Battle of Cissa

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Battle of Cissa
Part of the Second Punic War
218 AC - Iter Gnaei Scipionis in Hispania.png
Scipio's landing in Iberia
DateFall 218 BC
Cissa or Tarraco, present-day Spain
Result Roman victory
Vexilloid of the Roman Empire.svg Roman Republic Carthage standard.svg Carthage
Commanders and leaders
Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Calvus Hanno (POW)


20,000 infantry
2,200 cavalry


10,000 infantry
1,000 cavalry
Casualties and losses


6,000 killed
2,000 captured

The Battle of Cissa was part of the Second Punic War. It was fought in the fall of 218 BC, near the Greek town of Tarraco in north-eastern Iberia. A Roman army under Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Calvus defeated an outnumbered Carthaginian army under Hanno, thus gaining control of the territory north of the Ebro River that Hannibal had just subdued a few months prior in the summer of 218 BC; this was the first battle that the Romans had ever fought in Iberia.

Strategic situation[edit]

After the successful conclusion of the Siege of Saguntum, Hannibal Barca had rested his army. Then, in the summer of 218 BC, he had started out for Italy with either 90,000 foot and 12,000 cavalry (according to Polybius), or with 26,000 foot and 10,000 horse,[1] he had spent the summer conquering the area north of the Ebro River. After subduing the Iberian tribes, but leaving the Greek cities unmolested, Hannibal crossed over into Gaul to continue his march to Italy, leaving a contingent to guard the newly conquered territories and sending 10,000 less reliable troops home.[2]

Roman preparations[edit]

The Roman navy had been mobilized in 219 BC, fielding 220 quinqueremes for the Second Illyrian War. Consul Tiberius Sempronius Longus received 4 legions (2 Romans and 2 allied, 8,000 Roman and 16,000 allied infantry and 600 Roman and 1,800 allied horse) and instructions to sail for Africa with 160 quinqueremes. Publius Cornelius Scipio received 4 legions (8,000 Roman and 14,000 allied infantry and 600 Roman and 1,600 allied horse)[3] and was to sail for Iberia escorted by 60 ships. However, the Gallic Boii and Insubre tribes in northern Italy had attacked Roman colonies, causing part of Scipio’s force to deploy there and fresh legions were raised to replace them, delaying his departure.

While Hannibal was marching through Gaul, Scipio had landed with his army at the allied Greek city of Massilia, he then sent a cavalry patrol north, up the eastern bank of the Rhone River, which clashed with a similar force of Numidian light cavalry and, after a hard fought skirmish, drove off the Carthaginians.[4] Scipio marched north from his base, while Hannibal marched east towards the Alps. Arriving at the deserted Carthaginian camp, Scipio learned that Hannibal was three day's march away and decided to send his forces to Iberia under the command of his elder brother Gnaeus, who had been consul in 221 BC, while he himself returned to Northern Italy to organize the defences against Hannibal.


Hasdrubal Barca, the younger brother of Hannibal, had 12,650 infantry, 2,550 cavalry and 21 elephants to guard the Carthaginian possessions south of the Ebro.[5] Hannibal had left a certain Hanno with 10,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry to garrison the newly conquered territory north of the Ebro; this Hanno has been identified by various authors as Hannibal’s nephew[6] (son of Hasdrubal the Fair), a brother[7] or no Barcid relation.

Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Calvus, with 20,000 infantry (2 Roman and 2 allied legions) 2,200 cavalry and 60 quinqueremes, sailed from Massilia and landed at Emporiae in Iberia; the Greek cities of Emporiae and Tarraco welcomed the Romans, and Gnaeus began to win over the Iberian tribes north of the Ebro. Hasdrubal Barca, after being warned of the Roman expedition, marched north with an army of 8,000 foot soldiers and 1,000 cavalry to join Hanno.[8]

The battle[edit]

Hanno had been completely surprised by the Roman arrival in Iberia. Seeing the grip of the Carthaginians on the newly conquered Iberian tribes loosening because of the activities of Scipio, he decided to offer battle. Hanno marched and attacked the Romans just north of Tarraco, near a place called Cissa or Kissa.[9] There were no brilliant manoeuvres or ambushes, the armies formed up and faced off. Being outnumbered two to one, Hanno was defeated relatively easily, losing 6,000 soldiers in battle. Furthermore, the Romans managed to capture the Carthaginian camp, along with 2,000 more soldiers and Hanno himself; the camp contained all the baggage left by Hannibal.[10] The prisoners also included Indibilis, an influential Iberian chieftain who would cause severe trouble for the Romans later; the Romans also stormed the town of Cissa, though to the frustration of the Romans it did not contain any valuable booty.[11]


Gnaeus became master of Iberia north of the Ebro. Hasdrubal, arriving too late to aid Hanno and not being strong enough to attack the Romans, still crossed the river and sent a flying column of light cavalry and infantry on a raid; this force caught some Roman sailors foraging and inflicted such casualties that the effectiveness of the Roman fleet in Iberia was reduced from 60 to 35 ships. The Roman fleet, however, raided the Carthaginian possessions in Iberia.[12] Roman prestige was established in Iberia, while the Carthaginians had suffered a significant blow. After punishing the officers in charge of the naval contingent for their lax discipline, Scipio and the Roman army wintered at Tarraco. Hasdrubal retired to Cartagena after garrisoning allied towns south of the Ebro.

If Hanno somehow had won the battle, it might have been possible for Hannibal to get reinforcements from Barcid Iberia as early as 217 BC; this battle brought the same results for Scipio in Iberia as the Battle of Trebia would bring for Hannibal in Italy: securing a base of operation, and winning over some of the native tribes as a source of provisions and recruits, also cutting off the overland communication of Hannibal from his base in Iberia. Unlike Hannibal, Scipio did not immediately launch a major campaign on enemy territory south of the river. Nor would he cut loose from his base like Hannibal did in the near future. Scipio took time to consolidate his holdings, subjugate or befriend Iberian tribes and raid Carthaginian territory; these activities laid the foundation for the future Roman operations in Iberia.


  1. ^ Delbruck, Hans, Warfare in Antiquity, Volume 1, p 362 ISBN 0-8032-9199-X
  2. ^ Peddie, John, Hannibal's War, p 19 ISBN 0-7509-3797-1
  3. ^ Lazenby, J.F., Hannibal’s War, p 71 ISBN 0-8061-3004-0
  4. ^ Lazenby, John Francis, Hannibal's War, p 37, ISBN 0-8061-3004-0
  5. ^ Lazanby, John Francis, Hannibal's War, p32, ISBN 0-8061-3004-0
  6. ^ Bagnall, Nigel, The Punic Wars, p157, ISBN 0-312-34214-4
  7. ^ Cottrell, Leonard, Hannibal: Enemy of Rome, p24, ISBN 0-306-80498-0
  8. ^ (Livy xxi, p23, 60)
  9. ^ Polybius 3.76 p7
  10. ^ Lazanby, John Francis, Hannibal's War, p126
  11. ^ (Livy xxi p60)
  12. ^ Livy, 22.20.4-10

Sources & References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Coordinates: 41°06′57″N 1°14′59″E / 41.1157°N 1.2496°E / 41.1157; 1.2496