Hannibal at Saguntum
T HE name of Hannibal's father was Hamilcar. He was one of the leading Carthaginian generals. He occupied a very prominent position, both on account of his rank, and wealth, and high family connections at Carthage, and also on account of the great military energy which he displayed in the command of the armies abroad. He carried on the wars which the Carthaginians waged in Africa and in Spain after the conclusion of the war with the Romans, and he longed to commence hostilities with the Romans again.
At one time, when Hannibal was about nine years of age, Hamilcar was preparing to set off on an expedition into Spain, and, as was usual in those days, he was celebrating the occasion with games, and spectacles, and various religious ceremonies. It has been the custom in all ages of the world, when nations go to war with each other, for each side to take measures for propitiating the favor of Heaven. Christian nations at the present day do it by prayers offered in each country for the success of their own arms. Heathen nations do it by sacrifices, libations, and offerings. Hamilcar had made arrangements for such sacrifices, and the priests were offering them in the presence of the whole assembled army.
Young Hannibal, then about nine years of age, was present. He was a boy of great spirit and energy, and he entered with much enthusiasm into the scene. He wanted to go to Spain himself with the army, and he came to his father and began to urge his request. His father could not consent to this. He was too young to endure the privations and fatigues of such an enterprise. However, his father brought him to one of the altars, in the presence of the other officers of the army, and made him lay his hand upon the consecrated victim, and swear that, as soon as he was old enough, and had it in his power, he would make war upon the Romans. This was done, no doubt, in part to amuse young Hannibal's mind, and to relieve his disappointment in not being able to go to war at that time, by promising him a great and mighty enemy to fight at some future day. Hannibal remembered it, and longed for the time to come when he could go to war against the Romans.
Hamilcar bade his son farewell and embarked for Spain. He was at liberty to extend his conquests there in all directions west of the River Iberus, a river which the reader will find upon the map, flowing southeast into the Mediterranean Sea. Its name, Iberus, has been gradually changed, in modern times, to Ebro. By the treaty with the Romans the Carthaginians were not to cross the Iberus. They were also bound by the treaty not to molest the people of Saguntum, a city lying between the Iberus and the Carthaginian dominions. Saguntum was in alliance with the Romans and under their protection.
Hamilcar was, however, very restless and uneasy at being obliged thus to refrain from hostilities with the Roman power. He began, immediately after his arrival in Spain, to form plans for renewing the war. He had under him, as his principal lieutenant, a young man who had married his daughter. His name was Hasdrubal. With Hasdrubal's aid he went on extending his conquests in Spain, and strengthening his position there, and gradually maturing his plans for renewing war with the Romans, when at length he died. Hasdrubal succeeded him. Hannibal was now, probably, about twenty-one or two years old, and still in Carthage. Hasdrubal sent to the Carthaginian government a request that Hannibal might receive an appointment in the army, and be sent out to join him in Spain.
On the subject of complying with this request there was a great debate in the Carthaginian senate. In all cases where questions of government are controlled by votes, it has been found, in every age, that parties will always be formed, of which the two most prominent will usually be nearly balanced one against the other. Thus, at this time, though the Hamilcar family were in power, there was a very strong party in Carthage in opposition to them. The leader of this party in the senate, whose name was Hanno, made a very earnest speech against sending Hannibal. He was too young, he said, to be of any service. He would only learn the vices and follies of the camp, and thus become corrupted and ruined. "Besides," said Hanno, "at this rate, the command of our armies in Spain is getting to be a sort of hereditary right. Hamilcar was not a king, that his authority should thus descend first to his son-in-law and then to his son; for this plan of making Hannibal," he said, "while yet scarcely arrived at manhood, a high officer in the army, is only a stepping-stone to the putting of the forces wholly under his orders, whenever, for any reason, Hasdrubal shall cease to command them."
The Roman historian, through whose narrative we get our only account of this debate, says that, though these were good reasons, yet strength prevailed, as usual, over wisdom, in the decision of the question. They voted to send Hannibal, and he set out to cross the sea to Spain with a heart full of enthusiasm and joy.
A great deal of curiosity and interest was felt throughout the army to see him on his arrival. The soldiers had been devotedly attached to his father, and they were all ready to transfer this attachment at once to the son, if he should prove worthy of it. It was very evident, soon after he reached the camp, that he was going to prove himself thus worthy. He entered at once into the duties of his position with a degree of energy, patience, and self-denial which attracted universal attention, and made him a universal favorite. He dressed plainly; he assumed no airs; he sought for no pleasures or indulgences, nor demanded any exemption from the dangers and privations which the common soldiers had to endure. He ate plain food, and slept, often in his military cloak, on the ground, in the midst of the soldiers on guard; and in battle he was always foremost to press forward into the contest, and the last to leave the ground when the time came for repose. The Romans say that, in addition to these qualities, he was inhuman and merciless when in open warfare with his foes, and cunning and treacherous in every other mode of dealing with them. It is very probable that he was so. Such traits of character were considered by soldiers in those days, as they are now, virtues in themselves, though vices in their enemies.
However this may be, Hannibal became a great and universal favorite in the army. He went on for several years increasing his military knowledge, and widening and extending his influence, when at length, one day, Hasdrubal was suddenly killed by a ferocious native of the country whom he had by some means offended. As soon as the first shock of this occurrence was over, the leaders of the army went in pursuit of Hannibal, whom they brought in triumph to the tent of Hasdrubal, and instated him at once in the supreme command, with one consent and in the midst of universal acclamations. As soon as news of this event reached Carthage, the government there confirmed the act of the army, and Hannibal thus found himself suddenly but securely invested with a very high military command.
His eager and restless desire to try his strength with the Romans received a new impulse by his finding that the power was now in his hands. Still the two countries were at peace. They were bound by solemn treaties to continue so. The River Iberus was the boundary which separated the dominions of the two nations from each other in Spain, the territory east of that boundary being under the Roman power, and that on the west under that of the Carthaginians; except that Saguntum, which was on the western side, was an ally of the Romans, and the Carthaginians were bound by the treaty to leave it independent and free.
Hannibal could not, therefore, cross the Iberus or attack Saguntum without an open infraction of the treaty. He, however, immediately began to move toward Saguntum, and to attack the nations in the immediate vicinity of it. If he wished to get into a war with the Romans, this was the proper way to promote it; for, by advancing thus into the immediate vicinity of the capital of their allies, there was great probability that disputes would arise which would sooner or later end in war.
The Romans say that Hannibal was cunning and treacherous, and he certainly did display, on some occasions, a great degree of adroitness in his stratagems. In one instance in these preliminary wars he gained a victory over an immensely superior force in a very remarkable manner. He was returning from an inroad upon some of the northern provinces, laden and encumbered with spoil, when he learned that an immense army, consisting, it was said, of a hundred thousand men, were coming down upon his rear. There was a river at a short distance before him. Hannibal pressed on and crossed the river by a ford, the water being, perhaps, about three feet deep. He secreted a large body of cavalry near the bank of the stream, and pushed on with the main body of the army to some little distance from the river, so as to produce the impression upon his pursuers that he was pressing forward to make his escape.
The enemy, thinking that they had no time to lose, poured down in great numbers into the stream from various points along the banks; and, as soon as they had reached the middle of the current, and were wading laboriously, half submerged, with their weapons held above their heads, so as to present as little resistance as possible to the water, the horsemen of Hannibal rushed in to meet and attack them. The horsemen had, of course, greatly the advantage; for, though their horses were in the water, they were themselves raised above it, and their limbs were free, while their enemies were half submerged, and, being encumbered by their arms and by one another, were nearly helpless. They were immediately thrown into complete confusion, and were overwhelmed and carried down by the current in great numbers. Some of them succeeded in landing below, on Hannibal's side; but, in the mean time, the main body of his army had returned, and was ready to receive them, and they were trampled under foot by the elephants, which it was the custom to employ, in those days, as a military force. As soon as the river was cleared, Hannibal marched his own army across it, and attacked what remained of the enemy on their own side. He gained a complete victory, which was so great and decisive that he secured by it possession of the whole country west of the Iberus, except Saguntum, and Saguntum itself began to be seriously alarmed.
The Saguntines sent embassadors to Rome to ask the Romans to interpose and protect them from the dangers which threatened them. These embassadors made diligent efforts to reach Rome as soon as possible, but they were too late. On some pretext or other, Hannibal contrived to raise a dispute between the city and one of the neighboring tribes, and then, taking sides with the tribe, he advanced to attack the city. The Saguntines prepared for their defense, hoping soon to receive succors from Rome. They strengthened and fortified their walls, while Hannibal began to move forward great military engines for battering them down.
Hannibal knew very well that by his hostilities against this city he was commencing a contest with Rome itself, as Rome must necessarily take part with her ally. In fact, there is no doubt that his design was to bring on a general war between the two great nations. He began with Saguntum for two reasons: first, it would not be safe for him to cross the Iberus, and advance into the Roman territory, leaving so wealthy and powerful a city in his rear; and then, in the second place, it was easier for him to find pretexts for getting indirectly into a quarrel with Saguntum, and throwing the odium of a declaration of war on Rome, than to persuade the Carthaginian state to renounce the peace and themselves commence hostilities. There was, as has been already stated, a very strong party at Carthage opposed to Hannibal, who would, of course, resist any measures tending to a war with Rome, for they would consider such a war as opening a vast field for gratifying Hannibal's ambition. The only way, therefore, was to provoke a war by aggressions on the Roman allies, to be justified by the best pretexts he could find.
Saguntum was a very wealthy and powerful city. It was situated about a mile from the sea. The attack upon the place, and the defense of it by the inhabitants, went on for some time with great vigor. In these operations, Hannibal exposed himself to great danger. He approached, at one time, so near the wall, in superintending the arrangements of his soldiers and the planting of his engines, that a heavy javelin, thrown from the parapet, struck him on the thigh. It pierced the flesh, and inflicted so severe a wound that he fell immediately, and was borne away by the soldiers. It was several days before he was free from the danger incurred by the loss of blood and the fever which follows such a wound. During all this time his army were in a great state of excitement and anxiety, and suspended their active operations. As soon, however, as Hannibal was found to be decidedly convalescent, they resumed them again, and urged them onward with greater energy than before.
The weapons of warfare in those ancient days were entirely different from those which are now employed, and there was one, described by an ancient historian as used by the Saguntines at this siege, which might almost come under the modern denomination of fire-arms. It was called the falarica. It was a sort of javelin, consisting of a shaft of wood, with a long point of iron. This point was said to be three feet long. This javelin was to be thrown at the enemy either from the hand of the soldier or by an engine. The leading peculiarity of it was, however, that, near to the pointed end, there were wound around the wooden shaft long bands of tow, which were saturated with pitch and other combustibles, and this inflammable band was set on fire just before the javelin was thrown. As the missile flew on its way, the wind fanned the flames, and made them burn so fiercely, that when the javelin struck the shield of the soldier opposing it, it could not be pulled out, and the shield itself had to be thrown down and abandoned.
While the inhabitants of Saguntum were vainly endeavoring to defend themselves against their terrible enemy by these and similar means, their embassadors, not knowing that the city had been attacked, had reached Rome, and had laid before the Roman senate their fears that the city would be attacked, unless they adopted vigorous and immediate measures to prevent it. The Romans resolved to send embassadors to Hannibal to demand of him what his intentions were, and to warn him against any acts of hostility against Saguntum. When these Roman embassadors arrived on the coast, near to Saguntum, they found that hostilities had commenced, and that the city was hotly besieged. They were at a loss to know what to do.
It is better for a rebel not to hear an order which he is determined beforehand not to obey. Hannibal, with an adroitness which the Carthaginians called sagacity, and the Romans treachery and cunning, determined not to see these messengers. He sent word to them, at the shore, that they must not attempt to come to his camp, for the country was in such a disturbed condition that it would not be safe for them to land; and besides, he could not receive or attend to them, for he was too much pressed with the urgency of his military works to have any time to spare for debates and negotiations.
Hannibal knew that the embassadors, being thus repulsed, and having found, too, that the war had broken out, and that Saguntum was actually beset and besieged by Hannibal's armies, would proceed immediately to Carthage to demand satisfaction there. He knew, also, that Hanno and his party would very probably espouse the cause of the Romans, and endeavor to arrest his designs. He accordingly sent his own embassadors to Carthage, to exert an influence in his favor in the Carthaginian senate, and endeavor to urge them to reject the claims of the Romans, and allow the war between Rome and Carthage to break out again.
The Roman embassadors appeared at Carthage, and were admitted to an audience before the senate. They stated their case, representing that Hannibal had made war upon Saguntum in violation of the treaty, and had refused even to receive the communication which had been sent him by the Roman senate through them. They demanded that the Carthaginian government should disavow his acts, and deliver him up to them, in order that he might receive the punishment which his violation of the treaty, and his aggressions upon an ally of the Romans, so justly deserved.
The party of Hannibal in the Carthaginian senate were, of course, earnest to have these proposals rejected with scorn. The other side, with Hanno at their head, maintained that they were reasonable demands. Hanno, in a very energetic and powerful speech, told the senate that he had warned them not to send Hannibal into Spain. He had foreseen that such a hot and turbulent spirit as his would involve them in inextricable difficulties with the Roman power. Hannibal had, he said, plainly violated the treaty. He had invested and besieged Saguntum, which they were solemnly bound not to molest, and they had nothing to expect in return but that the Roman legions would soon be investing and besieging their own city. In the mean time, the Romans, he added, had been moderate and forbearing. They had brought nothing to the charge of the Carthaginians. They accused nobody but Hannibal, who, thus far, alone was guilty. The Carthaginians, by disavowing his acts, could save themselves from the responsibility of them. He urged, therefore, that an embassage of apology should be sent to Rome, that Hannibal should be deposed and delivered up to the Romans, and that ample restitution should be made to the Saguntines for the injuries they had received.
On the other hand, the friends of Hannibal urged in the Carthaginian senate their defense of the general. They reviewed the history of the transactions in which the war had originated, and showed, or attempted to show, that the Saguntines themselves commenced hostilities, and that consequently they, and not Hannibal, were responsible for all that followed; that, under those circumstances, the Romans ought not to take their part, and if they did so, it proved that they preferred the friendship of Saguntum to that of Carthage; and that it would be cowardly and dishonorable in the extreme for them to deliver the general whom they had placed in power, and who had shown himself so worthy of their choice by his courage and energy, into the hands of their ancient and implacable foes.
Thus Hannibal was waging at the same time two wars, one in the Carthaginian senate, where the weapons were arguments and eloquence, and the other under the walls of Saguntum, which was fought with battering rams and fiery javelins. He conquered in both. The senate decided to send the Roman embassadors home without acceding to their demands, and the walls of Saguntum were battered down by Hannibal's engines. The inhabitants refused all terms of compromise, and resisted to the last, so that, when the victorious soldiery broke over the prostrate walls, and poured into the city, it was given up to them to plunder, and they killed and destroyed all that came in their way. The disappointed embassadors returned to Rome with the news that Saguntum had been taken and destroyed by Hannibal, and that the Carthaginians, far from offering any satisfaction for the wrong, assumed the responsibility of it themselves, and were preparing for war.
Thus Hannibal accomplished his purpose of opening the way for waging war against the Roman power. He prepared to enter into the contest with the utmost energy and zeal. The conflict that ensued lasted seventeen years, and is known in history as the second Punic war. It was one of the most dreadful struggles between rival and hostile nations which the gloomy history of mankind exhibits to view. The events that occurred will be described in the subsequent chapters.