The second punic war   
218-202 B.C.

220-218 B.C.


bust of Hannibal

The Carthaginians had only made a peace because they were no longer able to continue the war. They took the earliest opportunity of breaking the treaty; and besieged Saguntum, a city of Spain, which had been in alliance with Rome. Ambassadors were sent in consequence from Rome to Carthage, complaining of the infraction of the treaty, and requiring that Hannibal the Carthaginian general, who had advised this measure, should be delivered up; which being refused, both sides prepared for a second Punic war.

The Carthaginians entrusted the management to Hannibal, the son of Hamilcar. This extraordinary man had been made the sworn foe of Rome almost from his infancy; for, while very young, his father brought him before the altar, and obliged him to take an oath, that he never would be in friendship with the Romans, or desist from opposing their power, until he or they should be no more.

This great general, who is considered the most skilful of all the generals of antiquity, having overrun Spain, and levied a large army of various nations, resolved to carry the war into Italy, as the Romans had before carried it into the dominions of Carthage. For this purpose, leaving Hanno, with a sufficient force to guard his conquests in Spain, he crossed the Pyrenean mountains into Gaul, with an army of twenty thousand foot, and nine thousand horse.

He quickly traversed that country, which was then wild and extensive, and filled with enemies. In ten days he arrived at the foot of the Alps, over which he was to explore a new passage into Italy. It was in the midst of winter; the season added new horrors to a scene that nature had already filled with objects of dismay. The prodigious height of the mountains, the people barbarous and fierce, dressed in skins, presented a picture that impressed the beholders with astonishment and terror. But nothing was capable of subduing the courage of the Carthaginian general; for, at the end of fifteen days, spent in crossing the Alps, he found himself in the plains of Italy, with about half of his army remaining, the rest having died of the cold, or been cut off by the natives.

As soon as it was known at Rome, that Hannibal with an immense army, was crossing the Alps, the senate sent Publius Scipio to oppose him, but he was obliged to retreat with considerable loss.

217-216 B.C.

Fabius Cunctator

The second battle was fought upon the river Trebia. A total rout of the Romans was the result. 26000 of them were either killed by the enemy, or drowned in attempting to repass the river.

The third defeat which the Romans sustained, was at the lake Thrasymenus. About 15000 Romans, together with Flaminius fell, and 6000 more were obliged to yield themselves prisoners of war.

When the news of this defeat arrived at Rome, the senate resolved to elect a commander with absolute authority. The choice fell upon Fabius Maximus, a man of great courage, but with a happy mixture of caution.

He was apprised that the only way to humble the Carthaginians, at such a distance from home, was rather by harassing them, than by fighting. For this purpose he always encamped on the highest grounds, because they were inaccessible to the enemy's cavalry. Whenever they moved, he moved, watched their motions, straightened their quarters, and cut off their provisions.

By these arts Fabius had actually enclosed Hannibal among mountains, where it was impossible to winter, and yet from which, it was almost impracticable to extricate his army without imminent danger. In this exigence nothing but one of those stratagems of war, which fall to the lot of great abilities only to invent, could save him. Hannibal ordered a number of small faggots and lighted torches to be tied to the horns of 2000 oxen, and that they should be driven towards the enemy.

These tossing their heads, and running up the sides of the mountains, seemed to fill the whole neighboring forest with fire, while the sentinels fled with consternation, supposing the whole body of the enemy was in arms to overwhelm them. - By this stratagem Hannibal drew off his army, and escaped through the defiles that led beneath the hills, though with considerable damage to his rear.

Soon after this, Fabius laid down his office, and Terentius Varro was chosen to succeed him. Varro sprung from the dregs of the people, and had nothing but his confidence and riches to recommend him. To him was joined d'AEmilius Paulus, a person of a disposition entirely opposite; experienced in the field, cautious in action, and impressed with a thorough contempt for the abilities of his Plebeian colleague.

216 B.C.

The battle of Cannae

A Carthaginian coin
depicting Hannibal as Hercules

The Romans enabled to bring a competant force into the field, being ninety thousand strong, again resolved to meet Hannibal, who was encamped near the village of Cannae.

In this situation he waited the coming up of the Romans, with an army of forty thousand foot, and half that number of cavalry. The two consuls appeired to his wish, dividing their forces into two parts, and agreeing to take the command every day by turns. On the first day of their arrival, it falling to the lot of AEmilius to command, he was entirely averse to engaging. The next day, it being Varro's turn to command, he gave the signal for battle, and the conflict became general. The Roman soldiers endeavored to penetrate the centre where the Gauls and Spaniards fought; which Hannibal observing, ordered part of those troops to give way, and to permit the Romans to embosom themselves within a chosen body of his Africans, whom he had placed on their wing, so as to surround them; a terrible slaughter of the Romans was the consequence.

At last the rout became general in every part of the Roman army. The boastings of Varro were no longer heard; while AEmilius, who had been terribly wounded by a slinger in the beginning of the engagement, still feebly led on his body of horse, and did all that could be done to make head against the enemy; he being unable to sit on horseback, was forced to dismount.

It was in this deplorable condition of things, that one Lentulus, a tribune of the army, as he was flying on horseback from the enemy, which at some distance pursued him, met AEmilius sitting upon a stone, covered with blood and wounds, and waiting for the coming up of the pursuers. AEmilius, cried the generous tribune, you are guiltless of this day's slaughter : take my horse and fly. I thank thee, Lentulus, cried the dying consul, all is over, my part is chosen : go, I command thee, and tell the senate from me, to fortify Rome against the approach of the conqueror. Tell Fabius also, that AEmilius while living, ever remembered his advice, and now dying approves it.

While he was speaking, the enemy approached : and Lentulus, before he was out of view, saw the consul expire, feebly fighting in the midst of hundreds. In this battle the Romans lost 50000 men, and so many knights, that it is said Hannibal sent three bushels of gold rings to Carthage, which those of this order had worn on their fingers.

When the first consternation at Rome was abated after this dreadful blow, the senate came to a resolution to create a dictator, in order to give strength to their government. Varro abandoning the wretched remains of his army, returned to Rome and as he had been the principal cause of the late calamity, it was natural to suppose that the senate would severely reprimand him.

But far otherwise ! The Romans went out in multitudes to meet him; and the senate returned him thanks, that he did not despair of the safety of Rome. Fabius was considered as the shield of Rome, and Marcellus as the sword. These two were appointed to lead the armies, and though Hannibal once more offered them peace, they refused it but upon condition that he should quit Italy. He went to Capua, where he resolved to winter.

216-207 B.C.

Scipio Africanus

Hannibal's first loss was at the siege of Nola, where Marcellus the praetor made a successful sally. He some time after attempted to raise the siege of Capua, and attacked the Romans in their trenches, but he was repulsed with considerable loss. He then made a pretence of going to besiege Rome, but finding a superior army ready to receive him, he was obliged to retire, 209 years B. C. For some years after, he fought with various success.

The senate of Carthage came to a resolution of sending his brother Asdrubal to his assistance, with a body of forces drawn out of Spain. Asdrubal's march being made known to the consuls, Livius and Nero, they went against him with great expedition, and surrounding him in a place into which he was led by the treachery of his guides, they cut his whole army to pieces.

Hannibal had long expected these succours with impatience; and the very night on which he had been assured of his brother's arrival, Nero ordered Asdrubal's head to be cut off, and thrown into his brother's camp. The Carthaginian general began to perceive the approach of the downfall of Carthage, and could not help observing with a sigh to those about him, that fortune seemed fatigued with granting her favors.

Fortune now seemed to favor the Roman arms in other parts. Marcellus took the city of Syracuse in Sicily, which was defended by the machines and the fires of Archimedes, the mathematician.

The inhabitants were put to the sword, and among the rest, Archimedes, who was found meditating in his study, by a Roman soldier. Marcellus, the general, was not a little grieved at his death. A passion for letters then prevailed among the higher ranks at Rome. Marcellus ordered the body of Archimedes to be honorably buried, and a tomb to be erected to his memory.

The fortune of the Romans in Spain for a while appeared doubtful, two of the Scipios being slain, yet they soon recovered under the conduct of Scipio Africanus.

Scipio who was now but twenty four years old, had all the qualifications requisite to form a great general, and a good man; he united the greatest courage with the greatest tenderness; superior to Hannibal in the arts of peace, and almost his equal in those of war. His father had been killed in Spain, so that he seemed to have an hereditary claim to attack the country.

Shortly after he returned with an army from the conquest of Spain, and was made consul at the age of twenty nine.

It was first supposed he intended meeting Hannibal in Italy, and that he would attempt driving him from thence; but he had formed a wiser plan, which was to carry the war into Africa, and while the Carthaginians kept an army near Rome, to make them tremble for their own capital.

Scipio was not long in Africa without employment; for in a short time Hanno opposed him, but he was defeated and slain. Syphax the usurper of Numidia, led up a large army against him. The Roman general for a time declined fighting, till finding an opportunity he set fire to the enemy's tents, and attacking them in the midst of the confusion, killed 40000 men, and took 6000 prisoners.

202 B.C.

Battle of Zama

The Battle of Zama
The Battle of Zama
Henri-Paul Motte, 1890

The Carthaginians terrified at their repeated defeats, and the fame of Scipio's success, determined to recall Hannibal from Italy, in order to oppose the Romans at home. Deputies were accordingly despatched, with a positive command for him to return and oppose the Roman general, who at that time threatened Carthage with a siege.

Hannibal obeyed the orders of his infatuated country, and took leave of Italy with tears, after having kept possession of the most beautiful parts of it for above fifteen years.

Upon his arrival at Leptis, in Africa, from whence he marched to Adrumetum, he at last approached Zama, a city within five days' journey of Carthage. Scipio led his army to meet him, joined by Masinissa, with six thousand horse; and to show his rival in the field how little he feared his approach, sent back the spies, which were sent to explore the camp, having previously shown them the whole, with directions to inform Hannibal of what they had seen.

The Carthaginian general, concious of his inferiority, endeavoured to discontinue the war by negotiation, and desired a meeting with Scipio, to confer upon terms of peace; to which the Roman general assented. But after a long conference, both sides parting dissatisfied, they returned to their camps to prepare for deciding the controversy by the sword. Never was a more memorable battle fought, whether we regard the generals, the armies, the two states that contended, or the empire that was in dispute.

The disposition which Hannibal made of his men, is said, by the skilful in the art of war, to be superior to any of his former arrangements. The Carthaginans began the battle with their elephants, which being terrified at the cries of the Romans, and wounded by the slingers and archers, turned upon their drivers, and caused much confusion in both wings of their army, in which the cavalry was placed.

Being thus deprived of the assistance of the horse, in which their greatest strength consisted, the heavy infantry joined on both sides; but the Romans being stronger of body, the Carthaginians were obliged to give ground.

Masinissa who had been in pursuit of their cavalry, returning and attacking them in the rear, completed their defeat. A total rout ensued, 20000 men were killed, and as many were taken prisoners.

Hannibal who had done all that a great general and an undaunted soldier could perform, fled with a small body of horse to Adrumetum : fortune seeming to delight in confounding his ability, his valor, and experience. This victory produced a treaty of peace, by which the Carthaginians were obliged to quit Spain, and all the islands in the Mediterranean. They were bound to pay 10000 talents in fifty years; to give hostages for the delivery of their ships, and their elephants, to restore Masinissa all the territories that had been taken from him, and not to make war in Africa but by the permission of the Romans. Thus ended the second Punic war, seventeen years after it had begun, 202 years B.C.

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