Hannibal Barca of Carthage

Hannibal Barca

Hannibal Barca is without a doubt the most famous general from ancient Carthage in northwestern Africa. To reiterate, he was the dude who led an army of African elephants across the Alps to attack the Romans. He would have almost wiped them off the map too, except the ruling oligarchy back in Carthage denied his request for reinforcements after his big battle at Cannae. Had his own government shown him much more support, we’d probably be naming dinosaurs with Carthaginian rather than Latin vocabulary. As it happened, he lost the Second Punic War, and after the Third War Carthage itself would be destroyed.

Didyme

Didyme

Didyme was a native Egyptian mistress of Ptolemy II (283-246), the second ruler of Egypt’s Ptolemaic dynasty. Although little other information about her has survived, she was described as very beautiful both in the memoirs of Ptolemy VIII and in one epigram by Asclepiades. The latter says, “If she is black, what is that to me? So are coals, but when we burn them, they shine like rosebuds.”

OK, you could argue that’s a back-handed way of praising an African woman’s beauty. It’s a bit like saying “You’re pretty, for a black girl.” But then, most of the ancient Greeks would have grown up with a Mediterranean-centric standard of beauty since that was what they knew best. Nonetheless, Didmye must have been quite a babe indeed for Greek chroniclers to remember her as such.

Sophonisba’s Suicide

Sophonisba's Suicide

Sophonisba (d. 203 BC) was a Carthaginian noblewoman known for her beauty, who lived during the Second Punic War (this was the war in which Hannibal fought the Romans). After the Romans had defeated her former husband Syphax, she married again to their Numidian ally Massinissa—a move the Romans did not approve. They threatened to chain her up and take her prisoner, but rather than letting herself be humiliated this way, Sophonisba committed suicide by drinking poison. (I’m summing up a rather convoluted story as briefly as I can here.)

This moment has been depicted in art many times in the past, but of course most of these portrayals have tended to portray the Carthaginian princess as a Northern European woman in medieval or classical Greek/Roman garb. It’s high time someone bucked that trend with an African portrayal of Sophonisba.

Sacred Band Fighter of Carthage

Sacred Band Fighter of Carthage

The Sacred Band of Carthage was an elite infantry unit recruited from the upper echelons of Carthaginian society. They did most of their fighting during the fourth century BC, but they would disappear from mention in the historical record after 310 BC (long before Hannibal appeared on the scene, unfortunately). They were unusual among soldiers in the Carthaginian army in that they were all native citizens of Carthage, as opposed to the foreign mercenaries whose ranks formed the army’s greater bulk.

My design for this Sacred Band fighter is predominantly speculative of course, but I wanted to get away from the Greek-influenced outfits Carthaginian warriors are usually portrayed as wearing. The white areas on his face and chest are meant to represent body paint made from white ash, such as that used by the Dinka of South Sudan and some societies in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley.

Building the Pyramids

Building the Pyramids

The ancient Egyptians are doing what they did best—building very large limestone tombs for their Pharaohs.

To keep the workers in a cheerful mood as they haul those big blocks up the ramps, this singing drummer is providing some background music. I don’t think there is evidence either way whether they did it, but I like to imagine the ancient Egyptians singing or chanting together while they worked.

Three Goddesses

Three Goddesses

This is a digitally inked and colored version of those three goddesses I doodled earlier. From left to right, the goddesses are Isis of Egypt, Athena of Greece, and Nuwa of China. Accompanying each goddess is a symbol of my own design, though each incorporates elements of iconography native to each culture. Isis’s symbol is based off an ankh, Nuwa on the Yin/Yang, and Athena on the so-called “Panhellenic Star” (the last being used as a symbol by the Greco-Macedonian forces under Alexander the Great).

Three Goddess Doodles

Three Goddess Sketches

Each of these pencil doodles depicts a goddess from a different culture’s mythology, each accompanied by a symbol of my own design. From left to right, they are Isis from Egypt, Athena from Greece, and Nuwa from China. Although most people have heard of Isis and Athena, Nuwa isn’t so well-known, but in Chinese mythology she was the goddess who created human beings (hence why I labeled her a “goddess of creation” in my doodle).

One of the challenges when drawing these doodles was giving each goddess a skin tone that was distinct from the rest. They’re all supposed to be “women of color” with darker skin than northern Europeans, but their exact shades of color differ between them. Isis, as an African goddess, should of course be the darkest of the bunch; Athena is supposed to be a Mediterranean tan; and Nuwa is supposed to have the light brown color of a southern Chinese (since I wanted her to be darker than the “pale geisha” stereotype). I think the difference in skin tone between them would appear more obvious if I were to digitally color this sometime.

Matadi the Jungle Emancipator

Matadi, the Jungle Emancipator, is the heroine of my short story Blessing of the Moon. When she was a girl, she and her village were captured by slavers from the east. After a tyrannosaur attacked the slavers’ caravan, she freed herself in the chaos and has since devoted her life to terrorizing slavers and liberating their victims. As you can see, Matadi has adopted a raptor motif to her getup, and that flute hanging from her necklace is her way of summoning them to do her bidding.

Blessing of the Moon

Faraji wiped the last speck of blood off his scimitar and held it up against the campfire’s light. Even after all the nicks and scratches it had collected over years of combat, it still shone with an almost heavenly brilliance. The inscriptions in its blade, written in cursive Aradyic, invoked the Moon’s blessing of strength towards whomever wielded the sword. Thus far it had never failed Faraji, and certainly not during his latest raid.

Around the fire his warriors bantered, joked, and laughed with each other, as warriors across the world always did when resting at camp. They were all Kiswahans like himself, dark brown-skinned with off-white kanzu tunics and turbans over their black, tightly curled hair. In truth, their physical features differed little from the miserable heathens they had yoked and manacled to one another in the darkness at the camp’s edge.

But those sad-eyed idolaters, naked but for loincloths of woven bark and jewelry fashioned from cowrie shells and dinosaur teeth, were not lovely to look at. Even the nubile young women in their ranks had their skin blemished with hideous scarifications of pagan significance. They may have been kin to the Kiswahan race by blood, but the old superstitions they clung to made for a very different, barbaric culture.

A faint yet high-pitched cry, almost like some kind of flute, whistled from the black depths of the surrounding rainforest. Even with the nocturnal humidity and the campfire’s warmth, Faraji could not deny the chill prickling his skin from that eerie noise. He had made a whole career of penetrating these jungles from the east, braving an immense variety of beasts and heathens alike. But never in all his previous ventures had the Kishawan slaver heard such a sound.

Then again, the jungle housed more species of creature than could fit in all the world’s menageries. It might have been nothing more than some rare bird that had sung. Regardless, it did not call again. There was nothing to fear.

“Bwana!” Hasani, Faraji’s right-hand fighter, rushed to his side and tapped his shoulder. Sweat sparkled on Hasani’s terror-wrinkled brow. “I think I saw something.”

Continue reading “Blessing of the Moon”