The book “Total War Rome. Destroy Carthage” is another historical novel by David Gibbins, an underwater archaeologist and novelist. This time the author takes us to the years 168-146 BCE, which is one of the most important periods for the Roman Republic, which will determine its future fate. After the victorious Macedonian war and the defeat of Perseus’ huge army at Pydna in 168 BCE, Rome faces the final battle with its greatest enemy – Carthage.
The main characters of the novel are Scipio Aemilianus (later called Africanus the Younger) – the son of the victor of Phydna, Lucius Aemilius Paulus, predestined to finally defeat Carthage; and Fabius – his companion and friend, a fictional character. The author of the novel skilfully mixes historical and fictional characters in order to show these times in the most rational and sensible way. As he himself notes at the end of the book (“From the Author”), the facts about the victor of Carthage in 146 BCE “would fill maybe one page.” In such a situation, the writer is forced to let his imagination run wild and try to describe the events both interestingly and in accordance with the history we know.
Historically speaking, there’s nothing wrong with the plot. At the beginning of the novel (in “Introduction”) the author acquaints the reader with the times in which the novel will take place. It presents basic Roman terms, measures of length, history and construction of the Roman army. There are no objections to fiction either. He bases all his ideas (e.g. the creation of the academy of Scipio the Elder) on deep thoughts and analysis of facts. He argues at the end of the book why he decided to imagine certain issues in this way and not otherwise. In situations where not everything has been described by ancient writers, all we can do is fantasize and try to explain the phenomena logically.
An extremely interesting character is Polybius, the commander of the Greek cavalry, who was captured by the Romans during the war and then served the Romans. Over time, the Senate and many prominent politicians noticed his vast knowledge. Polybius became Scipio’s trusted advisor and friend; he accompanied him in battles in Spain or Africa, in the meantime writing down historical history. His work “The History of Rome” is one of the most important items describing the years 264 to 146 BCE. In my opinion, David Gibbin showed this character most interestingly and colorfully.
Naturally, the author also outlines the political and social scene of those times. The Senate is divided into many conspiring factions, with one house trying to make itself known at the expense of the other. Sometimes the vision of gaining prestige leads some prominent Romans to conspire and build relationships with the eternal enemy. The author clearly distinguishes between “good Romans” and “bad” ones (Metellus). Young Scipio is the personification of Roman virtues and honor, which for the sake of Rome is able to destroy the hated Carthage and make further conquests. The hero sees the corruption of the Republic and reaches into the future, hoping that the state will be in the hands of a single, but strong unit that will lead the professional army far beyond Rome.
I had a lot of fun reading the book, and it certainly didn’t take me long. The action is fast-paced and all events are logically connected. As the author himself notes, his novels are characterized by a fast pace, which cannot be denied to him. At times it seemed to me that the author decides to “jump in time” too much. For example, after a successful (and interesting) spy action of the heroes in Carthage, the author, instead of showing the building of alliances and Scipio’s support for the African campaign, immediately takes us to the walls of Carthage with the Roman legions. I think that sometimes, such a quick transfer of action and omitting other interesting issues, has a bad effect on the whole plot. However, despite this aspect, I can honestly recommend the book, both to antiquity enthusiasts and ordinary readers. The position is worth pointing out, especially if we plan to try our hand at Total War II Rome.