On the Shores of the Great Sea - M. B. Synge

Hannibal's Vow

"Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean—roll;

Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain."


Fifteen years passed away and Rome and Carthage were still fighting for the mastery of the sea. Since the victory of MylŠ, the Roman fleet had been beaten more than once, by the Carthaginians—these weather-wise masters of the sea.

It was about this time that one great man, called Hamilcar, appeared on the scene at Carthage, and to him the Carthaginians entrusted the command of their army. The war dragged on listlessly, for another eight years, and then Hamilcar made peace with the Romans. He consented, on behalf of the Carthaginians, to give up the island of Sicily to Rome; but he had made great plans of his own, by which he hoped that his own country should yet retain the command of the Mediterranean. Hamilcar had patience and genius, he loved his country with true patriotism, he hated the very name of Rome, and, moreover, he had an infant son, whom he was bringing up in the same spirit. This was the boy Hannibal, who was to become one of the greatest men, the world had ever seen.

And all the while, this Hamilcar was dreaming of an empire in Spain—an empire rich, powerful, mighty, which should more than make up to the Carthaginians for the loss of Sicily. Accompanied by the fleet, he made his way slowly along the north African coast, reached Gibraltar, and set foot for the first time in Spain. With him was his little nine-year-old son Hannibal.

There is an old story, which tells us, that Hamilcar was sacrificing to the god of his country, before starting forth to Spain, when he suddenly bade his servants withdraw, while he asked the little Hannibal, if he would like to go with him to the wars. The boy eagerly said "Yes."

"Then," said his father, "lay your hand on the sacrifice and swear eternal hatred to Rome."

The little boy did as he was told, and right faithfully through his whole life did he keep his oath.

It was indeed into a land of promise that Hamilcar and his little son now passed; for the next nine years he worked industriously. Under him the gold and silver mines of Spain yielded double their old value, which enabled him to collect a Spanish army. He worked to carry out his magnificent schemes, until he died a soldier's death in battle, leaving his son-in-law, Hasdrubal, and his young son Hannibal to fulfil his dying heritage, of eternal hatred of Rome.

Hasdrubal enlarged the empire he had founded in Spain, giving it a capital in New Carthage. It was an excellent harbour, and soon rose to rival its namesake on the opposite coast. When Hasdrubal died some years later, Hannibal, now a man of twenty-nine, was chosen as commander of the Spanish army. He had already distinguished himself by fighting under his father, and he had not forgotten his oath of revenge. He at once began to prepare for war with Rome by taking a town that had formed an alliance with Rome. Then the Romans sent messengers to Hannibal.

"We bring you peace or war," they said. "Take which you please."

"War," was Hannibal's fierce answer. And war it was.

Hannibal retreated into winter quarters at New Carthage and dismissed his Spanish troops to their homes.

"Come back in the early spring," he said, "and I will be your leader in a war, from which, both the glory and the gain will be immense."

So the rival nations prepared for battle. The die was now cast and the arena cleared for the foremost man of his race and his time, to show himself the greatest military genius, that the world had ever seen.