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Hostilities in Sardinia during Second Punic War. Rise of Ampsicora

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Roman soldiers from the 3rd-2nd century BCE
Roman soldiers from the 3rd-2nd century BCE

At the end of 216 BCE, the strategic position of the Romans was not interesting. Barkida operated in Campania, and the second army, led by Hanno son of Bomilcar, operated in Bruttium. In response, the Republic recruited masses of troops; but in many cases, they were untrained recruits. Some southern Italian cities went over to Hannibal’s side, seeing the defeats of Rome. In addition, Hannibal’s countrymen from the motherland came to the aid of Hannibal in Italy, who sent Magon with 12,000 infantry, 1,500 cavalry and 20 elephants to the Apennines.

In this difficult period for the Romans, other communities outside Italy followed the example of some Italians. This was the case in Sardinia, an island that had been ruled by Carthage for centuries. In 237 BCE Romans, taking advantage of its weakness in the First Punic War, took control of the island through blackmail. The people of Sardinia in the anti-Roman uprisings desperately tried to throw off the yoke of the occupiers. Romans until 231 B.C.E. made trips to the island. On the occasion of the victories over Sardinia, as many as three consuls triumphed! The Romans used the various resources of Sardinia, which was an additional protection for them against an attack on Italy.

However, before 216 BCE the situation in Sardinia was ripe for an anti-Roman rebellion. Taking advantage of Rome’s temporary weakness in this war, the inhabitants of the island prepared for an uprising. It was headed by Ampsicora, a landowner with Punic roots. The Roman forces on the island were small and consisted of a legion, whose numerical condition was undermined by diseases, to which the praetor Quintus Mucius Scaevola also succumbed. Meanwhile, at the request of Ampsicora, the Carthaginian senate decided to send a Punic army to the island in the strength of 12,000 infantry and 1,500 cavalries under the command of Hasdrubal the Bald and a certain Magon. However, the landing fleet arrived later in Sardinia, due to a storm that drove it to the Balearic Islands, where they had to repair some of the ships.

Meanwhile, on the island of Ampsicora, he joined forces with the army of Hanno of Tharros. Led by a combined force, they persuaded more cities and some of the population from the interior of the island to join the rebellion. The Roman commander in Sardinia asked Rome for reinforcements, which, led by Titus Manlius Torquatus, arrived on the island. Roman forces now increased to 20,000 infantry and 1,200 cavalries. Torquatus led his army to Cornius, where a Punic-Sardinian force under the command of Ampsicora’s son Hiostus with 10,000 men was stationed. When the Romans reached the enemy’s position, they found him unprepared. The combined Punic-Sardinian force was stationed on the coast, with the walls of Cornius behind them, the mountains on one side and the sea on the other. They did not secure themselves and set the archers on the walls. Torquatus decided to provoke the enemy to fight, but when his efforts were unsuccessful, the Roman commander resorted to psychology. Roman soldiers publicly mocked and ridiculed Hiostus’ masculinity. Confused by this, the rebel commander finally moved on to the Romans. At first, they withstood the enemy’s pressure, then moved forward, pushing him slowly towards the walls of Cornius. Hiostus’s men, surrounded on all sides, had nowhere to run. However, the Romans were also physically exhausted, so their commander ordered a retreat. In the battle, the combined forces of the Sardis and Punians lost 60% of their strength – 5,700 of their men died.

In the fall of 215 BCE Hasdrubal the Bald with the Punic army reached Sardinia, landing near Tharros. The Punic commander gathered the Sardinian army along the way and marched towards Caralis. Seeing this, Torquatus and his legions came out to meet him. The clash took place north of Caralis, near Decimomannu. Initially, both opponents set up camp opposite each other and for several days held the usual skirmishes, in which neither side gained the upper hand. In this situation, Hasdrubal and Torquatus decided to engage in battle. Both armies were positioned in the traditional manner, with infantry in the centre and cavalry on the flanks. For four hours the battle remained unresolved. Only the defeat of the Sardinian contingent by the Romans on one of the wings determined the outcome of the battle. The victors drove the Sardis off the battlefield, then turned around and attacked other links of the Carthaginian battle line. This resulted in the withdrawal of the Carthaginians and their slaughter on the battlefield.

Hiostus was killed at Decimonannu, and Hasdrubal and other Punic officers were captured by the Romans. Ampsicora himself escaped from the battlefield and committed suicide. The survivors of the pogrom took refuge in the walls of Cornius, which, however, was captured by the Romans. Some were taken by the Punic fleet. 60 Punic five-rowers escorted this “expedition” of the vanquished, which was headed for Africa. However, on the way, they came across 100 Roman ships under the command of Titus Otacilius Crassus. In the clash, the Romans captured 7 Carthaginian ships, the rest were scattered. Seeing the failure of the uprising, the Sardinian cities taking part in it capitulated.

Importance of the rise of Ampsicora

The Sardinia rebellion against the Romans was another theatre of war that the Republic had to open, which tied up more Roman forces. The recovery of Sardinia by Carthage could in the future be an opportunity to freely transport Punic reinforcements for Hannibal in Italy. It also threatened the cessation of grain deliveries from Sardinia to Italy, in a situation of the devastating war in the heart of Rome. The defeat of Ampsicora by the Romans allowed them to protect the shores of Italy against the attacks of the Punic fleet and ensure the supply of grain to Italy.

The fighting in Sardinia was also important for the conduct of warfare in Italy. At the time of the engagement of the Roman fleet near the island, Admiral Bomilcar managed to sail to Lokr in Bruttium and land a landing of 4,000 Numids and 40 elephants for Hannibal in Italy. After all, the uprising of Ampsicora had the greatest significance for the island and its inhabitants. Already Titus Livius stated that thanks to Ampsicora, Sardinia was never controlled by Rome, because the greater part of the island did not fall into Roman hands. The memory of the uprising continues to this day. On the road to Oristano, after passing the village of S’archittu, we come across a stone stele with the inscription:

To Ampsicora and Josto, to the three thousand Sardinian patriots who, for the independence of Sardinia, with the reflection of the sea in the eyes, not to be slaves of Rome, in these valleys of pain they spelt their blood.

Author: Marcin Bąk (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  • Kęciek K., Kynoskefalaj 197 p.n.e., Warszawa 2002.
  • Hannibal (part 16), Second Punic War, Battle of Cornus 216 BC DOCUMENTARY:
  • Battle of Cornus, Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias:
  • Battle of Decimomannu, WIKIPEDIA, The Free Encyclopedia:
  • Ampsicora: The Sardinian Hero, GABBIANO AZZURRO Hotel&Suites:

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