Cannae: Aemilius Paullus and the end

wp_paullus

“Servilius Geminus was dead, hacked to pieces by several Iberian swords at once. Minucius Rufus was dying, run through with a spear. The legates’ bodyguards were just being cut down along with them. Centho was dead, defending the consul, who was in a state of shock and utter disbelief. Lentulus had drifted into view and out again, shouting at him, but the words had made no sense.

Aemilius Paullus had left the dying right flank, only to die in the centre.”

Part of a new personal project of mine I’m working on in between commishs. It’ll be a while, but… stay tuned. ^^

Nine

Just a quick sketch done on, yes, a bowling alley. And yes, there is a connection. My son turned nine yesterday, and today, we invited his friends for bowling (or, more precisely, the German variant, Kegeln). The kids were having fun and they were exceptionally well-behaved, so I had some time to get some sketching done – of an equally nine-year-old Hannibal standing next to his father in the temple of Baal Hammon. That scene is going to need a stronger illu at some later date. When I’m not on a bowling alley and the light is better.

wp_neun

A similarly simple sketch of Antiochos III, done last week. With reference – a marble bust in the Louvre.

wp_antiochos

Crossing the Alps

Across the wild alps

Across the wild alps

This piece really gave me a hard time, but it’s probably very fitting that, in mid-October, I struggle with a piece depicting Hannibal struggling with the Alps in mid-October. My losses were in paper and pencils rather than mules and men, but it seems crossing the Alps isn’t meant to be easy.

The lineart stage alone took me a week and four pieces of paper as I redrew this bit and that and put the pieces back together again. The colour was even tougher. I don’t think I’ve ever painted anything as complex as this. I’d say I mostly succeeded. Another parallel there.

Before I started, I made myself a greyscale sketch in Photoshop, so I knew where to get how dark in the final piece.

 wp_alpen2_colwip

Then I mixed some Phtalo Blue, Indigo and Shadow Violet in one compartment of my palette, some Ochre in another, and then some reddish brown from leftovers I had in my palette (probably mainly Burnt Sienna, Piemontite Red, and Sepia).  I sprayed my entire canvas with water and added a very light blue wash, then going into all the bits that are exposed to the light with extremely thin Ochre.

Then, when this had dried, I painte a rather uniform pale blue sky. The picture is going to be busy enough; when everything else is done, I’ll decide how many clouds this piece can handle.

tut_alpen_02

Next, I started painting the mountains in the back of the image. I used a pale Blue, mainly Phtalo, and painted the “negative space” around the snow. I mixed in some green to suggest a few trees further away.

tut_alpen_03

Then I went about detailing the rock-faces closer to us, with mixes of different blues (more Pthalo here, more Indigo and Shadow Violet there), intermingled in the shadows and rockier parts with different, toned-down browns I mixed above.

tut_alpen_04

I make sure never to get too dark, but more and more detailed towards the front.

tut_alpen_05

More details and deeper shadows to the rocky bits.

tut_alpen_06

I painted a thin brownish/bluish wash across the army and the space below them, to tie them in with the surroundings. The group of three men, immediately behind Hannibal and the soldier he’s pulling to his feet, is overlaid with a muddy wash so they won’t distract from the two later on.

tut_alpen_07

I then decided the empty triangle of sky could well use another mountain, plus a few bluer shadows on the other mountains, which I painted in with Phtalo and Indigo.

tut_alpen_08

Next, I set out to paint the mountainside to the left. It’s completely in shadow, and I mixed some more reddish tones into the blue.

Down there, you can already see me detailing out the rocks with a brownish wash. The colour consists of everything I have on my palette at this point. 
tut_alpen_09

Finished detailing. Not too much – I want the detail to be almost lost in the rock face later on, enough to look finished and non-monotonous, but nothing to distract from the figures.

tut_alpen_10

Next, some skin, bronze and leather.

tut_alpen_11

Outfitting Hannibal’s Libyans with warm winter clothes. Quiet there in the back, I’ll get to you eventually. The elephants go first.

tut_alpen_12

More detailing of the figures in back. Simultaneously, I determined how dark my darkest spots would be in this image – Hannibal’s hair – to set off the rest against it, and to have something to check the column against, to keep myself from getting too dark in the background.

And well, after fiddling with hundreds of little figures for hours that don’t look like anything, I needed something rewarding to paint.

tut_alpen_13

In this painting, my approach is very un-classical. Instead of going strictly from light to dark, I made sure to lay done some guidelines, shapes through the painting, forcing myself to keep an overview rather than getting lost in the details.

Like the fact that Hannibal’s sword is four inches long. >_<

So this is where the mixed media part comes in, and I mixed some dark burgundy with gouache and fixed that sword thing. Next, I added some bright colours (not gouache this time, still sticking mainly to the colours I’ve previously used) for Hannibal’s clothes. They’re too bright as of now, but I plan to make generous use of dark shadows and liquid watercolours to tone them down and add that extra punch that liquid watercolours excel at.

The shields of the men in the back have also been detailed with a mix of ochre/Burnt Sienna/violet mixes already in use. No new colours have been introduced here.

I also painted over the entire army in the back again with a good brushful of dirty water. That got rid of the little white flashes of unpainted whites everywhere, and tied them together neatly. I’ll go in later to pick out some bronze helmet highlights.

tut_alpen_15

Liquid watercolours in action, picking out shadows.
tut_alpen_16

Some gouache too, for lighter highlights, which I rarely do, but which are needed here.

The colours look off in the photograph; the original looks much better.

As gouache palettes, I always keep the plastic lids of Chipsletten crisps (Pringles-like,but Chipsletten taste better). They’re the perfect size and quality for palettes on an overcrowded desk like mine.

tut_alpen_17

The epiphany of the week came with the realisation that a watercolour that looks off is ruined, and a gouache painting that looks of may just not be done yet. That’s a concept I never really grasped. The next step will be to understand how to go on. I manage well enough with gouache in metal and clothes, but skin is not very successful yet. A part of me refuses to paint skin with anything opaque, which seems to be my problem.

Last details of the Celt’s helmet…

tut_alpen_18

And the clothes of the men in front.

tut_alpen_19

That’s all Greek to me

wp_griechisch_col

“δίδομαι, δίδοσαι, δίδοται, δί… uh… διδόμετα…”

“διδόμεθα, Hannibal. That’s a theta, not a tau.”

Hannibal sighed. “Sosylos… can’t we carry on with the Anabasis?”

“The Anabasis? You think I’ll let you near Xenophon when you can’t conjugate δίδωμι?”

“But is that important? People’ll understand me. You understand me.”

“It’s not about being understood somehow. Even a peddler in the market can be understood somehow. I wouldn’t have to be here if it was just about that. It’s the details. Today, you learn to conjugate δίδωμι. You’ll learn to distinguish between tau and theta. Next year, we’ll read Plato. You’ll learn to distinguish between fine points  of right and wrong, and one view and another. You father is chasing you around the fields to exercise your body. This is just as important. I’m chasing you round the Greek verbs to exercise your mind. You’re going to need both.”

“But why Greek? Can’t I exercise my mind with Punic?”

“No. Because, no offence, Punic is a language for peddlers. Your esteemed father saw that and gave me the task of getting some culture into your head. Now, again. δίδομαι, δίδοσαι, δίδοται…”

We know next to nothing about Hannibal’s youth, save for one thing that I, personally, find very touching: He learned Greek, from a Spartan turot called Sosylos who later followed him on his campaigns as a historian. When I did my Graecum at University and struggled with the Greek conjugations, especially δίδωμι, I often wondered whether there were any words Hannibal hated, too. I always thought it was funny that I understand not one but two languages, Greek and Latin, that Hannibal also spoke.

And of course, if you’re a Latin teacher, you’re so used to fifteen-year-olds with thin arms and legs and huge feet slouched on chairs in deep concentration, questioning every task you make them do.

Sosylos is ever so slightly based on the professor I learnt Greek from. Obviously. :D

Across the wild Alps

I demens, et saevas curre per Alpes…

(Go, madman, and race across the wild Alps…, Iuvenal)

This has been a while in the making. I’m now finally happy with the lineart. I felt I owed Hannibal an epic, A3 sized crossing-of-the-Alps painting. To be watercoloured.

wp_alpen_ln-final

Whenever I think of Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps, I think of the description in the novel by Gisbert Haefs. Pathos? Yes. Muchly. But on the other hand, what achievement in history deserves pathos as much as this one?

“The army turned into a twitching, bleeding body that threatened to fall apart and was held together by one iron band alone. Hannibal. He was everywhere, surveyed everything – from the back of Syros, from horseback, from a rock; where he put one of twenty collapsed men back on his feet, the other nineteen would rise; where he appeared with a handful of nuts, ten half-famished men would march on; where he sat down, a hundred men lying prone would sit up; where he cracked a joke, thirty lifeless men would cast off their despair and go on living; where he slept – but he didn’t sleep. He seemed to need no sleep. Whenever a pass had been taken, the mountain-dwellers fleeing, the army sinking into snow and ice to rest, he called together the commanders, took care of provisions, gave orders to secure the heights, commands for the next day… He was heart and brain and helm and girdle of the twitching and sore body and a god to the warriors; at one point, Hasdrubal the Grey said, “Lucky China. Against him, Alexander’s men wouldn’t have mutinied at the Indus; they’d have kept going.”

Gisbert Haefs, Hannibal. Der Roman Karthagos. (My translation; doesn’t quite capture the poignancy of the original.)

Well-rested, well-fed, well-oiled

Late December 218 BC. Hannibal’s army has recovered from the ordeal of crossing the Alps, and unwritten laws of ancient warfare say that this is the time to move to winter quarters. Hannibal, however, can’t – he’s in enemy territory; neither is the Roman consul Servilius willing to wait for warmer weather. He wants a military success before his term ends, and he is not overly worried about the Carthaginian army, thinking the weather is worse for the Africans than it is for the Romans. Hannibal, with his inferior numbers, plans to make good every tactical advantage he can, and to force the Romans to fight tired, hungry, and frozen to the bone. Romans and Carthaginians are encamped at opposite banks of the river Trebia.

Just before sunrise, Hannibal went on a walk around the camp with Maharbal. Several units still looked bleary, cursing the cold, but most were already at breakfast, and wherever Hannibal appeared, the men did their best not to cut a bad figure before their commander.

The Numidians were in the process of rubbing themselves with oil that Hasdrubal had distributed among them the previous night. They would cross the Trebia to draw out Sempronius, and bait him across the river. They were sitting around fires, huddled under blankets, and did their best to drown out their chattering teeth with the loudest and self-assured banter possible.

wp_eingeoelt

Warning: terrible proportions.

“The only g-g-good thing,” one of the men shouted to Hannibal and Maharbal, “is that the river c-c-can’t be any colder than the Alps!”

Hannibal grinned as he joined them at the fire. “I hate to tell you this, Gaia,” he said in Numidian. “But I’m afraid this’ll be colder. At least you’ll have something to do to get warmed up again this time.”

“Hurry up with your breakfast over there!” another man shouted to the Punic camp as he was pulling his chiton back over his head. “We’ll get you some Sempronius for afters!”

“No unnecessary heroics, Gulussa,” Hannibal warned. “Draw them out and get them to follow you into the river, but don’t let them get you.”

“No worries,” Gulussa replied. “They can’t get us, we’re too slippery.”

They all laughed, and Maharbal added, “Be careful not to slip off your horse, Gulussa.”

Maharbal turned away with a suppressed grin, and Gaia roared with laughter. “Too much information.”“I can’t!” the man chuckled. “I didn’t oil my thighs on purpose. That’s where my horse’ll keep me warm.”

Hannibal gave Gulussa a clap on the shoulder. “Think a few warm thoughts, but keep them to yourself. I’d like to keep my breakfast to myself, too.” He wiped his hand on his cloak. “Bah. Yes, I think the Romans won’t get you. Good luck.”

Mago’s victory report in Carthage

wp_ringe

Livy reports that, after the Battle of Cannae, Hannibal’s brother Mago was sent home to Carthage to report of his brother’s great victory, pouring out “three pecks and half” of gold rings on the floor of the Carthaginian council. These rings had been taken from knights and senators who had fallen in the Battle of Cannae.

(Long historical rambling following. I had this thought today, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard it voiced, so I need to pin it down before I forget it).

Usually, this gesture is seen as nothing but “Look at my bro’s awesomeness!” and its flourish is well enough in keeping with what we know of Hannibal’s general conduct, so that was most likely the overture. Mago then proceeds to demand support (money, grain and reinforcements) for his brother.

I actually think that the rings episode was one of Hannibal’s more brilliant ideas, and if anything could have worked, it was this. Alas, it didn’t, as so many other things after that time.

Why do I think there was more to it than a joyful victory report and a mandatory plea for reinforcements that was never implemented in a way that actually made a difference for the war?

Firstly, Livy says Hannibal did not send Mago straight away. The reason he gives is that some peoples in Italy had declared for Hannibal during that time, but there’s something else, something incredibly important, that happened in that time. Hannibal’s envoy he’d sent to Rome for negotiations was denied entry to the city. This must have been the instant in which Hannibal realised that his entire concept of the war threatened to collapse in itself. According to every rule of war in the Hellenistic world, Rome should have capitulated. It did not.

Secondly, Hannibal sent Mago. Perhaps his closest confidant after Maharbal. Granted, he couldn’t have known that Mago would never join him in Italy again; that the council would send him to Spain where he would never do much good. But the fact that it was Mago makes it clear that Hannibal wasn’t just reporting home. Mago had something important to say, something that Livy, in the speech he puts in Mago’s mouth, doesn’t record, but it’s highly likely that it was these three main points.

(I) My bro is awesome. Yes, there’s no way around that.

(II) These are the rings of senators. Old men in their fifties, who, as opposed to you, don’t sit in a council and debate on how many men to send where, who actually get on their horses or stand in ranks in a bloody field and die in their dozens.

(III) This is what we’re up against. We’re up against a nation whose very leaders bleed and die on the battlefields. A nation that, after its entire army has been annihilated. closes its city gates to peace talks. A nation that will not surrender unless it is crushed even more decisively than it already has.

And this is the point where we can’t really find fault with Carthage, or with Hannibal. Hannibal had played his hand. He saw affairs rather plainly. He might still hope to bring over Rome’s associates, and it’s highly likely that his successes in that regard fooled him and Carthage into believing it might be enough. But he knew that this Rome would not surrender in one battle. Had Carthage sent more men, it’s even possible he might have attempted a siege. But we can’t really fault Carthage for not sending as many as Hannibal would have needed (we’re talking at least another fifty to seventy thousand). Carthage could never have matched the insane numbers of soldiers that Rome sent into the field, and Carthage must have thought the very idea of it was completely insane, and that it had to be possible to win the war in another way.

Later, after the war, Hannibal’s political opponents put him on trial for not attacking Rome itself, and thereby losing the war. Hannibal defended himself by saying that Carthage itself had brought about its defeat by not sending him enough reinforcements. Both sides have been criticised – the council for leaving Hannibal hanging through ignorance or malice; Hannibal for originating such a stab-in-the-back-legend. The truth is that both acted as they had to. Hannibal probably had a clearer idea of the threat Rome posed – and its nature – than any of his contemporaries, while it would have been impossible for Carthage to grasp this idea. And even if they did grasp it, who can fault them for not resorting to the same means that their Roman counterparts employed?

Hannibal had been brought up far from Carthage, on his father’s Iberian campaigns. War was second nature to him, much more than to most other Carthaginians, and much more than any of the men sitting in council. In that, he probably understood Rome better than most of his fellow citizens. And he probably also understood this too – that he would not be able to make his fellow citizens see this, and act on his understanding.