Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
THE ROMANS SET FIRE TO THE CAMP OF THE NUMIDIANS
 NO sooner did Scipio land in Africa, than he was joined by
his ally Masinissa, with about two hundred of his
famous Numidian cavalry.
Masinissa had been expelled from his lands by Syphax,
and he was glad to throw in his fortune with the
Romans. To Scipio he was a valuable ally, for he knew
the war tactics and habits both of the Numidians and
The Carthaginians had gathered a large army to oppose
the invaders. It was led by Hasdrubal, the son of
Gisco. King Syphax with his Numidian troops had joined
Hasdrubal, and the two armies were encamped near Utica,
to which town Scipio had laid siege.
The Roman general, pretending that it might be possible
to arrange terms of peace, sent ambassadors, during a
short truce, to the camp of Syphax. But his true
reason for doing so was that they might find out
something of the numbers of the enemy and of the
position of its camp.
As was therefore to be expected, the negotiations were
of no use, and were soon broken off.
The Punic army believed that the attack on Utica would
at once be renewed. It did not dream that its camp was
But Masinissa knew that the camp was guarded
carelessly. He also knew that the tents in the camp
were huts, built of wood, and covered with branches of
trees or with
 rushes. So he advised Scipio to plan a night attack on
the camp, and to set fire to the huts.
One night Scipio resolved to do as Masinissa had
suggested. He ordered his men to have supper early.
The bugles sounded at the hour usual for the evening
meal, that the enemy's attention might not be attracted
by any departure from the daily routine. But on this
night the bugle was not the signal for supper, but the
call to march.
It was cold and dark when, soon after midnight, the
whole Roman army drew near to the camp of the
Carthaginians, having marched a distance of seven
Masinissa at once ordered every exit to be closely
guarded, then he stealthily set fire to the huts on the
edge of the camp.
The flames spread rapidly from one wooden hut to
another until, before the Carthaginians were aware,
their whole camp was in a blaze.
Late as it was, some of the officers were still
feasting when the smoke and the noise of crackling wood
roused them to a sense of danger.
They rushed out, still carrying in their hands the cups
out of which they had been drinking, to see the tents
Others sprang out of bed and hastened toward the tents,
and although all were startled and dismayed, none of
them seemed to think that an enemy had done this thing.
They simply imagined that the fire was an accident,
caused perhaps by some careless soldier.
The whole camp was now in confusion. Many perished in
the flames, while many others were trampled to death in
Those who tried to escape were seized by Masinissa and
his men and were slain, almost before they realised
that they were in the hand of the enemy.
Hasdrubal and Syphax saw that it was hopeless to try to
save the camp or the soldiers. Accompanied by a few
 horsemen, they succeeded in slipping away unnoticed by
Masinissa or his soldiers.
Carthage was angry with Hasdrubal when she heard of the
loss of her army, and condemned him to death. But he
had ridden into the neighbouring districts, and was
already enrolling volunteers, for he was determined
still to serve his country. In thirty days another
army, under the same leaders, was ready to meet the
Scipio, leaving troops to support the fleet, which was
now blockading Utica, at once marched against Hasdrubal
and Syphax. On the Great Plains a terrible battle was
fought, in which the Romans were victorious. Hasdrubal
escaped from the field, and Syphax hastened away to his
own kingdom of Numidia.
When Hasdrubal at length ventured to enter Carthage,
his enemies tried to take him prisoner. But he hid
himself in the mausoleum or tomb of his family. Then,
determined never to be taken alive, he took poison and
The people, in their rage at being thus cheated of
their victim, dragged Hasdrubal's body into the street
and placed his head in triumph on the top of a pole.
King Syphax was followed to Numidia by Masinissa and a
detachment of Roman soldiers.
The king again faced his enemies, but once more he was
defeated, and being captured he was taken to the Roman
camp. Masinissa now recovered his own dominions, as
well as part of the kingdom that had belonged to
From this time the African prince grew more and more
powerful. Led by him, the Numidians now fought for the
Romans, so that Carthage found herself left alone to
fight against two powerful enemies.