Mercenary War Battles > Battle of "The Saw"

Battle of "The Saw"

Punic Wars - Punic Wars Decoration

Battle of "The Saw"


Mercenary Rebels




Military Forces

  • 10,000 Infantry
  • 2,000 Cavalry
  • 50,000 Infantry


  • Minimal Losses
  • 45,000 Dead


The Battle of "The Saw" was a major conflict of the Mercenary War that occurred between the Carthaginians and their former mercenary allies during the First Punic War. The name for the battle is derived from the box-like canyon that most of the fighting occurred in. During the previous Battle of Carthage in 238 BC the supply lines of the mercenaries that were besieging Carthage were broken by Hamilcar Barca which forced them to withdraw.

However, as they were retreating the mercenaries realized they had superior numbers over Hamilcar's forces and attempted to engage them in open combat. Hamilcar however, managed to outmaneuver the mercenaries and avoid any direct open conflict with them. Soon he managed to lure the mercenary army near the canyon and quickly ambushed them.

The startled mercenaries fled into the canyon and became trapped. Hamilcar initiated a siege on the canyon and simply waited while the mercenaries starved to death. According to the Greek historian Polybius thousands of the mercenaries starved to death and others even resorted to cannibalism. Knowing their situation was dire the mercenary leaders Spendius, Autaritus, and Zarzas attempted to arrange a surrender with Hamilcar.

However, the Carthaginian general was to have nothing of it and he imprisoned them. After having their leaders captured and left with no other options the weakened mercenaries attempted to fight the Carthaginians but were cut down in short order. In the savage aftermath Hamilcar ordered the immediate execution of the remaining 40,000 mercenaries, probably as an act of retribution and revenge for the 700 Carthaginian prisoners that Spendius had tortured and executed previously.


The Battle of "The Saw," also known as the Battle of the Saw, was a significant engagement during the Mercenary War (241-237 BCE). This conflict arose when Carthaginian mercenaries, dissatisfied with their unpaid wages following the First Punic War, revolted against Carthage. The battle took place in 240 BCE in the mountainous terrain of Tunisia, characterized by jagged ridges that gave the battle its name.


Strategic Importance

Prelude to the Battle

The Battle

  1. Initial Engagements: Hamilcar's forces engaged in minor skirmishes, drawing the rebels deeper into the rugged terrain. The Carthaginian troops feigned retreats to entice the rebels to follow them.
  2. Ambush: As the rebels advanced into the narrow, jagged ridges, Hamilcar sprung his trap. The Carthaginian forces launched a coordinated ambush from multiple directions, using the terrain to encircle and surprise the rebel forces.
  3. Navaras' Defection: A key turning point in the battle was the defection of Navaras, a Numidian prince, who brought with him a contingent of 2,000 cavalry. This unexpected reinforcement bolstered Hamilcar's forces significantly and demoralized the rebels.

Key Events



The Battle of "The Saw" was a testament to the importance of terrain, strategy, and leadership in warfare. It played a crucial role in the eventual Carthaginian victory in the Mercenary War.

Mercenary War

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Primary Sources

Polybius, Histories, Book I, 84-85.

Secondary Sources

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