Monday, August 8, 2016

Dan Wallace Takes Readers to Ancient Rome to Meet Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus -Tribune Of The People

146 B.C.E.     Streams of smoke spiraled up from the city against the dark cloak of a troubled sea sky. The endless trails could be the effects of the burning bundles constantly lofted over the city walls by the Roman mangonels. They'd been fired day and night for the past six months, signaling that the end neared at last, a full three years after the first arrival of thelegions at the walls. The twining smoke also could mark the funeral pyres of Carthaginians dead from starvation or disease. The queasily, sicking stench that rode every shift of the wind toward the Romans verified that source.
Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus peered between the stakes in the earth rampart atop the stone mole that blockaded the harbor. Notorious Cartha, he mulled, for so long the bane of Rome. The smoldering city was the birth place of Hannibal, who nearly destroyed Rome. He had so petrified the Roman tribes that nannies would threaten misbehaving children with his name. Now, his city, Carthage, was about to be destroyed. After gazing at the smoke traces for so long, Tiberius could picture them as streams of water tricking down a slate cliff rather than rising to the heavens.
"Not such an imposing place anymore, eh?" said Gaius Fannius Strabo. He stood next to Tiberius, looking out at the city walls himself...

"Carthage has nothing left. We never really needed to be here at all, if it's supposed to be about any sort of threat to Rome. 

"Then, why are we here, Consul?" Tiberius asked. The others looked at him as if he were mad, brother-in-law or not, still one of the most junior officers in the tent daring to interrupt Scipio with a question. Bemused, Scipio assumed an indulgent expression. "Why, for the goods, boy, the gold, the ivory, the slaves, everything. That, and because the indomitable Cato the Elder, may his spirit rest with the gods, said we should be here: 'Carthage must be destroyed,'"

Tribune of The People
A Novel of Ancient Rome

By Dan Wallace

"My dear boy,
perhaps your naivete
is a result of having
lost your honorable
father so young. Or
it could be an
consequence of
your education at
Diophante's knee,
who teaches the
old values,
including thrift.
...there are still
certain ineluctable
facts in life that
trump even these
One of them is
Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus is my kind of hero. What makes him even more prominent is the time frame in which he lived. Most Roman boys were expected to become soldiers... They trained from early life and stood along their friends as they expected a similar future. Tiberius had extra pressure being the son of an important plebian father who had since died. His mother, it seemed to me, looked to Tiberius to take over and provide the honor and esteem that came to the family due to her late husband.

But Tiberius stood out from his peers in one important way...he cared about people. In fact, he spends much turmoil trying to understand the need to not only win a war against a chosen city or people, but to totally destroy and kill or enslave everybody.

One thing I should point out immediately, Wallace has created an outstanding historical novel true to the time period. Considerable research has obviously been done... His character names, the terminology of the period, as well as events that are comparable to what indeed took place are meticulously provided. For history lovers, they will happily sink into Tribune of the People. Forgive me for not using the appropriate language, except in quotes...For me it was not a novel I enjoyed reading--it speaks to the very things that goes against my beliefs--war and all that it entails. However, because of the role Tiberius plays to change history at that time, it is well worth reading and has much to offer in relation to today's world...

If the Senate wants us to destroy Carthage,
Carthage will be destroyed. No matter
what the trumped-up excuse might be,
the horror of Hannibal relived, the refusal
of these Phoenician renegades to yield
unconditionally to our rule, or any other
irrational assertion, we will do as the
people of Rome wish--the people of Rome
who count, that is. We will pluck this
little sea-side bird clean. We will roast
it, eat it, and shit it out so that it is
indistinguishable from the offal of the
other wild animals roaming this
fecund land."
The novel starts with Tiberius' first campaign...if this were a mystery, I would have picked up on the clues that things that happened were not exactly what had been planned! Indeed, when, under the leadership of Tiberius, his men were first "over the wall" and were immediately applauded by the other soldiers...

A tumultuous roar went up from the walls, startling Tiberius and Fannius. The survivors of their cohort should out again, their swords and shields raised high, clattering one against another. The wall had been swept clear, the victory was theirs.
A cry welled up, "Hail Tiberius Gracchus!" First over the wall!"
Tiberius raised his hand in acknowledgment, first one way, and then the other. He whispered to Fannius, "Do you think it's true?" We were first?"
"You, Tiberius!" said Fannius, "You were first!"
Tiberius gave him an incredulous, almost ridiculing expression. "I don't see how it could be," he said, it took us so long to get here."
"Long?" Fannius said, "Look at the sun. We've been here less than an hour. We fought up her for perhaps fifteen minutes at the most."
Bewildered, Tiberius gazed at the sun, then at the city. Fifteen minutes?

It is quite obvious to readers that Tiberius was an honorable man. Everybody was saying that he was first over the wall...and that won him the Mural Crown, which produced anguish for many, especially his brother-in-law Scipio.  I could immediately identify him as one of the villains...he even looks like it!

But for Tiberius, he was appalled at what took place after Carthage was captured.

Ruins of Carthage
Tiberius instructed his men to form two lines, and begin to move slowly behind the rest of the troops, who had broken up into informal gangs. As they walked, the exaltation from the wreathing by Scipio and the army's acclaim had faded by what he saw then.
The ganged Romans broke into each home and building, and turned out all of their inhabitants. In the street, they forced the men to their knees and killed them, slashing their throats, taking off their heads, or simply hacking them to pieces. Old men and women, infants, and babies were dispatched as quickly as possible so that the conquerors could go about their business of taking everything.
Women and girls were dragged out, some clutching scraps of cloth to their bodies, some naked, some already dead from repeated, brutish rape. Those alive were tied together by their necks and marched off along with any boys too young to wield weapons, back to the harbor to await sale to the slavers.
Most were killed. After a brutal, three-year siege, the Romans exacted their revenge as expected. But, something else was going on, Tiberious realized. He watched as a woman of 30 or so, a comely young matron, he thought, was pulled out by three soldiers. She was thrust on one knee to the cobblestones, her arms jerked straight out to steady her. She looked up at Tiberius, dark brown eyes deal already, and an optio sliced her head from her body with one measured stroke of his sword. As her head fell, Tiberius noticed her hair, closely-cropped, almost to the skull. He quickly fixed his sight on Fannius, who witnessed her death with an expression frozen in shock. Fannius glanced at Tiberius, then averted his eyes, almost guiltily.

What Tiberius had seen began the change in him.. A change that would bring about much inner turmoil for him. But in the end, he had to stand true to what he believed. Tiberius had left the ruins of Carthage as a young, inexperienced soldier. He knew he would be required to continue to be involved with Rome's desire to seek more and more from their war efforts. In his mother's eyes, she expected nothing less... With his own inner desires to succeed in his work, he knew he would face similar scenes in the future. But then he got married; how would a family change him further?? Only one thing kept coming to his thoughts...something had to be done about the lower classes of Rome and those who faced the wrath of Roman soldiers at the time of their being conquered... and the death of so many soldiers during these wars...

When he next was to be sent to Numantia in Hispania, his actions began to respond to his personal feelings of honor... Could he hold true to his personal standards of conduct against all who opposed him?

Follow his life through major changes as they came. with Tiberius being in the thick of much of what happened in the future... Highly recommended, especially for those who enjoy historical novels...based upon actual events...


Dan Wallace worked in book publishing for 37 years before turning to writing full time. He lives in the Washington, DC, area with his wife and two cats.  

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