Episode 45 – The Mediterranean on Fire: Sicily

Unlike Spain, Sicily had been relatively quiet during the opening years of the Second Punic War. That all changed in 216 BC with the death of Hiero II, King of Syracuse. Staunchly pro-Roman, Hiero had feared that his grandson and natural heir, Hieronymus, would lead Syracuse to disaster. His greatest fears were justified – shortly after the old king’s death, Hieronymus broke with Rome and allied with Hannibal. When Hieronymus was assassinated, one of the most confused and confusing conflicts of the Second Punic War began, one which would ultimately culminate in the sacking of the greatest Greek city in Magna Graecia.

View of the Ortygia – the island fortress of Syracuse. The site of the original Greek colony, it would later serve as one of the main strongholds of the city and saw the final days of fighting during the Roman siege of 213-212 BC. Original photo by Wikipedia User I FRATELLI ANGELO e GIORGIO BONOMO.
Coin of Hiero II. A former general of Pyrrhus of Epirus, Hiero rose to power in the wake of the Epierote King’s departure. He reigned for nearly 50 years of peace in Syracuse. Original photo by Wikipedia User Sailko.
Denarius celebrating Marcellus’ conquest of Sicily. Already a war hero by the time of the Second Punic War, Marcellus succeeded in bringing order to the chaotic situation on Sicily following the death of Heironymus.
Archimedes Thoughtful by Domenico Fetti (1620). A brilliant mathmetician and inventor, his machines helped defend Syracuse for months against the Roman besiegers.
Hiero II of Syracuse calls Archimedes to fortify the city by Sebastiano Ricci (1720s). Recognzing his kinsman’s genius, Hiero commissioned Archimedes to build numerous inventions to defend Syracuse in the event of an attack. His foresight would help protect the city for a time against the Roman assaults.
Archimedes Directing the Defenses of Syracuse by Thomas Ralph Spence. Among his more fantastical inventions, Archimedes also built massive catapults which hurled huge stones at the Roman ships and soldiers advancing to the attack. According to Plutarch, the legionaries became so battered that they would flee at the first sight of a rope or piece of wood from the walls!
Two artistic representations of Archimedes’ mirror which allegedly caught the Roman ships on fire. Although modern experiments have called into question the viability of this tactic, ancient sources claim that Archimedes was able to concentrate sun rays to the point that Roman ships burst into flame. Top: Painting by Giulio Parigi, c. 1599. Bottom: Engraving from the Opticae Thesaurus, a Latin edition of Ibn al-Haytham’s Book of Optics.
Wall painting by Giulio Parigi (c. 1600) with a fanciful depiction of the machines which capsized the Roman quinqueremes. In actuality, they were more likely large cranes with iron hooks rather than an actual iron hand.
Copy of a 2nd Century Roman mosaic illustrating the death of Archimedes. Despite strict orders to spare his life, Archimedes was slain in the sack of Syracuse when he refused to leave his equations before finding a solution.
The Death of Archimedes (1815) by Thomas Degeorge.

Download: Episode 45 – The Mediterranean on Fire: Sicily on Apple Podcasts

Download: Episode 45 – The Mediterranean on Fire: Sicily on Spotify

Recommended further reading:

The Histories by Polybius

Hannibal’s War by Titus Livius

A Companion to the Punic Wars (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World) Edited by Dexter Hoyos

Hannibal’s Dynasty by Dexter Hoyos

Carthage Must Be Destroyed by Richard Miles

Implacable Enemies: The Barcid Armies at War by Karwansary Publishers

Clash of the Colossi: The First Punic War by Karwansary Publishers

Subscribe or leave a review on iTunes

Leave a like or comment on the Facebook page

Follow on Twitter.

Contact me directly through email

Episode 44 – The Mediterranean on Fire: Spain

With Hannibal immersed in the mire of Italian geopolitics, the Second Punic War shifts to theaters overseas. Keenly aware of the strategic importance of maintaining pressure on Carthage’s outposts in Spain, the Scipio brothers – Gnaeus and Publius Cornelius – grappled with Hannibal’s younger brother, Hasdrubal Barca for years, chipping away at the Barcid power base. When both Scipio brothers perished within days of each other in 211 BC, Publius Cornelius Scipio the Younger volunteered to take their place as senior commander of the Spanish war. Barely in his mid-twenties, Scipio rapidly showed that he was a new type of Roman commander, one well-versed in the tactics of Hannibalic warfare….

Bust of Publius Cornelius Scipio the Younger – soon to be termed Africanus. In his mid-twenties when his father and uncle simultaneously perished in Spain, Scipio volunteered to take their place as commander of Rome’s Spanish forces. Original Photo by Wikipedia user Miguel Hermoso Cuesta.
View of the harbor and town of New Carthage (modern-day Cartagena). Founded by Hasdrubal the Fair, it served as the military, diplomatic, and economic center for Barcid Spain until captured by Scipio the Younger in 210 BC. Original Photo by Wikipedia user Juan Sáez.
Remains of the Carthaginian walls of New Carthage. Due to their impressive height, Scipio’s men had a difficult time storming them until Scipio and a band of 500 soldiers forded a local lagoon and breached the city. Original Photo by Wikipedia user VIATOR IMPERI.
Two romantic portrayals of the “continence” of Scipio. When offered a beautiful Iberian princess as a war prize, Scipio instead reunited her with her Celtiberian fiancee, scoring a diplomatic coup with the local Spanish tribes. The first painting is by Nicolas Poussin while the second is by Nicolas-Guy Brenet. Public Domain.

Download: Episode 44 – The Mediterranean on Fire: Spain on Apple Podcasts

Download: Episode 44 – The Mediterranean on Fire: Spain on Spotify

Recommended further reading:

The Histories by Polybius

Hannibal’s War by Titus Livius

A Companion to the Punic Wars (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World) Edited by Dexter Hoyos

Hannibal’s Dynasty by Dexter Hoyos

Carthage Must Be Destroyed by Richard Miles

Implacable Enemies: The Barcid Armies at War by Karwansary Publishers

Clash of the Colossi: The First Punic War by Karwansary Publishers

Subscribe or leave a review on iTunes

Leave a like or comment on the Facebook page

Follow on Twitter.

Contact me directly through email

Episode 43 – Capua: Hannibal’s Albatross

Following Cannae, Hannibal descended into the rich agricultural lands of Campania in Magna Graecia. Chafing under Roman rule and eager to reclaim her place as hegemon of southern Italy, the ancient Etruscan city of Capua quickly came to an agreement with Hannibal. In exchange for defecting to the Carthaginian side, Hannibal would allow Capua autonomy, secure her place as mistress of Italy, and allow her to be governed by her own rulers and marshal her own army. A stormy honeymoon followed, with Hannibal soon realizing that he had given too much and received far too little for his new southern Italian “ally”….

Statue of Hannibal counting the senatorial rings taken from the dead and captured at Cannae. Notice also the reversed standard and prostrate fasces beneath Hannibal’s feet. Mago would later pour the rings on the senate floor in Carthage as a dramatic testimant to the scale of Hannibal’s victory in Italy. Statue by Sébastien Slodtz and located in the Louvre.

Greek temple of Hera in Campania. Magna Graecia or “Greater Greece” had been heavily settled by the Greeks on the coast while the native Oscans held the interior. It had long been a troubled province even before Hannibal’s time. Original photos by Wikipedia User Berthold Werner.

Map of Magna Graecia. After Capua’s defection, Hannibal had high hopes that other southern Italian cities would follow. Unfortunately for him, local rivalries prevent the Italian city-states from united against Rome. Note: “Neapolis” is the Romanized name for modern Naples.
Greek pottery depicting the Goddess Nike riding a two-horsed chariot. From Apulia in southern Italy. Contrary to our thoughts of Italy as thoroughly “Romanized,” the coastal cities of southern Italy possessed a vibrant Greek culture and maintained a strong Grecian identity well after the Punic Wars. Original photo by Wikipedia User Giovanni Dall’Orto.

Download: Episode 43 – Capua: Hannibal’s Albatross on Apple Podcasts

Download: Episode 43 – Capua: Hannibal’s Albatross on Spotify

Recommended further reading:

The Histories by Polybius

Hannibal’s War by Titus Livius

A Companion to the Punic Wars (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World) Edited by Dexter Hoyos

Hannibal’s Dynasty by Dexter Hoyos

Carthage Must Be Destroyed by Richard Miles

Implacable Enemies: The Barcid Armies at War by Karwansary Publishers

Clash of the Colossi: The First Punic War by Karwansary Publishers

Subscribe or leave a review on iTunes

Leave a like or comment on the Facebook page

Follow on Twitter.

Contact me directly through email

Episode 42 – The Day After Cannae

In the stillness following the destruction of their greatest army at the Battle of Cannae, the Romans faced an awful choice. The triumphant Hannibal stood poised to march on Rome herself and besiege the capital, and there was little the surviving remnants of legionaries could do to stop him. The Italian allies had already begun to waiver in their resolve, and some even among Rome’s patricians began to advocate for abandoning Italy entirely. In this hour of doubt, Hannibal’s envoys arrived to discuss peace terms. However, Romans such as Publius Cornelius Scipio and Titus Manlius Torquatus would hear no talk of peace or flight. The Carthaginian delegate was coldly told to return home, and the Senate refused to ransom the Roman prisoners in Hannibal’s hands despite their heart-rending pleas. There would be no admission of defeat – Rome would fight until the bitter end.

Roman Road through Casinum. Following the Battle of Cannae, when Roman fugitives sought refuge in their city, the citizens of Casinum said they could only provide shelter for the night. This wavering attitude signaled a shift in the loyalties of the Italian allies, one that Hannibal hoped to exploit to cut off Rome’s manpower resources. Original Photo by Wikipedia User Rjdeadly.
Roman Amphitheater at Casinum. Original Photo by Wikipedia User Rjdeadly.
Bust of Scipio Africanus – formerly thought to be Sulla. Age nineteen at the time of the Battle of Cannae, Scipio nevertheless assumed command of the survivors at Casinum and rebuked his fellow patricians who contemplated fleeing Italy, forcing them to swear at sword point that they would never abandon Rome. Original Photo by Sergey Sosnovskiy.

Download: Episode 42 – The Day After Cannae on Apple Podcasts

Download: Episode 42 – The Day After Cannae on Spotify

Recommended further reading:

The Histories by Polybius

Hannibal’s War by Titus Livius

A Companion to the Punic Wars (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World) Edited by Dexter Hoyos

Hannibal’s Dynasty by Dexter Hoyos

Carthage Must Be Destroyed by Richard Miles

Implacable Enemies: The Barcid Armies at War by Karwansary Publishers

Clash of the Colossi: The First Punic War by Karwansary Publishers

Subscribe or leave a review on iTunes

Leave a like or comment on the Facebook page

Follow on Twitter.

Contact me directly through email

Episode 41 – Cannae: Rome’s Darkest Day

Fabius the Delayer might have saved Minucius from disaster at Geronium, but he would not always be there to protect his impetuous colleagues from rushing into trouble. Following Fabius’s relinquishment of the dictatorship, one of the newly-elected consuls, Gaius Terentius Varro, accused Fabius and the patricians of intentionally prolonging the war. Instead of continuing to follow Fabius’s delaying tactics, Varro urged the Romans to immediately engage Hannibal to obtain decisive victory. Despite the protests of his fellow consul, Lucius Aemilius Paullus, Varro’s counsel won out. The Senate raised four new legions in addition to the four which typically served. Fielding the greatest army she had ever raised – 87,000 men total – Rome challenged Hannibal for the third time at the small Apulian town of Cannae.

Monument at the plains of Cannae. A flat, treeless landscape, Cannae was perfect for Hannibal to use his superior cavalry numbers to full effect. Original photo by Wikipedia User Jörg Schulz.
Carthaginian deployment at Cannae. Unusually, Hannibal left his center relatively weak and placed his Spaniards and Gauls – the latter his more unreliable troops – there. The “wedge” formation, as Livy calls it, meant that Hannibal’s veterans were kept in reserve at the tips of the semi-circle. From left to right: Numidian cavalry, one-half of Hannibal’s Libyan spearmen, alternating groups of Gauls and Spaniards in the center, the remaining half of Libyan veterans, and then the Gallic and Spanish cavalry next to the River Aufidus.
Numidian light horse deploy on the Carthaginian right under Hanno and Maharbal.
One-half of Hannibal’s veteran Libyan spearmen, many in captured Roman equipment from Cannae, deploy on the Carthaginian right forming the tip of the semi-circle.
In the center, Hannibal alternates groups of Spaniards and Gauls and takes up his position to lead at the post of danger.
The remaining half of Libyan veterans deploy on the right at the other tip of the semi-circle.
Finally, the Spanish and Gallic cavalry deploy on the Carthaginian left flank, anchoring Hannibal’s flank against the River Aufidus.
The Romans under Varro deploy in a dense formation, concentrating all their men in the center and leaving little room to maneuver. Varro himself commanded the left flank.
Paullus, who had advised against giving battle, commanded the right flank. The previous year’s consuls, Servilius and Regulus, commanded the center.
The outnumbered Roman cavalry held both Roman flanks.
Battle begins with the Roman center crashing into its weakened Carthaginian counterpart. Fierce fighting ensues.
Under extreme pressure from the Romans, Hannibal’s center begins to buckle and turn inside out. Several groups of Gauls and Spaniards turn to flee, drawing the Romans further forward.
Meanwhile, the Roman cavalry near the River Aufidus break after a brief struggle.
The Numidians on the Carthaginian right flank also route their Roman counterparts.
Hannibal’s Libyan veterans swing into action on either flank, attacking the Romans’ exposed sides when the semi-circle turns inside out.
To complete the coup de grâce, the freed Carthaginian cavalry slams into the Roman rear, closing the trap.
The numerically superior Romans are completely surrounded and suffer near total annihilation. Sources estimate that between 50,000 and 70,000 of the original 87,000 Romans who took the field died along with the Consul Paullus, both former Consuls Servilius and Regulus, Minucius, Fabius’s old lieutenant, and numerous other Roman elites. Hannibal’s “double envelopment” at the Battle of Cannae would represent a spectacular military achievement, one which generals from that day to this would be eager to replicate.
Diagram of how the Battle of Cannae transpired. As the Romans drove forward in their dense columns, the Carthaginian semi-circle turned inside out, exposing the Roman flanks to attacks from Hannibal’s African veterans and his superior cavalry. This maneuver allowed for Hannibal’s smaller force to surround the numerically superior Romans and slaughter them almost to a man. Note: The Battle of Cannae took place on August 2, 216 BC, not in 215 BC as indicated by the diagram.
Artistic rendition by John Trumball of the death of Lucius Aemilius Paullus. Cautious and conservative by nature, Paullus had advised against giving battle at Cannae but his more impetuous colleague Varro won out. Paullus died fighting, killed by a hail of spears.
Famous statue from 1704 by Sébastien Slodtz of Hannibal counting the rings of the Roman senators slain at Cannae. Now in the Louvre in Paris, France.

Download: Episode 41 – Cannae: Rome’s Darkest Day on Apple Podcasts

Download: Episode 41 – Cannae: Rome’s Darkest Day on Spotify

Recommended further reading:

The Histories by Polybius

Hannibal’s War by Titus Livius

A Companion to the Punic Wars (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World) Edited by Dexter Hoyos

Hannibal’s Dynasty by Dexter Hoyos

Carthage Must Be Destroyed by Richard Miles

Implacable Enemies: The Barcid Armies at War by Karwansary Publishers

Clash of the Colossi: The First Punic War by Karwansary Publishers

Subscribe or leave a review on iTunes

Leave a like or comment on the Facebook page

Follow on Twitter.

Contact me directly through email