On the Shores of the Great Sea - M. B. Synge

The End of Carthage

"Now sleep and silence brood o'er the city."


When the news of the disaster reached Rome an anxious crowd gathered in the Forum.

"We have been defeated in a great battle," said the chief magistrate, towards sunset, mounting the orator's platform in the Forum. Day after day the senators sat from sunrise to sunset, preparing now for the worst. But Hannibal did not march on Rome, and the Romans took heart again and prepared another great army to fight the Carthaginian general.

Once more the two armies met, once more the Romans were defeated, and Hannibal stood victorious on the battlefield of Cannę. To show Carthage how great had been his victory, he sent ten thousand of the gold rings, taken from the fingers of the Roman nobles, slain in this battle.

Hannibal was now at the height of his success. From the day he had set forth over the Pyrenees, he had known no defeat; now, under the spell of his genius, hundreds flocked to his standard.

But while the successful Carthaginian was carrying all before him, a young Roman soldier was making a name for himself, by carrying the war into Spain. Young Scipio managed very cleverly to take New Carthage, the great Carthaginian seaport on the southern coast of Spain, with its mines of gold and silver, its merchant vessels and its fine dockyards,—all of which were a terrible loss to Carthage.

"I see the doom of Carthage," exclaimed Hannibal at last, when his brother's head was brought to him after a defeat by the Romans.

Still he kept his army in Italy, waiting for the opportunity that should give him the object of his life—Rome. But the opportunity never came. Before he had gathered an army strong enough, to march on Italy's capital, he was recalled to his native land to defend Carthage against Scipio.

The scheme of his boyhood and manhood was spoiled, and it is said the great commander could hardly restrain his tears, as the ships bore him from the land, he had failed to conquer—the land in which he had spent fifteen years of his life—across the sea to North Africa. It was thirty-six years since he had left Carthage with his father, thirty-six years since he had laid his small hand, on the sacrifice, and sworn undying hatred to Rome.

One autumn day in the year 202, the two great commanders, Hannibal and Scipio, met for the first and last time in battle. The battle of Zama was to decide for centuries to come, the fate of Rome—it was to make her supreme among the nations of the Old World. The battlefield lay some five days' journey to the south of Carthage, amid the sandy wastes of the North African desert land.

In the forefront of Hannibal's army marched a magnificent array of eighty elephants, but they were terrified at the blare of the trumpets, and fled in confusion right among Scipio's soldiers. He had wisely prepared for this, and the elephants were more cumbrous, than helpful. After a hard fight the Romans won, and Hannibal, the hero of a hundred battles, made his way to Carthage—a defeated man.

With dignity and self respect he accepted his failure; though it must have been bitter to him to bow down to the terms of peace, now offered by Scipio. True, the Carthaginians were to keep their own laws, and their own home; but they were to give up all their prisoners, all their elephants, and all their warships save ten; they were to renounce all claim to the rich islands in the Mediterranean and to their kingdom of Spain, and for the next fifty years they must pay a large sum of money to Rome.

Yet a further humiliation was in store for Hannibal and the Carthaginians. Five hundred ships—the pride and glory of the Phœnician race, ships which had sailed up and down the Mediterranean trading with this port and that—were slowly towed out of the harbour and set on fire by the victorious Romans, in the sight of the fallen Carthaginians.

"And a cry was heard, unfathered of earthly lips,

What of the ships, O Carthage? Carthage, what of the ships?"

The sight of the flames was terrible to the vanquished people—as terrible as if their very city had been burnt.

"And the smouldering grief of a nation

burst with the kindling blaze."

Carthage burning

In the days of her prosperity, when a storm at sea destroyed some of her ships, the whole State would go into mourning, and the huge walls of the city would be draped in black. What must their feelings be now, when the whole fleet was blazing under their very eyes, and with it their command of the sea was gone for ever!

So Carthage fell, overcome by her dreams of conquest. She had acquired that she could not retain, she had envied that, she could not possess. And what is left of her to-day? A few scattered piles of stones, some broken columns, and a few old tombs, are the only fragments of her glorious past. Carthage herself, the home of Hannibal, the victor of nations, mother of cities, centre of the world's commerce, lies crumbled in the sand and dust of two thousand years.