Story of Carthage - Alfred J. Church

The Turn of the Tide

From Trebia to Cannae the tide of success rose with Hannibal. For three years or thereabouts after Cannae it may be said to have remained at its height. His gains and losses about balanced each other. This, of course, really meant that his chances of victory were growing less, for his was an enterprise to which delay, even without defeat, was fatal.

In 212 the tide manifestly turned. The Romans felt themselves strong enough to besiege Capua. The city was already in distress for want of food, for with the Roman armies so near the rich Campanian plains could not be cultivated. And Hannibal's first attempt to provision it failed. A second succeeded; but shortly after the place was regularly invested. Three Roman armies sat down before it, and then drew a complete line round it with a strong rampart and ditch, and with forts at intervals. The townspeople were not strong enough to make sallies with effect, and all that they could do was to send messenger after messenger to Hannibal, begging earnestly for help, if he did not wish to see them perish. Early in the year 211—that is, after the siege had lasted some months—he made a determined effort to relieve the city. He marched rapidly with a picked force from Tarentum, where the citadel was still holding out against him, and took up a position on Mount Tifata, a hill which overlooked the city. He had contrived to warn the Capuans of his coming; arranging that they should make a sortie from their walls while he was attacking one of the camps of the besiegers. The sortie was easily repulsed; Hannibal's attack seemed at one time likely to succeed, but ended in failure. His elephants—he had thirty-three of these animals with him—forced their way into the Roman camp, and made great havoc with the tents, while they caused a stampede among the horses. In the midst of the confusion voices were heard bidding the Romans make the best of their way to the hills. The camp, they said, was lost, and each man must save himself. The speakers used the Latin tongue, and spoke in the name of the consuls; but they were really Hannibal's men. This was one of the tricks with which this great general was always so ready. Ingenious as it was, it does not seem to have had much effect.

Then he tried his last resource. He would march on Rome itself. With forces so large engaged in this siege, the city could have but few to defend it. It was possible that by a sudden movement he might get within the walls; in any case it was likely that a part of the investing force would be withdrawn for the protection of the capital. The Capuans were informed of what he was intending to do, and encouraged to hold out. He made his way through the rich wine-producing region of Northern Campania, ravaging the country as he went. At Fregellae he found the bridge over the Liris broken down, and lost some time in consequence. Crossing into Latium, he passed through the town of Anagnia to Mount Algidus. After a vain attempt to seize Tusculum, he continued his march northwards, and pitched his camp at a distance of eight miles from Rome. Fulvius, the proconsul, had made his way meanwhile from Capua with a force of fifteen thousand men. Marching through a friendly country, and finding all that he wanted supplied by the towns through which he passed, he had been able to outstrip the Carthaginian army. Nevertheless the terror in the city was great. The women crowded to the temples, and, with their long hair unbound, threw themselves before the images of the gods and implored their protection. The next day Hannibal advanced still nearer to the walls. He pitched his camp on the bank of the Anio, at the third milestone from Rome; and then, taking with him a force of two thousand cavalry, rode up and reconnoitred the southern wall of the city. On the morrow he crossed the Anio with his whole army, and offered battle. But no engagement was fought. Livy tells us a story of how, that day and the next, so fierce a storm of rain came on that neither army could keep the field, the weather clearing immediately when they returned to camp; and how Hannibal exclaimed, "Once I wanted the will to take this city, and now I want the fortune." We are told that he was greatly discouraged by two proofs of the indifference with which the Romans regarded his presence. Soldiers, he heard, were being actually sent away from the city to reinforce the armies in Spain; and the very land on which he had pitched his camp had easily found a purchaser. By way of retort to this last affront—for so he is said to have regarded it—he ordered the bankers' shops round the Roman market-place to be put up to auction. But he found that his move had failed, and marched back to Campania, and from thence to the extreme south of Italy.

Capua, thus left to itself, could do nothing but surrender. Of its punishment by Rome it is needless to speak in detail. The nobles were executed; the rest of the population sold into slavery. In a play that was acted at Rome some twenty years afterwards we find a brutal jest on their cruel fate. "There," says one of the characters, speaking of some unhealthy spot, "even a Syrian—and the Syrians are the toughest of slaves—cannot live six months." "Nay," says the other, "the Campanians have learnt by this time to bear more than the Syrians."

The next year (210) passed with little incident, as far as Italy was concerned (I shall speak of Sicily and Spain hereafter). The Romans had never been able to vanquish Hannibal in the open field; they scarcely even ventured to meet him. He had shown that he could march from one end of Italy to the other without hindrance, and that he could send his plundering parties up to the very walls of Rome; but he had not been able to save the great city which had come over to him; and there was small temptation to any other to join him. Not only was Capua a great actual loss to him, but the fact that it had fallen in spite of all his efforts to relieve it was a terrible blow to his reputation. For all his skill as a general—and that showed itself more and more as the war went on—he was clearly wanting in power.

In Sicily, the course of events went against the cause of Carthage. Hieronymus, the foolish youth who had succeeded the wise old Hiero at Syracuse, had been murdered after a reign of thirteen months by an assassin who professed to be acting in the interests of Rome. A series of dreadful acts of cruelty followed. Here also, as elsewhere, the popular party favoured Carthage, while the aristocrats were inclined to Rome, and there was a fierce struggle between them. In the end the former triumphed, and Syracuse became the ally of Carthage. As such it was besieged by the forces of—Rome, Appius Claudius commanding the army and Marcellus the fleet. The narrative of the siege does not fall within the scope of this book. The story of how the defense was prolonged by the engineering skill of Archimedes is full of interest, but it may be found elsewhere. The efforts which Carthage made to save her new ally were fruitless. A large army, indeed, was collected under Himilco, and this was reinforced from various Sicilian cities, which had been enraged by the savage cruelty which the Romans had shown in their treatment of such places as fell into their hands. But the Roman lines could not be broken; and when Himilco encamped outside them, intending, it is probable, to blockade them as they were blockading the city, a pestilence broke out among his troops. So fearful were its ravages that the army was literally destroyed. The fleet under Bomilcar did no more. It did not even make an attempt at relieving the city. Though it numbered as many as a hundred and thirty vessels of war, it declined an engagement with the Romans, and instead of attempting to enter the harbour of Syracuse, sailed away to Tarentum. In 212 Syracuse was taken by Marcellus.

Hannibal, however, was not willing to give up the island as lost. He sent one Mutines, a Liby-Phoenician, or half-caste Carthaginian, to take command of the forces; and Mutines, fixing his headquarters at Agrigentum, carried on for many months a guerilla warfare. Unfortunately his appointment had caused great annoyance to the pure-blood Carthaginian officers in the island, especially to Hanno, who was the commander-in-chief. Hanno at last suspended him, and handed over the command to his own son. The loyalty of Mutines did not stand firm under such provocation, and the Numidians who comprised his force were furious at his disgrace. Communications were at once opened with Laevinus, the Roman general. A force was sent to Agrigentum; the Numidians cut down the guards of one of the city gates, threw it open, and admitted the Roman soldiers. Hanno, who had come to the place probably to make arrangements for the change of commanders, saw that something had taken place, and, supposing that it was nothing more than some riotous proceedings of the Numidians, went down to restore order. He discovered the truth just in time to save himself by flight. Laevinus executed the principal citizens of Agrigentum, and sold the rest of the population as slaves. Of the sixty-six Sicilian towns that had taken the side of Carthage, six were taken by force of arms and twenty were betrayed; the remainder capitulated. Before the end of 210, Sicily was finally lost.

In Spain affairs had not reached the same point, but they were tending the same way. Hannibal had left, we have seen, his brother Hasdrubal in command, and the war was carried on for several years with varying success between him and the two brothers, Cnaeus and Publius Scipio. Cnaeus Scipio had been left in Spain in temporary command when Publius left the country to face Hannibal in Italy, and he gained some considerable successes, if Livy's account is to be trusted. We cannot help noticing, however, that the Roman generals are again and again credited with great victories which mostly are found to lead to nothing. Unfortunately we have no other accounts to fall back upon, and we can only tell the story as it is told to us, and believe whatever seems credible.

In 218 Cnaeus Scipio fought a battle with Hanno, who had been left in command of the country between the Ebro and the Pyrenees, vanquished and took him prisoner, and almost annihilated his army. The soldiers found a great prize in his camp, for Hannibal had left with him the heavy baggage which he could not carry across the Alps. Hasdrubal moved to help his colleague, but finding himself too late, re-crossed the Ebro. The next year, after wintering at Tarraco, Cnaeus defeated the Carthaginian fleet off the mouth of the Ebro. Shortly afterwards he was joined by his brother Publius; and the two generals continued to act together for several years. Their first step was to march to Saguntum. The hostages given to the Carthaginian government by the Spanish tribes were kept in the citadel of this town; the Scipios contrived to get possession of them by the treachery of the officer who had the charge of them. They sent them back to their friends, and of course gained great popularity throughout Spain by the act. In the following year (216) they are said to have defeated Hasdrubal on the banks of the Ebro so completely that he fled from the field of battle with but a few followers. In 215 they relieved Illiturgis, which Hasdrubal and two other Carthaginian generals were besieging. The Romans, we read, had but sixteen thousand men under arms, the Carthaginians sixty thousand; but the result of the battle was a complete victory. The Romans killed more than their own number, captured three thousand men, nearly a thousand horses (Livy is careful not to overstate the number), sixty standards, and seven elephants. Moving on to Intibilis the Scipios fought another battle, killed thirteen thousand of the enemy, captured two thousand, two and forty standards, and nine elephants. The result of these brilliant victories was that nearly all Spain came over to the Roman side. So we read, but find that for all this it was necessary to win two more great victories in the following year (214).

We may be sure, however, that during these years and the two following years (213, 212) the balance of success inclined to the Roman side. And this superiority became more evident when Hasdrubal Barca had to be recalled to Africa, where the Numidian king Syphax had declared war against Carthage. The Scipios had sent envoys to him, promising him immediate help and future reward if he would persevere in his hostility. One of the envoys remained behind to assist in drilling his new levies. The Carthaginians found an ally in King Gala, Syphax's neighbour and rival. King Gala had a son, Masinissa, a youth of but seventeen years, but of extraordinary capacity. Young as he was, he was put in command of his father's army and of the Carthaginian troops which served with it, and defeated Syphax so completely that the war was ended by a single battle. We shall hear of Masinissa again.

Hasdrudal was now able to return to Spain. He took with him large reinforcements, two lieutenants, another Hasdrubal, the son of Gisco, and Mago, the youngest brother of Hannibal, and Masinissa. After this the fortune of war changed. The Scipios had made a great effort to complete the conquest of Spain, raising a native force of twenty thousand to act together with their own troops. In view of the fact that three Carthaginian armies were now in the field, they determined to divide their own forces. Publius with two-thirds of the army was to act against Mago and Hasdrubal Gisco, Cnaeus against Hasdrubal Barca. Publius, hearing that his opponents were likely to have their strength largely increased by native allies, resolved to attack them at once. He was himself attacked on his march by the African light horsemen under Masinissa, and when he faced about to receive their charge, found the Carthaginians assailing his rear. He was himself killed early in the day, and after his death his troops soon took to flight. Few, however, could escape when the pursuers were the light African horsemen, and an infantry that was almost as fleet of foot. The camp, however, with its garrison was still safe.

Cnaeus did not long survive his brother. His native allies had been bribed to leave him; and he now found himself in the presence' of the united forces of the three Carthaginian generals. He drew his forces together on some rising ground that was near. The place was incapable of being defended. The ascent was easy. There was no timber for a rampart; no earth with which the soldiers could make an entrenchment. All that could be done was to make a poor defense out of the pack-saddles of the horses and mules and the baggage. This was almost immediately broken down. Many of the soldiers made their escape to the camp of the other army; but the general perished. He had survived his brother only twenty-nine days. Lucius Marcius, the officer left in command of the camp, contrived to keep together what was left of the Roman forces, and even to inflict some losses on the enemy. His command was taken over by Claudius Nero, who was sent from Rome for that purpose, but who seems to have effected but little good. Livy tells a strange story of how Hasdrubal was surrounded; how he promised to evacuate Spain; how he amused the Roman general by conferences about the terms of agreement, and in the meanwhile contrived to get his army out of their dangerous situation, so that Nero, when the negotiations were broken off, found nothing but an empty camp. The death of the two Scipios seems to have happened in the year 211.

The next year the son of Publius, whom we have seen saving his father's life at the battle of the Ticinus, came into Spain as commander-in-chief. It was an office which no one had desired to hold, for when the election was held at Rome not a single candidate presented himself. At last the young Scipio came forward. He was not twenty-four years old, and therefore below the legal age for even the lowest office; but the people received him with applause. His high reputation, the beauty of his person, and his charm of manner, spoke for him. When he promised that he would conquer not only Spain, but Carthage itself, what would have seemed in any other man but a foolish boast was received with delight, and he was unanimously chosen.

He began his campaign by a great achievement—the capture of New Carthage, the capital of the Carthaginian province. A night march brought him up to the walls of the city before anyone knew that he had even arrived in Spain. With the keen eye of a great general he spied the weak spot in the defenses, a place where the sea came up to the wall. Taking advantage of an unusually low tide—for he seems to have had the curious good fortune which goes to make a great general—he led his men through the water, which was barely up to their knees, and found his way into the city. Mago, who was in command, retreated into the citadel; but, finding it impossible to hold out, surrendered himself and his garrison in the course of a few hours. Within four days after coming into this province, Scipio had thus justified his appointment by capturing the Carthaginian capital. It will be convenient if we take this opportunity of finishing the story of the Carthaginian rule in Spain, though it will carry us beyond the time up to which we have followed the course of events elsewhere.

During the remainder of the year which he had begun by the capture of New Carthage Scipio remained quiet, but was busy in preparing for future action. He made friends of the Spanish chiefs. This was a business which he could do better than any other man, for no one could withstand the singular charm of his manner. When he took the field in the following year (209) the natives joined him in large numbers. In the course of this campaign he fought a great battle with Hasdrubal Barca. He is said to have defeated him, but as he did not hinder him from carrying out his great plan (of which I shall have to speak hereafter) of marching into Italy to the help of Hannibal, the defeat was evidently not serious. The next year passed with few incidents, but in 207 a decisive defeat of the Carthaginian armies at Silpia made Scipio master of nearly the whole of Spain. Only Gades was left to Carthage. Scipio had not forgotten his promise that he would conquer not only Spain but Carthage also. One part of it was now nearly fulfilled, and he now saw a chance of fulfilling the other. He crossed over with only a couple of war-ships to Africa, and presented himself at the court of King Syphax. His object was to persuade the king to desert Carthage, and enter into alliance with Rome. Curiously enough Hasdrubal Gisco had come on a similar errand. The two opponents spent several days together, and conversed, we are told, in a most kindly fashion. The king seems to have made promises to both. He was greatly charmed with Scipio, and even promised to make the alliance which he desired. But he was still more charmed with Sophonisba, the lovely daughter of Hasdrubal. She became his wife, and under her influence he remained faithful to Carthage.

Things had not gone well in Spain during Scipio's absence. Mago, who was still at Gades, induced some of the Spanish tribes to revolt against Rome. These had to be again subdued. When this was done, Scipio himself fell ill. During his illness a part of the Roman army broke out into open mutiny. Their pay was in arrear, and Scipio's strict discipline forbade them to make it up by plundering the natives of the country. But when the general was sufficiently recovered to be able to deal with them in person, he contrived to bring them back to their duty. The Carthaginian cause in Spain was now lost. Mago, the brother of Hannibal, transported what forces remained to him into Liguria, and Gades surrendered to the Romans. This was in the year 205.