Dunbar, battle of, 27 April 1296

The battle of the Sucro (75 BC) was an inconclusive clash between Pompey and Sertorius, but Sertorius was forced to retreat on the following day after Roman reinforcements arrived (Sertorian War).

The campaign of 75 BC began badly for Sertorius. His most able subordinate Hirtuleius was defeated and killed by Metellus, possibly at Segovia. On the east coast Pompey attacked and defeated Perpenna and Herennius outside Valentia and then captured the city. Sertorius was nearby, and Metellus approaching from the west, so the main armies were getting close to each other.

Plutarch gives a good account of the battle in his Life of Pompey. Having defeated Sertorius’s legates outside Valentia, Pompey was full of pride and was determined to defeat Sertorius before Metellus arrived to share the victory. He advanced towards Sertorius’s position on the River Sucro, and attacked him late in the day. Both commanders had the same motive to fight that day - neither of them wanted Metellus to arrive! The resulting battle was effectively a draw. Each side was victorious on one wing and defeated on the other. Sertorius was completely victorious on his wing (Plutarch doesn’t say which in this account), putting to flight the enemy in front of him. Pompey didn’t do as well. Although he was mounted, he was wounded by a tall infantryman. He cut off his enemy’s hand, but was then almost surrounded and only escaped by abandoning his richly equipped horse. The enemy fought amongst themselves over the spoils, allowing Pompey to escape.

On the following morning both armies drew up in order of battle, ready to renew the fight, but Sertorius then discovered that Metellus was close, and decided to withdraw. Sertorius’s army dispersed after the battle, although in this account Pompey say that this was what it often did after a battle, coming back together again when needed. 

There are more details in Plutarch’s life of Sertorius. At the start of the battle Sertorius was posted on his right, facing Afranius, who commanded Pompey’s left. At first Pompey, on the other flank, was successful, and so Sertorius handed command on his right to other generals and moved to his left. He was able to rally his men, and encouraged them to renew their attack on Pompey, who had been pursuing them. Pompey’s men were defeated and Pompey was wounded. However on the other flank Afranius was able to defeat Sertorius’s generals, and plundered their camp. When Sertorius returned to his right, he was able to restore the situation and inflicted heavy loses on Afranius’s disorganised men. The account of the second day is the same as in the Life of Pompey.

Appian gives a different account of the battle, placing it close to the town of Sucro, close to modern Cullera on the coast south of Valencia. In his account Metellus and Pompey were coming from the Pyrenees after leaving winter quarters, while Sertorius and Perpenna was coming from Lusitania. They clashed near Sucro, in a battle marked by lightning from a clear sky. On one flank Metellus defeated Perpenna and plundered his camp. On the other flank Sertorius defeated Pompey, who was wounded. The battle ended as a draw. Appian follows the battle with an account of the loss of Sertorius’s fawn, before moving onto his account of the battle of Saguntum.

In the aftermath of this battle Sertorius lost a sacred fawn that he had used to encourage his men. It was eventually discovered by some of his men, and Sertorius skilfully staged her recovery to lift the morale of his men.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (28 May 2018), Battle of the Sucro, 75 BC , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_sucro.html

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