Book Review: Africanus: El Hijo Del Consul

Africanus: Hijo del Consul (Africanus: Son of the Consul) is the first book of a trilogy by Santiago Posteguillo which may well be the most comprehensive account of the Second Punic War and it’s aftermath written in modern times. There is only one slight problema-the book is in Spanish and there is no English translation available. The author says that he has thus far been unable to interest an English language publisher in publishing an English Language edition. Nevertheless, with a couple years of high school Spanish and your lap top with Google Translate handy, the Spanish edition is not that difficult to read, and for the Roman history buff, it’s well worth the effort.
Hijo del Consul traces the life of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus from his birth in 235 B.C. to his conquest of New Carthage in 209 B.C. It recounts his military training undertaken by his Uncle Cneius Cornelius Scipio, his rescue of his father, the Consul Publius Cornelius Scipio at the battle of Ticinus in 218 B.C., his participation in the disastrous battle of Cannae in 216 B.C., his marriage to Aemilia Paulla, the daughter of the fallen Consul Lucius Aemilius Paullus, his term as aedile, and his election to general in charge of Rome’s Spanish province after the deaths in battle of his father and uncle.
The book also delves into the life and motivations of Hannibal, the Carthaginian general who took an army over the Alps to invade Italy. A major character in the book is Quintus Fabius Maximus who is portrayed as the implacable enemy of the Scipios and the family of Aemilius Paullus. Fabius is constantly accompanied by his protege Marcus Porcius Cato.
Interspersed among the accounts of the movers and shakers of the time is the story of Titus Macius a wretched ne’re-do-well living a barely sustainable life on the streets of Rome. When asked by Scipio about his past he says “Servitude, merchant, ruined, beggary, military service, beggary again, semi-slavery and always misery.” I was half way through the book before I realized that Posteguillo was writing about Titus Macius Plautus, the comic playwright whose work later inspired the comedies of Shakespeare and Moliere, and even a 20th century production “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
Ancient history is like a very worn out tapestry, and each student fills in the blank spaces differently. Naturally I have a few disagreements with Senor Posteguillo’s presentation. It seems unlikely that Cneius Scipio played as great a role as Posteguillo depicts in the military training of his nephews Publius and Lucius Scipio. He was Consul in 220 B.C., and even in peacetime a Roman Consul was kept very busy. Moreover, he had at least one son of his own-Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica-and it seems unlikely that he would have neglected his own son’s education in favor of that of his nephews.
It also seems unlikely to me that Quintus Fabius Maximus was actually the scoundrel that Posteguillo depicts. The concept that Fabius was Scipio’s nemesis and was constantly undermining him makes the book more dramatic, but I find it a bit of a stretch. I found nothing in the writings of ancient historians to indicate that Fabius was ever in cahoots with Gaius Claudius Nero and Gaius Terentius Varro. In fact it seems more likely that Fabius and Varro detested each other. There is nothing to suggest that Fabius had a hostile relationship with the elder Scipios or with Lucius Aemilius Paullus, although it is true that he may have frowned on their Graecophilia. There is nothing to indicate that he was directly responsible for denying reinforcements to the elder Scipios, or that he was the deciding factor in refusing to ransom hostages after Cannae and banishing the Legiones Cannensis. There is nothing to indicate that he mistreated his slaves. There is no evidence that Fabius engineered the mutiny of Scipio’s forces at Sucro. It is true that Fabius opposed Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus when he wanted to invade Africa, but his arguments against the invasion were logical “There is not a single harbor open to receive our fleet, no part of the country at peace with us, no state in alliance, no king in friendship with us nor room in any part to take up a position or to advance. . . The Carthaginians defended Hispania in a very different manner than that in which they will defend the walls of their capital, the temples of their gods, their alters and their hearths; when their terrified wives will attend them on the way to battle and their little children will run to them. . . .What sort of policy is yours, to prefer fighting where your own forces will be diminished by half and the enemy’s greatly augmented, to encountering the enemy when you will have two armies against one, and that one wearied with so any battles, and so protracted and laborious a service.”
Where Fabius may legitimately be faulted is in his treatment of the Tarentines, but nine years into the war the Romans were not generally disposed to be kind to captured cities which had betrayed them in the past. The Capuans suffered a similar fate, and even Scipio Africanus massacred the entire population, men, women and children,when he took the town of Illiturgis. Fabius may also be faulted for denying Scipio the power to levy conscripts for his invasion of Africa. He had to rely on volunteers and survivors of the Legiones Cannensis. It is not unlikely that Fabius did harbor a certain feeling of jealousy toward young Scipio.
Posteguillo also maintains that prisoners taken at Cannae, once denied redemption by the Roman Senate, were all slaughtered. It is far more likely that Hannibal, needing money to pay his troops, sold them to Greek slave traders. In fact a population of some 1200 were discovered in Achaea over twenty years later by Titus Quinctius Flamininus and repatriated to Rome.
Despite these disagreements, I enjoyed reading Africanus: Hijo del Consul and look forward to reading Las Legiones Malditas (The Cursed Legions) and La Triacion De Roma (The Treachery of Rome.)

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