Thursday, 9 January 2014

Cornelius Nepos: Life of Hamilcar (part 1)

Biographies are a popular genre and publishers are eager to have them in their collection as they are often well sold. This genre was also known in Antiquity: authors like Suetonius, Plutarch and Cornelius Nepos have written biographies and these are often important sources for historians. However, there was no such thing as a critical biography as the people described were either portrayed as villains or as heroes. Their lives were seen as exempla and the biography served didactic and moral purposes and was not meant as a balanced portrait. Another difference is that these biographies were by far shorter than modern biographies as paper was expensive and writers had not the resources modern biographers have for giving a detailed portrait. Cornelius Nepos (110-25) has produced a large amount of biographies, but only some biographies from his De viris illustribus have survived, mostly concerning non Roman generals. Due to his fairly straight forward Latin, Nepos has often served as the first prose writer for pupils learning this language. There is however a great drawback: he is not the most exiting writer. Also things military cannot capture the imagination of many girls as I know from experience….
The following biography is of the Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca (275-228 BC). It consists of just four paragraphs of which I will treat the first two in this post and the next 2 in the following post. Hamilcar Barca was the father of the famous Hannibal, but he himself too was a superb general and military organizer and respected by the Romans.

Cornelius Nepos, De Viris Illustibus, Vita Hamilcaris:

Summary: Already at a young age Hamilcar is appointed as a commander of the city of Eryx (Sicily) during the final stages of the first Punic war (264 -241 BC). He manages to defend that city successfully, though the Carthaginians lose the rest of Sicily to the Romans and due to sever losses have to come to terms with the Romans. Tough Hamilcar wants still to fight, he sees that the situation is hopeless and he agrees, but sees the cease fire as an opportunity to regain strenght and fight the Romans again. He refuses to surrender his arms and is allowed to retreat with honour to Carthage by the Roman general Catulus.

[1] HAMILCAR, Hannibalis filius, cognomine Barca, Carthaginiensis, primo Poenico bello, sed temporibus extremis, admodum adulescentulus in Sicilia praeesse coepit exercitui. 2 Cum ante eius adventum et mari et terra male res gererentur Carthaginiensium, ipse, ubi adfuit, numquam hosti cessit neque locum nocendi dedit saepeque e contrario occasione data lacessivit semperque superior discessit. Quo facto, cum paene omnia in Sicilia Poeni amisissent, ille Erycem sic defendit, ut bellum eo loco gestum non videretur. 3 Interim Carthaginienses classe apud insulas Aegatis a C. Lutatio, consule Romanorum, superati statuerunt belli facere finem eamque rem arbitrio permiserunt Hamilcaris. Ille etsi flagrabat bellandi cupiditate, tamen paci serviundum putavit, quod patriam, exhaustam sumptibus, diutius calamitates belli ferre non posse intellegebat, 4 sed ita, ut statim mente agitaret, si paulum modo res essent refectae, bellum renovare Romanosque armis persequi, donicum aut virtute vicissent aut victi manus dedissent 5 Hoc consilio pacem conciliavit; in quo tanta fuit ferocia, cum Catulus negaret bellum compositurum, nisi ille cum suis, qui Erycem tenuerunt, armis relictis Sicilia decederent, ut succumbente patria ipse periturum se potius dixerit, quam cum tanto flagitio domum rediret. Non enim suae esse virtutis arma a patria accepta adversus hostis adversariis tradere. Huius pertinaciae cessit Catulus.

Hannibal: The famous Hannibal was called after his grandfather.
Barca: Punic word `lighting’
sed temporibus extremis: but at the very end
admodum adulescentulus: still a youth
praesum (+dat.): to have charge of
male res gererentur: things were going badly
cado cessi cessum: give way to, yield to
locus: opportunity
noceo nocui: to harm
lacesso lacessivi lacessum: to attack
Quo facto: that being done
amitto amisi amisum: to lose
bellum gero: to wage war
classe: at sea
flagro: to burn
exhaustam sumptibus: exhausted by the costs (of war)
sed ita, ut statim mente agitaret, si paulum modo res essent refectae, bellum renovare Romanosque armis persequi, donicum aut virtute vicissent aut victi manus dedissent: But so, as he immediately planned, if conditions  would improve a little, to renew the war and to hunt after the Romans with arms, till (donicum) they would have conquered (the Romans) by skill or being conquered would surrender (manus do: to give hands =  to surrender) 
ferocia: pride, stubbornness
bellum compono: to end a war
ille: Hamilcar
ut succumbente patria ipse periturum se potius dixerit: with the result that (ut) Hamilcar said – though his fatherland has surrendered – he would rather die
flagitium: disgrace
Non enim suae esse virtutis: it was namely not in his character

Summary: The situation at Carthage is worse than expected by Hamilcar. Due to the costs of war people are fed up and civil strife has broken out with mercenary troops also rebelling. Hamilcar is appointed as commander and succeeds to drive the troops away and many die of starvation in the desert. Hamilcar even expands the Punic territories.

[2] At ille ut Carthaginem venit, multo aliter, ac sperarat, rem publicam se habentem cognovit. Namque diuturnitate externi mali tantum exarsit intestinum bellum, ut numquam in pari periculo fuerit Carthago, nisi cum deleta est. 2 Primo mercennarii milites, qui adversus Romanos fuerant, desciverunt; quorum numerus erat XX milium. Hi totam abalienarunt Africam, ipsam Carthaginem oppugnarunt. 3 Quibus malis adeo sunt Poeni perterriti, ut etiam auxilia ab Romanis petierint eaque impetrarint. Sed extremo, cum prope iam ad desperationem pervenissent, Hamilcarem imperatorem fecerunt. 4 Is non solum hostes a muris Carthaginis removit, cum amplius C milia facta essent armatorum, sed etiam eo compulit, ut locorum angustiis clausi plures fame quam ferro interirent. Omnia oppida abalienata, in his Uticam atque Hipponem, valentissima totius Africae, restituit patriae. 5 Neque eo fuit contentus, sed etiam fines imperii propagavit, tota Africa tantum otium reddidit, ut nullum in ea bellum videretur multis annis fuisse.

multo aliter: much more different
diuturnitas –atis (f.): long duration
exardesco exarsi exarsum: to burn
intestinus: internal
descisco descivo descitum: to leave, revolt
abalieno: to (cause to) alienate
peto petivi petitum: to ask
C milia: 100.000
eo compulit: compelled them to such a point (eo)
fames famis (f.): hunger
angustia: narrowness
inter-eo: to perish
eo: with that
propago: to extend
tota Africa: abl!
otium: rest, peace

I found only this translation on internet and it is from 1886.

I. HAMILCAR the Carthaginian, the son of Hannibal, and surnamed Barcas, began in the first Punic war, but towards the end of it, to hold the command of the army in Sicily; and though, before his coming, the efforts of the Carthaginians were unsuccessful both by sea and land, he, after he arrived, never gave way to the enemy, or afforded them any opportunity of doing him harm, but, on the contrary, often attacked the foe when occasion presented itself, and always came off with the advantage. Afterwards, though the Carthaginians had lost almost every place in Sicily, he so ably defended Eryx,  that there seemed to be no war going on there. In the meantime, the Carthaginians, having been defeated at sea, near the islands called Aegates, by Caius Lutatius, the Roman consul, resolved on putting an end to the war, and left the settlement of the matter to the judgment of Hamilcar, who, though he ardently desired to continue in arms, thought it, nevertheless, necessary to submit to make peace, because he saw that his country, exhausted by the expenses of the war, was no longer in a condition to bear the pressure of it; but such was his feeling on the occasion, that he soon meditated, if the affairs of his country should be but in a small degree improved, to resume the war, and to pursue the Romans with hostilities, until they should indisputably obtain the mastery, or, being conquered, should make submission. With this resolution he concluded a peace, but showed such a spirit in the transaction, that when Catulus refused to desist from hostilities unless Hamilcar, with such of his men as were in |416 possession of Eryx, should lay down their arms and quit Sicily, Hamilcar replied, that, though his country submitted, he himself would rather perish on the spot than return home under such disgrace, for that it was not consistent with his spirit to resign to his enemies arms which he had received from his country as a defence against enemies.
II. Catulus yielded to his resolution. But Hamilcar, when he arrived at Carthage, found the republic in a far different condition than he had expected; for, through the long continuance of foreign troubles, so violent a rebellion had broken out at home, that Carthage was never in such danger, except when it was actually destroyed. In the first place, the mercenary troops, who had served against the Romans, and the number of whom amounted to twenty thousand, revolted; and these drew the whole of Africa over to their side, and laid siege to Carthage itself. With these disasters the Carthaginians were so much alarmed, that they requested aid even from the Romans, and obtained it. But at last, when they were almost sunk into despair, they made Hamilcar general, who not only repulsed the enemy from the walls of Carthage, though they amounted to a hundred thousand men in arms, but reduced them to such a condition, that being shut up in a confined space, they perished in greater numbers by famine than by the sword. All the towns that had revolted, and among them Utica and Hippo, the strongest cities of all Africa, he brought back to their allegiance to his country. Nor was he satisfied with these successes, but extended even the bounds of the Carthaginian empire, and re-established such tranquillity through all Africa, that there seemed to have been no war in it for many years.

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