Sunday, December 11, 2011

Massinissa: Hannibal's friend and foe.

I knew of the great Hannibal Barca, but had no idea who Massinissa was until tonight. I went to see "Massinissa" at the Poets Den Theatre in East Harlem and got to relive my love of Roman and Carthagian history. As a child I loved studying great civilizations from the Phoenicians to the Zulus, great societies are often marked by their spiritual and military contributions. The Carthagian were one of my favorite studies because of the Barca family. Hamilcar was the famous statesman and warrior. Much like Phillip of Macedonia being out shined (and probably assassinated) by his son Alexander the Great, Hamilcar has taken a backseat his son, Hannibal. 

Alongside Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great, the Carthagian general stands as a man whose victories and defeats single-handedly changed the course of human history. If Hannibal would have gotten the necessary supplies and support, he could have defeated the burgeoning Roman Republic and shifted the growth of power back to Africa and the Phoenician's multicultural societies. Hannibal had a very skilled military brother, Hasdrubal who helped keep the reigns on Spain for most of the Second Punic War. What I didn't know is that he had tremendous help from a Numidian named Massinissa. And it was that shadowy figure who was responsible for turning the Second Punic War to the decisive advantage of the Romans. 

Massinissa was a poor Numidian taken in by Hannibal and the prestigious military academy. He was trained and led an army at the age of 17 to defeat one of Rome's allies in Africa, the King of Syphax and his Algerian empire. Incredible to imagine a young, fatherless 17-year-old lieutenant going into battle against a feared and clever king. And winning. With a major Roman ally neutralized, Hannibal was then able to focus on his campaign into the Italian peninsula. When Hannibal was storming up and down 'the boot' it was Massinissa who kept Spain safe. And when the war began to turn, it was Massinissa who betrayed Hannibal and defected to the Romans. Thus Massinissa is a historical Brutus, Benedict Arnold, the archetype of serpentine friend. 

Scipio Africanus gets the credit for the coup de grace blow to Carthage at the Battle of Zuma. But what is underreported is that riding at his side was Massinissa with his own viciously effective cavalry that played a decisive role in ending the Second Punic War. But the victor gets to write the story and Massinissa was once again pushed out of the picture. Nobleman Scipio Africanus performed the 'seemingly' miraculous accomplishment of beating Hannibal. 

But there is a difference in this analysis. Massinissa was not Carthagian. He was considered lower-class and an outsider. Massinissa made clear that he had a desire to have his own kingdom and that would never happen with a Carthagian victory. He would continue to be considered the darker and more savage foreigner to the elitist Carthagian ruling class. In some ways, Massinissa becomes a sympathetic traitor who was rewarded and punished. Demanding a proof of loyalty, the Romans demanded Massinissa surrender over his new bride who was related to Syphax. Massinissa sent her poison and she killed herself rather than be dishonored. But once the sacrifice was made, the ambitious Numidian was rewarded with his own kingdom. For the rest of his life he carefully expanded his small kingdom by eating into Carthage land, always with the approval of the Romans who were seeking ways to reduce the power of their chief rival. 

History doesn't look kindly on Massinissa. He's seen as duplicitous and seeking small gains as the expense of historical fortune. But it was not his history, nor his people. Take Wings and Soar's production of "Massinissa" sheds light on this unique and thrilling story. 

1 comment:

PabloPicasso said...

hannibal was not such a hero..he was fighting for glory and empire just like rome..he got a taste of th epunic perfidy ( betrayal) from massanissa