Hannibal/Hasdrubal/Mago > Danny/Ben/Sam

It sucks that I can’t watch the Beeb from here in the US. That’s because something fun is on the telly there.

Three brothers — Danny, Ben and Sam Wood — are tracing the route that Hannibal took, from Spain through France and over the Alps into Italy, and thence to Tunisia and perhaps onward. (Here is a map of Hannibal’s lifetime path.)

They’re doing it by bike, instead of elephant.

What does this show? That Hannibal maintains his eerie ability to inspire us modern types today, just as he inspired me to write my book.

“So we also feel a certain sense of ‘Hannibal and Me’,” as Danny, also a journalist, emailed me this week.

If you’re in Britain, follow them on the BBC. And good luck, lads!

Here’s a taste:

Hannibal’s lifetime path: the map

Copyright David Lindroth

Look at this beautiful map. It depicts the dramatically simplified life path that Hannibal probably took. And you’ll find it in the beginning of my book.

The mapmaker and copyright owner is David Lindroth, a cartographer who seems to specialize in historical, educational, fictional and other unusually interesting maps.

I first came across David’s name when I saw a different version of this map by him in The Ghosts of Cannae, a great book about Hannibal by Robert O’Connell. (It came out last year, after I finished my manuscript, so it was unfortunately too late to be one of my sources.)

So I called David and he made this map for me. We put in some of the battle sites and other places of interest in the book, including Hannibal’s sketchy meanderings in the eastern Mediterranean in his final years.

Anyway, you know I like maps. Enjoy.

Hannibal v Rome, the game

One of you (Thank you!) has pointed me to Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage, a game for connoisseurs of this sort of thing (available on Amazon, too). You can replay Hannibal’s strategy … and tactics, apparently. Cannae could go to the Romans, Zama to Carthage. (And we today might all have Carthaginian, instead of Roman, government buildings.)

Aside from all that, just savor the rather different visual interpretation of the general, vis-a-vis the one Riverhead expressed on the jacket cover of my book. 😉 Now that’s what I call a Carthaginian!

And for the history geeks: You notice the Hannibal above has both of his eyes. And the Alps are behind him. When he came out of the Alps, he did indeed have them both. He lost one of them to conjunctivitis seven months later, while wading through a fetid Etruscan (= Tuscan) swamp.

My Elephantine mistake

Copyright: Shoshani and Tassy 2004

I’ve been telling you something very wrong about Hannibal’s elephants all this time. Not deliberately, mind you.

Almost three years ago, when I wrote my post “about Hannibal’s elephants“, I was really just kidding around, as I was in the early stages of research for my book. The levity, I thought, was abundantly obvious from my treatment of the subject. I did not mean to imply that I had any idea of what I was talking about (although I sort of do now).

I was, you see, a blogger! (Ie, I was more interested in thinking out loud, and getting readers to correct me, than in pontificating authoritatively.)

To my surprise, that particular blog post keeps getting a lot of traffic. In fact, its traffic is increasing. I have no idea why, so I must guess that the Google gods are sending people its way (which should cast aspersions on Google’s algorithms, not on my post). Those of you who blog may have made the same discovery: those posts you think are most valuable are not at all the ones that attract the eyeballs, and vice versa.

So I will set the record straight in this post. But first, I’m delighted what the earlier post has already done: It has brought me many of my readers (mostly the silent, non-commenting type). One of you has even (hush, hush) hinted that you might write a children’s book about Hannibal’s elephants — and I have voluteered my own kids and me as the first readers.

Now: The first question is how many elephants Hannibal brought with him when he left Iberia to cross the Alps and attack Rome. I’ve read the number 37, but Serge Lancel, the late French historian who seems to know best, says 27 (on page 63 of his book). So I’m going with that. Personally, I don’t really care about the real number. It changes nothing in the story and the drama.

The second question — and the one I answered wrong — is: which kind of elephant?

The correct answer is the African Forest Elephant, or Loxodonta cyclotis:

Click for attribution

As it happens, we very recently (last year) discovered that these elephants were an entirely different species (as opposed to just a sub-species) of elephant. So you should imagine the (older) genealogical tree at the top with another twig on the third branch from the right, as this blog post explains.

The discovery comes via DNA analysis from Nadine Rohland, David Reich, Swapan Mallick, Matthias Meyer, Richard Green, et al., who summarize their findings here:

Our data establish that the Asian elephant is the closest living relative of the extinct mammoth… We also find that savanna and forest elephants, which some have argued are the same species, are as or more divergent in the nuclear genome as mammoths and Asian elephants, which are considered to be distinct genera… The divergence of African savanna and forest elephants—which some have argued to be two populations of the same species—is about as ancient as the divergence of Asian elephants and mammoths…

So it is those forest elephants that Hannibal brought with him. They were quite a bit smaller than the savanna elephants of Africa. So artists have, for millennia, exaggerated their size.

Or have they? Generations of boys reading about Hannibal must have imagined them just as the young Roman legionaries perceived them, which is roughly thus:

Roman Jefferson v Carthaginian Hamilton

Thomas Jefferson

I’ve mentioned a few times just how much our Founding Fathers were influenced by — and saw themselves as heirs to — republican Rome. That’s why both our federal and state buildings tend to look like Roman temples.

Two excellent books I’ve been reading lately have brought home to me just how direct that influence was for specific Founding Fathers such as Thomas Jefferson. Not only did Jefferson “inherit” certain Roman political ideals (as he understood them) but he also adopted the hatreds and propaganda of republican Rome. This meant:

  • Rome = good = America
  • Carthage = bad = Britain

Here Jefferson talks about Britain (from Richard Miles, Carthage Must Be Destroyed):

Her good faith!The faith of a nation of merchants! The Punica fides of modern Carthage.

Punica fides means Punic faith. The Romans and Jefferson used the term ironically to mean faithlessness.

The Romans looked down on the Carthaginians (who were Phoenician traders) as merchants, and Jefferson inherited that attitude as well. (Napoleon, too, condescended to the English as “shopkeepers.”) Romans and Americans, Jefferson implied, were above such corrupt Carthaginian and British habits as commerce and banking.

Alexander Hamilton

When Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and other “republicans” (they deliberately named their faction to evoke republican Rome) began their hysterical conspiracy to bring down Alexander Hamilton, who in their fantasies had British and monarchical leanings, one of Hamilton’s friends warned him thus (from Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, p. 391):

Delenda est Carthago, I suppose, is the maxim adopted with respect to you.

Delenda est Carthago means Carthage must be destroyed. It was the infamous phrase with which Cato the Elder ended every speech he gave until Rome indeed decided to destroy Carthage.

So to Jefferson, Hamilton was a sort of Hannibal?

Much more about all this in later posts. But you can already infer where my sympathies would have lain in this Founding Father soap opera.

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Carthage’s urns of little bones

When future archeologists, two millennia hence, dig out our civilization — our bombing ranges or nuclear sites, for example — what will they infer about us? Inevitably, their values will be so different from ours that we will seem alien to them. So they will try to refrain from judgment and focus merely on understanding.

We’re in the same situation when we dig out the past. When we dug out Carthage, for example.

We know that the Carthaginians, like their Phoenician ancestors and apparently all Canaanites, sacrificed their first-born sons at times of crisis, apparently to appease gods like Baal and Tanit (roughly Zeus and Juno), Melqart, Astarte, et cetera.

We countenance the story of Abraham and Isaac (Sarah’s first-born though not Abraham’s) in the Bible, allegedly “our” book, largely because Yahweh withdrew his request to sacrifice Isaac at the last moment. But we might just as well contemplate how 1) Abraham had not, up to that point, considered the demand all that  unusual, and 2) how most other situations at the time would indeed have ended with the sacrifice.

We know that the sacrifices were common in Carthage, too, because we found the “tophets”, or furnaces, where the infants were killed. They contain charred, calcified bones of both animals and human children. For a while, we comforted ourselves with theories that they might have burnt stillborn or dead infants, that these were really burial grounds disguised as human-sacrifice altars. But most scholars now believe that they really did, on occasion, kill their own sons, right up to the time of Hannibal.

I just finished Richard Miles’ “Carthage Must Be Destroyed,” a new history of Carthage and a last-minute addition to my bibliography (almost certainly the last, because I’m essentially done).

Admittedly, those of you just getting into ancient history (perhaps through The Hannibal Blog?) might prefer to start with Rome or Greece, but if you’re interested in Carthage, this is as good a history as any. Well-written, not pompous, aimed at normal readers not fellow academics.

Miles deals elegantly with issues like the child sacrifice. He also unifies the entire history of Carthage — from its Phoenician (Tyrian) beginnings to its end in the Roman genocide.

It’s a good book.

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My 12-minute “book teaser”

If you’re taking a 12-minute cappuccino break, watch me give this “teaser” about my book at our (The Economist‘s) recent innovation conference in Berkeley.

(You’ll also find most of the other sessions on video now, including those with Arianna Huffington, Jared Diamond, Matt Mullenweg, et cetera.)

I’m not good at “teasers” or “elevator pitches”, especially since I tried to tell a story in my book that would keep you reading for 100,000 words. But I’m constantly being told that I now have to practice condensing that story into two seconds for some occasions (cocktail parties, elevators), two minutes for other occasions, 10 minutes for yet others, and so on.

So, er, I’m practicing. (Even while determined not to give too much away yet.)

Your feedback would be welcome. Do I snare your interest or do you say ‘so what’? Are there howling non sequiturs, or does it make sense? And so forth.

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Dido conjures Hannibal: Avenge me!

Aeneas and Dido

What role did Carthage and Hannibal play in the history of Rome as Virgil saw it — ie, in the entire millennium between the Trojan War and Emperor Augustus?

Last time in this mini-thread on the Aeneid, I tried to sketch the big historical picture of that great poem, the overarching tale of how a band of Trojan survivors arrived in Italy and merged with the Latin race to found what would become, fifteen generations hence, the Roman nation.

But I promised in that post to pay a bit more attention to Hannibal and Carthage. For Aeneas the Trojan, the three Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage would not start for another thousand years. For Virgil and Augustus, the worst memories of those Punic Wars (ie, the years when Hannibal was in Italy) already lay two centuries in the past. Did Carthage need to be in this story at all?

And how.

It is clear that Virgil and the Romans in the time of Augustus still considered Hannibal their worst enemy ever, the man who brought them closest to extinction. And so Virgil almost stuctures the entire poem around Carthage, albeit in very subtle and psychologically surprising ways. Here goes:

Juno (Hera) again….

Hera, whom the Romans called Juno, has already come up repeatedly as an almost generic source of trouble in antiquity, as when she drove Hercules mad in her jealousy. Well, the Aeneid takes place just after the Trojan War, and Virgil has Juno still seething with rage at the indignity that caused that war, which was Paris’ choice of Aphrodite (Venus) over Hera as “the most beautiful.” Venus, of course, not only went on to fight for the Trojans but was also the mother of Aeneas.

So Juno would do everything she could to torment Aeneas:

… the origins of that anger, that suffering, still rankled: deep within her, hidden away, the judgment Paris gave, snubbing her loveliness; the race she hated… (I, 38-41)

And so Virgil starts his poem, on the very first page, with Juno and her new obsession, which is Carthage (“new city” in Punic), which was just then being built, at least in this mythical version:

Tyrian settlers in that ancient time held Carthage, on the far shore of the sea, set against Italy and Tiber’s mouth, a rich new town, warlike and trained for war. And Juno, we are told, cared more for Carthage than for any walled city of the earth… There her armor and chariot were kept, and, fate permitting, Carthage would be the ruler of the world. So she intended, and so nursed that power. But she had heard long since that generations born of Trojan blood would one day overthrow her Tyrian walls, and from that blood a race would come in time with ample kingdoms, arrogant in war, for Libya’s ruin… (I, 20-32)

There, in a nutshell, you already have it all: Juno would nurse Carthage to become the world power, and yet she already knew that destiny intended, after a bloody struggle, for Rome to “overthrow its walls” and be its “ruin.”

(Tyrian refers to Tyre, Carthage’s mother city in Phoenicia, today’s Lebanon. Libya at the time referred to the inhabitants of northern Africa.)

Carthage as eastern temptress

Aeneas and his Trojans, meanwhile, are at sea, trying to reach Italy. Juno tries to kill them, by persuading the god of winds to cause a storm. She almost succeeds. 13 of Aeneas ships sink, and only 7 remain. And where do they land?

At Carthage, as it is being built. Its ruler is the beautiful and good queen Dido. Dido is more than generous to these Trojan refugees. She even offers to share her kingdom:

Would you care to join us in this realm on equal terms? The city I build is yours; haul up your ships; Trojan and Tyrian will be all one to me. (I, 776-779.)

And then she beholds Aeneas, the Trojan leader, and falls for him,

for she who bore him [Venus] breathed upon him beauty of hair and bloom of youth and kindled brilliance in his eyes…. (I, 801-803)

From the start, there is a scintillating and even erotic chemistry between “Carthage” and “Rome”, these two opposites who are yet so attracted to each other.

So Dido asks to hear Aeneas tell of the sack of Troy, that Greek genocide about which all people in the Mediterranean had by then heard. Aeneas describes it, in Book II of the Aeneid, in harrowing detail (in the picture above, Dido is listening to him as Ascanius, Aeneas’ little boy, sits on her lap). Aeneas also tells of his wanderings, his “Odyssey”, that brought him from Troy to Carthage.

Did0 listens and is rapt:

The queen, for her part, all that evening ached with longing that her heart’s blood fed, a wound or inward fire eating her away. The manhood of the man, his pride of birth, came home to her time and again; his looks, his words remained with her to haunt her mind, and desire for him gave her no rest. (IV, 1-7)

They get together, in a wild cave on a wild night. It must have been great, for she wants more, infinitely more. In fact, she considers herself married.

Virgil’s Roman audience at this point pictures not only the temptresses that tried to seduce Odysseus but Cleopatra, another queen in northern Africa who had very recently led astray a great Roman (Mark Antony) with her wily and erotic eastern ways. This is titillating stuff to the Romans.

Indeed, Aeneas almost seems inclined to change his plans and stay with Dido. But this is not his duty, and he is “dutiful Aeneas”, pius Aeneas. Jupiter, via Mercury, reminds him unequivocally of his destiny: to go to Italy and sire the Roman race.

Aeneas understands and decides to be on his way. But he doesn’t know how to tell Dido. Indeed he fears her. So he orders the ships to prepare to sail away at night.

Dido finds out and goes into a rage, the mother of all meltdowns. As Cheri has said elsewhere, it is not a testosterone rage as Hercules might have it, defined as violent, intense and short. No, it is an “estrogen rage”: deep, lingering, even eternal and ultimately more destructive.

Thus Dido (Carthage) ceases being Aeneas’ (Rome’s) lover and becomes instead his enemy, indeed the enemy of his entire race:

Then, O my Tyrians, besiege with hate his progeny and all his race to come: Make this your offering to my dust. No love, no pact must be between our peoples; No, but rise up from my bones, avenging spirit! Harry with fire and sword … Coast with coast in conflict, I implore, and sea with sea, and arms with arms: may they contend in war, themselves and all the children of their children! (IV, 865-875)

Then she stabs herself with a sword and hurls herself on a funeral pyre.

Every Roman of Virgil’s day would have understood whom Dido was summoning as this “avenging spirit”: Hannibal.

Indeed, just in case anybody was still confused, Virgil later, in Book X, has Jupiter himself make it more explicit. At a council of the gods on Olympus, Jupiter says

the time for war will come — you need not press for it — that day when through the Alps laid open wide the savagery of Carthage blights the towns and towers of Rome. (X15-19)

You almost get the sense that the entire Aeneid was mere prologue … to this:

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What’s in a word: Rostrum

When you speak in front of people, you “take the rostrum“. Literally, you are “taking the beak”. The what? Why would you do anything so odd when everybody is watching?

It turns out that, like so much else in our lives, our phrase for pulpit or lectern–ie, rostrum–has everything to do with the story that forms the historical backdrop for the main characters in my forthcoming book. Recall that we left off describing the foolish and tragicomic cock-up that led to two world wars and then a genocide. Well, the first of those wars “produced” quite a bit of flotsam, which the Romans called rostra.

We are talking now about the 23-year-long First Punic War between Rome and Carthage that started in 264 BCE. This war was about the island of Sicily. Both the Romans and the Carthaginians rather wanted it. There was a lot of fighting on the actual island, but the most dramatic and spectacular battles were sea battles. In fact, one of these may have been the single largest naval battle in all of history, involving 200,000 sailors and soldiers!

If you’ve been reading The Hannibal Blog for a while, this might strike you as odd. Yes, Carthage was a great naval power, so that makes sense. But Rome was not. In fact, Rome had no navy at all at the start of the war.

Well, the Romans changed that. At one point, they captured a Carthaginian ship, studied it, and copied it again and again, until they had an entire fleet. This was the ‘reverse-engineering’ part.

517px-corvussvgNext came a bit of innovation. They added an ingenious weapon to their ships. This was the “raven” (corvus), a large swivel bridge that the Romans brought crashing down onto an enemy ship when they pulled up alongside of it. The two ships were then tied together as a large floating platform, and the Roman soldiers stormed across. In effect, the Romans had thereby found a way to turn sea battles into land battles, and they tended to win land battles.

Now to those rostra, or beaks: It’s what the Romans called the prows of galleys. After their first big naval victory, the Carthaginian ships were sinking or floating in the water in pieces, so the Romans fished out the prows, brought them to Rome and stuck them onto the speaker’s pulpit in the Forum, as in the image at the very top of this post.

It was the equivalent, you might say, of an Indian hanging the scalps of his enemies above his tent.

And so, ever since, speakers in Rome and elsewhere have been taking the beak.

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