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Divi Filius

A scathing treatment of Hannibal

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I was recently reading an old article by professor B.D. Hoyos(professor and author of numerous studies on the Punic Wars): Hannibal: What Kind of Genius?(JSTOR)

 

Hoyos' conclusion is quite typical of other Hannibal evaluations: He understood the value or tactics but not strategy; his mind set of war was based on the Hellenistic model and under-estimated the Roman determination. However, many of his points are rather interesting, in particular is his view that he should of considered marching against Rome, not with his entire army but rather with a large division of cavalry: "Maharbal wanted permission to press on with the cavalry: in other words he hoped to seize the city by surprise or as a result of the panic and demoralization that would break out at the news of Cannae and the appearence of his squadrons at the gates". Goldsworthy takes a somewhat similar approach, albeit in a far less aggressive tone: "The central question is not whether or not he could have captured the city by siege or direct attack, but whether the Romans would have resisted him at all."(Cannae 163)

 

Secondly, I have always been under the impression that Hannibal did not receive reinforcements due to the half-assed determination of Carthage, who did not value the overall strategic center of the war(Italy) and wasted its resources of maintaining or recapturing old imperial possessions. Hoyos seems to take a different stand on this also: "In these arrangements there is no evidence that Hannibal was sabotaged by a hostile home government. His authority over strategic decisions is shown by his arrangements for Spain and Africa before setting out in 218 for Italy... Polybius stresses that it was Hannbal who all these years held the threads of all theaters of war and diplomacy in his own hands. Thus it was Hannibal who allowed himself to do without reinforcements for years on end". He says further on: "When the expected denouement to the grand strategy failed to occur, his Italian strategy collapsed. To replace it tried envelopment of the enemy again, but on a Mediterranean scale."

 

He also goes on to attack Hannibal for his overall lethargy in meeting up with his allies. He made no attempt to ever meet with his brothers half-way, but rather expected them to march all the way down to him: resulting in the alienation of Mago when he entered Liguria and defeat of Hasdubral. This could not be the fault of his inability to maneuver, he says, since Roman armies were still terrified of him and he continued to move as he wished.

 

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I personally do not know what to make of this.

 

Hoyos presses his view on again in 'Maharbal's Bon Mot', but the general concensus seems to remain that Hannibal did right in not going after Rome immediately following Cannae. Similarly with much of this. I do not remember Goldsworthy(one of the most recent treatments of the war) stating that Hannibal was importing Cannae on a gigantic scale.

 

What are some thoughts?

 

For me the article fails to convince. Saying Hannibal had overall control of the war because he commanded things in Spain cannot possibly fit considering that Barcists controlled nearly all matters in the peninsula. How could it have been possible for Hannibal to direct the events of the war while in the middle of a campaign in Italy? Im still in the belief that it was the Carthagenian senate that worried more about maintaining or reclaiming imperial possessions due to an unawareness of the overall situation in Italy following Cannae. His treaty with Macedon seems to have taken simply Italian concerns. He may have had significant control over the process of the war, but I can hardly believe that he had the ability to wire and rewire manpower.

 

The view doesnt seem to have taken off...

Edited by Divi Filius

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I see what you mean, it does seem very illogical for a warring general to be doing everything at once. I suppose if the Carthaginian efforts were more driven they would have succeeded, yet i am talking about the carthagian senate being driven not generals, it is the politics behind a warthat can win or lose it.

 

I was interested in you saying that Maharbal wanted to take cavalry to Rome, I thought that their cavlry resources were low and predominantly light militia cavalry or cisalpine recruits. Also it would have been hard to seige and effectively capture Rome if it was defiant with cavalry.

 

Ihave no doubt that hannibal was a genius but a military one not a political one. I think I side with you.

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To my mind it seems as if Hannibal is doing everything because his countrymen are doing so little. They seem utterly dependent on Hannibal for any military initiative. There's no doubt he was a great general, but his strategy had fundamental flaws. Firstly, he seems unwilling to land the killer blow, which I find peculiar for someone with such a native grasp of warfare. Second, he seems unable to realise that Rome will simply keep on sending legions against him no matter how many battles he wins. Its as if Hannibal dare not risk a siege in one place for any length of time and continues to run riot around italy instead until his forces cannot. His long term goal remains a bit odd. Did he want victory or not? Rome was the key and he never grasped that nettle.

 

PS - I just realised I answered my own question. Hannibal couldn't maintain a siege because the romans would keeping bringing in new reinforcements and if necessary besiege Hannibal in situ, a situation much like Caesar/Vercingetorix at Alesia.

Edited by caldrail

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To my mind it seems as if Hannibal is doing everything because his countrymen are doing so little. They seem utterly dependent on Hannibal for any military initiative.

 

This is the view I support. I think Hannibal had little choice. Its amazing to think that Rome, even though it dominated the naval aspects of the war from the beginning, increased its navy. Whereas Carthage did not even attempt it. Carthage seems to have completely ignored the value of a total war, relying entirely on the successes of Hannibal.

 

However, this is also because of the fact that they did not realize that the strategic advantages were on the part of the Romans. The antiquities view of war on a tactical level means that Carthage viewed Hannibal's victories as mark of his success. Not until the very end did they realize that he was losing.

Edited by Divi Filius

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Why should the Carthaginian senate send reinforcements to Hannibal in Italy? He has won several major battles, most of them inflicting huge casualties upon Rome. To my knowledge, only two nations have ever had the Roman attitude to war of, 'if defeated, keep fighting until you win': Rome and Britain.

 

People who say that Hannibal was fighting a 'Greek' war and expecting Rome to accept defeat after losing one or two major battles are missing the point. Nearly every country that ever existed would have admitted defeat after Cannae, Lake Trasimene etc. To Hannibal, as to most people, Rome's defeats should have led to her capitulation.

 

Finally, I believe that Hannibal missed a chance when he failed to agree with Maharbal and send a cavalry force to Rome immediately after Cannae. The cavalry could not have besieged Rome - in fact, with his entire army Hannibal could not have besieged Rome; this would have enabled vast numbers of raw recruits to be mustered away from the city and they would have attacked Hannibal while he was stationary. Hannibal was a 'mobile' commander, used to taking advantage of local conditions of the territory through which he was passing and outmanoeuvring the Romans. A 'static' battle would have resulted in a war of attrition. Hannibal could not win that.

 

What the cavalry may have done is scared the Romans into accepting some form of treaty with Hannibal. Such a treaty may have undermined the Republic and fomented revolt amongst the Italians. There was never really a chance of revolt with Hannibal in Italy. Better the devil you know.........

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A treaty would only allow Rome some breathing space and to recoup its losses. I really don't believe the carthaginian senate understood that rome was not going to go away because of a few defeats.

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A treaty would only allow Rome some breathing space and to recoup its losses. I really don't believe the carthaginian senate understood that rome was not going to go away because of a few defeats.

 

But Rome was the exception. Everybody expected Rome to 'go away' after 'a few defeats'. Treaties were signed as an acknowledgement that you had either won or lost. You were not expected to cease to exist. After the treaty, normal countries carried on regardless of their status; life returned to normal. Every civilised state followed this custom. Rome was not a civilised state.

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To Hannibal, as to most people, Rome's defeats should have led to her capitulation.

 

This is what people call Hellenistic warfare: war on a limited tactical scale where both sides stop fighting once their losses outweigh the possible gains. Rome, however, fought a total war.

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To Hannibal, as to most people, Rome's defeats should have led to her capitulation.

 

This is what people call Hellenistic warfare: war on a limited tactical scale where both sides stop fighting once their losses outweigh the possible gains. Rome, however, fought a total war.

 

 

It may be called Hellenic warfare by students of Greek History, mainly because most of the Greek states fought in that manner, but what I am trying to point out is that the vast majority of states in History have followed the same concepts. By calling the system 'Greek', in most peoples' minds you are limiting the whole system to that of the Classical Greek and Macedonian world. It existed long before and long after the times of the Diadochi.

 

What I am also trying to point out is that what we call total war is a modern concept; the Romans were odd in that they practiced it 1,800 years before the rest of us. That is why they conquered an Empire, and also why the Carthaginians didn't send reinforcements. By any civilised standard, the Romans should have accepted defeat.

Edited by sonic

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History has Hannibal as an over-rated commander. To invade a power like Rome with 30,000 men , hoping to enlist the Gaullic tribes was foolish and weakened the valuable resources of Carthage. Vain Glory self-aggrandizing Hannibal. Thinking he was another Alexander.

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By any civilised standard, the Romans should have accepted defeat.

 

By conventional standards, perhaps, but those standards have absolutely nothing to do with civilization. Are you seriously attempting to argue that Rome was uncivilized?

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By any civilised standard, the Romans should have accepted defeat.

 

By conventional standards, perhaps, but those standards have absolutely nothing to do with civilization. Are you seriously attempting to argue that Rome was uncivilized?

 

With regards to its attitude to warfare, yes.

 

Don't you think that the attitude of 'We'll beat you and make you do what we say' is uncivilised? What about free will? What about democracy? The Romans were the bullies of the ancient world. Bullying is not accepted as 'civilised' behaviour.

 

Do you also think that what happened in the Roman 'Games' was civilised?

 

I think before this can go anywhere, you'd need to define what you mean by 'civilised'.

Edited by sonic

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I think before this can go anywhere, you'd need to define what you mean by 'civilised'.

 

Generally, on this forum, we attempt to put things into the context of ancient world standards, rather than modern sensibilities. Simply speaking, the Romans were an advanced culture and society, hence civilized.

 

At any rate, I don't find resistance in the face of enemy invasion in order to preserve one's identity, culture or society to be uncivilized regardless of the definition used.

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Don't you think that the attitude of 'We'll beat you and make you do what we say' is uncivilised? What about free will? What about democracy? The Romans were the bullies of the ancient world. Bullying is not accepted as 'civilised' behaviour.

Let's be absolutely clear about what was going on. The Gauls, Germans, Britons, Spaniards, and all the sundry Hellenistic despots around the ancient Mediterranean were far worse bullies (and far worse bullied by their own leaders) than were the Romans. A freeborn Roman male--unlike those in all these other groups--had political rights to vote, to appeal magisterial decisions, to run for office, and to get as rich as Croesus if the opportunity permitted. Roman free speech, on top of that, was greater than even in Athens (just ask Socrates), where there were also no Greek equivalents to the rags-to-riches stories of Cato the Elder or M Curius Dentatus or the hundreds of nouveau riche freedmen who've left us their stunning villas. This wealth wasn't stolen from the Gauls or Germans (they were dirt-farmers and didn't have anything worth stealing!) but was built in large part by same culture of practical reason and hard-minded shrewdness that builds every civilization.

 

Do you also think that what happened in the Roman 'Games' was civilised?

Absolutely. The mortality rate in the Roman Games was only about 10%, which makes it an "extreme sport" to be sure, but no less so than the Pankration and chariot racing practiced elsewhere in the world. More importantly, those Roman games were the very flower of civilization and democracy, where people from all walks of life (even women and emperors) came together to enjoy themselves without going out and getting mind-dead drunk like those Northern barbarians whom Romans rightfully scorned.

 

I think before this can go anywhere, you'd need to define what you mean by 'civilised'.

Exactly what the word means etymologically--city-fied.

 

Getting back to the larger issue--it's simply not true that the Romans were the first to practice "total war". Compared to the utterly savage warfare practiced by (for example) the ancient Hebrews, the Romans were pussycats. Looking forward another 500 years, look at Alexander's sieges for further evidence of total war. The fact of the matter is that ancient armies routinely engaged in mass executions, crucifixions, biological warfare, and (though no one approves of the term around here) genocide. What made the Romans different from all these other groups, however, is that what they left something behind that continues to be a part of modern life today. How many Hittites can say that??

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I'd also like to point out that the Assyrians treated their defeated enemies quite badly, as did the early Mongols, the Japanese, and many others.

 

My objection to the use of the word 'civilised' is that in the vast majority of cases it is applied out of context. If in this forum we are treating ancient civilisations within the context of their own times, then of course the Romans were civilised. It is too often applied by modern writers as a direct comparison between then and now - mainly because of the similarites between our cultures, such as stone buildings, flowing water etc.

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