The Grace of Baal
It was on a morning in April, the cruelest month, over
two-thousand years ago when three massive warships of the
Empire of Rome bore down on a small African vessel sailing
peaceably off the Numidian coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
It was Consul Appius Claudius Pulcher who had launched
this unprovoked attack despite the worst of all possible
omens: the Sacred Chickens had refused to eat.
But Pulcher was a stoic philosopher and impatient with
superstition. So he ordered these absurd animals thrown
into the water.
"If they will not eat," he commanded, "let them drink."
Although the common sailors under his command were appalled at
gross act of impiety, they nonetheless knew the coming battle was
foregone conclusion. But as they bore down on their target, they
bewildered to find that these strange Africans were neither
nor throwing spears. Instead they were hurling pots at them as
kitchenware would cause a Roman soldier to leap into the sea.
And yet, oddly enough, this is precisely what happened. Splashing
about helplessly in their armor, the Romans were easy targets for
African archers. And the mop-up detail, finishing off their
rowers was too easy, just icing on the cake.
There was nothing personal in these executions, of course. It was
you might say, pagan etiquette – art for art's
But only after artfully piercing every Italian breastplate and
cutting each rower's throat, did the African sailors themselves
what had happened.
The Latin fleet had had the bad luck to pick a fight with the
biological warfare, one Hannibal of Carthage, or as his name ran
own tongue, the Grace of Baal. And it was the Grace of
Baal who had thought to send along the pots, pots filled with
Poison came naturally enough to Hannibal. The atmosphere into
he was born was soaked in it. The wars with Rome seemed at that
as though they would never end, and it was unclear in fact when
We know of an early quarrel over Sicily, in which a Roman Tribune
behaved dishonorably, arresting a Carthaginian commander whom he
had invited to parley. If this was the original dispute, then
then what she was in every subsequent conflict with Carthage: the
The Roman view was that there was every reason for her to be
aggressive. The Italian Republic was there first, after all, the
on opposite shore of the inland sea. This was entirely wrong, but
Roman mind Carthage was the intruding newcomer. In fact Carthage,
by way of translation, meant New Town. Carthage was the
newest outpost of the Phoenicians, whose adjectival form is
Punic, which came to be applied to New Towners as well.
The Phoenicians themselves were originally Canaanites, the sons
Ham, worshippers of Baal, the Lord, Yahweh's bitter rival, the
Demiurge against whom the whole Old Testament thunders.
But Baal was alive and well despite all the holy commotion. And
Carthage in whom He was well pleased. New Town prospered almost
as much as Rome coveted her prosperity. And there was a whole lot
covet. With the seamanship of her Phoenician heritage, Carthage
built, under Rome's baleful gaze, the greatest civilization the
ever seen, a trading center having a larger population than any
before it. New Town so excelled in commerce because it inherited
Phoenician alphabet; the first ever invented, used to keep track
myriad transactions written on their newly discovered papyrus
had displaced the cumbersome clay tablets. As the first culture
able to keep books, this Phoenician daughter city grew to become
practical, mercantile state, the world's greatest power.
New Town was fond of boasting with iron assurance that no man
wash his hands in the sea without the leave of Carthage. And the
obstacle to even greater power and even more rapid progress, it
was that the Punic nobility was jealous of personal talent and
never allow a man of low birth to rise – unlike the Romans
sometimes did so inadvertently. But a genius can come from
– even the executive class – and it was into this
during the worst period of the first Punic war, that the infant
Grace of Baal was born.
When Hannibal was still a boy, his father, the supreme military
of the Carthaginians, placed his son's small hand upon a
make him swear eternal vengeance against Rome. And this ritual
repeated with each of his brothers who were together known about
Town as the Brood of Lions.
Cub Hannibal was a natural. He was supreme at fighting and had a
complete disregard of danger. His horsemanship was superb. He
endure extremes of heat and cold, hunger and fatigue. He was
in mind and body. He drank no wine and, rather perversely, was
content with only one woman.
With all the consequent time on his hands, he developed a real
for tactics and leadership. True leadership, he found, had little
with brutality. It consisted of precisely the opposite: a kind of
gentleness, bold and competent gentleness, together with the
paradoxical ability to stand with and apart at the same time.
In his clothing, Hannibal showed no rank consciousness and wore
ordinary dress of an officer. He did not sleep in a bed. He slept
the sentries covered only by his cloak.
On one occasion during the Spanish campaign, when his cavalry was
cut off from him, he swam a raging, freezing river just to
them across and in doing so inspired them with that same
Since they saw he would do anything for them, they wanted to do
anything for him, and, as the world would soon see, they did.
The face that inspired this devotion was caught in the image
a silver double shekel minted in 220 BC. Hannibal had a strong
forehead, a straight nose and a bright open expression. This
after centuries of wear, even captures a twinkle in the eye.
But twinkle as he might, Hannibal had eccentricities, which, as a
military man, were of grave concern to the Punic Senate. He could
for one thing, and he could write for another. In fact he even
Greek and had even published histories in that slave language.
could a man like that be trusted? But trust him or not, the
New Towners were forced to swallow hard, because the man just
The Greeks and the Sicilians had been fighting vaguely on the
European side against the African city. But Carthage defeated
and crushed Sicily and then planted herself firmly in Spain. And
between Sicily and Spain Rome was contained.
But Hannibal, for no strategic reason anyone could imagine,
more and more of Spain, rolling over one adversary after another
he reached Gaul, the barbarian frontier. The Roman scouts who
followed him there could not believe what they found there.
They found nothing.
Hannibal had vanished utterly and inexplicably – which
he was not turning back. But that could mean only one thing, a
that could not be comprehended, that it was his intent to attack
land which he could only do by taking his entire army, elephants
all, his whole ponderous train of armaments, across the stunning
solitude of the Alps.
To this day we do not know how he did it, what route he took or
more amazingly how he solved the problem of logistics. But we do
know that just getting to the mountains took some doing.
The Gauls held territory on both sides of the Rhone and
refused to let him move any farther. And there were lots of Gauls
Gaul. Great big ones. And they were a very bad lot when fighting,
believed, for their homeland.
It was a problem without a solution until the Grace of Baal
situation over. Hannibal sent his brother Hanno twenty miles
where he could cross unopposed, and then find the rear of the
barbarians. When Hanno was in position, he sent up a smoke
and Hannibal ordered his men forward.
The Gauls fell on the Africans as they emerged exhausted from the
Rhone and had a high-ho time for themselves, butchering them like
livestock, until Hanno hit them directly in the rear. The Gauls
much like being hit from the rear. It had been a lot more fun to
than it was to be attacked. It was more blessed to kill than to
And since these Africans weren't going to fight fair anyway, the
had come to make a quick end to this senseless bloodshed. And
better way to bring the conflict to a quick conclusion than to
flat out sprint for survival?
During the Gallic panic, the Carthaginians were able to get their
animals across by herding them onto rafts which Hannibal had
with earth to give the appearance of dry land. By this ruse the
animal contingent reached the east bank in safety and in time to
overtake the barbarians, who by now had thrown down their spears,
which they found only interfered with their desperate thrash for
Killing men has always held a special charm for elephants. But
unarmed men, cornered against a bluff, was the stuff of dreams.
bulls made great sport of it, attacking in pairs, ripping the
from limb whereas the less theatrical cows simply squashed them.
a few hours of witnessing this terrifying spectacle, the
overjoyed at being impressed into Carthaginian service.
With an even larger army now, Hannibal moved to the foothills,
Baronnies, fighting back every savage tribe he passed, not having
time to stop and destroy them properly.
And it was there that Hannibal found even viler barbarians, the
Allobrogs, but they were too busy killing each other, in a bloody
war, to bother about a motley bunch of foreigners except as a
international cuisine. When the Carthaginians made it crystal
were first-class soldiers and not long pig on the half
thank you very much, the war-weary Allobrogs on both sides begged
Hannibal to arbitrate. This he did by driving out a younger
restoring the rightful heir to his throne. The elder was so
provided Hannibal's entire army with badly needed footwear,
a second offer of rations was politely declined.
But there was still the matter of the defeated Allobrogs,
their rightful birthright and unjustly banished to the Alps,
frostbite was commoner than a square meal, all because a bunch of
Africans wouldn't mind their own business. Growling low in their
throats, the rebels bided their time dreaming of Punic guts in
gumbo. Hunger had made them cunning. They took position not so
above the Carthaginians that they could not shoot arrows into
will, but far enough above so that they could not be easily
below. It would have been a problem without a solution, had the
of Baal not looked the situation over carefully and anticipated
reaction of the losing side. Hannibal had stationed some of his
even higher up than the Allobrogs with orders not to aim at the
barbarians but at their pack animals. The wounded horses, tied
and maddened with pain, knocked their man-eating masters from the
As it turned out, being shot at by cannibals was to be the high
the crossing for the Carthaginians. A week later, on a ridge
encountered a gigantic boulder, an impassable obstruction, which
column after column of men could not – after three days
– break apart with clubs. They could not go back. They
not go forward.
It was a problem without a solution until the Grace of Baal
situation over and ordered the rock covered with vinegar so that
would fry when a fire was built. The trace ice within the great
eventually boiled. And after the explosion, the Africans passed
They passed on to blizzards and avalanches and fear-stricken
elephants, to wild men in every valley, to starvation and
finally reaching Italy, half of them were dead, and the survivors
a terrible state. Hannibal himself had lost an eye.
A story, that comes down to us through Livy, brings their journey
home to us and sums up their suffering like no list of obstacles
A Carthaginian diplomat caught in Rome during the outbreak of war
managed to bribe his way out of prison and through the gates of
He rightly assumed his public-spirited sons had joined the
march; so he made his way north and stood along side as the
Carthaginian army passed by. His two older boys were dead, but
third called weakly to his father. "My god," asked the
"which one are you?"
His youngest had no time to reply. The Romans were upon them. The
legionaries had correctly guessed the shape Hannibal's men were
and had rushed to meet them. For a full hour they attacked the
at will until Hannibal's left flank hacked its way into a canyon
dusk had fallen. But having reached safety the Carthaginians
realized they were trapped – the whole train, men,
elephants, horses, and oxen – all trapped,
surrounded by a blood enemy in an elevated position.
It was a problem without a solution until the Grace of Baal
situation over. And a vision came to him, clear, perfect and
unprecedented. And had Hannibal not received it, it is unlikely
anyone else would have – short of Odysseus. Certainly no
has had one like it since.
Hannibal kicked awake his captains and ordered them to tie
the horns of the oxen. Then the terrified animals were driven at
sleeping Romans who threw down their weapons and ran for their
At daybreak Hannibal and his army slipped through unmolested. A
week later a granary was betrayed to him for sixty pieces of
his men were saved. But to no end. All the horses, without which
could be no cavalry, no slingers, no army, were dying of mange.
It was a problem without a solution until the Grace of Baal
situation over and ordered them bathed in old wine. The Punic
saved by Grace, turned now toward the monster Rome.
But before the Carthaginians could get started they had to deal
another annoying difficulty: some Ligurian prisoners, enslaved
crossing, for some inexplicable reason, resented being held in
The Carthaginians had spent weeks instructing them in the new
patiently teaching them a slave's duty to Baal, and were
their ingratitude. Religion had never failed before.
It was a problem without a solution until the Grace of Baal
situation over carefully. He ordered the prisoners brought before
and asked, with great courtesy, whether they were willing to
other, two and two, to the death, the victor thereby gaining his
a horse and weapon, to fight as an equal in the Carthaginian
Well, sure. Yeah.
But as the swords were distributed to them, the Ligurians first
already had an opponent picked out: namely, the little fellow
waiting for a weapon, or, even better, the little unarmed chap
back turned. But there was a competition among the larger
over who would get to pair-up with a sweetheart deal,
these quarrels themselves led to duels. The Carthaginians found
themselves witnessing an uncommon sight, perhaps the only such
of its kind in history: everyone was fighting everyone else so
this murderous free-for-all finally ended, only one in ten was
instead of the expected one in two. But this ten percent was
and bred to kill anything that was not themselves. But, even
natural selections, although Hannibal was able to shape them into
soldiers of a sort, were still a little more concerned with
women than in killing men.
But before they could prove themselves in either direction,
addressed his own soldiers telling them that what they had just
witnessed was not, believe it or not, entertainment. Instead it
parable of their own position. These prisoners had accepted and
because there was no other choice for them but victory or death.
was precisely their own situation in Italy, wandering in a
without access to a port, surrounded by the hated Romans who had
deprived Carthage of her rightful possessions, Sardinia and
when she was powerless to prevent it.
But Carthage was far from powerless now as Hannibal led her war
machine to meet the Romans, a few miles west of Placentia to the
The Grace of Baal looked the situation over carefully.
He found a place on his side of the river for his brother Mago to
with a detachment of two-thousand men. Then he ordered his
cavalry to cross the river at night and attack poorly defended
outposts at first light. They were to withdraw when
arrived and recross the river as best they could.
The Romans went for it, hook, line and sinker, and were quickly
out from chasing these strange black men, who were amazing
and even more amazing slingers – who fought a deadly
rear guard action as they rode back to the river with a whole
legion after them.
The legionnaires were chilled and numb when they emerged from the
icy Trebia, and, of course, they had not eaten breakfast.
The winter weather would have been even less suitable for the
had Hannibal not already served his men an early morning meal and
ordered them to warm themselves at fires after covering their
with oil. And they were fresh, after a good night's sleep, as the
Italians struggled out of the Trebia.
Hannibal felt confident enough to drive his elephants not at the
but at their Gallic auxiliaries who dropped their weapons and
back into the water, having no notion that elephants could swim.
Unconcerned by this betrayal, the legionnaires pressed on until
reached the Punic troops. At that instant Mago and his army
into their rear with such fury that just a remnant of Romans
slash their way back to the Trebia, only to find those accursed
Numidians again – on rested horses – who this time
making no attempt to run from them. The Roman army was utterly
Rome refused to pay ransom for the few dozen survivors,
that she had no use for such poor soldiers. Any other pagan
would have executed prisoners he could not afford to feed, but
Grace of Baal looked the situation over carefully.
Although he did let his men use the Romans for target practice
fair's fair, after all he spared the other Italians and
them away to their homes. Rome's allies now knew Hannibal was as
good as his word: he had not come to make war on Italy, only
In a remarkable coincidence, the cities of Arpi, Salapia,
Uzentum, and Apulia reported to Rome that, because of hard
times, they regretted that they could no longer afford to pay
And after parleying with Hannibal, the city leaders even opened
gates to him. And now the record becomes truly amazing. Such was
Punic charm that they themselves proposed to send their sons to
beside him in his next campaign. And these young men would not
long to wait.
At Lake Trasimene, Hannibal caught the Romans in an even bigger
trap, pinning them down so completely that there was no room at
for them to maneuver.
The Roman general Flaminious, as a hardheaded realist, had
series of bad omens: the Sacred Chickens had refused to
eat. (Philosophers apparently never learn.) And on mounting
battle, Flaminious was thrown by his horse into the soldier
totem of golden eagles. The bearer managed to get to his feet
he had clung to his standard in an attempt to keep his balance
somehow driven it into the ground. It could not be lifted out and
had to be cut off. And then there was the fog. No one could see
But Flaminious, in order to impress his men with his unconcern,
actually led the infantry charge into the pea soup
him, only to impale himself expertly on an enemy spear.
After the Punic rout, Hannibal ordered a search made for the
body. It was his custom to give enemy commanders honorable
But Flaminious had run into the pike of Ducarius, a Gaul fighting
the Carthaginian side. Ducarius had recognized the Latin flailing
him as the devastator of his country six years before.
Carthaginians recovered only a few pieces and not one of them
enough to honor.
The fate of Flaminious had a sobering effect on the Roman
So the location of the next battle was chosen very, very
was to be at Cannae where the size of their home forces gave Rome
insurmountable advantage. The Carthaginians would be outnumbered
two to one. Furthermore, Cannae was a vast plain where Hannibal
couldn't pull any more tricks.
It was a problem without a solution until the Grace of Baal
situation over carefully.
His first tactic was psychological. He visited each division to
encouragement he could in the face of overwhelming odds. Plutarch
wrote that even Gisgo, Hannibal's bravest commander, looked out
the Roman army with its superior numbers, and could not help
regretting the disparity.
"There is one thing, Gisgo, that you have not noticed," Hannibal
"What is that, sire?"
"In all that great number of men opposite, there is not one whose
The roar of laughter that followed was a tonic to both the rank
Consequently, when Hannibal and his brother, Hasbudral, rode in
of the green auxiliaries to steady them, even the Ligurians
although they did bring back more camp followers than scalps.
Because Hannibal had the reverse set of values, he was actually
find an advantage on the field. On his left flank his brother led
cavalry of eight-thousand mounted men. The Consul, Aemilius
on the Roman right, led a cavalry of only two-thousand. Hannibal
immediately ordered a head-on collision, and the Latin horsemen
crushed. Hasbudral's squadrons were then able to get behind the
Roman's right flank. Meanwhile the Numidians cleared a swath
the Roman left flank which was manned only by Gallic allies, who
realizing they were being efficiently picked off by the slingers,
The two Punic forces fought their way towards each other and
to meet in the Roman rear. Meanwhile the Roman infantry at the
had attacked the Carthaginian Gallic and Spanish divisions that
Hannibal had placed in the center, knowing full well they would
to fall back before the well trained legionaries. The Roman
Varro, excited by this effect, threw more troops into the hole.
men behind the Punic auxiliaries were Carthaginian regulars, and
stood like stone.
But Varro was possessed and kept sending in more and more
and in doing so deprived his legions of their most valuable
maneuverability. The now completely surrounded Romans couldn't
raise their arms above their heads, much less fight. The Latin
had already been driven from the field by Hasbudral, and so the
Carthaginian horsemen were able to attack the enemy perimeter at
And the slingers were having a field day, eight legions, a double
army was unable to move.
The killing began at noon, and an average of a hundred men died
minute until nightfall. The Romans lost seventy-thousand men, a
number exceeding the population of Capua, the second largest city
Italy. The Carthaginians lost a few hundred.
Hannibal still wasn't satisfied because he had learned there were
little something left of the Roman army in the field,
men marching through a wood to the north, where it would be
to run them down in a retreat.
It was a problem without a solution until the Grace of Baal
situation over. The next day these Romans found themselves pinned
on all sides, not by men but by trees. Anticipating the enemy's
Hannibal had ordered trees half sawn through the day before and
caused them to fall.
Every Roman soldier was dead now. Every trained man in the field
been spent. All dead.
The only recorded instance in history in which a pagan warrior
expressed shock instead of pride at what he had wrought occurred
next day. Hannibal was visibly shaken when he reviewed the three
bushels of gold rings that had been collected to be sent back to
Carthage, all torn from the hands of the slain Roman knights.
The Romans had no more men to command, and only two surviving
commanders: Fabius and Scipio. But Hannibal was still not
a ploy, matchless in the history of psychological warfare,
destroyed all the properties surrounding the country villas of
generals, leaving their estates intact, to fan rumors of treason.
All the towns of Lucania, all those in Bruttium, the Picentes,
Hirpini, the Samnites, all of them, deserted the falling cause of
And then finally Capua – Capua, the one powerful
upon which Rome was sure she could rely, turned against her
city. But there was even more to come.
At Cannae, the Consul Pallus had fallen, and Hannibal was now in
possession as his royal Roman seal, which he used to order the
Tarentum to open her gates. And, in rode Carthage, easy as you
But there was still one more detail.
The Greek town of Metapotum went over to the Punic side, along
Thurri, which was taken by another breathtakingly intelligent
Italy was in Hannibal's hand. Only the depopulated Rome was left
conquer. And Rome was hysterical.
Patrician women, in a complete loss of decorum, ran shrieking
the temples. Aristocratic ladies, forgetting their stoical
publicly at the wreckage of their country estates and wailed
official incompetence. A sympathetic mob broke into the military
ordinance to find thousands upon thousands of bows and arrows
and not a single bowstring. With nothing to
defend themselves, and with the whole universe without determined
annihilate them, so from within, the Romans began to kill each
But this was nothing new. We imagine today that the Latins had
a society that was the model of order and obedience. But the
the very reverse.
It has been said that the gates of Janus were never closed
the legionaries forever marching to subdue a rebellion without.
It is just
as true to say that there was an eternal revolution within from
Plebian riots to the last Servile Wars. The state that imposed
the world was never at peace. The rulers themselves were rebels.
The Republic was founded on a tyrannicide, which avenged an
a wife, and the Tribunes of the People were reestablished after
emperor-murder to avenge a daughter's disgrace.
The reason for this everlasting civil strife can be found in the
nature of the Roman religion. Both the Greeks and the Romans
multiplied gods. But whereas the Greek gods stood in the distance
cloud or a mountain, Roman gods hung out on street corners. There
was a god of corn, not a god of trees. There was a god of cattle,
god of wildlife. Every home had household gods swarming around
bats: a god of eves, a god of gateposts, a god of doors, even a
And it is only men, to whom the home is sacred, who will ever
standard by which to criticize the state. They alone can appeal
something holier than the gods of the city, and these are the
gods of the
Hannibal also worshipped gods, Greek gods. And that is why this
representative of Carthage was least representative of
because his fellow Punics did not worship Greek gods, not by a
These sophisticated, highly educated people who had created a
civilization of energy and expansion, a culture abounding with so
refinements and luxuries, the first city-state to reach one
population, the first to circumnavigate Africa, the first in the
have a really confident, commercial outlook, the first to seem
– would invoke the blessings of their Heaven by throwing
hundreds of their infants into a fiery furnace.
There has always been a feeling among practical people that the
of compulsion and darkness actually do things with no nonsense
it. That is why hardheaded pragmatists call on Archeron in
moving the gods because businessmen know better than any of us
demons really come when you call them.
The spirits of fire came when Carthage bade them. They were set
sides of Rome and consumed the hillsides. And this burning of
cornfields and the ruin of Italian vines was something far more
actual. They were allegorical. They were the withering of what
human before something that was far more terrible than the very
thing of Roman cruelty. And all of Italy, apart from these Roman
loons, had been reasonable enough to wither as well.
But Rome was not merely being unreasonable – she was
barking mad, a decapitated chicken, more profane than
sacred, that would in just another moment realize she was dead.
city had been completely contained between the conquered Greece
Spain. Carthage ruled its share of the sea. And now, by a
miracle, that the door of the Alps had been beaten down, she had
friend left in the world. All she could really count on from here
death and destruction, hell and damnation. And that is all Romans
see over their walls, hell let loose:
Ligurians looking for love. Allebrogs looking for lunch.
shaking the earth like mountains, gigantic Gauls in their
panoply, dark Spaniards girt in gold, strange Numidians on their
horses, darting, thrusting, naked Celts painted blue, howling,
howling, whole populations of deserters, traitors, mercenaries,
miscellaneous peoples – and the Grace of Baal
went before them.
G.K. Chesterton takes a perfect portrait:
Roman scribes wrote that in those days the earth gave forth
prodigies, of nature herself becoming unnatural, of stars falling
exploding into the river marshes, of the entrails of a sacrifice
reorganizing themselves into a sexual organ, of a child born with
head of an elephant. And though we may smile at the self-delusion
these educated stoics, these men had a far better philosophical
what was really happening than a modern scholar who can see
here but a conflict between commercial rivals because this was no
scramble for a market or a squabble over a warm water port. This
the duel between death and daylight. This was the war of gods and
demons – an alien moral atmosphere had descended upon their
Republic on the Tiber like some foul savor.
Because it was not Hannibal who was looking with his only eye at
eternal city of his eternal enemy, it was Moloch who was gazing
his appalling face upon that plain. It was not the Grace of Baal,
Baal who was beating on the trembling gates of Rome, come so that
men might have death and have it more abundantly – brought
with his bride, Tanit the Invisible, with her trailing veils who
the city walls whispering words of love more horrible than hate.
Every demon in Africa was swimming the Tiber. All the ghastly
goblins in the Gallic and Persian parthenons were laughing at the
household gods hiding under the eaves, crouched in the cupboards,
down the drains because there was no one to man the walls but
and slaves who could not even hope to fight a human being –
they were fighting a wizard from the swamps of Trebia and the
whirlpool of Cannae. The legions were lost. The eagles were
His noble birthplace, Polybius wrote, had become a city of
women praying to chickens.
Rome wasn't dying. She was dead.
Effectively dead. Not quite every woman of Rome was a powdered,
pampered patrician lady. Early one May morning, 215 years before
Christ, a prostitute was observed sweeping a holy shrine with her
Inspired by her example, others of her calling joined her, and by
evening, there were roaming gangs of marauding tarts murdering
atheists in their beds, and then suspected
atheists, and then their families. On these occasions, why take a
Even so, the strumpet brigade wasn't quite finished. After
the Sibylline texts, they discovered that a recent sacrifice to
the god of
war had been indifferently offered. So every orphaned animal of
slain freethinkers, all the livestock and each pet, was herded
Martian temple and butchered – ritually, piously butchered
attention paid to every Pharisaical detail. Rome was now washed
blood and so completely purified that by morning, on each wall,
were covens of holy whores cursing Moloch in the face.
But to what end? A Carthaginian would have asked what we ask.
practical value did all this bigoted bloodshed have? What
benefit did it bring to the fallen cause of Rome? In the score
battle, wasn't Rome merely down a few hundred heretics, men she
could not spare?
Rome wasn't dying. She was dead.
Effectively dead. There was some Consul or the other, the only
drunk at his desk, who was a little embarrassed by the example of
women and who made a last mad dash to Metaurus, killed Hannibal's
brother and then flung the head with Latin fury, in a wild
the campfire of the Grace of Baal.
But it was precisely such mad acts of that sort that showed how
desperate the Romans felt about their cause. It was inconceivable
these excitable Italians would wish to continue to fight when the
Carthaginians had no more wish to fight.
In New Town there was still the solid shrewdness of great men who
manage big enterprises. There was still the broad, sane outlook
practical men of affairs. There were still sound business
consider. And so Rome could still hope. Wars after all cost
was enormously expensive to support that extravagant train
Hannibal, who could read, it must be remembered, who could read
write. The war was over. It was obviously hopeless for Rome to
any longer and inconceivable that she should resist when it was
And why did the Carthaginians, at that critical moment, regard
power as insignificant? They did so because they were, like most
people, primarily inspired by their religion. And their practical
compelled them to march their little ones into the waves of flame
because death was stronger than life – because dead
things, gold and silver, could buy a victory. And this
been bought and paid for a hundred times over.
And so this is why Carthage then fell as nothing has fallen since
She fell because no one bothered to explain these impossibilities
the little Latin boys who crept out into the night to cut Mago's
he slept and to burn Hannibal's siege equipment, nor to the shorn
courtesans who had given their tresses for bowstrings.
Other Italian cities, inspired by Rome's example, overpowered
occupying troops, shut their gates again and invited a second
siege. Hannibal could not punish them without dividing his
he had no competent leadership to do so, what with one member of
brood of lions after another being torn to pieces by these Latin
In fact, he was having enough trouble just dealing with these
Romans, who were by now taking strong measures.
Weeping and wailing were prohibited by law. Temples were turned
armament factories. Anyone of whatever rank trying to leave the
was publicly executed. Ten-thousand slaves were bought from their
owners and pressed into service.
The Roman general Scipio had not deserted the cause of Rome. He
taken the war into Spain and then into Africa itself. Hannibal
forced to return to protect his homeland, and outside the gates
golden city, the Grace of Baal fought his last fight and
But Carthaginians lost because they believed, like pragmatic
over the world, that mediocrity is safe and genius a gamble. That
why she was led to starve and abandon that genius at the school
arms whom her dreadful gods had given her in vain.
In Chesterton's words, Carthage fell because those who do not
believe in the soul end up not believing in the mind.
Rome believed in the mind, a mind whose chief waking thought was
Delenda est Carthago, Carthage must be destroyed.
When Rome at last recovered, she reacted like a modern Mafioso
whose children had been gunned down by a rival. Her sons were
and her gods were gasping, but her slaves would fight, with a
not only freedom but citizenship. They would fight.
Appian wrote that every Carthaginian, who had read the Roman
service manual on the proper conduct of seizes, took poison or
himself on fire in a temple. There is no way he could have known
was so, but it is certainly true that every intelligent one did.
In 146 BC, after a three year siege, as Roman engineers succeeded
building a ramp to the outer wall, and Carthaginians watched in
legionnaires dropped inside their city. The great streets leading
market place to the citadel were lined on both sides with
six-story homes, from which the Punics pelted the legionnaires.
Romans didn't much fancy being pelted. So after taking the first
houses, they made bridges of planks to cross over to the next
they flung the defenders down to the streets below to be caught
But this rooftop advance was so successful it actually became an
impediment. It was the Roman way, in a siege situation, to kill
living thing until the surrender was offered: men, women,
livestock, pets, rats, bugs. With so many carcasses piling up,
advance of the infantry came to a halt.
Appian left this horrific account:
Auxiliary troops had to be brought in to clear the way, shoving
dead and living into pits using axes and crowbars to clear the
thoroughfares. Some were thrown head down in the gullies, legs
protruding above the ground writhing for a considerable while.
fell feet down, their heads above the surface, their faces to be
by galloping horses.
The New Towners would then have loved to offer a surrender had
been able to find anyone who would stop butchering them long
to accept it. When someone was finally found, only ten percent of
population remained alive.
All male prisoners were executed, and all the young women
The children of the elite were chopped apart so that their guts
explored for precious stones. The rest were sold into slavery.
decade not even their language remained.
Carthage had been destroyed under any ordinary definition of
destruction, but the Romans had just begun. Rather than
greatest city on earth, they leveled it, pulling down the houses
roof to foundation which they then consumed with fire. They tore
the temples, the citadels, the aqueducts and the ziggurats, the
inner walls, and then dumped the rubble into the sea.
Carthage was flattened, nothing left at all, but there was still
ground, the unholy earth upon which it once had stood. At
expense, the Romans plowed up the topsoil and threw it into the
Mediterranean, and then poured salt upon the loam. Before
them, the Romans marched the captured elephants around to
the drains. A curse was then pronounced with the utmost solemnity
whosoever would build again on this blighted place, and the
remained was consecrated to the infernal gods. And whereas
Dresden, and Hiroshima are today thriving, Carthage is only a
Moloch, as good as His word, had eaten His children.
But when the legions returned from their celebrations of
marched in no procession. The Roman population did not turn out
honor or even to welcome them. It may have been true, yes, that
new citizens had saved them from certain death, and, yes, they
very well have removed the only impediment to world domination
– yes, yes, all was true enough – but it had been
reported that one of the regiments – although it had won
– had not fought with ample valor.
The regiment was decimated – one in ten ordered killed by
other nine, and the remaining ninety per cent banished for all
the whole army was for one month made to eat its evening meal
The Romans were not soft.
But you could see the victory in the eyes of former slaves who
labored away for the pampered rich but not without a citizen's
pay. You could see it even more clearly a decade later when these
men taught their own sons to turn a plow on a small Sabine farm
would never again be trampled by gods with feet of stone and with
hearts of beasts.
And that, with the exception of two small postscripts, is the end
First of all, there was still the little matter of Capua, the one
Rome was sure she could depend on that had gone over to the
Carthaginian cause. There was still some unfinished business
However, the Consuls of the Roman Senate promulgated a generous
decree that if the Capuans would only open their gates, their
would be spared and they could retain all of their property.
Open your gates, Capuans. Open your gates. What's past is past.
bygones be bygones. Were we not sister cities? Were we not
brothers-in-arms? Never mind that you clung to us in times of
crisis and then
sold us out for a song when the African star was ascendant. We
bother about little details like that. We forgive you. Open your
Capuans. Open, open.
Like bloody hell would the Capuans open their gates to the
mobsters without, but even before the winter solstice, starvation
swung them wide, and then Moloch devoured His stepchildren as
But, last of all, dessert was still to be served. And it seemed
at first an
odd choice for the great Baal who had thus far been so
He chose an aging scam artist, who muttered to himself
stank abominably. A Roman soldier, annoyed by this old man's
insolence, ran him through during the campaign to recover
from the Africans.
But this homicide was not, in face of all the evidence to the
public service. Far from it. It is true that this old fellow,
had been circulating false results for years, but only after
thieves claiming his work as their own. And he did indeed speak
ceaselessly to himself, but only because he could find no peer.
And it is
also true that he had to be forcibly taken to the baths, but just
he would not suffer his dreams disturbed.
We now know from recently unearthed parchments that the calculus
was invented in Greece by this reeking prophet two-thousand years
before it was rediscovered in England and France. This senseless
was Baal's final bequest.
Within two-millennia, human beings will undoubtedly colonize the
nearby stars. And very likely, had Moloch not slouched towards
Syracuse back then, we would already be sporting out there today.
However, it is the purest paradox that we must be grateful to the
after all is said and done, for ending this delay by concluding
with so many collateral horrors and appalling finality –
conflict between the New Town and the New Republic, the battle of
demons and gods, won by the eternal city of Rome
– which not only came back from the edge but has come back
from the dead – and has come back to tell us all.
[authorial note: the author carries a staggering
debt to both the style and substance of G.K. Chesterton, of Gavin
DeBeer – not to mention the ancients]
by David Choate
... who is a professor of mathematics with no combat experience
outside of the classroom or beyond the halls of academe. His
("Easter Island", "Ode to an Academic", "Song of Sums") has been
published in Amelia and
Defenestration; his science fiction ("The Kid
Catcher", "There Came Forth She Bears") in
Starwind and Space &
Time; and his "Christianity and Cannibalism", a
philosophical essay, in Sophia. Some of his
other fine works have previously appeared in this literary