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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor

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HANNIBAL LEAVES ITALY

[226] CARTHAGE might now have despaired, had not Hannibal been alive. His name, she knew well, could still inspire the Roman legions with terror, his presence would, she believed, ensure their defeat. So messengers were sent to Italy to bid him hasten to Carthage.

The great general left Italy sorrowfully, for the hopes with which he had entered her had not been fulfilled.

In spite of all the great victories he had won, Italy had slipped from his grasp. Perhaps it was true, as Maharbal had said, "Hannibal knows how to win victories, but not how to use them."

But if Hannibal left the country reluctantly, the people rejoiced at his departure. They could never feel secure while he was in their land. His name, indeed, still made the Romans tremble.

Before the great general left, he ordered bronze tablets to be made, and on these he ordered to be engraved the battles he had fought in Italy, as well as a full account of the war. These records were written both in the Greek and the Punic language.

A famous historian, who was a boy when Hannibal was fighting in Italy, saw these tablets when he grew to be a man, and so he was able to write a true account of the second Punic war.

But all the history that Polybius wrote was not carefully preserved. So that after the battle of Cannæ we have no records save those given to us by Roman historians. And [227] what they, in their pride, wrote, was not, many people think, the same as Hannibal recorded on his bronze tablets.

After the capture of King Syphax, a short truce had been arranged between the two powers, while an embassy went from Carthage to Rome to try to obtain peace.

But the truce was broken by the Carthaginians, and for this the Romans made them suffer heavily.

Some ships, laden with provisions for the Roman army, were on their way from Sardinia to join Scipio's fleet, when a storm blew them on to an island in the Bay of Carthage. The Carthaginians seized some of the ships, being unable to resist the temptation to get food, of which they had had but little for some time.

Scipio was indignant at this breach of the truce, and he at once sent to Carthage to demand that the booty should be restored.

But there were some in Carthage who wished the war with Rome to go on, and they were more powerful than those who longed for peace. So the war party arranged that the Roman ambassadors should be sent back by ship to Scipio, with a safe conduct, indeed, but without an answer to his demands.

They were taken safe to within sight of their own ships, then their escort withdrew, while the admiral of the Punic fleet, having been secretly instructed, at once tried to take the ambassadors prisoners.

Two of the crew were injured, some were even killed, while the ambassadors escaped with difficulty.

After so evident an insult to the messengers of Rome, Scipio at once prepared to carry on the war.

By the autumn of 203 B.C. Hannibal was in Carthage, and the people, full of confidence in their great general, were eager that he should at once take the field.

But Hannibal roughly bade the citizens "attend to their own affairs, and leave him to choose his own time of fighting."

He then begged for an interview with Scipio, and tried [227] to arrange terms of peace. But the Consul refused to have anything to do with such terms, saying that the truce had been broken, his envoys insulted, and the Carthaginians must suffer the consequences of such deeds.

Scipio was indeed impatient to fight, that the war might the sooner come to an end.

It was already the month of October, 202 B.C., and although the people of Rome had decreed that Scipio should still continue in Africa, the Senate was anxious that one of the new Consuls should be sent to join him, and share his power.

Claudius, the hero of Metaurus, was one of the new Consuls, and he was ordered to cross to Africa with a fleet of fifty quinqueremes.

Scipio resented this, for if the war with Carthage ended successfully after Claudius reached Africa, it was he, as Consul, who would enjoy the triumph at Rome.

Now the invasion of Africa had been Scipio's own scheme, and he wished to have the glory of its success himself alone. So before the end of October he hastened to lead his army to battle in the neighbourhood of Zama.


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