Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
THE STERN DECREE
 CARTHAGE soon learned that it was with Rome, and no longer with
Masinissa, that she had now to deal.
That she would be punished for having taken up arms
against her troublesome neighbour she knew. So she
determined if possible to disarm the anger of Rome.
She therefore condemned Hasdrubal and the leaders of
the war party to death, and sent ambassadors to Rome to
say that they only were guilty of breaking the treaty.
We do not know if Hasdrubal and his fellows were
content to be made the scapegoat of their people.
In Rome, the ambassadors were coldly treated, and told
that not only the leaders, but Carthage herself, must
atone for the broken treaty.
Meanwhile, to the dismay of Carthage, Utica, which was
strongly fortified and almost as rich and powerful as
the capital, surrendered to Rome.
With Utica in their hands, the Romans had a convenient
port at which to land their forces, and they at once
declared war. The two Consuls for the year 149 B.C.
were sent to Sicily with a large force, and ordered to
sail from Lilybæum to Africa, nor were they to think
that their work was ended until Carthage was destroyed.
When the Carthaginians received the declaration of war,
they decided to send another embassy to Rome, with an
offer to surrender.
If the offer was accepted, Carthage could be treated as
a town conquered in war. But this right was often put
aside when a town surrendered of its own free will. It
was in the
 hope that Rome would prove merciful that Carthage now
offered to submit.
The Roman Senate accepted the surrender of Carthage,
demanding that the city should send three hundred
hostages to Sicily within thirty days. Then these
ominous words were added: "Carthage must also obey
the further commands of the Consuls." When they had
obeyed these "further commands," Rome promised that
the Carthaginians should be granted liberty, and that
their possessions should not be taken away.
It was with a sinking heart that Carthage complied with
the first condition. Three hundred hostages were sent
to Sicily within thirty days. Many of them were but
children, whose mothers were in despair at being
separated from them.
When the ships which were to carry the hostages away
were ready to sail, the miserable parents gathered at
the water's edge. In their agony, scarce knowing what
they did, some of the mothers ran into the sea and held
on to the ropes which tied the ships to the harbour.
Others, as the ropes were loosened and the ships began
to move off, swam after the vessels, weeping and
uttering pitiful cries that their children might be
restored to them. But the ships sailed relentlessly on
In spite of the arrival of the hostages, the Consuls
sailed from Lilybæum and landed at Utica.
Here ambassadors from Carthage came to learn the
meaning of the words that had sounded ominous in their
ears. What were the further commands to which they
"The Carthaginians must disarm," was the sentence that
fell like lead on the hearts of the ambassadors.
But the Romans had their reason for this demand, and
saw no hardship in it.
"How," said the Consuls, "could those want arms who
were resolved to live in peace, who were protected from
 their enemies by the strong arm of Rome, and had their
liberty, independence, and possessions guaranteed them?"
It was a hard decree. Yet to appease the wrath of Rome
the ambassadors agreed that this condition also should
be fulfilled. They did not dream that worse could be
So one day a long procession of wagons set out from
Carthage, laden with suits of armour and catapults.
Not catapults as you think of them, small and easily
handled, but great heavy slings for hurling stones at
the walls of besieged cities. Two hundred thousand
suits of armour were carried away and two thousand
catapults, and the walls of Carthage were left
The procession was a solemn one. Ambassadors, priests,
members of the Senate, most noble citizens, all went
with the wagons to the Roman camp to deliver their
contents to those who claimed this mighty sacrifice.
"Surely now," they said to one another, "Rome will be
content, and we shall be able to go back with glad
tidings of certain peace to our defenceless town."
But a still more bitter blow was to fall upon the
ambassadors, a blow bitter as death itself. The
"further demands" had not yet been exhausted.
Rome now decreed that the Carthaginians should leave
their town, nor would they be allowed to settle within
ten miles of the sea. Carthage herself must be
When the ambassadors heard this last terrible sentence,
their distress was profound. No humiliation was too
great could they but obtain mercy.
They threw themselves at the feet of the Consuls, with
tears streaming down their cheeks, and with cries of
anguish pleaded that they might be spared this last
But no cries, no tears could change the stern decree.
Nor was Carthage even allowed again to send messengers
to Rome to plead her cause before the Senate.