New research helps interpret image of strange African warrior on horseback who fought the Romans

Mildred Europa Taylor January 04, 2023
Reconstruction of the depiction of the Cástulo horseman. SABINO PEREA ÝÉBENES/EL PAIS

Hannibal Barca, one of the greatest military leaders, was famous for being the Carthaginian general during the Second Punic War. These wars were fought between the cities of Carthage in North Africa and Rome in northern Italy for supremacy in the Mediterranean region. When Hannibal’s father died, he assumed command of the army at the age of 26. He had promised his father that he would never be a friend to Rome.

In 218 BCE, Hannibal decided to bring the fight to the Romans and invade northern Italy by crossing the mountain range of the Alps. Historians say the Iberian peninsula was the main stage for the first phase of the Second Punic War. Hannibal worked with African cavalry to defeat the Romans. One of them was a horseman thought to be Iberian in origin. However, a new study suggests that the horseman was African in origin, and could be one of the Numidian or Mauritanian cavalry that played a huge role in the war in favor of Carthage.

Researchers found the horseman’s portrait broken into four pieces at the necropolis of Estacar de Robarinas, Spain. At the necropolis, which was mostly for warrior tombs, some swords and daggers were also found but they had also been broken and folded to avoid them being used again. When archaeologists first found the portrait of the horseman in 1976, they thought it was the work of an artist who had copied a drawing from a Greek vase. Then in 1983, a historian called Antonio Blanco Freijero analyzed the portrait and concluded that it was an “Iberian horseman”. The new study however suggests that the horseman holding two spears and on a horse saddled with a leopard skin is African.

The study is titled “An African Horseman in Cástulo” by Sabino Perea Yébenes, a professor of ancient history at the distance learning university UNED. The study says the portrait represents a North African horseman who fought in the Iberian city of Cástulo. His spear could have even helped kill Publius Cornelius Scipio, the general who fought Hannibal during the Second Punic War.

According to the study, the African cavalry that fought in the war did not use swords, helmets or any other type of weaponry, because their aim was “to excel with the agility of movement in the pursuit and then in the retreat. The points of their javelins could be impregnated with poisonous substances.” The African horsemen were known for throwing these javelins within a few meters of their enemies and then withdrawing. “Their objective was to provoke skirmishes and to chase down enemies in disarray,” the study says.

Per the above, the horseman from Cástulo “is undoubtedly African”, according to Perea. He believes that the horseman “possibly was one of those who besieged the fort of Cástulo, in Roman hands since the summer of 212 BC.” 

The study was published in Rivista della Scuola Archeologica Italiana di Cartagine.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: January 4, 2023


Must Read

Connect with us

Join our Mailing List to Receive Updates