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Mary Macgregor

The Roman Legions in Africa

The Roman soldiers did not wish to sail to a strange land. Their dislike to the voyage grew as they listened to bewildering tales of these unknown regions.

So they began to grumble, saying that the heat would overpower them, that they would be lost in the great forests of which they had been told, and that huge and poisonous serpents would certainly strangle them. Even one of the tribunes was disloyal, and encouraged the soldiers to complain.

But Regulus paid no heed to the distress of the soldiers, and the fleet sailed on, until it reached the coast of Africa.

The soldiers disembarked, and in a short time they found how foolish had been their fears. Instead of being lost in dark and fearful forests, they found themselves in a country that was beautiful and glad as a garden.

Figs, larger than the Romans had ever seen, grew in abundance; harvests, more plentiful than they had deemed possible, waved golden in the fields. Houses, surrounded by vineyards, oliveyards and rich pasture land, roused the envy as well as the delight of the soldiers.

Over this beautiful country the Roman army was soon scattered to plunder and to destroy. Houses were burned, fields were trampled down, cattle was stolen, and it is said that 20,000 persons, many of whom had lived in comfort all their lives, were now captured and sold as slaves.

And while their land was destroyed and their people were taken prisoners, the Punic army kept to the hills, and left the enemy unmolested.

Then the Romans, knowing that on such steep ground neither cavalry nor elephants would be of much use to the enemy, attacked the Carthaginian army and defeated it.

After this victory, Manilus, with one army, was recalled to Rome.

Regulus continued to ravage the country unchecked, for the Carthaginians, after their defeat, were unable to hinder his onslaughts. The Consul indeed is said to have boasted that he had taken and plundered more than three hundred walled villages.

To add to the misery of the people, the wild tribes of the desert also began to attack the defenceless village folk, and to rob their homesteads.

Then, from far and near, the wretched inhabitants flocked into Carthage for shelter and protection, until the city was so full that there was scarcely enough bread to feed the hungry multitude.

The Senate of Carthage sent, in despair, to Regulus, to beg for peace.

But the Consul received the ambassadors with scant courtesy, while the terms he offered were intolerable.

Among other things, he demanded that the Carthaginians should make neither alliance nor war, unless by the permission of Rome, that they should never send more than one ship of war to sea for their own ends, while if Rome demanded help they must be ready to provide her with a fleet of fifty vessels. The Consul also said that they must agree to pay, not only the expenses of the war that was going on, but a yearly tribute to Rome as well.

When the ambassadors protested that it would be impossible for Carthage to accept such degrading terms, Regulus drove them from his camp, rudely saying, "Men who are good for anything, should either conquer or submit to their betters."

The Senate, with one voice, agreed that the terms offered by the Consul deserved no consideration.

It was plain that Regulus would not help them, and so the people, in their despair, turned to their gods. Lest the city of Carthage itself should fall into the hands of the enemy, they must be appeased with sacrifices.

In the temple, one of the gods stood with arms outstretched, while at his feet a furnace flamed. Into the cold and lifeless arms little children of noble rank were laid. But the god was unable to hold the treasures given into his keeping, and they rolled out of his arms and fell into the furnace below. By such terrible sacrifices the Carthaginians strove to appease their gods.

After the sacrifices had been offered the Senate determined to send for hired soldiers to Greece, that the army might be strengthened. Among those who came to fight for the Carthaginians was a Spartan officer, named Xanthippus.

As he belonged to Sparta, Xanthippus, like all the youths of his land, had been trained from the age of seven to endure hardships, and to suffer pain without a murmur.