Scipio takes the Inner Harbor -- Fighting in the Streets -- Scenes of Horror -- Fighting in Byrsa -- Hasdrubal and his Wife -- Destruction of Carthage -- Scipio sheds Tears 389
When spring returned, Scipio laid siege to Byrsa and to the harbor of Cothon. Hasdrubal one night set fire to that part of Cothon which is in the form of a quadrangle. But Llius, still expecting Scipio to make the attack, and while the Carthaginians were turned to that quarter, without being observed, mounted the other part of Cothon, which was in the form of a circle. A shout went up as though a victory had been gained, the Carthaginians became alarmed, while the Romans mounted on all sides, despising the danger, and filled up the vacant spaces with timbers, engines, and scaffolding, the guards making only a feeble resistance because they were weak from hunger and downcast in spirit. The wall around Cothon being taken, Scipio seized the neighboring forum. Being unable to do more, as it was now nightfall, he and his whole force passed the 390 night there under arms. At daylight he brought in 4000 fresh troops. They entered the temple of Apollo, whose statue was there, covered with gold, in a shrine of beaten gold, weighing 1000 talents, which they plundered, chopping it with their swords, disregarding the commands of their officers until they had divided it among themselves, after which they returned to their duty.
Now Scipio hastened to the attack of Byrsa, the strongest part of the city, where the greater part of the inhabitants had taken refuge. There were three streets ascending from the forum to this fortress, along which, on either side, were houses built closely together and six stories high, from which the Romans were assailed with missiles. They were compelled, therefore, to possess themselves of the first ones and use those as a means of expelling the occupants of the next. When they had mastered the first, they threw timbers from one to another over the narrow passageways, and crossed as on bridges. While war was raging in this way on the roofs, another fight was going on among those who met each other in the streets below. All places were filled with groans, shrieks, shouts, and every kind of agony. Some were stabbed, others were hurled alive from the roofs to the pavement, some of them alighting on the heads of spears or other pointed weapons, or swords. No one dared to set fire to the houses on account of those who were still on the roofs, until Scipio reached Byrsa. Then he set fire to the three streets all together, and gave orders to keep the passageways clear of burning material so that the army might move back and forth freely.
Then came new scenes of horror. As the fire spread and carried everything down, the soldiers did not wait to destroy the buildings little by little, but all in a heap. So the crashing grew louder, and many corpses fell with the stones into the midst. Others were seen still living, especially old men, women, and young children who had hidden in the inmost nooks of the houses, some of them wounded, some more or less burned, and uttering piteous cries. Still others, thrust out and falling from such a height with the stones, timbers, and fire, were torn asunder in all shapes of horror, crushed and mangled. Nor was this the end of their miseries, for the street cleaners, who were removing the rubbish with axes, mattocks, and forks, and making the roads passable, tossed with these instruments the dead and the living together into holes in the ground, dragging them along like sticks and stones and turning them over with their iron tools. Trenches were filled with men. Some who were thrown in head foremost, with their legs sticking out of the ground, writhed a long time. Others fell with their feet downward and their heads above ground. Horses ran over them, crushing their faces and skulls, not purposely on the part of the riders, but in their headlong haste. Nor did the street cleaners do these things on purpose; but the tug of war, the glory of approaching victory, the rush of the soldiery, the orders of the officers, the blast of the trumpets, tribunes and centurions marching their cohorts hither and thither -- all together made everybody frantic and heedless of the spectacles under their eyes.
Six days and nights were consumed in this kind of fighting, the soldiers being changed so that they might not be worn out with toil, slaughter, want of sleep, and these horrid sights. Scipio alone toiled without rest, hurrying here and there, without sleep, taking food while he was at work, until, utterly fatigued and relaxed, he sat down on a high place where he could overlook the work. Much remained to be ravaged, and it seemed likely that the carnage would be of longer duration, but on the seventh day some suppliants presented themselves to Scipio bearing the sacred garlands of sculapius, whose temple was much the richest and most renowned of all in the citadel. These, taking olive branches from the temple, besought Scipio that he would spare the lives of all who might wish to depart from Byrsa. This he granted to all except the deserters. Forth-with there came out 50,000 men and women together, a narrow gate in the wall being opened, and a guard furnished for them. The Roman deserters, about 900 in number, despairing of their lives, betook themselves to the temple of sculapius with Hasdrubal and his wife and their two boys. Here they might have defended themselves a long time although they were few in number, on account of the height and rocky nature of the place, which in time of peace was reached by an ascent of sixty steps. But, finally, overcome by hunger, want of sleep, fear, toil, and approaching dissolution, they abandoned the enclosures of the temple and fled to the shrine and roof.
Thereupon Hasdrubal secretly presented himself to Scipio, bearing an olive branch. Scipio commanded him to sit at his feet and there showed him to the deserters. When they saw him, they asked silence, and when it was granted, they heaped all manner of reproaches upon Hasdrubal, then set fire to the temple and were consumed in it. It is said that as the fire was lighted the wife of Hasdrubal, in full view of Scipio, arrayed in the best attire possible under such circumstances, and with her children by her side, said in Scipio's hearing, "For you, Roman, the gods have no cause of indignation, since you exercise the right of war. Upon this Hasdrubal, betrayer of his country and her temples, of me and his children, may the gods of Carthage take vengeance, and you be their instrument." Then turning to Hasdrubal, "Wretch," she exclaimed, "traitor, most effeminate of men, this fire will entomb me and my children. Will you, the leader of great Carthage, decorate a Roman triumph? Ah, what punishment will you not receive from him at whose feet you are now sitting." Having reproached him thus, she slew her children, flung them into the fire, and plunged in after them. Such, they say, was the death of the wife of Hasdrubal, which would have been more becoming to himself.
Scipio, beholding this city, which had flourished 700 years from its foundation and had ruled over so many lands, islands, and seas, rich with arms and fleets, elephants and money, equal to the mightiest monarchies but far surpassing them in bravery and high spirit (since without ships or arms, and in the face of famine, it had sustained continuous war for three years), now come to its end in total destruction -- Scipio, beholding this spectacle, is said to have shed tears and publicly lamented the fortune of the enemy. After meditating by himself a long time and reflecting on the rise and fall of cities, nations, and empires, as well as of individuals, upon the fate of Troy, that once proud city, upon that of the Assyrians, the Medes, and the Persians, greatest of all, and later the splendid Macedonian empire, either voluntarily or otherwise the words of the poet escaped his lips: --
"The day shall come in which our sacred Troy
And Priam, and the people over whom
Spear-bearing Priam rules, shall perish all."391
(Iliad, vi, 448, 449; Bryant's translation.)
Being asked by Polybius in familiar conversation (for Polybius had been his tutor) what he meant by using these words, he said that he did not hesitate frankly to name his own country, for whose fate he feared when he considered the mutability of human affairs. And Polybius wrote this down just as he heard it.