Pride of Carthage, A Novel of Hannibal by David Anthony Durham
Public policy generally changes slowly and reluctantly. Major changes, however, often occur in response to sudden catastrophic or cataclysmic events that act as catalysts for change. You needn’t search far for examples: Pearl Harbor was the catalyst for the involvement of the U.S. in World War II, and the events of September 11, 2001 were catalysts for a major U.S. foreign policy initiative to export democracy to a part of the world where its roots have never taken hold.
Hannibal’s invasion of Italy in 218 B.C. at the onset of the Second Punic War was a similar catalyst that moved the powers of republican Rome to make major changes in their foreign policy and domestic economic policy. Indeed, Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps during the winter of 218-217 B.C. in and of itself was only a curiosity. But his subsequent defeat of no fewer than four major Roman armies in less than two years was so catastrophic that it shook Roman society to its foundations.
Hannibal is unique in history, therefore, not just because of his extraordinary skills as a military genius, but because his impact on public policy, foreign and domestic, has lasted to the present time, both in Rome and in the Mediterranean region in general (more about this in a few paragraphs).
David Anthony Durham has taken a fascinating historical odyssey and turned it into a fictional account of a gigantic figure who, in the end, was human too. Durham develops subplots and stories within the broader history of Hannibal’s fourteen-year campaign ravaging Italy. He creates a believable portrait of Hannibal’s family, including his little sister, Sophonisba, who, as Livy has also described for us, drinks a poison rather than be taken as a slave by the Romans.
There is no shortage of books on Hannibal, but I can recommend this one without reservation. I read it, at least part of it, on the airplane to Rome two months ago (February 2005). I was surprised when I began to relate Hannibal’s invasion of Italy 2200 years ago to the U.S. liberation of Iraq. On the plane I sat next to a man who was headed to Iraq where he manages a recreation complex for Kellog, Brown and Root, a Halliburton subsidiary. He provides recreation services for 8,000 U.S. troops, including a full-size Olympic swimming pool, basketball courts, fitness center, twenty internet computers, and more. He keeps it open 24-7 to satisfy the demand. Just after I learned about his work, I read Durham’s description of camp followers tracking Hannibal’s army to make a living. "Camp followers" took on a whole new meaning for me.
You’re wondering about my public policy introduction. Here’s the connection: Hannibal spent fourteen years – half a generation – ravaging southern Italy (he was awaiting his opportunity to weaken Rome to the point that he might besiege the great city; that never happened). Living in fear that he might decide to attack Rome, the Romans themselves spent a good part of that time burning and destroying crops to make it more difficult for Hannibal to feed his army. The decimation of the southern rural countryside virtually assured that no one lived in the country but instead in villages and towns. This settlement pattern remains to this day in much of southern Italy.
After fifteen years of watching Hannibal ravage Italy, the Romans decided that the best defense was a strong offense. Since they couldn’t defeat Hannibal at his game of cat and mouse, they invaded Carthage in a bold offensive move. This caused the Carthaginian elders to call Hannibal back to Africa (near modern Tunis) to defend the homeland. This worked brilliantly. Rome not only defeated Hannibal but Carthage as well. This set Rome on a new foreign policy track for centuries to come.
At the end of Hannibal’s War, the Romans decided that it was essential to secure the northern frontier of Italy. Hannibal’s catastrophic invasion had illustrated perfectly just how vulnerable the Romans were to a land invasion from the north. The result of this lesson was that Rome settled tens of thousands of veterans of the wars in Italy’s Po Valley. The network of roads and the collection of cities built between 200 and 165 B.C. throughout the Po Valley set the stage for the human and economic geography of Italy up to this day.
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