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The History of Rome, by Theodor Mommsen
Etext Book III From the Union of Italy to the Subjugation of Carthage and the Greek States
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From The Union of Italy To The Subjugation of Carthage and the Greek States

Arduum res gestas scribere.


Chapter I

In Their Military System

The military resources of the Romans and Carthaginians were very different, yet in many respects not unequally balanced. The citizens of Carthage still at the conquest of the city amounted to 700,000, including women and children,(10) and were probably at least as numerous at the close of the fifth century; in that century they were able in case of need to set on foot a burgess-army of 40,000 hoplites. At the very beginning of the fifth century, Rome had in similar circumstances sent to the field a burgess-army equally strong;(11) after the great extensions of the burgess-domain in the course of that century the number of full burgesses capable of bearing arms must at least have doubled. But far more than in the number of men capable of bearing arms, Rome excelled in the effective condition of the burgess- soldier. Anxious as the Carthaginian government was to induce its citizens to take part in military service, it could neither furnish the artisan and the manufacturer with the bodily vigour of the husbandman, nor overcome the native aversion of the Phoenicians to warfare. in the fifth century there still fought in the Sicilian armies a "sacred band" of 2500 Carthaginians as a guard for the general; in the sixth not a single Carthaginian, officers excepted, was to be met with in the Carthaginian armies, e. g. in that of Spain. The Roman farmers, again, took their places not only in the muster- roll, but also in the field of battle. It was the same with the cognate races of both communities; while the Latins rendered to the Romans no less service than their own burgess-troops, the Liby- phoenicians were as little adapted for war as the Carthaginians, and, as may easily be supposed, still less desirous of it, and so they too disappeared from the armies; the towns bound to furnish contingents presumably redeemed their obligation by a payment of money. in the Spanish army just mentioned, composed of some 15,000 men, only a single troop of cavalry of 450 men consisted, and that but partly, of Liby-phoenicians. The flower of the Carthaginian armies was formed by the Libyan subjects, whose recruits were capable of being trained under able officers into good infantry, and whose light cavalry was unsurpassed in its kind. To these were added the forces of the more or less dependent tribes of Libya and Spain and the famous slingers of the Baleares, who seem to have held an intermediate position between allied contingents and mercenary troops; and finally, in case of need, the hired soldiery enlisted abroad. So far as numbers were concerned, such an army might without difficulty be raised almost to any desired strength; and in the ability of its officers, in acquaintance with arms, and in courage it might be capable of coping with that of Rome. Not only, however, did a dangerously long interval elapse, in the event of mercenaries being required, ere they could be got ready, while the Roman militia was able at any moment to take the field, but --which was the main matter--there was nothing to keep together the armies of Carthage but military honour and personal advantage, while the Romans were united by all the ties that bound them to their common fatherland. The Carthaginian officer of the ordinary type estimated his mercenaries, and even the Libyan farmers, very much as men in modern warfare estimate cannon-balls; hence such disgraceful proceedings as the betrayal of the Libyan troops by their general Himilco in 358, which was followed by a dangerous insurrection of the Libyans, and hence that proverbial cry of "Punic faith," which did the Carthaginians no small injury. Carthage experienced in full measure all the evils which armies of fellahs and mercenaries could bring upon a state, and more than once she found her paid serfs more dangerous than her foes.

The Carthaginian government could not fail to perceive the defects of this military system, and they certainly sought to remedy them by every available means. They insisted on maintaining full chests and full magazines, that they might at any time be able to equip mercenaries. They bestowed great care on those elements which among the ancients represented the modern artillery--the construction of machines, in which we find the Carthaginians regularly superior to the Siceliots, and the use of elephants, after these had superseded in warfare the earlier war-chariots: in the casemates of Carthage there were stalls for 300 elephants. They could not venture to fortify the dependent cities, and were obliged to submit to the occupation of the towns and villages as well as of the open country by any hostile army that landed in Africa--a thorough contrast to the state of Italy, where most of the subject towns had retained their walls, and a chain of Roman fortresses commanded the whole peninsula. But on the fortification of the capital they expended all the resources of money and of art, and on several occasions nothing but the strength of its walls saved the state; whereas Rome held a political and military position so secure that it never underwent a formal siege. Lastly, the main bulwark of the state was their war-marine, on which they lavished the utmost care. in the building as well as in the management of vessels the Carthaginians excelled the Greeks; it was at Carthage that ships were first built of more than three banks of oars, and the Carthaginian war-vessels, at this period mostly quinqueremes, were ordinarily better sailors than the Greek; the rowers, all of them public slaves, who never stirred from the galleys, were excellently trained, and the captains were expert and fearless. in this respect Carthage was decidedly superior to the Romans, who, with the few ships of their Greek allies and still fewer of their own, were unable even to show themselves in the open sea against the fleet which at that time without a rival ruled the western Mediterranean.

If, in conclusion, we sum up the results of this comparison of the resources of the two great powers, the judgment expressed by a sagacious and impartial Greek is perhaps borne out, that Carthage and Rome were, when the struggle between them began, on the whole equally matched. But we cannot omit to add that, while Carthage had put forth all the efforts of which intellect and wealth were capable to provide herself with artificial means of attack and defence, she was unable in any satisfactory way to make up for the fundamental wants of a land army of her own and of a symmachy resting on a self-supporting basis. That Rome could only be seriously attacked in Italy, and Carthage only in Libya, no one could fail to see; as little could any one fail to perceive that Carthage could not in the long run escape from such an attack. Fleets were not yet in those times of the infancy of navigation a permanent heirloom of nations, but could be fitted out wherever there were trees, iron, and water. It was clear, and had been several times tested in Africa itself, that even powerful maritime states were not able to prevent enemies weaker by sea from landing. When Agathocles had shown the way thither, a Roman general could follow the same course; and while in Italy the entrance of an invading army simply began the war, the same event in Libya put an end to it by converting it into a siege, in which, unless special accidents should intervene, even the most obstinate and heroic courage must finally succumb.
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