The book by John Maddox Roberts “Hannibal’s Children” is a historical novel showing us an alternative vision of the ancient world, after Hannibal was victorious in the Second Punic War. The author outlines the events that could happen if the Romans decided to accept Hannibal’s terms and leave Italy.
The action of the book begins a year after the devastating defeat of the Romans at Cannae in 215 BCE. Rome suffered the greatest and most humiliating defeat in history. The great Carthaginian victor Hannibal, together with his ally Philip of Macedon, issues an ultimatum to the weakened Rome. Either its citizens will leave Italy and go into exile in the north, or they will be annihilated. The temporary dictator and the Roman Senate, after heated discussions, decide to leave the Apennine Peninsula. Carthage wins the war and gains dominance over the Mediterranean.
The actual action of the novel takes place about a hundred years later. Rome, to the surprise of many nations of the world at that time, is doing very well. The Romans founded the next capital – Rome Norikum. Using their administrative skills, socio-economic system and military power, they conquered and subjugated the barbarian tribes in the north (present-day Austria). After a long period of conquests, Rome Norikum holds large tracts of land under its power, and long-term battles only temper the valiant legions.
The main character is Marcus Scipio, a young military man who belongs to a prominent Roman patrician family. After a century of separation from the Mediterranean world, Rome decides to send a delegation south to Italy to establish relations with Carthage and assess its military and economic capabilities. The expedition is headed by Scipio, and Titus Norbanius, who, unlike Scipio, comes from a plebeian gens and cannot boast of great prestige, is appointed deputy. The expedition will feature envy, rivalry and betrayal, which Roman society after years of exile was unable to get rid of. Political clashes between families, formation of factions and treacherous politics, which can sometimes lead to a betrayal of one’s homeland, are still valid. Interestingly, the Romans will even take part in the Carthaginian-Egyptian war, which, in the eyes of the Romans, is to be the gateway to regaining the lost homeland.
John Maddox Roberts chose a very interesting period for the subject of his plot. Many historians over the centuries have fantasized how the fate of the world could have turned out if Hannibal had defeated the expansive Rome. This is interesting because Carthage was very close to conquering Rome and ending the war in its favor. The alliance with Macedonia was to seal the success and be the nail in the coffin of the Romans. According to history, Macedonia was bound to fight in Greece, which prevented it from participating in the fighting on the Apennine Peninsula. And it is this aspect that the author has bent for the purposes of the book. The military support that Hannibal received in the form of the Macedonian phalanx was decisive in winning the Second Punic War.
It should be emphasized that most of the book was treated as fiction. The author makes his own assumptions as to how things could have turned out and how particular aspects of the world could have evolved. This is an extremely complicated and difficult procedure and requires a lot of imagination. In my opinion, the author did not lack anything when writing his version of history. It shows political intrigues in an interesting way and presents the evolution of political systems in a sensible way. For example, the power in the Carthaginian state is exercised practically by the shoffet himself, and not by the Council of One Hundred. This was due to the great power and popularity that fell on Hannibal after the victorious conflict. Importantly, the author bases all his assumptions on a historical basis.
To sum up, the book is written in an extremely interesting way, and the unknown of how the plot will unfold and how the author sees the alternative ancient world encourages you to read the book. The threads are sensibly intertwined, and the fast-paced action keeps the tension. The position is recommended for all lovers of antiquity and enthusiasts of alternative history.