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Shea's Story Creek Star
Friday, 3 April 2009
The Great Carthaginian General Hannibal Barca

 

 

The Great Carthaginian

General Hannibal Barca

By Charles Shea LeMone

On the outskirts of Alexandria, In the year 173 B.C., there stood a magnificent estate that was the envy of many. Most people knew an old man had lived there for the last twenty-five years in seclusion behind the massive walls and well-guarded gates. However, the man’s identity was the subject of speculation. Even his most trusted servants did not know his nationality or how he’d attained his wealth. Only his son, Marcellus, a man in his late-twenties, knew that his father, Selinius, had been the chief scribe for the great Carthaginian General Hannibal Barca.

Marcellus had been sworn to secrecy when he was 10-years-old. That’s when his father had begun regaling him with tales of heroic battles and intricate details of allegiances, betrayals and political intrigues, and the fierce debates held in the Roman and Carthaginian Senates as related to the Second Punic War. Marcellus had taken the oath to protect the secret of his father’s identity as he knelt beside his mother grave, knowing she had died giving birth to him. Over the years, he’d heard many of the stories so many times he could have repeated them--as though he’d lived through the events himself--had it not been for the oath he’d sworn.

He knew that the war began in 218, when young Hannibal laid siege to and sacked the city of Saguntum in Spain to purposely provoke Rome, and his father became the general’s trusted scribe. Shortly after that, Selinius was by the great commander’s side that following winter when they crossed the Alps with twelve elephants and an international army of 110,000 fighting men. He’d faithfully served in that position until he was released of his responsibilities on the eve of Hannibal’s defeat at the Battle of Zama, in the year 202.

Nevertheless, it was the Battle of Cannae that his father most often recounted when there was no one near. With each retelling, he’d draw a map to show the lay of the land and to illustrate the supremacy of the Roman forces on that day when more than 65,000 Italian soldiers were slain. Once again, Hannibal had outfoxed them with what came to be known in the Roman Senate’s parlance as his Punic treachery. For the general from North Africa had strategically stationed his inferior forces on a hilltop with the rising sun and a strong wind at their backs.

Selinius’ eyes always sparkled with a devious glint as he described to his son one of the moments before the battle, exactly as Hannibal had related it to him. Surrounded by his staff officers, one of them, Gisgo, gazed down at the Romans massed below in battle formation and said, “‘It’s amazing to see so many men.’”

“‘You’re right,’” Hannibal responded calmly from his magnificent steed. “‘But there is one thing you failed to notice.’”

“‘What’s that, sir?’” the officer asked, puzzled.

“‘As great as their numbers are there is not one man among them named Gisgo.’”

“‘The small group of officers broke into laughter,’” Selinius told his attentive son. “Not only did that give the soldiers confidence, can you imagine how it must have baffled and unnerved the Roman soldiers, hearing their mirth floating on the summer air that historic day?”

In 183, however, Marcellus noticed a drastic change in his father upon hearing of Hannibal’s death by suicide. Rather than be captured by the Romans on the remote island of Bithynia where he’d lived for years in secrecy, Hannibal had opted to end his life with a strong dose of poison. Shortly after, Selinius turned into a sullen shell of his former self. He even disappeared for seven years, leaving Marcellus to be raised by servants. When he returned, he was a sickly man, mostly confined to his bed by a physician’s orders. Then one day, more animated than he’d been in some time, Selinius revealed a plan to his son.

“We must tell his story,” he said, sitting straight up in bed for the first time in months. “You will become my scribe. History is always written by the victors, who slant events to make themselves appear honorable and righteous. That’s why we must record what I know from Hannibal’s point of view. When we are done, there is a rich merchant in Egypt, who will be awaiting the scrolls. And, my son, he will pay you royally.”

So began the long process that Marcellus soon began to dread. More than a year had passed since he’d begun writing down his father’s words, spoken slowly enough for him to translate as he sat by the old man’s bedside. Although he kept his promise to painstakingly record the life of Hannibal, as witnessed by his father, he was leery of turning the work over to the merchant in Egypt. And the more he thought about the way his father had kept his association with the Carthaginian general veiled in secrecy for so many years, the more he feared taking the completed scrolls to Egypt to hand over to a wealthy stranger he had never met.

Furthermore, before he learned who his father really was, like many of the small kids his age, he’d often taunt other children by calling them, “Hannibal the cannibal! Hannibal the cannibal!” He also speculated that Hannibal committed suicide rather than be taken back to Rome in chains to be paraded on exhibit and subjected to crowds of angry Romans who would never forget the nearly twenty years of terror he and his armies had reigned over their country; or the countless lives that were cut short during the many battles fought during the Second Punic War; or how close he’d come to overthrowing the state which ruled the known world.

As Marcellus climbed the steep stairs, passing a servant returning with what was left of his father’s breakfast, he knew time was running out. They were nearing the end of the document. In fact, Marcellus was worried that one more session of transcribing his father’s words might be all it took. They had already covered the Carthaginian Senate recalling Hannibal and his forces back to Africa preceding the Battle of Zama; and how the prided Numidian horsemen had switched allegiances and sided themselves with the Romans, which deeply concerned Hannibal.

Stepping into the master bedroom, Marcellus was surprised to see all of the curtains were drawn wide as a flock of flamingoes darkened the sunrise and cast a flickering magenta glow on the room warmed by a roaring fireplace.

“Good morning, son,” his father spoke in a raspy yet strong voice, using the same greeting Marcellus had become accustomed to hearing each day. “Shall we begin by you reading where we left off yesterday?”

Despite his father’s cheerful greeting, the young man could see Selinius’ skin was more yellowish in hue than ever. Yet he did not hesitate to sit at the teakwood desk and scan the words he’d transcribed the previous day, asking, “Shall I start with your description of the camp site?”

His father nodded, and Marcellus began reading, “Twilight fell over the camp. From the top of the hillside where Hannibal and I sat, we could see the various armies gathered according to their nationalities. Smoke spiraled up from the fires the cooks had built and the air was redolent with the aroma of roasting meat. To the north, a host of drummers were entertaining the Iberian slingers. Next to them, the Gauls had arranged themselves in a vast circle and were raucously engaged in watching two of their soldiers, naked and painted blue, competing in a wrestling match. Behind them near a cool running stream, the Carthaginian cavalry were watering their horses.”

“You can stop there,” Selinius interrupted. “I’m ready to continue.”

Marcellus dipped an ostrich quill pen into an inkwell and poised it above a fresh length of scroll, ready for Selinius to continue his narrative.

“The two of us sat across from a burning fire on the hillside. As Hannibal used a stick to stir the logs, I studied him closely. I’d never seen him look the way he did that last evening I spent with him. He wore a new and larger eye patch; his dark-skin appeared to glow like burning bronze and his naturally thick nostrils and lips seemed swollen, as though the resentment inside of him was threatening to explode. Nevertheless, when he spoke his voice was controlled and evenly tempered.

“‘Selinius,’” he said, ‘“I never told you this, but I was only nine-years-old when my father, Hasdrubal, baptized me in the blood of a sacrifice--shortly before we sailed off to Spain to build the city of New Carthage. He knew that our senate was too passive when it came to dealing with the Romans and their proclivity for breaking treaties whenever it suited their fancy. He knew, though, as a military man, that he would be forever shackled by their decisions as long as he remained on our homeland soil. They were merchants and thought as merchants.”

Hannibal went on to recount how Hasdrubal had been the top commander during the First Punic War until the Carthaginian Senate accepted terms with Rome for peace. Shortly thereafter, he was called back from that war to put down the mercenary army camped outside the city of Carthage, demanding their back pay. It took years to finally squash that rebellion and get back to the business of taking care of business.

“‘That is why my father made me swear to always have enmity for the Romans and everything their government stands for. That’s why I marched my men north of the Ebro River, breaking that treaty with them to shack Saguntum. That’s why I fought against everything they could mass against me for the last 16 years. It was with one purpose, Selinius, to bring them to their knees. Now I fear that has all been for naught and the world will be forever controlled by militaristic force and the impending strength of armies. Nowhere in the equation will justice or the rights of man have meaning except as empty platitudes to quell the masses. Fear of might will be the one true rule of law.’”

Selinius ended his last sentence with venom in his tone. And though the room had taken on an uncomfortable chill, there was perspiration on his forehead. Marcellus wiped it away and placed another log on the fire. When Selinius was composed enough to continue, he did so in a subdued voice that Marcellus had to strain to hear.

“That next morning, Hannibal sent me off with a large chest-full of gold and jewels with an escort of fifty of his best men. The last words he spoke to me were, “‘When the time is right, tell my story, Selinius.’”

There was another long silence filled only by the crackling logs in the fireplace.

“Ten days later, I was on a ship that set sail for here, Alexandria, a city I’ve always loved. And that, my son, is all that’s necessary for you to transcribe. You know the rest of the story.”

During the middle of the night, as he occasionally did, Marcellus went to check on his father. Even in the dim light of the candle lit room, upon entering the master bedroom, he could see the ghostly white of his father’s skin and knew his time on earth had elapsed. Still, he placed a hand on his forehead to be certain. It was cold a waxen.

“Rest in peace, my dear and noble father,” he whispered in a quivering voice.

He then went to the mahogany chest where all the scrolls he’d so meticulously transcribed were locked away. One armload at a time, he carried them across the room and dumped them onto the blazing logs in the fireplace. Before closing the bedroom door behind him, Marcellus paused for a long while to gaze back. From his vantage point he could see Selinuis lying cold in his brass bed as the embers of the fire grew faint. Turning his back on the room that he would never again enter, the words, “From dust to dust. From ash to ash,” crossed his lips.

 


Posted by shealemone at 7:52 AM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 14 April 2012 2:14 PM EDT

Friday, 3 April 2009 - 8:02 AM EDT

Name: shealemone
Home Page: http://www.allwordman.com

 Author's Note:

 

In ancient times, when the merchant-minded Carthaginians freely sailed the Seven Seas, the sailors aboard their vessels came from all parts of the known world. We know this from artifacts found on many of the sunken ships discovered from that era. Then came the First Punic War, when the Romans broke a long-standing treaty and took back all the ports-of-call in Sicily. 

 

As years passed, the Romans broke more treaties whenever they were so inclined. By the end of the Second Punic War, however, Hannibal Barca a general from North Africa had struck such fear into the hearts of the Romans that they were most-likely incapable of ever looking at a man of color without wanting to dominate and control him and his people for generations to come.

 

At least, that’s my theory having studied those times—more than a-half-dozen books read on the subject--surrounding my all-time favorite historic figure, Hannibal Barca.  

 

Another interesting note: The first Africans taken into slavery and shipped to America came from an area south of the desecrated city of Carthage—where the Romans had poured enough salt into the earth to assure that nothing would ever grow there again. That area, to the south, at the time was known (according some historians) as Negritia or Negrita. Were these Africans descendants of the feared Barca clan that produced Hasdrubal and his son Hannibal? Negrita is also believed to have been a Goddess from ancient times. It is still a term used today in some cultures to describe black women with huge breasts.

 

Last Note: The continent of Africa was named after the general Scipio Africanus who defeated Hannibal at the Battle of Zama.

Friday, 3 April 2009 - 11:38 AM EDT

Name: "JenBethWright"

Wow, Shea!  Thanks for the history lesson.  The only thing I remember learning about Hannibal in school was that he took some elephants over the Alps.  And I bet if you were to ask school children today what they know about him, they would think you were talking about Hannibal Lecter.  I know I asked for more, but this surpassed all my expectations. Bravo!!!!

Friday, 3 April 2009 - 2:38 PM EDT

Name: "Vivian LeMone"

Well done Shea!  I have always been interested in history.  I remember reading about  the great warrior Hannibal in books and seeing it on the History channel.  Hannibel recruited thousands of fierce fighting men along the way who hated the Romans and they joined him in battle.  Although he never defeated Rome as part of his father's dying wish, he certainly struck fear in the Romans who never wanted to meet him on a battle field again!  Hannibal's war strategy went down as one of the greatest wars in history.  His fierce war tactics are still practiced today.

 

 

Friday, 3 April 2009 - 4:33 PM EDT

Name: "Enid"
Home Page: http://mysite.verizon.net/resund3n/

So history cycles on....

"My present Avataric form is the last incarnation of this cycle of time, hence my manifestation will be the greatest. When I break my silence, the impact of my love will be universal and all life in creation will know, feel and receive of it. It will help every individual to break himself free from his own bondage in his own way. I am the Divine Beloved who loves you more than you can ever love yourself. The breaking of my silence will help you to help yourself in knowing your real Self.

"All this world confusion and chaos was inevitable and no one is to blame. What had to happen has happened; and what has to happen will happen. There was and is no way out except through my coming in your midst. I had to come, and I have come. I am the Ancient One."-- Avatar Meher Baba

 

 

Saturday, 4 April 2009 - 3:08 AM EDT

Name: "Laura"

Nifty concept, telling Hannibal's story through the eyes of fictional characters.  Great ending too, profound and touching.  The notes above are also very interesting... the victors got to name the continent. 

Saturday, 4 April 2009 - 2:23 PM EDT

Name: "Tatabarbara"

Ancient history has always fascinated me. I often try to imagine what everyday life was like before the time of Christ or even during, as I'm reading now. Everything was so different ~ communication, foods, clothing, technology, warfare. And yet the emotions were the same. Or were they? I mean, they had sacrifices and various idols and gods to worship. the relationships to women had to be different because of how women were perceived. And yet, as it is today, there are so many shades of gray when dealing with human emotion. Maybe there were many people that didn't fit into any one category but were not written about in history. 

but I digress...great story, Shea! And one more piece to the puzzle that was Hannibal's life. Well written, as usual.

Saturday, 4 April 2009 - 4:48 PM EDT

Name: "jaime"

I also like the idea of telling history through the eyes of fictional characters, which can make the story much more compelling as you have shown with the Hannibal story. I found the fact that the son burned the memoirs an unusual twist. 

Saturday, 4 April 2009 - 5:22 PM EDT

Name: "Donielle"

I always find it elightening to learn about the power that ancient African figures and nations had. But it is also mystifying and depressing that with the exception of only a few countries, most of Africa has yet to build upon these historical accomplishments. When Ghana declared its independence in 1959 and Kwame Nkrumah was promoting Pan-Africanism, there was potential and high hopes. Now we only hear of the corruption and violence in most African countries. I sincerly hope that someday this trend will be reversed.

 

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