By 214 Mago and Hasdrubal had levied new forces and decided to strike first. Advancing into the territory of some of Rome's new Spanish allies near Acra Leuce they defeated the local tribal forces. Publius Scipio moved quickly to counter the new offensive but was ambushed by the Punic cavalry, losing 2,000 men. He withdrew northward to rendezvous with Gnaeus Scipio's army, just as a third Carthaginian force commanded by Hasdrubal Gisgo, arrived from Africa. These five armies (3 Carthaginian, 2 Roman) engaged in a series of actions around the cities of the Iliturgi and Intibili in east-central Hispania with the Carthaginians pressing the action. In the end of the campaign season, the Romans maintained control of the newly won territory, but Gnaeus had been seriously injured in combat.
The next three years saw the jockeying of position for both sides. The three Carthaginian armies were content to harass the Romans while maintaining control of their power base in the south of Spain. The Romans, without reinforcements of their own since their arrival several years earlier, were also limited in choices. Because of the limited manpower resources, advancement required leaving too many troops in the rear to maintain supply and communication lines, making any gains untenable. The Carthaginians faced difficulties of their own in the form of revolts in Africa. King Syphax of the Numidians rose against Carthage, an uprising eagerly incited by the Romans, troubling the Carthaginian's cause in Spain even further. As a result Spanish forces were sent to Africa to help quell the rebellion, but rather than putting it to an end, Syphax was able to withdraw via Gibraltar and add his vaunted Numidian cavalry to the Roman cause. Through the whole affair, the Scipios took advantage of the situation and recaptured the site that started the entire war, Saguntum. They also made inroads with the Celtiberians and were able to recruit an additional army of 20,000 tribesmen.
The beginning of 211 BC proved to be a much better year for the Barca clan. At the time, between the 3 armies, estimates of 35,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry and 30 elephants have been given for the total Carthaginian force. Conversely, the Romans had nearly 50,000 mixed legionary and Celtic infantry with an additional 5,000 cavalry. The Roman plan for the season was simple, engage and defeat the Carthaginian ground forces. The problem however, was that the Carthaginians were so evenly divided between 3 separate armies, that Roman advances against one force would leave their territory vulnerable to an unoccupied Carthaginian army.
As a result the Scipios divided their armies to attempt to meet the multiple Carthaginian forces. Gnaeus went after Hasrubal with an army twice his size, while Publius moved against Mago. Hasdrubal, though heavily outnumbered, managed to hold off the Roman advance. Learning that the bulk of his opposition was made up of the Celtic warriors, Hasrubal arranged to pay off the Celts and send them home leaving Gnaeus with only a small contingent of actual legionaries. Left completely vulnerable, Gnaeus Scipio had little recourse but to slowly withdraw while holding off Hasdrubal's attacks.
Publius Scipio, advancing on Mago near Castulo, had his own problems. Mago, was reinforced by Gisgo and additional Numidian cavalry under Masinissa. Approaching the enemy, Publius found himself walking into a hornet's nest, being stung on all sides. Trying to maneuver out of his difficulties, he soon discovered that an additional force under Indibilis of the Balearic Islands was approaching his flank. Surrounded and now outnumbered, Publius Cornelius Scipio was killed and his army of 23,000 men were destroyed at the Battle of Castulo (211 BC).
With one Roman army destroyed the separate Carthaginian forces now converged with Hasdrubal on Gnaeus. Unaware of his brother's fate, Gnaeus would surely try to withdraw when he found out, so the Carthaginians moved fast to prevent any escape. As the enemy approached in formation, Scipio realized that he faced the entire army of the Carthaginians in Hispania and attemped a quick withdrawal from open battle. He occupied high ground on a hill near Ilorca and immediately began fortifying, preparing for a siege. His efforts were in vain, however, as the Punic armies stormed the hastily construced defenses and destroyed the army of the Romans. Within 30 days of his brother's death at Castulo, Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio met the same fate at the Battle of Ilorca.
The stunning victories caught both the victors and the defeated off-guard. The Carthaginians, now in total command of Hispania, were seemingly ill prepared for total victory and failed to capitalize on the opportunity. Reinforcements could've been sent to Hannibal in Italy, or against gains in the north of Spain, but instead their interest in victory seemed to wane. Instead the Carthaginians spent the following months again consolidating their positions and reaffirming control of the south. In Rome, the defeats were obviously shocking but were greeted with a resolute response. The Senate immediately dispatched C. Claudius Nero to shore up the remaining garrisons in Spain. Victories over Syracuse in Sicily and at Capua in Italy allowed the Romans to send some reinforcements and plan for the next year's campaign. At the end of 211 BC, the positions of both sides were exactly the same as when the war had started in 218. The Romans, thanks to Marcius Septimus who saved the remnants of the defeated Roman armies by withdrawing north after the battles Castulo and Ilorca, and his replacement Nero, managed to hold onto territory north of the Ebro while the Carthaginians had regained complete authority over everything south.
Did you know...?
Numidia at the start of the Second Punic War (219-202 BC) was part of the Carthaginian empire.