Monday, June 29, 2009

Numidian Warriors

Numidia lay in northern Africa, in what is now Algeria. The latin name, "Numidia," means land of the nomads. As nomads, these people depended upon the horse for transportation. They were expert horsemen. The Numidian horsemen rode bareback, without a bridle. using their voice and a stick to guide ther mounts. A round shield, their stealth and agility were their only protection in battle. According to the representation in sculpture, Numidian warriors wore only a sleeveless tunic with a simple belt. Highly effective as light cavalry, the Numidian horsemen would dash up to an enemy, let lose light javelins, and then gallop away before they could be met with a counter attack. When on foot, the Numidians attacked with bows, slings or javelins. Impressed by their talent, the Carthaginians and later the Romans incorporated Numidians into their own armies.


First Punic War
Numidians fight alongside Carthage. 216 BC Present at battle of Cannae

Second Punic War
214BC The great Roman general, Scipio Africanus, convinces King Syphax king of the Masaesyles tribe to withdraws support from Carthage. Syphax recalls the Numidians, leaving the Carthaginians in Spain. The concerned Carthaginians encourage a rival Numidain, King Gaia of the Massyles tribe, to attack Syphax. 212BC Syphax rejoins Carthage. King Gaia's son, Masinissa, arrives in Spain with a contingent of Numidian horsemen. 206 BC The Romans form allegiance with Masinissa (then king). 202BC Masinissa provides Romans with Numidian 4,000 cavalry and 6,000 light infantry at decisive battle of Zama. Scipio's Carthaginian rival, Hannibal has 4,000 provided by Syphax.

Third Punic War
6,000 Numidians side with Carthage. Masinissa joins with Rome again.

BC 110-105 Jugurthine War
In contending for the Numidian throne, Jugurtha, allowed some Roman citizens to be killed (112BC). After much Roman inaction, the incident escalated to the point where the Senate was compelled to sent troops to confront Jugurtha. A line Roman commanders failed in subduing the Numidians. Some were bribed into inaction, others suffered mighty military defeat. In 109 one of the consuls, Q. Caecilus Metellus, was sent to deal with the situation. Gradual progress was made against the Numidians. In the hopes of a quicker resolution to the warone of Metellus' officers, Gaius Marius, was made consul and took command of the army (107BC). Progress against Jugurtha was again gradual. After constructing numerous forts and bringing in light cavalry to counter the Numidian horsemen the war was winding to a close. The conflict came to a quick end in 105 BC when Jugurtha was bertayed by his ally, King Bocchus of Mauretania. Bocchus handed Jugurtha to a general of Marius, Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Sulla then delivered the captive to Marius. The Numidian king was executed in Rome as part of Marius' triumph.

58 BC Caesar's invasion of Gaul
Caesar commanded Numidian archers, often fighting alongside men from Crete who were reputed to be the best archers in the world.

AD 17-24 Tacfarinas Revolt
Tacfarinas was a leader of a Berber tribe of the Musulamii nomads. They lived south of the then Roman Provinces of Numidia and Mauretania Caesariensis. Numidians joined in his revolt against Rome. As a former auxiliary in the Roman army, Tacfarinas was able to apply the Roman style of organized warfare to his people. This was useful in pitched battles with the Romans, but the rebels had more success with guerilla warfare. The Roman reaction was a build up fortresses, spreading forces across the province to better counter the rebels hit and run tactics. AD 24 Tacfarinas found his rebel fortress surrounded by Romans and their allied Mauretanians. He committed suicide, ending hostilities. (see Tacitus, Annals 2.52.1 - 3.74.1-4)

AD 101-105 Trajan's Dacian Wars
Numidian cavalry serve in the fight against the Dacians as depicted in Trajan's Column.

1. Armies of the Carthaginian Wars 265-146 BC, by Terence Wise
2. The Making of the Roman Army: From Republic to Empire, by Lawrence Keppie

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