The legend of Asbyte, Libyan warrior princess
Updated: Nov 27, 2020
In 219 BCE, Hannibal Barca besieged the city of Saguntum. Hannibal’s army was a mercenary force that drew warriors from tribes across North Africa, the near East, and Europe. Among his forces he had specialists such as Balearic slingers, famous for their deadly accuracy and Numidian cavalry whose horsemanship was legendary. Libyans warriors made up the core of his heavy infantry, but there were also charioteers among Hannibal’s army from that part of the world.
Asbyte was a Libyan Princess and she fought in the arduous siege of Saguntum. She commanded a column of Libyan horsewomen and female war charioteers against an attack by the Saguntines. In the skirmish, her warriors inflicted heavy casualties on the Saguntines. Her chariot driver, Harpe was struck and killed by an arrow loosed by a Cretan mercenary named Mopsus. Mopsus later committed suicide after learning his sons had been slain at the walls of Saguntum.
Asbyte did not survive the eight-month siege, instead she was killed while battling with Theron, a priest of Heracles in Saguntum. Theron was almost immediately killed by Asbyte's companions and her decapitated body and looted chariot were recovered back to the Carthaginian lines.
Since the only source for the life and death of Asbyte is a poem (The Punica) written by Silius Italicus nearly two hundred years after the 2nd Punic War, it is probable that Asbyte was a fictional character. The account does give us some idea of the kinds of warriors that fought this bloody campaign and the extremely high attrition rate among the forces that fought.