Story of Carthage - Alfred J. Church

The Beginning of the End

The death of Hannibal did not remove the suspicion of Rome that Carthage might be plotting some mischief. The conditions imposed upon her by the Peace of Hannibal (as the treaty made after the battle of Zama was called) had not permanently disabled her. She had lost her dominions but not her trade; her war-ships had been destroyed, but not the ships of her commerce; and she had always in her treasury the gold with which to hire new armies. Only twenty years had passed since the conclusion of the peace, when she offered to pay up at once the balance of the indemnity which was to have been spread over fifty years. The Romans preferred keeping this hold over their ancient enemies to receiving the money, but they were alarmed at this proof of how completely the wealth of Carthage was restored. Some ten years later, when war with Macedonia was threatening, news came to Rome that the envoys of the Macedonian king had been received at Carthage. Doubtless the envoys had been sent; and it is probable that they found some powerful persons ready to listen to them—for there was still a war-party in Carthage—but there is no reason to believe that the government had had any dealings with the enemies of Rome. There was one Roman statesmen by whom these suspicions were very strongly felt. This was Marcus Porcius Cato, commonly called the Elder Cato, to distinguish him from his great-grandson, Cato of Utica, the republican who killed himself sooner than live under the despotism of Caesar. Cato had served throughout the campaigns of the Second Punic War, and had not forgotten his experiences of that time. He had been sent to inquire into the causes of a war that had broken out between Carthage and King Masinissa, and he had been much struck by the proofs of wealth and power that he saw during his visit, the crowded population of the city and territory, the well-appointed fleet, and the well-filled armouries. Returning to Rome, he related in the Senate what he had seen. "This people," he said, "is stronger than ever. They are practicing war in Africa by way of prelude to war against you." As he spoke, he threw down from a fold in his robe a bunch of ripe figs. "The country that bears these," he cried, as the senators admired the beautiful fruit, "is but three days' journey from here." One is not certain whether he meant that it was so near as to be dangerous, or that it could be easily reached. Anyhow, from that time he never ceased to take every opportunity that occurred of expressing his opinion in the Senate. Whatever the matter might be that was being voted upon, he added the words, "And I also think that Carthage ought to be blotted out." With equal pertinacity one of the Scipios (surnamed Nasica, or "Scipio of the Pointed Nose), a near kinsman of the conqueror of Zama, added to every vote, "And I also think that Carthage ought to be left."

Carthage had a dangerous enemy at home in King Masinissa. He had begun life, as we have seen, by serving with Hasdrubal Barca in Spain, had then changed sides, and fought on the side of the Romans at the battle of Zama. He had been handsomely rewarded for these services. His father's dominions had been restored to him, and to these had been added the greater part of the kingdom of Syphax. For more than fifty years he was continually engaged in enlarging his borders at the expense of Carthage, and he always felt that he could rely on the help, or at least the countenance, of the Romans. Carthage was forbidden to make war on her neighbours in Africa without the leave of Rome, and all that she could do in return for Masinissa's aggressions was to send to appeal to that power to protect her against the wrongs that she was compelled to suffer. More than once the Romans sent commissioners to inquire into her complaints. Once, indeed, possibly oftener, these commissioners decided against Masinissa, but they generally left the matter unsettled. Anyhow, the king went on with his encroachments, and generally contrived to keep what he had laid his hands upon.

In 151 this quarrel broke out into open war. Masinissa had a party of his own in Carthage. The democratic or war party expelled forty of its principal members, imposing at the same time an oath upon the people that they would never allow them to return. The exiles fled to the king and urged him to make war. He was willing enough, for he had his eye on a town which he particularly coveted; but he first, sent one of his sons on an embassy to Carthage to demand redress. The prince was not admitted within the works, and was even attacked on his way home. Masinissa then laid siege to the town. The Carthaginians sent Hasdrubal, their commander-in-chief, against him. They were joined by two of the king's chief officers, who deserted, bringing with them as many as six thousand horse. In some slight engagements that followed Hasdrubal was victorious; and the king made a feint of retreat, and drew Hasdrubal after him into a region where supplies could not easily be obtained. A battle soon followed. The old king—he was eighty-eight years of age—commanded in person, riding after the fashion of his country, without saddle or stirrup. No very decided result followed, but the king, on the whole, had the advantage. There was present that day, as spectator of the conflict, a young Roman who had much to do with the conclusion of the story of Carthage. To give him the full title which he bears in history, this was Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus Minor. He was a son of a distinguished Roman general, Aemilius Paullus, the conqueror of Pydna, and grandson of the Aemilius Paullus who fell at Cannae. He was adopted by the elder son of the Scipio Africanus, the conqueror of Zama, whose weak health prevented him from taking any part in public affairs. He had been serving with a Roman army in Spain, and had come to Masinissa for the purpose of purchasing elephants. He had privilege of seeing the battle from a hill that overlooked the plain, and afterwards said (we probably get the story from his friend Polybius) that, though he had been present at many battles, he had never been so much pleased. "I saw," said he, "one hundred and ten thousand men meet in combat. It was a sight such as two only have seen before me, Zeus from the top of Ida, and Poseidon from Samothrace, in the Trojan war."

Scipio undertook to arbitrate between the two parties. The Carthaginians offered to give up the country round Emporia, or the Markets  (now Gabes and Terba), and to pay two hundred talents down and eight hundred more in installments; but when the king demanded also the surrender of the fugitives, the negotiations were broken off. Hasdrubal ought now to have taken up a position which it would have been possible for him to hold, but he neglected to do so. He expected another offer from Masinissa, and he also had hopes that the Romans would interfere in his favour. His delay was fatal to him. Famine, and the fever that always follows on famine, wasted his army. In the end he was obliged to accept the most humiliating terms. The exiles of Masinissa's party were to be taken back into the city; the fugitives were to be surrendered; an indemnity of five thousand talents was to be paid, and he and his soldiers were to pass through the hostile camp, unarmed and with but a single garment apiece. The helpless fugitives were attacked by one of the king's sons at the head of a force of cavalry, and cruelly slaughtered. Only a very few, among whom was Hasdrubal himself, returned to Carthage.

But worse remained behind. The Carthaginian government condemned to death Hasdrubal and those who had been most active in promoting the war. But when the ambassadors whom they sent to Rome pleaded this proceeding as a ground for acquittal, they were asked, "Why did you not condemn them before, not after the defeat?" To this there was no answer; and the Roman Senate voted that the Carthaginian explanation was not sufficient. "Tell us," said the unhappy men, "what we must do?" "You must satisfy the Roman People," was the ambiguous answer. When this was reported at Carthage, a second embassy was sent, imploring to be definitely told what they must do. These were dismissed with the answer, "The Carthaginians know this already." Rome had accepted the pitiless counsel of Cato, and Carthage was to be blotted out. If there was any doubt, it was dismissed when envoys came from Utica offering the submission of that city. The consuls of the year, Manilius and Censorinus, were at once dispatched with a fleet and an army. Their secret instructions were that they were not to be satisfied till Carthage was destroyed. The forces which they commanded amounted to nearly a hundred thousand men. The expedition was popular; for the prospects of booty were great, and volunteers of all ranks thronged to take part in it. The news that the fleet had sailed was the first intimation that Carthage received that war had been declared. The Carthaginian government still hoped that an absolute submission might save them. They sent another embassy to Rome with full powers to grant any terms that might be asked. The answer that they received was this: "If the Carthaginians will give three hundred hostages from their noblest families, and fulfill all other conditions within thirty days, they shall retain their independence and the possession of their territory." But secret instructions were also sent to the consuls that they were to abide, whatever might happen, by their first instructions.

The hostages were sent, after a miserable scene of parting from their friends. But few believed that submission would be of any avail. And indeed it was soon seen to be useless. The consuls demanded that the arms in the city should be given up. The demand was accepted. Two hundred thousand weapons, more darts and javelins than could be counted, and two thousand catapults were given up. Then the consuls spoke again. "You must leave Carthage; we have resolved to destroy this city. You may remove your furniture and property to some other place, but it must be not less than ten miles from the sea." And they added some reasons, which must have sounded like the cruelest mockery, why they should be content with this decision. "You will be better away from the sea," they said in effect; "it will only remind you of the greatness which you have lost. It is a dangerous element, which before this has raised to great prosperity and brought to utter ruin other countries besides yours. Agriculture is a far safer and more profitable employment. And," he added, "we are keeping our promise that Carthage should be independent. It is the men, not the walls and buildings of the city that constitute the real Carthage."

The return of the envoys had been expected at Carthage with the utmost impatience. As they entered the gate of the city they were almost trampled to death by the crowd. At last they made their way into the Senate-house. Then they told their story, the people waiting in a dense throng outside the doors of the chamber. When it was told, a loud cry of dismay and rage went up from the assembly; and the people, hearing it, rushed in. A fearful scene of violence followed. Those who had advised the surrender of the hostages and of the arms were fiercely attacked. Some of them were even torn to pieces. The envoys themselves were not spared, though their only offence had been to bring bad news. Any unlucky Italians, whom business had happened to detain in the city, fell victims to the popular fury. A few more wisely busied themselves with making such preparations for defense as were possible, for of course there was but one alternative now possible. Indeed the Senate declared war that same day.