The people of modern-day Algeria have always had been fierce warriors.
Two thousand and twenty five years ago, in 213 B.C., the land was Numidia, famed for its cavalry. Numidia was divided at this point between the Masaesyli tribe, who ruled Western Numidia, and the Massyllii tribe, who ruled Eastern Numidia.
King Syphax ruled Western Numidia, and following the death of his rival King Gala of East Numidia, Syphax made huge gains. He was consolidating, and set to become ruler of all Numidia.
Meanwhile, King Gala was succeeded by his son Massinissa, who became ruler of the now-weak East Numidians.
Numidia at the time was in friendly neutrality with Carthage, the nearby power, but entertained Roman offers for peace and diplomacy as well.
Iberia (modern day Spain) was under full Carthaginian control, until a young Republican-minded general, Publius Cornelius Scipio, systematically dismantled the much-superior Carthaginian forces there, starting with Scipio's brilliant assault on the seemingly impenetrable New Carthage. Scipio realized that, while New Carthage had three Carthaginian full armies within two weeks' march, he identified he could evade them and take New Carthage before they arrived. And, he did.
This greatly threatened Carthaginian naval supremacy, which had always been their hallmark, and cut off their major source of infantry recruiting in Europe. They had lost their key port, their key foothold, a key supply-chain and information center, and had been dealt a huge morale and symbolic blow.
At the time, young Massinissa was allied with Carthage, and King Syphax was leaning towards Rome. He invited Scipio to come to his capital along with Hasdrubal, Hannibal's brother. He entertained both.
Scipio won him over, and Syphax knew - he could tell - that the young Scipio was destined for legendary things. With Rome and Numidia in alliance, Carthage would fall.
The treaties were sealed, the agreement was made, and Syphax and Scipio became allies...
...or did they?
The young Massinissa was, at the time, betrothed to a legendarily beautiful Carthaginian princess, Sophonisba. Being a strong ally of Carthage and a menace to the Romans, Massinissa was a logical choice to marry and solidify the relationship with the leaders of Carthage.
However, as the winds started to turn, the Carthaginians started to desert their Iberian allies. Scipio showed tremendous courtesy in returning Massinissa's nephew Massiva to him after capturing him in battle.
Massinissa declared for Rome, putting Numidia fully under Roman alliance. The Carthaginians needed to do something about it...
And what would the legendarily beautiful princess do? Would she stand with her husband, or her tribe?
And the answer came. She deserted Massinissa at the prodding of her father, who offered Sophonisba to Syphax to break his treaty and word to Rome and Scipio.
Both Syphax and Massinissa had known which way the wind was blowing... Massinissa chose the good of the Numidian people, and common sense, and lost one of the most beautiful woman in Northern Africa as his part of the bargain. She deserted him for Syphax.
Syphax broke his word, broke his treay, and betrayed Scipio.
Now, the fight was on. Eastern Numidia was caught between Carthage and Western Numidia, and Massinissa had to take to flight. He gathered his best cavalry and fought his way to a rendezvous with Scipio after he brought his full forces to Africa.
Scipio and Massinissa's united command was badly outnumbered, and pinned down near Utica by Syphax and Hasdrubal. Then, in a brilliant nighttime raid, Scipio and Massinissa set fire to both of the core enemy camps, destroying or capturing 40,000 combined West Numidian and Carthaginian forces in one night with minimal losses.
Trying to simultaneously escape and stop his troops from deserting, Syphax fought a defensive retreating action, but was caught by the Romans and led back to his capital in chains, with Massinissa in front of the procession.
Numidia was unified, and Massinissa was crowned king.
But what of Sophonisba? She led her husband, whose original instincts were correct, into a ruinous alliance that lost him everything. Tens of thousands of his tribe were killed, he lost all his wealth and prestige, and became a prisoner and spectacle for the rest of his life. His rival now ruled from Syphax's capital.
What did Sophonisba do? Did she appreciate the mighty sacrifice?
No, she did not!
Upon Massinissa triumphantly entering the city and palace, Sophonisba fell at his feet, crying and begging him to take her back.
Again, her beauty and sway over men was legendary. Massinissa immediately took Syphax's wife to bed, and they pledged their love to each other. Sophonisba, who had deserted Massinissa for Syphax (which then ruined Syphax and his tribe), now re-joined the man she had betrayed, deserted, and had stormed out of his kingdom.
Scipio heard of this, and immediately demanded Sophonisba to be put in chains and brought to Rome as a prisoner. Massinissa, stuck between infatuation for the woman and the weight of strength, friendship, and virtue with Scipio, took a tough decision.
Sophonisba, full of pride, took poison and died rather than be taken as prisoner. She did not do so upon deserting her first fiance, she did not so upon bringing ruin to her first husband, but only did so now for her own vanity and pride.
Massinissa became King Massinissa, and the joint Numidian/Roman command under Massinissa and Scipio defeated Hannibal himself at the Battle of Zama a few months later, ending Carthaginian hegemony in Africa. Numidia stayed a regional power for centuries, Carthage was completely eliminated 100 years later, and people still write in tragic words of the young beautiful princess who brought ruin to everything she touched.
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