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9 July 2024
Ancient history, Catastrophism

I’m reading Tom Holland’s book, ‘Rubicon‘ Abacus:2004, and it concerns the Roman republic – prior to Caesar reintroducing the institution of kings and emperors. In 218BC Hannibal led a Carthginian army from Spain through southern Gaul and over the Alps, defeating Roman armies along the way. His third and final victory was at Cannae where Hannibal wiped out 8 legions, a catastrophic military disaster from the Roman perspective. However, republican Rome refused to sue for peace and gradually, year by year, clawed back territory. That is the usual interpretaton. Eventually, they took over Spain from the Carthaginians. How did this reversal of fortune occur? Well, the Roman army followed this up by crossing over into North Africa. They clashed once again with Hannibal. The Romans were successful on this occasion. It seems Carthage no longer had the manpower to defend itself in a meaningful manner. What had happened in the intervening 15 years?

Tom Holland only says that Rome rendered Carthage to a rump, absorbing Hannibal’s provinces into the empire, as well as the Carthaginian fleet and her war elephants. The clue may lie in events around 208 – 204BC as outlined by Mike Baillie in his book, ‘A Slice Through Time: dendrochronology and precision dating‘, Batsford:1995. He defines this as a dust veil event, as recorded in Chinese annals. A volcanic eruption is the most likely cause – but a cosmic airburst might have had a similar effect. Baillie accepts the volcanic link as Greenland ice cores have an acidic signature at this time, 2008BC. In 207-205BC this was followed in China by a succession of famine years, In Ireland, Baillie’s theatre of dendrochronological research, we have a murrain of cattle [some kind of disease that killed off large numbers of farm animals] traditionally dated between 210 and 200BC. In 208BC the stars were invisible in China and between 208 and 204BC narrow tree rings were endemic in Germany [a reference to the German dendrochronology]. A narrow growth tree ring event in Ireland, on which Baillie was involved in producing, is dated at 207BC [the year after the event in 208BC]. In the US, bristlecone pines have a similar low growth event, but dated a year later at 206BC. At Rome, in 205BC, there were epidemics and famine as well as apparitions in the sky. Omens, we might surmise. In 204 – 202BC there was dynastic change in China. The emperor had lost the mandate of heaven. In later books Baillie was more interested in events at AD536-41 and 1159-1142BC. However, the event at 208BC does provide a reason why Hannibal was unable to prevent the Roman army from taking Spain and North Africa from him. Presumably an epidemic of some kind was responsible for the lack of manpower to thwart the Roman advance. The Romans may even have seen the 208BC event as an omen in which to strike back after their military disaster 10 years earlier.

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