The Young Carthaginian by G. A. Henty
Chapter XIX: In the Mines
The exultation of the Carthaginians at the total destruction of their enemies was immense, and Maharbal and some of the other leaders urged Hannibal at once to march upon Rome; but Hannibal knew the spirit of the Roman people, and felt that the capture of Rome, even after the annihilation of its army, would be a greater task than he could undertake. History has shown how desperate a defence may be made by a population willing to die rather than surrender, and the Romans, an essentially martial people, would defend their city until the last gasp. They had an abundance of arms, and there were the two city legions, which formed the regular garrison of the capital.
The instant the news of the defeat reached Rome, a levy of all males over seventeen years of age was ordered, and this produced another ten thousand men and a thousand cavalry. Eight thousand slaves who were willing to serve were enlisted and armed, and four thousand criminals and debtors were released from prison and pardoned, on the condition of their taking up arms. The praetor Marcellus was at Ostia with the ten thousand men with which he was about to embark for Sicily.
Thus Rome would be defended by forty-three thousand men, while Hannibal had but thirty-three thousand infantry, and his cavalry, the strongest arm of his force, would be useless. From Cannae to Rome was twelve days' march with an army encumbered with booty. He could not, therefore, hope for a surprise. The walls of Rome were exceedingly strong, and he had with him none of the great machines which would have been necessary for a siege. He must have carried with him the supplies he had accumulated for the subsistence of his force, and when these were consumed he would be destitute. Fresh Roman levies would gather on his rear, and before long his whole army would be besieged.
In such an undertaking he would have wasted time, and lost the prestige which he had acquired by his astonishing victory. Varro, who had escaped from the battle, had rallied ten thousand of the fugitives at the strong place of Canusium, and these would be a nucleus round which the rest of those who had escaped would rally, and would be joined by fresh levies of the Italian allies of Rome.
The Romans showed their confidence in their power to resist a siege by at once despatching Marcellus with his ten thousand men to Canusium. Thus, with a strongly defended city in front, an army of twenty thousand Roman soldiers, which would speedily increase to double that number, in his rear, Hannibal perceived that were he to undertake the siege of Rome he would risk all the advantages he had gained. He determined, therefore, to continue the policy which he had laid down for himself, namely, to move his army to and fro among the provinces of Italy until the allies of Rome one by one fell away from her, and joined him, or until such reinforcements arrived from Carthage as would justify him in undertaking the siege of Rome.
Rome herself was never grander than in this hour of defeat; not for a moment was the courage and confidence of her citizens shaken. The promptness with which she prepared for defence, and still more the confidence which she showed by despatching Marcellus with his legion to Canusium instead of retaining him for the defence of the city, show a national spirit and manliness worthy of the highest admiration. Varro was ordered to hand over his command to Marcellus, and to return to Rome to answer before the senate for his conduct.
Varro doubted not that his sentence would be death, for the Romans, like the Carthaginians, had but little mercy for a defeated general. His colleague and his army had undoubtedly been sacrificed by his rashness. Moreover, the senate was composed of his bitter political enemies, and he could not hope that a lenient view would be taken of his conduct. Nevertheless Varro returned to Rome and appeared before the senate. That body nobly responded to the confidence manifested in it; party feeling was suspended, the political adversary, the defeated general, were alike forgotten, it was only remembered how Varro had rallied his troops, how he had allayed the panic which prevailed among them, and had at once restored order and discipline. His courage, too, in thus appearing, after so great a disaster, to submit himself to the judgment of the country, counted in his favour. His faults were condoned, and the senate publicly thanked him, because he had not despaired of the commonwealth.
Hannibal, in pursuance of his policy to detach the allies of Italy from Rome, dismissed all the Italian prisoners without ransom. The Roman prisoners he offered to admit to ransom, and a deputation of them accompanied an ambassador to offer terms of peace. The senate, however, not only refused to discuss any terms of peace, but absolutely forbade the families and friends of the prisoners to ransom them, thinking it politic neither to enrich their adversary nor to show indulgence to soldiers who had surrendered to the enemy.
The victory of Cannae and Hannibal's clemency began to bear the effects which he hoped for. Apulia declared for him at once, and the towns of Arpi and Celapia opened their gates to him; Bruttium, Lucania, and Samnium were ready to follow. Mago with one division of the army was sent into Bruttium to take possession of such towns as might submit. Hanno was sent with another division to do the same in Lucania. Hannibal himself marched into Samnium, and making an alliance with the tribes, there stored his plunder, and proceeded into Campania, and entered Capua, the second city of Italy, which concluded an alliance with him. Mago embarked at one of the ports of Bruttium to carry the news of Hannibal's success to Carthage, and to demand reinforcements.
Neither Rome nor Carthage had the complete mastery of the sea, and as the disaster which had befallen Rome by land would greatly lessen her power to maintain a large fleet, Carthage could now have poured reinforcements in by the ports of Bruttium without difficulty. But unfortunately Hannibal's bitterest enemies were to be found not in Italy but in the senate of Carthage, where, in spite of the appeals of Mago and the efforts of the patriotic party, the intrigues of Hanno and his faction and the demands made by the war in Spain, prevented the reinforcements from being forwarded which would have enabled him to terminate the struggle by the conquest of Rome.
Hannibal, after receiving the submission of several other towns and capturing Casilinum, went into winter quarters at Capua. During the winter Rome made gigantic efforts to place her army upon a war footing, and with such success that, excluding the army of Scipio in Spain, she had, when the spring began, twelve legions or a hundred and twenty thousand men again under arms; and as no reinforcements, save some elephants and a small body of cavalry, ever reached Hannibal from Carthage, he was, during the remaining thirteen years of the war, reduced to stand wholly on the defensive, protecting his allies, harassing his enemy, and feeding his own army at their expense; and yet so great was the dread which his genius had excited that, in spite of their superior numbers, the Romans after Cannae never ventured again to engage him in a pitched battle.
Soon after the winter set in Hannibal ordered Malchus to take a number of officers and a hundred picked men, and to cross from Capua to Sardinia, where the inhabitants had revolted against Rome, and were harassing the praetor, Quintus Mucius, who commanded the legion which formed the garrison of the island. Malchus and the officers under him were charged with the duty of organizing the wild peasantry of the island, and of drilling them in regular tactics; for unless acting as bodies of regular troops, however much they might harass the Roman legion, they could not hope to expel them from their country. Nessus of course accompanied Malchus.
The party embarked in two of the Capuan galleys. They had not been many hours at sea when the weather, which had when they started been fine, changed suddenly, and ere long one of the fierce gales which are so frequent in the Mediterranean burst upon them. The wind was behind them, and there was nothing to do but to let the galleys run before it. The sea got up with great rapidity, and nothing but the high poops at their stern prevented the two galleys being sunk by the great waves which followed them. The oars were laid in, for it was impossible to use them in such a sea.
As night came on the gale increased rather than diminished. The Carthaginian officers and soldiers remained calm and quiet in the storm, but the Capuan sailors gave themselves .up to despair, and the men at the helm were only kept at their post by Malchus threatening to have them thrown overboard instantly if they abandoned it. After nightfall he assembled the officers in the cabin in the poop.
"The prospects are bad," he said. "The pilot tells me that unless the gale abates or the wind changes we shall, before morning, be thrown upon the coast of Sardinia, and that will be total destruction; for upon the side facing Italy the cliffs, for the most part, rise straight up from the water, the only port on that side being that at which the Romans have their chief castle and garrison. He tells me there is nothing to be done, and I see nought myself. Were we to try to bring the galley round to the wind she would be swamped in a moment, while even if we could carry out the operation, it would be impossible to row in the teeth of this sea. Therefore, my friends, there is nothing for us to do save to keep up the courage of the men, and to bid them hold themselves in readiness to seize upon any chance of getting to shore should the vessel strike."
All night the galley swept on before the storm. The light on the other boat had disappeared soon after darkness had set in. Half the soldiers and crew by turns were kept at work baling out the water which found its way over the sides, and several times so heavily did the seas break into her that all thought that she was lost. However, when morning broke she was still afloat. The wind had hardly shifted a point since it had begun to blow, and the pilot told Malchus that they must be very near to the coast of Sardinia. As the light brightened every eye was fixed ahead over the waste of angry foaming water. Presently the pilot, who was standing next to Malchus, grasped his arm.
"There is the land," he cried, "dead before us."
Not until a few minutes later could Malchus make out the faint outline through the driving mist. It was a lofty pile of rock standing by itself.
"It is an island!" he exclaimed.
"It is Caralis," the pilot replied; "I know its outline well; we are already in the bay. Look to the right, you can make out the outline of the cliffs at its mouth, we have passed it already. You do not see the shore ahead because the rock on which Caralis stands rises from a level plain, and to the left a lagoon extends for a long way in; it is there that the Roman galleys ride. The gods have brought us to the only spot along the coast where we could approach it with a hope of safety."
"There is not much to rejoice at," Malchus said; "we may escape the sea, but only to be made prisoners by the Romans."
"Nay, Malchus, the alternative is not so bad," a young officer who was standing next to him said. "Hannibal has thousands of Roman prisoners in his hands, and we may well hope to be exchanged. After the last twelve hours any place on shore, even a Roman prison, is an elysium compared to the sea."
The outline of the coast was now clearly visible. The great rock of Caralis, now known as Cagliari, rose dark and threatening, the low shores of the bay on either side were marked by a band of white foam, while to the left of the rock was the broad lagoon, dotted with the black hulls of a number of ships and galleys rolling and tossing heavily, for as the wind blew straight into the bay the lagoon was covered with short, angry waves.
The pilot now ordered the oars to be got out. The entrance to the lagoon was wide, but it was only in the middle that the channel was deep, and on either side of this long breakwaters of stone were run out from the shore, to afford a shelter to the shipping within. The sea was so rough that it was found impossible to use the oars, and they were again laid in and a small sail was hoisted. This enabled the head to be laid towards the entrance of the lagoon. For a time it was doubtful whether the galley could make it, but she succeeded in doing so, and then ran straight on towards the upper end of the harbour.
"That is far enough," the pilot said presently; "the water shoals fast beyond. We must anchor here."
The sail was lowered, the oars got out on one side, and the head of the galley brought to the wind. The anchor was then dropped. As the storm beaten galley ran right up the lagoon she had been viewed with curiosity and interest by those who were on board the ships at anchor. That she was an Italian galley was clear, and also that she was crowded with men, but no suspicion was entertained that these were Carthaginians.
The anchor once cast Malchus held a council with the other officers. They were in the midst of foes, and escape seemed altogether impossible. Long before the gale abated sufficiently to permit them to put to sea again, they would be visited by boats from the other vessels to ask who they were and whence they came. As to fighting their way out it was out of the question, for there were a score of triremes in the bay, any one of which could crush the Capuan galley, and whose far greater speed rendered the idea of flight as hopeless as that of resistance. The council therefore agreed unanimously that the only thing to be done was to surrender without resistance.
The storm continued for another twenty-four hours, then the wind died out almost as suddenly as it began.
As soon as the sea began to abate two galleys were seen putting out from the town, and these rowed directly towards the ship. The fact that she had shown no flag had no doubt excited suspicion in the minds of the garrison. Each galley contained fifty soldiers. As they rowed alongside a Roman officer on the poop of one of the galleys hailed the ship, and demanded whence it came.
"We are from Capua," the pilot answered. "The gale has blown us across thence. I have on board fifty Carthaginian officers and soldiers, who now surrender to you."
As in those days, when vessels could with difficulty keep the sea in a storm, and in the event of a gale springing up were forced to run before it, it was by no means unusual for galleys to be blown into hostile ports, the announcement excited no great surprise.
"Who commands the party?" the Roman officer asked.
"I do," Malchus replied. "I am Malchus, the son of Hamilcar, who was killed at the Trebia, a cousin of Hannibal and captain of his guard. I surrender with my followers, seeing that resistance is hopeless."
"It is hopeless," the Roman replied, "and you are right not to throw away the lives of your men when there is no possibility of resistance."
As he spoke he stepped on board, ordered the anchor to be weighed, and the galley, accompanied by the two Roman boats, was rowed to the landing place. A messenger was at once sent up to Mucius to tell him what had happened, and the praetor himself soon appeared upon the spot. The officer acquainted him with the name and rank of the leader of the Carthaginian party, and said that there were with him two officers of noble families of the Carthaginians.
"That is well," the praetor said, "it is a piece of good fortune. The Carthaginians have so many of our officers in their hands, that it is well to have some whom we may exchange for them. Let them be landed."
As they left the ship the Carthaginians laid down their arms and armour. By this time a large number of the Roman garrison, among whom the news had rapidly spread, were assembled at the port. Many of the young soldiers had never yet seen a Carthaginian, and they looked with curiosity and interest at the men who had inflicted such terrible defeats upon the armies of the Romans. They were fine specimens of Hannibal's force, for the general had allowed Malchus to choose his own officers and men, and, knowing that strength, agility, and endurance would be needed for a campaign in so mountainous a country as Sardinia, he had picked both officers and men with great care.
His second in command was his friend Trebon, who had long since obtained a separate command, but who, on hearing from Malchus of the expedition on which he was bound, had volunteered to accompany him. The men were all Africans accustomed to desert fighting and trained in warfare in Spain. The Romans, good judges of physical strength, could not repress a murmur of admiration at the sight of these sinewy figures. Less heavy than themselves, there was about them a spring and an elasticity resembling that of the tiger. Long use had hardened their muscles until they stood up like cords through their tawny skin, most of them bore numerous scars of wounds received in battle, and the Romans, as they viewed them, acknowledged to themselves what formidable opponents these men would be.
A strong guard formed up on either side of the captives, and they were marched through the town to the citadel on the upper part of the rock. Here a large chamber, opening on to the courtyard, was assigned to the officers, while the men, who were viewed in the light of slaves, were at once set to work to carry stores up to the citadel from a ship which had arrived just as the storm broke.
A fortnight later a vessel arrived from Rome with a message from the senate that they would not exchange prisoners, and that the Carthaginians were at once to be employed as slaves in the mines. The governor acquainted Malchus with the decision.
"I am sorry," he said, "indeed, that it is so; but the senate are determined that they will exchange no prisoners. Of course their view of the matter is, that when a Roman lays down his arms he disgraces himself, and the refusal to ransom him or allow him to be exchanged is intended to act as a deterrent to others. This may be fair enough in cases where large numbers surrender to a few, or where they lay down their arms when with courage and determination they might have cut their way through the enemy; but in cases where further resistance would be hopeless, in my mind men are justified in surrendering. However, I can only obey the orders I have received, and tomorrow must send you and your men to the mines."
As Malchus had seen the Iberian captives sent to labour as slaves in the mines in Spain, the fate thus announced to him did not appear surprising or barbarous. In those days captives taken in war were always made slaves when they were not put to death in cold blood, and although Hannibal had treated with marked humanity and leniency the Roman and Italian captives who had fallen into his hands, this had been the result of policy, and was by no means in accordance with the spirit in which war was then conducted. Accordingly, the next day the Carthaginians were, under a strong guard, marched away to the mines, which lay on the other side of the island, some forty miles due west of the port, and three miles from the western sea coast of the island. The road lay for some distance across a dead flat. The country was well cultivated and thickly studded with villages, for Rome drew a heavy tribute in corn annually from the island.
After twenty miles' march they halted for the night, pursuing their way on the following morning. They had now entered a wide and fertile valley with lofty hills on either side. In some places there were stagnant marshes, and the officer in charge of the guard informed Malchus that in the autumn a pestilential miasma rose from these, rendering a sojourn in the valley fatal to the inhabitants of the mainland. The native people were wild and primitive in appearance, being clad chiefly in sheepskins. They lived in beehive shaped huts. The hills narrowed in towards the end of the day's march, and the valley terminated when the party arrived within half a mile of their destination. Here stood a small town named Metalla, with a strong Roman garrison, which supplied guards over the slaves employed in working the mines. This town is now called Iglesias.
The principal mine was situated in a narrow valley running west from the town down to the sea coast. The officer in command of the escort handed over Malchus and his companions to the charge of the officer at the head mining establishment.
Malchus was surprised at the large number of people gathered at the spot. They lived for the most part in low huts constructed of boughs or sods, and ranged in lines at the bottom of the valley or along the lower slopes of the hill. A cordon of Roman sentries was placed along the crest of the hill at either side, and a strong guard was posted in a little camp in the centre of the valley, in readiness to put down any tumult which might arise.
The great majority of the slaves gathered there were Sards, men belonging to tribes which had risen in insurrection against the Romans. There were with them others of their countrymen who were not like them slaves, though their condition was but little better except that they received a nominal rate of payment. These were called free labourers, but their labour was as much forced as was that of the slaves -- each district in the island being compelled to furnish a certain amount of labourers for this or the mines further to the north. The men so conscripted were changed once in six months. With the Sards were mingled people of many nations. Here were Sicilians and members of many Italian tribes conquered by the Romans, together with Gauls from the northern plains and from Marseilles.
There were many mines worked in different parts of the island, but Metalla was the principal. The labour, in days when gunpowder had not become the servant of man, was extremely hard. The rocks had to be pierced with hand labour, the passages and galleries were of the smallest possible dimensions, the atmosphere was stifling; consequently the mortality was great, and it was necessary to keep up a constant importation of labour.
"If these people did but possess a particle of courage," Trebon said, "they would rise, overpower the guard, and make for the forests. The whole island is, as the officer who brought us here told us, covered with mountains with the exception of the two broad plains running through it; as we could see the hills are covered with woods, and the whole Roman army could not find them if they once escaped."
"That is true enough," Malchus said, "but there must be at least five or six thousand slaves here. How could these find food among the mountains? They might exist for a time upon berries and grain, but they would in the end be forced to go into the valleys for food, and would then be slaughtered by the Romans. Nevertheless a small body of men could no doubt subsist among the hills, and the strength of the guard you see on the heights shows that attempts to escape are not rare. Should we find our existence intolerable here, we will at any rate try to escape. There are fifty of us, and if we agreed in common action we could certainly break through the guards and take to the hills. As you may see by their faces, the spirit of these slaves is broken. See how bent most of them are by their labour, and how their shoulders are wealed by the lashes of their taskmasters!"
The officer in charge of the mines told Malchus that he should not put him and the other two officers to labour, but would appoint them as overseers over gangs of the men, informing them that he had a brother who was at present a captive in the hands of Hannibal; and he trusted that Malchus, should he have an opportunity, would use his kind offices on his behalf.
One of the lines of huts near the Roman camp was assigned to the Carthaginians, and that evening they received rations of almost black bread similar to those served out to the others. The following morning they were set to work. Malchus and his two friends found their tasks by no means labourious, as they were appointed to look after a number of Sards employed in breaking up and sorting the lead ore as it was brought up from the mine. The men, however, returned in the evening worn out with toil. All had been at work in the mines. Some had had to crawl long distances through passages little more than three feet high and one foot wide, until they reached the broad lode of lead ore.
Here some of the party had been set to work, others had been employed in pushing on the little galleries, and there had sat for hours working in a cramped position, with pick, hammer, and wedge. Others had been lowered by ropes down shafts so narrow that when they got to the bottom it was only with extreme difficulty that they were able to stoop to work at the rock beneath their feet. Many, indeed, of these old shafts have been found in the mines of Montepone, so extremely narrow that it is supposed that they must have been bored by slaves lowered by ropes, head foremost, it appearing absolutely impossible for a man to stoop to work if lowered in the ordinary way.
The Carthaginians, altogether unaccustomed to work of this nature, returned to their huts at night utterly exhausted, cramped, and aching in every limb. Many had been cruelly beaten for not performing the tasks assigned to them. All were filled with a dull despairing rage. In the evening a ration of boiled beans, with a little native wine, was served out to each, the quantity of the food being ample, it being necessary to feed the slaves well to enable them to support their fatigues.
After three days of this work five or six of the captives were so exhausted that they were unable to take their places with the gang when ordered for work in the morning. They were, however, compelled by blows to rise and take their places with the rest. Two of them died during the course of the day in their stifling working places; another succumbed during the night; several, too, were attacked by the fever of the country. Malchus and his friends were full of grief and rage at the sufferings of their men.
"Anything were better than this," Malchus said. "A thousand times better to fall beneath the swords of the Romans than to die like dogs in the holes beneath that hill!"
"I quite agree with you, Malchus," Halco, the other officer with the party, said, "and am ready to join you in any plan of escape, however desperate."
"The difficulty is about arms," Trebon observed. "We are so closely watched that it is out of the question to hope that we should succeed in getting possession of any. The tools are all left in the mines; and as the men work naked, there is no possibility of their secreting any. The stores here are always guarded by a sentry; and although we might overpower him, the guard would arrive long before we could break through the solid doors. Of course if we could get the other slaves to join us, we might crush the guard even with stones."
"That is out of the question," Malchus said. "In the first place, they speak a strange language, quite different to the Italians. Then, were we seen trying to converse with any of them, suspicions might be roused; and even could we get the majority to join us, there would be many who would be only too glad to purchase their own freedom by betraying the plot to the Romans. No, whatever we do must be done by ourselves alone; and for arms we must rely upon stones, and upon the stoutest stakes we can draw out from our huts. The only time that we have free to ourselves is the hour after work is over, when we are allowed to go down to the stream to wash and to stroll about as we will until the trumpet sounds to order us to retire to our huts for the night.
"It is true that at that time the guards are particularly vigilant, and that we are not allowed to gather into knots; and an Italian slave I spoke to yesterday told me that he dared not speak to me, for the place swarms with spies, and that any conversation between us would be sure to be reported, and those engaged in it put to the hardest and cruelest work. I propose, therefore, that tomorrow -- for if it is to be done, the sooner the better, before the men lose all their strength -- the men shall on their return from work at once eat their rations; then each man, hiding a short stick under his garment and wrapping a few heavy stones in the corner of his robe, shall make his way up towards the top of the hill above the mine.
"No two men must go together -- all must wander as if aimlessly among the huts. When they reach the upper line on that side and see me, let all rapidly close up, and we will make a sudden rush at the sentries above. They cannot get more than five or six together in time to oppose us, and we shall be able to beat them down with our stones. Once through them, the heavy armed men will never be able to overtake us till we reach the forest, which begins, I believe, about half a mile beyond the top."
The other two officers at once agreed to the plan; and when the camp was still Malchus crept cautiously from hut to hut, telling his men of the plan that had been formed and giving orders for the carrying of it out.
All assented cheerfully; for although the stronger were now becoming accustomed to their work, and felt less exhausted than they had done the first two days, there was not one but felt that he would rather suffer death than endure this terrible fate. Malchus impressed upon them strongly that it was of the utmost consequence to possess themselves of the arms of any Roman soldiers they might overthrow, as they would to a great extent be compelled to rely upon these to obtain food among the mountains.
Even the men who were most exhausted, and those stricken with fever, seemed to gain strength at once at the prospect of a struggle for liberty, and when the gang turned out in the morning for work none lagged behind.