Story of the Roman People - E. M. Tappan

How the Romans Conquered Carthage

Italy is shaped like a boot, and the toe of the boot points across Sicily and the Mediterranean to Africa where the city of Carthage once stood. Carthage was founded about one hundred years earlier than Rome. The land about it was most fertile, and it had an excellent harbor. The Carthaginians were famous merchants, and they had a large number of trading vessels. They loaded these with gold, ivory, linen, precious stones, and slaves from Africa; embroideries and purple cloth and glass from the eastern coast of the Mediterranean; iron from the little island of Elba; wax from Corsica; gold from Spain; and oil and wine from Sicily; and these products they carried from port to port. Chiefly through this trading, Carthage had become wealthy: her rule extended over all northern Africa to the westward, and over several large islands; southern Spain paid her tribute; her trading posts and colonies were so thickly scattered over the Mediterranean shores that the Carthaginians declared this sea to be only a Carthaginian lake, wherein no one might venture to wash his hands without their permission. They could well defend their claims, for they had, besides trading vessels, a powerful navy of warships.

Just between Carthage and the "toe" of Italy lies the island of Sicily, only ninety miles from the African shores. The Carthaginians traded with Sicily, and finally planted colonies on the western coast. On the eastern coast were some Greek colonies, settled soon after the founding of Rome. The Greeks were traders as well as the Carthaginians, and the two peoples carried on a constant warfare. In the midst of this enmity, some military adventurers from Italy, took possession of Messana (Messina), the Sicilian town nearest Italy. The Greeks attempted to drive them away, and the Italians asked the Romans for aid. "We are Mamertines (sons of Mars)," they said, "and you, too, are descended from Mars. We have come for help to our brothers." The Romans did not wish to help these pirates; but if aid was refused, they would ask the Carthaginians to become their allies, and Messana would become a Carthaginian town. That would never do, declared the Romans; and so the first war with Carthage began. Carthage had been founded by Phoenicians, whom the Romans called Poeni. Therefore the wars with Carthage were known as the Punic Wars.

For nearly twenty years the Romans had paid no attention to their navy, and they were now almost without warships. They borrowed a few from the Greek colonies in southern Italy and succeeded in landing troops on the shores of Sicily. It was not easy to win a victory over the Romans, and they were as successful in Sicily as elsewhere. They began to dream of more than winning a few Sicilian cities and taking some land and treasure. Why not go on and conquer the whole island? There was one extremely good reason "why not," and that was their lack of warships. While they were in Sicily, the Carthaginians had been sending their ships of war along the Italian coast, and what the Romans had gained in Sicily they had lost at home. Moreover, even if they captured the island, they could not hope to keep it if they had no navy with which to meet the attacks of the Carthaginians. "We must build warships," the Romans declared; but that was more easily said than done, for no one knew how. The ships of war of those days galleys, they were called were moved by both sails and oars, but the Romans did not understand how to sail against the wind; therefore, in a naval battle, where it was necessary to move rapidly, they depended chiefly upon the use of oars. The oarsmen sat in tiers, one above another, the higher tier using longer oars than the one below. The Romans could borrow of the Etruscans and the Greeks galleys with two or three banks of oars; but these would be helpless before the Carthaginian galleys with five banks.

People as determined as the Romans can usually find a way out of a difficulty. A Carthaginian warship was wrecked on their coast, and they thought they could make this serve as a model. They began to cut down trees. In sixty days, if we may trust the old story, a forest had been made into a fleet of one hundred and twenty warships. The Romans had not forgotten that the ships must have men; and while the shore resounded with the noise of hammers and axes and saws, soldiers were sitting on tiers of benches, practicing a sort of dry land rowing. At length the ships were ready; but they must have been rather clumsy, and even the rowing practice can hardly have made very skillful sailors.

[Illustration] from Story of the Roman People by E. M. Tappan


Probably the Carthaginians laughed scornfully when they had their first view of the enemy's fleet. Probably, too, they wondered why the ignorant Romans came out to battle without lowering their masts, as the custom was, and what could be the use of a queer contrivance shaped like a draw-bridge and held up to the masts by ropes running over pulleys. They found out before long; for as soon as a Roman vessel was brought near a Carthaginian galley, down fell the drawbridge, and a heavy spike at the end pierced the enemy's deck, holding the two ships together. Over the drawbridge rushed the fierce Roman soldiers. It was not long before they had taken nearly half the Carthaginian fleet. The rest had fled.

Then the Romans began to dream of a time when the Mediterranean should be, not a Carthaginian, but a Roman lake. Duillius, the consul who had won this battle, was most highly honored. The senate decreed that a pillar adorned with the beaks of the ships which he had captured should be set up in the forum in memory of his victory; and that as long as he lived he should be escorted home from evening visits to his friends by torches and music.

The Romans won another great naval victory; then the consul Regulus led them to the coast of Africa. There they burned and robbed and destroyed. If it had not been for the wisdom of a Greek who was in Africa, Carthage might have been conquered at once. "You have cavalry and elephants," he said to the Carthaginians, "but you try to use them on the hills. Choose a level battlefield and you will win." They begged him to lead them. He did so and won. Regulus was taken prisoner.

Meantime the war was going on in Sicily. The Romans had learned to meet the charge of elephants, and now they not only won a victory by repulsing the animals, but captured them and carried them to Rome. A number of Carthaginian nobles were taken captive in this same battle, and the Carthaginians sent Regulus to Rome to propose an exchange of prisoners and to offer terms of peace. They thought this would surely be brought about because they had made him `promise to return if the Romans refused their offers. They did not know how brave and unselfish he was. He did not think it would be for the gain of Rome to exchange prisoners, or to make a treaty with Carthage, and he persuaded the senate not to consent to it. Then he took his last look at his beloved home city, kept his word, and went back to the torture and death that he knew were awaiting him in Carthage.

For twenty-four years the war went on. Then peace was made. The Carthaginians paid Rome a large sum of money, surrendered their prisoners, and gave up all claim to Sicily. Both nations were exhausted, and they were glad to have the war come to an end for a time, but neither expected the peace to last for many years.

The first question for Rome to settle was how to govern Sicily. Up to this time she had used two methods of government for conquered peoples. The Latins she treated almost like equals. She gave them some of the rights of citizens and also the hope that if they were faithful to her, they should some time become full citizens. The other tribes of Italy she allowed to govern their own cities, but required them to be obedient to her. Sicily she made into what was called a "province"; that is, a district ruled by magistrates sent from Rome. She collected taxes from the islanders, but she gave them no hope that they could ever become Roman citizens.

Rome soon gained a second province, for she forced Carthage to yield Sardinia and Corsica to her. These she ruled in the same way as Sicily, that is, as if the people were not allies but subjects. She was rapidly increasing in power on the water as well as on the land, and now no one could dispute her rule of the western Mediterranean.

She was also gaining power to the eastward. For a long time the people of Illyria, on the eastern shores of the Adriatic, had been a nation of pirates. If a rich merchant vessel sailed into the Adriatic Sea, it was quite likely to meet a fleet of pirate ships darting out upon it from behind some promontory. These pirates made the Ionian Sea almost as unsafe as the Adriatic and even attacked the coast cities of Italy and Greece. The Romans broke up this piracy completely, and so won the gratitude of the Greeks.

The Romans now began to think about pushing to the north; and they founded colonies on the land that they had taken from the Gauls long before. They had already built the great road called the Flaminian Way, and now they extended it much farther north. The Gauls were alarmed, and they made ready to come down upon Rome. Now it was the turn of the Romans to be frightened, for they remembered an old prophecy that some day Gauls would occupy a part of the Roman territory. There is a tradition that to fulfill this prophecy and so make themselves safe, they seized two Gauls and buried them alive in the city. Then they did something decidedly more reasonable; they sent for the troops that were away from Rome, and with their help the Gallic forces were almost utterly destroyed.

In the struggle of Rome with Carthage, Rome had one great advantage; namely, most of her soldiers were citizens or hoped to become citizens, and were eager that she should win. The soldiers of Carthage, on the contrary, were hired to fight. They cared little whether Carthage or Rome was the winner, provided they had their pay. After they were sent home from Sicily, there was no pay ready, for the treasury was empty. Then the Carthaginians saw what a mistake they had made in not being as fair as the Romans to the countries that they had conquered, for the soldiers had little trouble in persuading the Carthaginian colonies to revolt. A savage war followed; and if Carthage had not had an especially brilliant general, she might possibly have been destroyed without the attacks of the Romans.

[Illustration] from Story of the Roman People by E. M. Tappan


This general's name was Hamilcar. He had met the Romans in Sicily, and had fought successfully against them. He was wise as well as brave, and he had insisted upon asking for peace, because he saw that Carthage must have time to train soldiers before she could hope to stand against Rome. Money, too, was needed; and it was decided that the best way to get it was for Hamilcar to go to Spain and gain firm hold of the southern part of the country and also develop the mines of gold and silver.

He was soon ready to start, the augurs declared that the omens were favorable, and he was about to offer up a final sacrifice to the gods when a thought struck him. His little nine-year old son Hannibal was watching the preparations for the sacrifice when his father called him and asked, "Do you wish to go to the war with me?" "Yes," the boy cried eagerly. "Then lay your hand upon the sacrifice," said Hamilcar, "and swear that you will never be a friend to the Roman people." "I swear that I will never be a friend to the Roman people," the child repeated solemnly; and he never forgot his oath.

The vessels set sail for Spain. Hamilcar understood how to deal with the natives, and by his wisdom and kindness more than by warfare, he gained for Carthage the country as far north as the Tagus River. Nine years later, he was slain in battle. The Carthaginians would have been glad to give the command of the army into the hands of the brilliant young Hannibal; but he was only nineteen, so they gave it to Hamilcar's son-in-law, Hasdrubal. Seven years later, Hasdrubal was killed; and now Hannibal, though only twenty-six years of age, was put at the head of the Carthaginian forces in Spain.

Two years later, he felt that he was prepared to conquer Rome. He began by besieging Saguntum, a Greek colony in Spain. Saguntum had made a treaty with Rome, and Rome sent Hannibal a formal warning not to harass the friends of the Roman people. Hannibal paid no more attention to it than to the wind, but pushed on the siege. The day came when the people of Saguntum saw that they must yield. They meant that the Carthaginians should gain as little as possible by the surrender, so they built a great fire, and into it they tossed all their most valuable possessions. Then in utter despair they threw themselves into the flames.

[Illustration] from Story of the Roman People by E. M. Tappan


Of course the Romans did not bear tamely such treatment of their allies. They sent ambassadors to Carthage to demand the surrender of Hannibal and his principal officers. The Carthaginians would not give them up. Then the chief ambassador gathered up the folds of his toga as if something were wrapped in it, and cried, "Here are peace and war; which do you choose?" "Give us whichever you will," was the reply. The Roman shook out his toga, and said, "Then we give you war." "We welcome it with all our hearts," cried several of the councillors.

Hannibal was in Spain meanwhile. He sent for African troops to defend Spain, and despatched Spanish troops to defend Africa. Each army was then among strangers, and it would not be easy for the soldiers to succeed in any possible revolt. After the safety of Carthage and of Spain had been provided for, Hannibal was ready to attempt to conquer Rome. He did not believe that the Romans would ever be overcome by sea fights and attacks here and there upon the coast cities. He thought that it would be far wiser to go from Spain by land and come down into Italy from the north, and so be in the very heart of the Roman possessions. He did not expect to have to meet the forces of Rome without allies, for he believed that the Gauls would be willing to help him, and he thought that although the conquered Italian states would probably be afraid to join him at first, yet they would surely be on his side as soon as they saw that he was on the way to success. With such thoughts as these in mind, Hannibal brought together ninety thousand infantry, twelve thousand cavalry, and thirty-seven elephants, and set off for Italy.

Across the river Iberus he went and then through the gorges of the Pyrenees. This was rather a slow journey, for he had to conquer as he marched. Beyond the Pyrenees were the Gauls, and they made ready to meet him with arms. He sent envoys to say to their princes, "I shall be glad to receive you in my camp; or if you wish, I will come to yours. I am here as your friend, not as your enemy; and I do not intend to draw my sword until I reach Italy." He presented them with generous gifts, and they willingly allowed him to pass through their lands.

Soon he came to the wide and rapid river Rhone. How should so many thousand men be carried across? This question did not trouble Hannibal in the least. He bribed the people on the right bank to lend him all their boats and even to build more. So the Gauls set to work to make "dug-outs," and the soldiers themselves made all sorts of queer and shapeless craft. No one cared how they looked so long as they would float and carry either men or baggage. On the farther bank was a hostile tribe of Gauls. Hannibal did not wish to do any unnecessary fighting, so one dark night he sent some troops farther up the river. They crossed, and in the darkness slipped around behind the Gauls. In the morning Hannibal kept close watch, and at length he saw the signal of his men, a thread of smoke rising slowly across the sky.

His boats were ready; and soon the savage Gauls were at the water's edge, for the Carthaginian troops were springing ashore from their boats. The Gauls shook their shields above their heads, brandished their weapons, and shouted war songs. Suddenly they heard cries of terror from their rear, for Hannibal's troops that had crossed farther up stream were upon them. With enemies before them and enemies behind them, they were helpless. They ran away, and Hannibal did not pursue them.

[Illustration] from Story of the Roman People by E. M. Tappan


Hannibal pressed on until he was at the foot of the Alps. It is no wonder that his men were terrified at the thought of trying to cross the snow-covered mountains. People from some of the barbarous tribes appeared with wreaths on their heads and waved branches of trees to show that they were friendly. They offered to lead the army up the Alps; and after a while Hannibal concluded to follow them. These false guides led them into a narrow defile where the path was only a ledge with a precipice above and a furious river below. While they were struggling to make their way along the path, the savage people climbed the cliffs above them and rolled down masses of rock. Finally, the army succeeded in getting through the defile. They thought this was as bad as anything could be, but they did not know what sufferings lay before them.

On the ninth day they reached a plain on the summit of a ridge of the Alps. The ground was covered with snow, and it was bitterly cold; but Hannibal stood gazing down upon the Italian plains and felt as if he had already won the victory. "The rest of the way will be smooth and down hill," he said to his soldiers, "and after one or two battles Rome will be in our hands."

[Illustration] from Story of the Roman People by E. M. Tappan


The way was certainly down hill, for the side of the Alps nearer Rome is far steeper than the route by which they had come up. There was no question that it was smooth, for it was over bare ice wet with the slush of melting snow; and the men slipped and slid and tumbled and floundered about helplessly. Then they set to work to build a road no small task, for it must be strong enough to support the elephants. There were no idlers; the men were working for their lives, and in a few days both men and elephants were in northern Italy.

But meanwhile what had the Romans been doing to defend their country? They had done what they supposed was wise, for they never dreamed that Hannibal would attempt to march, through Gaul and come down upon them from the north. They sent one army to Sicily, thence to Africa; and another under Publius Cornelius Scipio to Spain. On the way to Spain Scipio learned that Hannibal had already crossed the Pyrenees, and pursued him as far as the Rhone. There he found that the Carthaginian general was three days ahead. He understood then what Hannibal was planning to do. The Romans now sent troops to northern Italy by rapid marches, for news had come that the Gauls were joining the lines of the Carthaginians.

The two armies met on the banks of the Ticinus River. The Romans were much troubled; for a wolf entered the camp and escaped, and a swarm of bees settled on a tree beneath which the general's tent was pitched, and they feared that these were omens of evil. The Carthaginians, on the other hand, were happy and eager for battle. Their commander had taken his stand before them, promising them land and money and citizenship. After this he had taken a lamb in one hand and a stone in the other, and calling the gods as witnesses to his truth, he had slain the lamb as a sacrifice. Then came the battle of the Ticinus. Hannibal was victorious there and also later on, in the battles fought at the Trebia River and at Lake Trasimenus.

The people of Rome were in great distress. Crowds stood at the gates to get the first news from their friends in the army. The senate sat from sunrise to sunset for several days; and while they were in session, word came that Hannibal was winning still more battles. A dictator was chosen, Quintus Fabius Maximus. He saw to it that sacrifices should be offered and games and temples vowed to the gods. He strengthened the walls of Rome, cut down the bridges over the Tiber, and also burned the houses and destroyed the growing corn where Hannibal was expected to march. Then he set out to pursue the invader.

Hannibal had meanwhile crossed Italy to the Adriatic shores, and was moving slowly southward, plundering as he went. Fabius did not dare to engage in open battle, for if he lost, Rome could hardly be saved; but he kept close watch of Hannibal, cut off scattered parties of soldiers, and harassed the Carthaginian army in every way possible. The Romans could not have acted more wisely, but the soldiers were almost frantic. Hannibal was destroying their homes, and the dictator would not permit them to strike a blow. They angrily called him "Cunctator," the delayer. They even declared that he was a traitor to Rome. The Roman people believed that they had made a mistake in choosing him as dictator, and they now chose another commander as "co-dictator." This co-dictator attempted a battle; but if Fabius had not hurried to his assistance, the army would have been lost. Then the Romans began to see that Fabius had been wiser than they. They hailed him as savior of his country, and his nickname of Cunctator became a title of honor.

The following year the Romans raised new troops, and now they thought they might venture to meet Hannibal in battle. They had twice as many men as he; but the hitherto invincible Romans had met their match, for at Cannae in Apulia they experienced the most terrible defeat that Rome had ever known. Hannibal sent his brother home to Carthage to report the news of the victory. It was so amazing that the Carthaginians would hardly believe him, and to prove his story he poured out a peck of gold rings in the vestibule of the senate house. "These are from the fingers of the Roman nobles who were slain at Canna," he said.

There was rejoicing in Carthage, but Rome was almost in despair. The first thought of many was to flee, to leave Rome, even to leave Italy; but the senate, closed the city gates. Every one thought that Hannibal would attack Rome, but he did not. One of his officers urged him to do so, but he refused. "You know how to gain a victory, but not how to use one," muttered the officer as he turned away.

Hannibal himself had lost an immense number of men, not only in battle, but by the sufferings and dangers of the march from Spain. He begged Carthage for more men and for money to pay his troops; but his countrymen were inclined to think that if he could win such victories as he had already won, he had troops enough, and that as for gold, so successful a commander ought to be able to capture it from the enemy; therefore they were slow in helping him. He was disappointed that so few of the Italian cities joined him. Capua and Syracuse were the only places of importance that would form an alliance with him, and the alliance with Capua proved in some ways an injury. He spent the winter within its walls. His soldiers drank and feasted; and when spring came, they were not so ready to continue the war as they would have been in the previous autumn. The Romans, however, would not give him the chance that he wanted to continue the war, for they had become wiser than at first and would not meet him in the open field. They were also becoming stronger; but the longer the Carthaginian army waited, the weaker it became.

[Illustration] from Story of the Roman People by E. M. Tappan


The alliance with Syracuse did not last long, for the Romans soon laid siege to the city. On the land side they moved up wooden towers higher than the city walls, and from these soldiers could shoot, or they could throw out a sort of draw-bridge and cross over to the top of the walls. They had battering-rams,—long beams with iron heads, that swung against the walls with terrible force. They also used machines for throwing darts, and others for hurling great stones. On the other hand, the people in the town defended themselves by letting down monstrous pincers to catch hold of the Roman battering-rams, and tongs to seize the men who were climbing up on the scaling ladders, and they threw darts and stones and firebrands. On the ocean side was a fleet of Roman vessels which carried wooden towers and battering-rams like those of the land forces. There was small chance for a town besieged by land and by sea; but a wise man named Archimedes, who lived in Syracuse, invented many machines to defend the city. The description of one, given by the Latin author Livy, who was born a century and a half later, sounds much like a chapter from Jules Verne. According to Livy, this machine acted somewhat like the old-fashioned well-sweep, only instead of a bucket it had a heavy iron grapple. If a ship came a little too near the walls, the beam bent over it, and the grapple caught up its prow, then suddenly dropped it. When attacked in this fashion, the ship usually took in so great a quantity of water as to swamp it. The tradition has been handed down that Archimedes set the Roman fleet afire by arranging mirrors to reflect the sun's rays. In spite of his masterly defense, the Romans captured the city. The Roman commander had great respect for the ability of Archimedes; and to make sure that he would not be harmed, he sent a soldier to bring him to the camp. In the midst of ruin and massacre, the philosopher sat calmly working on a problem in geometry. "Don't disturb my circles," he said to the soldier, hardly deigning even to look up. The soldier was angry and killed him. The Romans also regained Capua. In punishment for its joining Hannibal, they beheaded fifty-three citizens and sold many others as slaves and took away its privilege of self-government.

[Illustration] from Story of the Roman People by E. M. Tappan


The loss of Capua was only the beginning of Hannibal's misfortunes. The other cities that had joined him were alarmed when they saw that he did not conquer Italy so rapidly as they had expected, and one after another they began to do their best to induce Rome to pardon them for revolting against her. A second misfortune for Carthage came when the Romans, meeting Hannibal's brother on his way from Spain to Italy with more troops, defeated the troops at the Metaurus River and killed the commander. Third, Publius Cornelius Scipio, son of the Scipio who fought at the Trebia, was sent to Spain. It is said that at that time there was so little hope of success in Spain that no Roman general of reputation was willing to go there; so Scipio, a young man of twenty-seven years, offered himself. However that may be, he drove the Carthaginians out of the country and induced the Spaniards to stand by the Romans.

Meanwhile, little was being done in Italy. The wise men of the olden times used to argue about what would happen if an irresistible force should meet an immovable body. This seemed to be the state of affairs in Italy, with the Romans as the irresistible force and the Carthaginians as the immovable body; for the Romans could not drive out Hannibal, and he could not conquer Rome. Even Hannibal saw, after his brother had failed to reach him with more troops, that he had no further hope of conquest. He had little more opportunity, however, to try to overcome Rome; for the young general, Scipio, was making trouble in Africa, and Hannibal was recalled to that country.

Scipio had by this time concluded that since he had reconquered Spain, the best thing for him to do was to attack Africa. Then, he felt sure, the Carthaginians would be obliged to send for Hannibal. The senate did not agree with him, and Fabius Cunctator heartily disapproved of the plan. Scipio had become consul, however, and finally the senate yielded, but so unwillingly that they would not grant him a proper number of troops. The common folk had the utmost confidence in him; and when he called for volunteers, they promptly filled up his lines.

Scipio crossed the Mediterranean to Africa and laid siege to Utica. In those times it was thought fair to trick an enemy in every possible way, and Scipio set to work to persuade some of the allies of the Carthaginians that he was thinking seriously about making peace. These allies were perfectly willing to make peace for themselves, if they had a chance, and desert the Carthaginians. Scipio's real plan was, however, far from making peace; but he was finding out all that he could about the arrangement of the camps. Then, one dark night, he set fire to the camps of his opponents. They ran wildly from their huts; but the Romans were guarding every way of escape, and the whole Carthaginian army in Africa was destroyed.

It was after this disaster that the Carthaginians ordered Hannibal to bring his troops home to defend their capital. So it was that Hannibal left Italy. He did no good by returning home, however, for he had a terrible battle with Scipio at Zama, and this second Carthaginian army was destroyed.

[Illustration] from Story of the Roman People by E. M. Tappan


Then Carthage begged for peace. It was granted; but the conquered city was required to pay an enormous sum of money, to agree never to make war anywhere without the consent of Rome, to give up all elephants, prisoners, and deserters, and all ships of war except ten triremes, that is, galleys with three banks of oars. For seventeen years Hannibal had been trying to conquer Rome, and all his struggles had come to nothing but this. The Romans towed the great Carthaginian warships out of the harbor and burned them; and the Carthaginians looked on, grieving as if their city itself were in flames. The deserters were all put to death. The Latins among them were beheaded, the Romans crucified.

Scipio returned to Rome through Italy. All along his way the roads were lined with people who cheered and shouted in their delight that the war was over at last. It was the custom among the Romans for a victorious general to have a "triumph," that is, to ride through the city to the Capitol with a procession of banners, captives in chains, and wagons loaded with the arms and treasures of the enemy. The triumph of Scipio was the most magnificent that had yet been seen. The name Africanus was given him in honor of his conquest of the Carthaginians.

Time passed, and Hannibal showed such ability as a statesman that Carthage soon began to prosper. The Romans were startled and demanded that he should be given up to them. To escape them, he fled from his country and became an exile.

[Illustration] from Story of the Roman People by E. M. Tappan


In the two Carthaginian wars, Rome had lost more than a quarter of a million of her citizens. Hundreds of cities and villages had been destroyed. It had been for so long a time useless to try to cultivate the fields that great numbers of farmers had given up the attempt, and had crowded into the walled towns. In the midst of so much bloodshed and revenge, the Romans had become far more harsh and cruel than before. On the other hand, Rome had humbled her rival; she had built so large a navy that no nation could oppose her on the sea; and she had gained Spain and overcome Carthage. She had become by far the most powerful of the states of the Mediterranean. Her citizens must have often recalled the prediction said to have been made by Romulus when, after his death, he appeared in a vision: "The gods decree Rome to become the capital of the world."


The aid given by the Romans to the Mamertines caused the first Punic War in 264 B. C. The Romans built a fleet and captured half of the Carthaginian galleys. Regulus led the Romans to Africa. He refused to urge Rome to make peace with Carthage. Peace was finally made in 241 B. C.

Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica became Roman provinces. Piracy was suppressed. The Gauls prepared to come down upon Rome, but were routed. The Carthaginian colonies revolted. Hamilcar made Hannibal swear everlasting hatred of the Romans. Hamilcar won for Carthage all Spain to the Tagus. He was followed by Hasdrubal, then by Hannibal. Hannibal conquered Saguntum. The Carthaginians chose war rather than peace.

In 218 B. C., the second Punic War began. Hannibal provided for the safety of Spain and Africa, then set out for Italy. He crossed the Iberus, the Pyrenees, the Rhone, and the Alps, and entered northern Italy. The Romans had not expected Hannibal to approach from the north, and they had sent troops to Africa and Spain. Learning that Hannibal was in northern Italy, they sent forces to the north, which met him at the Ticinus River, at the Trebia River, and at Lake Trasimenus, and were routed at each place.

Quintus Fabius Maximus was made dictator. He strengthened the walls of Rome, cut down the bridges over the Tiber, destroyed houses and corn where Hannibal was expected to march; and then pursued the invader. Fabius did not dare to meet Hannibal in open battle; and the soldiers angrily called him Cunctator. His policy proved to be correct, and then his nickname became a title of honor.

The Romans were routed at Cannae in 216 B. C. Hannibal did not attack Rome as the Romans expected. He allied himself with Capua and Syracuse. He weakened his army by a winter in Capua. The Romans captured Syracuse, defended though it was by the skill of Archimedes, and also took Capua. At the Metaurus River in 207 B. C. they overcame Hannibal's brother. Scipio drove the Carthaginians out of Spain, and then attacked Africa, destroying the Carthaginian army in Africa. Hannibal left Italy and brought his troops to Africa, but at Zama they, too, were overcome by Scipio. The Second Punic War ended in 201 B. C. Scipio had a magnificent triumph and received the name Africanus. Hannibal led Carthage to prosperity, but to escape the Romans, he went into exile. In these wars Rome had humbled Carthage and had become the most powerful of the Mediterranean states.

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