Rome cashed in Spanish silver
Isotope analysis reveals Spain paid dearly for siding with Hannibal against Rome.
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.
Hannibal crossing the Alps, depicted by Jacopo Ripanda in a fresco at the Conservatories Palace, Rome.