Rome cashed in Span­ish sil­ver

Iso­tope anal­y­sis re­veals Spain paid dearly for sid­ing with Han­ni­bal against Rome.

Cosmos - - Digest -

As hubris goes, that of Carthaginian gen­eral Han­ni­bal Barca takes some match­ing. In 218 BCE the gen­eral led an army from Cartha­gian-con­trolled Ibe­ria (now Spain) over the Pyre­nees and Alps, in­tent on de­feat­ing Rome, Carthage’s long­stand­ing ri­val.

Aided by war ele­phants, ee oc­cu­pied much of Italy – although never Rome it­self – for about 15 years, but was then routed by the Ro­man gen­eral Sci­pio Africanus.

“Ei­ther we must stop fight­ing and dis­band our armies,” the his­to­rian Livy has Han­ni­bal say­ing to his Span­ish troops be­fore his in­va­sion, “or pur­sue our con­quests else­where. By do­ing the lat­ter, and by seek­ing plun­der and renown from the con­quer of other coun­tries, the Span­ish peo­ples will reap the har­vest not only of peace but of vic­tory.”

Far from be­com­ing en­riched, how­ever, Spain paid dearly, be­ing con­quered by Rome af­ter Han­ni­bal’s de­feat.

Re­search in­di­cat­ing just how much the Span­ish paid was pre­sented to the Gold­schmidt geo­chem­istry con­fer­ence in Paris ear­lier this year. It lost much of its sil­ver re­serves, which went into the coinage of Rome’s ex­pand­ing em­pire.

A team led by Fleur Kem­mers and Ka­trin West­ner from Goethe Univer­sity in Frank­furt an­a­lysed 70 Ro­man coins from be­tween 310 and 101 BCE.

Us­ing mass spec­trom­e­try, the sci­en­tists found the lead con­tent of most Ro­man coins changed af­ter 211 BCE. Lead iso­tope con­cen­tra­tion serves as a ge­o­log­i­cal clock, iden­ti­fy­ing the ori­gin of the ores used to ex­tract sil­ver.

The ev­i­dence showed that coins made be­fore then used sil­ver from the same sources as used by Greeks and Si­cil­ians. Af­ter that date, how­ever, the iso­topes clearly iden­ti­fied sil­ver sources in ei­ther south­east or south­west Spain.

West­ner says Carthage’s de­feat led to huge repa­ra­tion pay­ments to Rome, as well as Rome gain­ing high amounts of booty and own­er­ship of Span­ish sil­ver mines: “From 209 BCE we see that the ma­jor­ity of Ro­man coins show geo­chem­i­cal sig­na­tures typ­i­cal for Ibe­rian sil­ver.”

De­feat, by the way, did not mark the end of Han­ni­bal’s ca­reer. He went onto en­joy a stint as a judge in Carthage, be­fore tak­ing up a role as mil­i­tary ad­vi­sor to An­ti­ochus III, ruler of the Seleu­cid Em­pire.

His new job went pear-shaped af­ter the king was de­feated by the Ro­mans, but Han­ni­bal, who seems to have been made of Te­flon, made a new gig for him­self as naval chief in the court of Bithy­nia.

He was even­tu­ally be­trayed to Rome by Bithy­nian dou­ble agents, poi­son­ing him­self be­fore he could be cap­tured.

CREDIT: DEA / GETTY IMAGES

Han­ni­bal cross­ing the Alps, de­picted by Ja­copo Ri­panda in a fresco at the Conservatories Palace, Rome.

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