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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

REGULUS IS TAKEN PRISONER

[164] XANTHIPPUS had fought in the wars of Greece, and he was a skilful as well as an experienced soldier.

He had been but a short time in Carthage before he saw that the Punic army had made a mistake in fighting among the hills.

So wisely did he speak to the officers, showing them how they could yet conquer the enemy, that he inspired them with confidence.

Before long he was appointed, by the Senate, commander of the entire Carthaginian army. Under the training of the Spartan, the troops speedily regained their lost courage, and soon they were clamouring to be led against their cruel foe.

Xanthippus, secure in the enthusiasm of his troops, led them to an open plain. Their number was not large, but he could depend on his cavalry, which was four thousand strong. A hundred elephants too, if carefully guided, might well cause havoc among the enemy.

Regulus would perhaps have been glad to avoid a pitched battle. But if the Punic army was now strong enough to stop the raids of his followers, his food supply would soon come to an end. So as a battle was inevitable, the Consul marched to within a mile of the enemy.

When the Carthaginians saw the dreaded Roman legions so near, they were well nigh panic-stricken. But Xanthippus was at hand to allay their fears, and confident in their leader, the men's courage was soon restored.

[165] Then the Spartan gave the signal to advance. At the same moment, the Romans, clasping their spears, rushed to meet the enemy that they had grown used to conquer.

A line of elephants was ranged in front of the Carthaginian army, but the left wing of the Romans slipped past the animals and attacked the Punic infantry.

It was on the point of giving way when Xanthippus, riding quickly up, rallied it. Then flinging himself from his horse, the Spartan fought in the midst of his infantry, as a common soldier.

The Carthaginian cavalry meanwhile had swept the Roman horsemen from the field, and was now charging the legions at the rear.

Then the elephants, already roused to fury by the noise of battle, reached the main body of the Roman army and trampled and crushed the bravest to the ground.

Those who succeeded in escaping from the elephants found themselves in front of the unbroken ranks of the Punic infantry, and were soon cut to pieces.

Only two thousand of the Roman army escaped. Regulus himself fled from the field, followed by about five hundred soldiers, but he was pursued and taken prisoner.

In a short time after this great victory, which was gained in 255 B.C., the Romans lost all that they had formerly gained in Africa.

In Carthage, and throughout the land, joy and gratitude were unbounded. People crowded into the temples with offerings and thanksgiving, for the foe who had used them so cruelly was crushed.

Xanthippus, to whom the glory of the victory belonged, went back to Greece, loaded with gifts from the grateful Carthaginians.

The Consul was kept a prisoner for five years. During these years the war between the Romans and Carthaginians [166] was carried on in Sicily, the Romans in the end making themselves masters of the island.

Then the Carthaginians, disheartened and tired of war, determined to beg for peace.

Ambassadors were sent from Carthage to Rome, and with them went Regulus, having first taken an oath that if he did not prevail on the Senate to grant terms of peace and an exchange of prisoners, he would return to captivity.

When the ambassadors reached the gates of Rome, Regulus refused to enter the city, saying that he was no longer worthy to be counted a citizen. Nor could he be persuaded to see his wife or his children.

As Regulus would not enter Rome, the Senate agreed to meet him without the walls. It believed that he had come to ask that peace should be made with the Carthaginians.

But the Roman had never meant to urge the Senate to make peace. Although he knew that he must go back a prisoner to Carthage if the war was continued, yet he besought the Senate to fight until Africa was subdued, for his pride in his country was greater even than his love of liberty.

And so, the Senate having agreed to carry on the war, Regulus, true to his oath, went back to Carthage, knowing that torture and death awaited him.

The legends say that the Carthaginians were so angry that Regulus had not even tried to make peace, that they did indeed torture him.

So cruel were they that they shut their prisoner up with an elephant, so that at any moment he might be trampled or crushed to death. He was starved, his eyelids were cut off, and he was laid in the scorching sun, where no shade tempered the burning rays. At length the unfortunate Roman was placed in a box, in which he could not move without his body being torn by the nails with which it was studded.

[167] It is also told that when the tale of what Regulus had suffered reached Rome, two noble Carthaginian prisoners were given to his widow and her sons, that they might avenge on these the cruelty done to Regulus.

But these terrible stories of vengeance and torture are now thought by many historians to be untrue.


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