Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
THE BOY HANNIBAL
 THE Carthaginians, as you know, had been turned out of
Sicily at the end of the first Punic war. They had,
too, lost more than Sicily, and were eager to atone for
their losses by gaining territory in other lands.
Their thoughts turned to Spain, where already they had
a few colonies.
So while the Romans were busy fighting against the
Gauls, and too engrossed with the barbarians to trouble
about the ambitions of the Carthaginians, they sent
their general Hamilcar Barca to Spain, to add to the
power and dominion of Carthage.
This was in time to prove the cause of the second Punic
Before setting out for Spain, Hamilcar went to the
temple to offer a sacrifice to the supreme god of his
people, at the same time beseeching him to grant
success to his adventure.
As he turned away from the altar he caught sight of his
little son Hannibal, then a boy of nine years old, who
was watching his father with eager, awe-struck eyes.
Bidding those who stood near to withdraw, Hamilcar
called the boy to him, and asked if he would like to go
with him to Spain.
To go with his gallant father! To be a soldier like
There was no need for the child to answer, his eager
face told his father all he wished to know.
So then the great general solemnly led his little son
 altar and bade him lay his hands upon it, as he swore
never to be the friend of the Romans.
Hannibal took the oath as his father bade him, and
never, in all the years to come, did he forget it. His
hatred of the Romans grew with his strength, and when
he became a man, his chief aim was to thwart their
plans and overthrow their power. So it happened that
when Hamilcar set out for Spain, Hannibal went with
In the camp the boy soon learned to love the hardships
as well as the joys of a soldier's life.
His father himself saw that he was trained as a good
soldier should be. In the end he gave his life to save
his son from danger on the battlefield. After his
father's death, Hannibal served under his
brother-in-law, Hasdrubal, for eight years.
While he was still young, he was given a command in the
army, and none was ever loved by his men as was he.
In battle, the young leader was always to be found at
the point of danger, and every hardship, in the camp as
on the field, he shared with his men. Nothing seemed
able to daunt his spirit. In disaster as in success he
remained cheerful and confident. And he complained of
no trouble when it could help his cause.
Until he was twenty, Hannibal lived his hard and happy
soldier life. Then young as he was, a great
responsibility was laid upon him.
Hasdrubal was killed in his tent by a slave whose
master he had murdered, and the army shouted with one
voice, that no one but Hannibal should become their
And at length, the government of Carthage reluctantly
agreed that the young soldier should be appointed.
Until now this important post had been filled by men of
greater age and wider experience than Hannibal.
But the new general soon showed the stuff of which he
was made. He was young and energetic, and in two years
 he had taken many towns and added to the power and
possessions of Carthage in Spain.
But Saguntum, a town on the east coast of Spain, defied
Hannibal's efforts and remained unconquered. As the
inhabitants watched the growing power of the young
Carthaginian leader, they grew afraid, lest they in the
end should be forced to yield. So they appealed to
Rome for help.
In the winter of 220 B.C. a Roman embassy was therefore
sent to Spain, bearing a message from the Senate for
The young leader received it with no goodwill. Did it
not come from the country he had sworn to hate, and had
not his hatred grown, until now it had become the
burning passion of his life ?
But although the Roman ambassadors found Hannibal in no
pleasant mood, they did not attempt to pacify him.
Haughtily they gave their message that he should not
attack Saguntum, or dare to cross the river Ebro,
beyond which the Carthaginians had not yet advanced.
Hannibal listened with undisguised disdain to the
demands of the Senate, and dismissed the ambassadors
from his camp without an answer.
In the spring of 219 B.C., it was plain that he went to
defy Rome, for he laid siege to Saguntum.
For eight months the city held out. When their
provisions failed, and starvation stared them in the
face, they still refused to surrender, believing that
Rome would send help.
But at length all hope of relief faded. Then the
Spanish chiefs determined to die rather than fall into
the hands of the enemy. So they ordered a fire to be
kindled in the market-place, and into it they flung all
the treasures which were left in the city. After the
treasures were consumed, they themselves leaped into
the flames and were burned to death.
 When tidings of the fall of Saguntum reached Rome, she
sent an embassy to Carthage, at the head of which was a
noble named Fabius.
Fabius demanded that Hannibal and his officers should
be given up, otherwise Rome would declare war against
While the Carthaginians hesitated, Fabius rose, and
gathering up the folds of his toga, as though in them
he held the fate of the city, he cried, "I carry here
peace and war. Choose, men of Carthage, which ye
"I carry here peace and war, choose men of Carthage, which ye will."
"Give us whatever ye wish," answered the Senate.
Then shaking out the folds of his toga Fabius answered,
"Then here I give ye war," and without another word he
left the Senate-house.
"With that spirit with which ye give it, shall we wage
it," cried the Carthaginians, while the ambassador
As the shout of the Assembly followed him, Fabius knew
that the men of Carthage did not dread his gift.