Anyone who has learned some Roman history knows that the only person that ancient Rome admits to having feared is the Carthaginian general Hannibal. Hannibal was one of the few people to actually defeat the Roman army in more than one battle, and it was not until the final battle of Zama in the third century BC that Hannibal was finally defeated, and Carthage overthrown in the Third Punic War.
John Maddox Roberts, author of the SPQR mystery novels set in ancient Rome, attempts a daring feat of alternate history. In Hannibal’s Children, during the Second Punic War, Hannibal offers the weakened Roman army two choices: to attack and be slaughtered, or to surrender. Then he proposes an ancient custom that has not been used in many years: the choice of going into exile. Hannibal tells the Romans in 215 BC to leave Rome for the north and never to return. After some deliberation, the Romans agree and flee north of the Danube River.
For the next hundred and fifteen years they create a new society with a capital city, Roman Noricum, interacting with the barbarian Goths of the north, as well as trading with the Greeks in the south, while Carthage has taken over Rome and made it a vassal to the great empire. But in 100 BC, now that the Romans have had time to regroup to recreate their armies, they will now return to the Mediterranean to retake their great former capital.
Hannibal’s Children is a driving novel that does well in giving the reader an idea of what ancient Rome was like, adhering to the many known facts, as well as stretching some of them. But there is a hundred and fifteen years of Roman history that has been erased, and it will be interesting to see in the next book of this series, The Seven Hills, what Roberts does with the missing history and whether Rome will become the greatest empire to rule the western world, as we all know it once did.
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Originally published on September 9th, 2002.
Originally published in the Long Beach Union.