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Battle of the Upper Baetis

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Title: Battle of the Upper Baetis  
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Subject: Second Punic War, Battle of Ager Falernus, Battle of Cartagena (209 BC), Battle of Nola (214 BC), Battle of Tarentum (212 BC)
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Battle of the Upper Baetis

Battle of the Upper Baetis
Part of the Second Punic War
Date 211 BC
Location Near Upper Baetis (modern-day Guadalquivir) River, Spain
Result Carthaginian victory
Carthage Roman Republic
Commanders and leaders
Hasdrubal Barca
Mago Barca
Hasdrubal Gisco
Publius Cornelius Scipio
Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Calvus
Total: 48,500,
35,000 infantry,
3,000+ cavalry,
3,000 Numidians,
7,500 Iberian tribals,
Total: 53,000,
30,000 infantry,
3,000 cavalry,
20,000 Celt-Iberian mercenaries
Casualties and losses
Unknown About 22,000

The Battle of the Upper Baetis was a double battle, comprising the battles of Castulo and Ilorca, fought in 211 BC between a Carthaginian force led by Hasdrubal Barca (Hannibal's brother) and a Roman force led by Publius Cornelius Scipio and his brother Gnaeus. The immediate result was a Carthaginian victory in which both Roman brothers were killed. Before this defeat, the brothers had spent seven years (218BC - 211BC) campaigning in Hispania, which had limited the resources available to Hannibal, who was simultaneously fighting the Romans in Italy.

This double battle also represents the only Carthaginian victory in a major land battle during the Second Punic War in which Hannibal was not in command of the Carthaginian armies.

Strategic situation

After the defeat of Hasdrubal Barca in the Battle of Dertosa in the spring of 215 BC, the Romans had secured their bases north of the Ebro. They then proceeded to win over some Iberian tribes, raid Carthaginian lands south of the Ebro, with Publius Scipio raiding as far as Saguntum in 214 BC. Both the Romans and Carthaginians faced and put down Iberian tribal revolts. The Scipios received no reinforcement from Italy, where Hannibal Barca had the Romans hard pressed.

Meanwhile, Hasdrubal had been reinforced by two armies, led respectively by his younger brother, Mago Barca, and Hasdrubal Gisco. These armies fought several indecisive battles with the Scipio brothers during 215-211 BC. The Scipios had persuaded Syphax, a Numidian king, to open hostilities against Carthage with a Roman trained army in 213 BC. On the whole, the situation in Iberia was stable enough for Hasdrubal Barca to shift his attention to Africa in 213/212 BC in order to put down this rebellion. Hasdrubal Barca returned to Iberia in late 212 BC, bringing with him 3,000 Numidians under Masinissa, the future king of Numidia.

On other fronts, while Hannibal had managed to win over Capua, capture Tarentum and generally retain his hold over Lucania, Bruttium and Apulia, the Romans had retaken several Italian towns and had besieged both Capua and Syracuse.


The Scipio brothers had hired 20,000 Celt-Iberian mercenaries to reinforce their army of 30,000 foot and 3,000 horse. Observing that the Carthaginian armies were deployed separately from each other (Hasdrubal Barca had 15,000 troops near Amtorgis; and, further to the west, Mago Barca and Hasdrubal Gisco, each had 10,000 troops), the Scipio brothers decided to divide their forces. Publius Scipio led 20,000 Roman and allied soldiers to attack Mago Barca near Castulo, while Gnaeus Scipio took one double legion (10,000 troops) and the mercenaries to attack Hasdrubal Barca. This stratagem would lead to two battles, the Battle of Castulo and the Battle of Ilorca, which took place within a few days of each other.

Gnaeus Scipio arrived at his objective first. However, Hasdrubal Barca had already ordered the armies of Indibilis and Mandonius (Iberian chieftains friendly to the Carthaginians) and Hasdrubal Gisco to join Mago near Castulo. Hasdrubal Barca held his ground against Gnaeus Scipio, staying within his fortified camp, then managed to bribe the Celt-Iberian mercenaries to desert Gnaeus Scipio. This led to Hasdrubal's army outnumbering that of Gnaeus Scipio. Hasdrubal bided his time, avoiding any battles with the Romans.

Battle of Castulo

As Publius Scipio neared Castulo, he was harassed day and night by the Numidian light cavalry under Masinissa. When informed that Indibilis was moving across his line of retreat with 7,500 Iberians, Publius Scipio decided not to face Mago but to attack the Iberian chieftain, fearing that he would be surrounded by Carthaginian forces. Leaving 2,000 soldiers in his camp under the legate Tiberius Fonteus, he marched out that night to launch an attack on the Iberians and, hopefully, evade Masinissa's cavalry. Scipio marched throughout the night and caught Indibilis and his men by surprise in the early morning; and, with an 18,000 to 7,500 advantage, began to gain the upper hand in the ensuing action. However, the Iberians managed to hold off the Romans in the confused night battle just long enough for Masinissa to arrive.

With the Numidian horse attacking from the flank, the Roman assault on the Iberians began to slacken. When Mago and Hasdrubal Gisco arrived with their combined armies, the Romans finally, after a grim struggle, broke and fled, leaving Publius Scipio and most of their comrades dead on the field. Mago gave the Numidians enough time to loot the dead before force marching the army towards Hasdrubal Barca's position. A handful of Roman survivors managed to reach their camp.

Battle of Ilorca

Gnaeus Scipio had lost the advantage of numbers with the desertion of the mercenaries. Although unaware of Publius Scipio's fate, Gnaeus decided to withdraw towards northern Iberia after Mago and Hasdrubal Gisco arrived with their armies. The Romans moved out of their camp, leaving their camp fires burning, and made for the Ebro at night. The Numidians located them the following day; their attacks forced the Romans to take position for the night on a hilltop near Ilorca. The main Carthaginian army, which now comprised the forces of Hasdrubal Barca, Hasdrubal Gisco and Mago, arrived during the night. In desperation, the Romans tried to create a defensive wall with baggage and saddles, as the ground was too stony for digging. The Carthaginians easily overran this, and Gnaeus was killed in the fighting; most of his army was destroyed.


The Roman fugitives fled north of the Ebro, where they eventually gathered a hodge-podge army of 8,000 soldiers. The Carthaginian commanders made no coordinated attempts to wipe out these survivors and then send help to Hannibal Barca. In late 211 BC, Rome sent some 10,000 troops under Cladius Nero to reinforce its forces in Iberia. Nero scored no spectacular victories and the Carthaginians did not launch a coordinated assault on the Romans in Iberia. With the arrival of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, the son of Publius Scipio, with another 10,000 troops in 210 BC, the Carthaginians would come to regret their earlier inaction when engaged in the Battle of Cartagena in 209 BC.

With the Carthaginian armies in Iberia failing to eliminate the Romans, Hannibal would not get any reinforcements from Iberia during the crucial year of 211 BC, when the Romans were besieging Capua.


Further reading

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