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Even Hannibal Acknowledges the Spirit of the Romans

Resuming my history from the point at which I started on this digression I will briefly refer to one transaction, that I may give a practical illustration of the perfection and power of the Roman polity at that period, as though I were producing one of his works as a specimen of the skill of a good artist.

When Hannibal, after conquering the Romans in the battle at

B. C. 216. Hannibal offers to put the prisoners at Cannae to ransom.
Cannae, got possession of the eight thousand who were guarding the Roman camp, he made them all prisoners of war, and granted them permission to send messages to their relations that they might be ransomed and return home. They accordingly selected ten of their chief men, whom Hannibal allowed to depart after binding them with an oath to return. But one of them, just as he had got outside the palisade of the camp, saying that he had forgotten something, went back; and, having got what he had left behind, once more set out, under the belief that by means of this return he had kept his promise and discharged his oath. Upon the arrival of the envoys at Rome, imploring and beseeching the Senate not to grudge the captured troops their return home, but to allow them to rejoin their friends by paying three minae each for them,—for these were the terms, they said, granted by Hannibal,—and declaring that the men deserved redemption, for they had neither played the coward in the field, nor done anything unworthy of Rome, but had been left behind to guard the camp; and that, when all the rest had perished, they had yielded to absolute necessity in surrendering to Hannibal: though the Romans had been severely defeated in the battles, and though they were at the time deprived of, roughly speaking, all their allies, they neither yielded so far to misfortune as to disregard what was becoming to themselves, nor omitted to take into account any necessary consideration. They saw through Hannibal's purpose in thus acting,—which was at once to get a large supply of money, and at the same time to take away all enthusiasm from the troops opposed to him, by showing that even the conquered had a hope of getting safe home again. Therefore the Senate, far from acceding to the request, refused all pity even to their own relations, and disregarded the services to be expected from these men in the future: and thus frustrated Hannibal's calculations, and the hopes which he had founded on these prisoners, by refusing to ransom them; and at the same time established the rule for their own men, that they must either conquer or die on the field, as there was no other hope of safety for them if they were beaten. With this answer they dismissed the nine envoys who returned of their own accord; but the tenth who had put the cunning trick in practice for discharging himself of his oath they put in chains and delivered to the enemy. So that Hannibal was not so much rejoiced at his victory in the battle, as struck with astonishment at the unshaken firmness and lofty spirit displayed in the resolutions of these senators.1

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    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 22, 58
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