The Second Punic War

Lots were then drawn in a very solemn manner, according to the Roman custom on such occasions, to decide on the assignment of these two armies to the respective consuls. The one destined to meet Hannibal on his way from Spain, fell to a consul named Cornelius Scipio. The name of the other was Sempronius. 1t devolved on him, consequently, to take charge of the expedition destined to Sicily and Africa. When all the arrangements were thus made, the question was finally put, in a very solemn and formal manner, to the Roman people for their final vote and decision. “Do the Roman people decide and decree that war shall be declared against the Carthaginians?” The decision was in the affirmative. The war was then proclaimed with the usual imposing ceremonies. Sacrifices and religious celebrations followed, to propitiate the favor of the gods, and to inspire the soldiers with that kind of courage and confidence which the superstitious, however wicked, feel when they can imagine themselves under the protection of Heaven. These shows and spectacles being over, all things were ready.

In the mean time Hannibal was moving on, as the spring advanced, toward the banks of the Iberus, that frontier stream, the crossing of which made him an invader of what was, in some sense, Roman territory. He boldly passed the stream, and moved forward along the coast of the Mediterranean, gradually approaching the Pyrenees, which form the z boundary between France and Spain. His soldiers hitherto did rot know what his plans were. It is very little the custom now for military and naval commanders to communicate to their men much information about their designs, and it was still less the custom then; and besides, in those days, the common soldiers had no access to those means of information by which news of every sort is now so universally diffused. Thus, though all the officers of the army, and well-informed citizens, both in Rome and Carthage, anticipated and understood Hannibal’s designs, his own soldiers, ignorant and degraded, knew nothing except that they were to go on some distant and dangerous service. They, very likely, had no idea whatever of Italy or of Rome, or of the magnitude of the possessions, or of the power held by the vast empire which they were going to invade.

When, however, after traveling day after day, they Came to the foot of the Pyrenees, and found that they were really going to pass that mighty chain of mountains, and for this purpose were actually entering its wild and gloomy defiles, the courage of some of them failed, and they began to murmur. The discontent and alarm were, in fact, so great, that one corps, consisting of about three thousand men, left the camp in a body, and moved back toward their homes. On inquiry, Hannibal found that there were ten thousand more that were in a similar state of feeling. His whole force consisted of over one hundred thousand. And now what does the reader imagine that Hannibal would do in such an emergency? Would he return in pursuit of these deserters, to recapture and destroy them as a terror to the rest? Or would he let them go, and attempt by words of conciliation and encouragement to confirm and save those that yet remained? He did neither. He called together the ten thousand discontented troops that were still in his camp, and told them that, since they were afraid to accompany his army, or unwilling to do so, they might return. He wanted none in his service who had not the courage and the fortitude to go on wherever he might lead. He would not have the faint-hearted and the timid in his army. They would only be a burden to load down and impede the courage and energy of the rest. So saying, he gave orders for them to return, and with the rest of the army, whose resolution and ardor were redoubled by this occurrence, he moved on through the passes of the mountains.

This act of Hannibal, in permitting his discontented soldiers to return, had all the effect of a deed of generosity in its influence upon the minds of the soldiers who went on. We must not, however, imagine that it was prompted by a spirit of generosity ‘at all. It was policy. A seeming generosity was, in this case, exactly what was wanted to answer his .ends. Hannibal was mercilessly cruel in all cases where he imagined that severity was demanded. It requires great sagacity sometimes in a commander, to know when he must punish, and when it is wisest overlook and forgive. Hannibal, like Alexander and Napoleon, possessed this sagacity in a very high degree; and it was, doubtless, the exercise of that principle alone which prompted his action on this “occasion.
Thus Hannibal passed the Pyrenees. The next difficulty that he anticipated was in crossing the river Rhone.