II, 6 After the First Punic War there was peace for barely four years,a and then, lo, a second war broke out, less indeed in duration — for it lasted not more than eighteen years — but so much more terrible in the awfulness of the calamities which it involved, that, if one were to compare the losses on both sides, the people which conquered was more like p95 one that had been defeated. 2 A high-spirited people chafed at its exclusion from the sea, the seizure of its islands and the payment of tribute which it had been accustomed to demand from others. 3 Hence Hannibal, while still a boy, had sworn to his father at the altar that he would exact vengeance; and he was not slow to do so. Saguntum, therefore, was chosen as a pretext for war, an ancient and wealthy Spanish city, a notable but sad example of loyalty towards the Roman people. 4 This city, although it had been granted special immunity under a common treaty, Hannibal, seeking pretexts for fresh disturbances, destroyed, partly by his own hands and partly by those of the citizens themselves, in order that, by the violation of the treaty, he might open to himself the path to Italy. 5 The Romans are most scrupulous in their observation of treaties; and so, on hearing of the siege of an allied city, mindful of the treaty which had been signed by the Carthaginians, they did not immediately rush to arms, but preferred first to lodge a complaint in a legal form. 6 Meanwhile the Saguntines, worn out by nine months of famine, the assaults of machines and the sword, their loyalty at last turning to rage, piled up a huge pyre in the middle of the market-place and, on the top of it, destroyed with fire and the sword themselves and their families together with all their possessions. 7 The surrender of Hannibal was demanded as the author of this great calamity. When the Carthaginians prevaricated, the chief of the embassy exclaimed, "Why this delay? In the folds of this robe I bear war and peace; which do you choose?" And when they cried out "War," he answered, "Take war then," and shaking out the front of his p97 toga in the midst of the senate-house, he spread it out with a gesture which did not fail to produce the alarm which might have been expected had he really carried war in its folds.
8 The course of the war resembled its beginning: for, as though the last curses of the Saguntines at their public self-immolation and burning had demanded such funeral rites, atonement was made to their shades by the devastation of Italy, the subjugation of Africa and the destruction of the leaders and kings who waged the war. 9 As soon, therefore, as the dire and dismal stress and storm of the Punic War had arisen in Spain and had forged in the flames of Saguntum the thunderbolt which had long been destined to fall upon the Romans, immediately, hurried along by some compelling force, it burst its way through the midst of the Alps and swooped down upon Italy from those snows of fabulous heights like a missile hurled from the skies.
10 The tempest of the first assault crashed with a mighty roar between the Padus and the Ticinus. The Roman army under Scipio was scattered, and the general himself would have fallen wounded into the enemy's hands had not his son, still a mere youth, protected his father and rescued him from the very jaws of death. 11 This youth was destined to be that Scipio who grew up to be the conqueror of Africa and was to win a title of honour from its misfortunes.
12 After the battle of Ticinus came that of Trebia. It was here that in the consulship of Sempronius,1 the second storm of the Punic War wreaked its fury. On this occasion the crafty enemy, finding the day cold and snowy, after warming themselves p99 at their fires and oiling themselves, defeated us (horrible to relate) though they came from the warmth of the southern sunshine, by the aid of our own winter.
13 Hannibal's third thunderbolt was launched at Lake Trasimene, where Flaminius commanded the Romans. Here Carthaginian craft devised a new stratagem; for their cavalry, under the cover of a mist from the lake and the undergrowth of the marshes, suddenly attacked the rear of our fighters. 14 Nor can we blame the gods; for swarms of bees settling on our standards and the reluctance of the eagles to advance,2 and a violent earthquake which ensued upon the beginning of the engagement — unless, indeed, it was the rush of horses and men and the unusually violent clash of arms which caused this trembling of the earth — had warned its rash commander of the impending disaster.
15 The fourth and almost mortal wound received by the Roman Empire was dealt at Cannae, an insignificant Apulian village, which emerged from its obscurity as the scene of a great disaster and gained fame from the slaughter of 60,000 men. There the general, the battle-field, the atmosphere and the weather — in fact, all nature — conspired to bring about the destruction of the unhappy army. 16 The wily Hannibal, not content with sending pretended deserters who presently fell upon the rear of the fighters, having, moreover, noticed the character of the ground in the open plains (where the sun is very hot and the dust abundant and the wind blows constantly, as though on a fixed principle, from the east) drew up his army in such a way that, while the Romans had all these factors p101 against them, he himself fought with the elements on his side, aided by the wind, the dust and the sun. 17 Thus two great Roman armies were slaughtered till the enemy were satiated and Hannibal bade his soldiers stay their swords. One of our generals fled, the other was captured. It is difficult to decide which showed the greater courage: Paulus, who was ashamed to survive, or Varro, who refused to despair. 18 As proofs of the vastness of the slaughter the Aufidus for a long time ran with blood; a bridge of corpses was constructed by order of the general over the torrent of Vergellus; two pecks of rings were sent to Carthage and the services of the equestrian order thus estimated by measure. 19 After this no doubt will be entertained that Rome would have seen its last day and Hannibal might within five days have feasted on the Capitol, if (as they say Maharbal, the Carthaginian, the son of Bomilcar, observed) he had known how to use his victory as well as he knew how to obtain it. 20 However, at the time, as is generally said, either the destiny of Rome as the future ruler of the world, or Hannibal's mistaken judgment, and the hostility of the gods to Carthage, diverted him elsewhere. 21 When he might have exploited his victory, he preferred the enjoyments which it offered and, neglecting Rome, marched to Campania and Tarentum, where the vigour both of himself and of his army soon languished to such an extent that it has been remarked with truth that "Capua was Hannibal's Cannae." 22 For, though it is scarcely credible, the sunshine of Campania and the hot springs of Baiae overcame him who had been undefeated by the Alps and unconquered on the battle-field.
p103 23 Meanwhile the Romans had the opportunity to recover their breath and rise, as it were, from the dead. They had no arms; they took down the arms fixed up in the temples. They had no men; slaves were set free and took the oath of service. 24 The treasury was empty; the senators voluntarily offered their wealth to the State, retaining not a particle of gold except in the bullae3 and in the single ring which each of them wore. The example of the senate was followed by the knights, who, in their turn, were imitated by the tribes, 25 with the result that when, in the consulship of Laevinus and Marcellus,4 the resources of private individuals were poured into the public treasury, the registers and the hands of the clerks scarcely sufficed to record them. 26 Furthermore, what wisdom the centuries showed in the choice of magistrates, when the younger men sought from their seniors advice about the election of the consuls! For against a foe so often victorious and so crafty it behoved them to fight not only with courage but with stratagem also on their side.
27 The first hope of the Empire, as it began to recover and, so to speak, return to life, was Fabius, who devised a new method of defeating Hannibal — by not fighting him. Hence he received a new title, significant of the way in which he saved the State, namely, Cunctator ("the Delayer"); hence too the people paid him the tribute of calling him "the Shield of the Empire." 28 And so through the whole of Samnium and the Falernian and Gaurian forests he so wore Hannibal down that, since he could not be broken by valour, he was reduced by delay. 29 Then, under the leadership of Claudius Marcellus, they at last ventured to meet p105 him in battle; they came to close quarters with him, smote him in his beloved Campania, and forced him to abandon the siege of Nola. 30 They also ventured, under the leadership of Sempronius Gracchus, to pursue him through Lucania, and to press hard upon his rearguard as he retired, though on this occasion they fought him with an army of slaves — a sad disgrace; for their many misfortunes had reduced them to this expedient. But these men, presented with their liberty, made themselves, by their valour, Romans instead of slaves. 31 How amazing was the confidence of the Roman people amid so many adversities! How extraordinary their courage and spirit! Though their fortunes were so reduced and brought low that they might well have had misgivings about their own land of Italy, they yet ventured to turn their eyes in various other directions; 32 and while the enemy, clinging to their very throat, were rushing hither and thither through Campania and Apulia and creating another Africa in the very heart of Italy, they not only withstood them but at the same time spread their troops over the face of the earth, sending them to Sicily, Sardinia and Spain.
33 Sicily was the area assigned to Marcellus; and it did not long resist him; for the whole island was subjugated by the defeat of a single city. Syracuse, the mighty and hitherto unconquered capital, though it was defended by the genius of Archimedes, at length yielded. 34 Of no avail were its triple walls, its three citadels, its harbour of marble and the celebrated Fountain of Arethusa; the only advantage which they conferred was that the beauties of the conquered city were spared.
p107 35 Gracchus secured Sardinia; the savagery of the inhabitants and the vastness of the Mad Mountains — for such is their name — availed it nothing. Its cities, including Caralis, the capital, were treated with severity, that a race which was obstinate and contemptuous of life might at any rate be tamed by the loss of the soil which it cultivated.
36 The two Scipios, Gnaeus and Publius, were sent into Spain and had wrested practically the whole of the country from the Carthaginians; but, surprised by the wiles of Carthaginian craft, they had lost it again, although they had defeated their forces in important battles. But the stratagems of the Carthaginians had overwhelmed one of them by attacking him as he was measuring out a camp, and the other by surrounding him with flames in a tower to which he had with difficulty escaped. 37 And so a third Scipio, for whom the fate had already destined a great name to be won in Africa, was sent with an army to avenge his father and uncle, and recovered the whole of Spain (an almost incredible feat) from the Pyrenees to the Pillars of Hercules, 38 that land of warriors, so famous for its heroes and its warlike exploits, that nursery of the enemy's forces which had taught the youthful Hannibal the art of war. It is difficult to say which was greater, his speed or his good fortune. 39 To his speed, the four years of his operations bear witness; the ease of his conquest is proved by the example of a single city, which was captured on the very day on which the siege began, while it was an omen of future victory in Africa that the Spanish Carthage was so easily subdued. 40 It is certain, however, that the remarkable austerity of the general contributed greatly to the subjugation p109 of the province; for he restored to the barbarians some captive boys and girls of extraordinary beauty without having allowed them to be brought into his presence, lest even by a glance he should seem to have sullied their virgin purity.
41 Though such were their achievements in various other parts of the world, the Romans were yet unable to dislodge Hannibal, who still held his grip upon the very vitals of Italy. Many places had deserted to the enemy, whose indefatigable leader was employing Italian aid also against the Romans. 42 We had, however, by this time driven Hannibal out of many towns and districts; Tarentum had already returned to our side, and Capua, his headquarters, his home and his second fatherland (the loss of which caused the Carthaginian leader such grief that he promptly directed his whole forces against Rome) was in our hands. 43 How well did the Roman people deserve the empire of the world and the favour and admiration of all, both gods and men! Compelled to fear the worst, they did not abandon their purpose, and, though alarmed for their own city, did not lose their hold upon Capua; but, part of their army having been left there under the Consul Appius and the rest having followed Flaccus to the capital, they fought at home and away from home at the same time. 44 Why then are we surprised that, when Hannibal was moving his camp forward from the third milestone, the gods, the gods, I say (and we shall feel no shame in admitting their aid), again5 resisted his progress? 45 For, at each advance of his, such a flood of rain fell and such violent gales arose that he seemed to be repelled by the gods not from heaven,6 but from the walls of the city p111 itself and the Capitol. 46 Hannibal fled and departed, withdrawing to the furthermost corner of Italy, abandoning the city, the object almost of his worship. 47 It is a small detail but rather a striking proof of the stout-heartedness of the Romans that, during the very days when the city was being besieged, the land upon which Hannibal had set up his camp came up for sale at Rome, and, on being put up for auction, found a purchaser. 48 Hannibal on his part, wishing to imitate this confidence, put up for sale the banking establishments in the city; but no bidder could be found, a fact which shows that further events cast their shadow before them.
49 All this valour and even the powerful support of the gods had produced no result, since Hasdrubal, Hannibal's brother, was coming from Spain with a new army, new strength and new resources for war; 50 the fate of Rome had certainly been sealed if he had effected a junction with his brother. However, when Hasdrubal had just descended from the Alps, as he was planning out a camp near the Metaurus, Claudius Nero, together with Livius Salinator, defeated him also. 51 Nero had driven Hannibal into the uttermost corner of Italy, while Livius had advanced to the very opposite end of the country, the very entrance of the Italian frontier. 52 Since so vast a space, the utmost length of Italy, lay between them, it is difficult to do justice to the skill and speed with which the consuls joined their forces and, with their combined armies, surprised their unsuspecting foe without Hannibal's knowing that they were doing so. 53 Hannibal, at any rate, on learning what had happened by seeing his brother's head thrown into his camp, exclaimed, "I recognize the ill-luck of p113 Carthage." This was his first confession, fraught with foreknowledge of approaching failure.
54 It was now certain that Hannibal, even by his own confession, could be defeated; but the Roman people, full of the confidence inspired by so much success, set great store upon defeating their bitterest enemy on his own soil of Africa. 55 Under the leadership, therefore, of Scipio, they directed the whole mass of their forces upon Africa itself and began to imitate the example of Hannibal and avenge upon Africa the disasters which had befallen their own land of Italy. 56 Ye gods, what forces of Hasdrubal, what cavalry of Syphax, king of Numidia, did Scipio put to flight! What mighty camps of both these leaders did he destroy in a single night by bringing firebrands against them! At last, not at three miles distance but by a close siege, he shook the very gates of Carthage. 57 He thus succeeded in making Hannibal release his grip upon Italy, to which he was still clinging and over which he still brooded. 58 In the whole history of the Roman Empire there was no more notable occasion than when the two generals, greater than any before or since, the one the conqueror of Italy, the other of Spain, drew up their armies for a pitched battle. But first a conference was held between them about terms of peace, and they stood for a while motionless in mutual admiration. 59 When, however, no agreement was reached about peace, the signal was given for battle. 60 It is agreed from the admission of both sides that no armies could have been better arrayed and no battle more obstinately contested; Scipio acknowledged this about Hannibal's army and Hannibal about that of Scipio. 61 But Hannibal had p115 to yield, and Africa became the prize of victory; and the whole world soon followed the fate of Africa.
1 218 B.C.
3 Golden ornaments which free-born Roman children wore suspended round their necks.
Thayer's Note: For details, see the article Bulla in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.
4 210 B.C.
5 i.e. as after Cannae.
6 As were the Giants in the legend.
a This is a puzzling statement; I am indebted to Adam Favaro for calling our attention to it. We date the First Punic War as ending in 241 B.C., and the Second Punic War as beginning in 218 B.C. — an interval of over twenty years. The statement is usually chalked up as Florus' error, since it's hard to see how the text, rather emphatic in tone, could have been corrupted to yield "vix quadriennii requies". Typical commentary on the passage is that of the official Spanish school textbook Colección de Autores Selectos, Latinos y Castellanos (1851), p262:
Vix quadriennii requies: apenas se habian disfrutado cuatro años de descanso. Este es un error de Floro, á no ser que segun la opinion de algunos críticos aquí haya debido sufrir el texto alguna alteracion. Pues parece dar á entender que entre la primera guerra púnica y la segunda solo mediaron cuatro años, cuando fueron veinte y dos.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY if its URL has a total of one *asterisk. If the URL has two **asterisks, the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use. If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 6 Jan 18