A highly regarded Roman general who had cut his teeth against the Gauls in the armies of Caepio and Gaius Marius, Quintus Sertorius found himself aligned with the faction of Cinna and Carbo against the party of Sulla (Sylla), following Sulla's rise and the voluntary exile of Marius. After the defeat of Cinna's forces by Octavius (i.e. the "Social War") in 87 BC, subsequent death of Marius in 86 BC and assassination of Cinna in 84 BC, Sertorius abandoned Rome for Spain. There he ruled as a Roman pro-consul until a Sullan army crossed the Pyrenees in 82 BC, overwhelming Sertorius' much smaller force under the command of Julius Salinator.
Sertorius abandoned Spain for adventures as a pirate and as a general in New Carthage and Maurusia in Africa, but returned shortly thereafter with a band of 700 Libyan (Moorish) allies at the request of the Luisitani tribes of further Spain to be their ruler. Over the next nine years, he successfully conquered key cities and united Spain from its western shores to the valley of the Ebro in the east, defeating Sulla's Spanish pro-consuls.
Rallying the Spanish tribes, Roman colonists, and Roman exiles of the Cinna faction, Sertorius successfully sparred with Roman armies dispatched to Spain under Metellus Pius and Pompey the Great and even formed an alliance with King Mithridates of Pontus, who threatened Roman control of its eastern possessions. At the height of his success in Spain, Sertorius was assassinated in 72 BC by agents of Perpenna Vento, a high born Roman and prominent member of the Cinna faction in exile in Spain. Vento was an ambitious man jealous of Sertorius' popularity, his own subordinate role and the fact that Vento's Roman troops had forced him into an alliance with Sertorius.
The following unofficial DBA army list can be used to represent a Sertorian Romano-Spanish army of the period 82 BC to 72 BC:
|1 x 3Cv||Celtiberian|
|1 x 2LH||Celtiberian|
|3 x 4BD or 4Aux.||The Blades/Auxilia are colonists/transplanted Romans commanded by Perpenna Vento and/or Spanish Scutarii armed and trained as regulars and serving under Roman officers.|
|3 x 3Aux or 2Ps||Iberian/Lusitanian Scutarii or Caetrati|
|2 x 3 Wb or 2 Ps||Celtiberian Warband or Iberian/Lusitanian Caetrati||2 x 2 Ps||Iberian/Lusitanian Caetrati. One stand should be depicted as Libyan javelinmen (Sertorius' "Moorish" allies")|
Variant: Bernd Lehnhoff derived the following Sertorian DBA variant from the DBM, Book III, List 64. Sertorius Spanish (80-72 BC): 1 Cv3*, 1 LH2 or Cv3, 2 Bd4, [2 Bd4 or 2 Ax4, 3 Ax3 (Iberian/Lusitanian), 1 Wb3 or Ps2] or [2 Bd4 or 2 Wb3, 3 Wb3 (Celtiberian), 1 Ax3 or Ps2], 2 Ps2.
Enemies: 52, 59
The Sertorian Spanish army list is a variant of the DBA Ancient Spanish list (52), which covers the period (240 BC - 20 BC). The basic difference in the official list vs. the variant is the addition of optional Blade or regular Auxilia elements, which reflect the presence of Perpenna Vento's Roman cohorts and/or Spanish troops with Roman officers and arms trained in Roman close-order tactics. There is also the option to field a second element of Celtiberian warband.
The principal references are Plutarch's Life of Sertorius and Fortunius' Stratagems. The former is a brief history of Sertorius' life, and especially his campaigns to unite Spain in rebellion again Sullan Rome. The later relates examples of tactics and ruses utilized by Sertorius to best the superior Roman forces commanded by Pompey and Metellus.
The following passages from Plutarch are relied upon to support the presence of heavy infantry and illustrate the ability of Sertorius's army on several occasions to slug it out toe-to-toe with Roman armies under Metellus and Pompey:
"He was also highly honoured for his introducing discipline and good order amongst them, for he altered their furious savage manner of fighting, and brought them to make use of the Roman armour, taught them to keep their ranks, and observe signals and watchwards; and out of a confused number of thieves and robbers he constituted a regular, well-disciplined army. He bestowed silver and gold upon them liberally to gild and adorn their helmets, he had their shields worked with various figures and designs, he brought them into the mode of wearing flowered and embroidered cloaks and coats, and by supplying money for these purposes, and joining with them in all improvements, he won the hearts of all.
"Nor were the Spaniards alone ambitious to serve him, but the Roman soldiers, also, that came out of Italy, were impatient to be under his command; and when Perpenna Vento, who was of the same faction with Sertorius, came into Spain with a quantity of money and a large number of troops, and designed to make war against Metellus on his own account, his own soldiers opposed it, and talked continually of Sertorius, much to the mortification of Perpenna, who was puffed up with the grandeur of his family and his riches. And when they afterwards received tidings that Pompey was passing the Pyrenees, they took up their arms laid hold on their ensigns, called upon Perpenna to lead them to Sertorius, and threatened him that if he refused they would go without him and place themselves under a commander who was able to defend himself and those that served him. And so Perpenna was obliged to yield to their desires, and joining Sertorius, added to his army three-and-fifty cohorts. "
"For with two thousand six hundred men, whom for honour's sake he called Romans, combined with seven hundred Africans, who landed with him when he first entered Lusitania, together with four thousand targeteers and seven hundred horse of the Lusitanians themselves, he made war against four Roman generals, who commanded a hundred and twenty thousand foot, six thousand horse, two thousand archers and slingers, and had cities innumerable in their power; whereas at the first he had not above twenty cities in all. From this weak and slender beginning, he raised himself to the command of large nations of men, and the possession of numerous cities; and of the Roman commanders who were sent against him, he overthrew Cotta in a sea-fight, in the channel near the town of Mellaria; he routed Fufidius, the governor of Baetica, with the loss of two thousand Romans, near the banks of the river Baetis; Lucius Domitius, proconsul the other province of Spain, was overthrown by one of his lieutenants; Thoranius, another commander sent against him by Metellus with a great force, was slain, and Metellus, one of the greatest and most approved Roman generals then living, by a series of defeats, was reduced to such extremities, that Lucius Manlius came to his assistance out of Gallia Narbonensis, and Pompey the Great was sent from Rome itself in all haste with considerable forces. Nor did Metellus know which way to turn himself, in a war with such a bold and ready commander, who was continually molesting him, and yet could not be brought to a set battle, but by the swiftness and dexterity of his Spanish soldiery was enabled to shift and adapt himself to any change of circumstances. Metellus had had experience in battles fought by regular legions of soldiers, fully armed and drawn up in due order into a heavy standing phalanx, admirably trained for encountering and overpowering an enemy who came to close combat, hand to hand, but entirely unfit for climbing among the hills, and competing incessantly with the swift attacks and retreats of a set of fleet mountaineers, or to endure hunger and thirst and live exposed like them to the wind and weather, without fire or covering."
"For Sertorius had laid siege to Lauron, and Pompey came with his whole army to relieve it; and there being a hill near this city very advantageously situated, they both made haste to take it. Sertorius was beforehand, and took possession of it first, and Pompey, having drawn down his forces, was not sorry that it had thus happened, imagining that he had hereby enclosed his enemy between his own army and the city, and sent in a messenger to the citizens of Lauron, to bid them be of good courage, and to come upon their walls, where they might see their besieger besieged. Sertorius, perceiving their intentions, smiled, and said he would now teach Sylla's scholar, for so he called Pompey in derision, that it was the part of a general to look as well behind him as before him, and at the same time showed them six thousand soldiers, whom he had left in his former camp, from whence he marched out to take the hill, where, if Pompey should assault him, they might fall upon his rear. Pompey discovered this too late and not daring to give battle, for fear of being encompassed, and yet being ashamed to desert his friends and confederates in their extreme danger, was thus forced to sit still, and see them ruined before his face. "
"When he had reduced his enemies to the last extremity for want of provision, he was forced to give them battle, in the plains near Saguntum, to hinder them from foraging and plundering the country. Both parties fought gloriously. Memmius, the best commander in Pompey's army, was slain in the heat of the battle. Sertorius overthrew all before him, and with great slaughter of his enemies pressed forward towards Metellus. This old commander, making a resistance beyond what could be expected from one of his years, was wounded with a lance an occurrence which filled all who either saw it or heard of it with shame, to be thought to have left their general in distress, but at the same time to provoke them to revenge and fury against their enemies; they covered Metellus with their shields, and brought him off in safety, and then valiantly repulsed the Spaniards; and so victory changed sides, and Sertorius, that he might afford a more secure retreat to his army, and that fresh forces might more easily be raised, retired into a strong city in the mountains. And though it was the least of his intention to sustain a long siege, yet he began to repair the walls, and to fortify the gates, thus deluding his enemies, who came and sat down before the town, hoping to take it without much resistance; and meantime gave over the pursuit of the Spaniards, and allowed opportunity for raising new forces for Sertorius, to which purpose he had sent commanders to all their cities, with orders, when they had sufficiently increased their numbers, to send him word of it. This news he no sooner received, but he sallied out and forced his way through his enemies, and easily joined them with the rest of his army. Having received this considerable reinforcement, he set upon the Romans again, and by rapidly assaulting them, by alarming them on all sides, by ensnaring, circumventing, and laying ambushes for them, he cut off all provisions by land, while with his piratical vessels he kept all the coast in awe, and hindered their supplies by sea. He thus forced the Roman generals to dislodge and to separate from one another: Metellus departed into Gaul, and Pompey wintered among the Vaccaeans, in a wretched condition, where, being in extreme want of money, he wrote a letter to the senate, to let them know that if they did not speedily support him, he must draw off his army; for he had already spent his own money in the defence of Italy. To these extremities, the chiefest and the most powerful commanders of the age were reduced by the skill of Sertorius; and it was the common opinion in Rome that he would be in Italy before Pompey.
As these quotes demonstrate (and assuming they are accurate), Sertorius' success can be attributed largely to the loyalty and training of his native Spanish and transplanted Roman troops, which allowed him to adapt his tactics to the circumstances at hand. He used his fast moving, light armed troops and the rough terrain to isolate, harrass, ambush and destroy Roman detachments and deny them provisions. When circumstances required, he did not hesitate to give pitched battle, in large part because of his confidence that the army could disperse and reform later if the fortunes of the battle went against him. In the final analysis, Sertorius might even have brought his war to Rome itself, had not the jealously of Vento resulted in Sertiorius' assassination in 72 BC.
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Last Updated: May 10, 1999
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