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Was Hannibal stupid for deciding not to besiege Rome?

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[siege equipment was not essential. Lacking such things, and let's be honest, most ancient armies built siege equipment in situ and as required if they knew how, then simply waiting for the city to starve was still a viable tactic. ]

 

This is something I've been meaning to look at when (if) I get the time. I was talking this over a few months back on the topic of Antony losing his siege train in Parthia. Apparently though you build your siege equipment in situ, the current theory is that you bring certain crucial metal bits along with you - hinges, ratchets, that sort of thing. Then you bolt them onto locally cut down trees.

 

There is a great deal of fortune and circumstance involved. I doubt Hannibal had in mind to resort to sieges in the first place. I suspect he was well aware of how the Roman reacted to such situations, but his overall strategy probably had more to do with feeding his men. Stuck in one place, he had no logistical setup to keep his men fed and watered thus in order to forage from the local area, he needed to move around.

 

Regarding the crucial metal bits, that sounds more like modern thinking to me, though I can't discount the point. There wasn't an industrial base to produce standard fittings thus having hinges and brackets would mean odd bits and pieces rather than an Acme Catapult Kit. They never bolted things together as we do now. Everything dovetailed or slotted together, thus the iron bits weren't as necessary as we might imagine, being more of a useful convenience than a requirement.

 

Bearing in mind that a full-blown Roman siege catapult stood several metres high, I can believe they were quite sophisticated bits of kit. So Hannibal might have been lacking his widgets rather than the raw material.

 

Ancient artisans were probably well capable of producing whatever bits they needed if they had the raw materials, given enough time, which I note sieges do allow you, Nowhere have I seen any evidence of catapult parts, either literary or archaeologically, and given the lack of preparation that Hannibals initiative entailed, it would be unlikely that such parts existed anyway. I also doubt that siege weaponry was as well made or sophisticated as might be believed. Sturdy, certainly, for practical reasons you can probably think of yourself. When discussing larger siege items we are talking about about weapons made for one purpiose, to attack the fortification, and thus the need to transport them afterward is not a consideration. A useful factor when realising how heavy these artillery pieces were.

 

Having said all of that, once the process of siege warfare begins, scavenging and re-using metal parts might well have been an accepted practice. It's just that I don't read anywhere of such things taking place.

 

On the starvation side, the problem is that you have a month of forced marches to get to Rome, meaning that you can't stop to gather supplies, while Rome has a month to stock up, remove non-combatants etc. Hannibal might have starved before the Romans did.

Rome seems peculiarly unprepared, although I confess that's an impression rather than a studious appraisal. It was almost as if they realised with horror that they really were in danger of being sacked. Unthinkable!

 

In theory there was a great deal the Romans could have done in the three days it would have taken Hannibal to arrive. That however requires organisation and control, which for a city in panic was unlikely even with Roman skills in such areas. Furthermore, a certain proportion would have fled the area surely? There's only so much you can carry.

 

I accept what you say about the limitations of forced marches. Nonetheless, before the days of military equipment as we expect today, soldiers tended to travel lighter (armour and weapons aside), and we do see some remarkable examples of how quickly entire armies were able to march long distances. That probably glosses over the difficulties they encountered along the way.

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Cato,a younger contemporary of Hannibal's, could have consulted pro- Carthaginian accounts like those of the general's friends Silenus and Sosylus when composing the later part of his Origines. He may also have spoken with Carthaginians-prisoners during the war, for instance, and former participants and envoys later. There were even Romans in a position to contribute information from the Punic side: L. Cincius Alimentus, praetor in 210, was captured a couple of years later and became well enough acquainted with Hannibal to hold conversations with him on military matters, which he later very properly made use of in his history of Rome (written in Greek). He need not have been the only Roman prisoner of war to make friends with his captors.[/i]

 

I would agree with Virgil61 here but there were also several pro-Punic and possibly even 'uncommited' historians writing about the wars; notably including Silenus of Caleate who accompanied Hannibal for much of his campaign. Even if now lost, these and similar sources could have provided the basis for the Roman writings which have survived.

 

As a non-expert in my view the issue is not to get too fixated on a 'name' for particular sources. Linguistic experts have been know to spend several volumes dissecting which particular lost writing may have been the source for an obscure reference, in fact the book I am reading at present by Miles makes numerous references to who may have been the source for particular variants of myths and legends that were used in what was effectively a propoganda war occuring throughout the period from before the first rise of Carthage to increasing accrimony with the Greeks and ultimately Rome.

 

For example all sides seem to have spread variants of the Hercules legend as they contended for Sicily and Magna Greaca trying to use such associations to support their claims by implying Divine support or guidance when they raised claims for particular towns or areas as really 'belonging' to one side or the other.

 

Couple that with the histiographic tradition of creating long speeches as a way of explaining motivations of historical figures or more likely putting forward their own 'political agenda' and you are probably onto a loser deciding which element is or is not 'true'.

 

They all portray a 'kind of truth' but how much there is and whether it is what you or I would consider 'truth' is usually extremely difficult to prove or disprove.

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Cato,a younger contemporary of Hannibal's, could have consulted pro- Carthaginian accounts like those of the general's friends Silenus and Sosylus when composing the later part of his Origines. He may also have spoken with Carthaginians-prisoners during the war, for instance, and former participants and envoys later. There were even Romans in a position to contribute information from the Punic side: L. Cincius Alimentus, praetor in 210, was captured a couple of years later and became well enough acquainted with Hannibal to hold conversations with him on military matters, which he later very properly made use of in his history of Rome (written in Greek). He need not have been the only Roman prisoner of war to make friends with his captors.[/i]

 

I would agree with Virgil61 here but there were also several pro-Punic and possibly even 'uncommited' historians writing about the wars; notably including Silenus of Caleate who accompanied Hannibal for much of his campaign. Even if now lost, these and similar sources could have provided the basis for the Roman writings which have survived.

 

I'd like to take credit for that but it's part of the quote from the Classical Quarterly.

 

What I'd give to read some of those lost works.

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Great thread!

 

...Can anyone though verify on the claims on Maharbal being a fictional character that never existed?Is is a statement from another thread...

 

Actually, the thread in mention was begun by...none other! :rolleyes: I think the poster, an outstanding history aficionado/moderator on twc.net named Mimirswell, slightly misunderstood - or I wasn't clear enough amid my scattered thoughts being poured out on the keyboard over this fascinating and indeed deep, deep event of enthusiastic perusal: I never meant to argue that Maharbal didn't exist. That Polybius mentions him in a substantial fashion amid the Trasimene campaign should erase any doubts of his existence; there he exercised initiative independent of the main field army. He pounced on and crushed the Roman-led cavalry force sent ahead from the east by the consul of 217 BCE Gnaeus Servilius Geminus, a seemingly capable leader who held up his duties before perishing at Cannae.

 

I think it is very likely, however, that Livy's famed imputation to Maharbal of "Hannibal, you know how to win a victory but not use one" is romantic literary presented ben-trovato at its most affecting. It's a tidy and lifting detail which raises the stakes of the Great Event in Roman History. It arose throughout congregating peoples in day-to-day life, presumably, and from many from many opinions, probably, which permeated the social circles of Roman society - the quintessential boogeyman, Queen Dido's 'avenger', never came when he had us in dire straits! What a wimp! What a coward! Perhaps an influential feature was that Hannibal was a Carthaginian nobleman; the 'attractive Greek Pyrrhus was in a weaker position in 280 BCE as a battle victor to strongly suggest terms, yet at that backdrop (following the Battle of Heraclea) the SEnate considered accepting Cineas assembly, the envoy from the Epirote king. It took the exhorting tenacity of Appius Claudius Caecus the Blind to stamp out the extant misgivings among the body-politic in Rome. With Hannibal's war, we never even remotely get an intimation of a peace party in Rome.

 

Was Hannibal stupid, Paratrooper, for his inaction immediately Cannae?? On the contrary, he was a master of military science, thus became one of the most instructive leaders for posterity. I feel Hannibal was smarter than all his stern critics, and his applications of circumspect moves were based on exigent circumstances. Too cautious, in a broad sense? The leader who undertook the responsibility to direct Carthage;s entire war effort in this clash of unprecedented proportions? The man who crossed over from Spain in the manner he did with his crack soldiers' whole-hearted support under privations they could not have imagined (in all, 1,272 is the total amount, on two occasions in which one was without his presence, of deserters who forsook Hannibal, at least on record: surely, many Iberians must have skipped out at the onset of the expedition when it left NE Spain, as the lines developed which separated the true army-goers under the son of Hamilcar)? I don't think so. What is often 'stupid', forgive me (IMHO), are the somewhat vilifying critics' comments which ring of 'he was a good tactician but terrible strategist.' That can reach levels of utter twaddle when not followed by at least an explanation of why the charge is so full of conviction. One could even desperately reach with a based alternate scenario that had he marched for Rome in August of 216 BCE, the culmination would have been no worse than what actually and ultimately ensued.

 

But the events which have shaped our political and social world were not ever truly inevitable; occurrences are generally just more surprising or even seemingly eminent. But I guess that sounds arbitrary. Because Polybius didn't mention something we read elsewhere in the record does not automatically discard it's plausibility is very tenable (albeit doesn't exactly help it's credibility) - as is the verdict that because a Captain-General ultimately failed does not automatically render him a flawed strategist. Some 'excuses' are actually good ones.

 

As the strategos of Carthage when war broke in 218 BCE, Hannibal shouldered the bearing and responsibility for practically his home government's entire war effort, in effect building a broad alliance system (yes, very loose, but still all having a common ground which was prioritized by all) ringing Italy by 214 BCE. Macedon shared a common enemy in Rome with Carthage, as did Syracuse, where the ongoing civil strife was skillfully exploited by Hannibal's picked agents to gain Carthage's alliance with the great city-state. Rome easily could have (not 'should have', mind you) been compelled to acquiesce hence we could have looked back with a viewpoint of Roman character of 'they were unrealistically obtuse' rather than the ubiquitous 'the Romans were singularly tenacious and brave' judgments.

 

Hannibal became increasingly limited with what he could do as he remained determined in southern Italy, but he also increased the demands of his own innate leadership skills while placing a serious strain on Rome's proximate resource-bases. Twice, probably in 215 and 211 BCE, respectively, she had to ask (supplicating the second time) Egypt for grain. In 215 BCE - three years after the start of the seventeen-year struggle! Rome needing outside aid for her food-supply: however specific, however possibly superficial in the relevant Polybian and Livian works of it relaying it as so severe, this speaks volumes for the effect of a strategy based on attacking an enemy's capacity to fight back.

 

But Hannibal still had to play the hand he was dealt, and amid the historical terrain concerning the events when tensions blew in 219-218 BCE, he was, to reiterate, caught between a rock and a hard place (no pun intended!). The unaccustomed condition of Carthaginian naval inferiority as of the end of the First Punic War, the economic limitations which befell Carthage following the Treaty of Lutatius (241 BCE), and the subsequent and horrific Truceless War (ironically, an event which did enhance the prestige of the Barcids, due to the success of Hamilcar Barca) almost certainly precluded her from building an armada in the immediate years prior to the invasion which would necessitate the transport of Hannibal's invading army onto Italian shores to actualize his aims. Moreover, the island relay points for such operations could be launched were now lost to Roman possession, thus the Romans could, contrarily, use these same invaluable conduits to undertake troop landings onto Carthage's regions of influence; even if the Carthaginians could have substantially built up their navy amid the Iberian enterprise begun by Hamilcar (the economic sinews certainly increased into the 220s BCE), Roman attention would have turned to vigilance (it already was, albeit mildly).

 

Moreover, I feel Hannibal did not have various alternative luxuries seemingly alluded to by some of his critics regarding his elaborate plan: he couldn't arbitrarily 'leave earlier' for Italy or 'wait until next spring', etc. Rome's power needed to be inexorably reduced (at the very least), not merely defeated in a battle or two, a situation which worked in prior conflicts in Greece and the Hellenic East. His grand design could germinate only from the ruggedly landlocked Po Valley.

 

Hannibal saw the enterprising challenge discerningly: Italy had to be attacked when Rome declared war (or compelled it for the Carthaginians to 'accept', if one prefers) - and it had to be carried out while the iron was hot, given the traditional wavering nature of the Gauls, among whom the most powerful tribes who inhabited the lands constituting a vast and fertile region, a requisite for the point of berth of the bold attempt to tear apart the fabric of Rome's military federation in the Italian Peninsula, showed enthusiastic support if he could soon arrive in the Po Valley. For Hannibal's aims, attack was the best defense in a real sense (unlike the 'we're fighting them over there so we don't need to over here' nonsense of recent events); he had to arrive in the Po Valley where enthusiastic allies awaited him, and get there before the weather would close his ability to arrive there over the mountain passes;he arrived in November, probably, near modern Turin, where the Taurini resided.

 

In terms of weather in the alpine regions of southern Gaul and northern Italy, late fall by the calender was early winter by the conditions. However, he couldn't hastily leave too early (he wasn't really in a hurry); the eastern rivers of Iberia were dangerously in spate until the end of spring, and by arriving in northern Italy as late as possible in the late autumn, he would be able to appropriate the full harvests of the regions there. Also, he needed to prevent the Romans from getting wind of his designs too early, for obvious reasons (the element of surprise can quickly become counter-productive). A case in point regarding the harvests - right before the Battle of the Trebbia was fought, one Dasius, a Latin commander (from Brundisium, we are told, which was a Latin colony) handed over the valuable supply-depot of Clastidium to Hannibal, enabling the latter to open his first bouts of propagandized diplomacy against Rome by honoring the commander and his garrison, all presumably Latins as well (Polybius, Book 3.69.4; Livy, Book 21.48.10). Thus the loyalty of the Latin communities, hopefully for Hannibal, was not totally solid to Rome, the aspect Fabius would admonish when a proposal was set forth to allow two Latin dignitaries a place in the Senate, to fill the spots left by those who perished at Cannae. Fabius sternly opposed this, exclaiming that the Latins 'were already hesitating and wavering in their allegiance' (according to Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, Book 23.22.8). In addition, the garrison of Casilinum refused Rome's offer of citizenship following the stronghold's fall to Hannibal in the spring of 215 BCE (the Romans regained it the following campaign season), indicating a likely compromising plausibility to Rome's fabric of power (it may have been more isolated than reflective of a likely course elsewhere with other communities). But no Latin leader or community would henceforth receive Hannibal in a conciliatory manner after Dasius, but as late as 209 BCE the inner ring of the Latin community (twelve of the thirty colonies) - ie, those which Rome drew directly on for the war effort - withdrew from Rome's war effort because they were bled white from Hannibal's grinding and assiduously implemented strategy. Hannibal knew full well the greatest difficulties would be with his commissariat, and he addressed this issue with the calculating care of a diamond cutter: it was indeed the straightforward issue of food which limited Hannibal's capacity to act more freely and widely in Italy.

 

Perhaps the initial paramount aspect of Hannibal's opening gamble, if one need be pinpointed, lay with his sagacious correspondence with the powerful Insubres and Boii of Cisalpine Gaul. Hannibal could not go by sea - not necessarily because the crude nature of shipping at the time would allow for a high rate of success in reaching Italian shores, but because no allies could be guaranteed along any of the littorals of Italy, and, probably most precluding, he had only 37 ships in commission in his Iberian flotilla in 218 BCE. Soon, it appears, Carthaginian ships were being produced, but not in Spain, not now, and there was no time for a 'project' of ship-building at this opening juncture (in terms of inhibiting mobilizations and availed funds, etc., to pay largely mercenary forces which Carthage relied upon). Hannibal probably had spies in Rome; a Carthaginian spy was indeed caught in the Capitol in late 217 BCE (Livy, Book 22.33.1). I doubt this was the only one.

 

The more streamlined coastal route for travel was out of the question: the tough Ligurian bands could not be risked being tested, and a look at the topography reveals a precarious and narrow position along the coast of southern Gaul and northern Italy (see how he would have been trapped in Roman territory, separated from the Po Valley by mountains?). However, the Ligurians are stated as part of Carthage's allies in Hannibal's covenant with Philip V of Macedon (Polybius, The Histories, Book 7.9). But that was four years later, when a possible tipping point seemed to favor Hannibal's cause for a while.

 

In 218 BCE, the fertile Po Valley had to serve as the launch-pad for the grand design, and it had to be effectuated in full swing before the weather blocked any army's arrival into the western regions of the Po Valley. Hannibal certainly weighed his options and chose his course, with an auspicious outlook, following intelligence (modern language, but elucidating nonetheless) procured from his surveyors and diplomatic messengers sent to northern Italy earlier ('the messengers arrived and reported that the Celts consented and awaited him, at the same time saying that the crossing of the Alps was very toilsome and difficult, but by no means impossible', Polybius tells us in Book 3.34.6), outweighing any of the potentially serious liabilities. Assuming the Renaissance MSS didn't construct horrendously inadequate translations of the original wording of The Histories, Polybius does specifically write at a certain point in describing Hannibal's preparations in Spain: in charging his younger brother Hasdrubal with the duties of how to manage the footing in Spain, he also bade him to prepare to resist the Romans if he himself happened to be absent. I do not find these words, although but a few, 'ambiguous'. The invasion of Italy was not plan in the works going back years whatsoever; it certainly was conceived should war with Rome occur as it did, but the 'wrath of the House of Barca' is a Roman tradition placed, among other natural reasons, to obscure the Romans' unjust (legally, even in the ancient context) acts over Sardinia and again in Spain two decades later (I hope nobody seriously thinks that Carthage was planning to utilize a retaken Sardinia in 238/237 BCE to actually strike at Italy, and/or that Saguntum lay north of the Ebro, or that the Iber we read in the ancient literature is really another river which would lend justification to certian Roman claims over war-guilt, such as the Jucar). He came very close...

 

The wisdom of the great Theodor Mommsen explicates for us, R

Edited by Spartan JKM

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Guest ParatrooperLirelou

Great thread!

 

...Can anyone though verify on the claims on Maharbal being a fictional character that never existed?Is is a statement from another thread...

 

Actually, the thread in mention was begun by...

 

Food for thought.

 

Thanks, James :)

Wow, really well thought out!I'll be spending a bit of time studying this post.Thanks BTW :) for such a well thought out post!

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he was a master of military science

 

Warfare in tha nacient world wasn't a matter of science. So much of it was linked to the personality of the commander rather than acquired skill and experience. Hannibal knew the Romans were by nature cautious commanders. He would have lknown also that his opposing generals were not entirely inspired. He would also have known that the Roman troops, whilst formidable in circumstances that favoured them, were not as flexible as some modern commentators appear to believe. You have only to see the beahviour of the Roman troops to reappraise that.

 

When comparing the decisions made by ancient commanders we see more often than not that it was the clever and cunning leader who found advantages. The more cuatious, staid, and conventional a leader was, the more likely he would be outwitted. This encompasses what we should understand about leadership in these times. It is very much a fight on a large scale. Can one combatant remain cool under stress? Can he see a weakness, an opportunity? Can he throw sand in the other mans face? Blind him by the sun? Force him to move where he cannot fight back effectively? Weaken him by extending the fight?

 

Instead of two men duelling with hand held weapons, warfare in the ancient world is more lke two men duelling with armies. The very same considerations are present albeit on a different scale with different problems attached. Logistics for instance. Even the Romans, famed for their logistical skill and powers of organisation, did not provide supply chains except in individual and rare events. No army in that period were able to fully exploit logistics because the communications necessary to to control were not established.

 

Again the Romans did not invent this aspect of warfare. They, like many other forces, preferred to march toward their goal with rations or foraging providing for their men. That very provision to keep an army fit and healthy was, as indeed it still is, a hugely important consideration. Notice however that almost no advance planning is undertaken. Armies head out for their objectives and seek provision en route if required. In fact, the state of an army was an important consideration. Spartacus was able to see off a legion sent to curtail his increasingly bold raiding from Vesuvius for the simple reason the troops sent against him were in a poor state. I agree the Roman writer might be making an excuse for the failure, but if so, then it merely proves that the imaginative commander is more likely to prevail.

 

I'm not denying for a moment that Hannibal had some real ability as a commander, but notice something very important. As with many leaders back then, some were better at battles, others better at campaigning. Julious Caesar is sometimes criticised for being a poor strategist, and in fact we do see hannibal making some rather unfortunate decisions in his Italian campaigns.

 

It's a mistake to assume that Hannibal was an analytical man. Unlike some leaders, we do know that he listened to his senior men, and perhaps it might be more accurate to claim Hannibal had a more thoughtful approach to warfare. However, we can't ignore the fact that his Italian campaign withered away. The Romans did not beg for mercy, and his forces withere slowly on the margins after their intial successes.

 

Hannibal himself is said to have regretted the decision not to march on Rome following his victory at Cannae. An impressive battlefield general he certainly was. A master of military science he was not.

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Just to re-itterate one major point for consideration the Roman army in the period was not the more fully rounded and developed armies of the early and later Principate.

 

It was at heart an army raised by levy amongst the Roman citizens and their Italic allies for a single campaign under the command of the Consuls of the year while Hannbal had been able to raise a large number of more or less experienced mercenaries. Many of Hannibal's troops had faught with him in his earleir campaigns in Spain so he had a good idea of both their and their leaders capabilities.

 

In comparison it was only as the campaign went on that the Roman units gained a greater degree of cohesion and experience and also allowed cannier leaders a chance to to take over and guide the Roman troops into a campaign of manouvers rather than battles within Italy and direct military pressure on Carthage and her allies which led to ultimate victory.

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I see your point, but it removes the personality from the equation entirely. When dealing deasling with analyses of individuals leading armies as opposed to the character of the armies thenselves, personality is a fundamental consideration. As it happens, military command is very much at the mercy of personality since it colours the decisions of commanders irrespective of any received intelligence, factional behaviour, and military or social expectations.

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I see your point, but it removes the personality from the equation entirely. When dealing deasling with analyses of individuals leading armies as opposed to the character of the armies thenselves, personality is a fundamental consideration. As it happens, military command is very much at the mercy of personality since it colours the decisions of commanders irrespective of any received intelligence, factional behaviour, and military or social expectations.

 

Agreed that personalities can play a significant factor which is why I made the point about 'cannier' Roman leaders getting the chance to take command. Although we have some information about what factors may have influenced Hannibal's actions during the Punic Wars there are large tracts of information we can only guess about or for experts to make reasoned assumptions about. What we can never really know is the extent to which subordinates may have influenced their 'leaders' actions during ancient warfare.

 

I'm not saying that it 'did' happen but slipping a less than talented commander a laxative immediately before a battle may have allowed someone else the chance to 'shine' or at least undo any potentially catastrophic mistakes deriving from the iniital battle plan while their 'leader' was otherwise engaged.... :P

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Thanks Paratrooper; I hope that post didn't seem scattered and too rife with prolixity. I put it together from past snippets I kept in my world documents.

 

...Warfare in tha nacient world wasn't a matter of science. So much of it was linked to the personality of the commander rather than acquired skill and experience. Hannibal knew the Romans were by nature cautious commanders...

This is utter arbitrary twaddle, I'm sorry to state. Look, I'm all for different points of view (and a healthy exchange of them to broaden our views), criterion, specific angles, subjectivity. But this is fanciful. Please do not, without some extra consideration beforehand (do as you like, really), attempt to lecture me over an element thatmya ring with I'm not grasping something, or thematically delivered along those lines. I've identified and inter-acted with serious discourse before over what I deem as subtle forensic tactics of debate quite often in the past - which had no credibility, let alone basis.

 

The Roman commanders cautious whom Hannibal would face?? By nature or by condition, they were without doubt disposed to quite the opposite. At Cannae the consuls exercised some patient vigilance, but still fell into perhaps the most subtle trap in battlefield history. One's personality is not mutually exclusive from skill and experience amid ancient generalship, as neither the commander's personality is from the military science of the day. The term science is merely a derivative of the Latin scientia, which merely denotes knowledge, skill and application. Anything is a science when carried out in comparable fashion to military invasions planned and executed like Hannibal's. Thus Vegetius' title Epitoma Rei Militaris, in which Hannibal comes up often as an exemplar of advancing military science (logistics, training, etc.).

 

...Roman troops, whilst formidable in circumstances that favoured them, were not as flexible as some modern commentators appear to believe. You have only to see the beahviour of the Roman troops to reappraise that. ..

Please forgive me everyone, but...is this a joke in some raw or esoteric manner? I am half-serious! No modern commentator - at least one of any degree of repute - has ever believed the Roman troops were flexible against Hannibal; his audacious invasion was not formed from a notion of baseless optimism. He forged a unique precision instrument, geared to wheel and move in favorable conditions against Roman infantry cohesion centered around weight. This is what Hans Delbr

Edited by Spartan JKM

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I see your point, but it removes the personality from the equation entirely. When dealing deasling with analyses of individuals leading armies as opposed to the character of the armies thenselves, personality is a fundamental consideration. As it happens, military command is very much at the mercy of personality since it colours the decisions of commanders irrespective of any received intelligence, factional behaviour, and military or social expectations.

 

Agreed that personalities can play a significant factor which is why I made the point about 'cannier' Roman leaders getting the chance to take command. Although we have some information about what factors may have influenced Hannibal's actions during the Punic Wars there are large tracts of information we can only guess about or for experts to make reasoned assumptions about. What we can never really know is the extent to which subordinates may have influenced their 'leaders' actions during ancient warfare.

 

I'm not saying that it 'did' happen but slipping a less than talented commander a laxative immediately before a battle may have allowed someone else the chance to 'shine' or at least undo any potentially catastrophic mistakes deriving from the iniital battle plan while their 'leader' was otherwise engaged.... :P

 

Just an aside here, the more formal & broader definition of individual differences in leadership/personalities/etc constitute 'military art' vs the 'military science' (in this sense 'science' merely indicates those things measurable such as hardware).

Edited by Virgil61

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More to the point, we have in recent times evolved a more mechanistic view of armed forces. We also make the mistake of foisting that view upon other era's when dealing with armies that show the slightest form of efficient organisation. Even this website describes the legions as a 'military machine' on the article pages.

 

Technology is only partly to blame. The main reason is the difference in scale. When dealing with vast armies spread across hundreds if not thousands of miles, high command is remote and anonymous, while battlefield command is fromvarying locations and levels such that the effect of personality appears to average out. It doesn't actually do that of course. Whether a particular commander is bold, cautious, talented, or a complete klutz who got promoted for his fifth birthday makes all the difference.

 

In the ancient world, the effect of personality is pronounced because we have one army in one place led more often than not by one man. Even the consular Roman armies, who fielded more than one commander for political insurance, shared sole command on a rota basis.

 

We also run into an odd paradox. On the one hand, the Romans traditionally encouraged inidividual initiative, recognising that a mans courage, foresight, and heroic deed could in theory turn a battle to their favour. They had examples of such things, such as Hortius Cocles fending off an entire army on the sole bridge into Rome. Yet despite this, the desire for order and discipline eroded the Roman capacity for individual action. We find anecdotes that a legionary who rushed forward alone was laughed at by his mates. This was always true of the Roman legions to a greater or lesser degree.

 

We also run into an almost tribal identity among the citizen levies of Rome during the Hannabalic War. At Cannae, legionaries refuse the orders of centurions who command other units. Worse still, we see a general who apparently failes to adapt to Hannibals trap. in fairness, once the advance had been ordered, the lack of communication structures within the legions made that difficult if not impossible to halt. Armies generally operated on previously agreed plans anyway. In so many cases, a battle was effectively sealed the night before. If that does not encapsulate the personality of the commander in an operational plan, what else could?

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With the number of men he had, any siege would have been ineffective. When you think about it, a siege basically works by spreading out your men and literally surrounding a city. It takes a very long time and can be almost as tough on the seiging army as it is on those being besieged. Hannibal's strength was his ability to outmaneuver his opponents and his strength in cavalry. He would have been unable to maneuver if he was trying to surround Rome (which again he didn't have enough men to do effectively) and the Romans would have used their superior infantry and strength of numbers to surround Hannibal in turn.
 
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It was more a question of time and resources. Rome could not summon a sizeable army instantly but then neither would a siege end abruptly (although given the panic in Rome at the time one wonders if a surrender would be rapidly forthcoming). Worse for Hannibal, his supply situation becomes increasingly difficult the longer he remains in one place, especially if interdicted later by arriving Roman forces. He may have lost an opportunity to win the war, he was also not stupid enough to losing by an uncertain siege operation. Where Hannibal did fail is that Rome was not intimidated into surrender by the poor performance of their armies against Hannibal. Florus refers to Cannae as "Rome's fourth and almost fatal wound".

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  • Map of the Roman Empire

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