Isaac Asimov once observed that there are periods in history when two countries—one martial, one commercial—enter a contest for some critical part of the world. Sparta and Athens come to mind; Napoleonic France and Enlightenment Britain; the Soviet Union and the United States. As the inhabitants of a commercial culture, Americans like to consider themselves heirs to the commercial nation in each contest.
But what of Rome? The West's classical heritage is rightly described as Greco-Roman. Yet by that description we proclaim ourselves heirs to the martial power in one of the world's great contests. The commercial power, Carthage, is forgotten.
No more. Within the last two years, three historical novels about Carthage have been published: Hannibal: The Novel, by Ross Leckie (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 1996); Scipio Africanus: The Man Who Defeated Hannibal, also by Ross Leckie (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 1998); and Sophon of Carthage: Heroine of a Holocaust, by R. Hardy (Seattle, Washington: LHA Books, 1997).
The first of these, chronologically, is Hannibal, which begins in approximately 244 B.C., when Hannibal is only three. This means that the book picks up the conflict between Carthage and Rome at the end of the First Punic War (264–41). Hannibal was to lead Carthage in the Second Punic War (218–201), until his defeat by Scipio Africanus in 202 B.C. The "holocaust" referred to the subtitle of Hardy's novel was the utter destruction of Carthage at the end of the Third Punic War (149–46 B.C.).
"Punic" is derived from the Greek word "Phoenikes" and was applied to Carthage because it had been founded by the Phoenicians, supposedly in 814 B.C.
Hannibal is narrated as a first-person memoir. As the book opens, the aged general waits alone for the Romans who are tracking him down. In the flashback that is the novel, we meet Hannibal's father, Hamilcar Barca, who was a leading general in the First Punic War and who, following the defeat of Carthage, rose to prominence by putting down the rebellion of his own mercenaries. Hamilcar and his son then head for Spain to win territory that will compensate Carthage for its defeat by Rome. In Spain, Hannibal swears eternal enmity to Rome, and there too he succeeds to his father's command.
Through the rest of its narrative, Hannibal demonstrates how the strategy of warfare, like any other activity, can be revolutionized by the innovations of a genius. But let the squeamish beware. The warfare depicted in Hannibal involves an extended and deliberate torture that few people today would inflict on a cockroach.
Of course, the conclusion of Hannibal's story is known in advance. Although never defeated in Italy, Hannibal lost the war with Rome, and that for several reasons. One was the patriotism of the Roman citizens. Asks his advisor Bostar:
"Do you know what 'legio, legion means in Latin, Hannibal?"
"Yes: a selection, a choosing. Why do you ask?"
"Because unlike your army, Hannibal, Rome is made up of citizens who have been chosen to serve. It is to them an honour, a privilege to fight for Rome."
As a result of this Roman loyalty, Hannibal cannot shake loose the towns in Rome's confederacy. Only slow, grinding conquest avails to him. Eventually, the Roman general Scipio learns the lesson of Hannibal's innovative strategy and defeats Carthage in North Africa. Hannibal is recalled from Italy to fight Scipio, but he also is defeated.
As its subtitle indicates, Scipio Africanus: The Man Who Defeated Hannibal relates much of this same material, but from the Roman point of view.
Sophon of Carthage begins in 153 B.C., as Cato the Elder is visiting the city, now stripped of its political power but increasingly a commercial competitor to Rome. The message Cato brings back is "Carthage must be destroyed," and he lives to see the beginning of the Third Punic War in 149 B.C. though not the fulfillment of his wish, in 146 B.C.
The heroine of this novel is described forthrightly as the most beautiful woman in Carthage. She is also the least religious, a stance she is able to adopt because of her (arranged) marriage into a wealthy and ancient trading family of high repute. Her husband, the devout Magobaal, loves Sophon not as a person but as a beautiful possession and indulges her skepticism and outspoken political opinions as his part of the marriage bargain. When ill fortune strikes Magobaal's business, however, he attempts to appease the gods by giving up sexual relations with his impious spouse.
More and more, Sophon puts her son, Himilco, at the center of her world. But around them the leaders of Carthage are failing to take the actions needed to fight Rome. Unable to do more than comment on the ineptitude of the city's leaders, Sophon finally attempts escape with her son only to be foiled at the last moment. What happens thereafter will not be told here, for though the fate of Carthage is a matter of history, the fate of Sophon is a matter of fiction.
Sophon of Carthage is of interest not only because it completes the tale of Carthage, but because it was written by Richard Hardy, a longtime Objectivist. According to information provided by the author: Hardy received a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in engineering from MIT, studying Latin and ancient history along the way. More than thirty years ago, he and his wife, Linda, were living in Huntsville, Alabama, where Richard was working on the Saturn-Apollo moon program and Linda was a business representative for the Nathaniel Branden Institute. A year and a half ago, Richard retired from the Boeing Company as a vice president.
Hardy goes on to say "Most of my reading of history, which I view as the experimental database of mankind. . . . One of the things that has always bothered me about the social sciences is that there seemed to be little correlation with the test data. . . . Sophon of Carthage is a dramatization of an actual historical case where people held extremely mystical theories that obviously conflicted with the test data that they were receiving. Amazingly they refused to question their theories even to the point where they were completely destroyed."