|The Story of Mankind|
|by Hendrik Willem Van Loon|
|Relates the story of western civilization from earliest times through the beginning of the twentieth century, with special emphasis on the people and events that changed the course of history. Portrays in vivid prose the achievements of mankind in the areas of art and discovery, as well as the political forces leading to the modern nation-states. Richly illustrated with drawings by the author. Winner of the first Newbery Award in 1922, The Story of Mankind has introduced generations of children to the pageant of world history. Ages 10-14 |
ROME AND CARTHAGE
THE SEMITIC COLONY OF CARTHAGE ON THE NORTHERN COAST OF AFRICA AND THE INDO-EUROPEAN CITY OF ROME ON THE WEST COAST OF ITALY FOUGHT EACH OTHER FOR THE POSSESSION OF THE WESTERN MEDITERRANEAN AND CARTHAGE WAS DESTROYED
 THE little Phoenician trading post of Kart-hadshat stood
on a low hill which overlooked the African Sea, a stretch of
water ninety miles wide which separates Africa from Europe.
It was an ideal spot for a commercial centre. Almost too ideal.
It grew too fast and became too rich. When in the sixth century
before our era, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed
Tyre, Carthage broke off all further relations with the Mother
Country and became an independent state—the great western
advance-post of the Semitic races.
Unfortunately the city had inherited many of the traits
which for a thousand years had been characteristic of the
Phoenicians. It was a vast business-house, protected by a
strong navy, indifferent to most of the finer aspects of life.
The city and the surrounding country and the distant colonies
were all ruled by a small but exceedingly powerful group of
rich men. The Greek word for rich is "ploutos" and the Greeks
 called such a government by "rich men" a "Plutocracy." Carthage
was a plutocracy and the real power of the state lay in
the hands of a dozen big ship-owners and mine-owners and
merchants who met in the back room of an office and regarded
their common Fatherland as a business enterprise which ought
to yield them a decent profit. They were however wide awake
and full of energy and worked very hard.
As the years went by the influence of Carthage upon her
neighbours increased until the greater part of the African
coast, Spain and certain regions of France were Carthaginian
possessions, and paid tribute, taxes and dividends to the mighty
city on the African Sea.
Of course, such a "plutocracy" was forever at the mercy of
 the crowd. As long as there was plenty of work and wages
were high, the majority of the citizens were quite contented,
allowed their "betters" to rule them and asked no embarrassing
questions. But when no ships left the harbor, when no ore
was brought to the smelting-ovens, when dockworkers and
stevedores were thrown out of employment, then there were
grumblings and there was a demand that the popular assembly
be called together as in the olden days when Carthage had
been a self-governing republic.
To prevent such an occurrence the plutocracy was obliged
to keep the business of the town going at full speed. They
had managed to do this very successfully for almost five
hun-  dred years when they were greatly disturbed by certain rumors
which reached them from the western coast of Italy. It was
said that a little village on the banks of the Tiber had suddenly
risen to great power and was making itself the acknowledged
leader of all the Latin tribes who inhabited central Italy.
It was also said that this village, which by the way was called
Rome, intended to build ships and go after the commerce of
Sicily and the southern coast of France.
Carthage could not possibly tolerate such competition. The
young rival must be destroyed lest the Carthaginian rulers
lose their prestige as the absolute rulers of the western
Mediterranean. The rumors were duly investigated and in a
general way these were the facts that came to light.
The west coast of Italy had long been neglected by civilisation.
Whereas in Greece all the good harbours faced eastward
and enjoyed a full view of the busy islands of the AEgean,
the west coast of Italy contemplated nothing more exciting
than the desolate waves of the Mediterranean. The country
was poor. It was therefore rarely visited by foreign merchants
and the natives were allowed to live in undisturbed possession
of their hills and their marshy plains.
The first serious invasion of this land came from the north.
At an unknown date certain Indo-European tribes had managed
to find their way through the passes of the Alps and had
pushed southward until they had filled the heel and the toe of
the famous Italian boot with their villages and their flocks.
Of these early conquerors we know nothing. No Homer sang
their glory. Their own accounts of the foundation of Rome
(written eight hundred years later when the little city had become
the centre of an Empire) are fairy stories and do not belong
in a history. Romulus and Remus jumping across each
other's walls (I always forget who jumped across whose wall)
make entertaining reading, but the foundation of the City of
Rome was a much more prosaic affair. Rome began as a thousand
American cities have done, by being a convenient place
for barter and horse-trading. It lay in the heart of the plains
 of central Italy. The Tiber provided direct access to the sea.
The land-road from north to south found here a convenient
ford which could be used all the year around. And seven little
hills along the banks of the river offered the inhabitants a safe
shelter against their enemies who lived in the mountains and
those who lived beyond the horizon of the nearby sea.
HOW THE CITY OF ROME HAPPENED
The mountaineers were called the Sabines. They were a
rough crowd with an unholy desire for easy plunder. But they
were very backward. They used stone axes and wooden
shields and were no match for the Romans with their steel
swords. The sea-people on the other hand were dangerous
foes. They were called the Etruscans and they were (and
still are) one of the great mysteries of history. Nobody knew
(or knows) whence they came; who they were; what had driven
them away from their original homes. We have found the remains
of their cities and their cemeteries and their waterworks
all along the Italian coast. We are familiar with their inscriptions.
But as no one has ever been able to decipher the Etruscan
alphabet, these written messages are, so far, merely annoying
and not at all useful.
Our best guess is that the Etruscans came originally from
Asia Minor and that a great war or a pestilence in that country
had forced them to go away and seek a new home elsewhere.
Whatever the reason for their coming, the Etruscans played a
great role in history. They carried the pollen of the ancient
civilisation from the east to the west and they taught the
Romans who, as we know, came from the north, the first principles
of architecture and street-building and fighting and art
and cookery and medicine and astronomy.
But just as the Greeks had not loved their AEgean teachers,
in this same way did the Romans hate their Etruscan masters.
They got rid of them as soon as they could and the opportunity
offered itself when Greek merchants discovered the
commercial possibilities of Italy and when the first Greek
vessels reached Rome. The Greeks came to trade, but they
stayed to instruct. They found the tribes who inhabited the
 Roman country-side (and who were called the Latins) quite
willing to learn such things as might be of practical use. At
once they understood the great benefit that could be derived
from a written alphabet and they copied that of the Greeks.
They also understood the commercial advantages of a well-
regulated system of coins and measures and weights. Eventually
the Romans swallowed Greek civilisation hook, line and
They even welcomed the Gods of the Greeks to their
country. Zeus was taken to Rome where he became known as
Jupiter and the other divinities followed him. The Roman Gods
however never were quite like their cheerful cousins who had
accompanied the Greeks on their road through life and through
history. The Roman Gods were State Functionaries. Each
one managed his own department with great prudence and a
deep sense of justice, but in turn he was exact in demanding the
obedience of his worshippers. This obedience the Romans rendered
with scrupulous care. But they never established the
cordial personal relations and that charming friendship which
had existed between the old Hellenes and the mighty residents
of the high Olympian peak.
The Romans did not imitate the Greek form of government,
but being of the same Indo-European stock as the people
of Hellas, the early history of Rome resembles that of
Athens and the other Greek cities. They did not find it difficult
to get rid of their kings, the descendants of the ancient
tribal chieftains. But once the kings had been driven from
the city, the Romans were forced to bridle the power of the
nobles, and it took many centuries before they managed to
establish a system which gave every free citizen of Rome a
chance to take a personal interest in the affairs of his town.
Thereafter the Romans enjoyed one great advantage over
the Greeks. They managed the affairs of their country without
making too many speeches. They were less imaginative
than the Greeks and they preferred an ounce of action to a
pound of words. They understood the tendency of the
multi-  tude (the "plebe," as the assemblage of free citizens was called)
only too well to waste valuable time upon mere talk. They
therefore placed the actual business of running the city into
the hands of two "consuls" who were assisted by a council of
Elders, called the Senate (because the word "senex" means an
old man). As a matter of custom and practical advantage the
senators were elected from the nobility. But their power had
been strictly defined.
Rome at one time had passed through the same sort of
struggle between the poor and the rich which had forced
Athens to adopt the laws of Draco and Solon. In Rome this
conflict had occurred in the fifth century B. C. As a result the
freemen had obtained a written code of laws which protected
them against the despotism of the aristocratic judges by the
institution of the "Tribune." These Tribunes were
city-magistrates, elected by the freemen. They had the right to protect
any citizen against those actions of the government officials
which were thought to be unjust. A consul had the right to
condemn a man to death, but if the case had not been absolutely
proved the Tribune could interfere and save the poor
But when I use the word Rome, I seem to refer to a little
city of a few thousand inhabitants. And the real strength of
Rome lay in the country districts outside her walls. And it
was in the government of these outlying provinces that Rome
at an early age showed her wonderful gift as a colonising
In very early times Rome had been the only strongly fortified
city in central Italy, but it had always offered a hospitable
refuge to other Latin tribes who happened to be in danger of
attack. The Latin neighbours had recognised the advantages
of a close union with such a powerful friend and they had tried
to find a basis for some sort of defensive and offensive alliance.
Other nations, Egyptians, Babylonians, Phoenicians,
even Greeks, would have insisted upon a treaty of submission
on the part of the "barbarians." The Romans did nothing of
 the sort. They gave the "outsider" a chance to become partners
in a common "res publica"—or common-wealth.
"You want to join us," they said. "Very well, go ahead
and join. We shall treat you as if you were full-fledged citizens
of Rome. In return for this privilege we expect you to
fight for our city, the mother of us all, whenever it shall be
The "outsider" appreciated this generosity and he showed
his gratitude by his unswerving loyalty.
Whenever a Greek city had been attacked, the foreign
residents had moved out as quickly as they could. Why defend
something which meant nothing to them but a temporary
boarding house in which they were tolerated as long as they
paid their bills? But when the enemy was before the gates
of Rome, all the Latins rushed to her defence. It was their
Mother who was in danger. It was their true "home" even if
they lived a hundred miles away and had never seen the walls
of the sacred Hills.
No defeat and no disaster could change this sentiment. In
the beginning of the fourth century B.C. the wild Gauls forced
their way into Italy. They had defeated the Roman army near
the River Allia and had marched upon the city. They had
taken Rome and then they expected that the people would
come and sue for peace. They waited, but nothing happened.
After a short time the Gauls found themselves surrounded by
a hostile population which made it impossible for them to obtain
supplies. After seven months, hunger forced them to withdraw.
The policy of Rome to treat the "foreigner" on equal
terms had proved a great success and Rome stood stronger than
This short account of the early history of Rome shows you
the enormous difference between the Roman ideal of a healthy
state, and that of the ancient world which was embodied in the
town of Carthage. The Romans counted upon the cheerful
and hearty co-operation between a number of "equal citizens."
The Carthaginians, following the example of Egypt
 and western Asia, insisted upon the unreasoning (and therefore
unwilling) obedience of "Subjects" and when these failed
they hired professional soldiers to do their fighting for them.
You will now understand why Carthage was bound to fear
such a clever and powerful enemy and why the plutocracy of
Carthage was only too willing to pick a quarrel that they might
destroy the dangerous rival before it was too late.
But the Carthaginians, being good business men, knew that
it never pays to rush matters. They proposed to the Romans
that their respective cities draw two circles on the map and
that each town claim one of these circles as her own "sphere
of influence" and promise to keep out of the other fellow's
circle. The agreement was promptly made and was broken just
as promptly when both sides thought it wise to send their
armies to Sicily where a rich soil and a bad government invited
SPHERES OF INFLUENCE
The war which followed (the so-called first Punic War)
lasted twenty-four years. It was fought out on the high seas
and in the beginning it seemed that the experienced
Car-  thaginian navy would defeat the newly created Roman fleet.
Following their ancient tactics, the Carthaginian ships would
either ram the enemy vessels or by a bold attack from the side
they would break their oars and would then kill the sailors of
the helpless vessel with their arrows and with fire balls. But
Roman engineers invented a new craft which carried a boarding
bridge across which the Roman infantrymen stormed the
hostile ship. Then there was a sudden end to Carthaginian
victories. At the battle of Mylae their fleet was badly defeated.
Carthage was obliged to sue for peace, and Sicily became part
of the Roman domains.
A FAST ROMAN WARSHIP
Twenty-three years later new trouble arose. Rome (in
quest of copper) had taken the island of Sardinia. Carthage
(in quest of silver) thereupon occupied all of southern Spain.
This made Carthage a direct neighbour of the Romans. The
latter did not like this at all and they ordered their troops to
cross the Pyrenees and watch the Carthaginian army of occupation.
The stage was set for the second outbreak between the two
rivals. Once more a Greek colony was the pretext for a war.
The Carthaginians were besieging Saguntum on the east coast
of Spain. The Saguntians appealed to Rome and Rome, as
usual, was willing to help. The Senate promised the help of
the Latin armies, but the preparation for this expedition took
some time, and meanwhile Saguntum had been taken and had
been destroyed. This had been done in direct opposition to
the will of Rome. The Senate decided upon war. One Roman
army was to cross the African sea and make a landing on Carthaginian
soil. A second division was to keep the Carthaginian
armies occupied in Spain to prevent them from rushing to the
aid of the home town. It was an excellent plan and everybody
expected a great victory. But the Gods had decided
It was the fall of the year 218 before the birth of Christ
and the Roman army which was to attack the Carthaginians in
Spain had left Italy. People were eagerly waiting for news of
 an easy and complete victory when a terrible rumour began to
spread through the plain of the Po. Wild mountaineers, their
lips trembling with fear, told of hundreds of thousands of
brown men accompanied by strange beasts "each one as big as
a house," who had suddenly emerged from the clouds of snow
which surrounded the old Graian pass through which Hercules,
thousands of years before, had driven the oxen of Geryon on
his way from Spain to Greece. Soon an endless stream of
bedraggled refugees appeared before the gates of Rome, with
more complete details. Hannibal, the son of Hamilcar, with
fifty thousand soldiers, nine thousand horsemen and thirty-
seven fighting elephants, had crossed the Pyrenees. He had
defeated the Roman army of Scipio on the banks of the Rhone
and he had guided his army safely across the mountain passes
of the Alps although it was October and the roads were thickly
covered with snow and ice. Then he had joined forces with
the Gauls and together they had defeated a second Roman
army just before they crossed the Trebia and laid siege to
Placentia, the northern terminus of the road which connected
Rome with the province of the Alpine districts.
HANNIBAL CROSSES THE ALPS
The Senate, surprised but calm and energetic as usual,
hushed up the news of these many defeats and sent two fresh
armies to stop the invader. Hannibal managed to surprise
these troops on a narrow road along the shores of the Trasimene
Lake and there he killed all the Roman officers and most
of their men. This time there was a panic among the people
of Rome, but the Senate kept its nerve. A third army was
organised and the command was given to Quintus Fabius Maximus
with full power to act "as was necessary to save the state."
Fabius knew that he must be very careful lest all be lost.
His raw and untrained men, the last available soldiers, were
no match for Hannibal's veterans. He refused to accept battle
but forever he followed Hannibal, destroyed everything eatable,
destroyed the roads, attacked small detachments and generally
weakened the morale of the Carthaginian troops by a
most distressing and annoying form of guerilla warfare.
 Such methods however did not satisfy the fearsome crowds
who had found safety behind the walls of Rome. They wanted
"action." Something must be done and must be done quickly.
A popular hero by the name of Varro, the sort of man who
went about the city telling everybody how much better he could
do things than slow old Fabius, the "Delayer," was made
commander-in-chief by popular acclamation. At the battle of
Cannae (216) he suffered the most terrible defeat of Roman
history. More than seventy thousand men were killed. Hannibal
was master of all Italy.
He marched from one end of the peninsula to the other,
proclaiming himself the "deliverer from the yoke of Rome"
and asking the different provinces to join him in warfare upon
the mother city. Then once more the wisdom of Rome bore
noble fruit. With the exceptions of Capua and Syracuse, all
Roman cities remained loyal. Hannibal, the deliverer,
found himself opposed by the people whose friend he pretended
to be. He was far away from home and did not like
the situation. He sent messengers to Carthage to ask for fresh
supplies and new men. Alas, Carthage could not send him
The Romans with their boarding-bridges, were the masters
of the sea. Hannibal must help himself as best he could.
He continued to defeat the Roman armies that were sent out
against him, but his own numbers were decreasing rapidly and
the Italian peasants held aloof from this self-appointed
After many years of uninterrupted victories, Hannibal
found himself besieged in the country which he had just
conquered. For a moment, the luck seemed to turn. Hasdrubal,
his brother, had defeated the Roman armies in Spain. He had
crossed the Alps to come to Hannibal's assistance. He sent
messengers to the south to tell of his arrival and ask the other
army to meet him in the plain of the Tiber. Unfortunately the
messengers fell into the hands of the Romans and Hannibal
waited in vain for further news until his brother's head, neatly
 packed in a basket, came rolling into his camp and told him
of the fate of the last of the Carthaginian troops.
With Hasdrubal out of the way, young Publius Scipio
easily reconquered Spain and four years later the Romans
were ready for a final attack upon Carthage. Hannibal was
called back. He crossed the African Sea and tried to organise
the defences of his home-city. In the year 202 at the battle
of Zama, the Carthaginians were defeated. Hannibal fled to
Tyre. From there he went to Asia Minor to stir up the Syrians
and the Macedonians against Rome. He accomplished very
little but his activities among these Asiatic powers gave the
Romans an excuse to carry their warfare into the territory of
the east and annex the greater part of the AEgean world.
HANNIBAL AND THE C.E.F.
Driven from one city to another, a fugitive without a home,
Hannibal at last knew that the end of his ambitious dream had
come. His beloved city of Carthage had been ruined by the
war. She had been forced to sign a terrible peace. Her navy
had been sunk. She had been forbidden to make war without
Roman permission. She had been condemned to pay the Romans
millions of dollars for endless years to come. Life offered
no hope of a better future. In the year 190 B.C. Hannibal took
poison and killed himself.
THE DEATH OF HANNIBAL
Forty years later, the Romans forced their last war upon
Carthage. Three long years the inhabitants of the old Phoenician
colony held out against the power of the new republic.
Hunger forced them to surrender. The few men and women
who had survived the siege were sold as slaves. The city was
set on fire. For two whole weeks the store-houses and the
pal-  aces and the great arsenal burned. Then a terrible curse was
pronounced upon the blackened ruins and the Roman legions
returned to Italy to enjoy their victory.
For the next thousand years, the Mediterranean remained
a European sea. But as soon as the Roman Empire had been
destroyed, Asia made another attempt to dominate this great
inland sea, as you will learn when I tell you about Mohammed.
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