Gateway to the Classics: Old World Hero Stories by Eva March Tappan
Old World Hero Stories by  Eva March Tappan

Hannibal, Who Fought against Rome

"Lay your hand upon the sacrifice," said Ha-mil'car to his nine-year-old son Han'ni-bal, "and swear that you will never be a friend to the Roman people." The little boy laid his hand upon the sacrifice and solemnly repeated the words, "I swear that I will never be a friend to the Roman people." Then he and his father and the soldiers left Carthage and sailed away to Spain.

This Carthage was where the old legends said that Æneas had landed on his way to make a new home for the Trojans in Italy. It had become a wealthy city, and so powerful that Rome feared it as a rival. There had already been one war between the two states, and in this war Hamilcar had distinguished himself as a general. It was now a time of peace; but every one knew that another war would follow, and he was on his way to Spain to get money from the Spanish silver mines. After some years, Hamilcar was slain in battle in Spain, and as soon as his son was old enough, the Carthaginians put him in his father's place as commander.

Hannibal was only twenty-six, but he had some definite ideas about overcoming the Romans. He believed that the proper way to attack them was not to fall upon the towns here and there along the coast, but to come down into Italy from the north and so push into the very heart of the country. This was a most excellent plan; the only difficulty was how to carry it out, for rivers and mountains and long stretches of wild and savage country lay between Spain and Italy. Nevertheless, he set out with good courage. He marched through Spain, crossed the Pyr'e-nees, and made his way to the banks of the Rhone. Most of the tribes in that part of the country were at swords' points with the Romans, and had not the least objection to allowing him to pass through their lands. When he came to the Rhone, however, he found that the tribes on the farther bank were ready to fight, though those about him were friendly. He hired all the boats that belonged to these friendly folk and cut down trees to make others. The night before he meant to cross, he sent part of his troops twenty-two miles up the stream. They cut down trees and built some rude rafts, and by means of these made their way to the opposite shore. Hannibal and his men got into the boats all ready to start. The hostile Gauls were waiting for them, brandishing their weapons and shouting their war cries. But away beyond them Hannibal saw a thin line of smoke slowly rising. This was the signal. He pushed across the river, and the horses swam after him, some of the soldiers holding their bridles. The forces that had gone upstream now appeared. The Gauls were shut in between the two bodies of troops; and they ran for their lives.


Hannibal Crossing the Rhone.

The elephants were still on the other side, and elephants are not fond of crossing rivers in small boats. Hannibal tried his best to make them think that they were on dry land by covering great rafts with earth. The elephants were too wise to be cheated in this fashion, and when the rafts began to move, some of them jumped overboard. Fortunately, they made their way to the farther shore, and before long the army was again on the march.

The next difficulty was to cross the Alps. The mountaineers came to meet Hannibal with wreaths on their heads and branches of trees in their hands and gave him a most friendly greeting. They would sell him cattle, they said, if he wished, and they would show him the best paths over the mountains. He felt a little suspicious of them, but they seemed so sincere that at length he accepted some of them as guides. But they led him and his men into a narrow defile; then from the heights above they rolled down great stones and masses of rock. Hannibal with some of his infantry climbed the cliff and drove the crafty mountaineers back, while the cavalry and the baggage-carriers made their way out of the defile.


Hannibal Crossing the Alps.

Up, up, the weary soldiers struggled until they were on the summit of the Alps. They were cold and exhausted and many had died; but Hannibal pointed to a valley below them and cried, "Italy! There is Italy, and yonder lies the way to Rome." After a little rest, they began the descent. It was wet and slippery. The track was often covered with snow. In one place an avalanche had swept it away entirely for three hundred yards, and they had to stop and build a road; and a road wide enough and strong enough to satisfy the elephants was not to be made in a day. At last the Alps had been crossed, but half of the men were dead. The others were worn out with cold and hunger and toil. And this was the army that had come to conquer the most powerful nation in the world!

The Romans sent out their forces to meet Hannibal, but he overcame them in three great contests. For many years they had been accustomed to victories, and they were almost thunderstruck at these defeats. Of course they appointed a dictator, Quin'tus Fa'bi-us Max'i-mus. He did not dare to engage in an open battle, for if he had lost, this conquering army would have marched straight upon Rome; but he kept as near Hannibal as possible; and if any Carthaginian troops were separated from the main army, they seldom returned, for Fabius was always ready to cut them off. He harassed Hannibal in every way that he could. "Fabius is a traitor," the Romans cried angrily. They clamored for a battle, and they called him scornfully the "Cunc-ta'tor," the delayer. Later, they saw how wise he had been, and "Cunctator" became a title of honor.

The following year Hannibal overcame the Romans at Can'næ and sent home to Carthage a peck of gold rings from the fingers of the conquered soldiers. The Romans were in terror lest he should enter their city. For some reason he did not attempt it, but spent the winter in Capua. The soldiers rested and feasted and drank and enjoyed themselves. This was no way to strengthen an army; and in the spring, he was no longer a victorious commander, but a commander in difficulties. It was true that the Romans were not strong enough to drive him out of the country; but neither was he strong enough to conquer Rome. Carthage was not generous in sending money; troops coming to aid him were captured by his enemies; and a young Roman general named Scip'i-o succeeded in driving the Carthaginians out of Spain and inducing the Spaniards to stand by Rome.

This young Scipio was a shrewd man. He made up his mind that the best way to get Hannibal out of Italy was to attack the Carthaginians in their own country. He felt sure that then they would order all their troops home to defend Carthage. The senate did not agree with him, and the wary Cunctator did not agree; but Scipio had become consul, and no one could well hinder him from carrying out his plans, especially as the common people believed in him and promptly volunteered to fill up his lines. It resulted just as he had hoped. He overcame the Carthaginian army in Africa, and Hannibal was called home. There was a terrible battle between the two armies at Za'ma, and the forces of Hannibal were destroyed. Then the Romans saw how wise Scipio had been, and they gave him the title of Af-ri-can'us in honor of his victories in Africa. When he came home, he had a more magnificent triumph than had ever been seen in Rome before. Carthage was crushed. She had to give up her elephants and warships, to pay Rome an immense tribute, and agree to wage no wars without the consent of her conqueror.

This was the end of the second war between Carthage and Rome, but it was not the end of Hannibal's career. He became chief magistrate of his city. He found that some of its officials were taking possession of the state revenues. He put a stop to this and managed so wisely that even the enormous annual tribute could be paid to Rome without taxing the citizens severely. He showed himself as great a statesman as soldier, and in spite of all her troubles, Carthage became prosperous again. Rome in her jealousy demanded that Hannibal should be given up; but he fled to Syria. It is said that he and Scipio Africanus met in Asia Minor and had many friendly talks together. The story is told that Scipio once asked Hannibal whom he regarded as the greatest general. Hannibal replied, "Alexander." "Whom next?" asked Scipio. "Pyr'rhus," was the reply. "And whom next?" "Myself." "Where, then, would you have ranked yourself if you had conquered me?" "Above Alexander, above Pyrrhus, and above all other generals," said the Carthaginian.


Carthagian Women
(Preparing for the Romans.)

Hannibal fled from one king to another; but wherever he went, the Romans pursued. He had long realized that he could not hope to escape from them, and in a ring which he wore he always carried about with him a fatal poison. The time soon came when he must choose between falling into the hands of the Romans and taking his own life. He chose the latter. Thus ended the days of one of the greatest generals of ancient times.

The rest of the story of Carthage is soon told. She had been forbidden to wage war, but enemies attacked her. As was to have been expected, the Romans would do nothing, and she defended herself. This was just the excuse that the Romans wanted, and they commanded the Carthaginians to destroy their own city and make a new settlement ten miles from the sea. The Carthaginians fought to the death. For three long years they resisted all the power of Rome; then the end came. The town was burned, its site was ploughed up, and all of its people who had not died in its defense were sold as slaves.

A few years later, there was a revolt in Spain. This was overcome, and in 133 b.c. Rome ruled the ring of countries about the Mediterranean Sea. These made up "the world." Therefore the tiny village of Romulus and Remus had become the ruler of the world.


Hannibal's oath. — He sets out for Rome. — Crossing the Rhone. — The passage of the Alps. — The descent. — The "Cunctator." — The Roman defeat at Cannæ. — Hannibal's winter in Capua. — Scipio goes to Africa. — The surrender of Carthage. — Carthage becomes prosperous again. — The talk between Hannibal and Scipio Africanus. — The flight and death of Hannibal. — The destruction of Carthage.

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