Young Folks' History of Rome HTML version

19. The Second Punic War, 219
When the Romans heard that Hannibal had passed the Pyrenees, they had two armies on
foot, one under Publius Cornelius Scipio, which was to go to Spain, and the other under
Tiberius Sempronius Longus, to attack Africa. They changed their plan, and kept
Sempronius to defend Italy, while Scipio went by sea to Marsala, a Greek colony in Gaul,
to try to stop Hannibal at the Rhone; but he was too late, and therefore, sending on most
of his army to Spain, he came back himself with his choicest troops. With these he tried
to stop the enemy from crossing the river Ticinus, but he was defeated and so badly
wounded that his life was only saved by the bravery of his son, who led him out of the
Before he was able to join the army again, Sempronius had fought another battle with
Hannibal on the banks of the Trebia and suffered a terrible defeat. But winter now came
on, and the Carthaginians found it very hard to bear in the marshes of the Arno. Hannibal
himself was so ill that he only owed his life to the last of his elephants, which carried him
safely through when he was almost blind, and in the end he lost an eye. In the spring he
went on ravaging the country in hopes to make the two new consuls, Flaminius and
Servilius, fight with him, but they were too cautious, until at last Flaminius attacked him
in a heavy fog on the shore of Lake Trasimenus. It is said that an earthquake shook the
ground, and that the eager warriors never perceived it; but again the Romans lost,
Flaminius was killed, and there was a dreadful slaughter, for Hannibal had sworn to give
no quarter to a Roman. The only thing that was hopeful for Rome was that neither Gauls,
Etruscans, nor Italians showed any desire to rise in favor of Hannibal; and though he was
now very near Rome, he durst not besiege it without the help of the people around to
bring him supplies, so he only marched southwards, hoping to gain the support of the
Greek colonies. A dictator was appointed, Quintus Fabius Maximus, who saw that, by
strengthening all the garrisons in the towns and cutting off all provisions, he should wear
the enemy out at last. As he always put off a battle, he was called Cunctator, or the
Delayer; but at last he had the Carthaginians enclosed as in a trap in the valley of the river
Vulturnus, and hoped to cut them off, posting men in ambush to fall on them on their
morning's march. Hannibal guessed that this must be the plan; and at night he had the
cattle in the camp collected, fastened torches to their horns, and drove them up the hills.
The Romans, fancying themselves surrounded by the enemy, came out of their hiding-
places to fall back on the camp, and Hannibal and his army safely escaped. This
mischance made the Romans weary of the Delayer's policy, and when the year was out,
and two consuls came in, though one of them, Lucius Æmilius Paulus, would have gone
on in the same cautious plan of starving Hannibal out without a battle, the other, Caius
Terentius Varro, who commanded on alternate days with him, was determined on a
battle. Hannibal so contrived that it was fought on the plain of Cannæ, where there was
plenty of space to use his Moorish horse. It was Varro's day of command, and he dashed
at the centre of the enemy; Hannibal opened a space for him, then closed in on both sides
with his terrible horse, and made a regular slaughter of the Romans. The last time that the
consul Æmilius was seen was by a tribune named Lentulus, who found him sitting on a
stone faint and bleeding, and would have given him his own horse to escape, but Æmilius
answered that he had no mind to have to accuse his comrade of rashness, and had rather
die. A troop of enemies coming up, Lentulus rode off, and looking back, saw his consul
fall, pierced with darts. So many Romans had been killed, that Hannibal sent to Carthage
a basket containing 10,000 of the gold rings worn by the knights.
Hannibal was only five days' march beyond Rome, and his officers wanted him to turn
back and attack it in the first shock of the defeat, but he could not expect to succeed