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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor

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HANNIBAL PREPARES TO INVADE ITALY

[176] THE Romans thought it would be an easy matter to send an army to Spain to punish the young general for his daring defiance of the Senate. But as they soon found, it was not so simple as they had deemed.

Hannibal had ambitions beyond the wildest imaginations of the Romans, and before they had sent an army to Spain, he had left the country to invade Italy, for this was his great ambition.

In order to reach Italy, he determined to lead his army across the Alps, a feat that no one without the genius and the daring of the Carthaginian general could have ever hoped to accomplish.

The Gauls, who had so lately been at war with Rome, promised to join Hannibal's forces. When he was assured of the help of the barbarians, Hannibal called his soldiers together and told them his plans.

"The Romans," he said, "have demanded that I and my principal officers should be delivered up to them as malefactors. Soldiers, will you suffer such an indignity? The Gauls are holding out their arms to us, inviting us to come to them and to assist them in revenging their manifold injuries. And the country which we shall invade, so rich in corn and wine and oil, so full of flocks and herds, so covered with flourishing cities, will be the richest prize that could be offered by the gods to reward your valour."

As you know, Hannibal was the idol of his men, and [177] when he had spoken a loyal shout arose. It was plain that his soldiers would follow him to death.

Hannibal thanked his troops for their devotion, told them the day on which they were to march, and then dismissed them.

He himself went to the temple to pray to the gods for the success of his invasion of Italy.

Day and night he brooded over his plans, so that even when he slept his mind was possessed by them.

One night he dreamed that he was in the presence of the gods of Carthage. The deities bade him invade Italy, and one of them, they promised, would be with him as his guide.

In his dream he and his divine leader then set out. "See that thou look not behind thee," said the god. But in spite of this command Hannibal looked back and a terrible dragon, covered with innumerable scales, met his gaze. As the monster moved, it dragged in its path, woods, orchards, houses.

"What is this that I see?" asked Hannibal.

"Thou seest the desolation of Italy," answered his guide. "Go thy way straight forward and cast no look behind."

Thus encouraged by his dream, Hannibal went back to his army more confident than before, and marched into Italy to perform his boyhood's vow.


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