City of the Seven Hills - S. B. Harding

The War with Hannibal

After the Carthaginians had made peace with ome, and had withdrawn their troops from Sicily, they had to endure three terrible years of warfare with their own subjects and soldiers, in the country round about Carthage. But through all this time of defeat and disaster, there was one man among them who remained undismayed.

This was Hamilcar, the greatest of their generals and the only man among the Carthaginians whom the Romans at that time feared. Hamilcar had fought Rome successfully, as long as his city could give him money and men to fight with; and when he saw that Carthage could do no more, it was he who had made the peace. He had no thought of a lasting peace with Rome, however; he hated that city as much as he loved Carthage, and he was already planning a way to injure her, while he made up to his own country for the loss of Sicily. Both of these objects he thought he could gain by conquering the Spanish peninsula, where the Carthaginians had already made settlements; and when he brought the matter before the Senate at Carthage, they gave him permission to take an army there and see what he could do.

As Hamilcar was preparing to leave for Spain with his army, he went before the altar of one of the Carthaginian gods, and offered sacrifice for the success of his plans. During the sacrifice, his little son Hannibal, who was then about nine years old, stood beside him; and when it was over, Hamilcar turned to the boy and said:

"Hannibal, would you like to go with me to Spain?"

When the lad eagerly answered that he should like very much to do so, Hamilcar took him by the hand and led him to the altar, and said:

"Then lay your hand upon the sacrifice, and swear that you will never be friends with Rome, so long as you shall live."

The boy did as he was bidden; and in due time he was taken away to Spain, with the thought deep in his breast that he was now the enemy of Rome forever. From that time, he grew up in the camp of his father, and his daily lessons were in the arts of war and of generalship. He was his father's companion while Hamilcar conquered the rich peninsula of Spain for Carthage; and before Hamilcar had died, Hannibal had learned all that his father could teach him of warfare and of government.

After Hamilcar was gone, Hannibal proved himself a worthy son of so great a father; and when he was only twenty-seven years of age, he was chosen to fill his father's place as commander of the Carthaginian army. This army was made up, in large part, of men from the conquered nations in Spain; but under the leadership of Hannibal, it did not matter much who the soldiers were who made up the army. His men became simply the soldiers of Hannibal, and were so filled with love and admiration for their general, that they were ready to follow him anywhere and do anything that he commanded.

When Hannibal had got his army in good condition, he attacked a town in Spain that was friendly to Rome, and conquered it. The Roman Senate was already beginning to fear this son of Hamilcar as it had feared Hamilcar himself, and when news came of the attack on this friendly town, it sent ambassadors to Carthage to demand that Hannibal should be given up to the Romans. But the Carthaginians would not consent to this. Then the leader of the Roman ambassadors gathered up the folds of his toga and held them before him, saying:

"I carry here peace and war; which shall *I give to you?"

"You may give us whichever you choose," replied the Carthaginians.

"Then I give you war," cried the Roman, as he shook out the folds of his toga.

In this way, the second war between Rome and Carthage was declared. But it was not really a war between the two states which now began. It was rather a war between all the power of Rome, on the one side, and Hannibal, with his devoted army and his vow of hatred to the Romans, on the other. When Hannibal heard in Spain that war had been declared, he was prepared for it, and needed only to think how he should attack his enemies.

He was determined that this war should be fought on Roman, and not on Carthaginian, ground. That meant that the war was to be fought in Italy. Hannibal had the choice of two ways of reaching Italy from Spain. He might cross the sea in Carthaginian ships, or he might go by land, through Spain and Gaul. If he chose the latter way, he would have to make a long march through an unfriendly country, and cross the Alps, which are the highest mountains in Europe. If he chose to go by sea, he ran the risk of wreck by storms, and defeat and capture by the Roman fleet, which was now stronger than that of the Carthaginians. Either way, it was a choice of evils.

[Illustration] from City of the Seven Hills by S. B. Harding


Hannibal chose to go by land; but we may be sure of one thing, and that is, that he did not know quite how difficult a path it was that he had taken. He was the greatest man of his time, but he had no good way of learning the simple facts about the world he lived in which you are taught in every day's geography lesson. The thought of the mountains to be climbed, and the rivers to be crossed, in the long journey, did not make him hesitate, for he did not fully know them. He knew that the Gauls had passed through the high Alps,—then why could not he do it also? He could have had no clear idea even of the distance his soldiers would have to march before they reached Italy; for his guides at any time could tell him the way and the distances for only a few days' march ahead, and when that was passed he would have to find other persons who knew the country beyond, and would undertake to guide his army on.

In was in the month of April that Hannibal started on his long march. Besides the many thousand men, both infantry and cavalry, who made up his army, he took with him thirty-seven of the Carthaginian elephants to use iii battle, and many horses and mules to carry the baggage of the army.

As soon as he got out of the territory that had been conquered by Carthage, his troubles began. He had to fight his way against unfriendly natives through northern Spain; and it was midsummer before he had crossed the mountains which separate the peninsula from Gaul. Then, in a short time, he came to the swift-flowing river Rhone. Here the Gauls gathered on the opposite bank, and tried to prevent him from crossing. Hannibal soon overcame these enemies, however, and led his army safely over in canoes and boats, which his men collected along the river; but the elephants could only be taken over after he had pre, pared great rafts on which to ferry them across.

After they had crossed the Rhone, the way was easy until they came to the foot of the Alps; but there the greatest difficulties of the march began. The way now lay along steep, narrow paths, up which the horses and elephants could scarcely climb; and often a single slip or misstep would have been enough to send them rolling and tumbling a thousand feet down the mountain side, to be dashed to pieces on the rocks below. The people who inhabited the mountains, too, were unfriendly to the Carthaginians. They stationed themselves on either side of the zigzag path up which the army toiled, and hurled stones and weapons upon them from the heights above. These threw the long line of baggage animals into great disorder, and the wounded and frightened horses galloped back and forth, and either fell themselves or crowded others off over the cliffs and down the mountain side, carrying with them as they fell baggage which the army could ill afford to lose. Again and again Hannibal was obliged to take some of his best men and clamber up the cliffs and over the rocks to attack and drive off these enemies; and once in such an attempt he and his men were separated from the rest of the army, and were forced to remain on their guard all night long under the shelter of a great white rock which stood by the side of the path.

At last, on the ninth day after they had begun their ascent, the army reached the summit of the pass. After that they were no longer troubled by attacks from the mountain tribes. Here Hannibal remained for two days, in order to rest his men and beasts; and while the army was here, many of the horses which had taken fright and run away, and many of the beasts of burden, which had got rid of their loads, came straggling into camp, having followed the tracks of the army.

After they had rested sufficiently, they began the descent into Italy. But now new difficulties presented themselves. The way was now downhill, but the slope was more abrupt than it was on the other side of the mountains. It was now late in the autumn, moreover; and as the snow falls early in these high regions, the paths were already covered with a thin coating of new-fallen snow, which caused the men and beasts to slip and made the descent more dangerous than the ascent had been. At one place, too, they found that a landslide had completely blocked up the path, and it took four anxious days of hard labor to cut out a new one for the horses and elephants in the side of the steep and rocky cliff.

But, through all their trials and dangers, Hannibal cheered and encouraged the army. When they reached a height from which the rich plain of the valley of the River Po could be seen in the distance, he called his men about him, and pointing to it, he said:

"There is Italy! There are friends waiting to welcome you and aid you against the tyrant Rome! You have now climbed not only the walls of Italy, but of Rome itself; and after one, or at most two, battles, all these fertile fields will be yours."

Then the soldiers pushed on with new courage; and on the fifteenth day after they had entered the Alps, they came out on the other side of them, in Italy. But the army was terribly weakened by the hardships of the way and the fights with the natives. More than half of the men and horses, and many of the elephants, had been lost; and the soldiers who remained were so broken and worn by their sufferings that they looked not like men, but like the shadows of men.

Still, the courage of Hannibal did not fail him. He camped his men at the foot of the Alps among friendly tribes of the Gauls, and allowed them to rest and refresh themselves for several days, while the poor lean horses were turned out to pasture; and soon all were ready once more to follow wherever he chose to lead them.

The Romans had not expected that Hannibal would attempt to cross the Alps and carry the war into Italy; or, if any of them did expect it, they had no idea that he would succeed so well and so soon. So, when news came that Hannibal was already in Italy, the Romans were surprised and dismayed; but still they hurriedly gathered together their forces, and sent them on to meet the enemy.

Anyone but Hannibal they might have stopped, but Hannibal they could not check. He defeated them in battle after battle, and swept on through their country, with his little army, in a torrent that could not be resisted. The Romans fought desperately, aroused by fear for the city itself; but the armies that faced Hannibal were destroyed in quick succession. In one battle the Romans lost nearly 70,000 men, including eighty senators; and the Carthaginians gathered from the rich men who had fallen on that field enough gold rings to fill a bushel measure. After that, the name of Hannibal became a word of terror to old and young alike; and nearly two hundred years after this time, the memory of that terror still lingered. A Roman poet then wrote of him, and called him "the dread Hannibal," and said that his march through Italy was like the sweep of the eastern gales that had wrecked so many Roman fleets in the waters of Sicily, or like the rush of flames through a blazing forest of pines.

The Romans had learned how to defeat the Gauls and the Greeks in battle, but they were long in learning how to defeat Hannibal. He was greater than they, and, as long as he remained in Italy, the city of Rome trembled. But the Senate remained strong in the midst of the public terror, and while the people mourned for their dead, the Senators only sought men for another army to take the place of the one that had last been destroyed. Their generals, too, though they could not defeat Hannibal in battle, learned to be cautious; and they would no longer lead their armies out to fight against him, but hung about watching his camp, in order to cut off any of the Carthaginians who might become separated from the main body while searching for food for themselves or for their horses. In this way, they sought to wear out Hannibal by cutting off his supplies, and so make it necessary at last for him to leave Italy of his own accord.

In the end, Rome succeeded, as she always did. "The Romans," said an old writer who described this war, "are never so dangerous as when they seem just about to be conquered." Hannibal found, as Pyrrhus had done before him, that he was fighting a people who could replace a defeated army with another which was just as ready as the first to fight to the death, Most of the peoples of Italy, too, remained faithful to Rome in this time of trial; and Hannibal was disappointed in getting the help from them, against their conqueror, upon which he had counted. So, at last, he was forced to look to Africa and to Spain for new men and for supplies for his army; and when his brother came over the Alps, bringing him help from Spain, he was defeated and slain by the Romans before Hannibal knew that he was in Italy. Besides this, the Senate found men and ships enough to carry the war over into Spain and Africa; and, by and by, the Carthaginians were forced to order Hannibal to give up his plans in Italy in order to return to defend Carthage itself against the attacks of Rome.

So after fifteen years of victories, which brought the war no nearer a close, Hannibal was obliged at last to leave Italy and return to Africa. It was the first time he had been back since he had left there, as a boy, thirty-six years before. When he arrived, he found Carthage much weakened by the war. The general in command of the Roman army there was Publius Cornelius Scipio, or "Scipio Africanus," as he soon came to be called, from his deeds in Africa. He was an able general, and had just brought the war in Spain to an end; where, as he reported to the Senate, he "had fought with four generals and four victorious armies, and had not left a single Carthaginian soldier in the peninsula. "Now he was to do something greater still, something that no Roman had ever yet done, that is, to defeat Hannibal in an open battle.

This battle took place near a little town called Zama, which was about two hundred miles inland from Carthage. Scipio had more troops than Hannibal, but Hannibal had about eighty elephants, and he hoped to win the battle with these. The Romans, however, were now thoroughly used to fighting against elephants; they opened great lanes in their ranks, and let the elephants pass harmlessly through, while the soldiers hurled spears and other weapons at them to drive them along or turn them back. Then the Roman foot-soldiers charged the Carthaginians, shouting their war-cry and clashing their swords against their shields. After a hard fight the Carthaginians were overcome. Hannibal alone, with a few of his horsemen, succeeded in escaping, and he at once advised the Carthaginian Senate to make peace.

The terms of the peace were much harder than they had been at the close of the first war. Carthage had to give up all of her possessions outside of Africa, and surrender all of her elephants, and all of her warships but ten. She had also to pay an indemnity of about twelve million dollars to Rome, and to agree never to make war on any one without the consent of the Roman Senate. In this way, Carthage ceased to be the head of a great empire, and became merely the ruler of a little strip of territory along the coast of Africa.

After the treaty was signed, Hannibal remained at Carthage, and tried faithfully to help his country in peace as he had helped her in war. But the Romans feared him still, and distrusted him, and before many years had passed, he was forced to fly from the city to avoid being put to death by their orders. After that, he wandered about from kingdom to kingdom, on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. But wherever he went, Roman messengers followed, and would not let him rest in peace; and, at last, after thirteen years of wandering, he was forced to take his own life to avoid falling into the hands of his unforgiving enemies.