Author: Polybius  | Date: 1927

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Polybius W. R. Taton VI 403–409, 433–437 Harvard University Press, The Loeb Classical Library Cambridge, Mass. 1927

Delenda Est Carthago!

[146 B.C.]

Hasdrubal, the Carthaginian general, was an empty-headed braggart and very far from being a competent statesman or general. There are many evidences of his lack of judgment. To begin with, at his meeting with Golosses, king of the Numidians, he appeared in a complete suit of armour over which was fastened a cloak of sea purple and with a retinue of ten swordsmen. Then advancing in front of these ten men, he remained at a distance of about twenty feet from the king protected by a trench and palisade, and made signs to him to come to him, while it ought to have been the reverse. However, Golosses with true Numidian simplicity advanced to him unaccompanied, and, when he approached him, asked him whom he feared to have come thus armed cap-a-pie.

Hasdrubal answered: "In fear of the Romans."

"But then," said Golosses, "you would scarcely have trusted yourself in the town without any necessity. But what do you want, what is your request?"

"I beg you," answered Hasdrubal, "to act as my envoy to the general, and I consent on my part to submit to any terms, if only they will spare this unhappy city."

"My good friend," said Golosses, "you seem to me to make a perfectly childish request. How do you expect, now that you are surrounded by land and sea and have almost abandoned every hope of safety, to persuade the Romans to grant you what they refused you, when at the time they were still in Utica, you approached them with your strength yet intact?"

"You are mistaken," said Hasdrubal, "for I still have good hopes of what our foreign allies may do for us."

For he had not yet heard what had happened to the Moors or to his own force in the field. And he added that he was not even in despair as regards their own resources: for he chiefly relied on the support of the gods and the hope he placed in them. "Surely," he said, "they will not suffer us to be thus undisguisedly betrayed but will give us many means of salvation." He therefore begged him to implore the general to think of the gods and of Fortune and to spare the town, and he might be quite sure that if they could not obtain this request they would all rather be slaughtered than give up the town. After conversing more or less in this sense they separated, agreeing to meet again in three days.

When Golosses communicated the conversation to Scipio the latter laughed and said, "I suppose you were about to make this request, when you treated our prisoners in such an inhuman manner, and now you expect help from the gods after violating even the laws of men." Then the king advanced further arguments to Scipio, chiefly to the effect that he ought to bring matters to a conclusion. Apart from the uncertainty of affairs, the appointment of the new consuls was close at hand, he argued, and he should take this into consideration, lest when he was overtaken by winter another commander should succeed him and, without any trouble, get the credit for all that Scipio had accomplished. To these remarks the general paid careful attention, and told Golosses to inform Hasdrubal that he answered for the safety of himself, his wife, and children, and the families of ten of his friends, and that, in addition to this, he might keep ten talents out of his own fortune and carry off with him any slaves he chose to the number of a hundred.

Conveying this kind offer, Golosses met Hasdrubal again two days later. Again the Carthaginian advanced slowly to meet him in great state, wearing his full armour and purple robe. He was by nature corpulent, and he had now become pot-bellied and was unnaturally red in the face, so that it looked as if he were living like a fatted ox in the plenty of a festival instead of being at the head of a people suffering from such extreme misery that it would be difficult to set it down in words. However, when he met the king and heard Scipio’s offer, he slapped his thigh often and called upon the gods and Fortune, declaring that the day would never come on which Hasdrubal would look at the same time on the sun and on his city being consumed by fire. For right-minded men the most noble funeral was to perish in their native city and amid her flames.

When we look at his utterances we admire the man and his high-minded words, but when we turn to his actual behavior, we are shocked at his ignobility and cowardice. For, to begin with, when the rest of the citizens were utterly perishing from famine, he gave drinking parties and offered his guests sumptuous second courses and by his own good cheer exposed the general distress. Actually the number of deaths was incredibly large and so was the number of daily desertions due to famine. Then, again, by making mock of some and inflicting outrage and death on others, he terrorized the populace and maintained his authority in his sorely stricken country by means to which a tyrant in a prosperous city would hardly resort.

Scipio had reached the wall while the Carthaginians still defended themselves from the citadel. Finding that the depth of the sea between them was not very great, Scipio was advised by Polybius to set it with iron caltrops or to throw into it planks furnished with spikes to prevent the enemy from crossing and attacking the mole.

"But now that we have taken the wall and are inside the tide, don’t you think it absurd," asked Scipio, "to take steps to prevent our fighting our enemy?"

When Hasdrubal, the Carthaginian commander, threw himself as a suppliant at Scipio’s knees, the general, turning to those around him, declared:

"Look, my friends, the example Fortune makes of inconsiderate men. This is that very Hasdrubal who lately rejected the many kind offers I made him, and said that his native city and her flames were the most splendid obsequies for him; and here he is with suppliant bows begging for his life from me and reposing all his hopes in me. Who that witnesses this with his eyes can fail to understand that a mere man should never either act or speak presumptuously?"

Some of the deserters now came forward to the edge of the roof and begged the front ranks of the assailants to hold back for a moment, and, when Scipio gave this order, they began to abuse Hasdrubal. Some charged him with having violated his oath often solemnly sworn not to desert them. Others accused him of cowardice and perfidy. They leered at him and shouted the most insulting, coarse, and hostile language.

Just at this moment Hasdrubal’s wife, seeing him seated with Scipio in front of the enemy, came forward from the crowd of deserters. Dressed like a great lady herself, she held her children, who wore nothing but their smocks, by each hand and wrapped them in her cloak. First she addressed Hasdrubal by name, but when he remained silent and kept his eyes on the ground, she called on the gods and expressed her deepest gratitude to Scipio for personally sparing not only herself but her children as well. Then, after a short pause, she turned to Hasdrubal and asked him how, without a word to her, he had deserted them all and betaken himself to the Roman general to secure his own safety. How, she persisted, had he thus shamelessly abandoned the state and the citizens who trusted in him and gone over secretly to the enemy? How had he the face to sit now beside the enemy, that enemy to whom he had often boasted that the day would never dawn on which the sun would look on Hasdrubal alive and his city in flames.

Turning round to me at once and grasping my hand, Scipio said:

"A glorious moment, Polybius. But I have a dread foreboding that some day the same doom will be pronounced on my own country."

It would be difficult to mention an utterance more statesmanlike and more profound. For, at the very moment of our greatest triumph and of our enemies’ disaster, to reflect on our own situation and on the possible reversal of circumstances and generally to bear in mind in the floodtide of success the mutability of Fortune, bespeaks a great and perfect man, a man in short worthy to be remembered.

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Chicago: Polybius, Histories, ed. Polybius and trans. W. R. Taton in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Co., 1951), Original Sources, accessed December 1, 2023, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=TMMAA4KSJNNRLSE.

MLA: Polybius. Histories, edited by Polybius, and translated by W. R. Taton, Vol. VI, in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, edited by Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris, Harrisburg, Pa., Stackpole Co., 1951, Original Sources. 1 Dec. 2023. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=TMMAA4KSJNNRLSE.

Harvard: Polybius, Histories, ed. and trans. . cited in 1951, History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. , Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, Pa.. Original Sources, retrieved 1 December 2023, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=TMMAA4KSJNNRLSE.