On a given day, therefore, he ordered all the galleys to be got together in the bay opposite to the city of Carthage, and to be burned. There were five hundred of them, so that they constituted a large fleet, and covered a large expanse of the water. A vast concourse of people assembled upon the shores to witness the grand conflagration. The emotion which such a spectacle was of itself calculated to excite was greatly heightened by the deep but stifled feelings of resentment and hate which agitated every Carthaginian breast. The Romans, too, as they gazed upon the scene from their encampment on the shore, were agitated as well, though with different emotions. Their faces beamed with an expression of exultation and triumph as they saw the vast masses of flame and columns of smoke ascending from the sea, proclaiming the total and irretrievable ruin of Carthaginian pride and power. Having thus fully accomplished his work, Scipio set sail for Rome. All Italy had been filled with the fame of his exploits in thus destroying the ascendancy of Hannibal. The city of Rome had now nothing more to fear from its great enemy. He was shut up, disarmed, and helpless, in his own native state, and the terror which his presence in Italy had inspired had passed forever away. The whole population of Rome, remembering the awful scenes of consternation and terror which the city had so often endured, regarded Scipio as a great deliverer. They were eager to receive and welcome him on his arrival. When the time came and he approached the city, vast throngs went out to meet him. The authorities formed civic processions to welcome him. They brought crowns, and garlands, and flowers, and hailed his approach with loud and prolonged acclamations of triumph and joy. They gave him the name of Africanus, in honor of his victories. This was a new honor-giving to a conqueror the name of the country that he had subdued; it was invented specially as Scipio’s reward, the deliverer who had saved the empire from the greatest and most terrible danger by which it had ever been assailed.
Hannibal, though fallen, retained still in Carthage some portion of his former power. The glory of his past exploits still invested his character with a sort of halo, which made him an object of general regard, and he still had great and powerful friends. He was elevated to high office, and exerted himself to regulate and improve the internal affairs of the state. In these efforts he was not, however, very successful. The historians say that the objects which he aimed to accomplish were good, and that the measures for effecting them were, in themselves, judicious; but, accustomed as he was to the authoritative and arbitrary action of a military commander in camp, he found it hard to practice that caution and forbearance, and that deference for the opinion of others, which are so essential as means of influencing men in the management of the civil affairs of a commonwealth. He made a great many enemies, who did every thing in their power, by plots and intrigues, as well as by open hostility, to accomplish his ruin. His pride, too, was extremely mortified and hum bled by an occurrence which took place very soon after Scipio’s return to Rome. There was some occasion of war with a neighboring African tribe, and Hannibal headed some forces which were raised in the city for the purpose, and went out to prosecute it. The Romans, who took care to have agents in Carthage to keep them acquainted with all that occurred, heard of this, and sent word to Carthage to warn the Carthaginians that this was contrary to the treaty, and could not be allowed. The government, not willing to incur the risk of another visit from Scipio, sent orders to Hannibal to abandon the war and return to the city. Hannibal was compelled to submit; but after having been accustomed, as he had been, for many years, to bid defiance to all the armies and fleets which Roman power could, with their utmost exertion, bring against him, it must have been very hard for such a spirit as his to find itself stopped and conquered now by a word. All the force they could command against him, even at the very gates of their own city, was once impotent and vain. Now, a mere message and threat, coming across the distant sea, seeks him out in the remote deserts of Africa, and in a moment deprives him of all his power.
Years passed away, and Hannibal, though compelled outwardly to submit to his fate, was restless and ill at ease. His scheming spirit, spurred on now by the double stimulus of resentment and ambition, was always busy, vainly endeavoring to discover some plan by which he might again renew the struggle with his ancient foe. It will be recollected that Carthage was originally a commercial colony from Tyre, a city on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The countries of Syria and Phoenicia were in the vicinity of Tyre. They were powerful commercial communities, and they had always retained very friendly relations with the Carthaginian commonwealth. Ships passed continually to and fro, and always, in case of calamities or disasters threatening one of these regions, the inhabitants naturally looked to the other for refuge and protection, Carthage looking upon Phoenicia as its mother, and Phoenicia regarding Carthage as her child. Now there was, at this time, a very powerful monarch on the throne in Syria and Phoenicia, named Antiochus. His capital was Damascus. He was wealthy and powerful, and was involved in some difficulties with the Romans. Their conquests, gradually extending eastward, had approached the confines of Antiochus’s realms, and the two nations were on the brink of war. Things being in this state, the enemies of Hannibal at Carthage sent information to the Roman senate that he was negotiating and plotting with Antiochus to combine the Syrian and Carthaginian forces against them, and thus plunge the world into another general war. The Romans accordingly determined to send an embassage to the Carthaginian government, and to demand that Hannibal should be deposed from his office, and given up to them a prisoner, in order that he might be tried on this charge.
These commissioners came, accordingly, to Carthage, keeping, however, the object of their mission a profound secret, since they knew very well that, if Hannibal should suspect it, he would make his escape before the Carthaginian senate could decide upon the question of surrendering him. Hannibal was, however, too wary for them. He contrived to learn their object, and immediately resolved on making his escape. He knew that his enemies in Carthage were numerous and powerful, and that the animosity against him was growing stronger and stronger. He did not dare, therefore, to trust to the result of the discussion in the senate, but determined to fly. He had a small castle or tower on the coast, about one hundred and fifty miles southeast of Carthage. He sent there by an express, ordering a vessel to be ready to take him to sea. He also made arrangements to have horsemen ready at one of the gates of the city at nightfall. During the day he appeared freely in the public streets, walking with an unconcerned air, as if his mind was at ease, and giving to the Roman embassadors, who were watching his movements, the impression that he was not meditating an escape. Toward the close of the day, however, after walking leisurely home, he immediately made preparations for his journey. As soon as it was dark he went to the gate of the city, mounted the horse which was provided for him, and fled across the country to his castle. Here he found the vessel ready which he had ordered. He embarked, and put to sea.
There is a small island called Cercina at a little distance from the coast. Hannibal reached this island on the same day that he left his tower. There was a harbor here, where merchant ships were accustomed to come in. He found several Phoenician vessels in the port, some bound to Carthage. Hannibal’s arrival produced a strong sensation here, and, to account for his appearance among them, he said he was going on an embassy from the Carthaginian government to Tyre. He was now afraid that some of these vessels that were about setting sail for Carthage might carry the news back of his having been seen at Cercina, and, to prevent this, he contrived, with his characteristic cunning, the following plan: He sent around to all the ship-masters in the port, inviting them to a great entertainment which he was to give, and asked, at the same time, that they would lend him the mainsails of their ships, to make a great awning with, to shelter the guests from the dews of the night. The ship-masters, eager to witness and enjoy the convivial scene which Hannibal’s proposal promised them, accepted the invitation, and ordered their main-sails to be taken down. Of course, this confined all their vessels to port. In the evening, the company assembled under the vast tent, made by the main-sails, on the shore. Hannibal met them, and remained with them for a time. In the course of the night, however, when they were all in the midst of their carousing, he stole away, embarked on board a ship, and set sail, and, before the ship-masters could awake from the deep and prolonged slumbers which followed their wine, and rig their main-sails to the masts again, Hannibal was far out of reach on his way to Syria.