The view west from Alexander’s death bed

You're next, Carthage

You're next, Carthage

One month before his 33rd birthday, on June 11th, 323 BCE, Alexander died in a sumptuous palace in Babylon, in today’s Iraq. He had been drinking with his friends and might have been poisoned. Or he might have had malaria, or typhoid fever, or any number of other ailments.

In twelve short years–during his twenties (what were you doing in your twenties?)–this young man had completely changed the world. Indeed, you might say that he had unified the world for possibly the first and only time. (I’m talking about the world known to him). Recall that the Greeks had had, for at least a century and a half, a keen sense of East (alien, soft, depraved) and West (Greek, civilized), with assorted barbarians living on the periphery. Alexander brought East and West and its major civilizations together into one realm, with a remarkably cosmopolitan vision of governing by including rather than oppressing the non-Greeks.

But that is not the subject of today’s post. Instead, I want to choose June 11th, 323 BCE as the date with which to begin a new thread on The Hannibal Blog: In the next series of posts I want to “set the scene”, the historical context, for the main plot and main characters in my forthcoming book.

What did Alexander not see to his west when he died?

This is the question of today’s post. The answer should be surprising. If it is not, I will help you to be surprised in the coming posts.

First, a map of what we think he should have seen (click to enlarge):

800px-alexander-empire_323bc

What Alexander saw was Carthage. This man, who was said to have cried once when he thought he had run out of countries to conquer, was apparently planning to conquer the entire western Mediterranean when death intervened, and the western Mediterranean, as far as Alexander knew, was a pond with two main cultures: 1) His own (Hellenistic) and 2) the Carthaginian-Punic one. So he was planning to take on Carthage, that mighty and wealthy port on the tip of northern Africa, settled by Phoenicians whose mother country (in today’s Lebanon) already belonged to Alexander’s empire. Once he had Carthage, Alexander would truly be able to say that ruled the whole world.

And here is what he did not see: Rome! Alexander had apparently never even heard of the place. Rome may have been among a few Italian towns that sent representatives to his court, but he personally seems never to have taken note of the place. And why should he have? It was a sleepy town in the middle of Italy. Clearly not of any consequence. More in the next post.

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