The Young Carthaginian by G. A. Henty
Chapter VI: A Campaign in Spain
Among the young officers who had followed Hannibal on board were some who had left Carthage only a few months before and were known to Malchus. From them he learned with delight that the troops would take the field at once.
"We are going on a campaign against the Vacaei," one of them said. "The army marched out two days since. Hannibal has been waiting here for your arrival, for a fast sailing ship which started a few hours after you brought the news that you were on your way, and you will set off to join the rest without delay. It is going to be a hard campaign."
"Where is the country of the Vacaei?" Malchus asked.
"A long way off," the other replied. "The marches will be long and tiresome. Their country lies somewhat to the northwest of the great plateau in the centre of Iberia. We shall have to ascend the mountains on this side, to cross the plateau, to follow the rivers which flow to the great ocean."
The Vacaei, in fact, dwelt in the lands bordered by the upper Duero, their country comprising a portion of old Castille, Leon, and the Basque provinces. The journey would indeed be a long and difficult one; and Hannibal was undertaking the expedition not only to punish the turbulent Vacaei, who had attacked some of the tribes which had submitted to Carthage, but to accustom the troops to fatigues and hardships, and to prepare them for the great expedition which he had in view. No time was indeed lost, for as soon as the troops were landed they were formed up and at once started on their march.
"This is more than we bargained for," Trebon, a young guardsman whose place in the ranks was next to Malchus, said to him. "I thought we should have had at least a month here before we set out. They say the city is as gay as Carthage; and as I have many friends here I have looked forward to a month of jollity before starting. Every night when I lay down on the hard planks of the deck I have consoled myself with the thought that a soft bed awaited me here; and now we have to take at once to the bare ground, with nothing but this skin strapped on the pommel of my saddle to sleep on, and my bernous to cover me. It is colder already a great deal than it was at Carthage; and if that is so here, what will it be on the tops of those jagged mountains we see before us? Why, as I live, that highest one over there is of dazzling white! That must be the snow we have heard of -- the rain turned solid by cold, and which they say causes a pain to the naked limbs something like hot iron. Fancy having to sleep in such stuff!"
Malchus laughed at the complaints of his comrade.
"I confess I am glad we are off at once," he said, "for I was sick of doing nothing but idling away my time at Carthage; and I suppose it would be just the same here. How busy are the streets of the town! Except for the sight of the mountains which we see through the breaks of the houses, one might believe one's self still at home."
The aspect of Carthagena, indeed, closely resembled that of the mother city, and the inhabitants were of the same race and blood.
Carthagena had in the first place been formed by a great colony of Libyans. The inhabitants of that province inhabiting the seaports and coasts near Carthage were a mixture of Phoenician and native blood. They were ever impatient of the supremacy of Carthage, and their rebellions were frequent and often dangerous. After the suppression of these insurrections, Carthage, sensible of the danger arising from the turbulence of her neighbours, deported great numbers of them to form colonies. Vast numbers were sent up into the Soudan, which was then one of the most important possessions of the republic. The most extensive, however, of these forced emigrations was the great colony sent to found Carthagena, which had thus in a very few years, under the fostering genius of the great Hamilcar, become a great and prosperous city.
Carthage itself had thus suddenly sprung into existence. After many internal troubles the democracy of Tyre had gained the upper hand in that city; and finding their position intolerable, the whole of the aristocracy decided to emigrate, and, sailing with a great fleet under their queen Dido or Elisa -- for she was called by both names -- founded Carthage. This triumph of the democracy in Tyre, as might be expected, proved the ruin of that city. Very rapidly she fell from the lofty position she had held, and her place in the world and her proud position as Queen of the Seas was very speedily taken by Carthage.
The original Libyan colony of Carthagena had been very largely increased by subsequent emigration, and the populace presented an appearance very similar to that of the mother city, save that instead of the swarthy desert tribesmen, with their passive face and air of proud indifference, mingling with the population of the town, there was in Carthagena a large admixture of native Iberians, who, belonging to the tribes first subdued by Carthage, had either been forced to settle here to supply manual labour needed for the rising city, or who had voluntarily abandoned their wandering life and adopted the more settled habitudes and more assured comforts of existence in a great town.
Skirting the lower part of the city, Hamilcar's force marched along the isthmus and crossed the bridge over the canal cut through it, and was soon in the country beyond. The ground rose gradually, and after marching for six miles the brigade was halted at a spot to which Hannibal had, when the fleet was first discerned approaching along the coast, despatched some bullocks and other provisions for their use. The march was a short one, but after a week's confinement on board ship the men were little fitted for a long journey. The bullocks and other rations were served out to the various companies, and the work of preparing the repast began. Malchus was amused, although rather disgusted at his first experience in a real campaign. When with Hamilcar on the expedition against the Atarantes he had formed part of his father's suite and had lived in luxury. He was now a simple soldier, and was called upon to assist to cut up the bullock which had fallen to the share of the Carthaginian cavalry.
Some of the party went out to cut and bring in wood for the fires and cooking; others moistened the flour and made dough for the flat cakes which would be baked in the hot embers and eaten with the meat. Loud shouts of laughter rose as the young soldiers worked at their unaccustomed tasks, superintended by the officers, who, having all made several campaigns, were able to instruct them as to their duties. From a culinary point of view the meal could not be pronounced a success, and was, indeed, a contrast to the food to which the young nobles were accustomed. The march, however, and the keen bracing air had given them good appetites, and the novelty and strangeness of the experience gave a zest to the food; and in spite of the roughness of the meal, all declared that they had never dined better. Many fires were now lit; and round these, as the evening closed in, the men gathered in groups, all closely wrapped in their bernouses, which were worn alike by officers and men of the whole of the nationalities serving in the Carthaginian army, serving as a cloak by day and a blanket at night. Presently a trampling of horses was heard, and Hannibal and his personal staff rode into the encampment.
He had not started until several hours after them, when, having given his last orders and made all final arrangements for the management of affairs during his absence, he had ridden on to join the army. Dismounting, he went at once on foot among the troops, chatting gaily with them and inquiring how they fared. After visiting all the other detachments he came to the bivouac of the Carthaginian horse, and for an hour sat talking by their fires.
"Ah!" he said as he rose to go, "the others will sleep well enough tonight; but you sybarites, accustomed to your soft couches and your luxuries, will fare badly. I remember my first night on the hard ground, although `tis now sixteen years back, how my limbs ached and how I longed for morning. Now, let me give you a hint how to make your beds comfortable. Mind, this is not for the future, but till your limbs get accustomed to the ground you may indulge in luxuries. Before you try to go off to sleep note exactly where your hip bones and shoulders will rest; take your daggers and scoop out the earth at these points so as to make depressions in which they may lie. Then spread your lion skins above them and lie down. You will sleep as comfortably as if on a soft couch."
Many of the young soldiers followed Hannibal's advice; others, among whom was Malchus, determined to accustom themselves at once to the hard ground. Malchus was not long in getting to sleep, his last thought being that the precaution advised by Hannibal to ensure repose was altogether unnecessary. But he changed his opinion when, two or three hours later, he woke up with acute pains in his hip and shoulder. After trying vainly, by changing his position, again to go off to sleep, he rose, rolled up the skin, and set to work to make the excavations recommended by the general. Then spreading out the skin again he lay down, and was astonished to find how immense was the relief afforded by this simple expedient.
At daybreak the party were in motion. Their march was a long one; for Hannibal wished to come up with the main army as soon as possible, and no less than thirty miles were encompassed before they halted for the night. They were now far up on the slopes of the Sierras. The latter part of the journey had been exceedingly toilsome. The route was mostly bare rock, which sorely tried the feet of the soldiers, these being in most cases unprotected even by sandals. Malchus and his mounted companions did not of course suffer in their feet. But they were almost as glad as the infantry when the camping place was reached, for nothing is more fatiguing to a horseman than to be obliged to travel in the saddle for ten hours at the pace of footmen. The halting place this time was near the upper edge of the forest which then clothed the lower slopes of the mountains.
Enough meat had been killed on the previous evening for three days' rations for the troops, and there was therefore no loss of time in preparing the meal. Wood, of course, was in abundance, and the pots were soon hanging from thick poles placed above the fires. The night was exceedingly cold, and the soldiers were grateful for the shelter which the trees afforded from the piercing wind which blew across the snow covered peaks of the higher range of mountains.
"What is that noise?" Malchus asked one of the officers as, after the meal was finished and silence began to reign in the camp, a deep sound was heard in the forest.
"That is the howling of a pack of wolves," the officer said. "They are savage brutes, and when in company will not hesitate to attack small parties of men. They abound in the mountains, and are a scourge to the shepherds of the plains, especially in the cold weather, when they descend and commit terrible damage among the flocks."
"I thought I did not know the sound," Malchus said. "The nights were noisy enough sometimes at the southern edge of the desert. The packs of jackals, with their sharp yelping cry, abounded; then there was the deeper note of the hyenas, and the barking cry of troops of monkeys, and the thundering roar of the lions. They were unpleasant enough, and at first used to keep one awake; but none of them were so lugubrious as that mournful howl I hear now. I suppose sometimes, when there is nothing else to do, we get up hunting parties?"
"Yes," the officer replied; "it is the chief amusement of our garrisons in winter among the wild parts of the country. Of course, near Carthagena these creatures have been eradicated; but among the mountains they abound, and the carcass of a dead horse is sure to attract plenty of them. It is a sport not without danger; and there are many instances where parties of five or six have gone out, taking with them a carcass to attract the wolves, and have never returned; and a search has resulted in the discovery of their weapons, injured and perhaps broken, of stains of blood and signs of a desperate struggle, but of them not so much as a bone has remained behind."
"I thought lion hunting was an exciting sport but the lions, although they may move and hunt in companies, do not fight in packs, as these fierce brutes seem to do. I hope some day to try it. I should like to send back two of their heads to hang on the wall by the side of that of the lion I killed up in the desert."
"Next winter you may do so," the officer said. "The season is nearly over now, and you may be sure that Hannibal will give us enough to do without our thinking of hunting wolves. The Vacaei are fierce enough. Perhaps two of their heads would do instead of those of wolves."
"I do not think my mother and sisters would approve of that," Malchus laughed; "so I must wait for the winter."
The night did not pass so quietly as that which had preceded it. The distant howling of the wolves, as they hunted in the forest, kept the horses in a tremor of terror and excitement, and their riders were obliged over and over again to rise and go among them, and by speaking to and patting them, to allay their fear. So long as their masters were near them the well trained horses were quiet and tractable, and would at a whispered order lie down and remain in perfect quiet; but no sooner had they left them and again settled to sleep than, at the first howl which told that the pack were at all approaching, the horses would lift their heads, prick their ears in the direction of the sound, and rise to their feet and stand trembling, with extended nostrils snuffing the unknown danger, pawing the ground, and occasionally making desperate efforts to break loose from their picket ropes.
The work of soothing had then to be repeated, until at last most of the riders brought their lions' skins and lay down by the prostrate horses, with their heads upon their necks. The animals, trained thus to sleep with their riders by their side, and reassured by the presence of their masters, were for the most part content to lie quiet, although the packs of wolves, attracted by the scent of the meat that had been cooked, approached close to the camp and kept up a dismal chorus round it until morning.
Day by day the march was continued. The country was wild and rugged, foaming torrents had to be crossed, precipices surmounted, barren tracts traversed. But after a week's hard marching the column had overcome the greater part of the difficulty, had crossed the Sierras and gained the plateau, which with a gradual fall slopes west down to the Atlantic, and was for the most part covered with a dense growth of forests. They now to their satisfaction overtook the main body of the army, and their marches would be somewhat less severe, for hitherto they had each day traversed extra distances to make up for the two days' loss in starting. Here Malchus for the first time saw the bands of Gaulish mercenaries.
The Spanish troops had excited the admiration and astonishment of the Carthaginians by their stature and strength; but the Gauls were a still more powerful race. They belonged to the tribes which had poured down over the Apennines, and occupied the northern portion of Spain long anterior to the arrival of the Carthaginians. Their countenances were rugged, and as it seemed to Malchus, savage. Their colour was much lighter than that of any people he had yet seen. Their eyes were blue, their hair, naturally fair or brown, was dyed with some preparation which gave it a red colour.
Some wore their long locks floating over their shoulders, others tied it in a knot on the top of their heads. They wore a loose short trouser fastened at the knee, resembling the baggy trousers of the modern Turks. A shirt with open sleeves came halfway down their thighs, and over it was a blouse or loose tunic decorated with ornaments of every description, and fastened at the neck by a metal brooch. Their helmets were of copper, for the most part ornamented with the horns of stags or bulls. On the crest of the helmet was generally the figure of a bird or wild beast. The whole was surmounted by immense tufts of feathers, something like those of our Highland bonnets, adding greatly to the height and apparent stature of the wearers.
The Gauls had a passion for ornaments, and adorned their persons with a profusion of necklaces, bracelets, rings, baldricks, and belts of gold. Their national arms were long heavy pikes -- these had no metal heads, but the points were hardened by fire; javelins of the same description -- these before going into battle they set fire to, and hurled blazing at the enemy -- lighter darts called mat ras saunions, pikes with curved heads, resembling the halberds of later times; and straight swords. Hannibal, however, finding the inconvenience of this diversity of weapons, had armed his Gaulish troops only with their long straight swords. These were without point, and made for cutting only, and were in the hands of these powerful tribesmen terrible weapons. These swords were not those they had been accustomed to carry, which were made of copper only, and often bent at the first blow, but were especially made for them in Carthage of heavy steel, proof against all accident.
The march was conducted with all military precautions, although they were still traversing a country which had been already subdued. Nevertheless they moved as if expecting an instant attack. The light horse scoured the country. The lithe and active soldiers furnished by the desert tribes formed the advanced guard of the army, and marched also on its flanks, while the heavy armed soldiery marched in solid column ready for battle. Behind them came the long train of baggage protected by a strong rear guard.
At last they reached a fertile country, and were now in the land of the Vacaei and their allies. Arbocala, now called Tordesillas, was captured without much difficulty. The siege was then laid to Salamanca, the chief town of the enemy. In the actual siege operations the Carthaginian horse took no part. The place resisted vigourously, but the machines of Hannibal effected a breach in the walls, and the inhabitants, seeing that further resistance was impossible, offered to capitulate, stipulating that they should be allowed to depart unharmed, leaving behind them all their arms and their treasure.
The Carthaginian army were drawn up in readiness to march into the town as the Vacaei came out. As they filed past the Carthaginians they were inspected to see that they had carried out the terms of the agreement. It was found that they had done so rigidly -- not an arm of any kind was found upon them. Their necklaces, bracelets, and ornaments had all been left behind.
"What a savage looking race!" Malchus remarked to Trebon; "they look at us as if they would gladly spring on us, unarmed as they are, and tear us with their hands. They are well nigh as dark skinned as the Numidians."
"Here come their women!" Trebon said; "verily I would as soon fight the men as these creatures. Look how they glare at us! You see they have all had to give up their ornaments, so they have each their private grievance as well as their national one."
When the whole of the population had filed out, the Carthaginian army entered the town, with the exception of a body of light horse who were ordered to remain without and keep an eye on the doings of the late garrison. Malchus was amused at the scene within. The members of the Carthaginian horse disdained to join in the work of plunder, and were, therefore, free to watch with amusement their comrades at work. The amount of booty was large, for the number of gold ornaments found in every house, deposited there by the inhabitants on departing, was very great; but not satisfied with this the soldiers dug up the floors in search of buried treasure, searched the walls for secret hiding places, and rummaged the houses from top to bottom. Besides the rich booty, the soldiers burdened themselves with a great variety of articles which it would be impossible for them to carry away.
Men were seen staggering under the weight of four or five heavy skins. Some had stuck feathers in their helmets until their heads were scarce visible. Some had great bundles of female garments, which they had collected with a vague idea of carrying them home to their families. The arms had in the first place been collected and placed under a strong guard, and picked troops were placed as sentries over the public treasury, whose contents were allotted to the general needs of the army.
Night fell soon after the sack commenced. Malchus with a number of his comrades took possession of one of the largest houses in the place, and, having cleared it of the rubbish with which it was strewn, prepared to pass the night there. Suddenly a terrible uproar was heard -- shouts, cries, the clashing of arms, the yells of the enemy, filled the air. The cavalry charged to watch the Vacaei, believing that these had departed quietly, had abandoned their post, and had entered the town to join in the work of plunder.
As the garrison had marched out the men had been rigidly searched; but the women had been allowed to pass out without any close inspection. This carelessness cost the Carthaginians dear, for under their garments they had hidden the swords and daggers of the men. Relying upon the disorder which would reign in the city, the Vacaei had returned, and now poured in through the gates, slaying all whom they met.
For a short time a terrible panic reigned among the Carthaginians, great numbers were cut down, and it seemed as if the whole force would be destroyed. Hannibal and his generals rode about trying to get the scattered men to form and oppose the enemy; but the panic was too general, and had it not been for the Carthaginian legion all would have been lost. The horse and foot, however, of this body, having abstained from joining in the pillage, had, for the most part, kept together in bodies, and these now sallied out in close and regular order, and fell upon the attacking enemy.
The streets were too narrow for cavalry to act, and Malchus and his comrades fought on foot. The enemy, who had scattered on their work of slaughter, were in their turn taken at a disadvantage, and were unable to withstand the steady attack of the solid bodies. These, in the first place, cut their way to the square in the centre of the town, and there united. Hannibal, seeing he had now a solid body of troops under his command, at once broke them up into parties and advanced down all the streets leading from the central square. The hand-to-hand fight which was going on all over the town was soon terminated. The Carthaginians fell in in good order behind the ranks of their comrades, and the small bodies soon became columns which swept the enemy before them.
The enemy fought desperately, firing the houses, hurling stones from the roofs upon the columns, and throwing themselves with reckless bravery upon the spears, but their efforts were in vain. Foot by foot they were driven back, until they were again expelled from the town. Keeping together, and ever showing front to the Carthaginians, the Vacaei, now reduced to less than half their number, retired to an eminence near the town, and there prepared to sell their lives dearly. The Carthaginians now fell into their regular ranks, and prepared to storm the enemy's position; but Hannibal rode forward alone towards the Vacaei, being plainly visible to them in the broad blaze of light from the burning city.
From his long residence in Spain he was able to speak the Iberian tongue with fluency, and indeed could converse with all the troops of the various nationalities under the banner of Carthage in their own language.
"Men of Salamanca," he said, "resist no longer. Carthage knows how to honour a brave enemy, and never did men fight more valiantly in defence of their homes than you have done, and although further resistance would be hopeless, I will press you no further. Your lives are spared. You may retain the arms you know so well how to wield, and tomorrow my army will evacuate your town and leave you free to return to it."
Hannibal's clemency was politic. He would have lost many more men before he finally overcame the desperate band, and he was by no means desirous of exciting a deep feeling of hate among any of the tribes, just as he was meditating withdrawing the greater portion of the army for his enterprise against Rome. With the fall of Salamanca the resistance of the Vacaei ceased, and Hannibal prepared to march back to Carthagena.
A storm, however, had gathered in his rear. Great numbers of the Vacaei had sought refuge among the Olcades, who had been subdued the previous autumn, and together they had included the whole of the fierce tribes known as the Carpatans, who inhabited the country on the right bank of the upper Tagus, to make common cause with them against the invaders. As Hannibal approached their neighbourhood they took up their position on the right bank of the river near Toledo. Here the stream is rapid and difficult of passage, its bed being thickly studded with great boulders brought down in time of flood from the mountains. The country on each side of the river is sandy, free from forests or valleys, which would cover the movements of an army.
The host gathered to oppose the Carthaginians were fully one hundred thousand strong, and Hannibal saw at once that his force, weakened as it was with its loss at Salamanca, and encumbered by the great train laden with the booty they had gathered from the Vacaei, would have no chance whatever in a battle with so vast a body. The enemy separated as he approached the river, their object being evidently to fall upon his rear when engaged in the difficult operation of crossing. The Carthaginians moved in two heavy columns, one on each side of their baggage, and Hannibal's orders were stringent that on no account should they engage with the enemy.
The natives swarmed around the columns, hurling darts and javelins; but the Carthaginians moved forward in solid order, replying only with their arrows and slings, and contenting themselves with beating off the attacks which the bolder of their foes made upon them. Night was falling when they arrived on the bank of the river. The enemy then desisted from their attack, believing that in the morning the Carthaginians would be at their mercy, encumbered by their vast booty on one side and cut off from retreat by a well nigh impassable river on the other.
As soon as the army reached the river Hannibal caused the tents of all the officers to be erected. The baggage wagons were arranged in order, and the cattle unharnessed. The troops began to throw up intrenchments, and all seemed to show that the Carthaginians were determined to fight till the last on the ground they held. It was still light enough for the enemy to perceive what was being done, and, secure of their prey in the morning, they drew off to a short distance for the night. Hannibal had learned from a native that morning of a ford across the river, and it was towards this that he had been marching. As soon as it was perfectly dark a number of men entered the river to search for the ford. This was soon discovered.
Then the orders were passed noiselessly round to the soldiers, and these, in regular order and in the most perfect quiet, rose to their feet and marched down to the ford. A portion of the infantry first passed, then the wagons were taken over, the rest of the infantry followed, and the cavalry and the elephants brought up the rear. The point where the river was fordable was at a sharp angle, and Hannibal now occupied its outer side. As daylight approached he placed his archers on the banks of the river where, owing to the sharp bend, their arrows would take in flank an enemy crossing the ford, and would also sweep its approaches.
The cavalry were withdrawn some distance, and were ordered not to charge until the Spaniards had got across the river. The elephants, forty in number, were divided into two bodies. One of these was allotted to protect each of the bodies of infantry on the bank from attack, should the Spaniards gain a strong footing on the left bank. When day broke the enemy perceived that the Carthaginians had made the passage of the river. Believing that they had been too much alarmed to risk a battle, and were retreating hastily, the natives thronged down in a multitude to the river without waiting for their leaders or for orders to be given, and rushing forward, each for himself, leaped into the river.
Numbers were at once swept away by the stream, but the crowd who had struck upon the ford pressed forward. When they were in midstream in a tumultuous mass Hannibal launched his cavalry upon them, and a desperate conflict ensued in the river. The combat was too unequal to last long. The Spaniards, waist deep in the rapid stream, had difficulty in retaining their feet, they were ignorant of the width or precise direction of the ford, and were hampered by their own masses; the cavalry, on the other hand, were free to use their weapons, and the weight and impetus of their charge was alone sufficient to sweep the Spanish from their footing into deep water.
Many were drowned, many more cut down, and the rest driven in disorder back across the river. But fresh hordes had now arrived; Hannibal sounded the retreat, and the cavalry retired as the Spaniards again threw themselves into the stream. As the confused mass poured across the ford the two divisions of infantry fell upon them, while the arrows of the archers swept the struggling mass. Without order or discipline, bewildered at this attack by a foe whom they had regarded as flying, the Spaniards were driven back across the river, the Carthaginians crossing in their rear.
The flying Iberians scattered terror among their comrades still flocking down to the bank, and as the Carthaginian infantry in solid column fell upon them, a panic seized the whole host and they scattered over the plain. The Carthaginian cavalry followed close behind the infantry, and at once dashed forward among the broken masses, until the Spanish army, lately so confident of victory, was but a broken mass of panic stricken fugitives.
The victory of Toledo was followed at once by the submission of the whole of the tribes of Spain south of the Ebro, and Hannibal, having seen that the country was everywhere pacified, marched back with his army to Carthagena to pass the winter there (220-219 B.C.).