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The Story of the Romans by  H. A. Guerber


 

 

THE INVENTOR ARCHIMEDES

[133] HIERO, King of Syracuse, died shortly after the battle of Cannæ. He had helped the Romans much, but his successors soon made an alliance with the Carthaginians, and declared war against Rome.

The Romans, however, had taken new courage from the welcome news that Hannibal had decided upon going to Capua, instead of marching straight on to Rome. As soon as some of the new troops could be spared, therefore, they were sent over to Sicily, under the command of Marcellus, with orders to besiege Syracuse. This was a very great undertaking, for the city was strongly fortified, and within its walls was Archimedes, one of the most famous mathematicians and inventors that have ever been known.

He had discovered that even the heaviest weights could be handled with ease by means of pulleys and levers; and he is said to have exclaimed: "Give me a long enough lever and a spot whereon to rest it, and I will lift the world."


[Illustration]

Archimedes.

Archimedes made use of his great talents to invent all sorts of war engines. He taught the Syracusans how to fashion stone catapults of great power, and large grappling hooks which swung over the sea, caught the enemy's vessels, and overturned them in the water. He is also said to have devised a very clever arrangement of mirrors and burning glasses, by means of which he could set fire to the Roman ships. To prevent the Syracusan ships from sinking when they had water in their holds, [134] he invented a water screw which could be used for a pump.

Thanks to the skill of Archimedes, the Syracusans managed to hold out very long; but finally the Romans forced their way into the town. They were so angry with the people for holding out so long that they plundered the whole city, and killed many of the inhabitants.

A Roman soldier rushed into the house where Archimedes was sitting, so absorbed in his calculations that he was not even aware that the city had been taken. The soldier, not knowing who this student was, killed Archimedes as he was sitting in front of a table loaded with papers.

Marcellus, the Roman general, had given orders that the inventor should be spared, and was very sorry to hear that he was dead. To do Archimedes honor, he ordered a fine funeral, which was attended by Romans and Syracusans alike.

In the mean while, Hannibal was beginning to lose ground in Italy; and the Carthaginians who were left in Spain had been obliged to fight many battles. Their leader was Hasdrubal, the brother of Hannibal, while the Romans were commanded by the two Scipios.

These two generals were at last both unlucky; but their successor, another Scipio, defeated the Carthaginians so many times that the whole country became at last a Roman province. Escaping from Spain, Hasdrubal prepared to follow the road his brother had taken, so as to join him in southern Italy.

He never reached Hannibal, however; for after crossing the Alps he was attacked and slain, with all his army. The Romans who won this great victory then hastened [136] south and threw Hasdrubal's head into his brother's camp; and this was the first news that Hannibal had of the great disaster.

All the luck in the beginning of this war had been on the side of the Carthaginians. But fortune had now forsaken them completely; and Hannibal, after meeting with another defeat, went back with his army to Carthage, because he heard that Scipio had come from Spain to besiege the city.

The country to the west of Carthage, called Numidia, was at this time mostly divided between two rival kings. One of them, Masinissa, sent his soldiers to help Scipio as soon as he crossed over to Africa, and the Romans could not but admire the fine horsemanship of these men. They were the ancestors of the Berbers, who live in the same region to-day and are still fine riders.

Syphax, the rival of Masinissa, joined the Carthaginians, who promised to make him king of all Numidia if they succeeded in winning the victory over their enemies. With their help he fought three great battles against the Romans, but in each one he was badly defeated, and in the last he was made prisoner.

After Hannibal came, he soon met the invaders near Zama, and a great battle was fought, in which Scipio and Masinissa gained the victory. In their despair, the Carthaginians proposed to make peace. The Romans consented, and the Second Punic War ended, after it had raged about seventeen years.

On his return to Rome, Scipio was honored by receiving the surname of Africanus, and by a grand triumph, in which Syphax followed his car, chained like a slave. But [137] although the Romans cheered Scipio wildly, and lavished praises upon him, they soon accused him of having wrongfully taken possession of some of the gold he had won during his campaigns.

This base accusation was brought soon after Scipio had helped to win some great victories in Asia, of which you will soon hear; and it made him so angry that he left Rome forever. He withdrew to his country house in Campania, a part of Italy to the southeast of Rome.

Here he remained as long as he lived; and when he died he left orders that his bones should not rest in a city which had proved so ungrateful as Rome.


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