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Alfred J. Church

The Blotting Out of Carthage

For fifty years after the conclusion of the Peace of Hannibal, as the treaty described in my last chapter came to be called, Carthage and Rome continued to live on uneasy terms of mutual suspicion. Rome dreaded the rapid recovery in power and wealth of her old enemy; Carthage feared, and doubtless with more reason, the inextinguishable hatred of the State which she had once brought so near to destruction. The conditions imposed after Zama had not prevented the accumulation of wealth in the vanquished city. Her commerce had been left her untouched; commerce meant a full treasury, and it was with her treasury that Carthage had always made war. There were two men who had much to do with embittering this quarrel, though neither of them lived to see the end which they desired.

Of one of these two, Masinissa, I have already had occasion to speak. He was the son of a Numidian king, and in early life had been an energetic ally of Carthage. He served in the Spanish campaigns of Hasdrubal (brother of Hannibal) with a strong contingent of Numidian horsemen. Even the defeat of the Metaurus did not shake his loyalty. In the following year, however, he began to think of changing sides, and he finally came to an agreement with Scipio that he would do his best to help the Roman cause, when the war should have been transferred to Africa. He had strong personal motives for this change. He had been deprived of the succession to his father's kingdom by the action of Syphax, a neighbouring potentate who was in close alliance with Carthage, and he had also seen his promised wife, Sophonisba (daughter o. Hasdrubal Gisco), given to the same rival. Such then were the causes which made him a prominent actor in the battle of Zama. The Peace of Hannibal left Masinissa in undisputed possession of his hereditary dominions, increased by the kingdom of Syphax. For the next fifty years he was perpetually on the watch to aggrandise himself at the expense of Carthage; Again and again he seized some desirable region belonging to that State, was met with protests which he uniformly disregarded, and was sustained in his usurpation by Rome, whose commissioners were secretly instructed, we are told, to favour so useful an ally. In 150 b.c. these continual feuds ended in open war. Masinissa, who was still vigorous and active, though he had reached his eighty-eighth year, defeated the Carthaginians in a pitched battle. Two years afterwards he died.

The other persistent enemy of Carthage was M. Porcius Cato, commonly known as Cato the Censor or Cato the Elder. Born in 234 b.c. , Cato was just of an age to serve in the army when Hannibal invaded Italy. We do not know whether he was present at any of the great battles, but he was certainly aide-de-camp to Fabius at the siege of Tarentum in 209. He never forgot the scenes which he witnessed when Hannibal was ravaging Italy; and when he had risen to a high place in the State, he devoted himself to obtaining what he considered a satisfactory vengeance. He lost no opportunity of impressing upon his countrymen his conviction that Carthage should not be permitted to exist. It is related of him that whatever the question before the Senate might be, he would add to his opinion, "and I also think that Carthage ought to be blotted out." He died in 149 b.c. , in his eighty-fifth year.

It was in this year that the Third Punic War commenced. Cato had succeeded, it would seem, in the great object of his life. Rome was determined that Carthage should be blotted out. It is probable, indeed, that other motives besides the national and political were at work. The commercial interest was very powerful in Rome, and to this interest the destruction of a successful rival, which had long commanded most of the markets of the Mediterranean coast, seemed most desirable. Anyhow, the terms proposed when the Carthaginian envoys were introduced into the Senate at Rome were such that it was manifest that war was determined upon. When the first conditions, onerous as they were, were accepted, then fresh severities were added. The ultimatum was that the Carthaginians must give up their city to be destroyed. They would themselves be spared, and might retain a portion of their property, but their new habitation must not be within ten miles of the sea. This was meant to be impossible, and it had the effect which was desired. When the envoys returned and related the terms which had been finally imposed, the popular fury burst out. Those who had been prominent in advising the negotiations for peace were massacred, and the envoys themselves shared their fate. The Senate, in the face of such a demonstration, could but come to one decision. It declared war against Carthage.

It is needless to tell in detail the events of the two first two campaigns. The Romans led, it would seem, by incompetent generals, were not so successful as had been expected, and by the close of the summer of 147 little or no progress had been made. In fact, the Romans were rather worse off than when they began. Their African allies began to doubt whether they had chosen the right side. Masinissa's sons in particular were wavering. They hardly knew, indeed, what to wish. If Carthage were to fall into the hands of Rome, their own turn would soon come. Probably the best thing that could happen would be to have a feeble Carthage, not able to oppress its neighbours, but still preserving an independent existence as a "buffer-state" between themselves and Rome.

Then with the appointment of the younger Scipio to the supreme command of the armies in Africa a great change came over the scene. He had been serving as a Military Tribune (about equivalent in rank to a Brigadier-General), and had distinguished himself by his courage and intelligence. When the elections in Rome came on he went home, nominally to stand for the Ædileship, but probably with higher views. He was thirty-seven years of age, and so five years under the legal age for the Consulship. But to the Consulship he was elected. The presiding officer protested in vain. The people would have it so, and the president yielded. And when the ballot for provinces took place, Scipio's colleague yielded again, and Africa, to which indeed he seemed to have an hereditary right, was assigned to him.

He sailed at once for Carthage, and began by rescuing one of the generals who were about to be superseded from a dangerous position into which his imprudence had led him. Then he set the affairs of the army in order. The camp was cleared of a crowd of idlers, soldiers' servants, sutlers, and dealers. Then active operations were begun. A suburb of the city, called Megara, where the wealthier citizens had their homes, was taken. It was soon relinquished, indeed, for it was found too costly to keep, but this success led to the abandonment of the camp which had been fortified outside the walls, and which was the first line of defence. The city was now almost invested. On the land side the blockade was complete, and no more supplies could be introduced; and now Scipio began to block up the mouth of the harbour. But here the besieged foiled him. They built a fleet of fifty ships, and they dug a new channel from the inner harbour to the open sea. The Romans were taken by surprise. They had no idea that a fleet was being built, and they saw it for the first time when it issued from a harbour which was also a new creation. If the Carthaginians had acted at once, for they found the Roman fleet wholly unprepared for action, they might at least postponed the end. But they contented themselves with a demonstration. A day or two after there was a drawn battle between the two fleets, but when the conflict was renewed on the morrow, the advantage rested with Rome. But the resources of the besieged were not exhausted. An attack was made on the city on the land-side, and battering-rams were brought up to the walls. But the besieged made a determined sally, drove back the assailants, and burnt their engines. During the winter Scipio busied himself with cutting off the supplies that the city still received from the interior. He also routed an army of native allies which had been gathered for its relief.

In 146 the siege was pressed with renewed vigour. The harbour of the warships and the Lower City were occupied after a feeble resistance. Then the Upper City was attacked. The struggle here was long and fierce; the houses had to be taken one by one. Each was obstinately defended, in each many non-combatants perished. This conflict lasted for seven days and nights. The Romans fought in relief parties; but Scipio never rested. He snatched such food and sleep as chance threw in his way, and was never absent from his post of leader. At last nothing but the citadel was left. A deputation was sent to Scipio offering to surrender on the single condition that the lives of the prisoners should be spared. Scipio granted this prayer, but excepted the deserters. Fifty thousand men, women, and children availed themselves of the conqueror's mercy, and gave themselves up. Only Hasdrubal and his family, his chief officers, and the deserters were left. The citadel was impregnable, but it could be reduced by hunger. Then Hasdrubal contrived to escape from his companions, and creeping into the presence of Scipio, begged for his life. This was granted, not because the suppliant deserved any mercy, but because he could make himself useful to the conqueror. A tragic scene followed. Hasdrubal's wife had observed with disgust her husband's pusillanimity. Leading her two children by the hand, she advanced to the front of the wall. For Scipio she had no reproaches, but on her husband she invoked every curse that she had at her command. Then she stabbed her children, threw them into the flames, for the deserters, resolved not to fall into Roman hands, had set fire to the citadel, and followed them herself. By the express orders of the Senate, but against the wishes of Scipio, the whole city was burnt. He is said to have burst into tears as he looked on the conflagration, after repeating the well-known lines from the Iliad (vi. 417-8), in which the great champion of Troy foretells the doom of the city.

"The day wherein Ilium the holy shall perish, will come; it is near

Unto Priam withal, and the folk of the king of the ashen spear."