Preface.
 

MY DEAR LADS,

When I was a boy at school, if I remember rightly, our sympathies were generally with the Carthaginians as against the Romans. Why they were so, except that one generally sympathizes with the unfortunate, I do not quite know; certainly we had but a hazy idea as to the merits of the struggle and knew but little of its events, for the Latin and Greek authors, which serve as the ordinary textbooks in schools, do not treat of the Punic wars. That it was a struggle for empire at first, and latterly one for existence on the part of Carthage, that Hannibal was a great and skilful general, that he defeated the Romans at Trebia, Lake Trasimenus, and Cannae, and all but took Rome, and that the Romans behaved with bad faith and great cruelty at the capture of Carthage, represents, I think, pretty nearly the sum total of our knowledge.

I am sure I should have liked to know a great deal more about this struggle for the empire of the world, and as I think that most of you would also like to do so, I have chosen this subject for my story. Fortunately there is no lack of authentic material from which to glean the incidents of the struggle. Polybius visited all the passes of the Alps some forty years after the event, and conversed with tribesmen who had witnessed the passage of Hannibal, and there can be no doubt that his descriptions are far more accurate than those of Livy, who wrote somewhat later and had no personal knowledge of the affair. Numbers of books have been written as to the identity of the passes traversed by Hannibal. The whole of these have been discussed and summarized by Mr. W. J. Law, and as it appears to me that his arguments are quite conclusive I have adopted the line which he lays down as that followed by Hannibal.

In regard to the general history of the expedition, and of the manners, customs, religion, and politics of Carthage, I have followed M. Hennebert in his most exhaustive and important work on the subject. I think that when you have read to the end you will perceive that although our sympathies may remain with Hannibal and the Carthaginians, it was nevertheless for the good of the world that Rome was the conqueror in the great struggle for empire. At the time the war began Carthage was already corrupt to the core, and although she might have enslaved many nations she would never have civilized them. Rome gave free institutions to the people she conquered, she subdued but she never enslaved them, but rather strove to plant her civilization among them and to raise them to her own level. Carthage, on the contrary, was from the first a cruel mistress to the people she conquered. Consequently while all the peoples of Italy rallied round Rome in the days of her distress, the tribes subject to Carthage rose in insurrection against her as soon as the presence of a Roman army gave them a hope of escape from their bondage.

Had Carthage conquered Rome in the struggle she could never have extended her power over the known world as Rome afterwards did, but would have fallen to pieces again from the weakness of her institutions and the corruption of her people. Thus then, although we may feel sympathy for the failure and fate of the noble and chivalrous Hannibal himself, we cannot regret that Rome came out conqueror in the strife, and was left free to carry out her great work of civilization.

Yours sincerely,

G. A. Henty