Fame by association is hardly the stuff of dreams. History is peppered with the fleetingly famous who have scrambled into the chronicle of time merely by dint of their connection to people in high places. For some — Stalin’s daughter, Carter’s brother, Thatcher’s son — relative fame comes at a high price. Their flaws are magnified and their failings written in the sky. For others obscurity beckons, but for all of them, in life and in death, they must forever exist in someone else's shadow – and so it might have been for Abram Petrovich Gannibal.
Long one of history's footnote figures whenever he was mentioned, if mentioned at all, it was always in reference to the towering influence of his godfather, Tsar Peter the Great, or to the genius of his great grandson, the beloved Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin. Yet Gannibal's own life story rivals that of any iconic leader or cultural superstar.
In the entertaining and scholarly biography, The Stolen Prince: Gannibal, Adopted Son of Peter the Great, Great-Grandfather of Alexander Pushkin, and Europe's First Black Intellectual, author Hugh Barnes takes the reader across three continents in search of his fascinating, elusive subject. Describing Gannibal's life as eventful is a Siberia-sized understatement.
Continually reinventing himself, he was at various turns a mathematician, linguist, secret agent, philosopher, military engineer, naturalist, soldier, author, farmer, husband, and father. It’s all the more extraordinary that, but for an unlikely turn of events, this eighteenth-century polymath might have lived out his life as an African slave.
Hard facts about Gannibal are frustratingly thin on the ground, and one of the biggest gaps comes at the very start: no one knows where he was born. Barnes does his best to settle the matter, making a dangerous journey to Ethiopia in search of clues that might confirm Gannibal’s own claim to have been an Abyssinian prince, but Barnes’ research points also to Logone, south of Lake Chad, as Gannibal’s birthplace. Gannibal himself muddied the waters by his adoption of the Russified name of a Carthaginian general and the use of an elephant on his coat of arms.