Index Previous Page Next Page
Hannibal in Italy
The following year two new armies were again assembled. Hannibal crossed the Apennines and again defeated the Romans. The next year he once more won a great victory at Cannae (216 B.C.), where he utterly destroyed the Roman armies. This battle gave him South Italy. Yet never did the Roman senators show such spirit and courage. What happened after the terrible disaster must be told in the immortal words of Livy.
News came that both consuls had been slain with their armies, and that the whole force had been wiped out. Never while the city itself was still safe had there been such panic and tumult within the walls of Rome. Then these proposals were made in the senate:
"Let us send swift horsemen along the Appian Road and the Latin Road to question all they meet -- there will certainly be some fugitives scattered over the country-side -- and to bring back word of what has befallen the consuls and the armies. And if the immortal gods in pity have left to the Roman name any of its power, they can find out where these forces are, where Hannibal went after the battle, what he is doing, and what he seems likely to do. Let the active young men do this scouting and intelligence work.
"There are so few magistrates that we senators ourselves must undertake to quiet the tumult and dismay in the city, to keep the women out of the streets and compel them to remain each in her own home, to check the wailing of slaves and make silence throughout the city, to place sentinels at the gates and prevent any one leaving the city, and to force men to realize that their only protection lies in the safety of the city and her walls. When the disturbance is quieted, let the senators be called again to the council chamber to discuss the defence of the city."
Meantime the news of casualties spread from house to house, and the whole city was filled with such mourning that the sacred festival of Ceres was not kept, because no mourners might take part in it.
Then the Roman prisoners who had been sent in by the victors were allowed to plead for their ransom in the senate. Their leader spoke as follows: "Senators, we all of us know that our country, more than any other, holds cheap her prisoners of war. But we did not surrender like cowards in the middle of the battle. Standing on the heaps of slain, we went on fighting almost till evening, and then retreated to our camp. There for the rest of the day and night, worn out by toil and wounds, we held back the enemy. The next day, besieged by a victorious army, cut off from water, and without hope ot breaking through the dense masses of the enemy, it seemed to us only right that some Roman soldiers should survive the field of Cannae, where 50,000 of our comrades had been slaughtered.
"We had learnt, too, from history that our ancestors were redeemed from the Gauls with gold, and that your own fathers -- though sternly against making peace -- once arranged to ransom prisoners of war. You have recruited men of every age and rank; I hear that 8,000 slaves are being armed; we are no less in number than they, and our ransoms will cost no more than their market price; I will not compare our valour with theirs, for that would be an insult to the name of 'Roman.' If you were to see the chains, the dirt, the terrible condition of your fellow citizens, the sight would move you as much as if you were to look upon your legions lying dead on the plains of Cannae. You can see the anxiety and tears of our families standing in the outer hall of this council chamber and waiting for your answer."
As soon as he had finished, the crowd waiting in the hall raised a tumult of weeping, stretching out their hands to the senate and begging them to give them back their sons, their brothers, their kinsmen. Women were mingling in the crowds of men in the Forum, driven by fear and need. All strangers were ordered to withdraw, and the senate began to debate the question. When the sad answer was given that the prisoners were not being ransomed, the crowd with much weeping escorted the prisoners to the city gates.
Yet these misfortunes did not cause the Romans even to mention peace. The courage and spirit of Rome were so high that when the consul returned after the defeat for which he had been himself chiefly responsible, crowds of men of all ranks went out to welcome him, and he was publicly thanked for not having despaired of the republic.
No more great battles were fought between Rome and Hannibal after Cannae. Yet Hannibal stayed on in Italy, hovering round Rome, for several years longer. Once more the Romans sent an army to Carthage -- and Carthage recalled Hannibal. At last he was beaten in battle near Carthage by Scipio. But Scipio himself said that Hannibal had been conquered not by the Roman people, but by the senators and merchants of Carthage through envy and fear. These same ungrateful countrymen now drove Hannibal into exile in the East. There he tried to stir up the successors of Alexander against the Romans. And there at last the great soldier ended his life by suicide, just as he was about to be betrayed to his implacable enemy.
Rome had now no pity for the defeated city. "Delenda est Carthago" -- Carthage must be destroyed -- said the stern Cato at the end of every speech he made in the senate house. And destroyed Carthage was, utterly and ruthlessly(I46 B.C.).
"That race, like oak by axes shorn
On Algidus with dark leaves rife,
Laughs carnage, havoc, all to scorn,
And draws new spirit from the knife.
Plunged in the deep, it mounts to sight
More splendid; grappled, it will quell
Unbroken powers, and fight a fight
Whose story widow'd wives shall tell.
No heralds shall my deeds proclaim
To Carthage now; lost, lost is all:
A nation's hope, a nation's name,
They died with dying Hasdrubal."
-- HORACE, Odes, iv.