Autaritus and His Treacherous Mercenary Band
Carthage and Mercenaries
When we involve ourselves by sheer lack of judgement and with our eyes open in the depth of misfortune, everyone acknowledges that we have none to blame but ourselves… To begin with would not anyone who is aware of the general reputation of the Gauls, think twice before entrusting to them a wealthy city, the betrayal of which was easy and profitable? In the second place who would not have been cautious in the case of a company with such a bad name? (Polybius 2.7)1
This particular Gallic band seems to have served Carthage for the much of the duration of the war. Originally from Gaul, they were “expelled from their own country by a general movement of their fellow-countrymen owing to their having betrayed their own friends and kinsmen.” (Polybius 2.7)2 Not a great start to their career, but mercenaries could often be of the rough and tumble type and they were eventually hired out by Carthage. They were at Agrigentum fairly early in the war, at the forefront of a conflict over pay. They may have done some looting inside the city, but apparently were appeased after a short time. They must have made their escape with much of the rest of the Carthaginian army under the cover of night to avoid the Roman host. It is not known whether or not Autaritus was the commander of this Gallic mercenary contingent this early on; however, he was in command by the time of Hamilcar’s generalship.
Autaritus and His Gauls
Apparently Autaritus and his Gauls were assigned to this garrison duty during certain periods of time. It may be that they were not being paid enough as the Carthaginians were strapped for cash by this point in the war. Or perhaps they simply were not enjoying Hamilcar’s frequent and demanding guerilla tactics against the Romans and constantly skirmishing all the time. In any case, at some point during their station at Eryx, “they attempted to betray the city and those who were suffering siege in their company, and when this plan fell through, they deserted to the Romans.” (Polybius 2.7)3 Much like the mercenaries who tried to hand the city of Lilybaeum over during its siege, Autaritus and his Gauls were willing to abandon the rest of their comrades to the will of the Romans. Fortunately for Hamilcar, for whatever reason, they were unsuccessful in their attempt. However, in lieu of handing Eryx over, they decided to join what they probably saw as the winning team (or at least the team who could pay them) and defected to the Romans.
View from Mt. Eryx from Victor Duruy’s History of Rome.
The Romans made quick use of Autaritus and his Gauls and had them reinforce the garrison at the temple on the summit of Mt. Eryx. It seems that they were just as discontent under Roman masters as they were under Carthaginian ones. While garrisoned there, this Gallic mercenary band looted and pillaged the area of the temple. The Romans, probably not wanting to risk losing the position by fighting them, put up with Autaritus and his men for the duration of the First Punic War, but then sent them away. “Therefore, no sooner was the war with Carthage over, than the Romans, having clear evidence of their infamous character, took the very first opportunity of disarming them, putting them on board ship and banishing them from the whole of Italy.” (Polybius 2.7)4
After the First Punic War
At one point in the war, Autaritus gave a rousing speech that directly resulted in some 700 Carthaginian captives having their hands cut of, legs broken, and limbs removed, followed by further mutilation and being thrown into a trench. (Polybius 1.80)7 However, Carthage eventually prevailed in the mercenary war with Hamilcar Barca himself (Hanno the Great obviously couldn’t get the job done by himself) delivering the important blow against the mercenaries at a rocky place known as “the Saw.” Tens of thousands of the rebellious mercenaries were slain in the battle and executed afterwards. Auritus and the other leaders of the revolt were captured before the battle and were later crucified in view of the resistance to Carthage that remained.
Hamilcar Barca engraving from Ward, Lock, & Co.’s Illustrated History of the World.
Not all mercenary companies were as deceitful as Autaritus and his Gauls and, in fact, the vast majority of mercenaries could be counted on as long as the price was right. The story of this Gallic band, besides being interesting, demonstrates just how interconnected the Mediterranean was in the classical age. Next time, we will return to our narrative of the First Punic War and examine the developments to occur before the last battle of the war.
- Polybius. The Histories. Translated by W. R. Paton. 1922.