History of Rome Mike Duncan, the narrator of this series wanted to take advantage of the week before Christmas to talk about the co-option of Saturnalia by the newly converted Constantine in Episode 18 The History of Rome Christmas. Hah! He probably thought that he would be finished before the next Christmas – instead it took him three and a half more years! Christmas over, he launched into the Punic Wars. In Episode 19 Prelude to the First Punic War he explains that if we were consistent, we would be calling them ‘The Carthagenian Wars’ because they were waged against Carthage (near present-day Tunis in Africa) and the term ‘Punic’ refers to the Phoenician origins of the Carthagenians. He explains that Carthage only kept a mercenary army, unlike Rome, where serving in the Army was the highest form of service. Also, Carthage was an oligarchy based solely on wealth – if you became rich, you had access to power and privilege; if you lost your money you were not. The wars mainly took place in Sicily. Episode 20a First Punic War explains that, flushed with success, the Romans were not averse to expanding their territory further. However, they were inveigled into being involved in Sicily by the Mamertines, a group of Italian mercenaries who asked for their help. This first Punic War was a stuff-up on both sides because of poor decisions by both Carthagenian and Roman generals. In Episode 20b First Punic War, the Romans took advantage of a shipwrecked Carthagenian ship, pulled it apart to see how it worked, and then promptly built their first naval fleet (up until now they had been a terrestrial, but not naval force). They decided to invade Carthage in 256BC. The Romans were the more powerful force, so the Carthagenians sued for peace, but The Roman commander, Gaius Atilius Regulus demanded such harsh terms that the Carthagenians decided to fight on. They enlisted the help of the Spartan commander Xanthippus, who led the Carthagenians in battle and the Romans retreated, then their ships sank in a storm on the way home. Episode 21 Interbellum looks at the time between the 1st and the 2nd Punic Wars. Carthage made the mistake of not paying the mercenaries who fought for them, and got caught up with fighting their own soldiers. Rome, meanwhile, not content with having the whole of the ‘boot’ of Italy, decided to go after the Gauls for something to do.
Then follows a succession of episodes about the Second Punic War. Episode 22 Prelude to the Second Punic War makes the point that this was the closest the Romans came to destruction until 500 years later. It was also the end of the ideal of Roman frugality, virtue and nobility, replaced by excessive debauchery. The episode introduces 25 year old Hannibal, who took over after his father died. Episode 23a The War with Hannibal starts off for Rome from Spain on his 17 year war, marching on a 15-day crossing through the Alps with 50,000 men and his elephants. He had a crushing victory over the Romans at Lake Trasimine, and realized that you didn’t have to out-fight the Romans, you just had to out-think them. Episode 23b The War with Hannibal, Hannibal reaches the high point of his career with the Battle of Cannae but he doesn’t actually march on Rome- things might have been very different if he had. In Episode 23c The War with Hannibal the Romans didn’t lose heart, but the Senate and the elites did seize more control. So many young men had died in battle, that there was a turnover in leadership, based on merit rather than blood. The Romans even bought slaves from their wealthy citizens and enrolled them in the army. The fighting turned to Sicily. Hannibal negotiated with the nobles of Syracruse on (Roman controlled) Sicily to come over to the Carthage side. Archimedes of Syracruse contributed inventions to assist the Carthaginians, but the Romans were victorious, and Archimedes was killed in the looting that followed. In Episode 23d the tables had been turned, with the appointment of the 25 year old Publius Cornelius Scipio (later known as Scipio Africanus), who Mike Duncan describes as a mixture of Jim Morrison, Alexander the Great and Jesus. He detours into the First Macedonian War, but then returns to Spain. Scipio , taking a leaf out of Hannibal’s book, outsmarted the Carthaginians, by creeping up behind them, and swapping the composition of his fighting lines. The tide has turned. Episode 23e The War with Hannibal sees Hannibal’s brother Hasdrubal trying to join forces with Hannibal to create a super-Carthaginian army to invade Rome, but Hasdrubal was defeated at Battle of the Metaurus. Meanwhile, Scipio invaded Carthage itself and finally defeated Hannibal (who had been recalled from Italy) at the Battle of Zama. The Romans imposed very harsh punitive damages on Carthage. Scipio had brought about the idea of the ‘great man’ which would drive Roman politics in the future.
In Our Time (BBC) I guess that podcasts about classical history don’t date! This podcast from 2012 Hannibal features three historians from the Classics departments of various British universities. After Mike Duncan’s relentless emphasis on individual battles, it was good to get this sweeping view of Hannibal’s life. Apparently the elephants weren’t the big African ones, but smaller forest elephants. And he came to a rather sad end- he fled into voluntary exile, and after being handed over to the Romans he poisoned himself to avoid the Romans getting him in the end.
Heather Cox Richardson I’ve been so caught up in Rome that I didn’t finish listening to her series of indigenous history. So I return to 18 June where she backtracks a bit to give the context for the creation of the Indian Schools. She starts off by noting that often bad things start from good intentions, and then goes on to talk about the way that originally ‘care’ of the Native American people was contested between the Dept of the Interior and the Dept of War. Indian Agents were set up to distribute food as part of the treaty arrangements, but it was a pretty corrupt system. When Ulysses S. Grant came in, he decided to put ‘care’ into the hands of the church instead, as a way of solving the tussle between the two bureaucracies. The intention was to deliver ‘care and Christianity’. Meanwhile the Comanche and Apaches were conducting their war against the settlers, and so Civil War veteran Richard Henry Pratt gets the job of guarding the prisoners in Fort Marion and he starts giving them some good old military discipline and Christianity. This is going to lead to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Actually, she goes off in lots of tangents in this one- I found it a bit hard to follow because I don’t know my Native American Tribes and geography very well.
Rear Vision (ABC). This episode was only four days old when I listened to it, and it was already out of date. Who are the Taliban? was recorded before the fall of Kabul, when a shared Taliban/Afghan govt was still a possibility, with the alternative of civil war. It gives the history of the Taliban, particularly its links with Pakistan and Pashtun nationalism. I’ve gotta say though- surely with the sound manipulation technology we have today, telephone interviews could be cleaned up so that they don’t sound as if they are coming from another planet- even when the female interviewee has that infuriating vocal fry.
History Hit While I’m in the mood for Afghanistan, I listened to Dan Snow’s History Hit podcast where he interviewed William Dalrymple in Afghanistan: History Repeating Itself. Dalrymple (who wrote The Anarchy about the East India Company – see my review here) talks about the first Anglo-Afghan War which ended in 1842 with the crushing defeat of the British forces. The British had been inveigled into placing a puppet ruler in Kabul by the East Indian Company claiming that Russia was going to invade (fake news) and when the Afghans attacked, only one man escaped. Dalrymple also talks about his own personal encounters with Hamid Karzai (who, believe it or not, is a direct descendent of the puppet leader in 1842 and for whom Dalrymple has quite a bit of admiration) and Ashraf Ghani (who Dalrymple thinks became too Westernized).
Offtrack. I hate mice. I remember about 20 years ago I went with a friend and her husband and all our kids up to a farmhouse for Easter. We didn’t mention to the kids that the place was over-run with mice: scuttling round the rooms, in their beds under the doonas- horrific. In Going home to a mice plague, reporter Rowdie Walden goes home for the last time to the family farm in regional NSW. His family- his mother in particular- just can’t stand the mice anymore, and they’re moving into town.