The Battle of Italica was fought in 75 BC between a rebel army under the command of Lucius Hirtuleius a legate of the Roman rebel Quintus Sertorius and a Roman Republican army under the command of the Roman general and proconsul of Hispania Ulterior Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius. The battle was fought near Italica (a Roman colony in Spain) and ended in a stunning victory for the Metellan army.[2]

Battle of Italica
Part of the Sertorian War
Date75 BC
near Seville in Spain

37°26′38″N 6°02′48″W / 37.44389°N 6.04667°W / 37.44389; -6.04667Coordinates: 37°26′38″N 6°02′48″W / 37.44389°N 6.04667°W / 37.44389; -6.04667
Result Roman victory
Roman Republic Sertorian Rebels
Commanders and leaders
Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius Lucius Hirtuleius
4 understrenght legions and an unknown number of auxiliaries and allied troops unknown but similar to Metellus' force
Casualties and losses
unknown but a lot lower then their opponents 20,000[1]
Battle of Italica is located in Spain
Battle of Italica
Location within Spain



In 88 BC Lucius Cornelius Sulla marched his legions on Rome starting a civil war. Quintus Sertorius, a client of Gaius Marius, joined his patron's faction and took up the sword against the Sullan faction (mainly optimates). After the death of Lucius Cornelius Cinna and Gaius Marius, Sertorius lost faith with his factions leadership. In 82 BC, during the second war against Sulla, he left Italy for his assigned propraetorian province in Hispania.[3] Unfortunately his faction lost the war in Italy right after his departure and in 81 BC Sulla sent Gaius Annius Luscus with several legions to take the Spanish provinces from Sertorius.[4] After a brief resistance Sertorius and his men are expelled form Hispania. They end up in Mauretania in north-eastern Africa where they conquer the city of Tingis. Here the Lusitanians, a fierce Iberian tribe who were about to be invaded by a Sullan governor, approached him. They asked him to become their warleader in the fight against the Sullans. In 80 BC Sertorius landed at the little fishing town of Baelo near the Pillars of Hercules (Gibraltar) and returned to Hispania. Soon after his landing he fought and defeated the Sullan general Fufidius (the aforementioned Sullan governor) at the Baetis river. After this he defeated several Sullan armies and drove his opponents from Spain. Threatened by Sertorius' success the Senate in Rome upgraded Hispania Ulterior to a proconsular province and sent the proconsul Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius with a large army to fight him.[5] Sertorius used guerrilla tactics so effectively he wore down Metellus to the point of exhaustion while Sertorius' legate Lucius Hirtuleius defeated the governor of Hispania Citerior Marcus Domitius Calvinus. In 76 BC the government in Rome decided to send Pompey and an even larger army to help Metellus.[6] In the same year Sertorius is joined by Marcus Perpenna, who brought him the remnants of the army of Marcus Aemilius Lepidus the rebel consul of 78 BC.[7] Thus reinforced Sertorius decided to try and take the Spanish east coast (because the cities there support his enemies). His first target was the city of Lauron where he outgeneraled Pompey and massacred a large part of his army (see: the battle of Lauron).[8]


In 75 BC Sertorius decided to take on Metellus and leave the battred Pompey to his legates Perpenna and Herennius. Pompey however defeated his opponents in a battle near Valentia (see: battle of Valentia)[9] and forced Sertorius to come and take charge of the situation, leaving Hirtuleius to deal with Metellus.[10] Metellus and Hirtuleius were campaigning near the Roman colony of Italica when Hirtuleius made the mistake of trying to force his opponent into a pitched battle. He mustered his army soon after dawn and marched on Metellus' encampment. Metellus mustered his troops too, but kept them behind his entrenchments until noon. It was extremely hot that time of year and Hirtuleius' troops were soon sweltering while Metellus' legionaries remained relatively fresh.[11] Since his enemy remained drawn up in front of his camp for hours, Metellus had plenty of time to study their dispositions and make his own accordingly.[12] He had observed that Hirtuleius had posted his strongest units in the centre of his battle-line.

The BattleEdit

When the battle finally commenced Metellus held back his own centre and concentrated on winning on the flanks. After defeating his opponents flanks he enveloped Hirtuleius centre and slaughtered them.[13] This was the classic tactic used by Hannibal at Cannae almost a century and a half ago. It had worked then and it had worked now. Hirtuleius lost 20,000 men at Italica[1] and, chastened, he fled north to join his commander Sertorius who was squaring off against Pompey. Metellus was right on his heels wanting to make the most of his victory by trapping Sertorius between Pompey and himself.


With Hirtuleius' army destroyed Metellus and Pompey had the opportunity to catch Sertorius between themselves. Metellus marched his army north to fall on Sertorius' rear, unfortunately Pompey decided to take Sertorius on before Metellus arrived and almost lost his army and life at the battle of Sucro. When Metellus finally arrived Sertorius retreated toward Clunia in Celtiberia and reverted to guerrilla warfare. The war would drag on for another three years and only end because a few of his own men plotted against Sertorius and assassinated him.


  1. ^ a b John Leach, Pompey the Great, p.48; Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain, p.119.
  2. ^ Livy Epitome, 91.4; Frontinus, Stratagems, 2.1.2 and 2.3.5; John Leach, Pompey the Great, p.47; Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain, pp.118-119.
  3. ^ Plutarch, Life of Sertorius , 6.
  4. ^ Plutarch, Life of Sertorius, 7.
  5. ^ Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain, p.68.
  6. ^ Plutarch, Life of Pompey, 17.
  7. ^ Plutarch, Life of Sertorius, 15.
  8. ^ Plutarch, Life of Sertorius, 18; Plutarch, Life of Pompey, 18; Frontinus, Stratagems, 2.5.31; John Leach, Pompey the Great, pp.226-227; Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain, pp.96-101.
  9. ^ Plutarch, Life of Pompey, 18.
  10. ^ Plutarch, Life of Pompey, 19.
  11. ^ Frontinus, Stratagems, 2.1.2.
  12. ^ Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain, p.119.
  13. ^ Frontinus, Stratagems, 2.3.5.