It was an extraordinary event in extraordinary times. For years Hannibal (247 - c.183 BCE) had been campaigning in Italy, defeating the Romans on many occasions, yet never managing to force them to submit. Now the year was 202 BCE and a Roman army under Publius Cornelius Scipio (c.236 – c.183 BCE) was in North Africa and threatening Carthage itself. Hannibal had been recalled from Italy, and had a somewhat hastily assembled army ready for its defence, but had asked for a personal meeting with his adversary on the eve of what both knew would be a pivotal battle, near the village of Zama. According to Polybius, at that meeting Hannibal essentially offered to return to the pre-war status quo, and acknowledge the Roman sovereignty over Sicily and all the disputed lands. It might seem like a generous offer, but both men knew the Roman had the advantage, so the offer was declined and the battle took place, resulting in Hannibal’s defeat and Carthage having to sue for peace on very disadvantageous terms.
It is this remarkable meeting that is the inspiration for this set, which includes just four figures. The second pictured above is of Hannibal himself, with his interpreter standing to his right. The third figure is Scipio, with his to his left. Whether these figures are grouped together to recreate this encounter is immaterial, as they provide some interesting command figures for the second Punic War, so we will look at each in turn.
Hannibal wears a long-sleeved tunic, muscle cuirass, pteruges at the shoulders and waist, long boots and of course a crested helmet. He also wears an animal pelt as a cloak, which seems very strange to us, and while there is no record of how Hannibal dressed at Zama, we find it hard to accept that such an important man would wear an animal skin rather than an ordinary cloak. At his waist he has a falcata-style sword, and he stands with both hands on his hips, as if in discussion (or perhaps watching events on the battlefield). Apart from the animal pelt, this all seems perfectly reasonable for Hannibal’s appearance on that day, but there is one problem. During his famous crossing of the alps, Hannibal lost an eye to infection. Polybius does not tell us which eye, but many modern references speak of the right eye as being the one lost, which is a pity as this figure wears a patch over his left eye, thus making him totally blind!
Scipio is fairly similar in appearance, as you might expect of a senior general of the day. He too wears a muscle cuirass over his tunic, again with pteruges at shoulder and waist, and boots on the feet, although he also has a wide strip of cloth wrapped diagonally round his trunk which is very hard to explain, though he grips it something like it was a toga, which obviously it is not. Such a sash is a favourite device of renaissance painters, since officers of their day wore them this way, but not historical reality. His sword is also sheathed, and he has removed his helmet, being in a similar, non-aggressive pose that could work in many situations. However he looks considerably older than his 34 years here, and seems to be based on images of him much later in life, when his had lost his hair and was overweight.
Hannibal’s interpreter (far left) is dressed as a Celt, with tunic, trousers and a cloak, and has a suitable sword at his waist. Polybius tells us that both men took an interpreter with them, but does not give details, so a Celt would seem a reasonable guess. However, this man has his hair in a top-knot, which is usually seen as a German affectation, and so seems out of place here unless this man is in fact a German, which would be less likely. The Roman interpreter is dressed as a Roman officer, which again is possible, in full war gear including cuirass, crested Montefortino helmet and greaves. Surprisingly, he holds a circular Greek hoplite shield rather than the Roman scutum of the day, which was held by a bar rather than in the Greek style as here. As an officer, he could perhaps hail from some Greek-influenced part of the world, and be equipped accordingly, but again we are a bit uncomfortable which this choice.
The usual very nice sculpting is evident on these figures, which are very nicely rendered with good detail and believable faces and clothing. The simple, passive nature of the poses present no problems in terms of extra plastic, but there is a fair amount on flash in places, about average for figures made today.
As command figures both Hannibal and Scipio are very usable, not just for this meeting, and as general soldiers, both the interpreters have their wider uses too. While no certain record exists of the appearance of any of these men, it is unfortunate that we felt there were issues with each, though with no way of proving anything. In fact we cannot be sure that the meeting actually took place at all (Roman historians sometimes liked to tell a good story or please their patron at the expense of the truth), and if it did, they might have remained on horseback. We will never know, but as Hannibal spoke good Greek (and possibly Latin), and Scipio did too, we can’t help wondering why interpreters were involved at all. As with so much ancient history, the modern age has relatively little information, and does not know what to trust, though generally Polybius is more highly rated than some. However regardless of such problems, these are nicely presented figures, though in several details we are doubtful of their authenticity.