Hannibal by Faye Huntington

Now we will go back through all the years that have rolled away since Christ came to dwell upon the earth for a time. And yet further back in the history of the world we will look for our great man. Two hundred and forty-seven years before Christ, so the chronicle runs, one of the greatest generals, and one of the most interesting characters of antiquity, was born at Carthage.

And where is Carthage, does some one ask? Ah! we must ask, where was Carthage? your school maps of modern geography do not indicate the location of this ancient city, which was great and powerful, and situated upon the northern coast of Africa, near the site of the modern city of Tunis. In the annals of ancient history, Carthage figures largely, although no record of its early history has been discovered. The city was destroyed 146 B.C. Another Carthage was built upon the same site, which in its turn was destroyed 647 A.D.; and of this second Carthage we are told that "few vestiges of its ancient grandeur remain to indicate its site except some broken arches of a great aqueduct which was fifty miles long."

At the time when our hero was born, the first Carthage was one of the two great and powerful cities of the world. It was about that time that Rome and Carthage began a war for the possession of the beautiful and rich island of Sicily. This was the first Punic War. The Carthagenians were defeated and obliged to give up the island to the Romans.

Hamilcar, a Carthagenian general, burning with thoughts of revenge, took his young son Hannibal into the temple and made him lay his hand upon the altar and swear eternal enmity to Rome; thus the boy grew up with this one absorbing passion filling his young soul—hatred to the Romans. When his father died, he succeeded to the command of the armies, and soon engaged in what is known as the second Punic War. He led his army across Spain and crossed the Pyrenees and marched through Gaul. You see his object was to enter Italy from the North, but the Alps lifted their proud heads, seeming to be an insurmountable obstacle lying right in the path of this great army, like a long and frowning battlement. Would you not think the soldiers' hearts must have quailed as they looked up to the snow-capped peaks and realized that unless these were surmounted their expedition must fail!

Four little words tell the story—"he crossed the Alps!" But how much of iron resolution, of endurance, of suffering, of loss of life, and of perseverance lies behind that sentence! Those who know the Alps, and who also know what it means to lead an army through difficult passes, tell us that it was an undertaking of tremendous magnitude, and it would not have seemed strange if after undergoing such fatigue and hardship, the army had been defeated by the Roman forces which awaited them at the foot of the southern slope. But this was not the case. Hannibal was the victor not only in many minor engagements, but at last he obtained a complete victory at a place called CannŠ, where he destroyed the Roman army. This battle has been considered his greatest exploit in the line of fighting. The spot where this bloody battle was fought is called the field of blood, and when we know that forty thousand men were slain there, we would almost expect to see even to this day, the soil stained with blood, and surely the stain if washed out of the soil cannot be washed out of the history of those nations.

Hannibal is spoken of in history as one of the most extraordinary men that ever lived. His crossing the Alps, his generalship when opposed to disciplined and powerful forces, his sustaining himself in the enemy's country for fifteen years, with a large army without calling upon his own country for aid, his power over his forces, which were made up of different nationalities, holding them subject to his authority, and keeping down discontent and mutiny, show him to have possessed remarkable powers and great genius. In his unflinching enmity to Rome he was true to the teachings of his childhood. From his babyhood he had been taught this lesson, that he must hate this enemy of his country, and to lift Carthage to a height of power and wealth above Rome, was the aim of his life. He knew that unless Rome could be destroyed there was always danger for Carthage. They were rivals and one or the other must go down and this was why he waged such an uncompromising war against Rome.

But our hero who set out to conquer Rome was at last conquered. After many years of success in Italy, a danger threatened his own Carthage. The Romans had determined to carry the war into Africa; and Hannibal was obliged to hasten home to defend the city. He met the Roman forces under Scipio at Zama, and was defeated and forced to sue for peace. He would not have yielded, but his countrymen compelled him to accept the terms which Rome offered, humiliating though they were. After this, troubles followed him, and finally when he was about sixty-five years old the Romans having gained in power and supremacy demanded his surrender, he fled from Carthage, and at last seeing no hope of escape or relief, he killed himself by opening a little cup hidden in a ring, containing a drop of poison, which he swallowed.

While we cannot approve his course, knowing as we do, in this Christian age, that there are better things to live and labor for than the carrying out of a plan of revenge and hostility towards an enemy, we must admire many things in the character of Hannibal. His courage, his patriotism, his unflinching devotion to the cause he had sworn to live and die for and his faithfulness to what he believed to be his duty, or as he would probably have expressed it his destiny. We must pity him that when he had grown old, disappointed and discouraged, he had no other resource in his troubles but to plunge himself into an unknown world by his own act. In those days of darkness, before the light of the Gospel was shed upon the world, it was considered a brave act to take one's own life when irretrievable disaster had befallen. While learning our lessons from the admirable traits in our hero's character, be thankful that we have that light.