|Fig.1: Long, drawn-out fight scene directed |
by Peter Jackson.
But first, some necessary backstory! I could just write about the First Punic War and its outcome right here, but it's a lot more fun to do it this way. Anyway, 23-year-long story short, the Romans defeated Carthage for control of the region, stealing much of their territory, slapping a heavy indemnity on them to pay for the war, and initiating a Mediterranean-wide "Carthage sucks" chant just to humiliate them further. It was in this climate that Hannibal Barca lived out his childhood. Son of the lead Carthaginian commander during the first war, Hannibal learned quickly that Rome was to blame for the misfortunes of his civilization. The sources say that as a very young boy, he promised his father, "I swear so soon as age will permit...I will use fire and steel to arrest the destiny of Rome!" which is exactly what I said to those bullies in middle school who always shoved me into my locker. (I'm hoping age will permit me when we're eighty, cause it will be a lot easier to arrest their destiny when they're old and senile.)
But don't feel too bad for Carthage. After the war, they colonized much of present-day Spain and enriched themselves once more with silver mining and betting on fútbol matches. This frightened Rome to no end, and they forced Carthage to sign a treaty stating they would not occupy any land north of the Ebro River (a classic example of "Stay on your side of the room" diplomacy). By the time Hannibal took command, he used this to his advantage in 219 BC to lay siege on the Greek colony of Saguntum, allies of Rome but located south of the Ebro. The Romans called foul on the play, but Carthage refused to give them the ball for their free throws. Eventually Roman diplomats traveled to the African city to settle the issue; as told by later Roman historian Livy, Quintus Fabius lifted two folds of his toga to the Carthaginian senate and said, "Here, we bring you peace and war," referring to the cloth in each hand. But when the senators began laughing at his Dora the Explorer boxers, Fabius angrily threw down the fold representing war. It, as they say, was on.
|Fig.2: Map of Europe in 218 BC at the start of the Second Punic War, |
detailing the territories of Rome (red), Carthage (blue), and the
lost city of Atlantis (burnt sienna).
Although his army did take many losses in the Alps, Hannibal was easily able to replenish his numbers through the recruitment of friendlier Celtic peoples that inhabited Northern Italy. Rome had subjugated the clans earlier in the century in the typical Roman way of being big fat jerks about it. As you can imagine, Hannibal didn't need to be a skilled door-to-door vacuum salesman to convince many of them to go along with his army:
Hannibal: Hey, would you like to kill some Romans?
Celt: That does sound like a lot of fun...
Hannibal: Then come and join our ranks!
Celt: I don't know. I kind of have a thing later.
Hannibal: Is your thing more fun than killing Romans?
Celt: No, I guess not. Let me go grab my sword.
|Fig.3: Coach Hannibal, with |
his lucky campaigning hat.
Rome canned Fabius and elected two consuls with anger issues to lead the armies, with one claiming that he would "eat Hannibal's head for breakfast!" (quoted in Livy, Book 23, section 7). They engaged the Carthaginians at Cannae on the eastern coast of Italy, with the Roman forces nearly twice the number of their enemy, and their commanders with five times the steroid intake. Hannibal, the calm tactician, employed the perfect plan to negate this disadvantage (as seen in figs. 4-9).
|Fig.4: The Roman and Carthaginian infantries and cavalries line up for the traditional snarl at each other before the battle.|
|Fig.5: The Romans, led by their uber-aggressive commander, blindly charge into the Carthaginian center. The two cavalries exchange fisticuffs as well.|
|Fig.6: The Carthaginians fall back, making the Romans think they're going a good job. The Carthaginian cavalry chillaxes after making easy work of their Roman adversaries.|
|Fig.7: The Carthaginians begin to envelop the Romans, with their cavalry coming from behind to literally stab people in the back.|
|Fig.8: Roman numbers deplete rapidly as Carthaginians encircle them and sing "Ring Around the Rosie."|
|Fig.9: With victory complete, Carthaginians decide to play pong with the head of a Roman infantryman.|
However, Hannibal completely checked out after Cannae. He camped outside the Servian Walls of Rome for a little bit (stocked with plenty of chocolate, marshmallows, and graham crackers), but said he "just wasn't feeling it" and moved on. Yeah, he lacked the proper siege equipment to take the city and many have needed to recruit more allies before even attempting to attack, but senioritis seems to have crept into his previously-diligent brain. Instead his army moved further south, getting fat on stealing crops and livestock and terrorizing citizens over to their side. The Romans would then come in and terrorize them until their allegiance returned, so residents kept the jerseys of both teams stocked at all time. This annoying game of tug-of-war took 13 years, embodying that part of the movie where the plot stalls on something stupid and you know it's a good time to hit the restroom.
|Fig.10: Scipio was so hip, |
if his bust had pants they
would be halfway down
Scipio came up with the brilliant idea of bringing the war to Africa, forcing Carthage to defend their homeland instead of messing up everyone else's. Of course the Senate was against this plan due to something about young wippersnappers and kids these days, but Scipio distracted them by turning on Wheel of Fortune and sailed south across the Mediterranean with his army anyway. This convinced Hannibal to finally get off his lazy butt and head home to stop the invasion. Both armies were reinforced; Scipio made friends with the local Numidians, who were excellent horsemen that previously fought for Carthage, and Hannibal raided a local circus for more elephants and cotton candy. The epic showdown that would take up the majority of the special effects budget was finally here.
|Fig.11: The effects on that elephant are amazing!|
Carthage had no choice but to surrender. All of the gains made by Hannibal in Italy over the course of 17 years were lost in one terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Just like at the end of the first movie...I mean...war, Rome forced Carthage to pay an indemnity, but this one was more expensive than Jay-Z's crib and needed fifty years to pay off. Rome also took Carthage's possessions in Spain, and allowed their Numidian allies to steal as much land in North Africa as they pleased (which turned out to be all of it except for the square mile or two around the actual city of Carthage). Hannibal would be forced to leave his home city for the Greek kingdoms of the east, and couldn't help but fight the Romans once more time when they became entangled in the petty fighting there. Unfortunately he was defeated one last time, and decided it was best to take his own life (an inglorious end for one of the most ballin' characters in history).
As for the Romans, everything was looking good. They survived the biggest threat to their existence to that point, and a foreign power would not come close to touching Rome for another 600 years (notice I said "foreign power," since the Romans would get pretty good at invading themselves). Scipio would be forever honored in Rome and given the name Scipio Africanus, or "Butt-kicker of Africa." His adopted grandson, Scipio Aemilianus, would lay siege and finally conquer Carthage for good in 146 BC during the Third Punic War, which really ended the trilogy on a boring note. But it set up Rome as a dynasty that would conquer the Mediterranean, as well as the box office and our hearts, over the next few centuries. So is the Second Punic War the greatest sequel in military history? I should probably call it a close second before I get those rabid World War II fans goosestepping to my door.
*That's the end of Season One for The Records of the Canned Historian. Sima Dave will be back towards the end of January with more of his awe-inspiring histories! In the meantime, reread some of his past work, follow all of his social media hoopla, and spread the word of this incredible blog to all of your friends and strangers (preferably with a megaphone on a crowded street in your underwear). See you next year!