After defeat in the first Punic War, many Carthaginians were eager for revenge against Rome, and none more so than Hamilcar Barca. He had endeavoured to keep Sicily for Carthage, but mismanagement by the Carthaginian government contributed to its loss, after which he went to the Iberian Peninsula, to reconquer it for Carthage and to plot a strike on Rome. He died in 228 BCE, but his son, Hannibal, took up the challenge and provoked war by capturing the city of Saguntum, a friend of Rome, in 219 BCE. His strategy was to take the war to the Italian mainland, so he took his army of about 46,000 infantry and cavalry overland, avoiding coastal areas friendly to Rome, which meant crossing the Alps. This was done in about 15 days, during November 218 BCE, and amazed both the Romans and everyone else, not least because his army included many elephants. Many men and animals were lost during this perilous journey, but Hannibal reached the Po Valley and would prosecute war with the Romans in Italy for the next 15 years. Hannibal and Carthage would eventually be defeated, but the crossing of the Alps created a legend that is still widely known and admired today, over two millennia after the event.
This is the first set from Linear-A, or indeed anyone else, to depict this dramatic episode, and it concentrates on the men as they moved through the passes towards the heart of the Roman Empire. A few of the poses are standing, but the bulk of them are walking, perhaps tired and demoralised, and certainly eager to reach warmer, more hospitable terrain. It’s a simple idea, and most of the poses here are perfectly suitable for such a scene. Many have weapons and shields stowed, but a few have them in hand, perhaps fearing an ambush from hostile locals as they slowly struggled on. Of the poses worthy of particular comment, the last man in the top row is strange as he holds his spear in his left hand and holds his shield over his back with his right. It is not clear what he is doing, but we must assume that he is left-handed, as is another of the figures in this row also holding his shield in his right hand. Whether left-handed warriors swapped their hands like this, or conformed to the majority, we do not know, although perhaps it is more likely that they used their natural hands when on the march than in combat. The last figure in the second row is also something of a puzzle. He holds a long thin straight thing, which could perhaps be some form of rod, or a leash for an animal, or perhaps he holds a rope handrail there to help men keep their footing on some particularly treacherous stretch of snow-covered icy path.
As you would expect, the main elements of costume here are cloaks, hoods and anything else to help keep warm. Some have furs, some cloth wrapped round the legs, but all are very much in winter mode. On some we can see under the outer garments, and there are plenty of tunics as you would expect, while a handful have some elements of linen or scale armour visible too. Those not wearing hoods reveal a panoply of different helmets and headgear, which in many cases tells us the nationality of the wearer. From this we can see that the set contains a cross-section of the elements that made up Hannibal’s army at that time, particularly native Carthaginians and Spaniards. The last pictured figure wears greaves, and has the appearance of being someone in charge.
Those weapons on show look reasonable, as are the various types of shield, though we might have expected some of the shields at least to have covers. The men clutch items of kit such as bags and water containers, while one carries a coil of rope. There is also a standing figure holding a Carthaginian standard.
The sculpting is pretty good with good proportions and nice detail. Because most of the figures are keeping limbs close to the body these are mainly compact figures, but the textures and folds in the clothing are good, as are the faces. In our sample box of four sprues we found a vast difference in terms of the amount of flash, which on some sprues was quite limited while on others was substantial – the cleanest figures were used for our pictures. Many of the bases are particularly small, so some poses don’t take much to topple over.
Although far from fully depicting Hannibal’s alpine crossing this is only set 1, and apart from the question mark over the two men carrying shields in the right hand we found these figures both accurate and convincing. The mix of different races and very diverse clothing cover the basics well, and we particularly liked the poses that seem to lean forward as if against a strong wind. Good sculpting makes these attractive figures, although in future we would like to see a more consistently flash-free presentation. As a start to depicting this famous incident this set works well, and of course is also useful for various other cold-weather scenes in the ancient world.