Story of Carthage - Alfred J. Church

The Last Struggle with Rome

For more than three years after the fatal day of Metaurus, Hannibal maintained himself in Italy. It was only the extreme south of the peninsula, the mountainous country of Bruttii, that he held; and even here, though the Roman generals were content to leave him alone, knowing well how formidable he still was in the field, he was obliged to draw his defenses within still narrowing limits. His headquarters were at Crotona. Near this place he built an altar to Juno, and placed on it a tablet with an inscription in Carthaginian and Greek, giving a summary of his campaigns in Italy, with the number of battles won, towns taken, and enemies slain. Livy bestows hearty praise on his conduct at this time. "I know not," he says, "whether the man was more admirable in prosperity or in adversity. For thirteen years, far away from home, he waged war, and waged it not with an army of his own countrymen, but with a miscellaneous crowd gathered from all nations—men who had neither laws, nor customs, nor language in common, with different dress, different arms, different worship, I may say, different gods. And yet he kept them together by so close a tie that they never quarreled among themselves or mutinied against him, and this though he was often without money for their pay. Even after Hasdrubal's death, when he had nothing but a corner of Italy left to him, his camp was as quiet as ever."

Hannibal was of course unwilling finally to give up the great scheme of his life. He hoped against hope that something might yet happen which would give him a chance of carrying it out. Rome had other enemies besides Carthage who might yet be united against her. There was Antiochus in Syria, and Philip in Macedonia. He lived to see them both engaged in war with Rome, and both conquered. If he could only have given them something of his own foresight, and united them against the common enemy, he might even yet have succeeded in his great scheme. But want of wisdom, or want of energy, or want of courage, made them hold back, and the opportunity was lost.

One effort, indeed, was made to help him. His youngest brother Mago, seeing that nothing could be done in Spain, landed with all the forces that he could raise, and with what were sent him from home, in Liguria. On his way he possessed himself of the island now called Minorca, where Port Mahon (Mago's Harbour) still preserves the memory of his visit. He had some success in rallying the Gauls to his standard, but he accomplished nothing of importance. So far as his object was to make a diversion in favour of Hannibal, he failed.

[Illustration] from The Story of Carthage by Alfred J. Church

In 204 Scipio crossed over from Sicily to Africa. His first movements were not very successful. He began the siege of Utica, but was compelled to raise it, and to retire to a strong position on the sea-coast, where he was protected by the united strength of his fleet and his army. Here he wintered, and early the following year began again active operations. He had two armies opposed to him—that of Carthage, commanded by Hasdrubal, the son of Gisco, and that of King Syphax. In his own camp was Masinissa, who, though he had lost his kingdom, and indeed had barely escaped with his life, was without doubt a very valuable counselor and ally.

King Syphax had conceived the hope that he might be able to act as mediator between Rome and Carthage. He now proposed a peace, in which the chief condition was that Hannibal should evacuate Italy and Scipio Africa. Scipio answered that these were terms which could not be accepted, but gave him to understand that he was ready to listen to other proposals. Envoys went backwards and forwards between the two camps. On the part of the king there was, it would seem, a genuine belief that peace might be made; Scipio's envoys were really nothing else than so many spies. He was waiting for the opportunity of carrying out a scheme which had possibly been invented by himself, or, as is more probable, suggested by Masinissa. This scheme was to set fire to the camps of the two hostile armies. These camps consisted of huts which would readily burn, and the chief thing wanted was to put the enemy completely off his guard. Scipio can scarcely be acquitted of something like treachery in this affair. There was virtually a truce between him and Syphax. While negotiations for peace were going on, the king naturally supposed himself to be safe from attack.

When all his preparations were complete, Scipio divided his army into two. With half he was himself to attack the Carthaginian camp; the other half he put under the command of his friend Laelius, who was assisted by Masinissa. The two armies marched out of the camp at night, and Laelius and Masinissa advanced to the camp of Syphax. While the former of these two remained in reserve, the latter undertook the work of setting the camp on fire. The scheme succeeded perfectly. "The camp seemed framed," says Polybius, who doubtless heard the story from Lelius himself, "for the very purpose of being set on fire." The flames spread rapidly; and no one had any suspicion but that the fire had happened by accident. Some perished in their tents; many were trampled to death in the confusion; and nearly all who contrived to escape out of the camp were cut down by the Romans.

At first the Carthaginians in the neighbouring camp thought, as their allies had thought, that the fire was accidental. Some of them ran to help; others stood gazing at the sight. None had any notion that the enemy was at hand; they were therefore actually unarmed when the Romans fell upon them. In a few minutes the second camp was in the same condition as the first. Hasdrubal, with a small body of cavalry, escaped; Syphax also contrived to save himself, but the two armies were virtually destroyed.

Syphax had thought of reconciling himself to Rome; but his wife Sophonisba prevailed upon him to give them up. He raised another army, which was soon joined by Hasdrubal, who had also contrived to get together a new force, among them being four thousand mercenaries from Spain. A battle followed, in which Scipio was again victorious.

There was now only one course left to Carthage, and that was to recall Hannibal and Mago. Mago, who had been defeated by the Roman forces just before this summons reached him, set sail with what was left of his army, but died of his wounds before he reached home. Hannibal received the command to return with indignation and grief. Livy gives—we know not on what authority—the very words in which, "gnashing his teeth and groaning, and scarcely able to restrain his tears," he answered the envoys of the Carthaginian Senate. "They call me back at last in plain words; but they have long since implicitly called me by refusing me reinforcements and money. Hannibal has been conquered, not by the Roman people, which he has defeated and routed a hundred times, but by the jealousy of the Senate of Carthage. It will not be Scipio that will exult in the disgrace of my return so much as Hanno, who, having no other means of overthrowing the power of my family, has done it by the ruin of his own country." Hanno, it will be remembered, was the leader of the peace-party. Wrathful, however, as he was, he made no delay in obeying the summons. He had his ships, indeed, ready prepared for this service. "Seldom," says Livy, "has an exile left his country with a sadder heart than was Hannibal's when he departed from the land of his enemies. Again and again he looked back on the shores which he was leaving, and cursed himself that he had not led his soldiers dripping with the blood of Cannae to Rome itself. 'Scipio,' he said, 'has ventured to attack Carthage; but I wasted my time at Casilinum and Cumae and Nola."

When the news of his departure reached Rome, a public thanksgiving was ordered. The veteran soldier Fabius had bestowed upon him the unexampled honour of a wreath of oak leaves, given, not as was commonly the case, for having saved the life of a citizen, but for having saved his country. A few months afterwards he died, in extreme old age, having been spared to see the dearest wish of his heart, Italy freed from the invader.

Hannibal's movements after his landing in Africa—from which he had been absent more than thirty years—are not easily followed. Indeed the whole history of this time is somewhat obscure. We hear of a truce between Carthage and Rome, which the former treacherously violated; of favourable terms of peace offered by Scipio, and of a fruitless interview between the two rival generals; but it is difficult to make out of our authorities a clear and consistent account. I shall pass on at once to the great battle which brought the Second Punic War to an end. Of this we have full details. It was fought at Zama, on October 19th according to some authors, according to others in the spring. Scipio arranged his army according to the usual Roman fashion, but did not fill up the intervals between the cohorts or companies, and he put more space than usual between the lines. His object was to lessen the danger from the elephants. Laelius with the Roman cavalry was posted on the left, Masinissa with the African horse on the right. The light-armed troops were placed in front, with orders to retire, if they found themselves hard pressed by the elephants, through the intervals between the lines.

Hannibal posted his elephants, of which he had eighty, in front. Behind these was a mixed multitude of mercenaries; behind these, again, the native Carthaginian troops, who now, in the extremity of danger, appear again in the field; and in the third line the veterans whom he had brought with him from Italy. On the left wing he posted his African, on the right his Carthaginian cavalry.

The battle was begun by the elephants. These creatures did at least as much harm to friends as to foes. They are said, indeed, to have caused so much confusion among the Carthaginian cavalry that Laelius was easily able to rout this part of the hostile army.

In the centre of the two armies the day at first went in favour of Hannibal. His mercenaries, tried and skillful soldiers, were more than a match for the unpracticed Romans. If they had been properly supported by the second line they might have won the day. But the citizen-soldiers made no attempt to advance. It was only when they were attacked by the advancing Romans, and even, Polybius adds, by the mercenaries, now infuriated at being thus deserted, that they began to defend themselves. This they did with the greatest fury, striking indiscriminately at friend and foe. Hannibal's own force, which had closed its lines against the fugitives from the routed divisions, had still to be dealt with. Here the battle was long and obstinate. The combatants fell where they fought. But Laelius and Masinissa (for the Numidian prince had also been successful in his part of the field) returned from their pursuit of the Carthaginian cavalry, and fell upon the rear of Hannibal's troops, and broke their lines. A general rout ensued. Hannibal made his way with a small body of cavalry to Adrumetum. Of the rest few escaped. Twenty thousand were killed on the field of battle; as many more were taken prisoners. The Roman loss was fifteen hundred. "Such," says Polybius, "was the battle between Hannibal and Scipio; the battle which gave to the Romans the sovereignty of the world."

Hannibal collected about six thousand men, the remains of his army, and with this force made his way back to Carthage. The government had opened negotiations for peace, and their envoys had just returned, bringing back Scipio's terms. They were briefly these:

  1. Carthage was to retain its African possessions; was to be independent; was not to be compelled to receive a Roman garrison.
  2. All prisoners and deserters were to be surrendered.
  3. All ships of war, except ten, were to be given up, and all elephants.
  4. Carthage should not make war on any state outside Africa; nor on any within it, without leave first obtained from the Romans.
  5. King Masinissa should have restored to him all that he or his ancestors had possessed.
  6. The Roman army was to be provisioned and paid till peace was formally concluded.
  7. An indemnity of ten thousand talents, and an annual tribute of two hundred, to be paid.
  8. One hundred hostages, to be chosen by the Roman commander-in-chief, to be handed over as security.

When these terms were recited in the Carthaginian Senate, a senator rose to speak. Hannibal laid hold of him, and dragged him down. The assembly received this act with angry shouts. "Pardon me," said Hannibal, "if my ignorance has led me to offend against any of your forms. I left my country at nine years of age, and returned to it at forty-five. The real cause of my offence was my care for our common country. It is astonishing to me that any Carthaginian who knows the truth should not be ready to worship his good fortune, when he finds Rome ready to deal with us so mercifully. Do not debate these conditions; consent to them unanimously, and pray to all the gods that they may be ratified by the Roman Senate."

Ratified they were, though not, it would seem, till the following year. We catch a glimpse of the old days before men had learnt the use of iron, when we read how the heralds went to Carthage carrying with them the knives of flint with which the animals offered in sacrifice were to be slain. The Carthaginians surrendered all their ships of war, their elephants, the deserters who had come over to them, and as many as four thousand prisoners. The ships of one kind and another numbered five hundred. Scipio ordered them to be towed out to sea and burnt. "The sight of the flames was as terrrible," says Livy, "to the vanquished people as would have been that of their city on fire."

When the indemnity came to be paid it was difficult to find the money; and there were loud murmurs in the Senate at the sacrifices which it would be necessary to make. One of the members complained to the House that Hannibal had been seen to laugh; and this though he was really the cause of all their troubles. Then the great man spoke out. "If you could see my heart as easily as you can my face, you would know that my laughter comes not from a joyful heart, but from one almost maddened by trouble. And yet my laughter is not so unreasonable as your tears. You ought to have wept when our arms were taken from us and our ships were burnt. But no; you were silent when you saw your country stripped; but now you lament, as if this were the death-day of Carthage, because you have to furnish part of the tribute out of your private means. I fear me much that you will soon find that this is the least of the trouble you will have to bear."