Historical notes on the Sons of Iberia series

In plotting and writing Sons of Iberia, I have spent months examining reference material and compiling this timeline of the major events. I am fascinated by the timeline and horrified by how long the war endured and the magnitude of the destruction and loss of life on all sides.

Warhorn, Book 1

The Iberian Peninsula describes the landmass of current-day Spain and Portugal and the people of Iberia were tribes of Pre-Celtic Iberians and Celts. For centuries they had traded with Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians who established trading ports along the Eastern and Southern coast.  Under the rule of local kings and chieftains, tribes such as the Bastetani and Edetani both fought and traded with one another. 

 

In 237 BC, Hamilcar Barca, still smarting from the loss of Sicily to Rome in the 1st Punic war (264 to 241 BC), set about expanding Carthaginian control in Iberia through the subjugation of the fiercely independent tribes. Hamilcar gained control over strategic silver mines in the Sierra Morena and established the city Akra Lueka (modern-day Alicante).

 

Hasdrubal the Fair succeeded Hamilcar Barca in 228 BC and expanded control through treaties rather than force. In 226 BC he signed the Ebro Treaty with Rome, which prevented Carthaginian expansion north of the Ebro River.

 

Hannibal succeeded Hasdrubal the Fair in 221 BC and quickly set about subjugating the Olcades and Vaccaei tribes south of the Ebro. By 219 BC, the course of the Iberian tribes was about to change profoundly. The oligarchy of the Greco-Iberian city of Saguntum, located 100 miles south of the Ebro, was split between pro-Roman and pro-Carthaginian factions. The more powerful pro-Roman faction called on Rome to be arbitrators in an internal matter and these arbitrators supported the execution of leading members of the city’s pro-Carthaginian party. Simultaneously, Saguntum was engaged in disputes with neighboring tribes and reportedly massacred Turdetani settlers.

 

Hannibal Barca could no longer ignore this powerful pro-Roman city in the center of the eastern Iberian seaboard and in 218 BC he laid siege to Saguntum. Lacking any advanced siegecraft, Hannibal was forced to resort to a protracted 8-month assault against the heavily fortified city perched on the top of a steep-sided hill. Rome demanded the Carthaginians cease their attack on Saguntum and hand over Hannibal Barca. When Carthage refused, the Romans declared war and thus began the 2nd Punic War.

 

While Caros is a fictional character, the Bastetani were a powerful tribe located in southeast Iberia. The only deviation I have made in the sequence of historic events is the battle on the Tagus. This battle occurred in 220 BC, the year prior to the siege of Sagunt. I have set the battle during the siege to incorporate Hannibal’s first major battlefield victory into the timeframe of the narrative. The exact location of the battle on the Tagus is uncertain, so I have located it near the little village of Peñalén in the Guadalajara province. Hannibal used the Tagus as a barrier and defeated the enemy much as I have described.

 

There was a minor rebellion during the siege caused by the high levies Hannibal demanded from the tribes. Leaving Maharbal in charge of the siege, Hannibal quelled the rebellion. I have replaced this minor rebellion with the battle on the Tagus.

 

Of the siege itself, Livy indicates that once the outer wall was breached, Hannibal employed siege towers and ballistae to reduce the defenders. I have left out the use of these siege weapons and included only battering rams. He was successful in undermining a large portion of the wall with pickaxes. According to history, the defenders fought with supreme valor and continued building new defenses to shore up the failing fortifications. When defeat became unavoidable, the wealthy rejected Hannibal’s terms and attempted to destroy all their wealth in great fires. Hannibal had offered to allow them to leave and was prepared to grant the inhabitants land on which to build a new town. When the wealthy tried to deny him their riches, he ordered thousands of the citizens to be executed.

 

Being a mercenary army, there were warriors from many far-flung lands such as the Numidian horsemen whom I describe as Masulians. Their correct name was Massylii. While stirrups were unknown in this era, the Massylii did not even use reins to control their mounts. They were truly at one with their horses which would follow their riders much as our pet dogs follow us.

 

As for deities, I have improvised based on the minimal archaeological evidence left from pre-Roman times. For the Iberians, I have based names on known gods and goddesses of the Gauls and Celts. As far as the sacrifices of maidens attributed to the high priest and priestess of Sagunt, this is entirely fictional.

Maharra, Book 2

In 218 BC, Hannibal Barca sallied from his capital in Qart Hadasht (Cartagena, Spain) where he had wintered his army after crushing the city-state of Saguntum the year before.

 

The sacking of Saguntum had serious repercussions for the Barca regime.  Rome, angered by this apparent breaking of a long-standing treaty, sent Quintus Fabius to Carthage to demand that Hannibal Barca be handed over to them for execution.  The senate of ruling Carthaginian nobles refused the demand and so Rome declared war on Carthage.

 

Hannibal departed from his capital late in the spring of 218 BC and marched on the untamed tribes of the Pyrenees in northern Iberia.  Polybius writes that Hannibal overcame a number of settlements through ferocious attacks, overrunning them in short order.  Four tribes, in particular, are cited; Illurgetes, Burgusii, Andosinni, and Aeronosii.  Polybius mentions that Hannibal was in contact with the Celtic tribes of the Alps and the valley of Padus in order to gain their assistance against Rome.  Marching fifty thousand infantry and nine thousand cavalry to the river Rhone, Hannibal was following an invasion plan drawn up by Hasdrubal the Fair before his assassination in 221 BC.

 

At the river Rhone, Hannibal’s army was confronted by massed ranks of the Volcae tribesmen opposed to Carthage.  Hannibal dispatched Hanno, the son of Bomilcar with a force of Spanish infantry to cross the Rhone upriver in order to launch a surprise attack on the tribesmen from the rear.

 

The Roman historian, Titus Livius aka Livy also mentions a cavalry engagement fought on the eastern bank of the Rhone.  He states that three hundred Roman and Gaul cavalry clashed with a column of five hundred Numidian horsemen. Both sides suffered heavy losses, but the Romans got the upper hand and the Numidians broke and fled.

Gladius Winter, Book 3

218 BC was a turbulent year in Iberia and Northern Italy.  Hannibal Barca led his army north from the port city of Cartagena (Qart Hadasht) in Barca held Iberia.  Crossing the Ebro River, his army subdued the independent tribes there through war or treaty before crossing the Rhône and disappearing into the Alps en route to the Italian peninsular (Maharra – Sons of Iberia).

While Hannibal Barca was trudging off, elephants in tow, to write history by outmaneuvering the Roman legions, the Romans launched their own offensive on the Barcas and landed twenty thousand legionaries and auxiliaries at the Greek trading port of Empúries (This is the Catalan spelling) in north-eastern Iberia.  The move took the Barca commanders Hanno and Hasdrubal by surprise and prompted a great deal of side picking amongst the local tribes.

Despite being outnumbered two to one, Hanno decided not to wait for Hasdrubal Barca to join him from the south and he confronted the Roman legions near the town of Cissa.  The Romans carried the day, killing six thousand men and taking two thousand prisoners including both Hanno and Indibilis of the Ilerget.

This defeat cost Hannibal Barca in precious resources and manpower that had been intended to bolster his provisions and numbers in northern Italy. It also led to a four-year stalemate in Iberia with the Roman forces confined to the north of the Ebro river.

Howl of Blades, Book 4

Howl of Blades is set in that period of the war when Hannibal has left Iberian territory to take the war to Rome. The Iberian tribes never allowed the Barca regime to grow complacent and were constantly on the verge of an uprising or at war with one another. One of their most common pretexts for rebellion were the taxes and levies of men they were compelled to provide.

  

The tribes named all existed and the Bastetani and Turdetani had been working with the Barcas since Hasdrubal the Fair’s rule ten years earlier.

  

Greek influence was deeply rooted throughout the western Mediterranean and Greek city-states existed in Iberia and Italy. Much as pidgin English became the lingua franca across large swathes of Africa in the last century and is a growing language in West Africa today, I have used a pidgin Greek to enable the diverse people in Sons of Iberia to communicate with one another.

  

Etruria still existed at the time of the 2nd Punic War, but the Etruscans had been subservient to Rome for the previous four decades after hundreds of years of war.

  

The Battle of Trasimene takes place in the territory that was once part of Etruria. Hannibal had counted heavily on raising support from the local populations that had for so long been oppressed by Rome. His victory at Trebia the previous winter had gone a long way to bringing the Gallic tribes of the Cisalpine; the Ligurians, Insubres, and Boii over to his side. These people brought with them a hunger for vengeance for the defeats and humiliations visited on them by the Romans and one Roman, in particular, Flaminius.   Gaius Flaminius had a long history of war with the Gauls and had sacked Milan, the primary Insubres city in 222, just five years earlier.

  

It is surely no coincidence then that the Insubres warriors were positioned to confront the Roman consul and his knights during the battle. Nor that it was Ducarius, an Insubres noble, who killed the consul.

  

A little-known fact detailed by Livy in Ab urbe condita, 22.5.8 is that a mighty earthquake struck Italia during the battle; demolishing buildings, turning streams, causing tsunamis and pulling down mountainsides. Despite the magnitude of the quake, the fighting was so intense that the combatants did not notice the ground shaking beneath their sandals.

Historical Fiction

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