Young Folks' History of Rome HTML version

18. Conquest Of Cisalpine Gaul, 240-219
Another imitation of the Greeks which came into fashion at this time had a sad effect on
the Romans. The old funerals in Greek poems had ended by games and struggles between
swordsmen. Two brothers of the Brutus family first showed off such a game at their
father's funeral, and it became a regular custom, not only at funerals, but whenever there
was need to entertain the people, to show off fights of swordsmen. The soldier captives
from conquered nations were used in this way; and some persons kept schools of slaves,
who were trained for these fights and called gladiators. The battle was a real one, with
sharp weapons, for life or death; and when a man was struck down, he was allowed to
live or sentenced to death according as the spectators turned down or turned up their
thumbs. The Romans fancied that the sight trained them to be brave, and to despise death
and wounds; but the truth was that it only made them hard-hearted, and taught them to
despise other people's pain—a very different thing from despising their own.
Another thing that did great harm was the making it lawful for a man to put away a wife
who had no children. This ended by making the Romans much less careful to have one
good wife, and the Roman ladies became much less noble and excellent than they had
been in the good old days.
In the meantime, the Carthaginians, having lost the three islands, began to spread their
settlements further in Spain, where their chief colony was New Carthage, or, as we call it,
Carthagena. The mountains were full of gold mines, and the Iberians, the nation who held
them, were brave and warlike, so that there was much fighting to train up fresh armies.
Hamilcar, the chief general in command there, had four sons, whom he said were lion
whelps being bred up against Rome. He took them with him to Spain, and at a great
sacrifice for the success of his arms the youngest and most promising, Hannibal, a boy of
nine years old, was made to lay his hand on the altar of Baal and take an oath that he
would always be the enemy of the Romans. Hamilcar was killed in battle, but Hannibal
grew up to be all that he had hoped, and at twenty-six was in command of the army. He
threatened the Iberians of Saguntum, who sent to ask help from Rome. A message was
sent to him to forbid him to disturb the ally of Rome; but he had made up his mind for
war, and never even asked the Senate of Carthage what was to be done, but went on with
the siege of Saguntum. Rome was busy with a war in Illyria, and could send no help, and
the Saguntines held out with the greatest bravery and constancy, month after month, till
they were all on the point of starvation, then kindled a great fire, slew all their wives and
children, and let Hannibal win nothing but a pile of smoking ruins.
Again the Romans sent to Carthage to complain, but the Senate there had made up their
minds that war there must be, and that it was a good time when Rome had a war in Illyria
on her hands, and Cisalpine Gaul hardly subdued; and they had such a general as
Hannibal, though they did not know what a wonderful scheme he had in his mind,
namely, to make his way by land from Spain to Italy, gaining the help of the Gauls, and
stirring up all those nations of Italy who had fought so long against Rome. His march,
which marks the beginning of the Second Punic War, started from the banks of the Ebro
in the beginning of the summer of 219. His army was 20,000 foot and 12,000 horse,
partly Carthaginian, partly Gaul and Iberian. The horsemen were Moorish, and he had