Chapter 4 of The Spirit of the Laws Volume 3

The Gauls and Pyrrhus= Parallels between Carthage and Rome and The War of Hannibal

September 30, 2021

THE Romans were engaged in several wars against the Gauls= a thirst of glory, a contempt of death, and an inflexible resolution of conquering, were equal in both nations, but the weapons they used were different; the bucklers of the latter was small, and their swords [19] unfit for execution; and, indeed, the Gauls were cut to pieces by the Romans, much after the same manner as the Mexicans, in these latter ages, by the Spaniards; and a surprizing circumstance is, that though these people were combating perpetually with the Romans, they yet suffered themselves to be destroyed one after another, without their ever being sensible of, enquiring after, or obviating the cause of their calamities.

Pyrrhus invaded the Romans at a time when they were strong enough to oppose the power of his arms, and to be taught by the victories he obtained over them= from him they learned to entrench themselves, as also the choice and proper disposition of a camp; he accustomed them to elephants, and prepared them for mightier wars.

The grandeur of Pyrrhus was confined merely to his personal qualities. Plutarch * informs us, that he was obliged to begin the war of Macedonia, from his inability to maintain any longer the six thousand foot, and five hundred horse in his service. This prince, sovereign of a small country, which has never made the least figure since his time, was a military rambler, who was continually forming new enterprises, because he could not subsist but by enterprizing.

Tarentum, his ally, had much degenerated from the institution of the Lacedæmonians, her ancestors † . He might have done great things with the assistance of the Samnites; but they were almost quite destroyed by the Romans.

As the Carthagenians grew wealthy sooner than the Romans, so they were sooner corrupted= thus whilst at Rome, public employments were made the reward of virtue only, and no other emolument accrued from them than honour, and a preference in toils; at Carthage, the several advantages which the public can bestow on particular persons were venal, and every service done by such persons, was there paid by the public.

[20] A monarchy is not dragged nearer to the brink of ruin by the tyranny of a prince, than a commonwealth by a lukewarmness and indifference for the general good. The advantage of a free state is, that the revenues are employed in it to the best purposes; but where does not the reverse of this happen! The advantage of a free state is, that it admits of no favourites; but when the contrary is seen, and instead of the friends and relations of a prince, great fortunes are amassed for the friends and relations of all persons who have any share in the government; in this case an universal ruin must ensue; the laws are then eluded more dangerously, than they are infringed by a sovereign prince, who being always the greatest citizen in the state, is most concerned to labour at its preservation.

By the constant practice of ancient customs and manners, and a peculiar use that was made of poverty, the fortunes of all the people in Rome were very near upon a level; but in Carthage, some particular persons boasted the wealth of kings.

The two prevailing factions in Carthage were so divided, that the one was always for peace, and the other always for war; by which means it was impossible for that city, either to enjoy the one, or engage in the other to advantage.

In Rome, * war immediately united the several interests; but in Carthage it divided them still more.

[21] In a monarchy, feuds and divisions are easily quieted, because the prince is invested with a coercive power to curb both parties; but they are most lasting in a commonwealth, because the evil generally seizes the very power which only could have wrought a cure.

In Rome, which was governed by laws, the people entrusted the senate with the management of affairs; but in Carthage, which was governed by fraud and dissoluteness, the people would themselves transact all things.

Carthage, in warring with all its riches against the poverty of Rome, had a disadvantage in this very circumstance; for gold and silver may be exhausted, but virtue, perseverance, strength, and poverty are inexhaustible.

The Romans were ambitious through pride, and the Carthaginians through avarice; the former would command, the latter amass; and these, whose minds were wholly turned to traffick, perpetually casting up their income and expences, never engaged in any war from inclination.

The loss of battles, the decrease of a people, the decay of trade, the consumption of the public treasure, the insurrection of neighbouring nations, might force the Carthaginians to submit to the severest terms of peace= but Rome was not swayed by the consideration of blessings or calamities, being determined by no other motive but its glory; and as the Romans were persuaded they could not exist without commanding over others, neither hopes nor fears of any kind could prevail with them to conclude a peace, the conditions of which were not prescribed by themselves.

Nothing is so powerful as a commonwealth, in which the laws are exactly observed; and this not from fear nor from reason, but from a passionate impulse, as in Rome and Lacedæmon; for then the wisdom of a good legislature is united to all the strength a faction could possibly boast.

[22] The Cathaginians made use of foreign forces, and the Romans employed none but their own. As the latter had never considered the vanquished but merely as so many instruments for future triumphs, they made soldiers of the several people they conquered; and the greater opposition those made, the more worthy they judged them of being incorporated into their republic. Thus we find the Samnites, who were not subdued till after four and twenty triumphs * , became auxiliaries to the Romans; and some time before the second Punic war, they raised from among that nation and their allies † , that is, from a country of little more extent than territories of the Pope and Naples, seven hundred thousand foot, and seventy thousand horse to oppose the Gauls.

In the height of the second Punic war, Rome had always a standing army of twenty-two or twenty-four legions; and yet it appears by Livy, that at this time the census, or general survey, amounted to but about 137,000 citizens.

The Carthaginians employed a greater number of troops in invading others, and the Romans in defending themselves; the latter armed, as we have just now seen, a prodigious multitude of men to oppose the Gauls and Hannibal who invaded them; and they sent out no more than two legions against the most powerful kings; by which means their forces were inexhaustible.

Carthage was not so strong from its situation, as Rome from the spot on which it stood= the latter had thirty colonies ‡ round it, all which were as so many bulwarks. The Romans were never abandoned by one of their allies till the battle of Cannæ; the reason is, the Samnites and other nations of Italy were used to their sovereignty.

[23] As most of the cities of Africa were poorly fortified, they presently surrendered to the first enemy that appeared under their walls; so that Agathocles, Regulus, Scipio, in a word, all who made a descent on those places, immediately spread despair through all Carthage.

We can ascribe to nothing but to an evil administration, the several calamities which the Carthaginians suffered during the whole war that Scipio carried on against them; their city * , and even their armies were famished, at the same time that the Romans enjoyed a profusion of all things.

Among the Carthaginians, the armies which had been defeated, grew more insolent upon it, insomuch that they sometimes used to crucify their generals, punishing them in this manner for their own cowardice, Among the Romans, the consul, after punishing such soldiers as had fled from their colours, by a † decimation, marched the surviving forces against the enemy.

The government of the Carthiginians was vastly oppressive ‡ = They had trampled so much upon the Spaniards, that, when the Romans arrived among them, they were considered as their deliverers; and if we reflect upon the immense sums it cost the Carthaginians to maintain, in that country, a war which proved fatal to them, it will appear that injustice is very improvident, and is not mistress of all she promises.

The founding of Alexandria had very much lessened the trade of Carthage. In the first ages, superstition used to banish, in some measure, all foreigners from Egypt; and after the Persians had conquered this [24] kingdom, they had bent their whole thoughts to the weakening of their new subjects; but under the Grecian monarchs, Egypt possessed almost the whole commerce of the universe * , and that of Carthage began to decay.

Such powers as are established by commerce, may subsist for a long series of years in their humble condition, but their grandeur is of short duration; they rise by little and little, and in an imperceptible manner, for they do not perform any particular exploit which may make a noise, and signalize their power= But when they have once raised themselves to so exalted a pitch, that it is impossible but all must see them, every one endeavours to deprive this nation of an advantage which it had snatched, as it were, from the rest of the world.

The Carthaginian cavalry was preferable to that of the Romans for these two reasons; first, because the horses of Numidia and Spain were better than those of Italy; secondly, because the Roman cavalry was but indifferently provided with arms; for the Romans, as † Polybius informs us, did not introduce any change on this occasion, till such time as they fought in Greece.

In the first Punic war, Regulus was defeated as soon as the Carthaginians made choice of plains for their cavalry to engage in; and in the second, ‡ Hannibal owed his most glorious victories to the Numidians.

Scipio, by the conquest of Spain and the alliance he made with Masinissa, deprived the Carthaginians of this superiority= The Numedian cavalry won the battle of Zama, and put an end to the war.

The Carthaginians had greater experience at sea, and were better skilled in the working of ships than [25] the Romans= But this advantage seems to have been less in those ages than it would be in the present.

As the ancients had not the use of the sea-compass, they were confined almost to coasting; and indeed they had nothing but gallies, which were small and flat-bottomed; most roads were to them as so many harbours; the knowledge of their pilots was very narrow and contracted, and their tackle extremely simple. Their art itself was so imperfect, that as much is now done with an hundred oars, as in those ages with a thousand.

Their larger vessels had a disadvantage in this, that being moved with difficulty by the crew of galley-slaves, it was impossible for them to make the necessary evolutions. Mark Antony experienced this, in the most fatal manner, at Actium; for his ships were not able to move about, when attacked on all sides by the lighter vessels of Augustus.

As the ancients used nothing but galleons, the lighter vessels easily broke the oars of the greater ones, which were then but as so many unwieldy, immoveable machines, like modern ships when they have lost their masts.

Since the invention of the sea-compass, different methods have been employed; oars * have been laid aside; the main ocean has been visited, great ships have been built; the machine has become more complicated, and the practices have been multiplied.

The discovery of gun powder has occasioned a circumstance one would no way have suspected, which is, that the strength of fleets depends more than ever upon art; for in order to resist the sury of the cannon, and prevent the being exposed to a superior fire, it was necessary to build great ships; but the power of the art must be proportioned to the bulk of the machine.

[26] The small vessels of the antients used often to grapple suddenly with one another, on which occasion the soldiers engaged on both sides= A whole land-army was shipped on board a fleet. In the sea-fight won by Regulus and his colleague, an hundred and thirty thousand Romans fought against an hundred and fifty thousand Carthagenians= At that time soldiers were looked upon as considerable, and artists the very reverse; but in these ages, the soldiers are considered as a little or nothing, and artists the very contrary * .

A strong proof of the difference is, the victory won by Duillius the consul= The Romans were totally ignorant of navigation; when a Carthaginian galley happening to be stranded on their coast, served them as a model for the building of others= In three months time their sailors were trained, their fleet was completely fitted out; the Romans put to sea, came up with the Carthaginians, and defeated them.

In this age, the whole life of a prince is scarce sufficient for the raising and equipping a navy, capable to make head against a power already possessed of the empire of the sea= This perhaps may be the only thing which money cannot of itself effect; and though a great † monarch in our days succeeded immediately in an attempt of this kind, experience has proved to others ‡ , that such an example is to be admired rather than imitated.

The second Punic war made so much noise in the world, that it is known to every one= When we survey attentively the croud of obstacles which started up before Hannibal, and reflect, that this extraordinary man surmounted them all, we view the most august spectacle that antiquity can possibly exhibit.

Rome was a miracle in constancy and resolution after the battles of Ticinus, of Trebia, and Trasymenus; after the defeat at Cannæ, which was still more fatal [27] to them, though they saw themselves abandoned by most of the nations in Italy, yet they would not sue for peace; and for this reason, the senate never once receded from their ancient maxims= They conducted themselves towards Hannibal, in the same manner as they had before behaved with regard to Pyrrhus, to whom they refused all terms of accommodation, till such time as he should leave Italy; and Dionysius Halicarnasseus * informs us, that, when Coriolanus was treating with the Romans, the senate declared they would never infringe their ancient customs; that their people could not conclude a peace so long as the enemy should continue in their territories; but that in case the Volscians would think fit to retire, they then should agree to any terms that were just and reasonable.

Rome was saved by the strength and vigour of its institution; after the battle of Cannæ, their very women were not allowed to shed tears; the senate refused to ransom the prisoners, and sent the miserable remains of the army to carry on the war in Scicily, unrecompensed, and deprived of every military honour, till such time as Hannibal was driven out of Italy.

On the other side, Terentius Varro the consul had fled ignominiously as far as Venusia= This man, whose extraction was very mean, had been raised to the consulship merely to mortify the nobles. However, the senate would not enjoy the unhappy triumph; They saw how necessary it was for them to gain the confidence of the people on this occasion; they therefore went out to meet Vario, and returned him thanks for not despairing of the safety of the commonwealth.

It is commonly not the real loss sustained in a battle (that of the slaughter of some thousand men) which proves fatal to a state, but the imaginary loss, the [28] general damp, which deprives it even of that strength and vigour which fortune had left it.

Some things are asserted by all men, because they have been asserted once= It is thought Hannibal committed an egregious error, in not laying siege to Rome after the battle of Cannæ= It must be confessed, that the inhabitants of the former were at first seized with a panic; but then the surprize and dread of a martial people, which always turns to bravery, is not like that of a despicable populace, who are sensible to nothing but their weakness= A proof Hannibal would not have succeeded, is, that the Romans were still powerful enough to send succours where any were wanted.

It is also said, that Hannibal was greatly overseen, in marching his army to Capua, where his soldiers enervated themselves; but people who make these assertions should consider, that they do not go back to the true cause of it= Would not every place have proved a Capua to a body of men, who had enriched themselves with the spoils of so many victories? Alexander, whose army consisted of his own subjects, made use, on the like occasion, of an expedient which Hannibal, whose army was composed wholly of mercenaries, could not employ; and this was, the setting fire to the baggage of his soldiers, and burning all their wealth and his own. We are told that Kouli Khan, after his conquest of the Indies, left to the share of each soldier no more than one hundred and fifty silver roupees.

The very conquests of Hannibal began to change the fortune of the war= He did not receive any succours from Carthage, either by the jealousy of one party * , or the too great confidence of the other= So long as he kept his whole army together, he always defeated the Romans; but when he was obliged to put garrisons into cities, to defend his allies, to besiege strong holds, or prevent their being besieged, he then found himself too weak, and lost a great part of his army by piecemeal. Conquests are easily made, because we achieve them with our whole force; they are retained with difficulty, because we defend them with only a part of our forces.


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