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Punic War POWs

Were enemy generals crucified during the Punic Wars?


Were enemy generals crucified during the Punic Wars?

On April 1, 2003, David Greenberg posted on Slate "The POW in the American Imagination - Why we're obsessed with American soldiers captured by the enemy." In the article Greenberg says that the Romans and Carthaginians crucified captured enemy generals during the Punic Wars.

Is this true? Did they really kill enemy commanders? And if so, did they actually use the slow, torturous method of execution known as crucifixion?

About Ancient/Classical History forum members KL47 and REYNOLDSDC try to answer this question and clarify Greenberg's statement. It wasn't just enemy generals who were crucified, but also one's own unsuccessful generals, although crucifixion was not a legal Roman punishment for Roman citizens. Captured enemies might suffer torture even worse than crucifixion.

KL47 writes:

The Romans and Carthaginians didn't normally crucify each other's generals, but the Carthaginians frequently crucified their own unsuccessful commanders as punishment, especially during the First Punic War.

Following his defeat at the naval battle of Mylae in 260 B.C., Hannibal, son of Gisgo, and the remnants of his fleet were blockaded in a Sardinian port, whereupon Hannibal "was at once arrested by the surviving Carthaginians and crucified" (Polybius, Book I, chapter 24). Later, in 241 B.C., following the great Roman naval victory at the Aegates Islands which effectively ended the war, the defeated admiral Hanno returned to Carthage and was crucified (Dio Cassius, Book 12).

On land, the Roman commander M. Atilius Regulus was defeated and captured in a battle on the Bagradas Plains in 255 B.C. A few years later, according to tradition, he was paroled to Rome to encourage the Senate to accept peace terms, or at least agree to an exchange of POWs, and gave his word to return to Carthage with the response. On arrival in Rome, Regulus recommended that the Romans reject the proposed exchange, then, rather than break his oath, he returned voluntarily to Carthage, where he was allegedly tortured to death. In the usual version of Regulus' demise (recorded in the fragments of Dio Cassius' Book 11), the Carthaginians cut off his eyelids then kept him facing the sun in a barrel full of spikes until he died, but other sources apparently imply other means of execution, including crucifixion. Whatever happened, Dio says that "when the Romans found it out, they delivered the foremost [Carthaginian] captives in their hands to his children to torture and put to death in revenge." However, this whole story (except for the battle) may well be a concoction of late Republican propagandists.

Following the conclusion of the First Punic War, Carthage faced a major revolt of her foreign mercenaries in North Africa and Sardinia. During this conflict (240-237 B.C.), several leaders on both sides were captured and crucified, and the Carthaginians continued to use the punishment for traitors in later years.

Next Page: More on the Second Punic War and Crucifixions

David Greenberg in Slate

"For most of human history, prisoners of war, including women, children, and elders, were killed, tortured, enslaved, or held for ransom. The prisoners' helplessness allowed the captors to indulge the darkest human fantasies. Cuneiform tablets from ancient times, discovered by archaeologists, bear messages such as: "I have captured many men alive; with some I have had their hands or arms cut off, with others their nose or ears. I have put out the eyes of many—torn out the tongues of others—cut off their lips." During the Punic Wars, the Romans and Carthaginians crucified each other's generals. Only as laws of war evolved in modern times—producing The Hague and Geneva Conventions of the last century—did these practices begin to subside." ~By David Greenberg in Slate

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