Hamilcar. Hannibal. Siege and Fall of Saguntum. Rome Invades Spain. Scipio's Policy. Cadiz, (Gades) Surrendered to the Romans. By What Steps IBERIA Became SPAIN. Fall of Carthaginian Power. How Spain Became a Roman Province.


The Carthaginian occupation of Spain had not extended much beyond the coast, and had been rather in the nature of a commercial alliance with a few cities. Now Hamilcar determined, by placating, and by bribes, and if necessary by force, to take possession of the Peninsula for his own purposes, and to make of the people a Punic nation under the complete dominion of Carthage. So his first task was to win, or to subdue, the Keltiberians. He built the city of New Carthage (now Carthagena), he showed the people how to develop their immense resources, and by promises of increased prosperity won the confidence and sympathy of the nation, and soon had a population of millions from which to recruit its army.

When his son Hannibal was nine years old, at his father's bidding he placed his hand upon the altar and swore eternal enmity to Rome. The fidelity of the boy to his oath made a great deal of history. He took up the task when his father laid it down, inaugurated the second Punic war (218-201 B.C.); and for forty years carried on one of the most desperate struggles the world has ever seen; the hoary East in struggle with the young West.

Saguntum was that ancient city in Valencia which was said to have been founded by the Greeks long before Homer sang of Troy, or, indeed, before Helen brought ruin upon that city. At all events its antiquity was greater even than that of the Phenician cities in Spain, and after being long forgotten by the Greeks it had drifted under Roman protection. It was the only spot in Spain which acknowledged allegiance to Rome; and for that reason was marked for destruction as an act of defiance.

The Saguntines sent an embassy to Rome. These men made a pitiful and passionate appeal in the Senate Chamber: "Romans, allies, friends! help! help! Hannibal is at the gates of our city. Hannibal, the sworn enemy of Rome. Hannibal the terrible. Hannibal who fears not the gods, neither keeps faith with men. ["Punic faith" was a byword.] O Romans, fathers, friends! help while there is yet time."

But they found they had a "protector" who did not protect. The senators sent an embassy to treat with Hannibal, but no soldiers. So, with desperate courage, the Saguntines defended their beleaguered city for weeks, hurling javelins, thrusting their lances, and beating down the besiegers from the walls. They had no repeating rifles nor dynamite guns, but they had the terrible falaric, a shaft of fir with an iron head a yard long, at the point of which was a mass of burning tow, which had been dipped in pitch. When a breach was made in the walls, the inflowing army would be met by a rain of this deadly falaric, which was hurled with telling power and precision. Then, in the short interval of rest this gave them, men, women, and children swiftly repaired the broken walls before the next assault.

But at last the resourceful Hannibal abandoned his battering rams, and with pickaxes undermined the wall, which fell with a crash. When asked to surrender, the chief men of the city kindled a great fire in the market-place, into which they then threw all the silver and gold in the treasury, their own gold and silver and garments and furniture, and then cast themselves headlong into the flames. This was their answer.

Saguntum, which for more than a thousand years had looked from its elevation out upon the sea, was no more, and its destruction was one of the thrilling tragedies of ancient history. On its site there exists to-day a town called Mur Viedro (old walls), and these old walls are the last vestige of ancient Saguntum.

In order to understand the indifference of Rome to the Spanish Peninsula at this time, it must be remembered that Spain was then the uttermost verge of the known world, beyond which was only a dread waste of waters and of mystery. To the people of Tyre and of Greece, the twin "Pillars of Hercules" had marked the limit beyond which there was nothing; and those two columns, Gibraltar and Ceuta, with the legend ne plus ultra entwined about them, still survive, as a symbol, in the arms of Spain and upon the Spanish coins; and what is still more interesting to Americans, in the familiar mark ($) which represents a dollar. (The English name for the Spanish peso is pillar-dollar.)

Now Rome was aroused from its apathy. It sent an army into Spain, led by Scipio the Elder, known as Scipio Africanus. When he fell, his son, only twenty-four years old, stood up in the Roman Forum and offered to fill the undesired post; and, in 210 B.C., Scipio "the Younger"--and the greater--took the command--as Livy eloquently says--"between the tombs of his father and his uncle", who had both perished in Spain within a month.

The chief feature of Scipio's policy was, while he was defeating Hannibal in battles, to be undermining him with his native allies; and to make that people realize to what hard taskmasters they had bound themselves; and by his own manliness and courtesy and justice to win them to his side.

He marched his army swiftly and unexpectedly upon New Carthage, the capital and center of the whole Carthaginian movement, sent his fleet to blockade the city, and planned his moves with such precision that the fleet for the blockade and the army for the siege arrived before the city on the same day.

Taken entirely by surprise. New Carthage was captured without a siege. Not one of the inhabitants was spared, and spoil of fabulous amounts fell to the victors.

It seems like a fairy tale--or like the story of Mexico and Peru 1800 years later--to read of 276 golden bowls which were brought to Scipio's tent, countless vessels of silver, and 18 tons of coined and wrought silver.

But the richest part of the prize was the 750 Spanish hostages--high in rank of course--whom the various tribes had given in pledge of their fidelity to Carthage. Now Scipio held these pledges, and they were a menace and a promise. They were Roman slaves, but he could by kindness, and by holding out the hope of emancipation, placate and further bind to him the native people.

By an exercise of tact and clemency Scipio gained such an ascendancy over the inhabitants, and so moved were they by this unexpected generosity and kindness, that many would gladly have made him their king.

But he seems to have been the "noblest Roman of them all," and when saluted as king on one occasion he said: "Never call me king. Other nations may revere that name, but no Roman can endure it. My soldiers have given me a more honorable title--that of general."

Such nobility, such a display of Roman virtue, was a revelation to these barbarians; and they felt the grandeur of the words, though they could not quite understand them. They were won to the cause of Rome, and formed loyal alliances with Scipio which they never broke.

In the year 206 B.C. Gades (Cadiz), the last stronghold, was surrendered to the Romans, and the entire Spanish Peninsula had been wrenched from the Carthaginians.

Iberia was changed to Hispania, and fifteen years later the whole of the Peninsula was organized into a Roman province, thenceforth known in history, not as Iberia, nor yet Hispania; but Spain, and its people as Spaniards.

At the end of the third Punic war (149-146 B.C.), the ruin of the Carthaginians was complete. Hannibal had died a fugitive and a suicide. His nation had not a single ship upon the seas, nor a foot of territory upon the earth, and the great city of Carthage was plowed and sowed with salt. Rome had been used by Fate to fulfill her stern decree--"Delenda est Carthago."

It was really only a limited portion of the Peninsula; a fringe of provinces upon the south and east coast, which had been under Carthaginian and now acknowledged Roman dominion. Beyond these the Keltiberian tribes in the center formed a sort of confederation, and consented to certain alliances with the Romans; while beyond them, intrenched in their own impregnable mountain fastnesses, were brave, warlike, independent tribes, which had never known anything but freedom, whose names even, Rome had not yet heard. The stern virtue and nobility of Scipio proved a delusive promise. Rome had not an easy task, and other and brutal methods were to be employed in subduing stubborn tribes and making of the whole a Latin nation. In one of the defiles of the Pyrenees there may now be seen the ruins of fortifications built by Cato the Elder, not long after Scipio, which show how early those free people in the north were made to feel the iron heel of the master and to learn their lesson of submission.

The century which followed Scipio's conquest was one of dire experience for Spain. A Roman army was trampling out every vestige of freedom in provinces which had known nothing else; and more than that, Roman diplomacy was making of their new possession a fighting ground for the civil war which was then raging at Rome; and partisans of Marius and of Sylla were using and slaughtering the native tribes in their own desperate struggle. Roman rule was arrogant and oppressive, Roman governors cruel, arbitrary, and rapacious, and the boasted "Roman virtue" seemed to have been left in Rome, when treaties were made only to be violated at pleasure.