Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

06 October 2009

Hannibal’s Umbria

We go to Umbria for the last few days before leaving Italy. The Serchio Valley road unwinds as we pass Fornoli, Bagni di Lucca, the Devil’s Bridge and, skirting Lucca city, join the autostrada to Florence and Arezzo, both of which we by-pass, through the Val di Chiana to Perugia and Assisi. It’s a quick trip, about 200 km, on a relatively empty road. Before we reach Perugia we pass along the northern shores of Lake Trasimeno… this is extra-historic country.


School history left me believing that the Roman army was invincible; so far advanced in weapons and technique that, until the decline and fall of the Empire and its slow retraction into its heartlands while the jackal longbeards and skinheads nibbled its extremities and turned out the lights to start the Dark Ages, it never lost a battle. A romantic notion, of course, and one easily shot to pieces by a cursory examination of the record, but sufficiently embedded in me for Hannibal’s victory at Lake Trasimeno to be astonishing.

North Africa’s Carthaginians were disenchanted with the Romans who, having defeated them in the first Punic (Punic =Phoenician=Carthaginian) war in 241 BC, tried to bleed them dry. So when the Romans became preoccupied on their northern flanks by raiding Gauls and Goths, Carthaginian Hannibal seized the day and besieged and destroyed Sagunto, a Roman-dominated city in south-east Spain, and so precipitated the second Punic war in 219 BC .

By 217 BC Hannibal had become so successful against the Romans that he was halfway up the Italian peninsula fighting Consul Flaminius north of Lake Trasimeno. Flaminius made a frightful mess of things by trying to flush out the Carthaginians through a narrow, foggy valley near Tuoro but Hannibal had fooled him, and the Carthaginian cavalry and infantry came down from the surrounding hills and forced the Romans to fight in open order, unable to employ their classic, hand-to-hand battle techniques.

It was a rout. There was no escape, Flaminius’s army of 15 000 had their backs to the lake and they were all killed, including him - which was just as well as the Romans wouldn’t have forgiven him if he’d survived. History says that the blood of the battle laid around for days and filled a little stream whose name, as a consequence, was changed to Sanguineto - Blood River.

The war against Hannibal went on for another fifteen years during which north-west Umbria was so ravaged that the resultant agrarian crisis lasted until modern times!

From ‘Antipasto’ random samplings from various writings made over a few years of visits to a ‘New Zealander’s Italy



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By Don Donovan

About Me

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Don Donovan: Biography

I was born on 20 January 1933, nine days before Hitler came to power in Germany, I grew up in south London. Although evacuated during the phoney war and the quieter times I lived in and out of air raid shelters during the blitz and experienced both V1 and V2 attacks on London. Left grammar school in 1948 aged 15 substantially undereducated. I wanted to go to art school but because of family ‘poverty’ joined a commercial art studio in the West End. I was, thereafter, variously a messenger boy, commercial artist and typographer. I was in the Royal Air Force from 1951 to 1953 when the only useful thing I did was to take part in King George VI’s funeral parade.

In 1955 I married Patricia O’Donnell, a RADA graduate, at that time playing opposite Derek Nimmo, they were juvenile leads in a touring repertory company. He went on to great success because he had a funny voice.

We came to New Zealand in 1960 where I worked in advertising. At length I became managing director of one of the companies of whose holding company (the largest domestic advertising complex in New Zealand) I was also a proprietor and shareholder. I left the industry in 1990 when my company was bought out by American interests. My timing was brilliant, at that point my first book had been published and the next was on its way.

We have two daughters and four grand-children.

Now, apart from writing, I function as a self-educated grumpy old man.

Books & Writings

‘New Zealand Odyssey’, with Euan Sarginson, Heinemann-Reed, 1989.

‘One Man’s Heart Attack’, New House, 1990. (A special edition of this book was purchased by CIBA-Geigy for distribution to NZ doctors).

‘Open 7 Days’, Random Century, October 1991.

‘The Good Old Kiwi Pub’ by Saint Publishing in 1995 followed by:
‘New Zealand House & Cottage’ in 1997. (Saint Publishing have also published calendars for the years 1994 to 2004 using my watercolour illustrations).

‘The Wastings’, my first novel was published in July 1999 by Hazard Press. Although an international subject it had very limited distribution, only in New Zealand, and the rights have reverted to me. (Colin Dexter read 'The Wastings' and wrote to me: 'I enjoyed and admired "The Wastings"... a beautifully written work... a splendid debut in crime fiction... More please!'.)

Also the texts of photographic books:
‘Colourful New Zealand’
‘New Zealand in Colour’
‘Top of the South’
‘Above Auckland’
‘Hauraki Gulf Destinations’
‘Bay of Plenty’
and a compilation of photographs and quotations titled ‘Anzac Memories’ 2004 all published by New Holland.

My written and illustrated book, ‘Country Churches of New Zealand’ was published in October 2002 by New Holland, who also published ‘Rural New Zealand’ 2004 (photographs and text), and a series of four humorous books of photographs and quotations in 2004 and 2005 titled ‘Woolly Wisdom’, ‘Chewing the Cud’, ‘Fowl Play’, and ‘Pig Tales’. My most recent book was published in August 2006 by New Holland, titled ‘Political Animals’.

Over the years I have written for NZ Herald, Heritage Magazine, Next Magazine and various local and overseas travel and general interest media.