Thursday, 16 February 2012

The successor to Salamis?

I remember being taught elementary economics at school and laying the invention of mass production at the feet of Adam Smith and his theory of how to manufacture nails efficiently. Our transatlantic cousins will vociferously claim it was Henry Ford who first instituted the modern theory of the production line.

Both claims rely on the word ‘modern’ – in fact if you look back in history to the methods employed by the Chinese in building the Great Wall and the Romans in their major construction works, you can see, at least in terms of construction projects they matched those who came after them.

In fact, both the Romans and Chinese are antedated by the Carthaginians.

During the Punic Wars, a Carthaginian warship ran aground and was captured by the Romans. The crew were enslaved and the galley hauled up on shore and examined. This was how the Romans learned the secret of Carthaginian shipbuilding. Each piece of the galley was marked, and could be used as a template for duplication. In essence, every galley was identical, and could be rebuilt or used to rebuild itself.

Following this discovery the Romans used their own project management skills and copied the galley, not once, or twice but incredibly they build 225 galleys. It took them only 45 days! No more than a month and a half to build a fleet which rivalled the size of the Carthaginians, and in terms of material matched them perfectly.

The stage was set for potentially the naval battle to eclipse Salamis, and win a decisive victory for one side or the other.

In my series, Episode 17 tells this story, and indeed the battle does take place.

In our world, this didn’t happen, the Romans knew they had the match of the Carthaginians in terms of ships, but didn’t have the experienced crews to man and sail them, let alone fight a naval action. The fleet was parcelled into small units and used to defend Roman merchantmen from the depravations of the Carthaginian Navy. The one big battle that like Jutland could have “lost the war in an afternoon” never happened.

For the thousands of sailors who would have fought and died there, that’s probably a good thing. For us though, it poses a mighty “what if” question.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Maiden Castle

The countryside of Britain is dotted with stone age fortifications dating back thousands of years. Some of them are quite small, others are huge. Arguably the most impressive is Maiden Castle to the north of Weymouth in Dorset.

The huge triple wall earthworks straddle a hill top and would originally have been well over fifty feet high. The area contained within, would hold well over thirty football pitches and is truly breathtaking in its scale.

The Romans noted its impressive size and although one Roman historian of the first century tells of the siege and successful storming of the fort by a single legion there is no archaeological evidence to support such a battle. Indeed, the geography of the place and the steepness of the hillsides belies his account in any event.

If I was a Roman commander tasked with taking it with only a single legion, it would have given a new meaning to ‘Kamikaze’ two thousand years before the Japanese did!

It would certainly have been impressive when the Roman legions arrived in the area, and before the advent of large calibre rifled cannon, it would have been difficult to storm against a determined opposition.

The name “Maiden Castle” is a typical modern corruption of the original name for the place, it was never a castle, and the original name “Mai-Dan” means more of a place of refuge than a fortified place.

The sheer amount of earth moved to build it is incredible, especially when you consider, nowhere within the perimeter did they dig down to bedrock. You can graze some considerable herds of livestock within its walls, and farmers still do.

The ‘Mai-Dan’ forms a central part of my story, as the local tribe becomes an ally to the Carthaginian Hanno, and eventually the much modified hill fort becomes the second centre of the Empire.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Excerpt from Episode 1 - Explorer

It took them all morning to row against the tide, currents and wind, but finally they pulled into the lee of the headland into calmer water. Hanno looked around; first at his own battered ship and then at the six others who straggled after him into the wide bay. Satisfied that none would sink, he turned and surveyed the hostile shore.

    Hostile was putting it mildly. The mud banks along both sides of the river, which were exposed by the low tide, were lined at the upper edge by a colourfully clad array of gesticulating native warriors. At first glance there were hundreds if not thousands of them. Their plaid clothes gave them a nightmarish appearance and some of the colours he didn’t even have a name for. Their weapons looked fairly standard however, long spears, large shields, bows and swords. Their pale northern skin decorated in blue and black added to his sense of foreboding. If his men were in prime condition, they would be able to make mincemeat of these savages but, following the seven day storm, they were in no shape to fight.

    About a half a mile further along the shore, a half-built rough-wood jetty stuck out towards deeper water and a small ketch, about half the size of his galley, was beached alongside its shoreward end. A small, olive skinned man stood alone on the end of the jetty and held aloft the crossed tree branches that with a start Hanno realised represented the crossed olive branches symbol for parley.

    Hanno shouted his crew into activity, and they rowed slowly to within hailing distance of the seaward end of the jetty. His other ships spread across the width of the bay in a show of strength that was entirely feigned.

    “Ho, Carthaginian! You are a long way from home.”

    The fact that this man spoke his own language came as both a relief and a surprise to Hanno.

    “Ho, Iberian! You too are a long way from home.”

    “Aye, but I’m a trader in a merchant vessel not at the head of a fleet of war galleys.”

    “From where?”

    “As you say, Iberia. What brings Carthage’s finest here?”

    “I am Hanno and we sailed south from the True Sea through the pillars and were caught in a storm.”

    “South you say?” The Iberian roared with laughter. “You are a very long way off course, my friend. This is the land of the Durotriges. These people want to know what you want here. They have never seen a galley such as yours. To them it is obviously a war craft and they have a good knowledge of war.”

    The word war was obviously similar between the languages as its use caused the assembled native warriors to snarl, growl and wave their weapons fiercely.

    “We seek only storm shelter, the chance to beach, careen and repair our ships, re-supply, for which we can trade and then leave.”

    “Hah! You seek to take my trade away?”

    “No, we seek to return to our own mission. We have no interest in your trade arrangements.”

    “Stay there then; I will see their chief.”

    The Iberian trader swaggered off back down the jetty, skipping nimbly from beam to beam on the unfinished structure.

    Hanno turned to his second, Barca. “Keep an eye on him whilst I signal the other ships. If we stay here, we will have to use him as a go-between, at least until we can learn their language. He recognised our ships and knows our language but I don’t trust him. He knows his way around the True Sea and more importantly knows where we are. We don’t – see how he laughed when we said south. We thought we had been driven north, now it is obvious that that is the case. He gives us information when he doesn’t intend to.”

    As Hanno made his way towards the stern of his galley where he could communicate with the other ships in the bay, an argument was taking place on the shore behind him. The scale of the argument was apparent from the volume of the guttural shouts it was conducted in. The volume and tempo increased as time passed with the natives arguing between themselves and the Iberian watching impassively and interrupting from time to time.

    The voluble argument went on for several minutes until some form of consensus was reached and the trader returned to the end of the jetty. Hanno once again perched on the bow of his galley.

    “Ho, Hanno. Hail and well met! The local tribe,” he curled his lip to show his true feeling for them with his back to them “will grant you shelter, succour and water for two suns. For this they will charge you one ship and fifty slaves.”

    “What is your name trader?”

    “I am called Sagun”

    “Well, Sagun. You claim to know us. You know no leader of Carthage will ever hand over a ship willingly. No war galley of Carthage carries slaves and no Carthaginian crew will willingly give any crew member into slavery.”

    The trader was openly grinning again.

    “Of course, but that is what the savages ask. You are in no position to bargain, my friend.”

    “No friend of Carthage asks such of her. We are not as weak as they think.”

    Hanno turned and swept his arm over his head and then down to his right in a prearranged signal.

    The second ship now let loose its catapult and a large ball of straw looped lazily up and then down into the mud some fifty yards short of the high tide line. The natives fell silent.

    “Tell your friends to watch the next shot.”

    Sagun turned and bellowed out the guttural phrases.

    The second ship fired again. This time the ball of straw curled up and over the heads of the astonished tribesmen and landed squarely in the dimly seen village just beyond the tree line.

    Shouts of consternation could now be heard, they had obviously assumed the ships were powerless to attack them until they came into range of their own weapons.

    “Tell them the third shot will be lit and not just harmless straw. Tell them all of our ships are so armed and so ready. We are seeking help and trade as equals not as supplicants. Tell them!”

    As if on cue one of the sailors on the second ship was now to be seen balancing on the prow waving a lit torch aloft.

    Before Sagun could return to the chief the obvious significance of the fire threat galvanised the tribesmen into action. Some rushed down to the edge of the mud and began to gesticulate more fiercely. Some, probably those who actually lived in the village, ran back there in near panic to secure their belongings and livestock. The cohesiveness of the force facing Hanno melted away. Sagun frowned and walked slowly back to the chief of these Durotriges, no longer so sure he had the upper hand.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

The intrepid explorer.

Most of the written records of Carthage were lost when the Romans sacked the city, set about a comprehensive propaganda campaign, that still echoes down the years to today, and successfully vilified the entire culture of the Carthaginians.

As a result of this historical vandalism (a word we get from the peoples who destroyed the Roman Empire) we know only the sketchiest details of Hanno’s extraordinary expedition around 470BC.

Leading a small fleet of galleys, this explorer, the seminal hero in my series, set out through the Straits of Gibraltar and ventured south around Africa. As he went he founded small Carthaginian colonies along the coast, and up a couple of the river mouths. After we’re not sure how long and having travelled as far south as the Equator he returned home, retracing his path.

Those colonies, alas, did not survive long and scant record shows up in the archaeological record, but there is enough proof to show Hanno actually existed, and this epic journey took place. The written record is sketchy, thanks to the depredations of the aforementioned Romans, but supports his story. Some say he was the king of Carthage, others more of a merchant prince, but nevertheless it was an extraordinarily intrepid feat, when you consider they knew virtually nothing about the size of the Atlantic or the continent they were sailing around.

In the world of the Carthaginian Empire series, Hanno is driven north by a storm, ends up almost shipwrecked on the coast of what is now Dorset in England, but that’s my story, and you’ll have to read more of that later.

Friday, 10 February 2012


This blog is about my Carthaginian Empire Series currently published in both e-book episodes and print anthologies.
Here, I will be posting information about the real history behind the series, the history within the series, just to be confusing, and excerpts form the various episodes.

Please read and enjoy, and comment away.