Cabiria (1914)




Director:    Giovanni Pastrone

Starring:    Carolina Catena (Cabiria, as a Child), Lidia Quaranta (Cabiria),  Gina Marangoni (Croessa, Cabiria's Nurse),  Dante Testa (Karthalo, the High Priest),  Umberto Mozzato (Fulvio 'Fulvius'  Axilla),  Bartolomeo Pagano (Maciste, Axilla's Slave),  Raffaele di Napoli (Bodastoret, the Innkeeper), Emilio Vardannes (Hannibal), Edoardo Davesnes (Hasdrubal), Italia Almirante-Manzini (Sophonisba, Hasdrubal's Daughter),  Alessandro Bernard (Siface 'Syphax', King of Cirta), Luigi Chellini (Scipione 'Scipio', the Consul), Vitale Di Stefano (Massinissa, the Numidian King), Enrico Gemelli (Archimede), Ignazio Lupi (Arbace).

a young girl's odyssey through at the time of Hannibal in the Second Punic War (218-201 BC) -- focus on n. African front


Spoiler warning: below is a summary of the entire film. 

Batto returns from the fields to the city.  He has a garden at Catana, with a view of Etna (an active volcano on the east coast of Sicily, close to Messina and Catania).  Batto has a daughter, little Cabiria, who plays with dolls with her nurse Croessa. 

There is a disturbance around the volcano.  Everyone runs to the window to see what's wrong.  The volcano is erupting.  Botto starts praying to a god that it might placate the fury of the volcano.  The volcano calms down, but later in the night the volcano flares up again.  Public buildings are catching on fire and people are running for their lives.  Columns of the buildings start falling over and the buildings collapse.  The servants are trying to escape when they discover a secret stairway that takes them underground. 

The servants find the great wealth of Batto the hoarder.  They grab what they can and escape.  With them is the nurse Croessa and Cabiria.  The survivors still in the city believe that Cabiria is dead, buried beneath the ruins of the buildings.  Everyone is very upset at the loss of the young girl. 

Out in the woods the survivors divide the treasure.  Croessa gets a fancy ring.  The servants make for the sea where they find an abandoned ship.  The ship turns out not to be abandoned.  Rather the ship belongs to Phoenician pirates out foraging for wood.  The pirates attack and kill many of the servants.  But the pirates grab Croessa and Cabiria and take the females with them.   The females are sold in a marketplace of Carthage as slaves.  The High Priest Karthalo buys Cabiria as an offering to the god Moloch.  He takes Croessa along with the girl. 

There are two Roman spies in Carthage.  Fulvius Axilla is a Roman patrician and with him is his huge, black slave Maciste.  The innkeeper Bodastoret welcomes Fulvius and Maciste to his Inn of the Striped Monkey.  A black waitress flirts with Maciste. 

Croessa tries to stop the High Priest from selecting Cabiria by saying she is ill and would not be welcomed by the god Moloch.  It does no good.  Cabiria is to be in the next sacrifice.  Croessa's attempted deception will now get her punished.    She is tied up with ropes around her hands and repeatedly smashed on the back with palm sticks.  She falls to the ground and left at the whipping post.  She gets herself up and hides down by a sea wall.  Fulvius and Maciste come walking along the sea wall.  Croessa recognizes Fulvius as a Roman and pleads with him to save Cabiria.  To encourage him to save Cabiria, Croessa gives him the ring she got as her part of the treasure saying that the powerful ring carries a fate with it:  If you give help, then by the gods, help you will receive.   Fulvius wants to help. 

The Temple of Moloch is huge.  The entrance is also huge and looks like the mouth of some strange beast.  The High Priest is sacrificing one hundred innocent children today.  He says that Carthage gives Moloch its flower.  One by one children are placed on a door and then the door is thrust up to cover the fiery chest of the god Moloch. The people wildly celebrate the sacrifices.  Croessa, Fulvius and Maciste put a covering over their faces and go in with the crowd to where the sacrifices are being made.  When it comes time to sacrifice Cabiria, they grab the child and run off with her.  Fulvius and Maciste make their way up and onto the roof of the temple.  Maciste throws one Carthaginian off the roof to his death and another one into a boiling liquid.  They then climb down from the roof to the ground.  The crowd sees them and gives chase. 

Maciste slams into the door of the inn, forcing it open in order to get away from the pursuing crowd.  The crowd starts banging on the door.  Maciste grabs the irate innkeeper and carries him up to the second floor.  From a window up there he forces the innkeeper to tell the crowd that he has seen no one.  The crowd proceeds onward to look elsewhere.  Croessa pays dearly for the rescue of the little girl. 

Meanwhile, Hannibal and his troops cross the Alps of the future Italy.  His advance soon threatens Rome.  With him he has brought some elephants.  At the news of Hannibal's success, the people of Carthage go crazy with praise for their hero. 

Fulvius and Maciste stay hidden at the Inn of the Striped Monkey.  At the inn Fulvius learns of the threat posed by Hannibal.  He decides to attempt to escape from Carthage to go back to Rome.  Fulvius and Maciste warn the innkeeper about what will happen to him if he tells anyone. 

Sophonisba, the beautiful daughter of Hasdrubal, stroke a huge leopard cat while it drinks milk from a big bowl.  Her father is hosting a visitor:  the Numidian King Massinissa.  Dad has promised the king his daughter.  Massinissa sends a gift to Sophonisba to encourage her to meet him in secret at moonrise in the garden of the cedars.  A black female servant takes the small chest to Sophonisba, who opens it right away.  She pulls out a beautiful necklace and then asks the servant what is the king like.  The servant describes him in such high poetic tones that she provides no description of him at all. 

The innkeeper rats to the High Priest and receives a reward.  He tells the High Priest to lay an ambush for Fulvius. 

In the morning the innkeeper sends Fulvius, Maciste and Cabiria off from the inn.  He is gleeful over his treachery.  The three run right into the ambush, but Fulvius is able to get away.  He runs to the coast and jumps off a high building into the sea.  Maciste and Cabiria also get away. 

Sophonisba and the servant go the the garden to meet the king.  The king comes out and see Sophonisba, but she is covered in head to foot in a future Muslim-style.  Only her eyes are seen. 

Maciste and Cabiria take refuge in the Hasdrubal gardens.  He runs right into the king, who stops him.  Maciste bows down before the king.  The ambushers arrive and the two women and Maciste with Cabiria run.  Maciste stops Sophonisba and asks her to protect Cabiria and the gods will protect Sophonisba.  The servant grabs the little girl and the two women run off.  When the ambushers catch up with Maciste, the king says that Maciste had no one with him when he ran into him in the garden.  The ambushers think that Cabiria must be with Fulvius.  Maciste goes peaceably with the ambushers. 

Maciste is tortured.  He is then chained to a millstone for life.  Maciste, however, easily gets out of his chains.  The other men are very frightened of the huge man. Maciste just sits down on the millstone and the other men walk away from him. 

Flavius is on a ship headed to Rome.  Maciste is made to push the millstone around and around like a donkey.  The local innkeeper taunts him while he pushes the huge stone.  He gets behind Maciste and hits him with a stick, but Maciste gives him a back kick that cures the innkeeper of that idea. 

Hannibal has won a victory at Cannae.  But then he suffers a reversal.  The Proconsul Marcellus lays siege to Syracuse, ally of Carthage.  Fulvius is there fighting under the banner of the victor at Nola.  At Syracuse is the great Archimedes.  He invents machines for the defense of Syracuse.  He wants to use fire to destroy the Roman fleet.  He fixes up a bunch of reflectors that he adjusts so that they all focus light at one point.  He shines the reflectors onto the ships of the Romans and sets the ships afire.  Panic sets in among the Romans.  Archimedes destroys the Roman fleet.  Falvius and thousands of others have to abandon ship.  The tide carries Fulvius to the Sea of Aretusa.  On his finger he still carries Croessa's ring.  "If you give help, help you will receive." 

Some fishermen spot Fulvius and swim out to bring him in.  They carry him up on the rocks and lay him down.  The men steal his money and Croessa's ring.  They bring the man Fulvius and the ring to Cabiria's father Botto, who recognizes the ring immediately.  As soon as Fulvius recovers, the parents immediately ask him where he got the ring.  The parents are so relieved and excited to learn that their daughter is still alive.  But then they are tortured when Fulvius has to tell them that he does not currently have custody of Cabiria, who is still in Carthage.  He promises the parents that he will make it back to Carthage and find the girl. 

Syphax, king of Cirta, has stripped Massinissa of his kingdom and Massinissa himself has vanished into the desert.  Now Sophonisba's father makes a deal with Syphax that he can have Sophonisba in return for an alliance against Rome.  Sophonisba does not want to marry Syphax.  She sends out a dove in the hope that the gods will take pity on her.  She comes out to meet her future husband and faints.  She has to be taken back to her room. 

Scipio, the conqueror of Spain, holds Africa.  With him is a man named Lelius.  Massinissa is now a Numidian bandit-knight, who still dreams of being coronated in Cirta.  The three men make plans for an attack on Carthage.  Fulvius, who knows the terrain, will sneak into Carthage to spy on the city's defenses.  He takes some men with him.  With their shields they construct a series of levels.  Fulvius is able to climb up and up the extended pyramid until he gets to the top of the walls of the walled city. 

Hasdrubal holds council.  The High Priest Karthalo leaves for Cirta.  He will try to persuade Syphax to attack the Romans.  He sets out over the desert with a camel caravan.  Meanwhile, Fulvius finishes his assignment and now starts looking for Maciste and Cabiria.  He seeks out the old innkeeper. He sneaks through the second story window and threatens to stab the innkeeper if he does not tell him where Maciste is.  He even offers him some money to lead him to Maciste.  The innkeeper agrees.  He finds Maciste still at the millstone. 

The next night Flavius sneaks out of the inn while the innkeeper sleeps.  He sneaks over to the old millstone.  Maciste is so happy to see him. Maciste then breaks his chains and they escape.  Back at the inn Maciste breaks the iron belt around his waist.  The innkeeper awakens, sees Maciste and promptly dies of a heart attack.  Maciste tells Fulvius that he only knows that he turned Cabiria over to a woman with the Numidian king.  Fulvius and Maciste now escape from Carthage.

Karthalo is in Cirta and Syphax is on the move against Rome.  Sophonisba is also there in Cirta.  She has a young slave that goes by the name of Elissa.  Karthalo notices her and finds her delightful. 

Scipio moves his camp to a better position.  Fulvius and Maciste despair of ever reaching him.  The former Numidian king tells Scipio that the camp of Syphax will be put to the torch.  Fulvius is so exhausted that he has to stop for awhile.  The camp of Syphax is set on fire.  Maciste sees the fire in the distance.  He has to pick up and carry Fulvius who is still too exhausted to walk.  The two men are captured by the Cirtans. 

Massinissa pursues the retreating army without quarter.  King Syphax is captured.  Maciste pours water over Fulvius to fully awaken him.  Sophonisba comes out of the palace to see what is going on.  She is very close to Flavius and Maciste.  She tells the guards to move the prisoners away from the area.  They do so.  Elissa feels sorry for the prisoners and brings them some water.  Flavius kisses her hand.  Massinissa and his troops are about to conquer Cirta.  They use ladders in the assault on the fortress.  Maciste bends a bar in the window so he can get out. 

Sophonisba has a nightmare and summons Karthalo to interpret it.  She sends Elissa out to bring Karthalo, but the High Priest seems more interested in flirting with Elissa than interpreting a nightmare.  Elissa breaks away and he follows her to Sophonisba, who tells him all about what happened in the garden of Hasdrubal and about the little girl.  Karthalo demands to take Elissa with him.  His men grab her and carry her away. 

Maciste sees the High Priest and wants revenge on him.  Karthalo has Elissa captive now and chases her around the room.  Maciste hears what he is saying to Elissa and realizes that Elissa is really little Cabiria.  Maciste comes to the rescue.  When Karthalo starts to scream for help, Maciste grabs him by the throat.  His guards come in and Maciste throws Karthalo on them, knocking them down.  He and Cabiria start running.  Fulvius sees and hears the commotion and runs to help Maciste.  One of the High Priest's men grabs Cabiria and removes her from the area, while Maciste and Fulvius fight not to be captured.  They bar the door and get a respite for awhile.  Maciste tells Fulvius that the girl that he was trying to protect is none other than Cabiria. 

Sophonisba is angry with Cabiria now and orders her to be taken away.  Meanwhile, Massinissa parades the Cirta king around in chains.  The people of Cirta surrender.  The attacking soldiers have a day to sack the place.  Sophonisba offers herself to Massinissa as part of the spoils of war.  Massinissa wants her.  And now through the wiles of Sophonisba, Massinissa is prepared to betray his alliance with Rome.  Massinissa marries Sophonisba. 

Fulvius and Maciste are still trapped in the basement with all the stores of food and wines.  Massinissa wants to meet the two heroes.  He has the men brought to him.   Fulvius implores Sophonisba to spare Cabiria.  Sophonisba tells him that Cabiria no long lives.  She has been killed. 

Scipio camps near Cirta.  He learns that Sophonisba is trying to turn Massinissa against Rome.  So he summons Massinissa to his camp.  Massinissa goes.  Scipio says that Sophonisba should be in the hands of the Consul as part of the spoils of war.  They take Sophonisba and the Consul treat the Carthaginian queen as one of the spoils of war.  Massinissa is upset about losing his wife and he asks Flavius to help him for Sophonisba might still be able to help Flavius.  He asks Flavius to send Maciste to him.  Maciste goes to see Sophonisba and he gives Maciste a note to take to Sophonisba.  He says in the note that he gives her a royal gift, a gift of poison.  Sophonisba drinks it.  She takes off all her jewelry and throws it to the servants around her. 

Flavius arrives.  Sophonisba, still alive, says that in exchange for the gift of death she will show mercy.  Cabiria is freed.  The queen gives Cabiria to Flavius.  She then falls down and dies. 

Carthage is conquered at Zama and has to submit to the Romans.  Flavius and Cabiria fall in love. 


For 1914, it's a pretty good movie.  It gives a written description of what is going to happen and then shows the audience the scene.  This makes it easier to follow the silent movie.  The story has a lot of twists and turns in it, but it's more of an adventure story than anything else.  It does talk about Mt. Etna, Carthage, Hannibal, Scipio, Archimedes and leaders in North Africa.  And even better, it's not that far off from what actually happened. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

See Hannibal (1960). 


Hasdrubal was the brother of Hannibal. 

218-201 BC  --  Second Punic War between Carthage and Rome. 

218  --  Hannibal starts his journey to attack Rome heading through Spain and going over the Alps into the future Italy. 

218  --  during the Battle of Cissa , the Carthaginian commander Hanno, the nephew of Hannibal, conducted a pitched battle before his troops had been united with the army under Hasdrubal.  The battle ended in a Roman victory. 

217 Hannibal wins the Battle of Lake Trasimene over the Romans.

215  --  Hasdrubal marches into Roman territory and loses the Battle at Dertosa on the south bank of the Ebro River across from the town of Dertosa, in the future Spain.   

214-212 BC  --  the Siege of Syracuse takes place. The Romans stormed the city of Syracuse on the east coast of Sicily after a long siege.  This gave the Romans control of the entire island of Sicily. During the siege, the city was protected by weapons developed by Archimedes.  There were strict instructions to spare Archimedes from the Roman general Marcellus, but he was killed by a Roman soldier.

The Scipios opened a front in Africa by allying themselves with a powerful Numidian king.  The Romans trained his heavy infantry soldiers. The Numidian king then wages war against the Carthaginian ally Gaia.

213 BC  --  Hasdrubal left Iberia and fought Syphax, which tied up Carthaginian resources.  Syphax attackes the eastern Numidians Massylians, ruled by king Gala, then an ally of Carthage.

206 BC  --  Gala dies.  His two sons Massinissa and Oezalces fight each other and Syphax conquers considerable parts of the eastern Numidian kingdom.

Massinissa sees Rome winning and switches from Carthage to Rome.  Losing Massinissa, Hasdrubal finds a new ally in Syphax.  Syphax seals the alliance by offering his daughter Sophonisba in marriage who until 206 had been betrothed to Massinissa.

203 BC  --  at the Battle of Bagbrades, Scipio defeats Hasdrubal and Syphax.  Syphax retreats back to Numidia and Laelius and Massinissa follow him there to Cirta.  They defeat Syphax at the Battle of Numidia.  Syphax is captured by the Romans.  Masinissa is given command of Syphax's kingdom. 

Masinissa falls in love with Sophonisba and marries her. Scipio Africanus scolds Masinissa for his weakness and tells him to leave Sophonisba.  The Roman wants to take the princess to Rome to appear in the triumphal parade. Masinissa goes to Sophonisba and asks her to drink a cup of poison he has.  She drinks the poison and dies.

202 BC  --  Hannibal loses to the Romans in the Battle of Zama which brings the second Punic War to an end.

201 BC  --  end of the Second Punic War. 



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