First Punic War > Battles > Siege of Agrigentum

Siege of Agrigentum

Punic Wars - Punic Wars Decoration


The Siege of Agrigentum was the second major siege of the First Punic War and occurred after the Battle of Messana. The city of Agrigentum was located two and a half miles (4.18 km) from the southern coast of Sicily. The city controlled all of the trade routes in the region that went along the southern coast and went east and north toward other major cities, thus it was an essential point to control.

The city was fortified with natural defenses, being situated on a plateau and surrounded by steep slopes on all sides except for the west where it was guarded by the Hypsas River and the Akragas River to the east. Due to this, the only way to approach the city to siege it was from the west. The Roman Republic led by the consuls Lucius Postumius Megellus and Quintus Mamilius Vitulus along with 40,000 soldiers attacked the city in 262 BC in order to prevent the Carthaginians from taking it instead.

The Carthaginian defense of the city was led by Hannibal Gisco who began to gather all of the villagers from the surrounding countryside to garrison them within the city walls. This caused the population of the city to bolster to 50,000 and Hannibal refused to engage the Romans outside of the walls. Thus the Romans established a military camp about a mile outside the city and harvested all the crops from the region and dug in for a siege.

One day, while the Romans were harvesting crops in the fields outside the city the Carthaginians attacked the Romans who were not only unarmed but outnumbered. They quickly fled the area and retreated behind their camp defenses. The Carthaginians attacked and despite suffering heavy losses, the Romans were able to repel the Carthaginian attack and force Hannibal to retreat. Following this defeat the Carthaginian general realized he could not lose any more soldiers if he was to keep the city. He fell back behind the city walls and assumed defensive positions.

The Siege

Following this surprise attack on the Roman camp the consuls realized they had underestimated their opponent and resolved to completely blockade the city and cut it off from outside supplies. The induced starvation would eventually force the citizens to capitulate. They began the siege by digging ditches and fortresses around the city and divided their forces with one legion going near the Temple of Asklepios located south of the city while the other went to the west of the city.

The siege continued for five more months until 262 BC when eventually the resources in the city ran out. Hannibal Gisco appealed to Carthage to resupply him for which they responded by sending Hanno. According to Polybius this relief force included 50 war elephants, mercenary infantry and Numidian cavalry. Based on Diodorus' account however, there were 50,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry, and 60 elephants. Even another ancient account from Orosius suggests there was 30,000 infantry, 1,500 cavalry and 30 war elephants.

Hanno landed about twenty-five miles (40.2 km) west of Agrigentum at Heraclea Minoa where he managed to capture and seize the Roman military supply camp at Herbesos. Cutting off the Roman supply lines helped destabilize the other Roman camps before the battle even began and helped spread disease. From here Hanno ordered the Numidian cavalry to engage the Roman cavalry and then feign a retreat. The Romans fell for the trick and plunged head first into the main column of the Carthaginian military.

The Romans suffered great losses and following this Hanno and his army would move to the Toros (Torus) hill located about a mile from the Roman military camp where they further fought for two more months. They then sieged the Roman military camp for about six to seven months while the Romans both defended their camp and attempted to hold their siege on the city of Agrigentum. However, with their supply lines cut the Romans were at risk of starvation and offered to meet the Carthaginians in open combat. The Carthaginians initially refused, intending to starve the Romans into submission to have a bargaining chip to trade with Rome.

Battle of Agrigentum

See Battle of Agrigentum

However, soon the situation inside the city was dire and Hannibal Gisco communicating with smoke signals informed Hanno they might die before the Romans did. To this end, Hanno was forced to engage the Romans in an open combat in became known as the Battle of Agrigentum.

First Punic War

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Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Dillon, Matthew; Garland, Lynda (2005). Ancient Rome: From the Early Republic to the Assassination of Julius Caesar. London: Routledge. p. 190. ISBN 0-415-22458-6.

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