Cornelius Nepos : Life of Hamilcar

Translated by J.C. Rolfe (1929). Click on the L symbols to go to the Latin text of each chapter.   Click on ** to go to the translator's footnotes.

XXI.   On Kings


[1] L   Hamilcar the Carthaginian, son of Hannibal and surnamed Barca, in the First Punic War, but when it was nearly ended, was first put in command of an army in Sicily, when he was a very young man. 2 Although before his arrival the Carthaginians were faring badly by land, and sea, wherever he was present in person he never yielded to the enemy or gave them a chance to do harm; on the contrary, he often attacked them, when opportunity offered, and invariably came off victor. Besides that, when the Carthaginians had lost almost everything in Sicily, he defended Eryx with such success that one might have thought that there had been no war in that quarter. 3 In the meantime the Carthaginians, after being defeated in a naval battle off the Aegates islands by Gaius Lutatius, ** the Roman consul, determined to put an end to the war and gave Hamilcar full powers to conduct the negotiations.

Though he burned with desire for war, yet Hamilcar thought that he ought to strive for peace; 4 for he knew that his country was in financial straits and could no longer support the disasters of war. But in so doing he at once began to plan to renew the war, if only Carthage should recover a little strength, and to bear arms against the Romans until his countrymen won the victory by their valour or were defeated and gave up the contest. 5 It was with that end in view that he conducted the negotiations, in the course of which he was so self-confident that, when Catulus declared that he would not cease from war unless his opponent and all those who defended Eryx would lay down their arms and leave Sicily, he declared that his country should fall and he himself perish before he would return home in such disgrace; for it was unworthy of his courage to surrender to her foes the arms which he had received from his country to use against her enemies. And such was his obstinacy that Catulus yielded.

[2] L   But when he came to Carthage, he learned that the state was in a far different condition than he had hoped; for by the long-continued ill-fortune abroad so serious a civil war had been kindred that Carthage was never in so great danger except when the city was destroyed. 2 To begin with, the mercenary soldiers whom they had used against the Romans had revolted, to the number of twenty thousand men. They roused all Africa to rebellion and even attacked Carthage. 3 By these troubles the Carthaginians were so greatly alarmed that they even asked help of the Romans, and obtained it. But finally, being almost reduced to despair, they made Hamilcar commander-in-chief.

4 That general not only drove the enemy from the walls of Carthage, although they now numbered more than a hundred thousand armed men, but even succeeded in shutting them up in a narrow defile, where more of them died of hunger than by the sword. All the disaffected towns, among which were Utica and Hippo, the strongest places in all Africa, he restored to his country. 5 And not content with that, he even extended the Carthaginian frontiers, and brought about such a state of peace all over Africa as to make it seem that there had been no war there for many years.

[3] L   After finishing these tasks to his satisfaction, confident in spirit and hating the Romans, with the view of more readily finding a pretext for war, he contrived to be sent to Spain in command of an army, and with him he took his son Hannibal, then nine years old. 2 He was accompanied also by a distinguished and handsome young man, Hasdrubal by name, whom some said that Hamilcar loved, less honourably than was proper; for so great a man could not escape being slandered. Because of that charge the censor of morals ** forbade Hasdrubal to be with Hamilcar; but the general gave the young man his daughter in marriage, since according to the code of the Carthaginians a father-in-law could not be denied the society of his son-in-law. ** 3 I have spoken of Hasdrubal because, when Hamilcar was killed, he commanded the army ** and accomplished great things, but he was the first by gifts of money to undermine the old-time morals of the Carthaginians; it was after his death too that Hannibal succeeded to the chief command by choice of the army.

[4] L   But Hamilcar, after crossing the sea and coming into Spain, did great deeds through the favour of fortune. He subdued mighty and warlike nations and enriched all Africa with horses, arms, men and money. 2 As he was planning to carry the war into Italy, in the ninth year after his arrival in Spain, he fell in battle, fighting against the Vettones. 3 It was this man's inveterate hatred of Rome that seems to have been the special cause of the Second Punic War. For his son Hannibal was so affected by his father's constant entreaties that he preferred to die rather than fail to measure his strength against the Romans.

XXIII.   Hannibal →


1.   C. Lutatius Catulus, called Catulus in 5.

2.   This official is mentioned nowhere else.

3.   This law also is mentioned by Nepos alone.

4.   From 229 to 221 B.C.

XXIII.   Hannibal →

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