Battle of Tunis

Battle of Tunis

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Tunis
partof=the First Punic War

date=255 BC
result= Decisive Carthaginian victory
combatant1=Roman Republic
commander1= Marcus Atilius Regulus
commander2= Xanthippus
strength1= 15,000 Infantry
500 Cavalry
strength2= 12,000 Infantry
4,000 Cavalry
100 Elephants
casualties1= 12,000 dead
500 captured
casualties2= 800 dead

The Battle of Tunis between the Roman Republic and Carthage occurred in the spring of 255 BC during the First Punic War. The battle ended in a decisive Carthaginian victory. The battle is also referred to as the first Battle of Bagradas River.

The mercenary general Xanthippus was hired by the city of Carthage following heavy-handed negotiations by Rome. He made the Romans fight on open ground, which allowed him to maximize the effect of the excellent Carthaginian cavalry and Nubian elephant.

The Roman army under Marcus Atilius Regulus was based at Tunis. Faced by the resurgent Carthaginian army Regulus was keen to gain another victory rather than risk the chance that someone else would get the glory of eventual victory. Xanthippus is credited with the Carthaginian formation, with a hastily raised phalanx of civilians in the centre, mercenary infantry on their right and a line of elephants in front of the infantry, with the elite Carthaginian cavalry split between the two flanks. The Romans were formed in their normal formation, with the legionary infantry in the centre and the outnumbered cavalry on the flanks.

The Carthaginians started the battle with an attack by the elephants. This tied up the main force of Roman infantry. The Roman cavalry, outnumbered four to one, was quickly defeated. Only on their left did the Romans have any success, when 2,000 troops, possibly allied troops, defeated the mercenaries facing them, and chased them back past their camp. Meanwhile, in the centre the elephant attack had been withstood, but only a few isolated units of Roman infantry managed to get past them to attempt to attack the Carthaginian phalanx, and those were quickly defeated. Finally, the Carthaginian cavalry charged the already shaken Romans from both sides, destroying what cohesion was left. Only the 2,000 troops successful earlier in the battle escaped to be rescued by the Roman fleet. Regulus himself was taken prisoner. Some later Roman writers claim that his eyelids were cut off and he was trampled to death by an enraged elephant [Kistler, John M. "War Elephants". Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006. p.100.] . However Polybius does not mention it and Diodorus, ( a writer hostile to the Carthaginians) implies he died from natural causes [Carthage and the Carthaginians, R Bosworth Smith.] The defeat, and serious disasters in storms at sea, ended any chance that Rome would defeat Carthage in Africa, and ensured that the rest of the war was fought in Sicily and at sea.


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