35. Hannibal Threatens Rome. Rome, like Greece, had a great enemy. While she was growing strong in Italy, a rival city, Carthage, was prospering in northern Africa.

Carthage stood only a few miles from the modern city of Tunis. We sometimes think of northern Africa to-day as a land.of desert and mountains, inhabited only by ferocious Moors, but in ancient times it contained many splendid cities which had been founded by the Phoenicians and the Greeks.

Of these Carthage was the chief. Her first settlers had been Phoenicians, who brought with them, their love of trade and of the sea. The white sails of Carthaginian merchant ships were seen everywhere on the Mediterranean, and her numerous colonies brought her a great commerce. Carthage is said to have had a million inhabitants, and was famous for her wealth and luxury.

Between Carthage and Rome rolled the blue waves of the Mediterranean. But midway lay the valuable island of Sicily, and over this the two cities were drawn into conflict.

Was the leader of the world to be a city of Europe or of Africa? The wealth of Carthage, and her great fleet of ships, gave her an advantage over Rome. She had also very skillful generals and statesmen. But her people were not such good soldiers as the stern Romans. For her armies she had to rely largely on hired troops and the forces of subject peoples, while in those days every Roman citizen was a stout soldier, willing, if need be, to pour out his blood for his fatherland.

In the first war the Romans were successful and drove the Carthaginians out of Sicily. But the latter went only to Spain, and began to take possession of that country. Soon war broke out again.

The leader of the Carthaginian forces was then the great general Hannibal. This famous man was one of Rome's most bitter enemies, for when still a small boy his father had made him swear a solemn oath that he would wage unceasing war upon the Italian city, the great foe of his country. Throughout his long life Hannibal never forgot. In Spain he gathered an army made up of all the various peoples over whom Carthage ruled. Spaniards, Gauls, and Africans filled his ranks, and there was a body of splendid African cavalry, the best horsemen in the world. But most curious of all was the long line of war elephants which he took with him, for the Carthaginians employed these huge beasts to trample down their foes.

From Spain across Gaul, as France was then called, and over the mountains into Italy Hannibal's army made its way. It was a wonderful march, for there were no roads, and the country was almost a wilderness. Great rivers had to be crossed, savage tribes encountered, and finally the mighty snow-crowned Alps towered before them.

But inspired by their leader they struggled on. As they climbed the steep mountain passes, urging along the huge, unwieldy elephants, they were beaten by fierce tempests and the savage mountaineers rolled great rocks down the steep slopes upon them. It seemed that they must retreat or perish. At last, although suffering heavy losses, the Carthaginians reached the summit and looked down upon Italy, with its rich fields and great cities.

Rome gathered her armies to meet them, but though her soldiers were brave, she had no general to match Hannibal. He planned so cleverly that in every encounter the Romans had little or no chance of success. For fifteen years this skillful commander held his own in Italy.

His greatest victory was at the battle of Cannac. To avenge former terrible defeats the Romans gathered an immense army of eighty-six thousand men and advanced to crush the invader. Hannibal had only fifty thousand, but he trusted to his skill. He chose for the battlefield a plain where his magnificent horsemen could be used to advantage. Then he drew up his footmen somewhat in the form of a crescent. In the center Hannibal's line was rather thin, but on each flank he formed his best infantry in heavy masses.

The brave Romans advanced impetuously and easily drove back the center of the Carthaginian line. But suddenly they were attacked from both sides by Hannibal's veterans, and at the same time his horsemen, scattering the Roman cavalry, swooped around and fell upon their rear. Seventy thousand Romans were left dead or wounded on the field. It is said Hannibal sent to Carthage a peck of rings of the Roman nobles slain in the battle.

But to capture the city of Rome was too great a task even for Hannibal, unless he should receive reënforcements. Carthage, therefore, sent another army, under Hannibal's brother, to aid him, but the Romans fell upon it and destroyed it before it could reach him. The first news Hannibal had of the defeat was when his brother's head was hurled into his camp by a Roman soldier.

Encouraged by this success, the Romans continued the struggle and finally "carried the war into Africa" by sending a Roman army directly against Carthage. In spite of all his victories, Hannibal must now return to protect his own city. In the battle of Zama he was at last beaten, and Carthage surrendered. (202 B.c.)

Hard indeed were the terms Rome imposed. Carthage must give up her fleet, pay a great sum of money, and give annual tribute to Rome. But even this did not satisfy the Romans. When later the prosperity of Carthage began to revive they attacked her again, and destroyed her absolutely. Even the place where Carthage had stood was sown with salt so that nothing might grow there.

It was a terrible fate for one of the most splendid cities of the world, but mighty Rome would not endure a rival.

36. Romans Conquer All Nations. When Carthage had been beaten, no other nation could successfully resist Rome. She soon sent her armies against Macedonia, against the Greek cities, and against the kingdoms of Asia which had grown out of the empire of Alexander the Great. There were many wars, but no armes were a match for those of Rome. The stout Roman soldiers were always victorious, and one after another all the peoples around the Mediterranean Sea fell under Roman rule.

The Roman method of fighting was different from the Greek. The Romans used horsemen and light-armed soldiers with arrows and slings, but their main reliance was upon bodies of foot soldiers called "legions." Each soldier of a legion was armed with a heavy javelin or spear intended to be thrown, and a short but keen-edged sword. He had a helmet, breastplate, and shield. The legions were not drawn up in heavy masses like the Greeks, but the soldiers took their stand in separate ranks with open spaces between. Thus the men could move backward and forward easily, and so well drilled were the Roman soldiers that even in the heat of battle each man knew just what to do. Every legion carried as a standard a bronze figure of an eagle, and if in battle the ranks were broken the soldiers rallied about this symbol. Seldom indeed could the enemy succeed in capturing an eagle.

When the legions approached the enemy the soldiers in the first line threw their javelins and then, drawing their swords, charged. If the foe was not then broken, the other ranks charged after the first.

The Romans owed success also to their good generals. In fighting the Macedonians, with their close ranks and long spears, the Roman commanders planned matters so skillfully that the battles took place in woods or on rough ground. Thus the enemy was thrown into disorder and easily defeated.

37. Conquest Does Not Make Rome Better. Nations that conquer their enemies in war are not always the happiest. The Romans had been a simple country people. Each man had had his little farm. Here he raised his own crops and lived in humble contentment with his wife and children. Few were rich and none were very poor. But as they subjugated other people the Romans became proud and cruel. Many among them gained great wealth and established huge estates or plantations where all the work was done by slaves, often captives taken in war.

There came to be thousands upon thousands of these slaves in Italy. Many of them were indeed rough barbarians, only useful to till the fields, but others were cultured Greeks, or people from Asia who knew more than their Roman masters. The field slaves had little to eat or wear, and were very harshly treated. So it is no wonder that there was always danger of a dreadful outbreak of those poor creatures. But many of the slaves lived in the houses of the rich Romans and were regarded more like the servants of our own time.

A rich Roman generally had not merely a splendid house or palace in the city, but a beautiful residenceon his estate called a "villa." This was adorned with fountains, statues, and paintings copied after those of the Greeks, and provided with every luxury then known. Here the fortunate Roman and his family too often lived a life of idle pleasure, and with wine and music entertained their friends at magnificent feasts which went on far into the night.

No wonder wealthy men and women did not become stronger or better!

But while some Romans thus became rich, others grew poor. Since so much grain was raised on the great farms of the nobles, the man who had only a little farm could not get a good price for what he had to sell. Sometimes, too, his land was seized by a rich neighbor and he could not get it back. Thus many men had no occupation, and went to the city of Rome itself, where they became "loafers," ready for any mischief or violence. Soon the city was obliged to give them food, and shiploads of grain were brought from Egypt or northern Africa for distribution. But the mob was seldom satisfied, and there was always danger that they would rise and do some dreadful thing.

Some wise Romans saw how bad all this was. Foremost among them were two brave young men named Gracchus (the Gracchi). The Gracchi were not satisfied simply to complain that things were going wrong, but tried to take some of the land from the rich and give it again to the poorer people. But as soon as such a thing was spoken of all the wealthy Romans became their bitter enemies, and bribed people to attack them.

Feeling sure that they were in the right, the Gracchi tried to carry their measures through in violent ways. As a result there were terrible riots, and both young men were slain. We remember the Gracchi with gratitude because they were brave and tried to help the poor. But though they saw what Rome should do, they did not know how it should be done. After their death matters became worse than ever.


The Leading Facts. 1. The great enemy of Rome was Carthage, a city in northern Africa. 2. To decide which should be the leading city of the world, Rome and Carthage engaged in a series of wars. 3. The great Carthaginian general, Hannibal, invaded Italy and defeated the Romans in many battles. 4. Finally Carthage was beaten and destroyed. 5. Rome then conquered Macedonia, Greece, and all the other countries around the Mediterranean Sea. 6. Because of their victories the Rornans became proud and cruel. 7. Some of them became very rich, and had thousands of slaves. 8. The rest grew poor and became idlers in the city of Rome. 9. Two brave young men called the Gracchi tried to have the land divided more equally, but failed, and lost their lives.

Study Questions. 1. Locate Carthage. 2. Why did Rome and Carthage quarrel? 3. What advantages did Carthage have over Rome? 4. In what ways was Rome stronger? 5. Tell the story of Hannibal's march as if you yourself had been a soldier in his army. 6. Why did Hannibal fail? 7. Why did Rome finally destroy the city of Carthage? 8. Why was it comparatively easy for Rome to conquer Greece? 9. Tell how the Roman armies fought. 10. Why did their victories not make the Romans happy? 11. Describe how the wealthy Romans lived. 12. Why did the poor give up their farms? 13. Why do you think the poor were not content in Rome? 14. Why did the Gracchi fail in their reforms? 15. Why do people remember the Gracchi? 16. What were the results of their work?

Suggested Readings. Tappan, The Story of the Roman People, 72-122; Kaufman, Our Young Folks' Plutarch, 330-343; Harding, The City of the Seven Hills, 125-165; Yonge, Young Folks' History of Rome, 151-202; Lang, The Red Book of Heroes, 43-94; Haaren and Poland, Famous Men of Rome; Guerber, The Story of the Romans.

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© 2000 by Lynn Waterman