Justice over Loyalty

Regulus Aurelius woke up to the clanging of weapons and fierce battle cries of Roman elite soldiers during their practice session for the oncoming battles. Things weren’t going well for Rome when General Hannibal Barca of Carthage stormed into the Italian Peninsula with a raging army of 26000 troops, 6000 horses, and war elephants. Regulus, unlike the fearful Roman citizens, faced a continuous dilemma. Part of him was a loyal Roman general who wanted to defeat Carthage. The other part of him was loyal to Carthage, his homeland. Sometimes, a faint smile tugged at his mouth when frantic Roman scouts reported the losses they suffered.

That day, General Scipio Africanus summoned Regulus for a strategic discussion on future battle plans. The Roman army yet again lost a major battle at Cannae. Even though outnumbered, Hannibal used his superior cavalry to encircle and crush the Roman soldiers. This was the worst single day defeat a Roman army ever suffered. Regulus grimly pondered on what to do next. That was when Scipio created his devastating plan to take the war to Carthage, which had a small army left because Hannibal led most of it in Italy. Regulus tensed and sunk deeper into his chair. This flawless plan of General Scipio Africanus would bring upon total annihilation to Carthage. Cold sweat trickled down his neck as he focused on his primary goal: He needed to save Carthage.

Regulus decided his ultimate choice and asked, “General Scipio Africanus, when will our mighty fleets and army set sail for Carthage? Perhaps you would want to first recover from the earlier battles, so our army would be reinforced with fresh troops? The citizens of Romen will surely want a clear and honorable victory over Carthage.”

“Yes, our legions shall leave at dawn in a week. We are eager for a war of revenge that will make the world fear disobeying Roman law again.”

That night, Regulus called his most loyal soldiers to help him prepare the ship, which would take him to Carthage. The trip was peaceful until he arrived in Carthage harbor. At first sight of a Roman ship, the guards readied their swords and waited for the king’s order. Regulus carefully came down and explained the whole situation to king Hanno the Great. He advised the king to withdraw his legions from Rome so they could prepare as much as possible with the remaining time they had. Hanno agreed to his plan and the next day, no Carthaginian soldier remained in the Italian Peninsula. Regulus Aurelius was made the commander of the army. He was pleased to see the effort that his soldiers put in their practice. At one point, he even commented that they were a worthy match for the Roman legions, which was saying a lot.

This newly inspired hope was dampened the moment 1000 Roman triremes docked in the harbor. The ships were so massive and numerous that they appeared to have covered the entire Mediterranean Sea. Dust spread wherever the soldiers moved. The sunlight struck their weapons, giving them a wicked gleam. Their shields and armor were so well-polished that Regulus could see his own reflection on it. The citizens scattered at sight and the only people that remained were Hannibal’s army, which was miniscule compared to the Roman legions. The battle was held at Zama, the final battleground of the war. The armies clashed mercilessly and at first, no victor could be decided. The only sounds came from the general’s commands or the clanging of weapons. However, the battle was soon leaning toward Rome’s favor. Scipio led his legions, which plowed through Carthage’s army and demolished every enemy in their path.

Both armies were weary after a day of fighting, but Rome stood victorious despite Carthage’s efforts. Scipio arranged a peace treaty to be signed and left Carthage with his legions and Regulus in chains. He had already ordered the execution of the soldiers who helped him get to Carthage. Regulus’s fate was to be decided by the judges, who evidently despised him. The vote was unanimous, and they sentenced Regulus to death. Before his execution, he was given permission to say his last words. He looked at the impatient crowd, who seemed eager to witness his demise. Hanno and Hannibal were among the audience, for they wished to honor the hero who willingly gave up his life for the sake of his homeland.

“I have not but two requests to make. Romans, I wish you to view this war from the perspective of justice. You have brought forth this unjust war because you envied Carthage’s wealth. Instead of striving for that goal, you just forced war upon the innocent Carthaginians. Was this rational to invade another’s property because you wanted it? Carthaginians, you must not lose hope because of these defeats and setbacks. If you try again, no matter how many times, you will succeed in the future. But for now, I must depart from this world.”

A week after Regulus’s execution, Carthage still hadn’t signed the peace treaty despite the threats of war from Rome. King Hanno was hesitant and was waiting for an opportunity to spark a new war for independence. This chance arose when Rome faced a civil war, which badly weakened its army. Hanno threatened to attack Rome if it didn’t give Carthage free rein over its trade. At the present, Rome was in no state to refuse, so they agreed to his demands. Finally, Carthage was free of Rome’s control and honored Regulus’s sacrifice by fulfilling his ultimate wish.