Introduction to The Last Carthaginian

Cato the Elder

Marcus Porcius Cato the Elder

I am putting the finishing touches on my new Novel the Last Carthaginian and intend to publish it next month.

     The Death of Carthage, my first book in this series, told the story of the Second and third Punic wars through the eyes of three fictional Romans who lived through them. My second book, In the Wake of Hannibal tells the story of the Second Punic war from the perspective of two Carthaginians. Mago, the brother of Hannibal, and Gisco, his best friend, as well as of Sansara the Spanish born wife of Gisco.

     This book, The Last Carthaginian, tells the story the destruction of Carthage from the point of view of two youngsters who lived through it. Gillimas and his cousin Simabal are great grandchildren of the Gisco who is a central character in In the Wake of Hannibal. They are both precocious children who see their  world disintegrate over a period of four years as Rome relentlessly pursues the destruction of the city. The population of Carthage has been estimated at between 250,000 and 500,000. Given the fact that they were able to field an army of 50,000 in 151 B.C., and that their buildings rose to six stories in height, I would tend to credit the higher figure for Carthage prior to the Third Punic war. At the end of the war there were only 50,000 survivors and they were all sold into slavery.

     Why was Rome intent upon destroying Carthage? Twelve year old Gillimas asks this question of the sympathetic Roman Ectorius. Ectorius replies: “Rome and Carthage fought two terrible wars in the past. The simplest answer I can give you is that Rome did this in revenge for injuries done by Carthage in earlier wars. It’s more complicated than that, but perhaps you will understand these things better when you’re older.”

     But perhaps Gillimas’ older brother Mazeus comes closest to the truth on the night before he is to be sent as a hostage to Rome: “But what could the Romans want?” asked Mazeus, “Why are they doing this? We are no threat to them, we barely have an army or navy. What we are is a rival for trade, and they want to destroy us so that they can have all of the trade. This hostage matter is only a part of their game. What I know is that the Romans are up to no good. They have no kind intentions toward their hostages, and no good intentions toward Carthage.”

    The Carthaginians could perhaps have avoided annihilation had they acceded to the Roman’s demands that they move their city inland, at least ten miles from the coast, supporting the notion that Rome wanted the Mediterranean trade all to itself. The Carthaginians refused to do this, and so began their ultimately futile campaign of resistance.

     According to Adrian Goldsworthy in his book The Fall of Carthage: “There is no doubt that the Third Punic War was deliberately provoked by the Romans, who had made a conscious decision to destroy their old enemy. Roman negotiators shamelessly exploited the Carthaginian’s willingness to grant concessions in their desire to avoid war with Rome, stealthily increasing their  demands to force a conflict on a weakened enemy. It was a far worse display than any of the recorded examples of ‘Punic treachery.’”

     Of course, one cannot dismiss the role of Marcus Porcius Cato the Elder in promoting this conflict. Cato was one of the most prominent figures in Rome at the time, and he gave frequent addressed to the Senate. At the close of every address, no matter what the topic, he would say “Ceterum censeo Cartaginem esse delendam.”-And furthermore I advise that Carthage must be destroyed.” It is questionable whether the Romans would have conceived of this policy without Cato’s constant prodding.

     One more matter I would like to address: The myth that the Romans salted the fields around Carthage so that nothing would grow there. There is no foundation in ancient literature for this notion. First, it wouldn’t have been necessary, as Rome deported the surviving population. Secondly, Rome was not in the habit of destroying farmland that might eventually be used to feed their hungry population, and thirdly, salt was a valuable commodity and, practical as the Romans were, they wouldn’t have wasted it in such a profligate fashion.



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