Story of Carthage - Alfred J. Church

Hannibal in Exile

It was true that, as the discontented senator had said, Hannibal had been the cause of the troubles of Carthage; still he was too great a man to be anywhere but in the first place; and for some years he practically governed the State. He seems to have done this new work well. The Court of Judges at Carthage had usurped a power which did not belong to them. Every man's property, character, and life were at their disposal; and they were unscrupulous in dealing with it. Hannibal set himself to bring about a change; he carried the people with him; the office of judge became annual, and it was filled up by election. It is a change that does not altogether commend itself to us; but it was probably required by the peculiar condition of the country.

Another reform concerned the public revenue. Hannibal made a searching inquiry into what came in, and what was spent, and he found that a very large proportion of the whole was embezzled. He stated these discoveries in a public assembly. The expenses of the country might be met, the tribute to Rome paid, and taxation nevertheless lightened, if only the revenue were honestly collected and honestly spent. It was only too natural that these proceedings should make many enemies. And besides those who were furious at the loss of their unjust gains, there were doubtless some who were honestly afraid of what Hannibal was aiming at. If he was making Carthage richer and more powerful, it was that he might plunge her again into a war with Rome. So, from one cause or the other, a strong party was raised against him. His enemies had, it is said, the meanness to accuse him to the Roman Government. He was planning, they said, a new war in concert with Antiochus, king of Syria. The Romans were on the point of war with this prince, and were ready to suspect their old enemy. An embassy was sent to Carthage, in spite of the opposition of Scipio, to demand that he should be given up. Ostensibly the object of their invasion was to settle a dispute between Carthage and Masinissa.

Hannibal knew the truth, and resolved to fly. To put his enemies off their guard, he showed no kind of alarm, but walked about in public as usual. But he took horse at night, reached the coast, and embarked in a ship which, in anticipation of such a need, he had kept in readiness, and sailed to Cercina (Kerkena). It was necessary to conceal the fact of his flight, and he gave out that he was going as ambassador to Tyre. But the harbour of the island happened to be full of merchant-ships, and the risk of discovery was great. He resolved accordingly to escape. The captains were invited to a great entertainment, and were asked to lend their sails and yards for the construction of a tent. The revel was long and late. Before it was over Hannibal was gone, and the dismantled ships could not be made ready for several hours. From Cercina he sailed to Tyre, where he was received with great honours, and from Tyre again to the port of Antioch. Antiochus had left that place and was at Ephesus, and thither Hannibal followed him.

Antiochus of Syria, fourth in descent from Seleucus, one of the Macedonian generals who had shared between them the empire of Alexander, has somehow acquired the title of the "Great." He had little that was great about him except, perhaps, his ambition. His treatment of Hannibal, whether it was the result of weakness or of jealousy, was foolish in the extreme. He did not take his advice, and he would not employ him. His advice had been to act at once. Rome at this time (195 B.C.) had to deal with many enemies. The Gauls especially were giving her much trouble. If Antiochus could have made up his mind to attack her immediately, the result might have been different to what it was. As it was he lingered and delayed, and when at last, two years afterwards, he made up his mind to act, the opportunity was lost. In 192 he crossed over into Greece, and was defeated with heavy loss the following year at Thermopylae. Hannibal was not employed in this campaign. But he was sent to equip and to command a fleet. There was nothing strange in this variety of employment; for then—and indeed the same has been the case till quite recent times—the same men would command fleets and armies indifferently. He was attacked by a greatly superior fleet belonging to the island of Rhodes, then a great naval power, and, though successful where he commanded in person, was defeated.

In the same year (190) was fought the great battle of Magnesia. Whether Hannibal was present at it we do not know; but an anecdote is told of him which belongs to this time. Antiochus had collected a great army—some sixty or seventy thousand in number—to do battle with the Romans. It had been gathered from the cities of Greece and from Western Asia, and their dress and armour was as splendid as it was various. The king looked with pride on the ranks glittering with gold and silver. "Will not this be enough for the Romans?" he asked of Hannibal who was standing by his side. "Yes," said he, with a grim jest, "yes, enough even for them, though they are the greediest nation on the earth!" But it was of the spoils, not of the fighting strength of the army, that he was speaking.

The battle of Magnesia ended, as Hannibal had expected, in the utter defeat of the Syrian army. Antiochus was advised to sue for peace. Two years afterwards (188) it was granted to him, one of the conditions being that he should give to Rome such of her enemies as he had received at his court. He accepted the condition, but gave his guest an opportunity of escaping.

Various stories are told of Hannibal's movements after his flight from the court of Antiochus. According to one account he sought refuge for a time in Crete. A story is told of him here which very likely is not true, but which shows the common belief in his ingenuity and readiness of resource. He suspected the Cretans of coveting the large treasure which he carried about with him. To deceive them he filled a number of wine-jars with lead, which had over it a thin covering of gold and silver. These he deposited with much ceremony in the presence of the chief men of the island in the temple of Diana. His real treasure meanwhile was hidden in some hollow brazen figures which were allowed to lie, apparently uncared for, in the porch of his house. From Crete he is said to have visited Armenia, and to have founded in that country the city of Artaxata. It is certain, however, that he spent the last years of his life with Prusias, king of Bithynia. Prusias was at war with Eumenes of Pergamus, a firm friend of Rome, and Hannibal willingly gave him his help. We need not believe the story which he tells us how he vanquished enemies in a sea-fight by filling a number of jars with venomous snakes and throwing them on board the hostile ships.

For some years he was left unmolested in this refuge. But in 183 the Romans sent an embassy to Prusias to demand that he should be given up. The demand was one which the king did not feel able to resist, and he sent soldiers at once to seize him. Hannibal had always expected some such result. He knew that Rome could never forgive him for what he had done, and he did not trust his host. Indeed he must have known that a king of Bithynia could not refuse a request of the Romans if it was seriously made. The story of his end, ornamented as such stories commonly are, tells us how he made seven ways of getting out of his house, and that finding them all beset with soldiers, he called for the poison, which was kept always ready for such an emergency, and drank it off. Some writers say that he carried the poison with him in a ring—the ring which Juvenal, when he uses the example of Hannibal to show the vanity of a soldier's ambition, describes as "the avenger of the day of Cannae." Livy gives us what profess to be his last words. "Let me free the Roman people from their long anxiety, since they think it tedious to wait for an old man's death. Flaminius [this was the Roman ambassador] will gain no great or famous victory over a helpless victim of treachery. As to the way in which the Roman character has changed, this day is proof enough. The grandfathers of these men sent to King Pyrrhus; when he had an army fighting against them in Italy, warning him to beware of poison; but they have sent an ambassador to suggest to Prusias the crime of murdering a guest." He was in his sixty-fourth or sixty-fifth year when he died.

Of Hannibal's character, as of the history of his country, we have to judge from the narratives of enemies. His military skill is beyond all doubt. In that, it is probable, he has never been surpassed. His courage also was undoubted, though he is expressly praised for the discretion with which he avoided any needless exposure of his life. The testimony to the temperance of his habits is equally clear. The chief charges brought against him are treachery, cruelty, and avarice. From personal avarice he was certainly free, but a general who has to make war support itself, who has to feed, clothe, and pay a great army in a foreign country, with but rare and scanty supplies from home, cannot be scrupulous. About the charge of cruelty it is not easy to speak. What has been said about Hannibal's alleged avarice applies in a way to this other accusation. A general situated as was Hannibal could not but be stern and even merciless in his dealings with enemies. As to treachery, we know that "Punic faith" passed among the Romans into a proverb for dishonesty; and "faithless" is the epithet, as we have seen, which Horace applies to the great general. But we find no special grounds for the charge, while we may certainly doubt whether the Roman generals showed such conspicuous good faith as to be in a good position for censuring others. There was no more honourable Roman than Scipio, but Scipio's treacherous attack on Syphax during the progress of the negotiations is at least as bad as anything that is charged against Hannibal.