Story of Carthage - Alfred J. Church

Carthage and Spain

When the war of the mercenaries was at last over, Hamilcar Barca was left the greatest man in Carthage. It was he who had saved the State at its greatest need; and it was to him the people looked for guidance. For the next forty years, or thereabouts, he and his family, or the party that was led by them, called by their opponents the "Barcine Faction," had the government in their hands. Hamilcar's one object was to recover what Carthage had lost; but it was an object which it was difficult to attain. To reconquer Sicily and the other islands of the Western Mediterranean was hopeless. For four hundred years and more Carthage had spent her strength in these regions, and had never quite got them into her grasp. Now they had passed for ever into hands which were stronger than hers. Not only must no action be taken directly against Rome, but nothing must be done to rouse her jealousy. Another war with Rome would be fatal, at least till Carthage had got back her strength, and war had already been threatened. Hamilcar had to look elsewhere, and he looked to Spain. Carthage had already had dealings with this country. She had trading ports along its coasts, and she had got some of her best troops from its tribes. Hamilcar now conceived the, idea of building-up here an empire which should be a compensation for that which his country had lost elsewhere. This idea he kept secret till he had begun to carry it into action. He set out with the army, of which he seems to have been permanent commander-in-chief, on an expedition to complete the conquest of the African tribes dwelling westward of Carthage. Little or nothing was heard of him till the news came that he had crossed over into Spain, and was waging war on the native tribes. For nine years he worked on, making a new empire for his country. We know little or nothing about his campaigns, except that they were successful. Not only did he make war support itself, but he sent home large sums of money with which to keep up the influence of his party, and he had still enough to spare for bribing native chiefs. At the end of the nine years he fell in battle. But he left an able successor behind him in Hasdrubal, his son-in-law, who had been his colleague in his campaigns. Hasdrubal carried out his plans, and completed the work which he had begun. Here, too, we know nothing of details. That he was a good soldier we are sure, for when the restless tribes of the African coast had risen in arms after Hamilcar had crossed over into Spain, he had been sent back by his chief, and had soon reduced them to submission. But he seems to have been still greater as a manager and ruler of men. By pleasing manners, by politic dealing with the native tribes, and by friendship formed with their petty chiefs—he is said to have married a Spanish princess—he furthered the cause of his country more than by force of arms. The foundation of New Carthage was his work. It had the best harbour on the coast; it was near the rich silver mines discovered by Aletes, and it soon became the capital of the new province. So powerful, indeed, was Hasdrubal that he was suspected of a plan for making himself absolute master of Carthage; while the treaty with the Romans by which the boundaries of the two empires were fixed at the river Ebro is spoken of as having been made with Hasdrubal.

The jealousy of the Romans had indeed by this time been roused. They saw with some alarm the wonderful progress that the Carthaginian general was making with the Spanish tribes, and they looked about for friends for themselves. Saguntum, a town partly Greek in origin (its name seems to have been connected with that of Zacynthos, one of the islands off the western coast of Greece), applied to them for protection, and they readily promised it. A treaty was concluded by which the river Iberus (now the Ebro) was to be the eastern boundary of the Carthaginian province, but it was stipulated that Saguntum, which lay about fifty miles within these limits, should be independent. Hasdrubal met his death by assassination. He had executed a Spanish chief for some offence against his government, and one of the man's slaves in revenge struck him down. He had held the chief command in Spain for a little more than eight years.

And now the greatest man that Carthage ever produced comes to the front. Some seventeen years before, when Hamilcar was about to cross over into Spain, his son Hannibal, then a boy of nine, begged to be allowed to go with him. The father consented, but first he brought the boy up to the altar on which, in preparation for the expedition he was about to make, he was offering sacrifice, and bade him lay his hand upon the victim, and swear eternal hatred to Rome. We shall see how the lad kept his oath.

He was present at the battle in which his father met his death; and though then but eighteen years of age, was put by his brother-in-law, Hamilcar's successor, in high military command. "There was no one," says Livy, "whom Hasdrubal preferred to put in command, whenever courage and persistency were specially needed, no officer under whom the soldiers were more confident and more daring." And indeed he was the very model of a soldier. He was bold, but never rash, cool in the presence of danger, and infinitely fertile in resource. To fatigue he seemed insensible. He could bear heat and cold equally well. Of food and drink he cared only to take so much as satisfied the needs of nature. To sleep he gave such time as business spared him; and he could take it anywhere and anyhow. Many a time could he be seen lying on the ground, wrapped in his military cloak, among the sentries and pickets. About his dress he was careless; it was nothing better than that of his humblest comrades. But his arms and his horses were the best that could be found. He was an admirable rider, a skillful man at arms, and as brave as he was skillful. With such a man in the camp, there could be no doubt as to the successor of Hasdrubal: the army at once elected him to the command. His strong resemblance to his father, whom many of the soldiers still remembered, was not the least of his many claims. And the government at home could do nothing but confirm the election.

Hannibal's first operations were against some Spanish tribes in the interior, occupying the country on both banks of the Upper Tagus (the western portion of what is now New Castile). A great victory over a native army, which is said to have numbered as many as a hundred thousand men, brought to an end these campaigns, which occupied the autumn of 221 and the greater part of the following year.

In the spring of 219 Hannibal laid siege to Saguntum. His first operations were successful. His quick eye had spied the weak place in the town's fortifications, and he at once made it the object of his attack; but the Saguntines were prepared to receive him. Indeed they more than held their own, and Hannibal himself was dangerously wounded by a javelin thrown from the wall. But he had the advantage of vast numbers—his army amounting, it is said, to as many as 150,000—while the garrison had not men enough to guard the whole circuit of their walls. The battering-rams were used with effect, and a breach was made. Then came an attempt to storm, furiously made, and furiously resisted. The townspeople are said to have made great havoc among the besiegers by a curious missile, which is described as having had a heavy iron point and a shaft which was wrapped in tow and set alight. In the end the storming party was beaten back.

Meanwhile an embassy arrived from Rome. Hannibal refused to receive it. He pretended that it would not be safe for the envoys to enter his camp. He could not, he said, undertake to protect them from his barbarian allies. The ambassadors proceeded, as their instructions directed, to Carthage. Hanno, the leader of the peace party, pleaded earnestly with the Senate to yield to the demands of Rome. He advised that the army should be withdrawn from before Saguntum, that compensation should be made to that town, and even that Hannibal should be surrendered as having broken the treaty. But he scarcely found a seconder, and the ambassadors were sent away with a refusal.

The siege meanwhile was being pressed on with vigour. The garrison hastily built a new wall at the spot where the breach had been made, but this was easily thrown down; and a party of the besiegers now established itself actually within the city. The defense was still continued, but it was manifestly hopeless. Hannibal was willing to give terms. The Saguntines might withdraw with their wives and children, each person to have two garments, but leaving all their property behind. While this offer was being discussed in an irregular assembly, for a number of people had crowded into the Senate-house, some of the chief citizens gradually withdrew. They lit a great fire, and collecting all the public treasure and all the private property on which they could lay their hands, flung it into the flames, and then, with desperate resolution, leaped into them themselves. While this was going on, the Carthaginians forced their way into the town. Every grown-up male was slain. The booty was enormous. Enough was left, besides all that the soldiers took, to bring a great sum into the public treasury.

There could be now no doubt that war would follow. The Romans, indeed, made all preparations for it. Still, anxious, it would seem, to do all things in order, they sent another embassy to Carthage. The envoys were instructed to put to the Carthaginian Senate the simple question, "Was it by the order of the government that Hannibal attacked Saguntum?" The Carthaginian Senate refused to give a direct answer. The speaker who represented their opinion pleaded that the regular treaty between Carthage and Rome made no mention of Saguntum, and that they could not recognize a private agreement made with Hasdrubal. "Upon this," says Livy, "the Roman gathered his robe into a fold and said, 'Here we bring you peace and war: take which you please.' Instantly there arose a fierce shout, 'Give us which you please! ' The Roman, in reply, shook out the fold, and spoke again, 'I give you war.' The answer from all was, 'We accept it; and in the spirit with which we accept it, will we wage it.' "

Thus began the Second Punic War.