Friday, August 03, 2007

Declaration of War

These preparations made and all being in order for the outbreak of hostilities, the Senate sent another delegation to Carthage. Its members were all oldish men -- Quintus Fabius, Marcus Livius, Lucius Aemilius, Gaius Licinius, and Quintus Baebius -- and their instructions were to ask the Carthaginian senate whether Hannibal's attack on Saguntum had been in accordance with government policy. If the Carthaginians admitted the apparent direction of their actions and defended them as the result of official policy, then the Roman delegation was to declare war.

The envoys duly arrived. They were given audience in the senate, and Fabius without further words put the single question they had been instructed to ask. One of the Carthaginian senators thereupon said:

'Your previous embassy, gentlemen, when you demanded the person of Hannibal for attacking Saguntum, as you supposed, on his own initiative, was a somewhat ill-considered one; the object of your present embassy, though expressed for the moment in milder terms, is in fact a far more serious matter.

'On the former occasion Hannibal was accused and the surrender of his person demanded; now you are trying to extort from us a confession of guilt, and at the same time seeking immediate reparation as if we had already confessed. Now in my view the proper question is not whether Saguntum was attacked as a matter of state policy or on the whim of a single individual, but whether that attack wasm in the circumstances, legal or illegal. The inquiry into whether one of our own citizens acted arbitrarily or not -- and perhaps his subsequent punishment -- is a matter for ourselves alone; with you we have only a single point in dispute, namely the legality of the act under the terms of the treaty between us.

'Very well, then: since it is your pleasure to discriminate between what army-commanders do by government orders and what they do on their own initiative, consider the following facts.

'Your consul Gaius Lutatius signed with us a treaty by the terms of which neither side was to interfere with the allies of the other -- but no mention in this connection was made of Saguntum, which was not, at that time, in alliance with Rome. You will say, perhaps, that the treaty entered into with hasdrubal debarred us from attacking Saguntum -- to which my only reply will be words you have yourselves put into my mouth. For did you not deny that you were bound by a treaty which was entered into without either the sanction of the Senate or the approbation of the people? And did you not in consequence negotiate a fresh one which had the national authority behind it? If then, you do not consider your treaties as binding unless they are signed with the full authority of the State, we, for our part, shall refuse to recognize the treaty negotiated by Hasdrubal without our knowledge of consent. I would ask you, therefore, to say no more about Saguntum or the river Ebro; let your minds, rather, now at last deliver thenselves of the real thought they have long been big with.'

Fabius, in answer, laid his hand on the fold of his toga, where he had gathered it at his breast, and, 'Here,' he said, 'we bring you peace and war. Take which you will.'

Scarcely had he spoken when the answer no less proudly rang out: 'Whichever you please. We do not care.'

Fabius let the gathered folds fall, and cried: 'We give you war.'

The Carthaginian senators replied, as one man: 'We accept it, and in the same spirit we will fight it to the end.'

- Livy 21.18, quoted from Livy, The War with Hannibal, Aubrey De Selincourt translation, p. 40-42.

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