(An edited transcription of a presentation delivered in Barletta, Italy, on the 2230th anniversary of Hannibal’s greatest victory, 2 August 2014, at the invitation of the Comitato Italiano Pro Canne della Battaglia.)
I’m essentially a psycho-historian; I try to figure out the motivations of historical characters. Not just of Hannibal and the Roman commanders during the wars between Carthage and Rome, but also of the historians who wrote the story. Particularly Polybius and Livy (Titus Livius), for those are the two main sources we have. The history of Hannibal is contained in the writings of Polybius and Livy. If you look at Polybius, you can see that the reason he wrote was to explain to his Greek countrymen why the Romans had been so successful in taking over the Mediterranean world. Polybius was a close friend of Scipio Aemiliano, who was the commander in charge of the destruction of Carthage in the year 146 BCE. He was in the employ of the Aemilian family.
Consequently, any time he wrote about the Aemilian/Scipionic clan, you have to wonder whether he was actually completely objective, or was he beautifying things in order to please his friend and his employers? The other main source is Titus Livius, or Livy, who, by his own admission, was essentially writing to instill patriotism in the youth of the age of Augustus.
In a strange twist of fate, the opening salvos of the guns of August 1914 in France came just in time to prevent bloodshed between Irish Nationalists, who wanted to separate from Britain, and Irish Unionists, who did not. The last self-governing Irish Parliament in Dublin had voted itself out of existence and into union with Britain in 1801. Supporters of some form of renewed Irish self-rule campaigned from early in the nineteenth century to reverse the process; some by political means, some by violent actions. Neither approach had had much success.
In the year 793AD, on the 8th of June, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle relates that, “fierce foreboding omens came over the land of Northumbria, and wretchedly terrified the people. There were excessive whirlwinds, lightning storms, and fiery dragons were seen in the sky. These signs were followed by great famine, and shortly after in the same year, on January the 8th, the ravaging of heathen men destroyed God’s church at Lindisfarne through brutal robbery and slaughter”. Thus ran the first record of a new terror visited upon the war torn islands.
One of Cnut’s first tasks following his coronation at Christmas 1016AD, was to strengthen his grip on the new realm. He divided England into four parts with himself in Wessex, Thorkil the Tall in East Anglia, Eadric Streona in Mercia and Eric Hlathir in Northumbria.
Eric Hlathir or Hakonarson had been Regent in Norway, ruling on behalf of Cnut’s father Forkbeard until 1015AD, when the Norwegians threw off Danish rule at the Battle of Nesjar and Olaf Haraldsson regained the throne.
Ethelred was the second son of King Edgar. He was ten years old when his brother Edward the Martyr was murdered in 978AD. The Chronicle says of Edward that “Men murdered him but God magnified him”. In keeping with its prophecies of doom that are usually written in times of turmoil, it goes on to say that “In the same year a bloody cloud was seen in the likeness of fire, most often manifested at midnight”. With the approaching millennium, the church was also forecasting “gathering darkness and natural disaster”.
In 402AD, Constantine’s son, also Constantine, was king having invaded Britain reportedly at the request of Guithelimus, the Archbishop of London, to defend against the growing intrusions of the Anglo Saxons, but was murdered by an unknown Pict in 420AD. His son Constans who had wished to avoid all the perils of kingship had become a monk at Winchester, but was sought out and made High King by the northern leader Vortigern and ruled for seventeen years until, having fallen out with Vortigern, was himself killed and Vortigern assumed the role, thus earning himself the title of “usurper” from Gildas. It was Vortigern who first brought Anglo Saxon mercenaries, led by Hengist and Horsa, into the country to aid him in repelling attacks from Pictish and Scottish raiders in return for promises of land.