Hannibal at Saguntum

The Roman historian, through whose narrative we get our only account of this debate, says that, though these were good reasons, yet strength prevailed, as usual, over wisdom, in the decision of the question. They voted to send Hannibal, and he set out to cross the sea to Spain with a heart full of enthusiasm and joy. A great deal of curiosity and interest was felt throughout the army to see him on his arrival. The soldiers had been devotedly attached to his father, and they were all ready to transfer this attachment at once to the son, if he should prove worthy of it. It was very evident, soon after he reached the camp that he was going to prove himself thus worthy. He entered at once into the duties of his position with a degree of energy, patience, and self-denial which attracted universal attention, and made him a universal favorite. He dressed plainly; he assumed no airs; he sought for no pleasures or indulgences, nor demanded any exemption from the dangers and privations which the common soldiers had to endure. lie ate plain food, and slept, often in his military cloak, on the ground, in the midst of the soldiers on guard; and in battle he was always foremost to press forward into the contest, and the last to leave the ground when the tune came for repose. The Romans .say that, in addition to these qualities, he was inhuman and merciless when in open warfare with his foes, and cunning and treacherous in every other mode of dealing with them. It is very probable that he was so. Such traits of character were considered by soldiers in those days, as they are now, virtues in themselves, though vices in their enemies.

However this may be, Hannibal became a great and universal favorite in the army. He went on for several years increasing his military knowledge, and widening and extending his influence, when at length, one day, Hasdrubal was suddenly killed by a ferocious native of the country whom he had by some means offended. As soon as the first shock of this occurrence was over, the leaders of the army went in pursuit of Hannibal, whom they brought in triumph to the tent of Hasdrubal, and instated him at once in the supreme command, with one consent and in the midst of universal acclamations. As soon as news of this event reached Carthage, the government there confirmed the act of the army, and Hannibal thus found himself suddenly but securely invested with a very high military command. His eager and restless desire to try his strength with the Romans received a new impulse by his finding that the power was now in his hands. Still the two countries were at peace. They were bound by solemn treaties to continue so. The River lberus was the boundary which separated the dominions of the two nations from each other in Spain, the territory east of that boundary being under the Roman power, and that on the west under that of the Carthaginians; except that Saguntum, which was on the western side, was an ally of the Romans, and the Carthaginians were bound by the treaty to leave it independent and free. Hannibal could not, therefore, cross the lberus or attack Saguntum without an open infraction of the treaty. He, however, immediately began to move toward Saguntum and to attack the nations in the immediate vicinity of it. If he wished to get into a war with the Romans, this was the proper way to promote it; for, by advancing thus into the immediate vicinity of the capital of their allies, there was great probability that disputes would arise which would sooner or later end in war.

The Romans say that Hannibal was cunning and treacherous, and he certainly did display, on some occasions, a great degree of adroitness in his stratagems. In one instance in these preliminary wars he gained a victory over an immensely superior force in a very remarkable manner. He was returning from an inroad upon some of the northern provinces, laden and encumbered with spoil, when he learned that an immense army, consisting it was said, of a hundred thousand men, were coming down upon his rear. ‘There was a river at a short distance before him. Hannibal pressed on and crossed the river by a ford, the water being, perhaps, about three feet deep. He secreted a large body of cavalry near the bank of the stream, and pushed on with the main body of the army to some little distance from the river, so as to produce the impression upon his pursuers that he was pressing forward to make his escape. The enemy, thinking that they had no time to lose, poured down in great numbers into the stream from various points along the banks; and, as soon as they had reached the middle of the current, and were wading laboriously, half submerged, with their weapons held above their heads, so as to present as little resistance as possible to the water, the horsemen of Hannibal rushed in to meet and attack them. The horsemen had, of course, greatly the advantage; for, though their horses were in the water, they were themselves raised above it, and their limbs were free, while their enemies were half submerged, and, being encumbered by their arms and by one another, were nearly helpless. They were immediately thrown into complete confusion, and were overwhelmed and carried down by the current in great numbers. Some of them succeeded in landing below, on Hannibal’s side; but, in the mean time, the main body of his army had returned, and was ready to receive them, and they were trampled under foot by the elephants, which it was the custom to employ, in those days, as a military force. As soon as the river was cleared, Hannibal marched his own army across it, and attacked what remained of the enemy on their own side. He gained a complete victory, which was so great and decisive that he secured by it possession of the whole country west of the lberus, except Saguntum, and Saguntum itself began to be seriously alarmed.

The Saguntines sent ambassadors to Rome to ask the Romans to interpose and protect them from the dangers which threatened them. These embassadors made diligent efforts to reach Rome as soon as possible, but they were too late. On some pretext or other, Hannibal contrived to raise a dispute between the city and one of the neighboring tribes, and then, taking sides with the tribe, he advanced to attack the city. The Saguntines prepared for their defense, hoping soon to receive succors from Rome. They strengthened and fortified their walls, while Hannibal began to move forward great military engines for battering them down. Hannibal knew very well that by his hostilities against this city he was commencing a contest with Rome itself, as Rome must necessarily take part with her ally. In fact, there is no doubt that his design was to bring on a general war between the two great nations. He began with Saguntum for two reasons: first, it would not be safe for him to cross e the lberus, and advance into the Roman territory, leaving so wealthy and powerful a city in his rear; and then, in the second place, it was easier for him to find pretexts for getting indirectly into a quarrel with Saguntum, and throwing the odium of a declaration of war on Rome, than to persuade the Carthaginian state to renounce the peace and themselves commence hostilities. There was, as has been already stated, a very strong party at Carthage opposed to Hannibal, who would, of course, resist any measures tending to a war with Rome, for they would consider such a war as opening a vast field for gratifying Hannibal’s ambition. The only way, therefore, was to provoke a war by aggressions on the Roman allies, to be justified by the best pretexts he could find. Saguntum was a very wealthy and powerful city. It was situated about a mile from the sea. The attack upon the place, and the defense of it by the inhabitants, went on for some time with great vigor. In these operations, Hannibal exposed himself to great danger. He approached, at one time, so near the wall, in superintending the arrangements of his soldiers and the planting of his engines, that a heavy javelin, thrown from the parapet, struck him on the thigh. It pierced the flesh, and inflicted so severe a wound that he fell immediately, and was borne away by the soldiers. It was several days before he was free from the danger incurred by the loss of blood and the fever which follows such a wound. During all this time his army were in a great state of excitement and anxiety, and suspended their active opera, dons. As soon, however, as Hannibal was found to be decidedly convalescent, they resumed them again, and urged them onward with greater ,energy than before.