Chapter IV

Hamilcar And Hannibal

Situation Of Carthage After the Peace

The treaty with Rome in 513 gave to the Carthaginians peace, but they paid for it dearly. That the tribute of the largest portion of Sicily now flowed into the enemy's exchequer instead of the Carthaginian treasury, was the least part of their loss. They felt a far keener regret when they not merely had to abandon the hope of monopolizing all the sea-routes between the eastern and the western Mediterranean --just as that hope seemed on the eve of fulfilment--but also saw their whole system of commercial policy broken up, the south-western basin of the Mediterranean, which they had hitherto exclusively commanded, converted since the loss of Sicily into an open thoroughfare for all nations, and the commerce of Italy rendered completely independent of the Phoenician. Nevertheless the quiet men of Sidon might perhaps have prevailed on themselves to acquiesce in this result. They had met with similar blows already; they had been obliged to share with the Massiliots, the Etruscans, and the Sicilian Greeks what they had previously possessed alone; even now the possessions which they retained, Africa, Spain, and the gates of the Atlantic Ocean, were sufficient to confer power and prosperity. But in truth, where was their security that these at least would continue in their hands? The demands made by Regulus, and his very near approach to the obtaining of what he asked, could only be forgotten by those who were willing to forget; and if Rome should now renew from Lilybaeum the enterprise which she had undertaken with so great success from Italy, Carthage would undoubtedly fall, unless the perversity of the enemy or some special piece of good fortune should intervene to save it No doubt they had peace for the present; but the ratification of that peace had hung on a thread, and they knew what public opinion in Rome thought of the terms on which it was concluded. It might be that Rome was not yet meditating the conquest of Africa and was as yet content with Italy; but if the existence of the Carthaginian state depended on that contentment, the prospect was but a sorry one; and where was the security that the Romans might not find it even convenient for their Italian policy to extirpate rather than reduce to subjection their African neighbour?

War Party And Peace Party In Carthage

In short, Carthage could only regard the peace of 513 in the light of a truce, and could not but employ it in preparations for the inevitable renewal of the war; not for the purpose of avenging the defeat which she had suffered, nor even with the primary view of recovering what she had lost, but in order to secure for herself an existence that should not be dependent on the good-will of the enemy. But when a war of annihilation is surely, though in point of time indefinitely, impending over a weaker state, the wiser, more resolute, and more devoted men--who would immediately prepare for the unavoidable struggle, accept it at a favourable moment, and thus cover their defensive policy by a strategy of offence--always find themselves hampered by the indolent and cowardly mass of the money- worshippers, of the aged and feeble, and of the thoughtless who are minded merely to gain time, to live and die in peace, and to postpone at any price the final struggle. So there was in Carthage a party for peace and a party for war, both, as was natural, associating themselves with the political distinction which already existed between the conservatives and the reformers. The former found its support in the governing boards, the council of the Ancients and that of the Hundred, led by Hanno the Great, as he was called; the latter found its support in the leaders of the multitude, particularly the much-respected Hasdrubal, and in the officers of the Sicilian army, whose great successes under the leadership of Hamilcar, although they had been otherwise fruitless, had at least shown to the patriots a method which seemed to promise deliverance from the great danger that beset them. Vehement feud had probably long subsisted between these parties, when the Libyan war intervened to suspend the strife. We have already related how that war arose. After the governing party had instigated the mutiny by their incapable administration which frustrated all the precautionary measures of the Sicilian officers, had converted that mutiny into a revolution by the operation of their inhuman system of government, and had at length brought the country to the verge of ruin by their military incapacity--and particularly that of their leader Hanno, who ruined the army--Hamilcar Barcas, the hero of Ercte, was in the perilous emergency solicited by the government itself to save it from the effects of its blunders and crimes. He accepted the command, and had the magnanimity not to resign it even when they appointed Hanno as his colleague. Indeed, when the indignant army sent the latter home, Hamilcar had the self-control a second time to concede to him, at the urgent request of the government, a share in the command; and, in spite of his enemies and in spite of such a colleague, he was able by his influence with the insurgents, by his dexterous treatment of the Numidian sheiks, and by his unrivalled genius for organization and generalship, in a singularly short time to put down the revolt entirely and to recall rebellious Africa to its allegiance (end of 517).

During this war the patriot party had kept silence; now it spoke out the louder. On the one hand this catastrophe had brought to light the utterly corrupt and pernicious character of the ruling oligarchy, their incapacity, their coterie-policy, their leanings towards the Romans. On the other hand the seizure of Sardinia, and the threatening attitude which Rome on that occasion assumed, showed plainly even to the humblest that a declaration of war by Rome was constantly hanging like the sword of Damocles over Carthage, and that, if Carthage in her present circumstances went to war with Rome, the consequence must necessarily be the downfall of the Phoenician dominion in Libya.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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