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Chapter V

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
A History of Rome
by
Tenney Frank

published by
Henry Holt and Company
New York 1923

The text is in the public domain.

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Chapter VII

 p94  Chapter VI

Rome and Carthage: The First Punic War

Carthage. Carthage had been settled by Phoenicians of Tyre and Sidon not long after the time that King Solomon built the temple of Jerusalem with the aid of Tyrian craftsmen furnished by King Hiram; and when Phoenicia later suffered under Assyrian attacks Carthage became the ruler of the western Phoenician colonies, drawing a large part of the powerful men of Tyre and Sidon to this new home. The city grew rapidly in size and wealth, though it seems not to have created any literature or art of importance. In order to trade with the barbarian Libyans, its merchants planted trading posts all along the shores of north Africa, some six hundred miles eastward to Cyrene, and a thousand miles westward to the Atlantic ocean. Carthage also took possession of western Sicily, keeping up an incessant quarrel with the Greek colonies of the eastern half, and presently of Sardinia and Corsica. Wherever the Carthaginians gained a foothold they tried to establish a monopoly of trade for themselves. We have seen how in the first treaty of Rome they excluded Romans where they had complete control. Only in Sicilian ports, where they could not control the eastern approaches, did they permit free trade, and their policy of exclusion they carried even further in the treaty that they made with Rome in 348. To the Romans of that day Carthaginian extension of the mare clausum mattered little, since Rome had as yet no commerce. But to Greek cities, like Marseilles and Syracuse, which depended much upon trade in the western Mediterranean this policy was annoying. Finally, they took possession of southern Spain, and in order to protect their trade in that region — especially in the tin which came from Britain — they announced that the  p95 western sea belonged to them exclusively, and they made good their claims by sinking every vessel that came into those waters. That Marseilles kept up a perpetual war with them is not surprising.

The government of Carthage, however, was not wholly in the hands of the mercantile class. A large land-owning aristocracy arose in time which reduced the native Libyans to serfdom. And these landed proprietors often controlled the senate and elected the consuls (suffetes). These land-owners were not always friendly to the mercantile class which grew very wealthy on commerce and supported a large part of the city populace in commercial and industrial work. It happened, therefore, that the mercantile class, which needed a strong navy to enforce its policy of closed seas, had at time to appeal to the popular assembly and over-ride the senate in order to procure what it desired. Thus the state was at times a landlord aristocracy, rather peaceable and stable, at times a mercantile democracy which elevated a militaristic leader to power who would protect and extend the trade routes. And as the city was wealthy enough to supply the ships and hire mercenaries without disturbing the landlords and their serfs, these military rulers often had their way.

Sicily. In 278 Pyrrhus had gone to Sicily to help the Greek cities rid themselves of the Carthaginians. He almost succeeded at one time in accomplishing this task and had driven the enemy to the farthest cape. But the Carthaginians secured reënforcements from home, drove Pyrrhus out of the island and then quickly won back more than they had lost. Only Syracuse and Messana (modern Messina) were left independent. Syracuse, a beautiful Greek city, was governed by the brilliant tyrant, Hiero, who a few years before had seized the reins of government by a cold-blooded revolution. Messana was in the control of a set of Campanian mercenaries who called themselves Mamertines, Sons of Mars, and who, being Campanians, must have been  p96 "half-citizens" of Rome. Twenty-five years before when their employer Agathocles died, instead of returning home to Capua, they had seized Messana, murdered or exiled the men of the city who dared oppose them, organized its forces, and by means of these had extended Messana's sway over some Syracusan as well as Carthaginian neighbors. In 268 Hiero had struck back and won no little glory by driving the invaders out of Syracusan territory.

Causes of the Punic War. During all these disturbances Rome had shown no concern over Sicilian affairs. In 265, however, a question touching her future arose. The Mamertines realizing their weakness, and fearing more punishment, were considering the advisability of inviting the protection of some stronger power. One faction succeeded in procuring a decree in favor of calling in the Carthaginians; immediately, another faction, gaining control of the government, repudiated this decree, and sent an invitation to Rome asking for her protection. The Carthaginians accepted the call but moved slowly. The Romans fell into a serious  p97 dispute over their invitation, the popular assembly favoring acceptance while the Senate favored refusal. The leaders of the assembly who favored acceptance were moved, we are told, by military reasons. They knew of course that if Carthage gained control of Messana, which lay only two miles from Italy across the Sicilian Straits, she would at the first opportunity close those straits to foreign ships as she had for centuries closed the straits of Gibraltar, and such a situation would now be impossible, for Rome must have communication by sea with her naval allies of southern Italy. This conviction was strengthened by the fact that Carthage had not long since shown undue eagerness to gain a foothold at the Italian ports of Tarentum and Regium. Their most persuasive arguments before the assembly were of course much simpler. They told the Roman populace that they had good hopes of profiting from the acceptance of Messana's invitation, but it is difficult to imagine what profits could have been promised unless perhaps it was suggested that henceforth Sicilian grain might be diverted to Rome and reduce the cost of living, now that Latian cereal culture was failing.

The Senate objected, says Polybius, on the score that the Mamertines were usurpers in Messana. In view of the fact that the Mamertines had committed their lawless coup about twenty-five years before, and that their government had been officially recognized by several Sicilian treaties made after that time, there is ground for doubting whether this argument was anything but a pretext. The Senate doubtless had more serious objections. They knew that the acceptance of Messana would probably result in a war with Carthage, a very strong power. They probably did not care to risk such a dangerous war for the sake of keeping the straits open since they cared not at all for commerce and had never been in favor of the entangling alliances with the Greek cities that were now possibly threatened. It must be remembered that the Senate had opposed the aiding  p98 of Thurii which had led to the Pyrrhic war, Finally, if cheap Sicilian grain was mentioned as an inducement by the aggressive party, it is not likely that this argument would have appealed to the landlords of the Senate who were still engaged in agriculture.

The assembly, however, was now supreme, had in fact been so since 287, and the assembly followed the aggressive democratic leader Appius Claudius — probably the son of the old blind censor — as it had followed the aged censor in the Pyrrhic affair.

In 264 Appius was consul and he was voted the command of two legions, and sent to accept Messana's invitation. This force was hardly sufficient for a war with Carthage; it is, therefore, probable that the Senate still hoped to limit the consul's objective to Messana and conclude peace as soon as possible. Meanwhile, however, the Carthaginians had entered Messana and were patrolling the straits. When Appius arrived at the straits, the Mamertines got rid of the Punic general by a ruse, helped the Romans cross the straits past the Punic cruisers, and admitted them to the city. Appius soon attacked the besieging Carthaginians, who had also secured the aid of Hiero of Syracuse, and scattered the united Punic and Syracusan forces. Hiero was induced to become an ally of Rome, but the Carthaginian general, acting doubtless on firm orders from home, continued the struggle, which was destined to last for nearly a generation.

The War. For two years the Romans with their small army made little headway against the constantly reinforced troops of Carthage. They, however, they captured the Carthaginian base of supplies at Agrigentum (Acragas), and impatient of delays, committed the blunder of sacking that beautiful city and selling the citizens into slavery. This merely turned Sicilian sympathies against Rome and made progress difficult.

The war came to a stalemate, and Rome decided to build a navy so as to control the sea. The Greek cities of  p99 the federation helped with this, and new Roman ships were built on the model of a Punic war vessel that had run ashore. The Romans, not accustomed to manoeuvres on the sea, adopted an old Greek device of supplying their vessels with swinging gang-planks and grappling hooks. When the Carthaginian navy met them off Mylae in 260, the Romans turned the battle into a hand to hand contest by means of these devices and won the battle with ease. Duilius, the consul who won this battle, proud of his victory, had a column erected at Rome decorated with some of the captured beaks. The inscription on this column — restored in the empire — may still be seen at Rome. It reads in part:

"He was the first consul to fight with ships on the sea and to build a war‑fleet. With this fleet he defeated in battle on the high seas the entire navy of the Carthaginians under the command of the dictator Hannibal, and he captured one septereme, thirty quinqueremes and triremes with their crews, and sank thirteen vessels."

The battle, however, was not decisive since Carthage had another fleet in reserve. But in 256 a second naval victory in which 330 Roman ships triumphed over 350 Carthaginian vessels ensured to the Romans a safe passage to Africa. There Atilius Regulus landed in order to bring the war into Carthaginian territory. After meeting with some success he was nevertheless defeated by a Spartan general who had been invited to organize the armies of Carthage. The story of how Regulus was sent to Rome to deliver the hard terms of peace, and of how he advocated further resistance although he knew this would involve his own death, was one of the favorite tales of Roman history. Whether or not every detail is true, it appears in one of the most stirring patriotic lyrics ever written, the fifth in the third book of Horace's odes,

Caelo tonantem credidimus Jovem.

To add to the disaster a large part of the Roman fleet was caught in a storm and destroyed. The African expedition  p100 was an utter failure. The contest continued in Sicily where the Romans made very slow progress for want of a navy. So long as Carthage controlled the sea she could bring new mercenaries to her aid. By 249 Rome, using what seemed to be her last financial resources, built a new fleet, but this too was defeated and destroyed. All in all, Rome had now lost over 500 ships and each had borne an average of 120 marines besides 300 crew. The ancient world had never before heard of such heavy losses in war. In 247 Hamilcar of the military-mercantile family of Barcas took charge of the Punic forces and began a skilful series of attacks in Sicily that threatened to win the whole island. Rome's treasury was depleted and her citizens were being taxed to the limit of endurance. Rome, therefore, called for private contributions of jewelry and property in any form, and by these means secured enough money to build a new fleet on the best model. With this fleet Lutatius Catulus won a decisive victory off the island of Aegusa in 242 and cleared the sea. Hamilcar was effectively shut off, and Carthage, unable to raise another army because her subjects were at the point of revolting, sued for peace. The war had lasted twenty-four years.

By the terms of peace Carthage surrendered Sicily and agreed to pay an indemnity of 3,200 talents (over 3,000,000 dollars in gold) in ten years. The indemnity was but a small fraction of the cost but Rome was weary and glad enough to come off the victor. This war offers perhaps the first thorough demonstration in history of the fact that liberal government provides the most stable basis for empire. Carthage had better generals than Rome, for they were trained specialists brought up and kept year after year in military service, while Rome's consuls, civil magistrates elected annually by the people, seldom had a thorough military training, and no sooner gained the experience of a summer's campaign than they were displaced by new consuls. Carthage had better trained soldiers, for they were  p101 standing armies of long experience, whereas Rome had no permanent army. Carthage had centuries of experience with navies and great amounts of ready wealth with which to equip them. The Romans had had no navy, not even any maritime trade that could provide experienced seamen. And her financial system was far from ready to stand the strain of heavy costs of equipment: it was only four years before this war that Rome had begun to coin silver money at Rome. Rome's one great advantage was that she had organized Italy on such liberal principles that her subject allies gave her never failing support both in the army and the navy, while Carthage, because of her old‑fashioned exploitation of her subjects, had to rely upon disgruntled serfs and mercenaries. Carthage, to be sure, had held her armies together without an open break till the end, but the forces of dissolution could not have been thwarted much longer. Africa proved to be in a turmoil of revolution before the terms of peace were signed, and it took four years for Carthage to quell that rebellion. It is useless to discuss what might have been the result if Carthage had won the war and become the outstanding world power instead of Rome. In truth Carthage could never have become a world power. The independent peoples of Italy could never have been held together for even a generation under the Oriental theory of government by exploitation that Carthage represented.

A change of policy. It was unfortunate that at the end of the war Rome adopted the policy of Carthage for the administration of Sicily instead of extending her own liberal system there. Outside of Italy Rome now became an imperial democracy, and the date of her victory over Carthage is the beginning of her surrender to un‑Roman ideas and Oriental policies of government. This date marks an epoch in Roman history. Rome found in Sicily a theory of government, which was new to her experience. It was the theory held in the East from time immemorial that the land  p102 did not belong to the individuals who possessed it, but to the sovereign who, therefore, had the right to exact more than a fair tax for its use; he charged what might be called a rent. Alexander the Great had found this system in vogue in Persia and had adopted it, and after him the Hellenistic monarchs in Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt had used it. This system both Hiero, King of Syracuse, and Carthage had employed in Sicily. (1) Some of the land these sovereigns had expropriated outright, and had rented it out to whomsoever they pleased at a rental of about one third of the annual crops. (2) Most of the subject cities they had left undisturbed in the possession of the original holders, but, claiming ownership of the land, they had charged a tenth (a "tithe") of some products like wheat, and a fifth (a "double tithe") of garden products and fruit, accepting this tribute in kind, while on pasture land they had charged a cash tribute of a definite amount per head of sheep or cattle. (3) A few favored cities were left free to pay a tax or to be wholly immune.

This system was so profitable, the war had been so costly, and Sicilian grain — now that Latium was going out of cereal culture — was so badly needed at Rome, that the Senate fell into the temptation, adopted it outright, and later, after acquiring Syracuse in the Second Punic War, extended it over that part of the island also. The Romans called the system by the name of Hiero, not that Hiero had so far as we know employed it more extensively than Carthage, but because the Romans, having learned Greek better than Carthaginian, could more readily study the records of Hiero than those of Punic administrators. Of course they assigned the cities and districts of Sicily to the various classes according to the behavior of the several cities during the war: some of the Carthaginian cities naturally fell into the worst class, while several of the Greek cities that aided Rome in the war were lifted to the class of immune and free cities, becoming practically a part of the  p103 Roman federation like Naples and other free Greek cities on the peninsula. The cities were finally grouped as follows:

I. Five free cities, independent and immune from taxes.

II. Three allied cities with obligations to furnish certain naval contingents.

III. About three-fourths of the Sicilian cities were made tithe-paying.

IV. About six cities lost their land to Rome and had to pay rent for it.

Sicily as a province. On the whole, however, Sicily benefited by being a Roman province. The incessant wars that had been fought between Carthage and the Greeks for three centuries were at an end. The danger of worse oppression that would have come if Carthage had gained complete control was over, and it was well for Sicily that Hiero's regulations (the "Lex Hieronica"), rather than those of Carthage, served as models for the Roman system. By these rules the Sicilian cities, which retained home-rule, could themselves take the annual census according to which the tithe of each individual was estimated, and if a dispute arose about the amount, the case must be tried in the city of the defendant; moreover the city could guard its citizens from injustice by undertaking the contract for collecting the tithes. Furthermore since the contracts had to be let in Sicily, not at Rome, the evils of the publican-system which later developed in eastern provinces were slow to find entrance in Sicily. Finally, the tax, so long as the rules were observed, was not heavy. The grain-tithe which was the principal tax amounted to about one million bushels of wheat annually levied on a population of about two million people. It was a misfortune that the system by requiring the relatively smallest tax on grain, overencouraged grain culture. It made Sicily "Rome's granary" in the second and first centuries B.C., and we now know that no land can stand an incessant production of cereals. Had the tax been heavier on grain and lighter on legumes and cattle  p104 raising, the Sicilian soil might have improved rather than deteriorated. But no one could have been expected to know all the secrets of agriculture then. At any rate Sicilian soil was finally so exhausted that in the Empire its tithe of grain amounted to very little.

The necessity of governing a province of subjects outside of Italy opened up new constitutional problems at Rome. Since the island might at any time be invaded by Carthage, and since the new theory of subjection did not invite coöperation from the natives, a standing army had to be kept there, and with it a military officer. A judge was also needed for judging cases involving Roman citizens and for the appointment of arbitrators to settle disputes regarding the tithes. The two offices were somewhat dangerously combined in one. A praetor was sent annually with the powers of an oldtime consul to act as executive, general, and judge. Such an arrangement seemed to promise efficient government, but failed to take cognizance of the fact that while a strong magistrate may be held in check at home by public opinion, this force might fail to restrain an unscrupulous official ruling over provincials far from home. Rome, in fact, committed the same mistake there as has our own government in failing to constitute an adequate special court for the protection of natives against the decrees of military governors, who are at times sent to places like Haiti and Santo Domingo. The time came when Rome had to institute such a court to hear the complaints of provincials against their proconsuls and propraetors. The government of Sicily, however, became the pattern for the government of other over‑sea acquisitions. Sicily was the first province of a long series destined to be formed.

Effects on Rome. The contact with the artistic Greeks of Syracuse during this long war brought a new era of culture to Rome. The Roman generals were apt to spend no little of their time during rainy seasons with the affable Hiero. This remarkable man must have enjoyed putting  p105 his rude conquerors into embarrassing positions by showing them the treasures of Syracuse. In the theater of the city he could take them to plays of Euripides and Menander, in the temples he could show them some of the finest masterpieces of Praxiteles and Apelles, in the libraries he could turn to the Greek historians and read them tales of how the Romans had long ago come from Troy — a flattering legend which the Romans had not known before. All these things made a very deep impression. A year after the war, a Greek schoolmaster at Rome, Livius Andronicus, was asked to translate some of the Greek plays so that they might be produced at Roman festivals, and presently Hiero was invited to Rome to see how well the Romans had learned their lesson from his people. This was the first literary work in the Latin language. Livius naturally chose most of this themes from the Trojan cycle, since these reminded the auditors of the new legends they had learned about themselves in Sicily. A few years later (235) Naevius, who had served as an officer in Sicily during the war, wrote the story of Rome from Trojan times down through the great war, in the old‑fashioned ballad meter of Rome. This "Bellum Punicum" was the first original literary production in Latin. The Sicilian war had awakened the Romans to consciousness of their power but also of their neglect of the arts. From now on they strove feverishly to catch up.

The effect of the war on Roman character was not wholly good. There is great danger in a democracy accustoming itself to ruling a weaker people, particularly if this experience comes before the nation is enough humanized by culture to counteract the poisons of insolence. There was danger that the government would acquire an overbearing attitude towards their subjects in Sicily and transfer this to their behavior toward Italian allies. They began before long to forget the liberal policies of 340, to blind their eyes to the fact that a democracy is not shaped to reign over subjects, and that imperial rule not based upon consent and good-will  p106 requires an army which may in time turn to crush the people that created it.

Between two great wars, 241‑218. Sardinia. It seems strange to us that in making the Punic treaty Rome neglected to demand the cession of Sardinia, which might at any time be made the base of operations of a Punic fleet in front of Rome's harbor. Soon, however, Rome had a chance to acquire possession of the island. Carthage had tried after the war to pay her mercenaries less than she had promised them. They mutinied and received the aid of the Libyan subject tribes in a vigorous attack upon Carthage. Even the Sardinian garrison revolted. For several years Carthage was very hard pressed. The Roman Senate, wishing at that time to reëstablish good relations with Carthage, aided her by preventing Italians from engaging their services in the revolting army. The Senate also refused to accept the tempting offer of the rebellious garrison in Sardinia which asked Rome to assume a protectorate over the island. However, two years later when Carthage had done nothing to win back the island, the offer was renewed. Rome now, in unfriendly haste, without asking Carthage whether she had given up her prior claims, accepted the offer and took possession. Carthage protested that she still claimed the island, organized an expedition to recapture it, and did not desist till Rome fitted out her fleet for action and declared war. Carthage frightened, sued for peace, which she got only after an indemnity of 1,200 talents had been exacted. Most modern historians would agree with Rome's historian Livy that Rome acted unfairly, though it is a question whether modern nations would not have behaved in the same manner had the same temptation been thrown in their way. The act, however, destroyed all good feeling for Rome at Carthage, and did not a little to support the militaristic party of Carthage in keeping alive the spirit of revenge.

This party led by Hamilcar saw the need of finding another  p107 province where the trading classes might recoup themselves for the loss of commerce in Sicily and Sardinia. Hamilcar, therefore, took an army to southern Spain and began a carefully planned conquest of the whole peninsula. He saw that the products of the rich country could readily be attracted from the trading posts held by Marseilles to the southern ports held by Carthage if political control was established, also that a strong army could be recruited in Spain with which not only to hold the peninsula and protect the trade, but to attack Rome if his hopes of a war of revenge were realized. Thus Carthage was turning into a land empire as well as a maritime and trading power.

The distribution of public lands. Meanwhile Rome had her own difficulties. The democratic party grew restive again. In 233 Gaius Flaminius, a man of democratic sympathies, suggested that the ager Gallicus, which had been taken half a century before, should be distributed to the poor citizens of Rome. It is likely that long military service in Sicily had reduced many small farmers to poverty. Farmers can not go soldiering for ten years and keep their farms in good condition; besides the wheat now coming from Sicily reduced the profits of such small farmers as were still trying to raise wheat. The senators opposed the measure because they wished to enjoy the profits of renting the public land cheaply — at least so the people thought. The senators, however, had some legitimate reasons for opposing the distribution. In the first place the treasury needed the revenue from the rent; then it might not be well to establish the precedent of giving lands to the populace who had failed to make a success of life; it would be difficult to follow such an example indefinitely. Perhaps also the Senate brought up the fact that land captured by the federal armies ought by right to be distributed as formerly to all the allies in Latin colonies.

Flaminius, however, carried his measure in the assembly, and most of the land was distributed by viritane allotments  p108 — the very system that has usually been employed in American settlements of public land. It was a method that Rome had not employed for a century; and Polybius, who had his point of view colored by senatorial writers like Fabius, calls it "the first step in the corruption of the people." Flaminius, a few years after, followed this measure by employing public funds to build a magnificent road from Rome to Ariminum up through the newly settled region. It still bears, in the sections remaining to‑day, the name of Via Flaminia. Another democratic measure supported by Flaminius was the Claudian law (218 B.C.) forbidding senators to engage in foreign trade.​1 It would seem that Rome's nobility was being attracted into commerce, an occupation which was considered beneath the dignity of great men at Rome, as well as likely to take their attention away from problems of state. This peculiar feeling never died at Rome: Julius Caesar in fact reënacted the law nearly two centuries later.

The Gallic War, 225‑222. Soon after the distribution of the ager Gallicus there was another invasion of Gauls. The opponents of Flaminius claimed that the invasion was incited by the settlement of the ager Gallicus, but the true reason seems to have been the arrival of new migrants of Gauls in the Po valley from beyond the Alps. Rome and Italy were thoroughly frightened. A census was taken of the available forces in Italy that might be used for defense, an interesting census since it is our first reliable record of population in the peninsula. All told, the sum amounted to 700,000 infantry and 70,000 cavalry; of these, 250,000 infantry and 23,000 cavalry were Roman citizens​2 (including Capua's "half-citizens").

 p109  In 224 the Romans met the invaders at Telamon in Etruria with a force of 150,000 men, an enormous army for that time, and defeated the Gauls. They followed the defeated hordes into the Po valley and for three years kept up the contest till most of the Gauls south of the river and the most troublesome Insubres near Milan were forced to submit. In 218 two Latin colonies were sent to the valley to colonize Cremona and Placentia on the river Po.

Illyrian pirates. During this period also the Romans also met the Greeks of the Aegean in an official capacity. On the Illyrian coast — now Albania — a pirate queen, Teuta by name, ruled over a tribe of lawless sea rovers. Now that Rome had colonies on the Adriatic and was protector of the Greek trading cities of southern Italy, it became her duty to see that seafaring was made safe in the Adriatic waters. To the envoys who came from Rome demanding respect for Italian commerce, Teuta retorted that she could not prevent her people from engaging in their customary occupation. When the envoys returned with an ultimatum from the Senate, she put them to death. Rome of course sent a fleet and broke up her power, bringing Corcyra (Corfu), Apollonia (near modern Valona), and Epidamnus, under Roman protection. Several Greek states sent hearty thanks to Rome and Corinth invited her to participate at the Isthmian games; but the king of Macedonia, Antigonus Doson, was offended at Rome's entry into politics across the Adriatic, for he had the ambition of extending his own protectorate over the whole of Greece. Macedonia's resentment was to show itself presently when Rome was being attacked by Hannibal.

Hamilcar in Spain. Meanwhile Hamilcar was continuing his conquest of Spain. This was of course none of Rome's affair, except in so far as Hamilcar was an avowed enemy of Rome and desired to have his revenge for his defeat in Sicily. His conquest, however, did very much concern Massilia (Marseilles), a long-standing ally of Rome, which for  p110 obvious reasons had aided Rome in the first Punic war. Massilia was a trading state that not only commanded the routes of all Gaul but had planted commercial posts all along the Gallic and Spanish coast. Since she cared nothing whatsoever for empire her merchants found a friendly reception among all the barbarians of the West and North. Now, however, the Carthaginians were marching northward in Spain behind Massilia's seacoast towns and crosscutting her trade routes. It would be only a question of time before they not only diverted all the Spanish trade southward to New Carthage and Gades, their own ports, but also crossed the Pyrenees and cut off her route past Tolosa by which she got British tin. After that her navy, which had procured her a portion of open sea, would be of no more service.

The Romans, like the Massilians and most civilized peoples of that day, believed in the freedom of the seas. And it was doubtless the envoys of Massilia who reported to Rome every advance made by Hamilcar and his successors, Hasdrubal and Hannibal, and finally incited the Senate with fear that this empire-building was ultimately aimed at Rome. Rome at first gave little heed. In 226, doubtless for the purpose of helping Massilia save her northern ports, Emporiae and Rhodae, Rome asked Hasdrubal to sign a treaty promising that "the Carthaginians would not cross the Ebro river in arms," and this she followed up by entering into a defensive alliance with Saguntum, an Iberian city still independent, a hundred miles south of that river.

Modern students who draw inferences from political policies, like those that are implied in the Monroe Doctrine and African protectorates, are apt to assume that the Ebro-treaty may have been a definition of "spheres of influence," and that Rome, therefore, had no right to make any alliance south of the river. There is danger, however, in attributing modern doctrines to ancient statesmen. Rome had made probably a hundred treaties with other states but in none  p111 of these do we observe any evidence that she claimed any influence beyond the definite limits of her alliances. "Spheres of influence" were foreign to Rome's precise dealings at this early date. Saguntum was an independent state and had a right to make whatever alliances she chose. Carthage would naturally be nettled at the alliance since it implied distrust of Carthage, and assured an open port to non‑Punic trade in Spain which might in case of war afford an entrance to Roman arms in the rear of a Punic army, but no ancient authority ever implies that the alliance provided a casus belli.

In 221 Hasdrubal, Hamilcar's successor in Spain, was slain, and Hannibal, a worthy son of the doughty Hamilcar, was chosen by the army to take his place, a choice which was accepted by the home government. This young man had grown up in the army, had endeared himself to the soldiers by his democratic manners, his readiness to face with the soldiers the severest tests of endurance, his quick wit and excellent judgment, and his skill in all the arts of war. He combined promptness of decision and the simplicity of true self-confidence, with an air of bravado and a frank generosity of manner in a way that appeals to all soldiers. Whether or not the story is true which was told at Rome — spread perhaps by the envoys of Marseilles — that his father had led the boy to the altar and made him swear undying enmity to Rome, it was Hannibal who planned the war with Rome and set the trap to spring when he was ready.

In two years he secured all of central and eastern Spain up to the Ebro, except Saguntum. Then, having an army of thoroughly trained soldiers ready, he found, in a dispute between the Saguntines and some Spanish allies of his, a plausible excuse to attack Saguntum. He needed to capture this city before setting out against Rome, not only in order to close its port against Roman invasion in his rear and to obtain booty with which to provide the sinews of war, but for a more important reason. He must, if possible,  p112 force Rome to make the declaration of war since he knew well that he could never induce Carthage to begin the contest, nor would Carthage support him if he set out on the expedition without permission from home. Carthage in fact was now in the hands of the landed nobility who entered little sympathy for the Barcan commercial adventure in Spain, and still less for another costly war with Rome. He hoped, however, that if by attacking a Roman ally he could force Rome to declare war, his government, out of pride and through the flaming up of old hatred, would approve of his venture and vote him supplies. His conjecture was right, but his hopes for supplies were usually deceived. Carthage let Hannibal have his war but it did shamefully little during the next fifteen years to support him.

Hannibal accordingly attacked Saguntum in 219. Rome, however, was neither ready nor eager for another war. Both of the consuls were in the Adriatic settling that Illyrian war which had broken out again. Rome also had reason to suppose that Carthage did not want war and that if the challenge were met with calm deliberation Hannibal might be called off by his government. Months were accordingly spent in sending embassies to Hannibal and to Carthage, to no purpose. Rome did not fear an invasion. The Alps were thought to be impassable, and the Romans had reason to believe that Hannibal could not get a fleet from Carthage for such a venture. It, therefore, seemed to them only a question, in case of war, of their invading Carthage in order to force her to recall Hannibal and make the proper restitution. For this there appeared to be no hurry, and so negotiations were continued. When, however, Saguntum finally fell, after an eight months' siege, and Carthage refused reparation, Rome declared war.


[image ALT: A political map of Rome, its colonies, and its allies.]

Punic Wars

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The Plans of the Romans and of Hannibal. Rome's policy is disclosed by her first moves. She prepared the fleet and the main army for a quick thrust against Carthage.  p113 She apparently had no intention of fighting seriously in Spain, probably had no desire for a new province so far away among barbarians. A mere handful of ten thousand men was sent to Spain to keep the army of Hannibal busy and away from home while the issue was settled in Africa.

Hannibal, on the other hand, knowing well that Carthage would not long resist a direct attack and that he would not be trusted to take the command at home, had planned a far bolder manoeuvre. He would carry the war into Italy, and he would march in by land over the Alps not only because it would take the Romans by surprise and because he could not hope that Carthage would give him control of a passage by sea, but mainly because in studying conditions he had learned that the Gauls of the Po valley, though recently subdued, were ready to rise in revolt and provide aid both for his foot and his horse.

His policy with respect to Rome is disclosed in his treaty with King Philip of Macedonia​3 signed in 215 when he was at the height of his successes. This reveals that he had neither the intention nor the hope of crushing Rome and making Italy a dependency of Carthage. Like Pyrrhus he supposed that Rome's allies would fall away to him as soon as he appeared and offered them "liberty." This was his greatest mistake, an error of judgment which all were apt to make in that day who concluded too hastily that Rome had treated her subjects with the harshness customary in ancient empires. Hannibal assumed that on his approach the Roman federation would fall to pieces and that Rome, when thus deserted, would accept humiliating terms and make peace. This revenge would quite suffice, and he doubtless meant to couple it with a recovery of Sicily and Sardinia, and such a weakening of Rome as would prevent her from interfering in the future in favor of an open‑sea policy for Marseilles and the Greek traders. The Western Mediterranean  p114 would henceforth be made a Punic mare clausum to please the mercantile-military faction for which the Barcan family had fought. Hannibal probably never hoped to win for Carthage a tributary empire in Italy. The Roman allies naturally would not join a Carthaginian alliance except on better terms than they had from Rome, and better terms could only mean absolute independence. Therefore, he could have promised the south Italian allies​4 only independence with a pledge that Carthage would observe and secure it. This, however, would bring Carthage no commercial advantages in Italy that she did not already possess, since Rome never closed the seas within her sphere of activity, and Carthaginian ships had always been free to trade at will in the Greek cities of Italy. Hannibal indeed never expected to make Carthage master of Italy and Rome. His war was one of revenge, of recovery, and of winning the commercial privileges that would come with the extension of the mare clausum.


The Author's Notes:

1 The law actually forbade senators to own vessels that carried more than 300 amphorae = about 225 bushels.

2 Of the others, Latin cities and colonies recorded 80,000 infantry, and 5,000 cavalry; Samnites, 70,000 and 7,000; central Sabellian tribes, 20,000 and 4,000; Southern tribes 80,000 and 19,000, Etruscans and Umbrians unfortunately are not given in detail.

3 Polybius VII.1. The treaty contemplated a strong state of Rome after the war.

4 Polybius III.77, 85; VII.4; Livy, XXIII.7. The Capuans stipulated that they were not to be called upon for military service or contributions and that no Punic officer should have control over any Campanian.


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