Book Review: Scipio Rising by Martin Tessmer

Martin Tessmer is a talented writer, Scipio Rising is fast passed and absorbing. The depiction of the Battle of Cannae is excellent, but his account of the aftermath of the Battles of the Upper Baetis is muddled and inaccurate.
Readers who have studied the Second Punic War in detail, however, will be annoyed by the historical inaccuracies they find in this book. There is a certain amount of novelistic license to be taken in writing historical fiction, but that is a matter of filling in gaps where information is lacking. It is not a good idea to insert matters counter to known facts because you distort your readers’ images of the characters in your novel. For example, it is a known fact that Hannibal left his brother Hasdrubal in southern Spain to guard the province and its valuable silver mines before venturing across the Pyrenees and the Alps to Italy. This was the sensible thing for Hannibal, as chief Carthaginian general and planner of a vast campaign against Rome to do. In Scipio Rising, Tessmer has Hasdrubal crossing the Alps with Hannibal and staying until after the battle of Trasimene nearly a year later. He sends Hasdrubal back to Spain as an afterthought. Anyone familiar with Hannibal knows that he planned his strategies more meticulously than that!
Another false detail that would undermine a true picture of Hannibal is the story that he had Consul Gaius Flaminius’ head cut off and had it sent to the Roman Senate after the battle of Trasimene. According to Livy Flaminius was killed by the Gallic Chieftain Ducarius, but his body was never recovered. Hannibal was certainly not known for kindness or humanity, but he did exhibit a certain amount of class and would not have chopped off a fallen enemy general’s head and sent it to the Roman Senate. He is known to have given fallen Roman generals, including Aemilius Paullus, Tiberius Gracchus and Marcus Claudius Marcellus solemn and elaborate funerals in which he praised his deceased enemies’ valor and devotion to duty. Again, the unfounded notion that he chopped off Flaminius’ head and sent it to the Roman Senate distorts the reader’s view of Hannibal. The only historical figure in the Second Punic War who actually engaged in such an unseemly action was a Roman, Gaius Claudius Nero, who chopped off the head of Hannibal’s brother Hasdrubal after the Battle of the Metaurus, and had it delivered to Hannibal’s camp in Bruttium.
Tessmer would have us believe that there was a Latin party and a Greek party in contention for power in Rome at the time of the Second Punic War. While it is true that some Roman aristocrats admired the Greeks and were receptive to Greek learning and arts, while other frowned upon any adoption of Greek ways, no Roman political faction would have termed itself “The Greek Party,” or tolerated a rival faction to so designate them. I think that the author makes too much of the cultural gap between the Graecophiles and the Graecophobes. The encounters between Scipio and Cato, as well as between Scipio and Fabius fall under novelist’s license since we have no way of knowing whether or not they might have happened. Certainly Fabius’ and Cato’s world views clashed with that of Scipio, but it is likely that any such encounters had to wait until the latter years of the war and its aftermath.
It would be tedious to catalog all of the historical inaccuracies in this book. Suffice to say that a talented writer like Martin Tessmer should be able to do better than this.

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