This epic retelling of the legendary Carthaginian military leader’s assault on the Roman empire begins in Ancient Spain, where Hannibal Barca sets out with tens of thousands of soldiers and 30 elephants. After conquering the Roman city of Saguntum, Hannibal wages his campaign through the outposts of the empire, shrewdly befriending peoples disillusioned by Rome and, with dazzling tactics, outwitting the opponents who believe the land route he has chosen is impossible. Yet Hannibal’s armies must take brutal losses as they pass through the Pyrenees mountains, forge the Rhone river, and make a winter crossing of the Alps before descending to the great tests at Cannae and Rome itself.
David Anthony Durham draws a brilliant and complex Hannibal out of the scant historical record–sharp, sure-footed, as nimble among rivals as on the battlefield, yet one who misses his family and longs to see his son grow to manhood. Whether portraying the deliberations of a general or the calculations of a common soldier, vast multilayered scenes of battle or moments of introspection when loss seems imminent, Durham brings history alive.
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About the Author
DAVID ANTHONY DURHAM earned an MFA from the University of Maryland and is the author of two widely praised novels, Gabriel’s Story and Walk Through Darkness. Durham lives in Massachusetts with his wife and children.
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Pride of Carthage
By David Anthony Durham
Random HouseDavid Anthony Durham
All right reserved.
The delegation arrived in the capital of the Roman Republic during the waning days of the Mediterranean autumn. They had traveled from the city of Saguntum in eastern Iberia to beg an audience before the Senate. Once they were granted it, a man named Gramini spoke for them. He looked about the chamber with a clear-eyed visage, voice strong but somewhat lispy. The Romans had to crane forward on their benches and watch his lips to understand him, some with hands cupped to their ears, a few with grimaces and whispers that the man's Latin was unintelligible. But in the end all understood the substance of his words, and that was this: The Saguntines were afraid. They feared for their very existence. They were a jewel embedded in a rough land, rife with tribal conflict and turmoil. They were sheep living with a mighty wolf at their back. The creature's name was not new to them, for it was the ever hungry Hannibal Barca of Carthage, the son of Hamilcar, avowed enemy of Rome.
The delegate explained that Rome had neglected Iberia to the Republic's detriment. The African power had taken advantage of this to build an empire there. It had grown into a stronger foe than it had ever been during their earlier wars. He wondered aloud whether Romans had forgotten the lessons of history. Did they not remember the damage Hamilcar Barca had inflicted upon them during the last war between Rome and Carthage? Did they deny that he had gone undefeated and that the conflict had been decided by the flaws of others beyond his control? Did they remember that after this reversal Hamilcar had not only prevailed over the mercenary revolt in his own country but had also begun carving into Iberian soil? Because of him, the Carthaginians grew even richer on a harvest of silver and slaves and timber, a fortune that flowed daily into the coffers of their homeland.
By the benevolent will of the gods, Hamilcar had been dead some years now, but his son-in-law, Hasdrubal the Handsome, had stretched their domain farther and built a fortress-city at New Carthage. Now he, too, was dead: Thankfully, an assassin's knife had found his throat as he slept. But Hamilcar had been resurrected in his son Hannibal. He had set about completing their mission. Altogether, the three Carthaginians had defeated the Olcades and destroyed their city of Althaea, punished the Vaccaei and captured Salmantica, and made unrelenting war on the tribes of the Baetis and Tagus and even the Durius, peoples wilder and farther removed than those of Saguntum. Even now, Hannibal was off on a new campaign against Arbocala. If this proved successful--as the emissaries feared it might have already--most of Iberia would lie under the Carthaginian heel. There was only one great city left, and that was Saguntum. And was Saguntum not an ally to Rome? A friend to be called upon in ill times and likewise aided in Rome's own moments of calamity? That is why he was here before them, to ask for Rome's full commitment of support should Hannibal set his sights next on them.
The senator Gaius Flaminius rose to respond. A tall man among Romans, Gaius was self-assured beneath a bristle of short black hair that stood straight up from his forehead as if plastered there with egg whites. He joked that the Saguntines could not be mistaken for sheep. They were a mighty people in their own right. Their fortress was strong and their resilience in battle well known. He also added, a bit more dryly, that there was one wolf of the Mediterranean and it resided not in Iberia but upon the Tiber. He did not answer the Iberians' questions directly but thanked them for their faith and urged patience. The Senate would consider the matter.
Gramini bowed at this answer but showed with his upraised hand that he was not yet finished. He wanted it understood that the danger Saguntum was in related to its allegiance with Rome. Should that allegiance prove to be of no substance, then a grave injustice would have been committed against a blameless people. Saguntum had every intention of staying loyal to Rome. He hoped that Rome would likewise honor its commitment, for there were some who claimed Saguntum was foolish to put so much faith in a Latin alliance. He ended by asking, "Can we have your word, then, of direct military assistance?"
"You have yet to be attacked," Flaminius said. "It would be unwise to conclude a course of action prior to understanding the nature of the conflict." He assured the Iberian that in any event the Saguntines should return to Iberia in good spirits. No nation had ever regretted, or would ever regret, making a friend of Rome.
Having received this answer, Gramini retired and was soon making the arrangements for his return voyage. The Senate, for their part, did engage with the questions the Iberian had posed, in depth, in heated debate, that afternoon and all of the next. They agreed to send a messenger to this Carthaginian, Hannibal Barca. Let his cage get a good rattling. Let him remember the power of Rome and act accordingly. Beyond this, however, they could come to no firm consensus. They had other foreign issues to deal with, in Gaul and Illyria. The resolution of this affair with Carthage would have to wait.
Each afternoon since arriving in Iberia two weeks earlier, the youngest of the Barca brothers, Mago, had taken a long, vigorous ride through the countryside. On returning each afternoon he paused at the same vantage point and stared at the physical manifestation of his family's legacy. New Carthage was breathtaking. It sat at the far end of a long isthmus, like an island tacked to the continent by an arm of the land that refused to let go. From a distance its walls rose straight up out of the water on three sides, only that narrow stretch of earth connecting it to the continent. The harbor carved an almost perfect circle around the city, with fingers of jutting rock that all but closed its mouth. Two thirds of its water sank into a blue-black no different from the deep water offshore; the other third, on the south side of the city, shone a wonderful turquoise blue, lit from below by a shallow bed of rock and coral that caught the sun like the inside of an oyster shell.
The fifteenth time he took in this view, he knew something had changed. It was a minute detail and he took a moment to spot it: The flag normally flapping above the citadel had been pulled in. No longer did the red standard of campaign snap in the breeze. Now, even as he watched, a new flag climbed into position. It shivered, curled, trembled, and never stood out clearly, but he knew what it was: the Lion of Carthage. His family's symbol. It meant his brothers had returned from the insurrection they had gone to put down in the north. Messengers had brought word of the army's approach earlier in the week, but they must have made better time than anticipated.
A rider sent out to find him met him near the southern gates to the fortress. Hannibal asked that he come without hesitation, the messenger said. When Mago dismounted and headed toward the palace the man said, "Not there. Please follow me."
The walk took a further few minutes. The messenger led him at a trot across the main courtyard, down several flights of marble stairs, through a series of tunnels, and then up a sloping ramp onto the wall itself. Beyond it, Mago caught sight of the returning army, coming in from the northern approach. His steps slowed as he took it in.
The long, wide column flowed over the rolling landscape, receding into the distance and still visible on the farthest ridge of the horizon. The infantry marched in loose formation, in their respective companies and tribal affiliations. The cavalry rode out to either side of the army. They circled and wheeled and galloped in short bursts, as if they were herdsmen at work with a great flock. The elephants strode in a similar deployment but spaced at larger intervals. He could see the nearest of them in detail. They were of the African breed, so their drivers straddled them just behind their ears. The riders' heads and torsos swayed with the slow rhythm of the creatures' strides. They talked to their mounts and smacked them with rods, but these seemed automatic gestures, for the creatures saw the fortress and could already smell the feed waiting for them.
Mago turned and sped off behind the messenger, pushing his way through a growing, joyous crowd. He had to move quickly to slip between them. By the time the messenger slowed his pace and looked back at Mago, they had again dropped down to the base level of the city. They walked down a dark hallway. It was rank with moisture, cooler than the exposed air. Old hay had been swept out and piled along one side of the corridor. The acidic bite of urine made Mago walk with his head turned to one side. He was about to ask the messenger which this was--a joke or a mistake--but then caught sight of a head glancing out from a room toward the end of the hallway. A body emerged after it: his older brother, Hanno, the second after Hannibal. Mago pushed past the messenger and jogged toward him, arms upraised for the greeting he expected.
Hanno shot one arm out. His fingers clamped around his brother's bicep and squeezed a momentary greeting. But then that was done with. He pulled Mago's eyes to his own and fixed his lips in a stern line. "Romans," he said. "They arrived just before us. Not the homecoming we expected. Hannibal is just about to speak with them. Come."
Hanno motioned for his brother to enter the room behind him. Though swept clean of straw and filth, the room was simply a corridor, lined along one wall with stalls. It was lit by a mixture of torchlight and the slanting gray daylight from a passage that opened onto the horse-training fields. Several soldiers of the Sacred Band lined the walls. These were guards sworn to protect the nation's generals. Each was clean-shaven on the cheeks and upper lip, a carefully trimmed knob of whiskers at the base of his chin. They stood one before each stall, arms folded and gazes fixed forward.
In the center of the space, a chair had been set, by itself, straight-backed and tall, with wings coming out from either side that hid the profile of whoever resided in it. Which is what it did for the man now seated in it. His arms rested dead upon the armrests, the knuckles of his hands large and calloused, the brown skin stained still darker by some substance long dried and caked against it. Several figures bent close to him, speaking in hushed tones. One of them--half hidden behind the body of the chair and visible only as a portion of the head and shoulder--Mago recognized. When this person looked up he saw the bulky, square-jawed face and the thickly ridged forehead, topped with a mass of wavy black hair. Though his face was grim, the man flashed a smile upon seeing the newcomers. It was Hasdrubal, the third of the Barca sons. As Mago had known from the start, the seated man was his eldest brother, Hannibal.
Mago stepped toward them, but Hanno caught him by the arm. He nodded toward the mouth of the passageway. Five men had appeared in the space. They seemed to stand considering the corridor, looking one to another and sharing thoughts on it. One of them shook his head and spat on the ground. Another made as if to stride away. But yet another stayed them all with a calming gesture of his hand. He pulled the crested helmet from his head and tucked it under his arm, then stepped forward into the passageway. The others fell in a few paces behind him, five silhouettes against the daylight.
"You and I will take a position to the right of him," Hanno whispered, "Hasdrubal and the translator to the left. This is a strange greeting, yes, but we want you to stand as one of us."
The two of them slipped into position. Mago still could not see his eldest brother's face, but Hasdrubal nodded at Mago and whispered something that he did not catch. Then they all turned toward the Romans in silence, still-faced and as empty of expression as possible.
The leader of the embassy halted a few strides from the chair and stood with his legs planted wide. Though he wore no sword, he was otherwise dressed for war. His skin tone was only a shade lighter than the Carthaginians', yet there was no mistaking the differences in their origins. He was half a head shorter than most Carthaginians, bulky in the shoulders and thick down through the torso. One edge of his lips twisted, an old scar, perhaps, a wound slow in healing and left imperfect. His eyes jumped from one to the other of the brothers, studying each and finally settling on the figure enclosed by the chair.
"Hannibal Barca," he said, "commander of the army of Carthage in Iberia: My name is Terentius Varro. I bring you a message from the Republic of Rome, by order of the Senate of that Republic."
He paused and glanced over his shoulder. One of the men behind him cleared his throat and began to translate Varro's Latin into Carthaginian. He was cut short by a single, small motion that drew all their eyes. Hannibal had raised a finger from its grip on the armchair. His wrist twisted in a motion that was at first unclear, until the digit settled into place, a pointer directed toward one of the men standing behind him, his own translator, a young man dressed in a simple cloak that covered him entirely save for his head and hands. He conveyed the introduction.
"Welcome, Terentius Varro," Hannibal said, via his translator. "Let us hear it, then."
"You will have me speak here, in a stable?" Varro looked around. One of the men behind him exhaled an exasperated breath and checked the bottoms of his sandals for fouling. "Let me say again, Hannibal Barca--"
"It's just that I was told you were anxious to speak to me," Hannibal said, breaking in with his Carthaginian. "I've just returned from the siege of Arbocala this very hour, you see. I am tired, unwashed. I still have blood under my fingernails. All this and yet I've paused here to listen to your urgent message. Once you've given it you can mount and take my answer back to Rome. And do not worry about your sandals. We can provide you new ones if you like."
From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Pride of Carthage by David Anthony Durham
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Reading Group Guide
The Carthaginian commander Hannibal Barca stunned the ancient world with his shrewd, relentless, and logic-defying onslaught against the mighty Roman empire. Pride of Carthage captures the legendary Hannibal and his unparalleled military campaign in a novel charged with pulse-quickening action and boldly imagined detail. The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are intended to enliven your group’s discussion of this evocative epic.
1. Hannibal first appears in the novel as a flippant, arrogant, muscle-bound brute who blatantly mocks a delegation from the Roman Senate by making horse-lip noises at them [pp. 11—15]. How does the author go about unveiling the many facets of Hannibal’s personality thereafter, and why does he choose this instance as his starting point? Hannibal is ultimately revealed to be battle-weary, lovesick, demoralized, and peace-seeking; does the author present this shift as a disintegration or as a deepening of character?
2. Imco Vaca stars in the novel as somewhat of an antihero, rewarded for valor after an act of cowardice. Why does his particular tale frame the novel? Imco harbors both a real awe of Hannibal and a sardonic appreciation for the absurdity of the campaign. Which belief prevails in the end? Why does he persevere?
3. The memory of their late father, Hamilcar, looms large in each of the Barca brothers’ psyches. What lessons has each brother learned from him? How do they try to imitate him, and in what ways do they struggle to detach from him? Which man suffered the most contentious relationship with Hamilcar and why? How much of Hannibal’s campaign is an attempt to redress his father’s failures?
4. Didobal urges Imilce to ignore Hannibal’s life outside their home: “I’m not sure if this makes sense to you, but do not seek the ways of war. . . . Do not wish to understand it. Take your husband in his quiet moments, when he’s in your arms and when he looks upon your child with love” [p. 378]. Hannibal recalls Hamilcar offering similar advice: “I did something once that I always regretted afterward. I showed [Didobal] my work. I let her see my bloody masterpiece. . . . I should never have done this” [p. 467]. What incident are they remembering? What point is the author making about the separation of love and war? Is Hamilcar’s statement–”Your mother is a creator; I am a destroyer” [p.468]–hopelessly outdated, or does it have modern relevance? Is a successful relationship possible when one partner’s occupation is so violent and ruthless and seemingly at odds with the values of family life?
5. Tusselo the Numidian, his fate sealed by the cruelty of a single Roman, seeks revenge on the entire Roman empire through Hannibal’s campaign. Does he become loyal to Hannibal along the way, or is his mission entirely personal? Why does Hannibal’s decision to return to Carthage spur Tusselo to his desertion and to his final cathartic act? Has he healed in any way by the end?
6. How does Hannibal’s self-perception contrast with his reputation? Why does he spur his men on to acts of greed and cruelty when he so pointedly despises these traits in the enemy? Does the author paint him as a tragic victim of fate or a self-ruined man?
7. Imilce describes Sophonisba as “well informed and readily capable of discoursing on all manner of subjects. She knows the details of the campaign, and she wishes she might herself take part” [p. 243]. Sophonisba herself states, “I am not like most girls. I do not pray for childish things. I pray that I will somehow serve Carthage in a way that would honor the Barcas” [p. 244]. Is it surprising, then, that Sophonisba so readily chooses suicide when Masinissa, in league with Rome, suggests it? Is her death an act of devastation over losing her mate, or does she believe she is serving Carthage by dying? Why does the author convey her death through the eyes of Masinissa rather than those of her sister and mother?
8. Has Hannibal met his match in Publius? Does the tone of the novel allow the reader to sympathize with the Roman, or is he presented merely as an obstacle to Hannibal’s success? What skills give Publius his edge? Can it be argued that Hannibal is motivated too much by emotion, while Publius is purely rational?
9. As Saguntum falls, Imco Vaca murders an eleven-year-old girl to save her from the life of rape and torture he is certain she will otherwise face. “He prayed that the girl might understand his action as he had meant it: as a twisted, merciful gift” [p. 76]. What are the moral implications of his decision? Are there instances when murder in the name of mercy is justifiable? When the child’s ghost begins to haunt him, why does she mock him as “pitiable,” “a half-man,” “hypocritical,” “a farce” [p. 258], and “pathetic” [p. 261]? How does he rid himself of this apparition? Does he ever forgive himself for killing her?
10. When Hannibal is delivered the severed head of his brother, Hasdrubal, the commander confronts his own crushing sense of guilt: “He did not know where to direct his anger. Rome was the obvious target. He would never say otherwise in his life. But a man has quieter demons to contend with and these spoke more softly than the wraiths. They asked who was truly to blame. From whose hand dripped the most blood? And also they answered: Hannibal’s. Hannibal’s” [p. 460]. In what way does this moment turn the tide in the novel’s action? How does Hannibal choose to interpret the words of his father–”I do, however, question the rightness of the world itself” [p. 468]–as he prepares to lead his men toward Rome?
11. Hannibal’s story concludes with the theme of forgiveness, as he makes his slow, painful progression back to his wife after five long years away. Where else in the novel is the idea of forgiveness examined? Does Sapanibal achieve it? Does Hanno?
12. The relationship between Aradna and Imco is a poignant and sometimes funny subplot within the narrative. Is their love affair meant to be a leavening agent to the heavy mood of the novel, or does it point toward larger themes? Why doesn’t the author reunite the lovers at the end?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love reading about history,especially historical fiction. (It just brings life to the characters.) This book is a good read for anyone who wants to get an idea of the second punic war and Hannible. However, some of the character building was a little cheesy and the little side love story seemed very out of place. Towards the end of the book the characters seemed to take stride, but it took work.
Despite the subject matter (at least for me), Mr. Durham's work is very readable. He manages to combine historical wars with a more intimate sense of the people involved. But at the same time I didn't feel like I was reading a modern story covered in the trappings of a historical period. I was left with a sense of the hopelessness of a people forever embroiled in war and bloodshed.
I was skeptical that a writer I hadn't heard of before was likely to pull it off. The Punic Wars are so large and complex. How do you get it all in one book? There have been few attempts, and mostly they've been lame. Hannibal's whole thing doesn't begin or end with crossing the Alps or with Cannae. There was so much more to it than that. I was ready to get really annoyed if this thing sucked. Luckily, it doesn't suck. Just the opposite. It takes all of the complexity of Hannibal's war and runs with it. I find very little of the historical record excluded or changed in this novel. Some time lines are altered, and at times the author does things that historians can't. The novel goes into hearts and minds the way historical works can't. I know some people may not like the version of Hannibal and his family that Durham gives us, but that's why this is called a novel. It's fiction! He makes them living and breathing people with loves, flaws, desires, fears, etc.. Did Hannibal love his wife and son? Sure, why not? It might or might not be true, but it makes for good reading to have that sort of emotional baggage effecting everything else. I agree that this novel is a lot more 'literary' than most war novels. The characters are multi-dimensional. Good and bad aren't so clear cut all the time. There are sympathetic characters (and villains) on both sides. The writing gets poetic at times. There are multiple meanings to be found in things like the title, for instance. 'Pride' of lions is one, as another reviewer pointed out. Could also be that Hannibal was the pride of his country - an admired son. Or could be that Carthage had too much pride. All these things make sense, and it was obviously intentional on the author's part. By the end I think this is as much about the emotional damage/scars of war as it is about battles and glory and heroes. If you don't like to be challenged by a novel this may not be the book for you. But if you don't mind a bit of 'literature' mixed in with your bloodshed give this a try. I think it's one of best historical novels you'll come across.
This novel was truly a work of art. Durham goes above and far beyond any expectation I had when I first picked it up. From the very first page Durham grabs you by the throat and sends you on a whirling, epic adventure through the second Punic War. The story is only further accented by the immensly rich characters who the reader cannot help but form an almost emotional bond with. Only at the end of the novel, when you finally catch your breath, do you realize the profound character analysis of the legendary Hannibal that Durham instills in the pages. This novel srceams brilliance from the plains of Africa to the peaks of the Pyrenees. I will certainly be looking forward to anything else this author has to offer in the future.
Pride of Carthage is a hell of a novel. Really, it's big, grand, full of great characters and dramatic scenes and twists and turns of fate. I know something about Hannibal and Scipio and I think the author does a great job of making history into fiction, etc. I hated that the book had to end and that it had to end with Hannibal's defeat, but that's the way it happened. Can't change that much as far as that goes. Listen, as an overview of the Second Punic War this novel is excellent. As a work of art it's pretty great too. Should definitely be a must read for anyone who loves reading about the ancient world.
The book was layed out well and had an amazing depth to almost every scene and chapter. It gave you a wonderous sense to each character and the relationships to one another. The detailing allowed for your mind to create the images laid out before you in print. Sadly....I thought the ending left a little to desire. It was as if the author ran out of time or could not afford more pages. It left me feeling empty as to the final outcome of Carthage after the battle of Zama. What happend specifically to his immediate family and child? Although I'll admit it forced me to do some research on my own to find these answers. Wonderful read and I recommend it to anyone.