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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

THE HATRED OF CATO FOR CARTHAGE

[243] WHEN Scipio sailed with his fleet from Lilybæum, Cato was on board one of the ships, as quæstor, under Lælius.

It may be that his hatred of Carthage began at this time. But in any case, in years to come his dislike to the city was bitter, and it grew to be his one desire that it should be destroyed.

Cato had served his country as prætor in Sardinia, and when he was Consul Spain was his province. Wherever he went he was known as a just and honest Roman, who had a contempt for luxury, and himself lived frugally.

In 184 B.C. he was appointed Censor, and in that position he came to be dreaded, so severe was he in his judgments. His speech, too, was often bitter, and stung his hearers into indignation.

Scipio, the Censor disliked. For he encouraged Greek culture, and by his advice many Roman youths were taught by Greek tutors, and for this new learning Cato had little care.

He loved the quiet, old-fashioned ways in which his countrymen had been used to live. Cincinnatus was his ideal of a Roman citizen, and he would fain have the nobles still live on their farms, plough their lands, and leave them only when the State demanded their service. The service rendered, Cato would have liked to see them hasten back to their homes, to plough, to sow, to reap.

This was the man who, often as he spoke in the Senate, never failed to refer to Carthage before he ended. "Every speech which I shall make in this house," he sternly [244] announced, "shall finish with these words, 'Carthage must be destroyed.' "

One day as he spoke in the Senate he plucked some fresh figs from the folds of his toga. Holding them out that all might see, he said: "This fruit has been brought from Carthage. It grows but three days' sail from Rome. I say that it is not well to have so prosperous and so strong a city near to us. Carthage must be destroyed." The reiteration of these words had its effect.

But a reason for proclaiming war on the Carthaginians was necessary before Rome could send her armies to destroy their city. In 149 B.C. she found the pretext she wished.

By the treaty made after the battle of Zama the Carthaginians had been bound not to take up arms against any ally of Rome. Yet Masinissa was left to harass them as he pleased, and he proved as troublesome a neighbour as the Carthaginians had foreseen.

For half a century Carthage was true to her bond and raised no army even for her own defence.

In spite of Masinissa's raids upon her territory, the city had again become rich and populous. So it was now a simple matter to form an army and send it against their troublesome and greedy neighbour. Their army was led by a general named Hasdrubal. Rome knew all that was going on in Carthage, but for the time she did not interfere. She was watching for the time when the city would be worn out by her struggle with Masinissa.

In 151 B.C. the army of Carthage took the field against her foe, and a great battle was fought. It lasted for the whole of one day, yet neither side gained a decisive victory.

Masinissa, although now an old man of about ninety years of age, was still a clever general. Soon after the battle he succeeded in enticing the enemy into a tract of desert country.

Here he surrounded it with his troops, who watched so [245] closely, that it was impossible for a soldier to go out to search for succour or for provisions. Hunger and sickness soon compelled the Carthaginians to surrender at discretion.

Hasdrubal and those of his men who had not perished were allowed to return to Carthage, Masinissa promising that they should go in safety.

But he did not scruple to break faith with the soldiers, who were weak for want of food and unarmed, after having passed beneath the yoke. His son Gulussa was allowed to surprise the miserable men as they crept along toward Carthage, and scarcely one escaped to tell what had befallen.

Masinissa was triumphant, for now he believed that he had gained all Africa for himself. The Carthaginians would certainly not be able to dispute his sway. He would join Numidia and Carthage, and become a great king.

But, although he might well have known better, he forgot to wonder what the Romans would have to say to his plans. He was soon to learn.

Rome sent a peremptory order to her former ally, just when he was at the zenith of his happiness. Carthage was not to be joined to Numidia; she was to be left alone, for the Senate itself would now see that she was destroyed.


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