Photo by Jason Limb
The Wood brothers take a break at a Catalunya vineyard
The focus of this 'Over to you' is slightly different from normal. We throw the spotlight on Danny, Ben and Sam Wood, three Anglo-Australian brothers who have been cycling around the Mediterranean over the past couple of months, following the route of Hannibal and his two brothers on their attempted conquest of Rome over 2,000 years ago. Danny has worked as the BBC correspondent in Madrid, Sam’s an archaeologist and Ben a software developer. The epic voyage saw them recently pass through Barcelona as well as Tarragona and Empúries on the Costa Brava. Their trip is being filmed and will be shown on British television next year.
It’s not always obvious where ideas come from, but in the case of the Wood brothers and their 10-week cycle across southern Europe tracing the route of Hannibal, it seems that it was just a matter of time before it happened. First, childhood holidays to places like Pompeii means, as Danny said, that they’ve “always been obsessed with ancient history and Romans and Greeks.” Furthermore, two of the three brothers are keen cyclists. “Ben and I have done a lot of cycling trips together for many years,” explained Sam, including routes in Ireland and Australia. Unsurprising, then, that “we’d been thinking about doing a trip like this,” according to Sam, “...and we wanted to combine cycling and history.”
It took two years to bring the original idea to fruition. First it was necessary to get the BBC on board for the filming. Danny’s contacts proved useful here, but it still took time: “They approve it and you think ‘oh great’ and open the champagne, and then there’s always someone else who has to approve it and then there’s someone else.” After this, there was six months spent writing a “50, 60 page” treatment, as well as a lot of research.
Finally, in September this year, the three set off on their adventure from Cartagena in southern Spain to Zama in Tunisia, a journey of over 3,400 kilometres. They planned to complete the route in 10 weeks (including rest days), cycling 90 kilometres daily, but from the start things took longer than expected, partly as a result of schedule clashes. “The good times to film are mornings and late afternoons and that’s when you want to cycle,” said Danny. Other downsides have included GPS malfunctions, lack of sleep and falling off the custom-made steel touring bikes (Danny had fallen off several times, often when stationary, due to the bike’s clipped pedals that prevent the rider just pulling his feet out).
Still, when they passed through Barcelona in mid-September, all three brothers spoke enthusiastically about their endeavour and the possibility of future projects, with Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan mentioned as inspirations. But, suggested Danny, “maybe [we could] do it on motorcycle or horses.”
ALL ABOUT HANNIBAL
Around 218 BCE, Hannibal and his brothers Hasdrubal and Mago left Cartagena leading between 50,000 and 100,000 men to journey around the Mediterranean, crossing both the Pyrenees and the Alps, to spring an attack on the Romans. Although they won various battles, Rome itself wasn’t taken.
Danny: “There is anecdotal legend that Barcelona is named after Barca, which is the family name of Hannibal. But that’s not historical fact by any stretch.”
Sam: “Empúries prepared for him coming. They reinforced their walls just about the time when he would have been marching by.”
Scholars are divided over whether Hannibal crossed Catalunya by a coastal or inland route. Sam: “There’s not really definite evidence for him going either route.” Some historians argue for the inland Segre route (Lleida-Puigcerdà-Perpignan-Elna) because Empúries was friendly to Rome.
BIKES v ELEPHANTS
Hannibal took 37 elephants with him, believed to be from a species that is now extinct, the African forest elephant; they’re sometimes called Atlas elephants as they’re thought to have lived in the Atlas mountains. They carried supplies and were used to charge the enemy. Danny: “It’s much easier with bikes. Bikes don’t have to be fed. But they do get punctures. ”