Gateway to the Classics: Hannibal by Jacob Abbott
Hannibal by  Jacob Abbott

Hannibal a Fugitive and an Exile

H ANNIBAL'S life was like an April day. Its brightest glory was in the morning. The setting of his sun was darkened by clouds and showers. Although for fifteen years the Roman people could find no general capable of maintaining the field against him, Scipio conquered him at last, and all his brilliant conquests ended, as Hanno had predicted, only in placing his country in a far worse condition than before.

In fact, as long as the Carthaginians confined their energies to useful industry, and to the pursuits of commerce and peace, they were prosperous, and they increased in wealth, and influence, and honor every year. Their ships went every where, and were every where welcome. All the shores of the Mediterranean were visited by their merchants, and the comforts and the happiness of many nations and tribes were promoted by the very means which they took to swell their own riches and fame. All might have gone on so for centuries longer, had not military heroes arisen with appetites for a more piquant sort of glory. Hannibal's father was one of the foremost of these. He began by conquests in Spain and encroachments on the Roman jurisdiction. He inculcated the same feelings of ambition and hate in Hannibal's mind which burned in his own. For many years, the policy which they led their countrymen to pursue was successful. From being useful and welcome visitors to all the world, they became the masters and the curse of a part of it. So long as Hannibal remained superior to any Roman general that could be brought against him, he went on conquering. But at last Scipio arose, a greater than Hannibal. The tide was then turned, and all the vast conquests of half a century were wrested away by the same violence, bloodshed, and misery with which they had been acquired.

We have described the exploits of Hannibal, in making these conquests, in detail, while those of Scipio, in wresting them away, have been passed over very briefly, as this is intended as a history of Hannibal, and not of Scipio. Still, Scipio's conquests were made by slow degrees, and they consumed a long period of time. He was but about eighteen years of age at the battle of Cannæ, soon after which his campaigns began, and he was thirty when he was made consul, just before his going into Africa. He was thus fifteen or eighteen years in taking down the vast superstructure of power which Hannibal had raised, working in regions away from Hannibal and Carthage during all this time, as if leaving the great general and the great city for the last. He was, however, so successful in what he did, that when, at length, he advanced to the attack of Carthage, every thing else was gone. The Carthaginian power had become a mere hollow shell, empty and vain, which required only one great final blow to effect its absolute demolition. In fact, so far spent and gone were all the Carthaginian resources, that the great city had to summon the great general to its aid the moment it was threatened, and Scipio destroyed them both together.

And yet Scipio did not proceed so far as literally and actually to destroy them. He spared Hannibal's life, and he allowed the city to stand; but the terms and conditions of peace which he exacted were such as to put an absolute and perpetual end to Carthaginian dominion. By these conditions, the Carthaginian state was allowed to continue free and independent, and even to retain the government of such territories in Africa  as they possessed before the war; but all their foreign possessions were taken away; and even in respect to Africa, their jurisdiction was limited and curtailed by very hard restrictions. Their whole navy was to be given to the Romans except ten small ships of three banks of oars, which Scipio thought the government would need for the purposes of civil administration: These they were allowed to retain. Scipio did not say what he should do with the remainder of the fleet: it was to be unconditionally surrendered to him. Their elephants of war were also to be all given up, and they were to be bound not to train any more. They were not to appear at all as a military power in any other quarter of the world but Africa, and they were not to make war in Africa except by previously making known the occasion for it to the Roman people, and obtaining their permission. They were also to pay to the Romans a very large annual tribute for fifty years.

There was great distress and perplexity in the Carthaginian councils while they were debating these cruel terms. Hannibal was in favor of accepting them. Others opposed. They thought it would be better still to continue the struggle, hopeless as it was, than to submit to terms so ignominious and fatal.

Hannibal was present at these debates, but he found himself now in a very different position from that which he had been occupying for thirty years as a victorious general at the head of his army. He had been accustomed there to control and direct every thing. In his councils of war, no one spoke but at his invitation, and no opinion was expressed but such as he was willing to hear. In the Carthaginian senate, however, he found the case very different. There, opinions were freely expressed, as in a debate among equals, Hannibal taking his place among the rest, and counting only as one. And yet the spirit of authority and command which he had been so long accustomed to exercise, lingered still, and made him very impatient and uneasy under contradiction. In fact, as one of the speakers in the senate was rising to animadvert upon and oppose Hannibal's views, he undertook to pull him down and silence him by force. This proceeding awakened immediately such expressions of dissatisfaction and displeasure in the assembly as to show him very clearly that the time for such domineering was gone. He had, however, the good sense to express the regret he soon felt at having so far forgotten the duties of his new position, and to make an ample apology.

The Carthaginians decided at length to accede to Scipio's terms of peace. The first instalment of the tribute was paid. The elephants and the ships were surrendered. After a few days, Scipio announced his determination not to take the ships away with him, but to destroy them there. Perhaps this was because he thought the ships would be of little value to the Romans, on account of the difficulty of manning them. Ships, of course, are useless without seamen, and many nations in modern times, who could easily build a navy, are debarred from doing it, because their population does not furnish sailors in sufficient numbers to man and navigate it. It was probably, in part, on this account that Scipio decided not to take the Carthaginian ships away, and perhaps he also wanted to show to Carthage and to the world that his object in taking possession of the national property of his foes was not to enrich his own country by plunder, but only to deprive ambitious soldiers of the power to compromise any longer the peace and happiness of mankind by expeditions for conquest and power. However this may be, Scipio determined to destroy the Carthaginian fleet, and not to convey it away.


The Burning of the Carthaginian Fleet

On a given day, therefore, he ordered all the galleys to be got together in the bay opposite to the city of Carthage, and to be burned. These were five hundred of them, so that they constituted a large fleet, and covered a large expanse of the water. A vast concourse of people assembled upon the shores to witness the grand conflagration. The emotion which such a spectacle was of itself calculated to excite was greatly heightened by the deep but stifled feelings of resentment and hate which agitated every Carthaginian breast. The Romans, too, as they gazed upon the scene from their encampment on the shore, were agitated as well, though with different emotions. Their faces beamed with an expression of exultation and triumph as they saw the vast masses of flame and columns of smoke ascending from the sea, proclaiming the total and irretrievable ruin of Carthaginian pride and power.

Having thus fully accomplished his work, Scipio set sail for Rome. All Italy had been filled with the fame of his exploits in thus destroying the ascendancy of Hannibal. The city of Rome had now nothing more to fear from its great enemy. He was shut up, disarmed, and helpless, in his own native state, and the terror which his presence in Italy had inspired had passed forever away. The whole population of Rome, remembering the awful scenes of consternation and terror which the city had so often endured, regarded Scipio as a great deliverer. They were eager to receive and welcome him on his arrival. When the time came and he approached the city, vast throngs went out to meet him. The authorities formed civic processions to welcome him. They brought crowns, and garlands, and flowers, and hailed his approach with loud and prolonged acclamations of triumph and joy. They gave him the name of Africanus, in honor of his victories. This was a new honor—giving to a conqueror the name of the country that he had subdued; it was invented specially as Scipio's reward, the deliverer who had saved the empire from the greatest and most terrible danger by which it had ever been assailed.

Hannibal, though fallen, retained still in Carthage some portion of his former power. The glory of his past exploits still invested his character with a sort of halo, which made him an object of general regard, and he still had great and powerful friends. He was elevated to high office, and exerted himself to regulate and improve the internal affairs of the state. In these efforts he was not, however, very successful. The historians say that the objects which he aimed to accomplish were good, and that the measures for effecting them were, in themselves, judicious; but, accustomed as he was to the authoritative and arbitrary action of a military commander in camp, he found it hard to practice that caution and forbearance, and that deference for the opinion of others, which are so essential as means of influencing men in the management of the civil affairs of a commonwealth. He made a great many enemies, who did every thing in their power, by plots and intrigues, as well as by open hostility, to accomplish his ruin.

His pride, too, was extremely mortified and humbled by an occurrence which took place very soon after Scipio's return to Rome. There was some occasion of war with a neighboring African tribe, and Hannibal headed some forces which were raised in the city for the purpose, and went out to prosecute it. The Romans who took care to have agents in Carthage to keep them acquainted with all that occurred, heard of this, and sent word to Carthage to warn the Carthaginians that this was contrary to the treaty, and could not be allowed. The government, not willing to incur the risk of another visit from Scipio, sent orders to Hannibal to abandon the war and return to the city. Hannibal was compelled to submit; but after having been accustomed, as he had been, for many years, to bid defiance to all the armies and fleets which Roman power could, with their utmost exertion, bring against him, it must have been very hard for such a spirit as his to find itself stopped and conquered now by a word. All the force they could command against him, even at the very gates of their own city, was once impotent and vain. Now, a mere message and threat, coming across the distant sea, seeks him out in the remote deserts of Africa, and in a moment deprives him of all his power.

Years passed away, and Hannibal, though compelled outwardly to submit to his fate, was restless and ill at ease. His scheming spirit, spurred on now by the double stimulus of resentment and ambition, was always busy, vainly endeavoring to discover some plan by which he might again renew the struggle with his ancient foe.

It will be recollected that Carthage was originally a commercial colony from Tyre, a city on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The countries of Syria and Phœnicia were in the vicinity of Tyre. They were powerful commercial communities, and they had always retained very friendly relations with the Carthaginian commonwealth. Ships passed continually to and fro, and always, in case of calamities or disasters threatening one of these regions, the inhabitants naturally looked to the other for refuge and protection, Carthage looking upon Phœnicia as its mother, and Phœnicia regarding Carthage as her child. Now there was, at this time, a very powerful monarch on the throne in Syria and Phœnicia, named Antiochus. His capital was Damascus. He was wealthy and powerful, and was involved in some difficulties with the Romans. Their conquests, gradually extending eastward, had approached the confines of Antiochus's realms, and the two nations were on the brink of war.

Things being in this state, the enemies of Hannibal at Carthage sent information to the Roman senate that he was negotiating and plotting with Antiochus to combine the Syrian and Carthaginian forces against them, and thus plunge the world into another general war. The Romans accordingly determined to send an embassage to the Carthaginian government, and to demand that Hannibal should be deposed from his office, and given up to them a prisoner, in order that he might be tried on this charge.

These commissioners came, accordingly, to Carthage, keeping, however, the object of their mission a profound secret, since they knew very well that, if Hannibal should suspect it, he would make his escape before the Carthaginian senate could decide upon the question of surrendering him. Hannibal was, however, too wary for them. He contrived to learn their object, and immediately resolved on making his escape. He knew that his enemies in Carthage were numerous and powerful, and that the animosity against him was growing stronger and stronger. He did not dare, therefore, to trust to the result of the discussion in the senate, but determined to fly.

He had a small castle or tower on the coast, about one hundred and fifty miles southeast of Carthage. He sent there by an express, ordering a vessel to be ready to take him to sea. He also made arrangements to have horsemen ready at one of the gates of the city at nightfall. During the day he appeared freely in the public streets, walking with an unconcerned air, as if his mind was at ease, and giving to the Roman embassadors, who were watching his movements, the impression that he was not meditating an escape. Toward the close of the day, however, after walking leisurely home, he immediately made preparations for his journey. As soon as it was dark he went to the gate of the city, mounted the horse which was provided for him, and fled across the country to his castle. Here he found the vessel ready which he had ordered. He embarked, and put to sea.

There is a small island called Cercina at a little distance from the coast. Hannibal reached this island on the same day that he left his tower. There was a harbor here, where merchant ships were accustomed to come in. He found several Phœnician vessels in the port, some bound to Carthage. Hannibal's arrival produced a strong sensation here, and, to account for his appearance among them, he said he was going on an embassy from the Carthaginian government to Tyre.

He was now afraid that some of these vessels that were about setting sail for Carthage might carry the news back of his having being seen at Cercina, and, to prevent this, he contrived, with his characteristic cunning, the following plan: He sent around to all the ship-masters in the port, inviting them to a great entertainment which he was to give, and asked, at the same time, that they would lend him the main-sails of their ships, to make a great awning with, to shelter the guests from the dews of the night. The ship-masters, eager to witness and enjoy the convivial scene which Hannibal's proposal promised them, accepted the invitation, and ordered their main-sails to be taken down. Of course, this confined all their vessels to port. In the evening, the company assembled under the vast tent, made by the main-sails, on the shore. Hannibal met them, and remained with them for a time. In the course of the night, however, when they were all in the midst of their carousing, he stole away, embarked on board a ship, and set sail, and, before the ship-masters could awake from the deep and prolonged slumbers which followed their wine, and rig their main-sails to the masts again, Hannibal was far out of reach on his way to Syria.

In the mean time, there was a great excitement produced at Carthage by the news which spread every where over the city, the day after his departure, that he was not to be found. Great crowds assembled before his house. Wild and strange rumors circulated in explanation of his disappearance, but they were contradictory and impossible, and only added to the universal excitement. This excitement continued until the vessels at last arrived from Cercina, and made the truth known. Hannibal was himself, however, by this time, safe beyond the reach of all possible pursuit. He was sailing prosperously, so far as outward circumstances were concerned, but dejected and wretched in heart, toward Tyre. He landed there in safety, and was kindly received. In a few days he went into the interior, and, after various wanderings, reached Ephesus, where he found Antiochus, the Syrian king.

As soon as the escape of Hannibal was made known at Carthage, the people of the city immediately began to fear that the Romans would consider them responsible for it, and that they should thus incur a renewal of Roman hostility. In order to avert this danger, they immediately sent a deputation to Rome, to make known the fact of Hannibal's flight, and to express the regret they felt on account of it, in hopes thus to save themselves from the displeasure of their formidable foes. It may at first view seem very ungenerous and ungrateful, in the Carthaginians to abandon their general in this manner, in the hour of his misfortune and calamity, and to take part against him with enemies whose displeasure he had incurred only in their service and in executing their will. And this conduct of the Carthaginians would have to be considered as not only ungenerous, but extremely inconsistent, if it had been the same individuals that acted in the two cases. But it was not. The men and the influences which now opposed Hannibal's projects and plans had opposed them always and from the beginning; only, so long as he went on successfully and well, they were in the minority, and Hannibal's adherents and friends controlled all the public action of the city. But, now that the bitter fruits of his ambition and of his totally unjustifiable encroachments on the Roman territories and Roman rights began to be realized, the party of his friends was overturned, the power reverted to the hands of those who had always opposed him, and in trying to keep him down when he was once fallen, their action, whether politically right or wrong, was consistent with itself, and can not be considered as at all subjecting them to the charge of ingratitude or treachery.

One might have supposed that all Hannibal's hopes and expectations of ever again coping with his great Roman enemy would have been now effectually and finally destroyed, and that hence forth he would have given up his active hostility and would have contented himself with seeking some refuge where he could spend the remainder of his days in peace, satisfied with securing, after such dangers and escapes, his own personal protection from the vengeance of his enemies. But it is hard to quell and subdue such indomitable perseverance and energy as his. He was very little inclined yet to submit to his fate. As soon as he found himself at the court of Antiochus, he began to form new plans for making war against Rome. He proposed to the Syrian monarch to raise a naval force and put it under his charge. He said that if Antiochus would give him a hundred ships and ten or twelve thousand men, he would take the command of the expedition in person, and he did not doubt that he should be able to recover his lost ground, and once more humble his ancient and formidable enemy. He would go first, he said, with his force to Carthage, to get the co-operation and aid of his countrymen there in his new plans. Then he would make a descent upon Italy, and he had no doubt that he should soon regain the ascendancy there which he had formerly held.

Hannibal's design of going first to Carthage with his Syrian army was doubtless induced by his desire to put down the party of his enemies there, and to restore the power to his adherents and partisans. In order to prepare the way the more effectually for this, he sent a secret messenger to Carthage, while his negotiations with Antiochus were going on, to make known to his friends there the new hopes which he began to cherish, and the new designs which he had formed. He knew that his enemies in Carthage would be watching very carefully for any such communication; he therefore wrote no letters, and committed nothing to paper which, on being discovered, might betray him. He explained, however, all his plans very fully to his messenger, and gave him minute and careful instructions as to his manner of communicating them.

The Carthaginian authorities were indeed watching very vigilantly, and intelligence was brought to them, by their spies, of the arrival of this stranger. They immediately took measures for arresting him. The messenger, who was himself as vigilant as they, got intelligence of this in his secret lurking-place in the city, and determined immediately to fly. He, however, first prepared some papers and placards, which he posted up in public places, in which he proclaimed that Hannibal was far from considering himself finally conquered; that he was, on the contrary, forming new plans for putting down his enemies in Carthage, resuming his former ascendancy there, and carrying fire and sword again into the Roman territories; and, in the mean time he urged the friends of Hannibal in Carthage to remain faithful and true to his cause.

The messenger, after posting his placards, fled from the city in the night, and went back to Hannibal. Of course, the occurrence produced considerable excitement in the city. It aroused the anger and resentment of Hannibal's enemies, and awakened new encouragement and hope in the hearts of his friends. Further than this, however, it led to no immediate results. The power of the party which was opposed to Hannibal was too firmly established at Carthage to be very easily shaken. They sent information to Rome of the coming of Hannibal's emissary to Carthage, and of the result of his mission, and then every thing went on as before.

In the mean time, the Romans, when they learned where Hannibal had gone, sent two or three commissioners there to confer with the Syrian government in respect to their intentions and plans, and watch the movements of Hannibal. It was said that Scipio himself was joined to this embassy, and that he actually met Hannibal at Ephesus, and had several personal interviews and conversations with him there. Some ancient historian gives a particular account of one of these interviews, in which the conversation turned, as it naturally would do between two such distinguished commanders, on military greatness and glory. Scipio asked Hannibal whom he considered the greatest military hero that had ever lived. Hannibal gave the palm to Alexander the Great, because he had penetrated, with comparatively a very small number of Macedonian troops, into such remote regions, conquered such vast armies, and brought so boundless an empire under his sway. Scipio then asked him who he was inclined to place next to Alexander. He said Pyrrhus. Pyrrhus was a Grecian, who crossed the Adriatic Sea, and made war, with great success, against the Romans. Hannibal said that he gave the second rank to Pyrrhus because he systematized and perfected the art of war, and also because he had the power of awakening a feeling of personal attachment to himself on the part of all his soldiers, and even of the inhabitants of the countries that he conquered, beyond any other general that ever lived. Scipio then asked Hannibal who came next in order, and he replied that he should give the third rank to himself. "And if," added he, "I had conquered Scipio, I should consider myself as standing above Alexander, Pyrrhus, and all the generals that the world ever produced."

Various other anecdotes are related of Hannibal during the time of his first appearance in Syria, all indicating the very high degree of estimation in which he was held, and the curiosity, and interest that were every where felt to see him. On one occasion, it happened that a vain and self-conceited orator, who knew little of war but from his own theoretic speculations, was haranguing an assembly where Hannibal was present, being greatly pleased with the opportunity of displaying his powers before so distinguished an auditor. When the discourse was finished, they asked Hannibal what he thought of it. "I have heard," said he, in reply, "many old dotards in the course of my life, but this is, verily, the greatest dotard of them all."

Hannibal failed, notwithstanding all his perseverance, in obtaining the means to attack the Romans again. He was unwearied in his efforts, but, though the king sometimes encouraged his hopes, nothing was ever done. He remained in this part of the world for ten years, striving continually to accomplish his aims, but every year he found himself further from the attainment of them than ever. The hour of his good fortune and of his prosperity were obviously gone. His plans all failed, his influence declined, his name and renown were fast passing away. At last, after long and fruitless contests with the Romans, Antiochus made a treaty of peace with them, and, among the articles of this treaty, was one agreeing to give up Hannibal into their power.

Hannibal resolved to fly. The place of refuge which he chose was the island of Crete. He found that he could not long remain here. He had, however, brought with him a large amount of treasure, and when about leaving Crete again, he was uneasy about this treasure, as he had some reason to fear that the Cretans were intending to seize it. He must contrive, then, some stratagem to enable him to get this gold away. The plan he adopted was this:

He filled a number of earthen jars with lead, covering the tops of them with gold and silver. These he carried, with great appearance of caution and solicitude, to the Temple of Diana, a very sacred edifice, and deposited them there, under very special guardianship of the Cretans, to whom, as he said, he intrusted all his treasures. They received their false deposit with many promises to keep it safely, and then Hannibal went away with his real gold cast in the center of hollow statues of brass, which he carried with him, without suspicion, as objects of art of very little value.

Hannibal fled from kingdom to kingdom, and from province to province, until life became a miserable burden. The determined hostility of the Roman senate followed him every where, harassing him with continual anxiety and fear, and destroying all hope of comfort and peace. His mind was a prey to bitter recollections of the past, and still more dreadful forebodings for the future. He had spent all the morning of his life in inflicting the most terrible injuries on the objects of his implacable animosity and hate, although they had never injured him, and now, in the evening of his days, it became his destiny to feel the pressure of the same terror and suffering inflicted upon him. The hostility which he had to fear was equally merciless with that which he had exercised; perhaps it was made still more intense by being mingled with what they who felt it probably considered a just resentment and revenge.

When at length Hannibal found that the Romans were hemming him in more and more closely, and that the danger increased of his falling at last into their power, he had a potion of poison prepared, and kept it always in readiness, determined to die by his own hand rather than to submit to be given up to his enemies. The time for taking the poison at last arrived. The wretched fugitive was then in Bithynia, a kingdom of Asia Minor. The King of Bithynia sheltered him for a time, but at length agreed to give him up to the Romans. Hannibal, learning this, prepared for flight. But he found, on attempting his escape, that all the modes of exit from the palace which he occupied, even the secret ones which he had expressly contrived to aid his flight, were taken possession of and guarded. Escape was, therefore, no longer possible, and Hannibal went to his apartment and sent for the poison. He was now an old man, nearly seventy years of age, and he was worn down and exhausted by his protracted anxieties and sufferings. He was glad to die. He drank the poison, and in a few hours ceased to breathe.

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