The delegation arrived in the capital of the Roman Republic during the waning days of the Mediterranean autumn. They had traveled from the city of Saguntum in eastern Iberia to beg an audience before the Senate. Once they were granted it, a man named Gramini spoke for them. He looked about the chamber with a clear-eyed visage, voice strong but somewhat lispy. The Romans had to crane forward on their benches and watch his lips to understand him, some with hands cupped to their ears, a few with grimaces and whispers that the man's Latin was unintelligible. But in the end all understood the substance of his words, and that was this: The Saguntines were afraid. They feared for their very existence. They were a jewel embedded in a rough land, rife with tribal conflict and turmoil. They were sheep living with a mighty wolf at their back. The creature's name was not new to them, for it was the ever hungry Hannibal Barca of Carthage, the son of Hamilcar, avowed enemy of Rome.
The delegate explained that Rome had neglected Iberia to the Republic's detriment. The African power had taken advantage of this to build an empire there. It had grown into a stronger foe than it had ever been during their earlier wars. He wondered aloud whether Romans had forgotten the lessons of history. Did they not remember the damage Hamilcar Barca had inflicted upon them during the last war between Rome and Carthage? Did they deny that he had gone undefeated and that the conflict had been decided by the flaws of others beyond his control? Did they remember that after this reversal Hamilcar had not only prevailed over the mercenary revolt in his own country but had also begun carving into Iberian soil? Because of him, the Carthaginians grew even richer on a harvest of silver and slaves and timber, a fortune that flowed daily into the coffers of their homeland.
By the benevolent will of the gods, Hamilcar had been dead some years now, but his son-in-law, Hasdrubal the Handsome, had stretched their domain farther and built a fortress-city at New Carthage. Now he, too, was dead: Thankfully, an assassin's knife had found his throat as he slept. But Hamilcar had been resurrected in his son Hannibal. He had set about completing their mission. Altogether, the three Carthaginians had defeated the Olcades and destroyed their city of Althaea, punished the Vaccaei and captured Salmantica, and made unrelenting war on the tribes of the Baetis and Tagus and even the Durius, peoples wilder and farther removed than those of Saguntum. Even now, Hannibal was off on a new campaign against Arbocala. If this proved successfulas the emissaries feared it might have alreadymost of Iberia would lie under the Carthaginian heel. There was only one great city left, and that was Saguntum. And was Saguntum not an ally to Rome? A friend to be called upon in ill times and likewise aided in Rome's own moments of calamity? That is why he was here before them, to ask for Rome's full commitment of support should Hannibal set his sights next on them.
The senator Gaius Flaminius rose to respond. A tall man among Romans, Gaius was self-assured beneath a bristle of short black hair that stood straight up from his forehead as if plastered there with egg whites. He joked that the Saguntines could not be mistaken for sheep. They were a mighty people in their own right. Their fortress was strong and their resilience in battle well known. He also added, a bit more dryly, that there was one wolf of the Mediterranean and it resided not in Iberia but upon the Tiber. He did not answer the Iberians' questions directly but thanked them for their faith and urged patience. The Senate would consider the matter.
Gramini bowed at this answer but showed with his upraised hand that he was not yet finished. He wanted it understood that the danger Saguntum was in related to its allegiance with Rome. Should that allegiance prove to be of no substance, then a grave injustice would have been committed against a blameless people. Saguntum had every intention of staying loyal to Rome. He hoped that Rome would likewise honor its commitment, for there were some who claimed Saguntum was foolish to put so much faith in a Latin alliance. He ended by asking, "Can we have your word, then, of direct military assistance?"
Excerpted from Pride of Carthage by David Anthony Durham Copyright © 2005 by David Durham. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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