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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

THE DEATH OF HANNIBAL

[238] THE Ætolians were once a wild and savage race who lived among the mountains of Greece and ate raw food. After long years, when they had left many of their more savage customs behind them, they became one of the most powerful peoples in Greece.

In the wars with Macedonia, of which you have just read, the Ætolians, believing that they were used unfairly by King Philip, fought on the side of the Romans. After the battle of Cynoscephalæ, they haughtily said that the victory was due to them.

They disliked Flamininus, and grumbled that they had gained nothing by helping him against the Macedonians. They had, so they said, but changed one master for another, when Flamininus conquered Philip.

In their foolish discontent they resolved to free themselves from Roman influence, but to be able to do this they must, they knew, seek the aid of a foreign prince. So they turned to Antiochus III., King of Syria, and begged him to liberate Greece from Roman influence.

Antiochus had already, in Egypt, had his ambitions frustrated by Rome, and knowing her strength, he hesitated to respond to the appeal of the Ætolians.

But as he hesitated, the great Carthaginian general Hannibal arrived at the court of Ephesus, and placed his sword at the service of the king.

It was now seven years since Rome had made peace [239] with Carthage, and during that time Hannibal had been working for the welfare of his country. In spite of the terms by which Rome had crippled her, his genius had succeeded in making the city once again both wealthy and prosperous.

Rome began to grow jealous of the restored fortunes of the city she chose to consider her rival. Influenced by Cato, of whom I will tell you in another chapter, she began to think that until Carthage was destroyed, Rome herself would never be safe.

Certainly Hannibal was a menace to Rome, so an embassy was sent to Carthage to demand that he should be given up.

Like other reformers, Hannibal had many enemies, and he knew that he must escape from Carthage if he would not fall into the hands of Rome. So he fled from his own country, and after some adventures by the way, he at length reached Ephesus, where he offered his services, as I told you, to Antiochus.

It was perhaps the arrival of the Carthaginian that determined the king to join the Ætolians in their defiance of Rome. But although Antiochus welcomed Hannibal, it was soon evident that he did not care to follow the great general's advice.

Hannibal, when he saw the troops of the king, knew that they were not fitted to cope with the well-trained legions of Rome. In his blunt soldier fashion he told Antiochus so, and advised him to attack Italy by sea, offering to command the fleet himself.

But the king was quite sure that his soldiers were able to meet the Roman forces. Nor, in any case, did he wish to place Hannibal at the head of his fleet, lest, should a victory be won, the glory of it should be given to the Carthaginian.

It seemed as though Antiochus was jealous of his new officer.

[240] Hannibal saw that the king had not cared to adopt his first plan, so he proposed another.

"Make Philip of Macedon your ally," he said, "or the Romans will certainly do so."

Antiochus was not inclined to follow this suggestion either, and, as Hannibal had foreseen, the Romans secured the help of King Philip.

Meanwhile, in 193 B.C., envoys from Rome arrived at the court of Antiochus. The king was absent, mourning the loss of a son whom, so ran the report, he had himself poisoned from jealousy. But Hannibal was there, and he and the Romans appeared to be so friendly that the courtiers grew suspicious, and by their tales made the king also suspect the good faith of the Carthaginian.

When Antiochus returned to his court Hannibal did all he could to allay his suspicions, telling him of the vow he had taken when a child—the vow of undying hatred to Rome.

It is said that one of the Roman ambassadors was Scipio Africanus, and that one day as he chatted with Hannibal he asked him who he thought was the greatest general that had ever lived.

"Alexander," said Hannibal, meaning Alexander the Great, who died in 323 B.C.

"Who next?" asked Scipio.

"Pyrrhus," was the answer.

"Who third?" then demanded the Roman.

"Myself," answered Hannibal.

"What should you have said, then," asked Scipio, "if you had conquered me?"

"I should have said that I was greater than either Alexander or Pyrrhus," was the quick retort.

Early in the spring of 192 B.C. the ambassadors had an interview with the king. He, however, refused to listen to their demands, which were, that he should not molest the Greek towns which had appealed to Rome to save them from the interference of the King of Syria.

[241] War was now inevitable, but before it actually began his officers had persuaded the king not only to ignore any advice Hannibal might give, but to offer him no responsible command in the campaign that was before them.

"If you follow Hannibal's advice," said one of the king's officers, "the glory will all be his, and not the king's, while if he fails, the fleet and the army will be fatally weakened. Hannibal is but a soldier of fortune, and may usefully be employed as a subordinate, but in a position of supremacy he would be intolerable."

To such foolish words Antiochus listened, and was so influenced by them that he gave the general who had led so many armies to victory only a subordinate naval command.

I need not tell you of all the battles that were fought in this war, but in the end the King of Syria was defeated. Peace was made, and one of the conditions of the Roman Senate was, that "above all, Hannibal the Carthaginian should be given up."

So once again the great soldier was forced to flee, or fall into the hands of his lifelong enemies.

He reached Crete in 190 B.C., and before long he was at the court of Prusias, King of Bithynia. Here he won a great victory for the king, with whom he had taken service. Unfortunately his victory happened to be over one of the allies of Rome, and she at once demanded that Prusias should deliver the Carthaginian into her hands.

Prusias may have been grateful to Hannibal, but he was too weak to defy Rome, and he promised that the general should be surrendered.

Escape was impossible, for the king had ordered his guards to watch Hannibal's house before he was aware of his doom.

But death was better than to be dragged to Rome, to take part as a prisoner in a triumph. How the Romans would gloat over such a captive! The Carthaginian deter- [242] mined that they should never have such a chance, so he took poison, which he is said to have carried about with him—ever since his fortunes began to fail—concealed in a ring.

Thus, in 183 B.C., at the age of sixty-four, died the great warrior whose name had made Rome tremble for so long.

Twelve years later Antiochus was stirring up strife in Egypt, whereupon the Ptolemies (Ptolemy was the name of the Macedonian Kings of Egypt) asked Rome to protect them from the King of Syria.

So in 168 B.C. Popilius was sent from Rome to remonstrate with Antiochus.

Four miles from Alexandria the Roman met the king. Antiochus hoped to disarm the ambassador by his courtesy, so he greeted him with his royal hand outstretched.

But the Roman did not seem greatly affected by such condescension. He took no notice of the king, save to offer him a tablet, on which the Senate of Rome had engraved an order, forbidding Antiochus to threaten or to attack Egypt.

The king read the tablet, and although he knew that he would be forced to obey the mandate, pride dictated his words to Popilius.

"It is necessary that I should consult my council,"said the king, "before I can send an answer to the Senate."

Then Popilius quietly stooped, and with a staff which he carried he drew a circle in the dust, in which the king stood enclosed.

"Before you step out of the circle I have drawn I must have your answer, O King," said the Roman.

Antiochus seems to have been fascinated by the boldness of Popilius, for without more ado he gave up the struggle.

He was rewarded by being greeted by Popilius with as great ceremony as though he had just arrived, and been granted an audience with the king. He was then politely asked to arrange a time to withdraw his troops to his own dominions.


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