Syphax was a king of the ancient Numidian tribe
Masaesyli of western
Numidia during the last quarter of the 3rd century BC. His story is
told in Livy's Ab Urbe Condita (written c. 27–25 BC).
Syphax in Batna (Algeria)
When in 218 BC, war broke out between Carthage and Rome,
initially sympathetic to the Romans. In 213 BC, he concluded an
alliance with the Romans and they sent military advisers to help
Syphax train his troops. He then attacked the eastern Numidians, the
Massylians, ruled by King Gala; at that time allied to the
Carthaginians. When Gala died in 206 BC, his sons
Oezalces quarreled about the inheritance, and
Syphax was able to
conquer considerable parts of the eastern Numidian kingdom.
After the Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio (Scipio Africanus)
was victorious in the
Battle of Ilipa
Battle of Ilipa (206 BC), he sent his friend
Gaius Laelius to visit
Syphax to ratify the treaty with Rome. Syphax
however, refused to ratify any treaty except with Scipio, so Scipio
sailed with two quinqueremes to meet with Syphax, taking a
considerable risk in doing so. In fact he arrived at the Numidian
harbor, at exactly the same time as
Hasdrubal Gisco (who had fled from
Spain) anchored there on his way back to Carthage. However, Scipio's
ship managed to make harbor before Hasdrubal's seven triremes could
make out to intercept them, and in a neutral harbor, Hasdrubal dared
not act against the Romans.
Syphax invited both to dinner, where both
Syphax and Hasdrubal were taken in by Scipio's charm.:p77
Masinissa had concluded that Rome was winning the war
against Carthage and therefore decided to switch sides. Having lost
the alliance with Masinissa, Hasdrubal started to look for another
ally, which he found in Syphax, sealing the alliance by offering his
Sophonisba in marriage, although until 206 BC she had been
betrothed to Masinissa.
With the reversal of alliances it looked like Carthage and
in a strong position in Africa, certainly during the early stages of
Scipio's campaign in North Africa, the joined forces of
Hasdrubal Gisco were able to force Scipio to abandon the siege of
Utica. However, in the Battle of Bagbrades (203 BC), Scipio overcame
Syphax and while the Roman general concentrated on
Carthage, Laelius and
Syphax to Cirta.
During the pursuit,
Syphax was threatened with desertion by his army
when Laelius and Massinissa's army approached the Numidian battle
line. In a brave attempt to rally his troops,
Syphax rode alone,
straight towards the Roman cavalry, but in this desperate attempt his
badly wounded horse threw him off.
Syphax was pounced upon immediately
by Roman soldiers and taken to the ecstatic Massinissa.:p405
Syphax's troops retreated to the capital city which later fell as
Massinissa claimed his kingdom.
Syphax was delivered to Scipio and was
taken as a prisoner, dying in Tibur (modern Tivoli) in 203 or 202 BC.
In a twist of fate,
Sophonisba then married Masinissa. However,
Scipio, suspicious of Sophonisba, demanded that she be taken to Rome
and appear in the triumphal parade. To spare her such humiliation,
Masinissa sent her poison, with which she killed herself.
The Tunisian city
Sfax is said to be named after King Syphax.
^ a b c Livy: Ab urbe condita, vol. VIII, bks. xxviii-xxx Loeb
Classical Edn, pp.73-99, 173-225, 405-421 at openlibrary.org
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