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.