ 22:18


Following on from last week’s blog, where the Romans discover that they have a tiger by the tail and daren’t let go.  Once again there are no paintings of this most ignominious period in Roman history.

Rome was now very alarmed. They had lost more than half of the force that they had sent to put down a rebellion caused by a dispute that could have been avoided by discussion. A year after they had sent Nobilitor and his army, the Roman senate was forced to send another army to take back control of northern Iberia. In 152 BCE Marcus Claudius Marcellus took over the command, bringing 8,000 infantry and 500 cavalry to Hispania. Marcellus encamped his army before the gates of Ocilis. The townspeople surrendered and asked for leniency, and Marcellus wisely pardoned them. This encouraged Nertobriga (a town of the Belli, in the modern province of Zaragoza) to also sue for peace. Marcellus asked for the gift of 100 of the town’s cavalry and hostages and they agreed. However, a raid on the rear guard of the Romans by one of the other tribes led to Marcellus besieging the town once more. The town elders again begged for mercy, but Marcellus refused to talk with them unless all the tribes agreed to talk with him together.

The Nertobriges sent ambassadors to the rebel tribes who united asked Marcellus for leniency and for the renewal of the treaty made with Tiberius Gracchus. Hoping to broker a peace deal that would end the war, Marcellus sent envoys from each party to Rome to carry on their dispute there. With them, he sent private letters to the senate urging Rome to accept their peace proposals. The senate were having none of it, and the sent word back that Marcellus was to be relieved of his command and replaced by Lucius Licinius Lucullus.

Marcellus called the tribes together and told them that their haggling with the senate had angered Rome and brought war down on themselves. He gave them back their hostages and in an effort to end the war before Lucullus arrived, he drove the Numantines back within their own city walls. The Belli, Titti and Arevaci put themselves at his mercy and Marcellus asked for hostages and money. Effectively the Celts were now at peace.

In Rome, recruiting for the army had reached crisis point, and nobody wanted to go to Iberia. There was talk of terrible conditions, no booty and bloodthirsty, ferocious tribesmen to fight. The list of Roman losses in this campaign was growing longer every year. Young men avoided enrolment as soldiers, and men eligible to be legion commanders or military tribunes found a multitude of excuses why they could not go. The man they were replacing Marcellus with was bankrupt as a soldier, and was desperate to make some money by looting and robbery disguised as defending Rome’s assets.

When Lucullus did arrive, he was not happy that the war was seemingly over. He promptly attacked the Vaccaei, (a tribe who lived to the east of the Arevaci and who had never rebelled against Rome.) on the pretext that that they were supplying the Celtiberians with food and arms.

He led his men across the River Tagus and made his camp near the town of Cauca (Coca in the province of Segovia). His excuse for going there was that the Caucaei had attacked the Carpetani and that he had come to their aid. The Caucaei lost the first skirmish and sued for peace and Lucullus demanded hostages and 100 talents of silver. He next demanded that from now on the town would be garrisoned by Romans and he left a contingent of his men in charge and left.  He did not go far. The garrison opened the gates at night and let in the rest of the army, who slaughtered every Celt male in the town. The defenders fled and fired the city to deprive Lucullus and his men of booty. Lucullus next marched on the town of Itercatia, where more than 20,000 Celtiberian infantry and 2,000 cavalry had taken refuge. He encamped his men outside the city walls and called for peace talks. The Celts knew about the slaughter of the Caucaei and sent their reply saying that they did not trust his word. Lucullus flew into a rage and sent his men to burn the surrounding land and villages.

The Romans erected their siege engines and breached the wall, but the Celts swarmed out of the city, overwhelmed them and drove them away.  Lucullus lost control of his army who scattered and became lost. Many perished from hunger and dysentery and  the troops became demoralised as they floundered in knee deep mud and freezing water of the many bogs and marshes in the area.

With whatever troops he could muster, Lucullus marched to Pallantia, (Pelencia) where many of the Celtiberians had taken refuge. He set up his camp outside the walls, but the Pallantian cavalry harassed his men and prevented them finding food in the surrounding countryside. Finally, beaten and starving, Lucullus led his men to Hispania Ulterior across the river Duro. He was pursued all the way to the river by the Celtiberian tribes, who picked off the remainder of his men. He never came back.

For the next ten years, Rome lost legion after legion against the Celtiberians, and its similar policies in the Hispania Ulterior began to lose them battles there, too. Ragged armies of raw conscripts, led by unscrupulous greedy generals were thrown against the Celtiberians, and the Roman losses grew month by month. In 137 BCE consul Gaius Hostilius Mancinus was surrounded by Numantine Celts, and surrendered his entire army to them. He was called to Rome to face charges of dereliction of duty.

Rome was outraged, and sent Aemilius Lepidus to replace him. Lepidus ran amok with his army, seeking glory and gold. He ravaged the countryside and started a siege of Pallantia. He dragged his brother in law, Decimus Junius Brutus Callaicus, into the war with him. The senate sent messages telling them to stop instigating more war and make peace.

Aemilius carried on regardless. The siege of Pallantia dragged on, and Roman supplies failed. Thousands of men and all the pack animals died. The siege collapsed and the Romans withdrew at night. The following morning, the Pallantine cavalry attacked and the withdrawal turned into a rout in which thousands more Roman troops were lost. Aemilius Lepidus was stripped of this consulship, and when he returned to Rome he was fined.

Rome was sick of this war, but was at a loss for how to end it. 

To see the full story of the Roman campaign in Iberia, go to my webpage and click on  page 4.   

Like 2


Jo said:
25 July 2020 @ 12:03

Interesting, so much unrecorded or known as general knowledge.

stephen eyres said:
25 July 2020 @ 22:48

Thank you for this article and the previous one, both of which I found interesting and informative.

dunworkin said:
26 July 2020 @ 01:07

I have had a great time on your website. Many thanks for sharing these stories with us.

animate said:
26 July 2020 @ 12:42

Thank you, Jo.
It's nice to have feedback. I'm glad that you enjoyed it.

animate said:
26 July 2020 @ 12:47

Thank you, Stephen.
This piece of Spain's history was the most tedious to write. I will probably only write another two blogs on Rome, but they are much more interesting. Then I will move on. Thank's for your comment. Much appreciated.

animate said:
26 July 2020 @ 12:50

Thank you, dunworkin.
I keep adding to the website, but people don't seem to go past the first pages. There are much more interesting things later on. Anyway, thanks for the comment.

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