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THE CRITICAL STRUGGLE (CONTINUED)
 THE war which followed Hannibal's descent into Italy
lasted for sixteen years (218-202 B.C.).
For three years Rome was in great danger. Then, for a
while, the armies fought on equal terms, though to us,
at least, it is quite evident that Hannibal's great
effort was not going to succeed. Then the fortunes of
Carthage began to decline, till in 207 B.C. occurred
disasters which implied their ultimate ruin. For the
five years that followed Hannibal carried on a hopeless
struggle with an ingenuity and courage which no one
else could have shown.
In the few weeks that intervened between the arrival of
Hannibal in Italy and the retirement of the opposing
armies into winter quarters, the Romans suffered two
reverses. The first engagement (at the Ticinus) was
nothing more than a cavalry skirmish, the second (at
the Trebia) was a more serious affair. The generals
were out-manœuvred, and the troops were not good enough
to make up for the incompetence of their commanders.
The camp was taken, and the survivors had to take
refuge in the fortified towns of Placentia and Cremona:
a more serious result was that all the Italian Gauls
declared for Carthage.
 Another weakness in the Roman system was now revealed,
and not for the first time. The consuls for the year
217 B.C. came into office in March. One of them,
Flaminius, owed his election, if Livy is to be trusted,
to political reasons. He was certainly an incompetent
commander. Hannibal was greatly weakened by losses
suffered in a march through the marshes of the Arno,
but no advantage was taken of the opportunity by the
When Hannibal was sufficiently recruited he contrived
by skilful strategy to draw the Romans into a trap.
Flaminius, anxious, as we may suppose, not to lose any
time, started in pursuit of Hannibal, who had marched
southward. His shortest way was along the shores of
Lake Trasimene, and he followed it without making any
attempt to reconnoitre. On this road he encamped for
the night. Hannibal had put a strong force in ambush on
the hills which commanded the road, and both the
entrance into the valley and the exit from it were held
The result was the almost total destruction of the
Roman Army. Out of 40,000 only 10,000 found their way
to Rome; many lay dead on the field of battle, the
consul, who had done his best to retrieve the disaster,
among them. Fifteen thousand prisoners remained in
A greater disaster was to follow, and it would seem
from the same cause. The first elected of the two
consuls for the year 216 B.C., was a
 certain Terentius Varro,
and here again the choice was dictated, not by
military, but by political reasons. Varro was the son
of a butcher, who had made himself popular by
supporting democratic measures. Hannibal was now in
Southern Italy, and the two consuls marched to meet
him, with urgent instructions to fight.
It is clear that there were two parties in Rome, one
calling for speedy action, the other, represented by
Q. Fabius Maximus, who had been made Dictator after the
disaster of Trasimene, insisting on a policy of
caution. The former party was now the stronger.
And in the camp the consuls were nearly as much divided
as at home. It was a bad custom, though quite in accord
with the way in which such things were managed in Rome,
that when both consuls were present with the army they
commanded on alternate days. Varro forced a skirmish on
one of his days and gained a slight advantage. After
this delay was out of the question. Æmilius did all
that he could to safeguard the position, but Varro, who
had had no military experience, was resolved on action.
In the early morning of August 2nd, 216,
he crossed the river on the further bank of which part
of the Roman army had already encamped. The
 battle opened with a Roman success. The legions in the
centre broke the line of the Gallic and Spanish
infantry which faced them. They followed up the flying
foe too far, a mistake of which they soon became aware,
but not soon enough. The African infantry from the two
wings closed in upon them, and were followed by the
Carthaginian horse, which had by this time routed the
very inferior cavalry opposed to them. In a very short
time the battle was hopelessly lost.
The army was almost cut to pieces. One of the consuls
perished on the field. Livy tells a pathetic story of
how a Roman horseman saw him sitting on a stone, and
offered to carry him to a place of safety. "Suffer me,"
cried Æmilius, "to die amidst my slaughtered comrades.
Do you save yourself." Varro escaped with a company of
less than a hundred horsemen. It seemed as if the ruin
of Rome was complete.
And now the noble strength of a free people came out.
It refused to abandon itself to despair. The Senate
took the lead. Varro was odious to it in every way, a
demagogue whose foolish rashness had brought the State
to the brink of ruin, but they solemnly thanked him
because he had not despaired of his country.
A company of young nobles who had meditated flight from
Italy were forcibly detained and encouraged to stand by
their country to the last. Everyone that was of
military age was enrolled in the ranks; even criminals
were not rejected, and slaves were trusted with arms.
 It has often been asked why Hannibal did not at once
march on Rome. His own officers are said to have
reproached him with his want of energy—"You know how to
win a victory," said one of them, "but not how to use
it." Probably he was a better judge of the situation
than anyone else. When he did make an advance on the
city five years afterwards, he gained nothing by the
movement. The story was that the very spot on which he
was encamped was sold in Rome at the very time of its
occupation and fetched its full price.
One thing is quite certain, that, as Mommsen puts it,
"the gradual decline of Hannibal's power dates really
from his victory at Cannæ." If he could not bring the
struggle to an end after so complete a victory, he was
not likely to do so at all.
Five years afterwards Carthage suffered the reverse
which made obvious to all that the policy of attacking
Rome in Italy had failed.
Rome, indeed, recovered herself with amazing rapidity.
Two years had scarcely passed when she felt herself
strong enough to assume the aggressive. Hannibal was
still in Italy with his strength practically unbroken,
with many of the native tribes in alliance with him,
and more ready to join him if the opportunity should
present itself, and yet the Romans boldly transferred a
large part of their force to Sicily. Their old friend,
King Hiero, died early in 215. His grandson and
successor, Hieronymus, repudiated their alliance.
Little more than a year afterwards he was assassinated,
 republic was substituted for the monarchy. The new
rulers, however, were not less hostile to Rome. Action
became necessary if Sicily was not to be wholly lost,
and Marcellus in the spring of 214 undertook the siege
of Syracuse. This was a very formidable enterprise.
Some two hundred years before Athens had brought ruin
upon herself by attempting it. It might well have
seemed the extreme of rashness when Rome, with
Hannibal, so to speak, at her gates, attempted the task
which Athens with her undivided forces had failed to
Marcellus began by trying active measures, but the city
was extraordinarily strong, thanks to its natural
position and to its elaborate fortifications. The
defenders, too, could command the services of the
greatest mechanician of antiquity, the famous
Archimedes. Every effort of the besiegers was baffled;
showers of stones and javelins from the catapults
cleared the decks of their ships, and the ships
themselves were seized by huge grappling irons and
overturned. Then a blockade was tried; but Marcellus
had not the force to make it effective. He then
resolved to attack the city from the land side; and
having discovered a weak spot in the fortifications,
took the occasion of a city festival to deliver an
attack. One portion of the city fell into his hands;
the other two made but a feeble resistance, and
Syracuse was gained, and the soldiers were permitted to
plunder the city, but were forbidden to injure the
inhabitants. The great Archimedes,
 however, perished, much to the grief of the Roman
general. A soldier forced his way into his room, could
not rouse him from the study of some mathematical
problem with which he was engaged, and cut him down.
Before the year had come to an end, all Sicily, with
the single exception of Agrigentum (Girgenti) had
submitted to Rome. It was an act of magnificent
It is difficult, if not impossible, to find a parallel
in history, ancient or modern; but we may form some
idea of what it meant if we suppose that the British
government, after sustaining on English soil a defeat
more disastrous than that which Napoleon suffered at
Waterloo, with an enemy in possession of Dorset,
Somersetshire, Devonshire, and Cornwall, with the Irish
ready to rise in revolt, should despatch half its
available force for the conquest of the Netherlands.
But there was something in the conduct of the Roman
commander which was ominous of future evil. Marcellus
was personally incorruptible; but he stripped Syracuse
of its treasures of art. These were intended to adorn
his triumph, an honour which was not given to him, and
then to be deposited in two temples which he had vowed
to build. The religious motive doubtless seemed to
excuse the act. But it was a bad precedent. The temples
were the picture galleries of Rome. Practically the
city was enriched by the spoils of Syracuse. And it was
an easy step from temples to private houses. It became
the practice for Roman nobles to adorn their mansions
with works of art carried
 away from conquered cities. The death of Marcellus
before he could find an opportunity of dedicating the
temples was regarded as a judgment on his impiety.
Hannibal had left his brother Hasdrubal in Spain in
charge of the interests of Carthage in that country.
Here he had lost much ground; we may be sure that such
reinforcements as were to be spared had gone to Italy
rather than to the less important field of action.
Still he had a considerable force at his disposal, and
Hannibal saw that the only chance that remained to him
was to summon this to his help.
The march was effected with very little loss, though
it certainly took a long time. Hasdrubal crossed the
Pyrenees in the autumn of 209 B.C., spent the following
year in Gaul, doubtless in gathering recuits for his
army, and crossed in the spring of 207 B.C.
The Roman authorities, though they could hardly have
been ignorant of his purpose, had made no preparations
to meet him. But this neglect was repaired by the
energy of the men who were in command of the armies in
Hasdrubal himself lost some of the advantage which had
fallen to him. His best plan, as far as we are able to
judge, would have been to lose no time in effecting a
junction with Hannibal; what he did was to lay siege to
Placentia (Piacenza), hoping, we may suppose, to find
there some of the supplies which he needed. The siege
failed and he resolved to march southward,
 sending four mounted Gauls to announce his purpose to
Hannibal, and to arrange for a junction of the two
armies. The Gauls lost their way, fell into the hands
of the Romans, and were compelled to give up the
despatch which they carried.
Claudius Nero, who was watching Hannibal, took a bold
resolve. He left his camp in charge of his
second-in-command, and marched northward with a picked
force of 7,000 men to reinforce the consul Livius, who
was by this time facing Hasdrubal in Northern Italy.
He effected the junction without meeting with any
mishap, and the two consuls resolved to give battle at
But Hasdrubal, a veteran who had had many years'
experience in the field, and who knew something about
Roman ways, had at least some suspicion of the truth.
His scouts had observed in the enemies' watering
parties men and horses that bore marks of a recent
journey, and he noticed that the trumpets sounded twice
in the Roman camp, showing that both the consuls were
present. He left his position, and marched, probably
with the intention of joining his brother, but his
guide deceived him, he lost his way, and found himself
compelled to give battle. The place was the left bank
of the river Metaurus, a name which was thenceforward
to be famous in Roman history.
The battle which followed was stubbornly fought.
Hasdrubal did all that skill and courage could
suggest, but his army was inferior in
 number to his enemy, and though some of his troops were
of excellent quality his new recruits were worth but
little. His elephants did at least as much harm to
their own side as to the enemy, and the Gauls made but
a feeble resistance to the charge which, though
Hasdrubal had been careful to put them in the
strongest available position, the Romans contrived to
The Carthaginian loss was heavy. Hasdrubal fell
fighting in the midst of the Roman line; he had no wish
to survive the ruin of his hopes. The greater part of
his army, it is true, made its escape, but they were
not fighting for their country, and they never cared
again to face the conquerors in the field. Nero started
the same night for his command in the south, carrying
with him the head of Hasdrubal, which he is said to
have thrown into Hannibal's camp.
In 203 B.C. Hannibal left Italy, where he had for some
time been keeping up a hopeless resistance to the Roman
army. In the following year the final battle of the war
was fought at Zama (Jama), and ended in a defeat so
disastrous that nothing was left for Carthage but to
make peace on such conditions as Rome was willing to
grant. These were not as severe as might have been
Carthage retained her independence, but she ceased to
be a rival of Rome. Her actual end was delayed for more
than fifty years, but the sobering effects of her
rivalry now ceased to work.
A great Roman historian puts down to this cause the
country's debasement. "Those who had
 lightly borne toils and dangers, doubtful fortunes and
desperate straits, found leisure and wealth a pitiable
burden. At first the lust of money, then the lust for
power increased, and these were the source of every
It was, perhaps, the thought of what might come to pass
in the future that troubled the mind of one of Rome's
noblest sons, the Younger Scipio. Carthage, after a
desperate resistance, had fallen into his hands and had
been given up to plunder. This seemed to him punishment
enough. But there came to him an express command from
the authorities at Rome that the city and its suburbs
should be entirely destroyed, its site ploughed up, and
a solemn curse pronounced on anyone who should attempt
to rebuild it. Scipio knew perfectly well that as a
rival power Carthage had ceased to exist, that the
motive for this monstrous decree was commercial
jealousy, the same base cupidity which in the very same
year was to bring the same fate on Corinth. He turned
to his old friend and teacher, Polybius—it is Polybius
who tells the story—and said: "O Polybius, this is a
great deed, but I shudder to think that some day a
conqueror may pass the same doom on Rome." And as the
fire raged—it lasted, the same authority tells us,
seventeen days—he murmured the lines of Homer:—
"The day wherein Ilium the holy shall perish will come;
it is near
Unto Priam withal, and the folk of the king of the
 The dominions of Rome were yet to increase for more
than three centuries.
She was yet to produce great soldiers, great statesmen,
even great patriots; but it was not for the noblest of
her sons that place and power were reserved. The
lessons that we learn from her history are
thenceforward of what we should avoid rather than of
what we should imitate.
THE YOUNGER SCIPIO.