The first and chief cause of the inactivity of the Romans was undoubtedly their very want of acquaintance with the circumstances of the remote peninsula--which was certainly also Hamilcar's main reason for selecting Spain and not, as might otherwise have been possible, Africa itself for the execution of his plan. The explanations with which the Carthaginian generals met the Roman commissioners sent to Spain to procure information on the spot, and their assurances that all this was done only to provide the means of promptly paying the war-contributions to Rome, could not possibly find belief in the senate. But they probably discerned only the immediate object of Hamilcar's plans, viz. to procure compensation in Spain for the tribute and the traffic of the islands which Carthage had lost; and they deemed an aggressive war on the part of the Carthaginians, and in particular an invasion of Italy from Spain--as is evident both from express statements to that effect and from the whole state of the case--as absolutely impossible. Many, of course, among the peace party in Carthage saw further; but, whatever they might think, they could hardly be much inclined to enlighten their Roman friends as to the impending storm, which the Carthaginian authorities had long been unable to prevent, for that step would accelerate, instead of averting, the crisis; and even if they did so, such denunciations proceeding from partisans would justly be received with great caution at Rome. By degrees, certainly, the inconceivably rapid and mighty extension of the Carthaginian power in Spain could not but excite the observation and awaken the apprehensions of the Romans. In fact, in the course of the later years before the outbreak of war, they did attempt to set bounds to it. About the year 528, mindful of their new-born Hellenism, they concluded an alliance with the two Greek or semi-Greek towns on the east coast of Spain, Zacynthus or Saguntum (Murviedro, not far from Valencia), and Emporiae (Ampurias); and when they acquainted the Carthaginian general Hasdrubal that they had done so, they at the same time warned him not to push his conquests over the Ebro, with which he promised compliance. This was not done by any means to prevent an invasion of Italy by the land-route--no treaty could fetter the general who undertook such an enterprise--but partly to set a limit to the material power of the Spanish Carthaginians which began to be dangerous, partly to secure the free communities between the Ebro and the Pyrenees whom Rome thus took under her protection, a basis of operations in case of its being necessary to land and make war in Spain. In reference to the impending war with Carthage, which the senate did not fail to see was inevitable, they hardly apprehended any greater inconvenience from the events that had occurred in Spain than that they might be compelled to send some legions thither, and that the enemy would be somewhat better provided with money and soldiers than, without Spain, he would have been; they were at any rate firmly resolved, as the plan of the campaign of 536 shows and as indeed could not but be the case, to begin and terminate the next war in Africa, --a course which would at the same time decide the fate of Spain. Further grounds for delay were suggested during the first years by the instalments from Carthage, which a declaration of war would have cut off, and then by the death of Hamilcar, which probably induced friends and foes to think that his projects must have died with him. Lastly, during the latter years when the senate certainly began, to apprehend that it was not prudent long to delay the renewal of the war, there was the very intelligible wish to dispose of the Gauls in the valley of the Po in the first instance, for these, threatened with extirpation, might be expected to avail themselves of any serious war undertaken by Rome to allure the Transalpine tribes once more to Italy, and to renew those Celtic migrations which were still fraught with very great peril. That it was not regard either for the Carthaginian peace party or for existing treaties which withheld the Romans from action, is self-evident; moreover, if they desired war, the Spanish feuds furnished at any moment a ready pretext. The conduct of Rome in this view is by no means unintelligible; but as little can it be denied that the Roman senate in dealing with this matter displayed shortsightedness and slackness--faults which were still more inexcusably manifested in their mode of dealing at the same epoch with Gallic affairs. The policy of the Romans was always more remarkable for tenacity, cunning, and consistency, than for grandeur of conception or power of rapid organization--qualities in which the enemies of Rome from Pyrrhus down to Mithradates often surpassed her.
Thus the smiles of fortune inaugurated the brilliantly conceived project of Hamilcar. The means of war were acquired--a numerous army accustomed to combat and to conquer, and a constantly replenished exchequer; but, in order that the right moment might be discovered for the struggle and that the right direction might be given to it, there was wanted a leader. The man, whose head and heart had in a desperate emergency and amidst a despairing people paved the way for their deliverance, was no more, when it became possible to carry out his design. Whether his successor Hasdrubal forbore to make the attack because the proper moment seemed to him to have not yet come, or whether, more a statesman than a general, he believed himself unequal to the conduct of the enterprise, we are unable to determine. When, at the beginning of 534, he fell by the hand of an assassin, the Carthaginian officers of the Spanish army summoned to fill his place Hannibal, the eldest son of Hamilcar. He was still a young man--born in 505, and now, therefore, in his twenty-ninth year; but his had already been a life of manifold experience. His first recollections pictured to him his father fighting in a distant land and conquering on Ercte; he had keenly shared that unconquered father's feelings on the peace of Catulus, on the bitter return home, and throughout the horrors of the Libyan war.