At the same time, concealing in true Phoenician style the most unbounded resentment under the cloak of humility, they attempted to deceive the enemy. A message was sent to the consuls to request a thirty days' armistice for the despatch of an embassy to Rome. The Carthaginians were well aware that the generals neither would nor could grant this request, which had been refused once already; but the consuls were confirmed by it in the natural supposition that after the first outbreak of despair the utterly defenceless city would submit, and accordingly postponed the attack. The precious interval was employed in preparing catapults and armour; day and night all, without distinction of age or sex, were occupied in constructing machines and forging arms; the public buildings were torn down to procure timber and metal; women cut off their hair to furnish the strings indispensable for the catapults; in an incredibly short time the walls and the men were once more armed. That all this could be done without the consuls, who were but a few miles off, learning anything of it, is not the least marvellous feature in this marvellous movement sustained by a truly enthusiastic, and in fact superhuman, national hatred. When at length the consuls, weary of waiting, broke up from their camp at Utica, and thought that they should be able to scale the bare walls with ladders, they found to their surprise and horror the battlements crowned anew with catapults, and the large populous city which they had hoped to occupy like an open village, able and ready to defend itself to the last man.

Situation Of Carthage

Carthage was rendered very strong both by the nature of its situation(8) and by the art of its inhabitants, who had very often to depend on the protection of its walls. Into the broad gulf of Tunis, which is bounded on the west by Cape Farina and on the east by Cape Bon, there projects in a direction from west to east a promontory, which is encompassed on three sides by the sea and is connected with the mainland only towards the west. This promontory, at its narrowest part only about two miles broad and on the whole flat, again expands towards the gulf, and terminates there in the two heights of Jebel-Khawi and Sidi bu Said, between which extends the plain of El Mersa. On its southern portion which ends in the height of Sidi bu Said lay the city of Carthage. The pretty steep declivity of that height towards the gulf and its numerous rocks and shallows gave natural strength to the side of the city next to the gulf, and a simple circumvallation was sufficient there. On the wall along the west or landward side, on the other hand, where nature afforded no protection, every appliance within the power of the art of fortification in those times was expended. It consisted, as its recently discovered remains exactly tallying with the description of Polybius have shown, of an outer wall 6 1/2 feet thick and immense casemates attached to it behind, probably along its whole extent; these were separated from the outer wall by a covered way 6 feet broad, and had a depth of 14 feet, exclusive of the front and back walls, each of which was fully 3 feet broad.(9) This enormous wall, composed throughout of large hewn blocks, rose in two stories, exclusive of the battlements and the huge towers four stories high, to a height of 45 feet,(10) and furnished in the lower range of the casemates stables and provender-stores for 300 elephants, in the upper range stalls for horses, magazines, and barracks.(11) The citadel-hill, the Byrsa (Syriac, birtha = citadel), a comparatively considerable rock having a height of 188 feet and at its base a circumference of fully 2000 double paces,(12) was joined to this wall at its southern end, just as the rock-wall of the Capitol was joined to the city-wall of Rome. Its summit bore the huge temple of the God of Healing, resting on a basement of sixty steps. The south side of the city was washed partly by the shallow lake of Tunes towards the south-west, which was separated almost wholly from the gulf by a narrow and low tongue of land running southwards from the Carthaginian peninsula,(13) partly by the open gulf towards the south-east. At this last spot was situated the double harbour of the city, a work of human hands; the outer or commercial harbour, a longish rectangle with the narrow end turned to the sea, from whose entrance, only 70 feet wide, broad quays stretched along the water on both sides, and the inner circular war-harbour, the Cothon,(14) with the island containing the admiral's house in the middle, which was approached through the outer harbour. Between the two passed the city wall, which turning eastward from the Byrsa excluded the tongue of land and the outer harbour, but included the war-harbour, so that the entrance to the latter must be conceived as capable of being closed like a gate. Not far from the war-harbour lay the marketplace, which was connected by three narrow streets with the citadel open on the side towards the town. To the north of, and beyond, the city proper, the pretty considerable space of the modern El Mersa, even at that time occupied in great part by villas and well-watered gardens, and then called Magalia, had a circumvallation of its own joining on to the city wall. On the opposite point of the peninsula, the Jebel-Khawi near the modern village of Ghamart, lay the necropolis. These three--the old city, the suburb, and the necropolis--together filled the whole breadth of the promontory on its side next the gulf, and were only accessible by the two highways leading to Utica and Tunes along that narrow tongue of land, which, although not closed by a wall, yet afforded a most advantageous position for the armies taking their stand under the protection of the capital with the view of protecting it in return.

The difficult task of reducing so well fortified a city was rendered still more difficult by the fact, that the resources of the capital itself and of its territory which still included 800 townships and was mostly under the power of the emigrant party on the one hand, and the numerous tribes of the free or half-free Libyans hostile to Massinissa on the other, enabled the Carthaginians simultaneously with their defence of the city to keep a numerous army in the field-- an army which, from the desperate temper of the emigrants and the serviceableness of the light Numidian cavalry, the besiegers could not afford to disregard.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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