Ancient History & Civilisation


Among these men was a Campanian runaway slave called Spendius, who did all in his power to persuade the rebels to reject the settlement. Others equally feared a deal being done with the Carthaginians, but for different reasons. Mathos, a Libyan, had taken a leading part in the disturbance and feared that, once the mercenaries had disbanded and returned to their homelands, Carthage would seek revenge on those whose home was Africa. It did not take him long to convince the majority of the Libyans in the camp that peace would not serve their future interests. Spendius and Mathos, in order to further their aim of wrecking any pay deal, called a number of meetings and, using the excuse that not all due payments had yet been made, stirred up the assembled mercenaries. Polybius relates how anyone who stood up to oppose Spendius and Mathos found himself under attack from a hail of stones thrown by their supporters.

Unsurprisingly, the argument went their way. Spendius and Mathos were appointed generals of the mercenary force, and immediately ordered the seizure of Gisco and his staff. The commanders were further able to consolidate their authority by using the funds that Gisco had brought, to meet the arrears themselves.11 To prepare themselves for the confrontation with Carthage that lay ahead, the rebels began to cast around for allies. They did not have to look very far.

In order to fund their war effort, the Carthaginians had placed harsh exactions on their subject Libyan populations. Hard-pressed farmers were forced to hand over half their crop yields to Carthage. In the towns, taxation had been doubled without exemptions, even for the poor. Carthaginian governors were expected to strip the Libyan people of whatever they could get their hands on to meet burgeoning war costs. In order to tap into the resulting discontent, the rebels sent envoys to the Libyan towns to stir up unrest. The Libyans needed little encouragement to join the revolt. Polybius reported that such was their enthusiasm that Libyan women were willing to donate all their jewellery to the mercenaries’ war fund. He estimated that around 70,000 Libyans came to join the mercenaries, increasing the number of troops available to Spendius and Mathos by threefold.12

Although the Libyan rebellion gave the uprising ethnic overtones, this was far more than the clash of one ethnic group against another. It is striking, for instance, that at no time did the rebels try to induce the many slaves who lived and worked in Punic North Africa to revolt.13 The newly strengthened rebel army was made up of many different peoples. As well as Libyans, there were Ligurians, Iberians, Balearic islanders, Gauls and what Polybius terms as ‘mixhellenes’, a name more usually associated with Hellenized Thracian and Scythian peoples from the Black Sea region.14In this context the term probably refers to Campanians and inhabitants of Magna Graecia, some of whom were runaway slaves or deserters from the Roman army.

When one surveys the coinage that the rebels produced, it becomes clear that this was anything but an undisciplined rabble, for what the Carthaginians were really confronted with was a decapitated version of their own Sicilian army. The money that Gisco had brought with him was not simply distributed among the rebels, but was restruck into new coinage. By overstriking Carthaginian coinage with their own motifs, the rebel leadership sent out a bold statement of intent. What had started as a dispute over wages had become a full-blown rebellion which sought to throw off the Carthaginian yoke. The rebel forces were paid under their own authority with their own money, silver coinage that carried the Greek legend LIBUWN (‘[coin] of the Libyans’).15 The eclecticism of the motifs used on the coinage shows that the Greek superscription ‘of the Libyans’ was not meant to refer to one particular ethnic group, but acted rather as an expedient umbrella for the diverse constituencies that made up the rebel force.

At the same time, the apparent inclusivity of the term ‘Libyans’ may have signalled that ethnically non-Libyan mercenaries now had ambitions of conquering and settling Carthaginian settlements in North Africa, rather like Campanian privateers had done in Sicily.16 In fact the motifs used on both the silver and bronze coinage formed two quite distinctive groups. Those which portrayed agricultural themes such as corn ears and a plough were most probably aimed at the Libyans, while those that followed traditional Syracusan, southern-Italian and Carthaginian Sicilian military designs were directed at the non-Libyan mercenaries.17

Among the latter group of coins Heracles figured prominently, with the majority showing the standard Alexandrian portrait of the hero wearing a lionskin headdress, with a prowling lion on the reverse.18 Despite some minor stylistic differences, it was surely no coincidence that these coins reproduced the iconography of the last series of coinage issued by the Carthaginian military authorities in Sicily in the first decade of the fourth century. Although the army had been paid with coinage from Carthage decorated with the now conventional symbols of the city–the head of Core and the horse–Heracles–Melqart had remained an important emblem for the Carthaginian army in Sicily. When the rebels began to produce their own coinage, they naturally turned to a figure who had come to represent their martial vigour. The ‘camp’ had truly come to Carthage.19

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