The Road Of Danger – Snippet 01



by David Drake





          I use both English and Metric weights and measures in the RCN series to suggest the range of diversity which I believe would exist in a galaxy-spanning civilization. I do not, however, expect either actual system to be in use in three thousand years. Kilogram and inch (etcetera) should be taken as translations of future measurement systems, just as I’ve translated the spoken language.


          Occasionally I think that I don’t really have to say that in every RCN book. It’s obvious, after all, isn’t it? But there’s a certain number of people to whom it isn’t obvious. They’ll write to “correct” me, and that gets on my nerves.


          The plots of my RCN novels often come from classical history. Ordinarily that means something I’ve found in a Greek historian whom I’ve been reading in translation. In the present case, however, I resumed reading the Roman historian Livy in the original. I found my situation in the disruption which followed the Battle of Zama and the surrender of Carthage to end the 2nd Punic War.


          One of the advantages in going back to primary–or at least ancient–sources is that the ancient historians mention things which modern histories ignore as trivial. They weren’t trivial to the people living them, and to me they often do more to illuminate the life of the times than do ambassadors’ speeches and the movements of armies.


          Northern Italy at the end of the 3d century ad was a patchwork of Roman colonies and allies; Celtic tribes recently conquered by Rome; and independent tribes, mostly Celtic. A man calling himself Hamilcar and claiming to be a Carthaginian raised a rebellion against Rome. In the course of it he sacked cities and destroyed a Roman army sent against him.


          Nobody was really sure where Hamilcar came from. Supposedly he was a straggler from one of the Carthaginian armies which passed through the region, but there was no agreement as to which army.


          There are two perfectly believable accounts of his defeat and death. They can’t both be true, which leads to the possibility that neither is true. All we know for certain is that Hamilcar disappears from the record and from history more generally.


          The point that particularly interested me was that the Roman Senate reacted by sending an embassy to Carthage, demanding that the Carthaginians withdraw their citizen under terms of the peace treaty. This makes perfect legal sense, though appears absurd in any practical fashion.


          Livy’s account got me thinking about the problems that the envoys would have had. The Romans were going to Carthage with demands which weren’t going to be greeted by their listeners with any enthusiasm.


          They had it easier, however, than the Carthaginians who were presumably tasked to proceed to the chaos in Northern Italy and corral Hamilcar. Whatever the Carthaginian people thought of the situation, they were in no position in 200 bc to blow off a Roman ultimatum. There’s no record of the Carthaginian response, but I believe they made at least some attempt to comply. Otherwise there would be more in the record.


          I decided that I could find a story in that. This is the story I found.


Dave Drake


But if you come to a road where danger

          Or guilt or anguish or shame’s to share,

Be good to the lad that loves you true

And the soul that was born to die for you,

          And whistle and I’ll be there.

A E Housman

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