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Return of the Ambassadors -- Terrible Scenes in the City -- Carthage resolves to fight -- Slow Movements of the Consuls

[90] Having spoken thus, Censorinus paused. When the Carthaginians, thunderstruck, answered not a word, he added, "All that can be said in the way of persuasion and consolation has been said. The order of the Senate must be carried out, and quickly too. Therefore take your departure, for you are still ambassadors." When he had thus spoken they were thrust out by the lictors, but as they foresaw what was likely to be done by the people of Carthage, they asked permission to speak again. Being readmitted they said, "We see that your orders are inexorable since you will not even allow us to send an embassy to Rome. Nor can we hope to return to you again, since we shall be slain by the people of Carthage before we have finished speaking to them. We pray you, therefore, not on our account (for we are ready to suffer everything), but on account of Carthage itself, that you will, if possible, strike terror into them so that they may be able to endure this calamity. Advance your fleet to the city while we are returning by the road, so that, seeing and hearing what you have ordered, they may learn to bear it if they can. To this state has dire necessity brought us that we ask you to hasten your ships against our fatherland." Having spoken thus, they departed, and Censorinus set sail with twenty quinqueremes and cast anchor alongside the city. Some of the ambassadors wandered away from the road, but the greater part moved on in silence.

[91] Meanwhile some of the Carthaginians were watching from the walls the return of the ambassadors, and tore their hair with impatience at their delay. Others, not waiting, ran to meet them in order to learn the news; and when they saw them coming with downcast eyes they smote their own foreheads and questioned them, now all together, now one by one, as each chanced to meet a friend or acquaintance, seizing hold of them and asking questions. When no one answered they wept aloud as though certain destruction awaited them. When those on the walls heard them they joined in the lamentations, not knowing why, but as though some great evil were impending. At the gates the crowd almost crushed the envoys, rushing upon them in such number. They would have been torn in pieces had they not said that they must make their first communication to the senate. Then some of the crowd turned aside, and others opened a path for them, in order to learn the news sooner. When they were come into the senate-chamber the senators turned the others out and sat down alone by themselves, and the crowd remained standing outside. Then the envoys announced first of all the order of the consuls. Immediately there was a great outcry in the senate which was echoed by the people outside. When the envoys went on to tell what arguments and prayers they had used to get permission to send an embassy to Rome, there was again profound silence among the senators, who listened to the end; and the people kept silence also. When they learned that they were not even allowed to send an embassy, they raised a loud and mournful outcry, and the people rushed in among them.

[92] Then followed a scene of indescribable fury and madness such as the Mænads are said to enact in the Bacchic mysteries. Some fell upon those senators who had advised giving the hostages and tore them in pieces, considering them the ones who had led them into the trap. Others treated in a similar way those who had favored giving up the arms. Some stoned the ambassadors for bringing the bad news and others dragged them through the city. Still others, meeting certain Italians, who were caught among them in this sudden and unexpected mischance, maltreated them in various ways, saying that they would make them suffer for the fraud practised upon them in the matter of the hostages and the arms. The city was full of wailing and wrath, of fear and threatenings. People roamed the streets invoking whatever was most dear to them and took refuge in the temples as in asylums. They upbraided their gods for not being able to defend themselves. Some went into the arsenals and wept when they found them empty. Others ran to the dockyards and bewailed the ships that had been surrendered to perfidious men. Some called their elephants by name, as though they had been present, and reviled their own ancestors and themselves for not perishing, sword in hand, with their country, instead of paying tribute and giving up their elephants, their ships, and their arms. Most of all was their anger kindled by the mothers of the hostages who, like Furies in a tragedy, accosted those whom they met with shrieks and accused them of giving away their children against their protest, or mocked at them, saying that the gods were now taking vengeance on them for the lost children. A few kept their wits about them, closed the gates, and brought stones upon the walls to be used in place of catapults.

[93] The same day the Carthaginian senate declared war and proclaimed freedom to the slaves. They also chose generals and selected Hasdrubal for the outside work, whom they had condemned to death, and who had already collected 30,000 men. They despatched a messenger to him begging that, in the extreme peril of his country, he would not remember, or lay up against them, the wrong they had done him under the pressure of necessity from fear of the Romans. Within the walls they chose for general another Hasdrubal, the son of a daughter of Masinissa. They also sent to the consuls asking a truce of thirty days in order to send an embassy to Rome. When this was refused a second time, a wonderful change and determination came over them, to endure everything rather than abandon their city. Quickly all minds were filled with courage from this transformation. All the sacred places, the temples, and every other unoccupied space, were turned into workshops, where men and women worked together day and night without pause, taking their food by turns on a fixed schedule. Each day they made 100 shields, 300 swords, 1000 missiles for catapults, 500 darts and javelins, and as many catapults as they could. For strings to bend them the women cut off their hair for want of other fibres.

[94] While the Carthaginians were preparing for war with such haste and zeal, the consuls, who perhaps hesitated about performing such an atrocious act on the instant, or because they thought that they could easily capture an unarmed city whenever they liked, kept delaying. They thought also that the Carthaginians would give in for want of means, as it usually happens that those who are in desperate straits are very eager to resist at first, but as time brings opportunity for reflection, fear of the consequences of disobedience takes possession of them. Something of this kind happened in Carthage, where a certain citizen, conjecturing that fear had already come upon them, walked into the assembly as if on other business and dared to say that among evils they ought to choose the least, since they were unarmed, thus speaking his mind plainly. Masinissa was vexed with the Romans, and took it hard that when he had brought the Carthaginians to their knees others should carry off the glory, not even communicating with him beforehand as they had done in the former wars. Nevertheless, when the consuls, by way of testing him, asked his assistance, he said that he would send it whenever he should see that they needed it. Not long after he sent to inquire if they wanted anything at present. They, not tolerating his haughtiness and already suspicious of him as a disaffected person, answered that they would send for him whenever they needed him. Yet they were already in much trouble for supplies for the army, which they drew from Hadrumetum, Leptis, Saxo, Utica, and Acholla only, all the rest of Africa being in the power of Hasdrubal, from which he sent supplies to Carthage. Several days having been consumed in this way, the two consuls moved their forces against Carthage, prepared for battle, and laid siege to it.

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