Darkness over Cannae – Tie-in website now online!

Head over to DarknessOverCannae.com to see the website I’ve put together for the new project! It’s like a tie-in appendix for the upcoming novel, with loads of goodies, artwork (more to come), and all sorts of thoughts concerning the Battle of Cannae.

If you know anyone who might be interested in the project, please share it! :)

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Also on Facebook!

Darkness over Cannae – some impressions

Work on “Darkness over Cannae” is well underway. I now know it’ll be an illustrated novel – a bit like Neil Gaiman’s Stardust in form (highly recommended, by the way!) – of probably around 120-150 pages.

It’s all set on this one fateful day – August 2nd, 216 BC – spanning an hour before dawn to a few hours after sunset, from the perspectives of six men, three Roman and three Carthaginian.

I’ve been doing some sketching, but the more finalised images and of course, greater portions of the text will not be online until the thing is done. Until then, here’s some impressions!

Maharbal, Hannibal's second in command.

Maharbal, Hannibal’s second in command. Quick sketch with a splash of watercolour.

Top: Hasdrubal, commander of the Punic heavy cavalry. Writing him is an indecent amount of fun due to his sense of wry humour. Bottom: Bomilkar, captain of Hannibal's bodyguard.

Top: Hasdrubal, commander of the Punic heavy cavalry. Writing him is an almost indecent amount of fun due to his wry sense of humour. Bottom: Bomilkar, captain of Hannibal’s bodyguard.

“Either Varro is smart – and conservative – enough to keep his line close together, which enables us to envelope him on the wings. Or he’s innovative – and dumb – enough to deploy in a long line to encircle us; in which case we’re more likely to break through his centre as it bumbles along than he is to break through ours. We’ll see. For the moment, however, we’ll assume he is smart and conservative, and the original plan remains the same as ever, in its main points.” Hannibal positioned the six Roman infantry rectangles as a neat, solid line with spaces between the blocks, then looked at each of the men assembled in turn and went on, sombrely, “At the risk of boring you into a stupor, here are the details again. If you want to, sing along; it can’t hurt.”

“It will, if I do,” Hasdrubal growled. Hanno chuckled; Mago snorted.

Top: After the battle, Hannibal kneels at the Aufidus, cleansing himself before praying. Bottom: Aemilius Paullus and Terentius Varro, the ill-fated consuls at Cannae.

“Terentius.” Paullus hastened after him, holding his colleague by the arm, speaking in a low voice. “Let us not fight on the right bank, at least. It favours his cavalry too much.”

“You don’t want to fight on level ground for your fear of his cavalry. You don’t want to fight on rough terrain for your fear of ambushes.” Varro had come to a halt in the semi-privacy of the tent entrance. “Where, in your opinion, should we give battle? At the bottom of the sea? Or on treetops?”

“In a place where we know he can’t stage an ambush, and that we have controlled for about a week before he gets there!” Paullus answered between his teeth. “He has been here for weeks! What do you think he has been doing?”

“Such a situation will never happen!” Varro’s face was red with contained anger. “We cannot force him to fight. That much is clear. The gods know why he even wants to fight here, outnumbered as he is! We need to take this chance, and beat him now, before he can come to his senses! Aemilius, why won’t you see it – Hannibal has finally made a mistake. We finally have him where we want him, and we can finally end this. And by Jupiter Stator, I will. It’s the great deeds and courage of our ancestors that have made Rome great. Not hesitating, not hiding, and certainly not bickering!”

First ink test. Not exactly what I wanted - too clean.

First ink test. Not exactly what I wanted – too clean.

Second ink test – NOW we’re talking! Aemilius Paullus in the last moments of his life.

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

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

Fog over Trasimene

Fog over Trasimene

Fog over Trasimene

 

I have a new favourite medium: ACRYLIC INK. I can’t believe how good this stuff is. It’s like the answer to all my failed acrylic and gouache experiments. A medium for transparency-fanciers who want to paint opaquely. Once in a while. But are scared of pasty paint. I just love this medium.

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The world was lost in fog.

The sun should have been up by now – it must be up, judging by the dim, milky twilight that had replaced the clinging, misty darkness – but the lakeshore, the hills, the trees and bushes, even the thirty-thousand men all around were invisible, all but Hannibal’s guard and a handful of Gaetulan spearmen closest to him. The fog had swallowed all. The rocky slope in front of him vanished a short distance from his feet. Covering all the blinking metal parts turned out to be an unnecessary precaution. We could all be waving red flags, he thought; nobody would see.

Even the noises seemed dimmed. The soldiers behind Hannibal, the Gaetulan skirmishers with the heavy Libyan infantry further down the slope to block the exit from the trap, had settled into breathless silence barely interrupted by whispers. Every metal part was wrapped in cloth to prevent them from clanking.

Even the few officers’ horses behind him were almost as silent as the men. There was the tiniest clinking of tack when one of them shook himself restively. Three Iberians of Hannibal’s guard, positioned behind the general, had even coaxed their mounts to the ground. One of the animals gave a little restless nicker, before his master’s ear-scratching quieted him again. The horses were used to this; Hannibal had often marvelled at the horsemen’s skill in keeping their mounts hidden and quiet while lying in wait for an ambush.

Waiting.

Not long now.

The trees and bushes, the hills, the entire lakeshore lay waiting. Thirty-thousand were waiting. There were no messengers, no horn signals. Hannibal had a few quick runners with him, as well as a handful of mounted messengers, but all his officers knew what was to be done, and he would use messengers only if something went horribly wrong and the others had to be warned. But if anything did go horribly wrong, chances were he would be the last to know. Maharbal was stationed at the entry of the narrow pass along the lake. If all went according to plan, the Romans would now be filing past him. Two horn-blasts when the last of the Roman column had passed the entry into the valley; one horn-blast if they detected the trap.

Not a sound. The horns were silent.

Someone behind him stifled a groan as he stretched aching muscles. They had taken their positions on the slopes two hours ago, at first light; the waiting was becoming more and more agonizing now that the day had finally come. The inability to do anything was almost unbearable. Hannibal stared into the fog as if he could force it to reveal its secrets to him. His dead right eye started watering; it still felt unfamiliar to have a half-vision only, even if today, all were equally blind.

And after all, in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

The twilight grew brighter, but still the fog didn’t lift. When the wind brought snatches of voices, hoofs and the marching feet, a shudder seemed to go through the men behind; there was the briefest outbreak of a hissed “They’re coming!” and hurried prayers in at least three different languages, quickly silenced. Hannibal stared into the mist below. The sounds below were getting louder and nearer, slowly, very slowly. Marching feet, the neighing of horses. Snatches of conversation in Latin, even snatches of laughter, but still there was nothing to be seen.

They have no idea, Hannibal thought, overwhelmed. Yes, he had counted on this, had planned for it, had assured his officers and his men of it, but now, the Gods had truly laid everything into his hands. The fog, the natural ambush site provided by the lakeshore, and incredibly, the utter artlessness of Gaius Flaminius. There was nothing to indicate the Roman consul had sent out any scouts, or his Libyans would have encountered them by now. Flaminius knew Hannibal was just a day’s march ahead of him, but he was leading his army into this misty valley without a shred of caution.

Forty thousand men marching blindly into their doom.

Behind Hannibal, breathless tension. No more hissed comments, not even prayers. His surroundings felt unreal, remote, secondary; his sole focus, every tendril of his being, concentrated on the unseen Roman army making its way along the coastal road, deeper into the mist, towards him, into the waiting trap. Only minutes now, and they would all be inside the jaws of death, still utterly ignorant. Only minutes until there would be no escaping Lake Trasimene. Closer came the hoof-sounds, closer came the voices; now he could hear even the scraping of iron-shod sandals on the sandy road; could make out a half-sentence or two –

Then, two horn-blasts from the far end of the shore. The trap was sprung. The jaws closed.

Cannae: Aemilius Paullus and the end

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“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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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More details and deeper shadows to the rocky bits.

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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.

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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.

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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. 
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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.

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Next, some skin, bronze and leather.

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

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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.

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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.

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Liquid watercolours in action, picking out shadows.
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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.

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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…

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And the clothes of the men in front.

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That’s all Greek to me

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“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.

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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.

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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

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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.

Watercolour, 2013

You need to get that treated

In spring of 217, the year after Hannibal’s arrival in Italy, two new consuls are closing off the Apennine passes to stop Hannibal from leaving the north of the country. Hannibal has chosen an unguarded road, but due to flooding of the area round the river Arnus in Tuscany, his army is having a hard time getting to drier ground. Hannibal himself suffers from ophthalmia. Maharbal (right), the chief commander of his cavalry, has just returned from an extensive scouting mission.

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Maharbal returned just before sundown. Despite the late hour, the men weren’t setting up camp, instead standing where they were, some sitting on their packs, trying to catch some rest until an officer walked by and shouted at them to get their gear out of the mud. Some were too tired to shout. The only dry places where a man might sleep were dead mules. Many of the remaining pack animals and horses were in a bad way, and the men weren’t looking any better.

He found Hannibal with Hanno and Mago at the rear of the column; the strategos wore a bandage around his head, covering the inflamed eye. He looked terrible, even the left eye reddened from lack of sleep. Syrus, the last surviving elephant, stood close by, looking almost unperturbed in all the misery around him, but his flanks were sunken, the small ears beating pointlessly at the flies and mosquitos.

“Ah, finally. How much further?” Hannibal asked as he saw Maharbal approach.

“Five to seven hours. Probably closer to seven,” Maharbal amended, dismounting.  “There’s a place called Faesulae ten miles ahead, but we found a few estates on dry ground close to the swamp. The town is small and far enough away not to bother us. My men are taking care of the estates. The barns are well-stocked, and there’s enough cattle to keep the army fed for a while. We ought to be able to rest there for a few days.” He cast Hannibal a beseeching look at these last words.

Hannibal nodded, apparently oblivious to the plea. “We’ll march in an hour. Mago, you stay with the rear. Hanno – ride up to the van and tell the men we’ll be on dry ground before dawn; that’s as much comfort as they’re going to get here. Take Sedoc with you, so he can tell the Celts as well. I’ll be coming after you on Syros.” He grimaced and rubbed his eye under the bandage, watching as his nephew mounted a bedraggled-looking horse and laboured his way up the column again. “You’ve been thorough?” Hannibal finally asked Maharbal, who was watching his friend with worry written across his face. “Any news on the consuls?”

“Thorough? You know me. – Hannibal, you need to get that treated.”

“I am getting that treated, but look around. – The consuls?”

Maharbal caught Mago’s look that said, How many times do you think I’ve told him that? “Servilius is still in Ariminum,” the cavalry commander reported at length. “A couple of men from Faesulae we captured yesterday are definite that Flaminius is still in Arretium – perched on the road to Rome like Iuppiter Stator in person and wondering when and where we’ll be crossing the Apennines.” He grinned. “Baal Hammon, I wish I could see his face when he finds us right in front of him.”

“Enemy scouts?” Hannibal wasn’t smiling, his voice clipped in pain.

“None. Not a horse’s tail in two days. It seems our friend Flaminius doesn’t believe in such Punic treachery as ambushes, or scouting. A fine, stout Roman. Bah.”

“Perfect. Servilius is completely out of touch and Flaminius isn’t expecting us. We need to make sure it stays that way. What have you found out about the terrain?”

“Bad terrain for cavalry. Hills and woods for at least twenty miles, beyond Arretium.”

“Bad for cavalry, but an ambush might work,” Mago said. “Especially against a commander who doesn’t do much scouting.”

Hannibal nodded. “We’ll see about that. Tell your scouts to keep their eyes open.” He cursed under his breath and vigorously rubbed at the bandage, his face contorting in pain.

“Once we’re out of here, a couple of days’ rest will fix that up.” Mago didn’t sound convinced in the slightest.

“I told you, I don’t have a couple of days,” Hannibal said, his voice raw. “You heard Maharbal. We know Flaminius is eager to meet us, and we want to draw him along before Servilius realises what’s happening. Flaminius will be happy to tackle us without his colleague – more laurels to him – but if Servilius gets wind of where we are, he’ll move. The terrain might allow us an ambush of one consular army, but not two. Any delay may well get us crushed between hammer and anvil. We can’t risk that. Not now. Not if we can take out one of them without much trouble.”

Maharbal exchanged a glance with Mago. Hannibal’s logic was impeccable, but the unspoken question was whether the defeat of Flaminius would come at the price of the strategos‘ eyesight. He didn’t dare to voice it.

Pencil version:

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Watercolour, 2013

Faces of war

Marcus Fabius Buteo (in other accounts, Quintus Fabius Maximus – it seems the gentleman in question didn’t want his name associated too clearly with the declaration of war after the effect) arrives in Carthage in late 219 BC, at the head of a Roman delegation. Their goal: Make Carthage either hand over Hannibal, or accept the guilt for war. When the Carthaginian council is neither willing to extradite their general nor to accept the blame for the crisis, Fabius grasps the folds of his toga and shouts, “Here we bring war and peace, choose whichever pleases you.”
The Carthaginians tell him to give them whatever pleases him. He shakes out the toga and declares that he gives them war.

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Following Hannibal’s unexpected arrival in Italy after crossing the Alps, the first full-scale battle is fought only a few weeks later. It was the only battle in Italy in which Hannibal’s elephants played any role – they’d survived the Alps, and some survived the battle, but none but one survived the winter.

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In 216 BC, Rome fielded the vastest army that had ever stood on Italian soil. 86,000 legionaries opposed just over half that number of Hannibal’s army of Africans, Spaniards and Celts. On the plain of Cannae in Apulia, on a wide open field to forestall any Punic treachery or ambush, Rome meant to end the menace from the Carthaginian strategos. They advanced with a massive phalanx, meaning to crush Hannibal’s centre so that his cavalry superiority wouldn’t avail him anything.

Hannibal’s centre slowly retreated before the advancing legions, drawing them into a trap which they didn’t see until Hannibal’s cavalry, having driven off the enemy horse, appeared at their backs.

By nightfall on that 2nd of August, between fifty and seventy thousand Romans lay dead.

Hannibal had fought with the Celtic mercenaries in the centre, knowing that his presence would be needed there most to keep the Celts from routing, leaving his officers to do what had to be done on the rest of the field.

At the end of the day, when after hours of incredible slaughter it became clear just how complete the victory was, he must have thought the war would be over now, that, according to every rule of war of that time, Rome would accept his offer for peace.

Rome didn’t even let his emissaries into the city, determined to fight until it was either reduced to rubble or the war was won.

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More Hannibal

I’m gradually warming to the idea of doing more with this – a Hannibal graphic novel; now that would have been a childhood dream of mine…

I’ve just come back from five days with my parents, which were largely spent drawing. First up, a dump of some sketches – Hannibal in the Alps, an age-up trial of Hannibal at 28 and at 64, an elephant, and a Numidian.

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Hannibal says good-bye to his wife Imilce and child before he leaves for Rome. History never talks of her again and it’s likely that she and the child died before the war ended.

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In the command tent after midnight, Hannibal fine-tunes tactics. (If you’re familiar with ancient warfare, the battle line might look familiar – it is to become the Battle of Cannae. (“I think I’ll move the center forward – that will lure the Romans in…”)

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Hannibal on horseback, on the march to Italy. I’m having an almost indecent amount of fun mixing and matching Greek armour, Iberian saddle and tack, Hellenistic head piece, and Iberian and Punic design elements on clothing.

The scar on his thigh was from the siege of Saguntum.

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Hannibal, 15, sees his first Romans. They come to his father in Spain, demanding to know what the Carthaginians are doing in the country. Hannibal clearly feels this question is none of their business.

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