If Rome was weakened by the continued strife, so was Hannibal also; and it was clear that the unaided resources of his army were unequal to the task of its enemy’s destruction.
Continuing Battle of Metaurus,
our selection from The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World: from Marathon to Waterloo by Edward Creasy published in 1851. The selection is presented in eleven easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Battle of Metaurus.
Time: 207 BC
Place: Metaurus River, Italy
But if Hannibal’s genius may be likened to the Homeric god, who, in his hatred to the Trojans, rises from the deep to rally the fainting Greeks and to lead them against the enemy, so the calm courage with which Hector met his more than human adversary in his country’s cause is no unworthy image of the unyielding magnanimity displayed by the aristocracy of Rome. As Hannibal utterly eclipses Carthage, so, on the contrary, Fabius, Marcellus, Claudius Nero, even Scipio himself, are as nothing when compared to the spirit and wisdom and power of Rome. The senate, which voted its thanks to its political enemy, Varro, after his disastrous defeat, ‘because he had not despaired of the commonwealth,’ and which disdained either to solicit or to reprove or to threaten or in any way to notice the twelve colonies which had refused their accustomed supplies of men for the army, is far more to be honored than the conqueror of Zama. This we should the more carefully bear in mind because our tendency is to admire individual greatness far more than national; and, as no single Roman will bear comparison to Hannibal, we are apt to murmur at the event of the contest, and to think that the victory was awarded to the least worthy of the combatants. On the contrary, never was the wisdom of God’s providence more manifest than in the issue of the struggle between Rome and Carthage.
“It was clearly for the good of mankind that Hannibal should be conquered; his triumph would have stopped the progress of the world; for great men can only act permanently by forming great nations; and no one man, even though it were Hannibal himself, can in one generation effect such a work. But where the nation has been merely enkindled for a while by a great man’s spirit, the light passes away with him who communicated it; and the nation, when he is gone, is like a dead body to which magic power had for a moment given unnatural life: when the charm has ceased, the body is cold and stiff as before. He who grieves over the battle of Zama should carry on his thoughts to a period thirty years later, when Hannibal must in the course of nature have been dead, and consider how the isolated Phoenician city of Carthage was fitted to receive and to consolidate the civilization of Greece, or by its laws and institutions to bind together barbarians of every race and language into an organized empire, and prepare them for becoming, when that empire was dissolved, the free members of the commonwealth of Christian Europe.” *
It was in the spring of 207 B.C. that Hasdrubal, after skillfully disentangling himself from the Roman forces in Spain, and after a march conducted with great judgment and little loss through the interior of Gaul and the passes of the Alps, appeared in the country that now is the north of Lombardy, at the head of troops which he had partly brought out of Spain and partly levied among the Gauls and Ligurians on his way. At this time Hannibal, with his unconquered and seemingly unconquerable army, had been eight years in Italy, executing with strenuous ferocity the vow of hatred to Rome which had been sworn by him while yet a child at the bidding of his father, Hamilcar, who, as he boasted, had trained up his three sons, Hannibal, Hasdrubal, and Mago, like three lion’s whelps, to prey upon the Romans. But Hannibal’s latter campaigns had not been signalized by any such great victories as marked the first years of his invasion of Italy. The stern spirit of Roman resolution, ever highest in disaster and danger, had neither bent nor despaired beneath the merciless blows which “the dire African” dealt her in rapid succession at Trebia, at Thrasymene, and at Cannae. Her population was thinned by repeated slaughter in the field; poverty and actual scarcity ground down the survivors, through the fearful ravages which Hannibal’s cavalry spread through their cornfields, their pasture lands, and their vineyards; many of her allies went over to the invader’s side, and new clouds of foreign war threatened her from Macedonia and Gaul. But Rome receded not. Rich and poor among her citizens vied with each other in devotion to their country. The wealthy placed their stores, and all placed their lives, at the State’s disposal. And though Hannibal could not be driven out of Italy, though every year brought its sufferings and sacrifices, Rome felt that her constancy had not been exerted in vain. If she was weakened by the continued strife, so was Hannibal also; and it was clear that the unaided resources of his army were unequal to the task of her destruction. The single deerhound could not pull down the quarry which he had so furiously assailed. Rome not only stood fiercely at bay, but had pressed back and gored her antagonist, that still, however, watched her in act to spring. She was weary, and bleeding at every pore; and there seemed to be little hope of her escape if the other hound of old Hamilcar’s race should come up in time to aid his brother in the death grapple.
Hasdrubal had commanded the Carthaginian armies in Spain for some time with varying but generally unfavorable fortune. He had not the full authority over the Punic forces in that country which his brother and his father had previously exercised. The faction at Carthage, which was at feud with his family, succeeded in fettering and interfering with his power; and other generals were from time to time sent into Spain, whose errors and misconduct caused the reverses that Hasdrubal met with. This is expressly attested by the Greek historian Polybius, who was the intimate friend of the younger Africanus, and drew his information respecting the Second Punic War from the best possible authorities. Livy gives a long narrative of campaigns between the Roman commanders in Spain and Hasdrubal, which is so palpably deformed by fictions and exaggerations as to be hardly deserving of attention.
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