Another imitation of the Greeks which came into fashion at this time had a sad effect on the Romans. The old funerals in Greek poems had ended by games and struggles between swordsmen. Two brothers of the Brutus family first showed off such a game at their father’s funeral, and it became a regular custom, not only at funerals, but whenever there was need to entertain the people, to show off fights of swordsmen. The soldier captives from conquered nations were used in this way; and some persons kept schools of slaves, who were trained for these fights and called gladiators. The battle was a real one, with sharp weapons, for life or death; and when a man was struck down, he was allowed to live or sentenced to death according as the spectators turned down or turned up their thumbs. The Romans fancied that the sight trained them to be brave, and to despise death and wounds; but the truth was that it only made them hard-hearted, and taught them to despise other people’s pain—a very different thing from despising their own.
Another thing that did great harm was the making it lawful for a man to put away a wife who had no children. This ended by making the Romans much less careful to have one good wife, and the Roman ladies became much less noble and excellent than they had been in the good old days.
[Illustration: HANNIBAL’S VOW.]
In the meantime, the Carthaginians, having lost the three islands, began to spread their settlements further in Spain, where their chief colony was New Carthage, or, as we call it, Carthagena. The mountains were full of gold mines, and the Iberians, the nation who held them, were brave and warlike, so that there was much fighting to train up fresh armies. Hamilcar, the chief general in command there, had four sons, whom he said were lion whelps being bred up against Rome. He took them with him to Spain, and at a great sacrifice for the success of his arms the youngest and most promising, Hannibal, a boy of nine years old, was made to lay his hand on the altar of Baal and take an oath that he would always be the enemy of the Romans. Hamilcar was killed in battle, but Hannibal grew up to be all that he had hoped, and at twenty-six was in command of the army. He threatened the Iberians of Saguntum, who sent to ask help from Rome. A message was sent to him to forbid him to disturb the ally of Rome; but he had made up his mind for war, and never even asked the Senate of Carthage what was to be done, but went on with the siege of Saguntum. Rome was busy with a war in Illyria, and could send no help, and the Saguntines held out with the greatest bravery and constancy, month after month, till they were all on the point of starvation, then kindled a great fire, slew all their wives and children, and let Hannibal win nothing but a pile of smoking ruins.
[Illustration: IN THE PYRENEES.]