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Hannibal Crosses the Alps

The peace won thus after years of fighting was very welcome, and the Romans gladly closed the Temple of Janus, for the first time since the days of Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome.

As there was no fighting to be done anywhere, the people now began to cultivate the arts of peace. For the first time in their busy lives, they took a deep interest in poetry, and enjoyed satires, tragedies, and comedies. But while the first style of poetry was an invention of their own, they borrowed the others from the Greeks.

As they knew that an inactive life would not please them long, they made sundry improvements in their arms and defenses, and prepared for future wars. Then, to prevent their weapons from rusting, they joined the Achæans in making war against the pirates who infested the Adriatic Sea.

Soon after this, the Gauls again invaded Italy, and came down into Etruria, within three days' march of Rome. The citizens flew to arms to check their advance, and defeated them in a pitched battle. Forty thousand of the barbarians were killed, and ten thousand were made prisoners.

In a second encounter, the King of the Gauls was slain, and the people bought peace from the victorious Romans by giving up to them all the land which they occupied in the northern part of Italy.

While Rome was thus busy making many conquests, the Carthaginians had not been idle either. In a very short time their trade was as brisk as ever, and they conquered about half of Spain. Then as soon as they earned enough money, and finished their preparations, they broke the treaty they had made with Rome, by besieging Saguntum, a Spanish city under the protection of the Romans.

The Roman senate sent an ambassador to Carthage to complain of this breach of the treaty, and to ask that the general who had taken Saguntum should be given up to them. This general was Hannibal, a man who hated the Romans even more than he loved his own country. When only a little boy, he had taken a solemn oath upon the altar of one of the Carthaginian gods, that he would fight Rome as long as he lived.

Hannibal was a born leader, and his dignity, endurance, and presence of mind made him one of the most famous generals of ancient times. The Carthaginians had not yet had much chance to try his skill, but they were not at all ready to give him up. When the Roman ambassador, Fabius, saw this, he strode into their assembly with his robe drawn together, as if it concealed some hidden object.

"Here I bring you peace or war!" he said. "Choose!" The Carthaginians, nothing daunted by his proud bearing, coolly answered: "Choose yourself!"

"Then it is war!" replied Fabius, and he at once turned away and went back to Rome to make known the result of his mission.

Hannibal, in the mean while, continued the war in Spain, and when he had forced his way to the north of the country, he led his army of more than fifty thousand men over the Pyrenees and across Gaul. His object was to enter Italy by the north, and carry on the war there instead of elsewhere. Although it was almost winter, and the huge barrier of the Alps rose before him, he urged his men onward.

The undertaking seemed impossible, and would never have been attempted by a less determined man. Thanks to Hannibal's coolness and energy, however, the army wound steadily upward along the precipices, and through the snow. Although over half the men perished from cold, or from the attacks of the hostile inhabitants, the remainder came at last to the Italian plains. It had taken a whole fortnight to cross the Alps.