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Battle of Tricamerum

(533 CE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

A mosaic showing Belisarius
A mosaic showing Belisarius

After the defeat at Ad Decimum, Gelimer with the remnants of his troops, bypassing Carthage, retreated west to the Boulla plain, where he intended to consolidate his troops. He began by buying the loyalty of local farmers, distributing large sums of money among them. He regrouped weakened troops, which were successively joined by refugees from the recent battlefield. In addition, the king summoned his brother Tzazon from Sardinia, which had been suppressed by the uprising in Sardinia until then.

Gelimer relied heavily on the Moors, recently connected with the Vandals by an alliance. However, the defeat of his troops at Ad Decimum had a depressing effect on these people of the desert – some broke the pact at once, even sending Belisarius hostages and receiving from him the usual gifts, which he had previously endowed with chief Justinian I, while others remained neutral and waited for the development of events, planning to join the side to which the scales of victory will tip. Probably few Moors joined Gelimera.

The Vandals lost areas of the country which were very important from the economic point of view, so they could not start the war with the Romans to exhaustion (as Ian Hughes claims, they were also not good at guerrilla warfare). With this in mind, after the arrival of Tzazon and his troops from Sardinia, the king decided to move to Belisarius and quickly defeat him in a major battle. So he went to Carthage, broke one of the aqueducts supplying water to the city, and camped nearby – at Tricamerum, but neither completely stopped the supply of water to Carthage, nor did he decide on its siege.

Romans in Carthage

After entering Carthage, Belisarius began to form a new Roman administration in Africa and ordered the renovation of the city’s fortifications – the walls were practically in ruins in many places. The inhabitants of the city were hired to repair the walls for remuneration. The cautious commander was in no hurry to risk a mighty battle.

Meanwhile, Belisarius was contacted by Ciril, commanding a detachment of 300 soldiers, who were to support the anti-vandal uprising in Sardinia, which, however, fell. The general welcomed this support.

The Romans spent about three months outside the walls of Carthage, after which Belisarius stated that he was ready to go to the field.

Before the battle

Belisarius sent John of Armenia ahead of the Tricamerum at the head of the entire cavalry and bucellari with his banner, leaving at his disposal only 500 bucellari and all the infantry. Jan’s task was – if the opportunity arose – to involve the Vandals in a skirmish. Jan set up camp in front of the Gelimera camp.

Belisarius and the rest of the troops left the next day, but did not march with the infantry, but rushed ahead to join John as soon as possible.

Battle

Gelimer must have known that it was the custom of the Eastern Roman army to eat breakfast around noon, so he decided to force the Romans to stand up to the fight hungry. Moreover, Gelimer wanted to play the battle before the Roman infantry reached the battlefield.

Gelimer’s plan was at least partially successful – the Romans had to take their positions in a hurry. The army was set up by John of Armenia, he also commanded the battle, only consulting Belisarius, who managed to get through just before the fight began. On the left flank of the Roman formation stood mounted archers, sheltered by foederati. The left-wing units were commanded by officers: Martinus, Walerian, Jan, Cyprian, Altius and Marcellus, and according to Ian Hughes, they had between 3.5 and 4 thousand. soldiers. John and Belisarius stood at the centre, along with comitatus and the banner of the army. The right-wing was occupied by direct combat. It was headed by, among others Pappas, Barbatus and Aigan, and their troops were to number about 4,000. people. The wobbly Huns stood next to the main forces, giving them the opportunity to join the side that would gain the upper hand. In total, the Romans had around 8,000 at their disposal. horseback riding. The infantry did not manage to reach the battlefield.

Gelimer had probably about 15,000 under his command under the Tricamerum. warriors. He placed Tzazon in the centre, commanding veterans seasoned in combat in Sardinia, behind them were Gelimer’s Moorish allies, in an unspecified number – just as the Huns did not want to engage in combat until a winner emerged. Ian Hughes assumes that the vandal wings were more of equal size. It seems that Gelimer did not take part in the fight, but most likely gave a speech to his people before the fight. The troops were separated by a stream.

The Romans were the first to take action – Jan sent a squad of mounted archers to harass the Vandals with fire to force them to cross the stream, which would inevitably cause confusion among them, which the Romans wanted to take advantage of by a sudden attack. However, Tzazon maintained discipline among his men and immediately launched a charge that forced the archers to retreat, but did not cross the stream. When this attempt did not bring the expected effect, Jan, at the head of bucellari, tried to draw the barbarians into the fight himself, but he also had to withdraw.

The attempts of the Romans to involve the Vandals in fighting on unfavourable conditions were unsuccessful, however, they allowed the Roman command to make interesting observations. For some reason, namely, when the vandal centre was threatened with driving attacks, the wings completely did not react stiffly, keeping the position. Jan decided to use it – he grabbed the banner of the army and all comitatus and fell straight into the centre of the enemy group. The warriors could not stand the pressure and began to retreat, and Tzazon himself was killed. As the Romans predicted, the wings did not come to the aid of the endangered centre, so Belisarius (most likely, because John was in the front line) ordered the rest of the cavalry to charge the confused Vandals. Then the centre collapsed, and the fleeing warriors panicked those on the flanks. The Vandal army disintegrated, and the Romans gave chase, eventually joined by the Huns. The broken Vandals quickly took refuge in the camp, but the Romans could not undertake the attack, as the infantry still had not arrived.

When in the afternoon the infantry appeared on the battlefield, Belisarius led the assault on the camp, which, however, turned out to be abandoned – Gelimer and other commanders, taking advantage of the confusion, escaped, and the abandoned warriors followed, even leaving their women and children to the enemy’s prey. Great wealth was acquired in the camp, a significant part of which was stolen from the Romans in the previous century. Then chaos broke out in the Roman ranks – the soldiers rushed to rob the enemy camp, slaughter fugitives and captive women and children. The army turned out to be completely undisciplined and immune to the orders of the officers. Belisarius was horrified as he feared the Vandals would sort the ranks and strike the utterly disorganized Romans by breaking them apart. However, nothing like that happened.

The plundering of the Vandal camp lasted all night. It was only at dawn that the commanders managed to control the troops. Belisarius sent John with 200 horsemen to pursue Gelimer, and he sent the captives to Carthage.

Summary

The battle turned out to be a total victory – with the loss of about 50 people, over 800 were laid dead. Many prisoners were taken and huge loots were taken, and in fact, the fate of the campaign was decided. The vandals were no longer able to rally and resist.

Belisarius, on the other hand, was able to move on to Hippo Regius.

Author: Krzysztof Kaucz (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
Sources
  • Robert Browning, Justynian i Teodora, 1971
  • Ian Hughes, Belizariusz. Wódz Bizancjum, Poznań 2016

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