Not many people in the world would be crazy enough or determined enough to invade the Italian peninsula by traveling over the Alps from what is now France. They certainly wouldn’t do it with an army traveling variously on foot, on horseback or on elephant-back. But the Carthaginian general Hannibal was that crazy, that determined – and that brilliant. Known as “the father of strategy”, Hannibal wasn’t just one of the greatest military tacticians of his age, he was one of the greatest of all time.
No one in Rome thought he’d be able to muster much of a force, having traveled overland fighting the Roman rearguard all the way from Spain. Hannibal led a force of 38,000 infantry, 8,000 cavalry, and 37 war elephants to the foot of the Alps, and crossed them with a massive loss of life, including almost all of the elephants. But the losses were not as high as his enemies had assumed they’d be. 20,000 infantry and 4000 cavalry survived, and the subsequent invasion of Italy was a bloodbath for the Romans.
In the final engagement of the Punic Wars, the Roman forces brought to war to the very doorstep of Carthage. From 149 BCE until the spring of 146 BCE, they laid siege to the city itself, which is located near the site of modern Tunis. The Romans could probably have won sooner, but incompetent commanders hamstrung their efforts. By the time they finally breached the walls and poured into the city, the Carthaginians had turned every building into a fortress, and armed every citizen.
However, the battle was never seriously in doubt. Although both sides suffered terrible losses, a Roman victory was inevitable once the city itself was invaded. The fall of Carthage represented the demise of the last organised opposition to Roman expansion in the Mediterranean, as the Carthaginians were their major rivals in the early days of Roman civilisation.
Although it is commonly taught that the Romans plowed Carthage under and sowed salt in the new fields, this claim does not appear in any contemporary sources, and appears to be an invention of nineteenth century historians.
When a Carthaginian dies, they must cross two rivers to enter the afterlife.
The first is the River of Ordeal. I don’t know much about it, but you’ve gotta admit, it doesn’t sound inviting, does it?
The second is the River of Forgetfulness – Ashroket, in the Punic tongue – which is much like the Lethe of the Greeks. When you drink from it, you remember all your past lives, something which you cannot pass to your next life until you do.
On the banks of Ashroket stands a great and giant elm tree, under which throng those cowardly members of the undead wait endlessly to have the courage to do drink.
If at all possible, I recommend that you not be a Carthaginian. I mean, for a start, they ceased to exist as a recognizable people over 2000 years ago, so it’s likely that by now, even the most cowardly shades of the dead have drunk from and crossed Ashroket.
Let’s hope so, anyway.