21 October 2007

A Bold Title

Amongst the Facebook notifications clogging up my e-mail today - and if anyone's reading, I have no real wish to become a pirate, a ninja, a zombie, a vampire, a werewolf, or even a slayer - I had an e-mail from Amazon, suggesting that - having bought a book or two over the years on the general topic of Carthage's Greatest Son™ - I might be interested in Hannibal's Last Battle: Zama and the Fall of Carthage.

Without moving in the direction of personal abuse towards the author, I can't help feeling that this title does the book no favours. It's a tad extravagant, to be frank.

For starters, Carthage didn't fall until 146 BC, a full 56 years after Scipio's victory at Zama in 202 BC; I'd be loathe to link the two events too directly.

But as for Zama as Hannibal's last battle? Well, yeah, I guess so, as long as you're operating on the assumption that Hannibal's story ended with his defeat at Zama, or else that sea battles don't really count...

After all, Livy and Cornelius Nepos both tell us of Hannibal commanding the left wing of a Seleucid fleet against the Rhodians at the Battle of Side in 190 BC, and although Hannibal was defeated in that, his first naval battle, Nepos records how he led the Bithynian navy to a famous and bizarre victory against Eumenes of Pergamum a few years later.

According to Nepos,
'Hannibal was outnumbered in ships; therefore it was necessary to resort to a ruse, since he was unequal to his opponent in arms. He gave orders to collect the greatest possible number of venomous snakes and put them alive in earthenware jars. When he had got together a great number of these, on the very day when the sea-fight was going to take place he called the marines together and bade them concentrate their attack on the ship of Eumenes and be satisfied with merely defending themselves against the rest. . .

When the clash came, the Bithynians did as Hannibal had ordered and fell upon the ship of Eumenes in a body. Since the king could not resist their force, he sought safety in flight, which he secured only be retreating within the entrenchments which had been thrown up on the neighbouring shore. When the other Pergamene ships began to press their opponents too hard, on a sudden the earthenware jars of which I have spoken began to be hurled at them. At first these projectiles excited the laughter of the combatants, and they could not understand what it meant. But as soon as they saw their ships filled with snakes, terrified by the strange weapons and not knowing how to avoid them, they turned their ships about and retreated to their naval camp.'
I know, it sounds very unlikely, but it's certainly not impossible. It wouldn't have been the first time Hannibal had engaged in unusual animal tactics, after all, and it wouldn't have been the first time in history that anyone thought they could gain the upper hand in a war by lobbing dangerous animals at their enemy - beehives, hornet nests, and scorpion bombs have all been used over the years, it seems.

For what it's worth, you can get a fine snapshot of what happened when Hannibal met his match at Zama in this clip from a History Channel documentary of a few years back. Mind, I reckon the clips describing Hannibal's greatest victory and evaluating the one-eyed genius are even better.

They just have something special. I don't know, maybe it's just me. Judge for yourselves.

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