While yet a boy, he had followed his father to the camp; and he soon distinguished himself. His light and firmly-knit frame made him an excellent runner and fencer, and a fearless rider at full speed; the privation of sleep did not affect him, and he knew like a soldier how to enjoy or to dispense with food. Although his youth had been spent in the camp, he possessed such culture as belonged to the Phoenicians of rank in his day; in Greek, apparently after he had become a general, he made such progress under the guidance of his confidant Sosilus of Sparta as to be able to compose state papers in that language. As he grew up, he entered the army of his father, to perform his first feats of arms under the paternal eye and to see him fall in battle by his side. Thereafter he had commanded the cavalry under his sister's husband, Hasdrubal, and distinguished himself by brilliant personal bravery as well as by his talents as a leader. The voice of his comrades now summoned him--the tried, although youthful general--to the chief command, and he could now execute the designs for which his father and his brother-in-law had lived and died. He took up the inheritance, and he was worthy of it. His contemporaries tried to cast stains of various sorts on his character; the Romans charged him with cruelty, the Carthaginians with covetousness; and it is true that he hated as only Oriental natures know how to hate, and that a general who never fell short of money and stores can hardly have been other than covetous. But though anger and envy and meanness have written his history, they have not been able to mar the pure and noble image which it presents. Laying aside wretched inventions which furnish their own refutation, and some things which his lieutenants, particularly Hannibal Monomachus and Mago the Samnite, were guilty of doing in his name, nothing occurs in the accounts regarding him which may not be justified under the circumstances, and according to the international law, of the times; and all agree in this, that he combined in rare perfection discretion and enthusiasm, caution and energy. He was peculiarly marked by that inventive craftiness, which forms one of the leading traits of the Phoenician character; he was fond of taking singular and unexpected routes; ambushes and stratagems of all sorts were familiar to him; and he studied the character of his antagonists with unprecedented care. By an unrivalled system of espionage--he had regular spies even in Rome--he kept himself informed of the projects of the enemy; he himself was frequently seen wearing disguises and false hair, in order to procure information on some point or other. Every page of the history of this period attests his genius in strategy; and his gifts as a statesman were, after the peace with Rome, no less conspicuously displayed in his reform of the Carthaginian constitution, and in the unparalleled influence which as a foreign exile he exercised in the cabinets of the eastern powers. The power which he wielded over men is shown by his incomparable control over an army of various nations and many tongues--an army which never in the worst times mutinied against him. He was a great man; wherever he went, he riveted the eyes of all.

Rupture Between Rome and Carthage

Hannibal resolved immediately after his nomination (in the spring of 534) to commence the war. The land of the Celts was still in a ferment, and a war seemed imminent between Rome and Macedonia: he had good reason now to throw off the mask without delay and to carry the war whithersoever he pleased, before the Romans began it at their own convenience with a descent on Africa. His army was soon ready to take the field, and his exchequer was filled by some razzias on a great scale; but the Carthaginian government showed itself far from desirous of despatching the declaration of war to Rome. The place of Hasdrubal, the patriotic national leader, was even more difficult to fill in Carthage than that of Hasdrubal the general in Spain; the peace party had now the ascendency at home, and persecuted the leaders of the war party with political indictments. The rulers who had already cut down and mutilated the plans of Hamilcar were by no means inclined to allow the unknown young man, who now commanded in Spain, to vent his youthful patriotism at the expense of the state; and Hannibal hesitated personally to declare war in open opposition to the legitimate authorities. He tried to provoke the Saguntines to break the peace; but they contented themselves with making a complaint to Rome. Then, when a commission from Rome appeared, he tried to drive it to a declaration of war by treating it rudely; but the commissioners saw how matters stood: they kept silence in Spain, with a view to lodge complaints at Carthage and to report at home that Hannibal was ready to strike and that war was imminent. Thus the time passed away; accounts had already come of the death of Antigonus Doson, who had suddenly died nearly at the same time with Hasdrubal; in Cisalpine Gaul the establishment of fortresses was carried on by the Romans with redoubled rapidity and energy; preparations were made in Rome for putting a speedy end in the course of the next spring to the insurrection in Illyria. Every day was precious; Hannibal formed his resolution. He sent summary intimation to Carthage that the Saguntines were making aggressions on the Torboletes, subjects of Carthage, and he must therefore attack them; and without waiting for a reply he began in the spring of 535 the siege of a town which was in alliance with Rome, or, in other words, war against Rome. We may form some idea of the views and counsels that would prevail in Carthage from the impression produced in certain circles by York's capitulation. All "respectable men," it was said, disapproved an attack made "without orders"; there was talk of disavowal, of surrendering the daring officer. But whether it was that dread of the army and of the multitude nearer home outweighed in the Carthaginian council the fear of Rome; or that they perceived the impossibility of retracing such a step once taken; or that the mere -vis inertiae- prevented any definite action, they resolved at length to resolve on nothing and, if not to wage war, to let it nevertheless be waged. Saguntum defended itself, as only Spanish towns know how to conduct defence: had the Romans showed but a tithe of the energy of their clients, and not trifled away their time during the eight months' siege of Saguntum in the paltry warfare with Illyrian brigands, they might, masters as they were of the sea and of places suitable for landing, have spared themselves the disgrace of failing to grant the protection which they had promised, and might perhaps have given a different turn to the war.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book