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Thread: Cannae, August 3, 216 B.C. Was Maharbal Correct?

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    Spartan JKM's Avatar Semisalis
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    Default Cannae, August 3, 216 B.C. Was Maharbal Correct?

    Hello everyone.

    I've noticed and enjoyed many discussions about Hannibal's great campaign - yes, that ill-fated but eminently momentous enterprise of 218-202 B.C. I feel the debates work both ways, in terms of considerable veritableness; personally, I think Hannibal's serious critics are commonly flawed in their views, often incorrect about what Polybius and/or Livy specifically wrote (albeit ancient translations can often be 'argued' over their depictions), and . J.F. Lazenby and Dexter Hoyos are two modern scholars who have devoted much of their expertise on issues concerning Hannibal. They differ in their views. Both, in my opinion, are equally invaluable, and it is more from personal conviction I think Lazenby is the superior authority than any other gauge in judging the merit of their contributions. We need the likes of Hoyos, B.H. Liddell Hart, and John Peddie to keep the iconic degree to which Hannibal has been lauded by the majority of his chroniclers in (relative) check.

    This post is, as usual, merely a point of view (and in part an exegesis of the main ancient accounts) of a subject I find fascinating. I hope many can agree on that point :wink:

    I hope this isn't too long winded and choppy. My quotes of Polybius and Livy, along with many other ancient texts, can be found in this valuable online service.

    "We will find a way, or we will make one!"

    From Titus Livius, Ab Urbe Condita (The History of Rome) Book 22.51,

    "...Hannibal's officers all surrounded him and congratulated him on his victory, and urged that after such a magnificent success he should allow himself and his exhausted men to rest for the remainder of the day and the following night. Maharbal, however, the commandant of the cavalry, thought that they ought not to lose a moment. 'That you may know', he said to Hannibal, 'what has been gained by this battle I prophesy that in five days you will be feasting as victor in the Capitol. Follow me; I will go in advance with the cavalry; they will know that you are come before they know that you are coming.' To Hannibal the victory seemed too great and too joyous for him to realise all at once. He told Maharbal that he commended his zeal, but he needed time to think out his plans. Maharbal replied: "The gods have not given all their gifts to one man. You know how to win a victory, Hannibal, you do not know how to use it.

    That day's delay is believed to have saved the City and the empire."

    So, was Maharbal right?

    The story, whether partly or wholly fanciful, is certainly well-expressed in dramatic fashion. However, Polybius, our more reliable source (for the most part), makes no mention of Maharbal in his account of Cannae; he mentions Maharbal commanding at Lake Trasimene over a year earlier, as well as the subsequent cavalry action around modern Assisi, about fifteen miles SE of Trasimene. Polybius tells us one Hasdrubal (the left wing of the army) and one Hanno (on the right) were the primary cavalry commanders at Cannae. Regardless, that's merely trivia, and the issue of whether or not Hannibal made the right choice to not march towards Rome after his smashing victory is what the discussion should entail. No less an authority than Bernard Montgomery has claimed that Maharbal was indeed correct.

    This comes from another reputable scholar, Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart, from Pg. 12 of his Scipio Africanus: Greater Than Napoleon, with regards to the contingetn of 4,200 Roman fugitives after Cannae, who escaped form the larger Roman camp,

    "...made their way to Canusium. Their situation was still perilous, for this place lay only some four miles distant, and why Hannibal did not follow up his success by the destruction of this remnant, isolated from succor, remains one of the enigmas of history, to all appearance a blemish on his generalship..."

    True, if the 10,000 total Romans who made it to Canusium (another 4,500 plus 50 cavalry with Varro made it to Venusia) had been rounded up, they wouldn't have been available for Marcus Marcellus to incorporate into his own standards later on. They would prove very valuable in some slogfesting with Hannibal around Nola (an important Campanian stronghold) before being exiled to Sicily in 215 B.C., and the chosen ones would form the core of Scipio's victorious army in Africa, culminating in the defeat of Hannibal at Zama; poetic justice for them. But Hannibal did assault the smaller Roman camp with 7,000 men, who surrendered quickly; surrender was soon followed by the larger camp (though with a lesser amount of 5,800 upon surrender). Besieging Canusium with 10,000 Roman troops soon holding (we must follow the numbers given us unless obviously way off) soon holding it could have taken weeks, even months, and despite the magnitude of Hannibal's tactical masterpiece of the annihilation of a much larger opposing Roman army before him at Cannae, his entire army, including a garrison for his 'firm base' and the wounded, was now around 40,000-45,000 men. But his effective fighting strength would have been no more than about 35,000.

    Hannibal and his officers had swiftly rounded up altogether 18,700 prisoners from different points: this is where Livy is to be preferred over Polybius (who peculiarly got muddled, or the translations did, with untenable explanations). Livy convincingly tells us that 10,000 men escaped to the larger camp, 7,000 to the smaller, and 2,000 to Cannae itself, which had no fortifications for protection from the lieutenant Carthalo and his pursuing cavalry (Book 22.49); on the battlefield 4,500 men were taken, of which 1,500 were cavalry. Again, Hannibal took the smaller Roman camp, building an earthwork in the process that cut the besiged from the Aufidus, effectuating their near-immediate capitulation (these men were demoralized and fatigued beyond what most survivors of such a catastrophe to their side have ever experienced in war). But Livy tells us a little later that 600 broke out in a brave sortie (Book 22.60); again, of the 10,000 in the larger camp, 4,200 made their escape to Canusium.

    Any further military action, unless soundly based, would reduce these modest (given the numbers still available to his enemy) totals even more so, unless he could find the means to increase his numbers. Moreover, immediately following the Battle of Cannae, Hannibal learned he had lost many of his most senior and experienced officers. A period of consolidation was now required, and, of no minor importance, the battlefield was was covered with vast amounts of booty and military equipment - the very essentials behind the financing of his war. This bore very real implications; his soldiery were mainly mercenaries, and they had served him with the utmost vigor and loyalty, and it was primarily the prospect of booty that drove them to serve with him. They now deserved their moment of reward. He couldn't refuse them.

    In one respect, Maharbal was correct: Hannibal knew how to win a battle. Even Bernard Montgomery, not exactly a Hannibal apologist, states in his History of Warfare, Pg. 96,

    "...indeed Hannibal's tactical genius at Cannae can compare with the conduct of any battle in the history of warfare...",

    The great philosophical historian Will Durant states in his monumental 11-volume work The Story of Civilization (written from 1935-1975), Part 3 (Caesar and Christ), Book 1 (The Republic), Chapter 3 (Hannibal Against Rome), Pg. 51,

    "...It was a supreme example of generalship, never bettered in history. It ended the days of Roman reliance [solely] upon infantry [mass], and set the lines of military tactics for 2,000 years....

    The Prussian General Staff of the late 19th century seemingly became obsessed with Cannae, and the 1914 Schlieffen Plan was inspired by the battle, though the strategic scale was much more vast. The conceptualization of Graf Alfred von Schlieffen's bold proposal in WW1 was taking into consideration that lack of manpower for a 'colossal Cannae' forced the substitution of a 'right hook' for Hannibal's 'double-envelopment'. This scheme brought Germany close to victory early in WW1, but turned out not to be feasible with the arrival in France, among other issues (such as Schlieffen and Helmuth von Moltke the Younger being at loggerheads with each other), of the British Expeditionary Force. Sorry, this isn't the place for this, but basically, Cannae would become an ideal of many future commanders, and the Wehrmacht's vast envelopments of the Soviet forces at the start of 'Barbarossa' were called 'super-Cannaes'. Gregori Shtern, the Far East Army commander under Georgi Zhukov, said of the great Soviet envelopment of the Japanese in the summer of 1939, at the Battle of Khalkin-Gol (Nomonhan),

    "...I think we have won the second perfect battle of encirclement in all history...".

    Actually, Khalid ibn-al Walid, 'the Sword of Allah', achieved a variation of a model pincer movement against the Sassanids in 633, at his victory over them at Walaja, which including similar dispositions as Hannibal had deployed at the Battle of the Trebbia. Another great double envelopment was administered by the Swedish leader Carl Gustav Rehnskjold in 1706 (soon to be a Count and Field Marshal); in a brilliant tactical win over an allied army of Saxons, Poles, and Russians, Rehnskjold utilized his superior cavalry (he was outnumbered heavily in infantry) with his subordinate Ernst von Krassow, who was to him what Hasdrubal was for Hannibal at Cannae, to lure the enemy into terrain suitable for a pincer movement (literally, a 'pinching' movement) to be realized. This event was the Battle of Fraustadt (Wschowa), fought in SW Poland.

    Norman Schwarzkopf, among many others, including 'the Great Conde' and Napoleon, were avid admirers of Hannibal's generalship.

    It's too bad for Hannibal's cause the Cisalpine Gauls didn't apply pressure from the north on Rome after Cannae. Maybe the Gauls had a legitimate beef with him, as he exploited their 'brittleness' to bear the brunt of his battles they were a part of under him, suffering the highest losses within his composite force. Maybe they felt kind of used, and resented it. But they could gain from his command too, to undertake what they sought most of all in war, plunder and booty. Hypothetically, though, just like with a Macedonian landing in southern Italy, a swooping down from Gallic forces, as they did in 390 B.C., from the north at this critical juncture after Cannae, after the Boii ambushed and wiped out the only main Roman army in their regions near modern Modena (roughly 25,000 men under the consul-elect for 215 B.C. Postumius Albinus), Rome would have had to come to the conference table (Polybius, Book 3.118 and Livy, Book 23.24). Hannibal soon gained possession of Casilinum, an important strategic point on the Volturnus River (a little to the NW of Capua). But maybe it's just not that simple, and perhaps the Gallic tribes just wanted to now be left alone. They weren't besiegers of towns, apt to often go far off their lands, particularly if the Romans wouldn't be able to replace Postumius' army (at least not for a while). Perhaps they figured Rome was doomed against Hannibal anyway, thus figured their lands were safe. But in 200 B.C., a Carthaginian officer by the name of Hamilcar, who stayed in northern Italy from either the emcroaching armies of Hasdrubal Barca or the other brother Mago, effectively co-organized and co-led a huge uprising against Rome (Livy, Book 31.10), who could now far more ably to deal with them than in late 216 B.C. Though they were focused on affairs in Greece, Rome could still mobilize and send forces into northern Italy, also unlike in late 216/early 215 B.C. This showed a Carthaginian officer could influence the Celts to be hostile to Rome quite easily. Very peculiar

    Hannibal's qualities as a general have been studied and admired since Polybius' time:

    Polybius, The Histories, Book 11.19,

    "...No one can withhold admiration for Hannibal's generalship, courage, and power in the field, who considers the length of this period, and carefully reflects on the major and minor battles, on the sieges he undertook, on his movements from city to city, on the difficulties that at times faced him, and in a word on the whole scope of his design and its execution, a design in the pursuit of which, having constantly fought the Romans for sixteen years, he never broke up his forces and dismissed them from the field, but holding them together under his personal command, like a good ship's captain, kept such a large army free from sedition towards him or among themselves, and this although his regiments were not only of different nationalities but of different races..."

    Polybius, Book 15.15,

    "...But nevertheless to meet each of these advantages Hannibal had shown incomparable skill in adopting at the critical moment all such measures as were in his power and could reasonably be expected to succeed..."

    The 'advantages' Polybius means are those Scipio had over Hannibal at Zama, yet the battle was seemingly touch-and-go until the cavalry returned 'providentially'.

    If there was a single (double, actually) astounding key to Hannibal's military genius, it was perhaps those 'variations of a trap' - subtle uses of bluff and even 'double' bluff. Examples of simple bluff was his brushing aside the Volcae, on the Rhone (reminescent of Alexander on the Hydaspes over a century earlier), and the Allobroges around the Gorge de la Bourne. But his classic breakout at the Ager Falernus, where Fabius Maximus thought he had Hannibal inexorably trapped after soundly deploying forces to guard the passes leading out, was a paradigm of superb stratagem. Hannibal sent 2,000 oxen, their heads ignited by fire at night (after reaching the slopes of Mt. Callicula), up the pass near the 4,000 or so Romans guarding the nearest exiting defile. The Romans rushed towards them, ready to engage what they thought were enemy soldiers trying to escape. Instead they found writhing cattle! I sure hope the upcoming movie includes that scene. Hannibal not only extricated himself with negligible losses (always relative), but sent Iberian troops, superb mountain fighters, back to aid the African spearmen who had overcome the Romans after surprisong them amid their dazed state upon seeing the cattle. The methods of Fabius grew increasingly unpopular, and when Hannibal captured the supply-depot at Cannae, the Senate decreed an aggressive approach (leading to the Battle of Cannae).

    Double-bluff was well exemplified at the stratagem implemented by Hannibal at Battle of Lake Trasimene, following his great turning movement on the Roman positions. Roman historiography has labeled Gaius Flaminius a fool for marching into a trap in an area which Livy describes in Book 22.4,

    "...Hannibal laid waste with all the horrors of war the land between Cortona and Lake Trasumennus. He had now reached a position eminently adapted for surprise tactics, where the lake comes up close under the hills of Cortona. There is only a very narrow road here between the hills and the lake, as though a space had been purposely left far it...."

    But Gaius Flaminius, a seasoned commander who had recently defeated the Cisalpine Celts (thus he wasn't a stranger to ambushes), could very well thought this was too obvious - in any case, how could anyone in command of an army of some 25,000 men or so expect to be ambushed? But his lack of reconnaisance seems inexcusable. Professor Lazenby astutely touches on these considerations (Hannibal's War: A Military History of the Second Punic War (Pg. 65).

    Hannibal's approach march to Tarentum in 212 B.C. was masterful - and another display of superb 'double' bluff. Instead of completely trying to conceal his movements, which would have been practically impossible, he dispatched two parties of Numidian horsemen, one on either side of his approach to scour the countryside. Thus anyone who spotted them would either be taken prisoner or simply report a Numidian plundering raid.

    The Battle of the Trebbia was an example of simple bluff. As Polybius tells us, Book 3.70-71,

    "...Such, then, was the purpose of Hannibal, who knew that Tiberius was sure to be aggressively inclined. He had long ago noticed a place between the two camps, flat indeed and treeless, but well adapted for an ambuscade, as it was traversed by a water-course with steep banks densely overgrown with brambles and other thorny plants, and here he proposed to lay a stratagem to surprise the enemy. It was probable that he would easily elude their vigilance; for the Romans, while very suspicious of thickly-wooded ground, which the Celts usually chose for their ambuscades, were not at all afraid of flat and treeless places, not being aware that they are better adapted than woods for the concealment and security of an ambush, because the men can see all round them for a long distance and have at the same time sufficient cover in most cases. Any water-course with a slight bank and reeds or bracken or some kind of thorny plants can be made use of to conceal not only infantry, but even the dismounted horsemen at times, if a little care be taken to lay shields with conspicuous devices inside uppermost on the ground and hide the helmets under them..."

    The consuls that were beaten badly by Hannibal have all been branded as inept in some form or another. They certainly were not innovative thinkers, but these men were simply attempting to bring about decisive engagements, and waiting would not improve the situation. Much can be said for Tiberius Sempronius Longus' attempt to crush Hannibal before the Carthaginian's strength grew with Gallic aquisition, which was manifesting rapidly at the time.

    I feel it is also a mistake to think the 'professionals' under Hannibal were superior soldiers per se to the 'amateurs' of the Roman Republic's citizen militia. Despite the inexperience of the soldiers and stodgy concept of conventional warfare on the part of the Romans, we should not underestimate their fighting qualities. Once they found the measure of Hannibal's more mobile and flexible methods, they would prove themselves capable of supreme celerity and complicated maneuvers, evidenced under Gaius Claudius Nero and Publius Cornelius Scipio the Younger (later Africanus). Remember that Rome was a nation-at-arms, and these 'amateurs' were trained for war from youth. Hannibal's tactics were centered around grand tactical maneuvering to strike at their flanks and rear with his cavalry; he may have had superior cavalry, but his Numidians excelled only at harassment and agile maneuver, as well as the paramount aspect of foraging (Hannibal knew he had to be self-sufficient for a long time), and his 'heavy' horse of Iberian and Celts were certainly not faster nor as adept as shock horsemen as were those Alexander the Great possessed, who were lighter than their foes of even 'heavier' Persian elite cavalry (armor for the horse and rider). The Companions (εταιροι, or hetairoi) were akin to the great husaria of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth for their time - supremely fast and the best at delivering shock. Hannibal could not 'pin' his Roman enemy as the great Macedonians could; he had to be more subtle.

    From a practical point of view regarding Gaius Terentius Varro, who was just as willing to wait when he was in full command on July 31 as Aemilius Paullus was on August 1, smartly moved the huge army to the right (east) bank of the Aufidus on August 2, where the terrain was still good for infantry and cavalry, but less so for Hannibal's cavalry. The Romans had the sea at their backs, the rising ground from the sea on their left, and the Aufidus on their right. Hannibal could not outflank them, and their infantry, they figured, would smash through him (not a stupid assumption at the time). Varro was no innovative thinker, but we can see his practical thinking; he and Paullus were mounted in personal command of the horse units, obviously to hold up as much spirit as possible, as they knew they couldn't win the battle here. The infantry would smash Hannibal, thus whatever happened on the wings, albeit the enemy horse would get away, would be of little consequence. Hannibal simply came up with the answer.

    Hannibal's extraordinary and novel adoption of a convex deployment with his Gauls and Spaniards in the center invited the Romans to surge forward (he knew his enemy). But he didn't dispose his troops in the manner the Athenians did at the Battle of Marathon, which naturally developed into a double-envelopment of the Persians. Miltiades and Co. thinned their front of hoplites to merely match the length of the Persian front (Herodotus, Book 6.111), and the converging of the Persian center happened probably by an automatic response to what unfolded; Hannibal formed a wedge with his center, holding back his two blocks of African infantry on the wings (offensive reserves, so to speak), which meant that not only would the Romans, who decided to have no wings to facilitate a forward surge, tend to be lured into the center, but if things went amiss, fugitives from the Gallic/Spanish center would also be funnelled into the center too, where they would become bunched and automatically aid in slowing the Roman advance, even if they didn't completely know what was happening around them! He also dealt brilliantly with the cavalry issue, in which he couldn't ride around the Romans, as he had done so in earlier clashes. By imbalancing his cavalry forces - the heavier shock horsemen being more numerous on one side, and the maneuverable Numidians on the other - meant he could both checkmate the allies of Rome on their left with numerically less, but more agile horsemen, and quickly vanquish the Roman cavalry with pure shock, and have them free for tasks against the infantry.

    Whatever Hannibal's detailed reforms with his infantry were after Trasimene, he developed a greater degree of elasticity into what had always been a rigidly linear deployment. Polybius later uses the term speirai (σπεῖραι) in connection with Hannibal's tactical units (Book 3.113-114), which would be synonymous to the Macedonian syntagama - the subdivisional 256-man battalion of the phalanx of Alexander. But Hannibal achieved this with a motley force of men who had been hitherto fighting for him for a short period of time (again, Polybius, Book 11.19), and he achieved a tactical masterpiece, just a year later, which has resonated beyond its own time as an ideal for tactical study. The very name of Cannae would become a generic noun to generals, soldiers, and militarists of all ages. Scipio the Younger was at Cannae as a young tribune, and certainly was affected by such tactics; the 'stupid' Roman commanders who faced Hannibal before were never provided with such valuable blueprints. This, of course, is all arguable, and hindsight always allows a clarity they didn't have in the exigencies of the moment.

    Nothing displays a commander's ability with leadership of men, in the heat of battle, better than Hannibal at Cannae, in the center with his infantry: his Gauls and Spaniards were more noted for their ferocity and mercurial temperament than their sustained discipline. Hannibal had them fall back before the Roman juggernaut, in a most difficult maneuver to pull of on the battlefield - to fall back under pressure without breaking, resisting the Roman battle corps for as long as possible. In this time-period of military history, the majority of battle losses were inflicted upon the enemy as they fled in rout, and those who fled first had the best chance of survival. Thus for an army to fight with success under these conditions, each soldier had to trust that his comrades would not leave them in the lurch - a level of trust which was tested to the uttermost when the battle line was moving backwards. This tactical concept was utilised by the great Dutch leader Mauritz van Nassau in his civil defence against the Spanish army of Flanders in 1600, at the Battle of Nieuwpoort. But he hardly effected a battle of destruction, and had well-drilled troops, conditioned for such a purpose. In terms of raw leadership skills, Hannibal must have possessed a level of battlefield genius rarely matched in military history (IMHO, of course).

    The only way to significantly seduce Rome's allies, or at least compel them to forsake Rome on a neutral basis, was to first destroy Roman armies, not just best them. No victory could have been greater for this purpose than Cannae. He had to wait to see how the protectorates of Rome would react. As it turned out, in the long run, Cannae simply cemented the loyalty of Rome's core allies - something nobody could predict without applying such a test. This was on major key to Rome's ultimate victory in this conflict: the steadfast decision to remain loyal and furnish Rome by the (slight) majority of the Latins and socii, even in the darkest times. But even the most loyal of these Italic communities, those who would never think of joining Carthage's cause in any manner, began to waver by 207 B.C. - upon the arrival of Hasdrubal Barca into Italy.

    In final defeat at Zama, I think Hannibal showed he had lost none of his touch. He knew he was finally outclassed in cavalry, and up against a great general in Scipio. Though our sources don't imply this, he probably deliberately sacrificed his horsemen to lure the Romans and Massinissa off the battlefield, where he had greater chance with his infantry. By using his cavalry units as decoys, however, he was taking a risk by doing so, because it still involved their defeat, exposed his flanks, and the Roman/Numidian cavalry could return before he had finished off Scipio's smaller but better body of infantry. But he had to do something, and I don't think if they had held their ground they would have lasted long. The fact it was pretty close later shows Hannibal made a viable decision. Furthermore, Scipio had superior cavalry and had amptly proven his adeptness with 'boomerang' style tactics before. Hannibal was a student of war, and, as I stated earlier, a master of simple and double-bluff. He understood it all, including the strengths and liabilities of the elephants used for war purposes of his time.

    He also knew his history, particularly that of the Hellenistic Kingdoms (he had Greek tutors). He knew what happened to Antigonus when his son, Demetrius Poliorcetes, went off in pursuit of Seleucus' cavalry at the great battle of Ipsus in 301 B.C. It has been suggested that Seleucus did indeed have his horses feign retreat. But, unlike Hannibal, he had 400 elephants that day, so he could deploy some in reserve in case Demetrius returned. He never did. Did Scipio order his cavalry to merely ride out and ride back in the manner they did?

    Why didn't Scipio order a flank or rear maneuver with his superior cavalry, in whatever variant, as Hannibal had executed at Cannae? He was certainly capable, and with the superior material than his enemy at his disposal, which supposedly 'vanquished' the enemy horsemen, rendering Hannibal's flanks bare. Scipio doubtless did not wish for the complete departure of his own cavalry. Having driven the enemy away, he no doubt counted on them to attack the flanks of the main Carthaginian body, instead of pursuing a fleeing foe. He has been justly praised how well he handled the elephants at Zama, but it shouldn't be forgotten that Hannibal certainly knew all about the tendencies and contingencies of elephants in battle. He perhaps didn't have as many as 80 - the number Polybius gives us. If so, why didn't Carthage use any of these beasts in the previous clashes against Scipio?

    Anyway, Hannibal surely hoped the elephants would do their conventional stuff, but he easily could have known they would do exactly what they did do - swerve out to the flanks and disrupt things, which would aid his cavalry deception. It is nearly impossible that Hannibal figured things would go smoothly with recently levied war elephants, and it is possible they didn't do as much harm to his cavalry squadrons as the ancients imply (I stress 'possible') We have a scholarly point of view from Howard H. Scullard, from his terrific Scipio Africanus: Soldier and Politician Pg. 150,

    "...Since it would take longer to convert a nominal into an actual flight than to drive a defeated enemy off the field, and since in fact the Roman cavalry only returned in the nick of time, it seems more probable that the Carthaginians deliberatley drew them away. After getting rid of the Roman cavalry, though with little hope that his own could rally against them, Hannibal would throw all his weight against Scipio's numerically inferior infantry. The elephant charge, with which he had hoped to confuse his foe, miscarried somewhat, partly through Scipio's foresight in leaving gaps in his line for the animals to run through, partly because they were always of rather doubtful quality, and here fell afoul of the Carthaginian cavalry. However, they cannot have done great harm to their own side, since their drivers had the means of killing them if they got out of hand...".

    Scullard, more than any scholar of this period we're discussing, wrote a book about elephants in ancient warfare (The Elephant in the Greek and Roman World. I would like to believe he wasn't far-fetched with his research. But we read of this interesting method to neutralize a out-of control elephant only from Livy, and only in reference to Hasdrubal at the Metaurus (Book 27.49), in which he states Hasdrubal was the first to use this viable counteractant. But Zama was fought more than five years later. Why would Hannibal not make use of something perfectly suited to his situation here against Scipio - something Livy states as being 'the swiftest way of dispatching a beast of such size' once all hope was lost of controlling the animal?

    Moreover, Polybius mentions it was only Hannibal's left flank that was specifically impacted by any friction of out of control elephants. He states for us, Book 15.12,

    "...When all was ready for battle on both sides, the Numidian horse having been skirmishing with each other for some time, Hannibal ordered the drivers of the elephants to charge the enemy. When the trumpets and bugles sounded shrilly from all sides, some of the animals took fright and at once turned tail and rushed back upon the Numidians who had come up to help the Carthaginians, and Massanissa attacking simultaneously, and the Carthaginian left wing was soon left exposed. The rest of the elephants falling on the Roman velites in the space between the two main armies, both inflicted and suffered much loss, until finally in their terror some of them escaped through the gaps in the Roman line with Scipio's foresight had provided, so that the Romans suffered no injury, while others fled towards the right and, received by the cavalry with showers of javelins, at length escaped out of the field. It was at this moment that Laelius, availing himself of the disturbance created by the elephants, charged the Carthaginian cavalry and forced them to headlong flight. He pressed the pursuit closely, as likewise did Massanissa....".

    Thus the elephants indeed had drivers atop them. How could the disturbance hamper the Carthaginian cavalry on Hannibal's right side, being they seemed to be mere spectators the whole time? The elephants on Hannibal's right who escaped 'at length out of the field' after the Roman cavalry showered the beasts with projectiles when they headed towards the right (the Roman left) 'in terror'. It is not stated they escaped by 'rushing back' upon the Carthaginian cavalry, as was Polybius' specific description of some of the elephants' fright and subsequent turning tail upon Hannibal's left cavalry (the Numidians under Tychaeus, which rendered that flank exposed, and never exploited by Scipio and his officers. Did they not 'see the bare flank' on Hannibals' left, or, more likely, did they not have any horsemen to exploit the opportunity because they were all riding off into the desert, chasing a 'defeated foe'?

    How did Gaius Laelius, opposing the Carthaginians on the side that witnessed elephants that came their way scattered off the field by his missile throwers, so easily send the Carthaginian cavalry to flight? Though green, the Carthaginian contingent was not outnumbered (assuming Masinissa's 4,600 or so strong (if we can sustain the presence of a 600 horsemen under a chieftain named Dacames, which only comes from Appian) was not interdispersed with the Romans on thei left (Hannibal's right). The flight seemed immediate. The answer is they were probably ordered to give ground. Regardless, Hannibal's measure involved his cavalry squadrons being veritably defeated eventually, if the theory of mine (drawn from some scholars) is true - something we can never know for sure. It makes perfect sense: by getting the cavalry arms off the field of battle, Hannibal eliminated the Roman advantage in this arm. For the first time, Hannibal would attempt to win without his cavalry administering any offensive action. Such grandiose concepts wouldn't have been above his ingenious mind.

    His infantry dispositions at Zama were also unusual, probably becuase he knew he was at a disadvantage here too. He surely wasn't going to try to repeat his tactics at Cannae against a brillaint general who had been there as a 17 or 18 year old, thus wouldn't be taken in. Moreover, Scipio favored flank attacks with his best troops. Hannibal adopted his infantry akin to a Roman triplex acies, but with his best unit, his veterans, the one unit who could match Scipio's troops, at a further distance than the one between the first and second line - the first 'true reserve' in military history (allegedly). He can be criticized for adopting a style which entailed discipline and drill which the troops of his first two lines (particularly the second) didn't possess, and there was no sound administrative quality behind his formations (there was nothing similar to an optio or signifer etc., thus no coherent command structure); but he didn't intend to apply the deployment the way the Romans usually did, that of the three lines interacting with each other to attend to any contingencies, but rather he tried to keep the three lines as distinct as possible, operating independently: despite his obvious reputation, he had officers of Mago's old army and the green Punic contingent speak directly to the troops who had not served with him before.

    Hannibal could not do what he had done before, but if he had been able to force Scipio into a set battle shortly after he arrived, he would have held the cards because Scipio had practically no cavalry. But his astute opponent knew this, and after Carthage reneged on a peace with the arrival of Hannibal, Scipio's strategic move of laying waste to the hinterland of the Bagradas Valley, which also closed the gap between he and Massinissa, was brilliantly implemented; Carthage's vital lifeline was assaulted, and Hannibal was compelled to march west before he wanted to.

    Scipio could not do to Hannibal what he had so easily done to the other Carthaginian generals the past seven years. Hannibal absorbed Scipio's legions with his infantry, tiring them in the process, hoping to beat him head-on with his veterans. It wasn't to be, as Scipio was too good not to lose his advantage, as Polybius said, and his army was too well-organized and well-drilled. But who knows what might have been if the first two lines hadn't turned on each other and Massinissa and Gaius Laelius hadn't returned 'providentially', as Polybius also said. But I am a 'Hannibal apologist', and no matter how I rationalize and try to determine what things may acutely mean with possibilites etc., Scipio decisively won the Battle of Zama.

    But if we are to remain in historical terrain as inspired students etc., we should not lose any cognition that history is about what happened, not what could have happened.

    In 219 B.C., Hannibal was caught between a rock and a hard place; he was met with one of military history's great impasses, and his strike into Italy was the decision to strike at Rome's center of gravity. Judging by his actions from when he first arrived in the Po Valley in late 218 B.C., a march on Rome itself never formed part of his plans, other than the means to the end. Assaulting Rome could only be tenable with the total dissolution of her confederacy. For Hannibal, the swiftest and most economical method of taking a city was by treachery, something inconceivable in the case of Rome, as the Senatorial class was far too patriotic. Despite Roman scaremongering, there were plenty of troops for the immediate defence of the Capitol. Two city legions had been raised at the beginning of the year, and Marcellus sent a legion of marines and drafts meant for Sicily at Teanum, and sent 1,500 men to bolster the city garrison of two legions at Rome. A considerable force was raised from the slave and criminal population (14,000 men), and two legions were to the north, probably in Umbria, under one Lucius Albinus Postumius (whose army would be ambushed and destroyed the following late winter/early spring by the Boii in Cisalpine Gaul). The Romans were still dominant at sea, thus they would easily have returned many, many troops from Sardinia and Sicily to hemm in a besieging army - one which had no immediate siege machinery.

    Above: the city of Saguntum (modern Sagunto), an important trading center on Spain's eastern coast. The Saguntines minted their own coins and were prosperous by the outbreak of the Second Punic War; the poor Saguntines favored 'friendship' with Rome, and simply got caught in a momentous crossfire in 219 B.C.

    Above: Hannibal and his men crossing the Rhone, late September, 218 B.C.

    Above: Henri-Paul Motte's portrayal of the Rhone crossing (1880s) is captivating but flawed: rafts were indeed used to ferry the elephants across the river, but certainly not with men in towers attached atop them.

    Hannibal's lively and imaginative operational strategy entailed mobility, and a static war, which a siege or besiegement of Rome would require (not to mention manpower he didn't possess), would hand the advantage back to them, in which their superior numbers would come into play. Rome's superiority in manpower would still come into play, but not for many years to come. Rome itself was protected by the Servian Wall, which had been enlarged and strengthened after the great Gallic threat in 390 B.C. In the 370s B.C., the walls were further solidified by bonded blocks of tufa from southern Etruria (near Veii, specifically the Grotta Oscura quarry), which is a volcanic tufa-landscape with deeply grinded valleys, high plateaus, crater lakes and rich vegetation.

    At the time of Hannibal's invasion, the walls of Rome followed a line about seven miles long, interrupted by flanking towers, and enclosing about 1,000 acres. At its weaker points, between the Colline and Caelimontana Gates, the wall was matched evenly on both sides by a powerful fortification: on the city side (NE), a broad landfill, called the Agger (Latin, Aggero), sloped gradually up towards the top of the wall (thus thickening it) and formed a platform on which defenders could circulate and maneuver. On the countryside, a trench was dug that reached a depth of more than thirty feet. Moreover, Rome could not be blockaded, as it maintained dominance at sea, and had the Tiber as an efficient source of supply. But 'dominance at sea' means controlling landing/embarking points, and perhaps when Marcellus pulled much of the naval legion out of Ostia right after Cannae, the Carthaginians missed a possible opening (food for thought). Hannibal certainly knew all this well enough to consider how to diminsh Rome's capacity to make full use of her assets; by detaching enough of the Greeks of Campania and southern Italy from Rome's alliance, the very ones who provided the lifeline for most of the Roman navy, sea power would be greatly reduced. Remember, it was all a bold gamble, but his invasion and grand strategy had reasonable grounds for not being a fanciful plan, just a very difficult one. But it was the best course to take, and Hannibal was no ordinary figure.

    Now, it is quite possible he didn't know the information I just provided to the degree we now know, but he clearly wasn't coming for Rome, and probably enetertained all ideas, being the composed, sober calculator he was.

    Moreover, it would have taken Hannibal, with his exhausted army after Cannae, upwards of two weeks to get there, ample time for them to prepare. There was a strong risk that the fermentation of rebellion which began to seethe throughout southern Italy (and even beyond) might subside with his departure.

    In my opinion, Hannibal pursued the only strategy that would break Rome, that of severing her ties with her allies, who furnished her with the arms, troops, and resources that made her fomidable, even in the face of a crises like Cannae. By marching on Rome after Cannae, it would have involved a compete reversal to that very strategy. How could he gain the appeasement of the peoples of southern Italy, whose ports could provide a great rendezvous for his allies from Macedon, Sicily, and Africa, and the colonies whose loyalty to Rome was more in question, and amongst whom much defection from Rome would occur, if he suddenly marched away into the heartland of the Roman federation, largely populated by peoples who had already closed their doors to him on his march down from a year earlier? They would certainly have followed a policy of 'wait-and-see', as had happened with Roman allies after Trebbia and Trasimene. Perhaps it was Maharbal who didn't know how to use a victory.

    Above: a battle plan of the Cannae (the Ofanto River is the modern name for the Aufidus)

    Furthermore, he didn't seem to be aiming for the destruction of Rome, as his treaty with Philip V of Macedon suggests (Polybius, Book 7.9). But by breaking the federation, Rome's potential might might have been expunged, as she would have become prey to other Italic states, most notably Capua and Tarentum (both of which resented Roman hegemony more than smaller allied communities), who would be stronger due to Hannibal's successes and respect for their values of 'independence'. But I should be careful with such comments: again, this is not historical terrain, but alternate history.

    Many critical comments of Hannibal's strategy have included allusions that he was bound to lose in a protracted war. As Polybius tolds us, Book 3.89,

    "...those means in which the Romans had the advantage, confined himself to these, and regulated his conduct of the war thereby. These advantages of the Romans lay in inexhaustible supplies of provisions and men...".

    But part of Hannibal's visionary strategy, which many critics seem to miss, was that he planned to fight the war not in which Carthage relied on her resources and the Romans on theirs, but increasingly he would fight Rome with her resources against her, while depleting her reserves in manpower by detaching her allies, even if they didn't join his cause for directly. In my opinion, it's a mistake to assume he was banking on all Italian peoples actively joining him in arms. But it would be very unlikely for only a small number of them to do so. After all, it was this very concept that Hannibal allegedly advised Antiochus III of Syria to undertake, as Livy tells us the best summary we have of Hannibal's grand strategy from our original sources, Book 34.60,

    "...Hannibal, a fugitive from his native country, had reached the court of Antiochus, where he was treated with great distinction, the only motive for this being that the king had long been meditating a war with Rome, and no one could be more qualified to discuss the subject with him than the Carthaginian commander. He had never wavered in his opinion that the war should be conducted on Italian soil; Italy would furnish both supplies and men to a foreign foe. But, he argued, if that country remained undisturbed and Rome were free to employ the strength and resources of Italy beyond its frontiers, no monarch, no nation could meet her on equal terms..."

    This revealed idea of Hannibal's strategic thinking of how to fight Rome (notice his understanding of Rome's material strength) is also mentioned in the works of both Appian (The Syrian War, Book 11.7) and [b]Justin[/i] (Epitome, Book 31.5). However, in 193 B.C. an invasion of Italy with 11,000 men was almost certainly foredoomed, and he probably didn't suggest what tradition has imputed to him. He needed Antiochus' support to generate a national uprising in Carthage through his agent Ariston, thus wanted Seleucid power to be more threatening towards the west, not NW towards Greece, where the Syrian king's larger interests lay.

    Hannibal may have been somewhat naive as to the nature of Rome's relations with her allies (but maybe not, as I'll soon explain), a misconception anyone could have made, but he certainly understood what gave Rome her strength, and it was that very strength he resolved to enervate. Time was possibly on Hannibal's side more than some may think, and we shouldn't assume he was out for 'blitzkreig-style' victory. Perhaps it was opportunism, not a need for 'blitzkreig', that resulted in such quick victories for him from 218-216 B.C. If he had learned anything from his father, he would know Rome was immensely resilient, not to mention stubbornly proud. The First Punic War lasted 23 years, with plenty of serious Roman setbacks before they emerged victorious. Maybe he was hoping his own war of attrition, with the appropriation with a substantial amount of Rome's own resources, in which the allies Rome depended on, would finally succumb from a constant devastation of fields and farms, mingled with with humbling battle losses inflicted upon their masters. Remember, agriculture was the basis of the Roman economy.

    Moreover, the loyalty of the Latins was not unquestionable. After all, it was a Latin and his garrison, one Dasius from southern Italy, who handed Clastidium (modern day Casteggio) to Hannibal upon his arrival in the Po Valley in 218 B.C., and this certainly gave Hannibal's justified confidence he could drive a wedge between Rome and her alliance. Nobody could have guessed that it was likely no more Latins would join him. As Polybius says, Book 3.69,

    "...the town of Clastidium was betrayed to Hannibal by a native of Brundisium, to whom the Romans had entrusted it, the garrison and all the stores of grain falling into his hands. The latter he used for his present needs, but he took the men he had captured with them without doing them any hurt, wishing to make a display of leniency, so that those who were overtaken by adversity would not be terrified and give up hope of their lives being spared by him. He conferred high honors on the traitor, as he was anxious to win over those in positions of authority to the Carthaginian cause..."

    And Livy, Book 21.48,

    "...Hannibal had encamped not far from there, and in spite of his elation at his successful cavalry action he felt considerable anxiety at the shortness of supplies which, owing to his marching through hostile territory where no stores were provided, became more serious day by day. He sent a detachment to the town of Clastidium where the Romans had accumulated large quantities of corn. Whilst they were preparing to attack the place they were led to hope that it would be betrayed to them. Dasius, a Brundisian, was commandant of the garrison, and he was induced by a moderate bribe of 400 gold pieces to betray Clastidium to Hannibal. The place was the granary of the Carthaginians while they were at the Trebia. No cruelty was practiced on the garrison, as Hannibal was anxious to win a reputation for clemency at the outset..."

    Livy, almost certainly drawing on Fabius Pictor's works (who was himself a senator), has Fabius Maximus rejecting a proposal to grant citizenship to Latin senators, two from each colony, Book 23.22,

    "...for the purpose of filling up the vacancies, and also of strengthening the union between the Latins and Rome...full citizenship be granted to two senators out of each Latin city, to be approved by the Senate, and that these men should be chosen into the Senate in the place of those who had died. The Senate listened to these proposals with quite as much impatience as they had previously felt at the demand of the Latins. A murmur of indignation went through the House...Quintus Fabius Maximus declared that no proposal had ever been mooted in the Senate at a more inopportune time than this; it had been thrown out at a moment when the sympathies of their allies were wavering and their loyalty doubtful, and it would make them more restless than ever..."

    Furthermore, the garrison of Casilinum refused Rome's offer of citizenship once the stronghold fell to Hannibal in 215 B.C., perhaps indicating a feeling of pride in their own community as much or more than any loyalty to Rome. Livy says, after Cannae, Book 22.61,

    "...How far that disaster surpassed previous ones is shown by one simple fact. Up to that day the loyalty of our allies had remained unshaken, now it began to waver, for no other reason, we may be certain, than that they despaired of the maintenance of our empire..."

    Clearly, the solidarity of the Roman federation cracked after Hannibal's smashing victory at Cannae, albeit only the lesser attached allies renounced Rome. But the 'Italic League' he assembled into his main army should not be underestimated; he won battles throughout the 'attritional' years and held cohesion with his force, yet receiving only 4,000 men outside of Italy in the thirteen years between Cannae and his final departure. Moreover, his crack third line at Zama was composed of perhaps more than 10,000 Bruttians. Certainly, heavier Libyans would have helped, but precisley whatever and whenever he procured, and trained in his methods, out of southern Italy, worked quite efficiently.

    Now, Hannibal's strategy, after the Senate wouldn't discuss peace, was to be primarily and intensely diplomatic. Hannibal's genius, unlike that of Alexander or Karl XII of Sweden, was fine-tuned: despite the enormity of his tactical successes, Hannibal never lost sight that it was policy that was going to win this war. When added pressure was needed from outside of Italy after Cannae, Rome resolutely defeated his allies, but not without some luck: Marcellus didn't even have to fight the major Carthaginian army and navy in Sicily, due to a terrible pestilence that afflicted the Carthaginian army, and the pussilinamous conduct of the admiral Bomilcar, who possessed a numerically superior fleet off SE Sicily in 212 B.C.

    Basically, Hannibal's strategy was unique; as Rome didn't play by traditional rules, neither did he. Hannibal knew he could not completely overcome Rome, thus his strategy was based on the subtle task of wearing them down, and strongly testing their allies, which comprised as much as 70% of Italy's population, to force Rome to an agreed peace favorable to the dignitas of Carthage. Rome brusquely rejected him, but to compel or persuade an enemy to accept a mutual peace is possible without the undertaking of great decisive actions, such as a siege of Rome. Almost certainly, this is what Hannibal had in mind from the beginning. The allies were indeed having their own 'meetings' as late as 209 B.C. (which could be considered subversive).

    But more so than the events following Cannae, it was seven years later in which Hannibal's grand strategy was slowly and seemingly bearing fruit: Livy states, at the backdrop of disgruntled allies due to the deportation of Latin and socii soldiers to Sicily, following the battlefield disaster at the hands of Hannibal at Herdonea the previous year, Book 27.9

    "...Meetings were held amongst the Latins and the allied communities in which they complained loudly that for ten years they had been drained by levies and war-taxes; every year they fought only to sustain a great defeat, those who were not killed in battle were carried off by sickness. A fellow-citizen who was enlisted by the Romans was more lost to them than one who had been made prisoner by the Carthaginians, for the latter was sent back to his home without ransom, the former was sent out of Italy into what was really exile rather than military service. There the men who had fought at Cannae had been for eight years wearing out their lives, and there they would die before the enemy, who had never been stronger than he was today, quitted Italian soil. If the old soldiers were not to return, and fresh ones were always being enlisted, there would soon be nobody left. They would be compelled therefore, before they reached the last stage of depopulation and famine, to refuse to Rome what the necessities of their situation would very soon make it impossible to grant. If the Romans saw that this was the unanimous determination of their allies, they would assuredly begin to think about making peace with Carthage. Otherwise Italy would never be free from war as long as Hannibal was alive. Such was the general tone of the meetings..."

    Again, such a condition is what Hannibal wanted all along. Livy continues,

    "...There were at the time thirty colonies belonging to Rome. Twelve of these announced to the consuls through their representatives in Rome that they had no means from which to furnish either men or money. The colonies in question were Ardea, Nepete, Sutrium, Alba, Carseoli, Sora, Suessa, Cercei, Setia, Cales, Narnia and Interamna. The consuls, startled by this unprecedented step, wanted to frighten them out of such a detestable course, and thought that they would succeed better by uncompromising sternness than by adopting gentle methods. 'You colonists,' they said, 'have dared to address us, the consuls, in language which we cannot bring ourselves to repeat openly in the senate, for it is not simply a refusal of military obligations, but an open revolt against Rome'..."

    These were the Latin colonies - the largest and most important for Rome. The twelve who renounced their obligation were the inner ring, remote form any direct fighting and supplying Rome with men and money; the outer eithteen needed to defend their territories more so, thus couldn't make up the difference. Again, don't be misled - they were not supporting Hannibal or Carthage in any shape or form, but were bled white because of Hannibal's calculated onslaught upon Italy, one which did not involve any gratuitous horror on Hannibal's part - a srategic efficacy (making 'friends'). Again, there were two edges to Hannibal's ability to defeat the Romans in the field, as Polybius tells us in Book 3.90,

    "...either he would compel them to fight or would make it clear to all that he was in complete control and that the Romans were abandoning the countryside to him and his army."

    Thus Hannibal wasn't really baffled by the Fabian strategy many seem to claim. There were hints of disaffection spreading elsewhere. In Etruria, Livy tells us, Book 27.21,

    "...In the middle of the elections considerable anxiety was created by the intelligence that Etruria had revolted. C. Calpurnius, who was acting in that province as propraetor, had written to say that the movement was started at Arretium. Marcellus, the consul elect, was hastily despatched thither to ascertain the position of affairs, and if he thought it sufficiently serious to require the presence of his army he was to transfer his operations from Apulia to Etruria...'

    Livy, Book 27.24,

    "...Day by day the reports from Arretium became more serious and caused increasing anxiety to the senate. Written instructions were sent to C. Hostilius, bidding him lose no time in taking hostages from the townspeople, and C. Terentius Varro was sent with powers to receive them from him and conduct them to Rome. As soon as he arrived, Hostilius ordered one of his legions which was encamped before the city to enter it in military order, and he then disposed the men in suitable positions. This done, he summoned the senators into the forum and ordered them to give hostages for their good behaviour. They asked for forty-eight hours for consideration, but he insisted upon their producing the hostages at once, and threatened in case of refusal to seize all their children the next day. He then issued orders to the military tribunes and prefects of allies and centurions to keep a strict watch on the gates, and to allow no one to leave the city during the night. There was too much slackness and delay in carrying out these instructions; before the guards were posted at the gates seven of the principal senators with their children slipped out before it was dark. Early on the morrow, when the senators began to assemble in the forum, the absence of these men was discovered, and their property was sold. The rest of the senators offered their own children to the number of one hundred and twenty; the offer was accepted, and they were entrusted to C. Terentius to be conveyed to Rome. The report he gave to the senate made matters look still more serious. It seemed as though a rising throughout Etruria was imminent. C. Terentius was accordingly ordered to proceed to Arretium with one of the two city legions and occupy the city in force, C. Hostilius with the rest of the army was to traverse the entire province and see that no opening was afforded for revolutionary disturbances. When Gaius Terentius Varro and his legion reached Arretium, he demanded the keys of the gates. The magistrates replied that they could not find them, but he was convinced that they had been deliberately carried off and not lost through carelessness, so he had fresh locks fitted on all the gates, and took especial precautions to have everything under his own control. He earnestly impressed upon Hostilius the need of vigilance, and warned him that all hope of Etruria remaining quiet depended upon his taking such precautions as to make any movement of disaffection impossible...

    Livy, again with Umbria and Etruria, Book 28.10,

    "...The time was approaching for the elections and it was decided that they should be conducted by a Dictator. Gaius Claudius Nero named his colleague M. Livius as Dictator, and he nominated Q. Caecilius as his Master of the Horse. L. Veturius and Q. Caecilius were both elected consuls. Then came the election of praetors; those appointed were C. Servilius, M. Caecilius Metellus, Tiberius Claudius Asellus and Q. Mamilius Turrinus, who was a plebeian aedile at the time. When the elections were over, the Dictator laid down his office and after disbanding his army went on a mission to Etruria. He had been commissioned by the senate to hold an enquiry as to which cantons in Etruria had entertained the design of deserting to Hasdrubal as soon as he appeared, and also which of them had assisted him with supplies, or men, or in any other way. Such were the events of the year at home and abroad..."

    And one more statement regarding disaffection in Etruria from Livy, when Mago Barca positioned himself in northern Italy in 206 B.C., Book 29.36,

    "...Etruria, at the other end of Italy, was almost wholly in sympathy with Mago, hoping to effect a revolution with his help..."

    Clearly, now Etruria was feeling the increasingly taxing demands of the war Hannibal was causing. By now, Hannibal had become relegated to a massive raider, but his ability to maintain the cohesion of his main army left Rome with an increasing problem. Carthage herself, after all, wasn't yet afflicted by the war on her soil.

    Livy also tells us that Marcus Livinius Salinator (the 'actual' commander at the Metaurus) making inquiries into which Etrurian and Umbrian communities had been planning to join Hasdrubal or had already helped hm (Book 28.10). Rome needed her allies: it has been calculated that some 80,000 Roman citizens were fielded in 212 B.C. In 208, the amount was around 60,000 (see the tables etc. in Peter Brunt's terrific Italian Manpower 225 B.C.-14 A.D.). If Hasdrubal had been as good a marcher as his older brother, the allies may have said 'enough'. Moreover, Brunt tells us the wealth-qualification (property ownership) for military service had to be reduced substantially (perhaps by 60%) because of the lack of citizens qualified. There is absolutely no doubt about it - Rome needed her core allies, and Hannibal caused them to consider breaking with Rome, however much Livy may have added a scaremongering touch in his narrative.

    Yes, as deeply as many of us venerate Hannibal, he did ultimately fail in what he sought to achieve, something many of his critics feel is the lone yardstick to gauge his standing as a man of action. I disagree; can we really think of him as a failure in terms of that being analogous with any imperceptiveness on his grand strategic thinking? I guess it comes down to one's impressionable nature and personal conviction. In my opinion, Hannibal wasn't a complete failure at all. It took nearly two decades for Rome to overcome him, and he effectively established a broad alliance system encircling Italy with the Celts, Syracuse and Macedon after Rome was stubborn after Cannae. Moreover, although he had, at least in the first few years, an excellent war staff, he never had the allies that came through for other greats. Alexander the Great had Antipitar, who successfully, unlike the Carthaginians in Iberia, secured the home base against the Spartans and sent the great one reinforcements when he needed them (after Gaugamela). In all, Alexander received about 47,000 reinforcements for his campaigns after Gaugamela (albeit there were plenty of demobilizations too). Hannibal received just 4,000 of the roughly 140,000 the Carthaginians (these written numbers fro troop strenghts were probably not accurate, but we need to apply a gauge) dispatched throughout the war out of Africa and Spain, not including the initial invasion by Hannibal (Livy Books 21.49, 23.26, 23.28, 23.32, 23.41, 24.35, 26.21, 27.20-35-36, 28.1, 28.46, 29.4).

    Scipio was brilliant, and an example of how the Romans could adapt and produce an innovative thinker; but he had a secure base and indigenous allies to begin with in Iberia, never had to venture far into the Iberian and African hinterlands, and certainly never faced the enormous reserves of manpower that opposed Hannibal. Julius Caesar, at times seemingly untouchable by comparison, faced unorganized tribal levies in Gaul, and handled Vercingetorix's skill and organization that was missing. Later, Caesar's veterans were more than a match for the bulwark of Pompey's raw recruits. Alexander and Caesar could get away with things Hannibal couldn't. Chinggis Khan had Chepe and Subotai to conquer elsewhere, who could bribe the tribes of Asia without difficulty, if they were in a difficult tactical situation etc. Marlborough benefited from the co-operative aid of the great Eugene and able Louis William, and Napoleon had some superb marshals, particularly the great Louis Davout.

    How can we call Hannibal a complete failure if, after seven years, his strategy resulted in the defection of the two largest cities in Italy after Rome itself, along with probably the better part of 40% of Rome's source of strength rendered unavailable for her (with more allies on the verge of revolt), and when he beat them many times in the field, including what is considered to this day history's greatest tactical masterpiece. Don't be fooled by Livy's patriotic rhetoric (or the re-telling at face value of his sources) when it comes to some of these clashes in 209-208 B.C. Hannibal was never tactically defeated amid his war of maneuvering throughout southern Italy from 215-203 B.C. If he suffered a 'reverse', he clearly attained his ends with a stout and efficient night and/or flank march to detach himself from his antagonists.

    Polybius would attribute much to Tyche - 'chance'.

    Please don't misunderstand me; Hannibal had plenty of trouble too, as the war dragged on. His allies became millstones around his neck the more he needed to protect them from Roman reprisals in his absence. He could never establish a 'no-go' area south of Capua, thus Rome could continually wage war amid the interior lines, and when he did attempt an assault on a city for strategic purposes, he failed. The strongholds of Nola and Neopolis (Naples) would have been paramount for his cause, and the Romans adopted a successful policy of an indirect approach against him. But it took time, and as late as 207 B.C. things could have gone against them with Hasdrubal's merging with Hannibal.

    Another issue which is important is the seemingly common criticism of his inability to 'siege cities'. I find this criticism, forgive me, misplaced. His siege of Saguntum, in which he had close to perhaps 100,000 troops (the 150,000 number by Livy via probably Valerias Antias is certainly an exaggeration; Livy, Book 21.8) and no hostile standing armies in the lands near him, was resolute and skilled in siege tactics, not to mention replete with a variety of siege machinery. Taking Saguntum was no child's play; it lay a mile or so from the Mediterranean and commanded the entire country within its visual, and lay on a long and naked rock, some 300 ft. above the plain. It was well placed and equipped to resisit a siege and very difficult to approach. Only so many men could be put to work on the walls. The operation was not as ingenious as Tyre or Alesia, but it is simply not credible for people to allude that Hannibal could not siege a city. In my opinion, of course. It should be noted that Hannibal took the Iberian towns of Carteia, Arbocala and Salamantica, as well as Saguntum, and did capture Italian strongholds at Turin and Nuceria by storm and, according to Livy, he did use 'mantlets' (vineae) and 'towers' on his attacks on Casilinum and Cumae. But he never established a lumbering 'siege-train' throughout his campaigns. The circumstances he fought under were not the same as 'superior' besiegers throughout history. Sieging strongholds in Italy would greatly impede his freedom of maneuver, and if he captured towns completely against their will, they would certainly not be reliable allies. Gaining allies, even loosely, could not be attained, he figured, by assaulting their cities. He always attempted to appeal to the people first, as at Nola, in which the Popular Party favored an alliance with him. Marcus Marcellus' stout intervention at Nola was a supreme factor in the war for Rome's cause. Furthermore, he would also have to garrison the fortresses he captured, if attained by siegery without appeal. He could ill afford to do so, as Livy tells us, Book 26.38,

    "...Hannibal's principal cause of anxiety was the effect produced by the fall of Capua. It was generally felt that the Romans had shown greater determination in attacking than he had in defending the place, and this alienated many of the Italian communities from him. He could not occupy them all with garrisons unless he was prepared to weaken his army by detaching numerous small units from it; a course at that time highly inexpedient. On the other hand he did not dare to withdraw any of his garrisons and so leave the loyalty of his allies to depend upon their hopes and fears..."

    The last quote from Livy clearly illustrates Hannibal's need for reinforcements by a certain period, probably around 213 B.C. or so. His growing defensive war became increasingly difficult without help from outside of Italy. He had accomplished enough on his own for southern Italy to be a great rendezvous for the forces and fleets of Macedon, from the East, and the Carthaginian contingents throughout Sicily, Africa, and Iberia to be put forth and land here. That it could have been possible for substantial forces to reach him was demonstrated not only by the disembarkation of those 4,000 and Hannibal's successfull landing in Africa in 203 B.C., but also by Mago's impressive trek in arriving at and seizing Genoa with some 14,000 troops in 206 B.C., coupled with the fact that supplies and troops numbering an additional 6,800 (and seven elephants) reached him from Africa. I know - 'would have, could have, should have'. We even read from Livy of the Carthaginian fleet in Tarentum being transferred to the Greek island of Corcyra (modern Corfu, off the coast of Albania, a little more than 100 miles SE across the Ionian Sea from Tarentum) in 209 B.C., in preparation to help Philip V of Macedon against the Aetolians, who were allied with Rome (Book 27.15). But it then disappears from record!

    Polybius even records of a Carthaginian landing at Sardinia, then Pisa in 217 B.C. before the battle fought at Lake Trasimene. What were they doing there? They seemed to be thinking Hannibal was close by to open communications with him, maybe even supply him a little, Book 3.96,

    "...Owing to this success the prospects of the Romans in Spain began thenceforth to look brighter. But the Carthaginians, on the news of their defeat, at once manned and dispatched seventy ships, regarding the command of the sea as necessary for all their projects. These ships touched first at Sardinia and then at Pisa in Italy, the commander believing they would meet Hannibal there, but on learning that the Romans had at once put to sea from Rome itself with a hundred and twenty quinqueremes to attack them, they sailed back again to Sardinia and thence to Carthage..."

    Interestingly, Livy tells us that the same Carthaginian naval force captured some Roman supply transports on their way to Spain, before the larger Roman fleet could get to them (Book 22.11); Polybius tells us this swift and adventurous fleet touched back off Sardinia, then on to Carthage. Maybe Hannibal had his sights on a strike on Ostia, the port of Rome, and had sent dispatches to Carthage. But we read nothing of it.

    What else could Hannibal have done? Standing on the defensive in Iberia, where he certainly could have handled invading Roman forces? No, though he certainly could have handled Roman forces sent to Iberia initially, fighting Rome outside Italy would not have worked in the long run; Rome suffereed many disasters, on sea and land, in the First Punic War, yet still won, and if Hannibal destroyed Roman expeditionary forces, more would have come. Besides, they would have simply struck at Africa. This is exactly what happened in the Second Punic War when, despite Hannibal's continued presence in southern Italy, the Romans decided not to cut their losses after the defeat of the elder Scipios in 211 B.C., but to send more forces, about 25,000 men, to Iberia between Nero and Scipio. Indeed, Hannibal did envisage encroaching Roman forces upon Africa and Iberia, as he cross-posted 35,120 men between Africa and Iberia, including some 4,000 picked men to be garrisoned at Carthage (hostages, really), who were dispatched from the towns of Metagonia (probably what is now the eastern part of Spanish Morocco). This was strategically prudent, as he meant to weave solidarity between Iberia and Africa in the testing times ahead. This action also lessened the chance of desertion, with soldiers not stationed in their native lands. But in essence, it was indeed a form of hostage-taking, an act coldly but viably implemented by the great Philip II of Macedon over a generation earlier.

    Should Hannibal have not gone too war at all? Absolutely not; it may have taken a little while, but war was almost certainly coming. But things are not always inevitable, and in this case the two great city-states simply wound up not respecting each other enough with the events in Sardinia and Spain. The Barcids certainly opposed the home governments policy of appeasement, but they were not independent viceroys who undertook things without approval. But the whole history of Roman diplomacy before and after Hannibal suggests that her demands would not have ceased with Hannibal laying off Saguntum. Hannibal's great strike into Italy was a classic example of attack is the best defense.

    I think the arguments concerning Hannibal as an 'overrated' commander, despite credible points of view, amounts to saying that he shouldn't have gone to war in the first place. What if he had backed down with Saguntum? What next? Appeals to Rome from New Carthage? Gades? Utica? The outcome of acquiescing to Roman demands could have ultimately led to the abandonment of Carthage itself. In 150 B.C., Rome demanded that Carthage re-settle not less than ten miles from the sea.

    With the great struggle with Hannibal, Rome produced a corporate heroism of contributors - Fabius, Nero, Marcellus, and Scipio were the main commanders that achieved the greatest Roman successes. But the likes of Publius Cornelius Scipio (the Elder), Gnaeus Scipio, Marcus Silanus, Gaius Laelius, Tiberius Fonteius, Titus Manlius Torquatus, Marcus Valerius Laevinus, Titus Otacilius Crassus, Quintus Naevius Crista, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (d. 213 B.C.), and Appius Claudius Pulcher, all contributed greatly for Rome to finally win in the end. In all, Rome had better commanders, and outnumbered Carthage by about seven to one in total manpower reserves. She also had command of the sea, which Hannibal was initially able to circumvent. The Romans successfully played the Greeks of each other, thanks mainly to the Aetolians, were triumphant in Sicily, and thwarted the Carthaginians on the Iberian Peninsula from getting to Italy, despite the efforts of Hasdrubal Barca, and no thanks to the lack of co-opertaion of the other commanders, who failed dismally to vanquish the Romans at the Ebro in 211 B.C. when they had just 9,000 beleaguered soldiers hangin on. The Carthaginian navy failed to take advantages off Cape Pachynon, the south-east tip of Sicily, when Bomilcar actually had a superior fleet than the Romans (the corvus had been abandoned by this time). Hannibal has to be held accountable for something, as he engineered this great conflict, but these significant Carthaginian reverses were simply not his fault.

    Hannibal's grand strategy was certainly not doomed from the beginning: not only is nothing in history concretely inevitable (only in hindsight does it appear to be), but the past afforded no clear refutation of the hope that the Roman federation could not be broken up by the presence of a brilliant commander with oustanding personal magnetism, and an understanding that policy, not mere battle victories, wins wars. History has always suggested that subject peoples would revolt if given a spur and reasonable chance of success. Hannibal was brought up on the knowledge of the uneasy relations Carthage had with her subjects, reinforced from similar situations in Greek history. But for one to think Hannibal assumed things were the same in Roman Italy would be to undermine the man's intelligence; in letters to the people of Larissa in 215 or 214 B.C, Philip V of Macedon explained the liberal talent Rome possessed for absorbing peoples into their realm, one of creating numerous colonies; he identified the political innovation which established a dynamic force force which could operating centripetally and centrifugally - ie, outwards from a sytem of centralization. He wrote of Rome's extension of citizenship to released slaves and her numerous colonies. It is inconceivable that Hannibal did not know this either; after all, it was he who began to open talks with Philip V after Trasimene. But if Hannibal did not apprise Philip V, or not reinforce what Philip V already knew on the surface, perhaps, there is no reason to think Philip V would understand something like this and Hannibal not.

    Peninsular Italy at the time of Hannibal's invasion was united under Roman imperium, with Cisalpine Gaul recently planted with Latin colonies. But it was not a single state, but an agglomerate of many states and peoples whose common ground was that each was allied with Rome. But there was no universal feeling of 'us' and 'them' amongst the Italic peoples. Many had nothing in common with each other.

    Hannibal was certainly surprised and extremely disappointed of Rome's terse rejection of his embassy sent to them after Cannae; but though later generations of Romans would look at this incident with proud and patriotic pride, they were taking a grave risk. Hannibal's then resolved to crack the morale of Rome's loyal allies by drawing them into constant war-service, which resulted in the devastation of farms and many losses in battle - the difference between this war, Hannibal purposely effected, and the First Punic War was that this time it was on Rome's doorstep. As shown, the temper of many of the allies who remained loyal was uncertain after Cannae (and right before, when Hannibal captured the supply-depot at Cannae), and very disgruntled by around 208 B.C., including the northern regions, and Livy says that if the Romans became aware of the allies' discontent, they would be forced to negotiate a peace - which is what Hannibal's objective was all along (to reiterate). Adrian Goldsworthy even writes in his book on the Punic Wars, Pg. 217-219,

    "..if the Romans refused to accept defeat and seek terms, he could continue to inflict real damage on their population and their property. The Romans were beaten and ought to have the sense to realize it...There was no reason to think that continued pressure on Rome would not eventually force her to acknowledge defeat."

    Even once his objective was clearly not attainable, Hannibal relinquished his southern holds and concentrated himself in Bruttium (the 'toe of Italy', and 'ball', actually). Here the terrain would make it difficult and costly for the Romans to dislodge him. With Hannibal, the war took on a specific and more limited task now; Bruttium is mainly mountainous and almost entirely surrounded by the sea, which provided Hannibal with a perfect base to check any Roman advance, and also compel the Romans to keep a large standing army near him. His strategic goal behind these tactics was similar to that of his father in the First Punic War, to induce Rome to an acceptable peace treaty in return for the departure of the Carthaginian foothold in southern Italy. In 205 B.C., Scipio successfully took Locri with a stealthy assault from Sicily, where Hannibal arrived probably to primarily get his garrison out of there (both succeeded). But in the summer the following year, we read from Livy of an irregular defeat (a 'running fight') inflicted by Hannibal on the consul Publius Sempronius Tuditanus, but soon both consuls combined to defeat Hannibal (Book 29.36). This was simultaneous with Livy telling us that 'Etruria was almost wholly in sympathy with Mago'. The last two are probably overstated; Hannibal simply pulled away due to the presence of two Roman armies, and though Etruria was showing serious signs of disaffection (particularly the city of Ariminium), it seemed more isolated than concentrated. We read nothing of any punitive measures, as was the case of Capua and the twelve Latin colonies etc. But the fact some of the Etrurian and Umbrian communities were allegedly already helping Hasdrubal upon his arrival in the summer of 207 B.C. reveals a very tense situation, and a further compromise - beyond those who broke away nine years earlier - to the Roman Federation.

    In this titanic struggle of antiquity - a world war for its time - Carthage had but one man on her side who achieved anything significant (with the possible exception of his brother's defeat of the elder Scipios). He was one of the greatest field commanders in military history, one who indeed possessed strategic vision and fully understood that policy, not merely battle victories, will win a war. I think if we could have sat down and had a chat with Hannibal (he reputedly had a peculiar sense of humor) in 219 B.C. in Iberia, he would have agreed that his upcoming enterprise was quite a gamble. But I think he would have told us he would rather fail in trying than to never try at all.

    One of the strongest reasons why, on whole, Hannibal failed may have been not that he underestimated the Italic peoples' desire or contemplations to detach themselves from Roman suzerainty if shown it may have been the better option (in terms of who the victor seemed to be, particularly once Macedon and Syracuse joined the Carthaginian cause), but if they indeed wanted to be given their 'freedom', many 'civilized' peoples of Italy would not have it given to them by a Carthaginian oligarch (in their eyes) leading a composite army of 'barbarians'. His ultimate failure is paradoxical: the result of the war revealed the political factors which can limit even the most impressive military successes, but it was the very same political factors which he assiduously never wavered from attempting to manipulate, in detaching the Latins and socii from Rome's alliances with them. He could never destroy Rome, and he knew it. He could not have gauged Rome's resolve in its entirety, as reactions to perilous situations cannot be fully predicted; to reiterate, the resolute loyalty to Rome of the majority of the Italic protectorates, seemingly a little less than 60% of the entire alliance in about 212 B.C., to endure both the punishment he inflicted on southern Italy directly and the growing strain of the war on the allies elsewhere (Carthage itself was never substantially affected until 204 B.C.), finally undermined Hannibal's hopes. The hope of forcing the Romans to accept terms, which proved entailing a revised strategy after Cannae, and with the south of Italy (albeit loosely) more with him than Rome, to break their confederation enough to deplete them enough so they simply couldn't continue fighting if they remained obdurate, formed the rock upon which his strategy revolved. It did not peter out, but suddenly proved futile with the defeat of Hasdrubal on the banks of the Metaurus; Hannibal boldly undertook the right strategic course (IMHO, of course) to seriously enervate the Roman Federation (the results bear out a plausible grand strategy, particularly how his demonstrative generalship influenced Macedon and Syracuse), but he could not offer many of the peoples of Italy a better choice (some smaller Italic cities probably considered detaching from Rome, but didn't necessarily want 'independence'.), and any 'extra' demonstrable force he effected proved not only quite strong enough, but counter-productive, despite the magnitude of Cannae, as he was forced to pillage beyond the strategy of trying to goad battle with Roman armies, as the sustenance of his main army became more difficult. Hannibal tried vainly to not be an 'occupier', as his resources would not allow for that. But that seemed to be the only way he was goind to achieve his grand strategy. But again, in 209-207 B.C. the Roman Commonwealth was compromised very seriously, and though the number of legions exceeded those of prior years, the actual number of soldiers certainly was lessening. It came very close right before Hasdrubal Barca (belatingly, for Hannibal's initially hoped for) arrived in northern Italy.

    Another considerable element is that Hannibal assumed, upon their sanctioning his great enterprise in 218 B.C., Carthage would support him with a show of national effort, something the Roman Senate conducted brilliantly throughout much of the war. This is an aspects of the Second Punic War which influences modern studies on strategic studies, as does the military operations of Alexander the Great. The Roman Senate, in essence, was analogous in the Second Punic War with a modern 'War Office'. Carthage didn't proceed as such with her ruling body, though they did match Rome with energy and determination in Sicily with her proximate land and naval forces (which was spurred by a dispatch from Hannibal himself, urging them to do so in 213 B.C.; Livy, Book 24.35). There was indeed much Tyche which contributed to Rome's victory in the Sicilian theater and others, but it can be argued it lasted so long because of chance happenings which went against them. The Second Punic War can be basically viewed as a display of individual genius against collective genius. The latter won.

    Thus I opine no; Maharbal was not correct. Hannibal knew from the start his strengths and weaknesses, and made the most viable decisions at every turn to bring Rome down. It was all centered around destroying her armies, which was under his direct control and worked to the letter at first, and with the corollary results of the enervation of Rome's bonds with her allies (ie, striking at Rome's COG - center of gravity). Looking back, it just never was going to quite work without a higher degree of military prowess, perhaps even competence, than the Carthaginians and their allies displayed (some bad luck was a factor, but much has to do with the nature of one's socio-cultural ways). The resolve and prudent handling of the war by the Roman Senate was too strong in the end. Once again, the great conflict illustrated how existing political conditions can limit an astounding string of military success on the losing side. But Hannibal's genius nearly pulled it off, and so stern a test was never applied again to a rising power by a militarily weaker one (overall). Hannibal's strategic thinking simply proved was out of date, in the sense that battlefield victories against Rome could not ensure strategic success, and the call of 'freedom of the Greeks' was not going to work with the novel and rising power of Rome; he kept expecting her to come to terms when things looked perilous for them, a natural assumption (IMHO). Unlike many other great generals in history who didn't fail, he had the misfortune of facing a foe who was more resilient and determined than any foe of many of the successfull military leaders throughout history (not without argument, of course).

    Thanks, James
    Last edited by Spartan JKM; October 02, 2008 at 07:44 PM. Reason: Additional trivia

  2. #2
    Kscott's Avatar New and Improved!
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    wow, I must say you certainly analized this very well, from my limited knowledge on the subject, Id agree with your thesis :original:

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  3. #3


    I agree, but to an extent Hannibal also needed to take a gamble if he was going to win the war, and that gamble should of been to march on Rome, yes it is highly probable that he may have been repelled or that taking Rome would have achieved little, but I believe that if he had taken Rome he could of forced the Romans to sue for peace, without her capital, what would Rome have been?

    But Hannibal took stock of his troops and decided such a gamble foolhardy, that was perhaps his greatest strength and greatest flaw as a general, he took calculated risks, but if the odds were too long he decided against it, hindsight says he may have achieved much more in marching on Rome, common sense says probaly not.

    I've been reading a novel based on the 2nd punic war, called Pride of Carthage, so I'm really interested in the punic wars again myself (if anything the novel helps to humanise Carthaginians in my eyes as I always studied the Roman literature in high school, which pretty much demonised them).

    Hannibal took the gamble of manipulating Rome into war but when the time for "the big decision" came he never made it.

  4. #4
    ex scientia lux
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    This thread analyzes whether Rome could of been taken after Cannae. I argue from the same point as you that Maharbal likely never existed. Polybios was in a far better position to recieve information regarding the second punic war than Livy and he never mentions Maharbal's comments.

    However, the fact that Livy creates the line suggests something altogether different. That perhaps Hannibal could of taken Rome right after his victory in Cannae. The thread linked above never draws a clear conclusion but it's certainly thought provoking. My opinion is this; Hannibal had crushed roman army after roman army. After Cannae, he had every expectation that Rome would surrender; every other nation certainly would of sued for peace. His miscalculation was in Rome's refusal to surrender against any odds rather than his inability to capitalize on victory.

  5. #5


    Compliments on your post Spartan Very intreguing. How I interpret your story is basically that Hannibal didn't do it because he was too damn smart. The odds were too much against him. But my opinion is still that he should have taken the gamble. It was too good a change to let go, no matter the odds. But maybe that's just because we now know what happend because he didn't.

  6. #6


    Damn good post Spartan, I remember the huge 'greatest general ever' thread you started.

    I sometimes wonder if the Romans would've become the greatest power in Europe between 202 BC - 9 AD if Scipio Africanus would've been killed at Cannae (he served as military tribune during this battle) in 216. Rome's determination and willingness to raise an army after several defeats gave her a big advantage over the Carthaginians, not only in their campaign against Hannibal but also in an Italian revolt agains the Carthaginian rule (if the Carthaginians managed to defeat Rome and conquer Italy). Carthage's reliance on mercenaries and her intolerance toward other peoples sealed her faith as a declining empire, and I think Rome would've thrown off the Carthaginian yoke after a few decades, especially after Hannibal's death.

    Spartan, your conclusion is that Maharbal was not right. But on several occasions in the Second Punic War, the Carthaginians were close to victory: not only after Cannae, but also on several occasions in the Italian campaign. What if Hannibal managed to defeat Fabius Maximus during his dictatorship, forcing him to fight in unfavourable conditions? What if Phillip V managed to send an experienced force of phalanx and cavalry to Italy? What if Hasdrubal managed to end the Roman presence in Hispania after his victory over them as the Upper Baetis river? What if, as I said earlier, Scipio had died at Cannae, leaving the Romans in Hispania without a skilled commander to face the Carthaginians?
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  7. #7


    I'm currently reading Livy's "Ab Urbe Condita" after having read Polybius before. A big part of Polybius' works about the Italian campaign after Cannae seems to be lost. Therefore most of the information I currently have about Hannibal's campaign comes from Livy.

    What I do find intriguing is an episode mentioned by both Polybius and Livy: Hannibal's march on Rome in an attempt to persuade the Romans to come to the defence of their capital and thus abandon the siege of Capua. The Romans had more troops at that moment than after Cannae. In the same time Hannibal didn't have much more troops than after Cannae. Some Iberians and Numidians had deserted, he had fought several quite costly battles with the Romans (with unclear results) and some of his officers had been severely defeated by the Romans in Italy. So why not march on Rome after Cannae and just isolate it if he could not efectively siege it? He did have lots of cavalry. Also by comming near Rome he would have been closer to the Cisalpine Gauls, among which he had quite a lot of allies.

    Another thing I can't quite find an explanation for is Hannibal's apparent little determination to siege cities. The whole Second Punic War started with Hannibal taking Saguntm. Yet in Italy Hannibal time and again seemed to be rather "shy" when it came to taking cities by force.

    Those are the two things so far that make me wonder what was really going on. Was Hannibal a great general or just a lucky one?
    To Be Continued...

  8. #8
    therussian's Avatar Use your imagination
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    Just a suggestion Dromikaites. It would be excellent if you made your own thread with your own "article" or analysis. That would be awesome.

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  9. #9


    I also contemplated the fact that, if Scipio Africanus had died at Cannae, the complete history of Rome would be different. No doubt the Carthaginians would have gained an advantage, but how much of an advantage? Hannibals Celtiberian, Numidian army wouldn't have been able to beseige Rome, and the outcome on the Italian peninsula would have essentially been the same except for the drawing back of Hannibal's army to Carthage. Then again, Hasdrubal wouldn't have made his name on the Iberian peninsula, and the Carthaginian empire, in my opinion, couldn't have expanded much further. The capitol of Carthage was too far South, and the empire would essentially be to the North, whereas in the Roman empire the provinces varied from the North, East, South and West. Rome was much more of a tactical capitol city for an empire, in addition with Constantinople later in the empire.
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  10. #10
    therussian's Avatar Use your imagination
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    Remember that Scipio wasn't the only Roman general who led distinguished campaigns during the 2nd Punic War. The one that comes to mind (and the one which I personally very much respect) would be Nero. Hasdrubal was so close to linking up with his brother. So close The only thing that stood between him and the conquest of Rome was Nero, and an army of Romans. Nero proved to be a hero that day. He utterly crushed the Carthaginians under Hasdrubal, destroying any chance of Hannibal getting reinforcements. That was truly one of the most influential battles of all history. Who knows what would have happened if Nero was not there. Maybe Rome would have fallen, maybe it wouldn't have.

    Lord Byron once said:
    The consul Nero, who made the unequalled march which deceived Hannibal and deceived Hasdrubal, thereby accomplishing an achievement almost unrivaled in military annals. The first intelligence of his return, to Hannibal, was the sight of Hasdrubal's head thrown into his camp. When Hannibal saw this, he exclaimed, with a sigh, that 'Rome would now be the mistress of the world.' To this victory of Nero's it might be owing that his imperial namesake reigned at all. But the infamy of the one has eclipsed the glory of the other. When the name of Nero is heard, who thinks of the consul? But such are human things."

    Who knows....

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  11. #11


    After losing most of his men during the Alps crossing, Hannibal's best chance was a favourable treaty, that would weaken Rome and strengthen Carthage. The best time to get that was right after Cannae. The same very minute, when Rome was overwhelmed with the shock. Once he lost that moment Hannibal needed another Cannae. That, the Romans were not going to let happen. The result was predictable - Zama.

  12. #12


    I was very intrigued by several decisions made by both parties during the Second Punic War. One of them was the decision of Hannibal to cross the Alps throug one of the northern passes instead of using Napoleon's route during the first Italian campaign (the route through the Maritime Alps, Nice-San Remo-Genoa). For a detailed discussion of that matter follow this thread: (maybe it also belongs to the Museum).

    Polybius states that one of the major strenghts of Rome was its manpower reservoir. We have little reason to believe Hannibal would have not known about that. Rome's main recruiting area was in the center and south of Italy (northern Italy being still largely in the hands of the Gauls). So if Hannibal was to win, he had to deprive the Romans of their allies (actually more like subjects) in those areas. Let's first see how realistic was that expectation of his.

    The Romans and the central and southern Italian peoples
    The Romans fought hard against the Samnites in order to assert its control over the South of Italy. Some 130 years after Hannibal's arrival in Italy the Samnites in the south and the Etruscans in the north rebelled against the Roman political control (the so-called Social War). Therefore it's safe to assume that Hannibal could realistically hope the Samnites at least would join his side. In reality not all the Samnites sided with him, but that's another issue. We now need to understand Hannibal's point of view. And from his point of view, based on the information he could have had, his decision to invade Italy and move to the south was a correct one.

    The Bruttii, the Lucanians and the Greek cities of the south were also potential allies of his because they were forced into submission by the Romans more recently than the Samnites. Since it seems it was common knowledge at that time the Samnites would look forward to regaining their independence, we can safely assume the same ideas were entertained by the other peoples of southern Italy. Therefore Hannibal indeed had enough motives to believe he should march south if he is to succeed. That's why the battle of Canne was fought at..Canae, by the way. Hannibal was marching south.

    Carthaginean Senate's Point of View
    I've seen on several occasions the opinion that the Carthaginean Senate didn't support Hannibal nor the war in general. This is not quite correct, at least judging from the works of Polybius and Livy. Hannibal had an enemy in the Carthaginean Senate, Hanno, a political adversary of Hannibal's father. But the Punic Senate did not share Hanno's views. Just like the Romans needed the south of Italy, the Carthagineans needed Spain in order to win the war. Spain was providing Carthage with both money and troops. Lots of reinforcements were therefore sent to Spain and at some point the Carthagineans were very close to annihilating the Romans there. Both the Scipo brothers - the father and the uncle of Scipio Africanus - were killed, their armies were but completly destroyed and only the negligent attitude of some Carthaginean commanders, coupled with some luck (the remanants of the Roman army electing a capable commander) prevented the total disaster.

    The Carthagineans also made a good attempt at seizing Sicilly. Their Senate allocated adequate resources to the Sicillian campaign but their efforts were again compromised by the criminal incompetence of the Carthaginean supreme commander in Sicilly, who alienated his best general there, the Numidian Muttines. Sicilly was important for the war as it was the breadbasket of Rome.

    If we step back and take a look at the 3 theaters of war we see the Carthagineans being on the defence in Spain while the Romans are defending themselves in Italy. At this point each of the two nations had made the mandatory moves. Then the Carthagineans escalated by invading Sicilly. The Romans were so outstretched that they couldn't retaliate by invading Africa, instead they've only raided its coasts.

    I said that attacking Spain and Italy respectively were the madatory moves. Here's why: right at the beginning of the Second Punic War the Roman plan for winning the war was simple: invade Spain with the consular army of Publius Cornelius Scipio the Elder and invade Africa with the consular army of Tiberius Sempronius Longus. Only Hannibal's invasion of Italy saved Carthage from being sieged at the very beginning of the war.

    Back to the Senate of Carthage's decision to invade Sicilly: could they have better sent that army to Spain or to Italy instead? The answer is not easy. At the time Sicilly was invaded things seemed OK in Spain. Maybe the army would have then been put to a better use in Italy? On the other hand, the war in Sicilly prevented the Romans from using those troops against Hannibal. In addition to that a Punic victory in Sicilly would have probably starved Rome and its allies. The question therefore becomes: would have Hannibal done better against more Roman troops had he have the Punic army of Sicilly send to him?

    How Great of a General Hannibal Really Was?
    He did defeat the Romans at Trebia, lake Trasimene and Cannae. On the other hand he wasn't successful at Nola nor in his attempt of relieving Capua. At Numistro and at Canusium the Romans almost defeated him (both battles can be called either a draw or even minor Roman victories). And he was clearly defeated at Zama.

    Just tallying the victories, draws and defeats of Hannibal does not result in a correct evaluation of his generalship. We need to look also at how he won and how he lost.

    1) At Trebbia and at lake Trasimene he used ambushes. This proves a skillful use of the terrain, making him at least an above-average tactician.
    2) At Cannae the Roman consul Gaius Terrentius Varro used the huge numerical advantage the Romans had in the worst possible way. How could Hannibal know that G. Terrentius Varro would array his troops in depth instead of presenting a large front which could have easily envelopped the Punic right flank?

    The answer to this question is far from simple. The first thing is the terrain. The battle took place on a 3 km (~2 miles) wide plain running along the south-west north-east axis, bordered by the Aufidus river on one side and by some gentle hill slopes on the other. The Romans were the first to deploy facing north-east and thus avoiding to have the sunlight directly in their eyes. Hannibal arrayed his army in response of the Roman deployment.

    The Roman right flank was on the Aufidus river, protected by the Roman cavalry and commanded by the consul Aemilius Paulus. The Roman left flank was protected by the Allied cavalry, under the direct command of G. Terrentius Varro, the consul who had the overall supreme command that day. The Allied cavalry was considered better than the Roman one. Since the native Roman cavalry was restricted in its moves by the Aufidus river and since Varro placed his best cavalry on the flank that allowed more mobility we might assume he did intend to envelop the Carthagineans and push them with their backs against the river. The Allied cavalry was deployed partly on the slopes, thus giving it the possibility at some point to try a downhill charge. So, since the left flank reached the hill, why didn't Varro then deploy the rest of the cohorts on it, thus gaining an aditional tactical advantage?

    Since the Romans were the first to deploy, the only logical reason why they stopped at the base of the slope was because they tried to conceal their full strenght. Hannibal knew he was facing two consuls. What we can't know for sure is if he was aware of the fact he was facing also two double-strenght consular armies. A normal consular army was made of 2 Roman legions, two Allied legions, the normal Roman cavalry complement (some 400 to 600 cavalry) and twice as much Allied cavalry. Two regular consular armies would be about the size of Hannibal's army therefore concealing the true strenght would have been a very good idea in order to prevent Hannibal from withdrawing. We do know the Romans used the same trick against Hasdrubal during the battle of Metaurus river. We also know that once Hasdrubal found out he would face two consuls instead of one he tried to break contact at night but lost his guides and therefore the Romans caught up with him.

    Why didn't do Varro the same trick as Gaius Claudius Nero at Metaurus? Nero waited till the battle was engaged then he sent part of his troops (he was on the right Roman flank) to go round the Roman lines and envelop Hasdrubal's right flank. Since Varro had plenty of troops to do that, the only explanations could be either he was stupid or he got too involved with fighting the Numidians and then he was cut off from the rest of the Roman army by the surprise attack of the Gaulish and Iberian cavalry. While many people tend to dismiss Varro as a coward and an incapable, the Roman Senate seems to have thought otherwise. After Cannae he held various other official positions, including commanding armies (proconsul in Picenum) and he was never put on trial for cowardice nor was he held legally responsible for the defeat.

    Keeping in mind the Senate's and the people's attitude towards him it seems his decision to array the army in depth was not considered a mistake by his contemporaries even though both Livy and Polybius blame him for that. One logical reason why that wasn't considered a mistake might have been the one I've provided: he actually tried to lure Hannibal into accepting the battle by making the Roman army look smaller than it really was.

    Now let's look at Hannibal's decisions that day. The first decision was to accept battle. Was Hannibal aware of the strenght of the enemy? My assumption is he wasn't. While lots of people tend to think Hannibal loved to take on larger armies than his, facts show a different picture:
    1) He avoided fighting the Roman consular army of C. Publius Scipio the Elder near Massalia;
    2) He never sieged a city for long if he was aware a large Roman force was around (Nola is one of the examples);
    3) He didn't insist in directly attacking the Roman force besieging Capua once his first attempt failed. However keeping Capua free was crucial for his reputation in Italy. The fact the Romans didn't break the siege on the news Hannibal comes against them tells a lot about what the Romans knew about Hannibal's preferrences for fighting battles.
    4) He didn't attack the Roman camp of G. Claudius Nero while the consul was away. He didn't know the consul has secretly left to meet Hasdrubal at Metaurus. So imagining the camp is guarded by a Roman army at least as large as his, he preferred not to attack.

    No responsible general would willingly accept battle when outnumbered by more than 2 to 1, with the majority of troops being of lower quality than his enemy's and on a terrain that offered no advantage. I therefore tend to think Hannibal was actually tricked into accepting the battle by Terentius Varro and Aemilius Paulus, who had managed to conceal well the size of their armies.

    On the other hand, a responsible general might accept to fight on a terrain that offers no advantage while having most of the troops of lower quality than his enemy's if he has other advantages that would compensate for that inferior quality. And indeed Hannibal had more cavalry. Besides there was also a strong political reason: that was the occasion to destroy both consular armies that were barring his way to the south of Italy. And he hoped that such a victory would persuade the Samnites, the Bruttii, the Lucanians and the Greeks to switch sides.

    However just because Hannibal didn't know he was outnumbered doesn't make him a lousy general. After all, his decision to suprise the Romans by massing his heavy cavalry on the Aufidus bank and his encirclement plan worked perfectly. On the other hand if we accept that he wasn't probably aware of fighting against a huge army then many other decisions of his might start to make sense.

    To be Continued...
    Last edited by Dromikaites; March 01, 2006 at 12:22 PM.

  13. #13
    Spartan JKM's Avatar Semisalis
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    My appreciation all around everyone. Wonderful and varied responses!

    I do apologize that I can't post as much as I would like to. Perhaps I should be succinct when I don't have time; it's better than nothing. I would love to address everything mentioned, but I have time only for a couple of things. I'll come back to Dromikaites' anaysis some time soon, as his (her?) scholarship entails much attention.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey the Great
    I agree, but to an extent Hannibal also needed to take a gamble if he was going to win the war, and that gamble should of been to march on Rome, yes it is highly probable that he may have been repelled or that taking Rome would have achieved little, but I believe that if he had taken Rome he could of forced the Romans to sue for peace, without her capital, what would Rome have been?...
    A deep study of Hannibal's grand strategy to subdue Rome to the degree to ensure the safety of Carthage tends to conceal rather than reveal its breathtaking audacity. Even Livy could see that Rome could be defeated in Italy by the dissipation of her confederacy. It is also relatively easy to see why Hannibal dared not go by sea (need I explain this to anyone?) and that the route over the Alps would bring him to a region of Italy where he could certainly, because of prior intelligence and reconnaissance, gain initial support.

    But I suspect the idea of what he implemented would have remained an idle dream to most any other commander, particularly those from a state built from commerce and not war. It took genius to realize it could be accomplished, and that very genius nearly pulled it off. This was the gamble that needed to be taken. Marching on Rome after Cannae would have been a futile act, not a gamble. Assault and treachery were out of the question. The mentioned Roman nobles, the men who could, in abundance, hand over the city to him, who did indeed believe Rome was doomed wanted to flee Italy, as Livy tells us, Book 22.53,

    "...Although there were four military tribunes on the spot - Fabius Maximus of the first legion, whose father had been lately Dictator, L. Publicius Bibulus and Publius Cornelius Scipio of the second legion, and Appius Claudius Pulcher of the third legion, who had just been aedile - the supreme command was by universal consent vested in P. Scipio, who was quite a youth, and Appius Claudius. They were holding a small council to discuss the state of affairs when P. Furius Philus, the son of an ex-consul, informed them that it was useless for them to cherish ruined hopes; the republic was despaired of and given over for lost; some young nobles with L. Caecilius Metellus at their head were turning their eyes seaward with the intention of abandoning Italy to its fate and transferring their services to some king or other..."

    A march on Rome was but a means to the end. The Capitol could not be isolated until the total dissolution of the confederacy. His cavalry was not insurmountable to the point it could hold off tens of thousands of troops in relief. Roman troops relied on the sinew of its allies to operate elsewhere; the acquiescence of Rome would have caused the allies in Iberia, Sicily, and Sardinia to abandon them.

    Much of southern Italy, particulary Tarentum, had appealed to Pyrrhus against the Romans in 281 B.C. According to Hannibal himself, if we believe the story by Livy in Book 35.14 of the meeting with Scipio at Ephesus in the 190s B.C., Pyrrhus was so well versed in winning over people that the Italiot states in southern Italy would rather be governed by him, a foreign king, than by the Romans, although Rome had established hegemony for some time on this very region. This could well be what caught Hannibal's imagination. However, Hannibal was not some condottiere fighting for his personal ends, and could hope to do better than Pyrrhus. What failed for Pyrrhus was his rash march towards Rome after his victory at Heraclea, in which he stopped at the town of Praeneste (in Campania), and sent one Cineas as an ambassdor to the Senate to put forward conditions for peace. It fell on deaf ears, and with no substantial revolt of Rome's allies beyond the Greek south. Hannibal knew all this. The most prudent thing to do was too sound out the feelings and intentions of the Romans before rashly marching anywhere. When his emissary, one Carthalo, wouldn't even be received, the thing to do was to take advantage of the surely destabilizing effect that would permeate throughout southern Italy after Cannae.

    However, we can never know how close or how many Romans were considering negotiating with Hannibal after Cannae. We look back and appreciate Roman resolve and patriotism, and it is true that these dark times represent an immense source of pride to later generations of Romans, but their obstinance was quite a risk; Hannibal had proved his military superiority over them, and could continue to inflict serious damage on their people and property - allies they were supposed to protect.

    Much like Pyrrhus, Hannibal was surely somewhat surprised and discouraged. But on balance his situation was very auspicious; soon most of southern Italy would be under his control, including the entire coastline of the 'instep' of Italy by 212 B.C., and the Celts of northern Italy remained in open revolt. There was no reason at the time to think that continued pressure would break the indomitable spirit of the Senate. Rome hung in admirably, but they certainly benefited from much Bona Fortuna, which we can discuss later.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mimerswell
    ...After Cannae, he had every expectation that Rome would surrender; every other nation certainly would of sued for peace. His miscalculation was in Rome's refusal to surrender against any odds rather than his inability to capitalize on victory...
    Outstanding point, Mimerswell. This might be the bottom line to the whole story. Maybe Hannibal's subtleties were simply wasted on on a dour people like the Romans. BTW, Mimerswell, thank you for the recommendations you suggested from Nigel Bagnall and John Lazenby's chapter in the Cambridge Companion to the Roman Republic. Indeed, the arguments do justify much what I seem to opine. Thanks.

    Quote Originally Posted by Red Baron
    ...Carthage's reliance on mercenaries and her intolerance toward other peoples sealed her faith as a declining empire, and I think Rome would've thrown off the Carthaginian yoke after a few decades, especially after Hannibal's death.
    Another very good point. Rome was probably always going to win in the long run. We'll go over your other good questions in detail later.

    Quote Originally Posted by therussian
    ...Lord Byron once said:
    The consul Nero, who made the unequalled march which deceived Hannibal and deceived Hasdrubal, thereby accomplishing an achievement almost unrivaled in military annals...
    With respect to Lord Byron, who has provided us with the only biography of another great general, Belisarius, this may not be true - the part about Hannibal being deceived. What we know for sure is he didn't budge. Hannibal gathered intelligence as well as any commander, and overlooked nothing throughout his campaign. He could very well have gotten wind of Nero's quick departure with 7,000 troops. Remember, Nero did not leave behind a 'curtain of troops' in Apulia, as a snare to mislead Hannibal, but well and truly the bulk of his army, some 30,000 men under his legate, Quintus Catius. This force was augmented by adding troops from the command of one Hostilius (Livy Book 27.40) in the vicinity of Canusium and Venusia, bringing a total of more than 40,000 between them. Capua was strengthened under Fulvius Flaccus with the remainder of Hostilius' force. With this in his way, how could Hannibal have pursued such a swift departure, from a unit unencumbered by baggage? Now, Hannibal could have attacked and defeated Nero's army, now under the command of a legate he could certainly defeat, but only if he knew for sure that Hasdrubal was relatively close. Hasdrubal was perhaps relatively close but, unfortunately for the Carthaginian cause, Hannibal didn't know it. Food for thought.

    Nero arrived at night to the camp of Livius Salinator, and his men were received in the tents by those of Salinator, which was a sound decision to hide their numbers. But Hasdrubal wasn't deceived either (I am assuming Hannibal wasn't completely deceived), as Livy tells us, Book 27.47,

    "...The enemy were already standing in front of their camp, in battle order. But there was a pause. Hasdrubal had ridden to the front with a handful of cavalry, when he noticed in the hostile ranks some well-worn shields which he had not seen before, and some unusually lean horses; the numbers, too, seemed greater than usual. Suspecting the truth he hastily withdrew his troops into camp and sent men down to the river from which the Romans obtained water, to catch if they could some of the watering parties and see whether they were especially sunburnt, as is generally the case after a long march. He ordered, at the same time, mounted patrols to ride round the consul's camp and observe whether the lines had been extended in any direction and to notice at the same time whether the bugle-call was sounded once or twice in the camp. They reported that both the camps - M. Livius' camp and that of L. Porcius - were just as they had been, no addition had been made, and this misled him. But they also informed him that the bugle-call was sounded once in the praetor's camp and twice in the consul's, and this perturbed the veteran commander, familiar as he was with the habits of the Romans. He concluded that both the consuls were there and was anxiously wondering how the one consul had got away from Hannibal. Least of all could he suspect what had actually occurred, namely that Hannibal had been so completely outwitted that he did not know the whereabouts of the commander and the army whose camp had been so close to his own. As his brother had not ventured to follow the consul, he felt quite certain that he had sustained a serious defeat, and he felt the gravest apprehensions lest he should have come too late to save a desperate situation, and lest the Romans should enjoy the same good fortune in Italy which they had met with in Spain. Then again he was convinced that his letter had never reached Hannibal, but had been intercepted by the consul who then hastened to crush him. Amidst these gloomy forebodings he ordered the camp fires to be extinguished, and gave the signal at the first watch for all the baggage to be collected in silence. The army then left the camp. In the hurry and confusion of the night march the guides, who had not been kept under very close observation, slipped away; one hid himself in a place selected beforehand, the other swam across the Metaurus at a spot well known to him. The column deprived of its guides marched on aimlessly across country, and many, worn out by sleeplessness flung themselves down to rest, those who remained with the standards becoming fewer and fewer. Until daylight showed him his route, Hasdrubal ordered the head of the column to advance cautiously, but finding that owing to the bends and turns of the river he had made little progress, he made arrangements for crossing it as soon as daybreak should show him a convenient place. But he was unable to find one, for the further he marched from the sea, the higher were the banks which confined the stream, and by thus wasting the day he gave his enemy time to follow him..."

    Regardless, Nero's march to and from the Metaurus was a masterpiece of logistics and use of the interior lines, and certainly one of the decisive campaigns in history. But Bona Fortuna did smile on him when his men stumbled upon Hasdrubal's messengers.

    Actually, for the purpose of trivia, it was Hasdrubal who had deceived Nero 4 years earlier in Catalonia, if we can sustain Livy when he tells us, Book 26.17,

    "...Now that the senate was relieved from its anxiety about Capua, it was able to turn its attention to Spain. A force of 6,000 infantry and 300 cavalry was placed at Nero's disposal, and he selected it from the two legions he had had with him at Capua; an equal number of infantry and 600 cavalry were to be furnished by the allies. He embarked his army at Puteoli and landed at Tarraco. Here he hauled his ships ashore and furnished the crews with arms, thus augmenting his strength. With this composite force he marched to the Ebro and took over the army there from Ti. Fonteius and L. Marcius. He then advanced against the enemy. Hasdrubal, Hamilcar's son, was encamped at the Lapides Atri (the "Black Boulders"). This is a place in the Auretanian country between the towns of Iliturgis and Mentissa. Nero occupied the two exits of the pass. Hasdrubal, finding himself shut in, sent a herald to promise in his name that he would deport the whole of his army from Spain if he were allowed to leave his position. The Roman general was glad to accept the offer, and Hasdrubal asked for an interview the following day. At this conference they were to draw up in writing the terms upon which the various citadels were to be handed over, and the date at which the garrisons were to be withdrawn, on the understanding that they should take with them all their goods and chattels.

    His request was granted, and Hasdrubal ordered the most heavily armed portion of his army to get out of the pass as best they could as soon as darkness set in. He was careful to see that not very many went out that night, as a small body would make but little noise and be more likely to escape observation. They would also find their way more easily through the narrow and difficult foot-paths. The next day he kept the appointment, but so much time was taken up in discussing and writing down a number of things which had nothing to do with the matters they had agreed to discuss, that the whole day was lost and the business adjourned till the morrow. So another opportunity was afforded him of sending off a fresh body of troops by night. The discussion was not brought to a close the next day, and so it went on; several days were occupied in discussing terms, and the nights in despatching the Carthaginians secretly from their camp. When the greater part of the army had escaped, Hasdrubal no longer kept to the conditions which he had himself proposed, and there was less and less desire to come to terms as his sincerity diminished with his fears. Almost the entire force of infantry had now got out of the defile when, at daybreak, a dense fog covered the valley and the whole of the surrounding country. No sooner did Hasdrubal become aware of this than he sent a message to Nero begging that the interview might be put off for that day as it was a day on which the Carthaginians were forbidden by their religion to transact any important business. Even this did not arouse any suspicion of trickery. On learning that he would be excused for that day, Hasdrubal promptly left his camp with the cavalry and elephants, and by keeping his movements secret, emerged into safety. About ten o'clock the sun dispersed the mist, and the Romans saw that the hostile camp was deserted. Then, recognising at last the trick which the Carthaginian had played upon him and how he had been befooled, Nero hurriedly prepared to follow him and force him to an engagement. The enemy, however, declined battle; only a few skirmishes took place between the Carthaginian rear and the Roman advanced guard..."

    This was a veritable example of what the Romans claimed as Punica fides as a Carthaginian trait.

    OK, one more address. Who's the fortunate one?

    Dromikaites asked an interesting question:

    I was very intrigued by several decisions made by both parties during the Second Punic War. One of them was the decision of Hannibal to cross the Alps throug one of the northern passes instead of using Napoleon's route during the first Italian campaign (the route through the Maritime Alps, Nice-San Remo-Genoa)...
    This route was out of the question. Hannibal's movements were always dictated by what his intelligence told him, at least the best it could be procured. This route through modern Provence would have taken him and his army through the land of the Massiliotes (Marseille) and all their trading posts of Tauroeis, Olbia, Antipolis and Nikaia (modern Nice) - Roman allies. If he got through this hostile zone, which would have necessitated crossing another formidable river, the Var, the natural barrier of the twisting and narrow Riviera dei Fiori would have rendered him very susceptible to ambushing Ligurian brigands. It took the Romans nearly a century to establish a trading route with Massilia through these lands free of banditry, as Strabo tells us, Book 4.6 of his great treatise Geography,

    "...As for the stretch of country which begins at Antipolis and extends as far as Massilia or a little farther, the tribe of the Sallyes inhabits the Alps that lie above the seaboard and also — promiscuously with the Greeks — certain parts of the same seaboard. But though the early writers of the Greeks call the Sallyes "Ligues," and the country which the Massiliotes hold, "Ligustica," later writers name them "Celtoligues," and attach to their territory all the level country as far as Luerio and the Rhodanus, the country from which the inhabitants, divided into ten parts, used to send forth an army, not only of infantry, but of cavalry as well. These were the first of the Transalpine Celti that the Romans conquered, though they did so only after carrying on war with both them and the Ligures for a long time — because the latter had barred all the passes leading to Iberia that ran through the seaboard. And, in fact, they kept making raids both by land and sea, and were so powerful that the road was scarcely practicable even for great armies. And it was not until the eightieth year of the war that the Romans succeeded, though only with difficulty, in opening up the road for a breadth of only twelve stadia to those travelling on public business. After this, however, they defeated them all, and, having imposed a tribute upon them, administered the government themselves..."

    Hannibal needed to get through to northern Italy with minimal fighting, and like any great commander, he knew the greatest uncertainty in war is not physical obstacles but human resistance. Besides, not only would marching directly east from any point between Arles and Avignon after the crossing the Rhone make an encounter with Scipio the Elder, now massed in Le Crau Plain, unavoidable, but emissaries from the Cisalpine Boii, under one Magilus, approached him, offering him their guidance through a region plentiful of supplies and thier allegiance. As Theodore Dodge says in his classic study pg 184,

    "...Their presence had an excellent effect; and Hannibal's further exhortations put the army into a first rate cheer...".

    This could very well be a tremendous thread. There is a mountain of information and conjecture to go through.

    Thanks, Spartan JKM :original:

    Continued 3/06/06....

    Quote Originally Posted by Dromikaites
    ...How could Hannibal know that G. Terrentius Varro would array his troops in depth instead of presenting a large front which could have easily envelopped the Punic right flank?...
    I think it's safe to presume Hannibal knew he was up against an army and commander that couldn't do anything subtle if it wanted to with the huge, lumbering army recently put together. He knew they had come to fight a pitched battle. Anything sophisticated would have been impossible on the part of Varro. Supply and morale would become a problem the longer battle was postponed by the Romans, particularly with Hannibal's superior ability to harrass enemy foragers etc. with his cavalry. The Romans had dictated the site of this upcoming battle, where Hannibal's cavalry would not be able to outflank them and there would be no chance of an ambush behind their lines. He had already whetted Varro's appetite for battle by attacking the Roman column, and being driven back (perhaps purposely on Hannibal's part) just a few days earlier.

    Hannibal clearly disposed his army in response to Varro's alignments:

    Polybius Book 3.113,

    "...Next day it was Terentius' turn to take the command, and just after sunrise he began to move his forces out of both camps. Crossing the river with those from the larger camp he at once put them in order of battle, drawing up those from the other camp next to them in the same line, the whole army facing south. He stationed the Roman cavalry close to the river on the right wing and the foot next to them in the same line, placing the maniples closer together than was formerly the usage and making the depth of each many times exceed its front. The allied horse he drew up on his left wing, and in front of the whole force at some distance he placed his light-armed troops. The whole army, including the allies, numbered about 80,000 foot and rather more than 6,000 horse. Hannibal at the same time sent his slingers and pikemen over the river and stationed them in front, and leading the rest of his forces out of camp he crossed the stream in two places and drew them up opposite the enemy. On his left close to the river he placed his Spanish and Celtic horse facing the Roman cavalry, next these half his heavy-armed Africans, then the Spanish and Celtic infantry, and after them the other half of the Africans, and finally, on his right wing, his Numidian horse. After thus drawing up his whole army in a straight line, he took the central companies of the Spaniards and Celts and advanced with them, keeping rest of them in contact with these companies, but gradually falling off, so as to produce a crescent-shaped formation, the line of the flanking companies growing thinner as it was prolonged, his object being to employ the Africans as a reserve force and to begin the action with the Spaniards and Celts..."

    Anyway, as for your question regarding the deeper formation of Roman infantry, Dromikaites, the answer is simple - as was Varro's plan for success: firstly, the space was limited, as the even plain between the hills on the east and Aufidus on the west would not have allowed for all the legions and allied contingents to deploy in a shallower formation. They chose to fight here and now, so they didn't seem to think it would be a handicap. Secondly, the deeper, narrower formation allowed for the maniples, as well as the whole body of infantry as a whole, to move more quickly. A wider front would increase the chances of it becoming unstable while moving along even the flattest terrain. Varro merely wanted to create a maximum amount of forward pressure, and this was how to go about it. The Roman army deployed must have been a daunting site to an enemy in its path. The deep formation would also make it difficult for any of the soldiers to flee. Anyone could have deduced at the time that Hannibal would have far less staying power. The price was the loss of flexibility, which is exactly what Hannibal sought to exploit after he saw their formation. It's also fair to say Hannibal benefited from some luck; he couldn't have known his line of Spaniards and Gauls would bend exactly at the right moment and not break fully before the Africans attacked the Roman flanks.

    Varro's plan was practical and could have worked. It was his extreme misfortune that he went up against one of the greatest military geniuses of all time that horrible day for Rome.

    Quote Originally Posted by Dromikaites
    Why didn't do Varro the same trick as Gaius Claudius Nero at Metaurus?...
    Well, probably because he wasn't a very good commander. Once things went awry, he couldn't adjust or improvise with any finesse. But, again, the army under his command was not put together to be a flexible, sustained one, and there were nearly 120,000 infantry and about 17,000 or so horsemen confined within the limited field (making allowances for the troops placed in each army's camps). Outflanking and wheeling around with cavalry would have been impracticable. Besides, on his left (west) Hannibal disposed his heavier Gallic and Iberian horsemen along the Aufidus, which ran NE towards the Adriatic; this deployment protected his left flank from being overlapped, but meant he could not do so to the enemy. The hilly terrain on the other side (the Roman left), situated on ground that rose steadily from the sea (Cannae itself lay on a knoll). He sure found a viable answer to overcome his more rigid opponent by channeling the Roman battering-ram, and utilizing his cavalry with shock (on the his left) and absorption (the Numidians on his right, who fought a clash of containment).

    To be continued....

    Thanks Spartan JKM :original:
    Last edited by Spartan JKM; March 19, 2008 at 01:23 AM.

  14. #14


    Great post Spartan JKM! The quote from Strabo explains why the Maritime Alps route wasn't an option.

    On the other hand, that emphasizes Hannibal's very cautious approach to the whole campaign. He could have engaged Scipio the Elder near Massilia but decided not to. He probably expected the crossing of the Alps to be more difficult than the Gauls said it would be (and he was right ). In general, with the exception of the battle of Canae all his actions seem to show great concern for not squandering his troops.

    I think that what happened at Cannae coupled with Hannibal caution explains why he didn't march on Rome. Central to my thesis is the assumption Hannibal did not know how large the Roman army was until after the battle. I say that discovering the Romans have levied troops on an unprecedented scale made Hannibal expect Roman armies north of Rome would also be much larger than his own. That convinced him that a march on Rome would be too risky so the opted for continuing his march towards the south of Italy.

    I will first analyse what Livy and Polybius tell us about the events before Cannae in order to judge wether or not did Hannibal know what he was up against the day of the battle. I would then look at the information Hannibal had after the battle and see the options he thought he had. Finally I would discuss wether he could decide otherwise and what would have been the likely outcome in such case.

    The Road to Cannae
    After Lake Trasimene the Roman dictator Fabius Maximus changed the Roman strategy of fighting the war. He has correctly asserted that time was working against Hannibal. So instead of facing Hannibal in a pitched battle he shadowed the Carthaginean army with his own. This way he restricted the enemy's ability to gather supplies. Hannibal decided to spend the winter near the city of Geronium, which he had occupied.

    Fabius' army remained in contact with Hannibal while 2 new consuls were elected in Rome and new troops were raised. The two consuls left Rome and marched towards Geronium, where they met with the former army of Fabius, then under the command of Gnaeus Servilius (the consul of the year before). We have two versions for what happened next:

    Polybius says Hannibal had already left Geronium for Cannae when the consuls met up with Servilius. Here's his chronology:
    Day 1: Consuls arrive to the camp of Servilius. It's Aemilius Paullus turn to command. He tells Servilius' men that the strategy has changed and they will be to engage the enemy.
    Day 2: Varro is in command. The Romans march in the direction of the Carthaginians. The day ends without reaching the enemy.
    Day 3: Paulus is in command. The Romans arrive in sight of the enemy. Paulus doesn't like the flat terrain considering it too good for Carthagineans' superior cavalry. He suggests they keep pushing Hannibal away from the open plains and into a terrain less suitable for cavalry action.
    Day 4: Varro is in command. He marches towards the enemy and the Romans clash with the Carthaginean light troops and cavalry. The Romans prevail.
    Day 5: Paulus comes a little bit closer and divides the army in two camps. He places the smaller camp on the left bank of the Aufidus river and towards the Carthagineans:
    But next day Aemilius, not thinking it right to engage, and yet being unable any longer to lead off his army, encamped with two-thirds of it on the banks of the Apennines---that chain of mountains which forms the watershed of all Italian rivers, which flow either west to the Tuscan sea, or east to the Hadriatic. This chain is, I say, pierced by the Aufidus, which rises on the side of Italy nearest the Tuscan Sea, and is discharged into the Hadriatic. For the other third of his army he caused a camp to be made across the river, to the east of the ford, about ten stades from his own lines, and a little more from those of the enemy; that these men, being on the other side of the river, might protect his own foraging parties, and threaten those of the enemy.
    He remains therefore true to his plan to drive the Puns away pushing them towards less favorable ground. Hannibal crosses Aufidus and camps on the right bank, where the larger Roman camp is.
    Day 6:Varro is in command. Hannibal stays put in his camp.
    Day 7: Paulus in command. Hannibal takes his troops out of the camp and offers battle. Paulus prefers to wait, knowing the Carthagineans will soon be forced to leave because they can't forage on either side of the river.
    Day 8: Varro in command. He crosses the river and arrays his troops on the left bank. Hannibal accepts battle and wins.

    1) Due to the screening performed by Servilius' army and to Paulus' idea to place a smaller camp between the main Roman force and the Carthagineans it is quite likely Hannibal's scouts could not gather much info. For sure Hannibal knew he will be against the former army of Fabius Maximus (4 legions + allies). But did he know the consuls brought with them 2 new consular armies (another 4 legions + allies) instead of bringing just replacements, like it was the standard procedure? What the scouts could not tell him was the 2 consular armies were now at double strenght. The Romans' actions were directed at limiting the ability of the Carthagineans to forage (Fabius Maximus' strategy), which also means the Punic scouts were not really able to roam free.
    2) Varro didn't offer battle on the right bank which was a perfectly flat plain. He crossed on the left bank, where the field had the river on his right flank and some gentle hills on the left flank. This proves that while he was eager to fight he was not a complete moron who ignored Carthagineans' superiority in cavalry. Besides, his choice of placing the best cavalry (the allied one) on the more exposed flank (the left one) seems to show he had an idea about what to do with the troops under his command.

    Livy says the consuls met with Gnaeus Servilius near Geronium while Hannibal was still there.
    Day 1: Aemilius Paulus' turn. A skirmish betwen the Romans and the Carthaginean foraging parties escalates. The Romans are victorious but Paulus stops them from following the fleeing enemy.
    Day 2: Varro's turn. Nothing happens except during the night Hannibal abandons his camp and hides his troops in the forests nearby. His plan is to entice the Romans to plunder the camp and attack them while they are disorganised.
    Day 3: Paulus' turn. He sends scouts to see what was the enemy doing. The scouts report the camp is empty. Greedy soldiers want to go and plunder it but the arrival of two slaves who had escaped from the Carthagineans warn the Romans about the ambush. Hannibal returns to the camp but because he's short on supplies he decides to leave the same night for Cannae.
    Day 4: Varro's turn. The Romans follow the Carthagineans without being able to make contact.
    Day 5: Paullus' turn. The Romans find the Carthagineans and divide their armies between two camps. Hannibal sends a raiding party against the smaller camp in order to drag the Romans into battle. Paulus keeps his cool.
    Day 6: Varro's turn. He crosses Aufidus and deploys the army on the left bank, offering battle to Hannibal. Hannibal accepts and wins.

    1) While Livy's account of the events is slightly different from Polybius' it still looks like the movements of the Carthagineans were severely restricted by the Romans. It is therefore likely that their ability to gather intelligence was also impaired. This is especially so if Hannibal indeed tried the deserted camp stratagem: in such case his scouts needed to watch the Romans from far away, for fear of being spotted. The Roman scouts could not detect the Carthagineans and the Romans were saved by the escape of the 2 slaves.
    2) Livy also mentions Varro's decision to fight on the left bank of the river, which was better for the Romans given their inferiority in cavalry. Again Varro seems to be less incompetent than many people think he was.

    After Cannae
    If Hannibal didn't know how big the army he defeated was, he had the occasion to find out after the battle. He received the reports about the body count, about the number of prisoners captured and about the 10,000 Romans who had escaped. He realised that the Romans had recruited more troops than usual. He could have found out (from interrogating the prisoners) that there are other armies in the north.

    We know for sure of at least two such armies: the army of L. Postumius, 25,000 men-strong (it would be annihilated by the Boii through a successful ambush) and the legion of the fleet stationed at Ostia. We also know that the Senate managed to recruit in Rome 4 new legions (~16000 men) and 1000 cavalry. To those 8000 slaves and 6000 people imprisoned for debts were added and the allies were summoned to contribute with troops themselves. This means for the defence of Rome some 70,000 troops could have been ready, without counting the allies (which were supposed to contribute with a similar number).

    It's fair to assume Hannibal could have estimated a similar figure or even a larger one. And while he was probably aware not all those troops could be concentrated quickly in front of Rome, he knew that whatever the Romans would first bring against him would be equal to or more than the troops he had.

    The options Hannibal had
    The first option was to march on Rome nevertheless, hoping that no matter how big the army barring his way would be he would still defeat it like he did at Cannae. Let's see what was the size of the opposing army Hannibal would have been able to estimate:
    a) He knew 10,000 had escaped from Cannae;
    b) He probably would have estimated Rome being able to provide another 20,000 (he could not have guessed the Romans would also recruit slaves)
    c) He knew about the legion of the fleet (another 4000 troops);

    A quick march on Rome would have resulting in meeting the above-mentioned troops before either the army from Cisalpine Gaul or the allied troops would have reached the city. So he could have expected to fight some 34,000 Romans with an army of similar strenght. Yes, we do know he would have probably met 45,000 instead but now we need to think like he would have thought.

    One problem he could forsee with marching on Rome was the Romans retreating behind the walls instead of meeting him on the battlefield. Doing this would have bought Romans time to bring their army from Cisalpine Gaul (the size of which Hannibal ignored but had reasons to assume it was quite a big one).

    On the other hand by setting camp near Rome he could have reasonably expected to discourage the Roman allies from sending reinforcements. He would have been close to the Gauls and the Ligurians, both sworn enemies of the Romans (and who continued to fight the Romans long after the Second Punic war had ended). He also could have expected to make the Etruscans revolt against Rome. Finally, knowing that the Roman army of the Cisalpine Gaul would be comming to relieve Rome he could have tried to intercept and destroy it through a surprise attack. This is what Napoleon would have done (beat the enemies separately before they manage to join forces).

    The second option was the one he took: to march south and separate the Campanians, Bruttii, Lucanians, Samnites and Greeks from the Romans. Being in the south of Italy would also make it easier for Carthage to send him reinforcements. This was safer on short term than fighting a second battle against superior forces but implied giving the Romans time to recover. Of course he had no way to guess he won't receive much help from his country. But even with substantial help he would have turned the war from a quick one into one of attrition. Nothing could have prevented the Romans form reverting to Fabius Maximus' strategy. And the part of Italy still left under Roman control was able to provide 23 legions (the maximum number used during the Second Punic War).

    Marching on Rome
    We know that the Roman army in Cisalpine Gaul was ambushed and destroyed by the Boii. This means Hannibal would have not had to face it. But let's assume the Boii would have only harassed that army on its way to Rome. That would have still given Hannibal the possibility to leave a screening force near Rome, march against L. Postumius and meet him in battle while he was still busy with the Gauls. The army in Rome, fearing a "Punic artifice" would have most likely remained behind the walls.

    With Postumius' army out of the picture and Hannibal near Rome the Ligurians, the Gauls and quite likely also the Etruscans would have reinforced Hannibal's army. How would the provinces south of Italy have reacted? In all likelyhood not much different from how they historically did. The only troops the Romans could bring in order to intimidate them would have been those from Sicilly and Sardinia. But by leaving those provinces the Romans would have practically abandoned them to the Carthaginians. Once Sicilly and Sardinia were back in Punic hands, Hannibal's army near Rome could have been supplied at leisure.

    Too bad Hannibal chose to rejct Maharbal's advice.
    Last edited by Dromikaites; March 28, 2006 at 04:37 AM. Reason: Typos

  15. #15


    I'm sorry to be really off topic here but I'm really curious. How long does it take you to make these detailed posts Spartan? Haha.

  16. #16
    Spartan JKM's Avatar Semisalis
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    Default Re: August 3, 216 B.C. - Cannae; Was Maharbal Correct?

    Quote Originally Posted by TheBigJC05
    I'm sorry to be really off topic here but I'm really curious. How long does it take you to make these detailed posts Spartan? Haha.
    It can take hours with the long posts, but I know where to find the information, and I save it for a weekend, rainy day :original:

    Excellent work Dromikaites. It's inspiring to see someone surmise so deeply on this great topic, as so much of the vast information we have on the war is very loose, in terms of sharp accuracy. I'll touch on a couple of things you mentioned.

    The issue of whether Hannibal should have engaged Scipio the Elder near the Rhone is a common criticism, but a victory near the Rhone over Scipio, which was a likelihood, would have not nearly the moral effect of a victory in Italy, and any delay was counter-productive to his plans. By giving the semblance of accepting battle, when he sent his 500 Numidians out to reconnoitre, who were 'defeated' by 300 of Scipio's horsemen, he succeeded in luring the Romans up the river, thus delaying them from being able to face him until he was well placed in the Po Valley.

    You mentioned Postumius' army in Cisalpine Gaul; he wasn't ambushed until the late winter/early spring 215 B.C.

    About Hannibal's knowledge of the size of the Roman army, your thesis does not strain credibility at all, but Plutarch thought Hannibal was aware of the size of the Roman army, as he tells us in Fabius Ch 15,

    "...the Carthaginians were confounded at first, seeing the boldness of the Roman general and the number of his army, which was more than double their own. But Hannibal ordered his forces to arm for battle, while he himself, with a few companions, rode to the top of a gently sloping ridge, from which he watched his enemies as they formed in battle array. When one of his companions, named Gisco, a man of his own rank, remarked that the number of the enemy amazed him, Hannibal put on a serious look and said: "Gisco, another thing has escaped your notice which is more amazing still." And when Gisco asked what it was, "It is the fact," said he, "that in all this multitude there is no one who is called Gisco." The jest took them all by surprise and set them laughing, and as they made their way down from the ridge, they reported the pleasantry to all who met them, so that great numbers were laughing heartily, and Hannibal's escort could not even recover themselves. The sight of this infused courage into the Carthaginians. They reasoned that their general must have a mighty contempt for the enemy if he laughed and jested so in the presence of danger..."

    We'll go over plenty more :wink:

    Thanks Spartan JKM :original:

  17. #17

    Default Re: August 3, 216 B.C. - Cannae; Was Maharbal Correct?

    Quote Originally Posted by Spartan JKM
    The issue of whether Hannibal should have engaged Scipio the Elder near the Rhone is a common criticism, but a victory near the Rhone over Scipio, which was a likelihood, would have not nearly the moral effect of a victory in Italy, and any delay was counter-productive to his plans. By giving the semblance of accepting battle, when he sent his 500 Numidians out to reconnoitre, who were 'defeated' by 300 of Scipio's horsemen, he succeeded in luring the Romans up the river, thus delaying them from being able to face him until he was well placed in the Po Valley.
    Well, we can look at Hannibal's decision not to engage Scipio the Elder in many ways. Two of them are:
    1) He wanted to avoid any delay. This makes sense, as it was important to cross the Alps while that was relatively easy to do. A battle would have delayed him by a week or two because he would have had to wait till some of the wounded recover and the other wounded die. Abandoning them would not have helped with the morale;
    2) He didn't know how many Romans he would face. He knew that a consular army would be some 16,000 - 17,000 soldiers strong while he had about 50,000 troops. However what if there would have been both Roman consuls present? 34,000 Romans is still less than 50,000 Carthagineans but Hannibal could not know beforahand how many Gauls were fighting on the Roman side. After all the French Gauls had not been exactly supportive untill that moment (plus we know that some of those Gauls did join Scipio the Elder).

    People knowing about Hannibal's victory at Cannae tend to say "yeah, like Hannibal would have cared fighting an army as big as his own when he trashed one twice as big". I was one of the people thinking that way... Except all the things Hannibal did in Italy Cannae excluded shows he was not eager to fight armies equal to his own unless he had no other choice. This makes me think he was actually a cautious general. And up to a point it made sense to be cautious, given the huge diference in manpower between Rome and Carthage. If he was indeed a cautious general then avoiding Scipio the Elder for either reason mentioned above would be a decision consistent with his personality.

    The question remains however if he did the best thing avoiding Scipio the Elder. Where would that Roman army go if left uncrushed? There were only 3 logical directions:
    1) To Spain (like they did);
    2) Back to Italy (in which case it would have arrived there before Hannibal, travelling by sea);
    3) To Africa (not very likely but not impossible either). To put things into perspective, the initial Roman war plan was to strike both Spain and Africa, by sending a consul against each of the strategic targets.
    The problem is that any of the 3 choices was potentially bad news for Carthage. By pushing into Italy Hannibal did force the other consul to abandon the invasion of Africa. But what if in addition to the troops at Trebia, the Romans would have also brought the army Scipio the Elder had sent to Spain? At Trebia Hannibal had half of the troops he had near Massallia...
    Quote Originally Posted by Spartan JKM
    You mentioned Postumius' army in Cisalpine Gaul; he wasn't ambushed until the late winter/early spring 215 B.C.
    Indeed, and this means that after Cannae that army would have been available for the defence of Rome. This is why I suggested that Postumnius might have fought Hannibal in the event of a Punic march on Rome after Cannae.
    Quote Originally Posted by Spartan JKM
    About Hannibal's knowledge of the size of the Roman army, your thesis does not strain credibility at all, but Plutarch thought Hannibal was aware of the size of the Roman army, as he tells us in Fabius Ch 15,

    "...the Carthaginians were confounded at first, seeing the boldness of the Roman general and the number of his army, which was more than double their own. But Hannibal ordered his forces to arm for battle, while he himself, with a few companions, rode to the top of a gently sloping ridge, from which he watched his enemies as they formed in battle array. When one of his companions, named Gisco, a man of his own rank, remarked that the number of the enemy amazed him, Hannibal put on a serious look and said: "Gisco, another thing has escaped your notice which is more amazing still." And when Gisco asked what it was, "It is the fact," said he, "that in all this multitude there is no one who is called Gisco." The jest took them all by surprise and set them laughing, and as they made their way down from the ridge, they reported the pleasantry to all who met them, so that great numbers were laughing heartily, and Hannibal's escort could not even recover themselves. The sight of this infused courage into the Carthaginians. They reasoned that their general must have a mighty contempt for the enemy if he laughed and jested so in the presence of danger..."

    We'll go over plenty more :wink:

    Thanks Spartan JKM :original:
    Well yes, Plutarch, who writes some 500+ years after the events :wink: , using sources which most likely included Polybius and Livy does say the Carthagineans were aware of the size of the Roman army. However in post #14 I've traced the events prior to the battle day-by-day as they are described in both Livy and Polybius. Each account tells a slightly different story but to me they both look closer to the military way of doing things. The Romans were quite successfully restricting the Carthagineans' ability to forage. It makes sense they were also good at limiting the moves of Hannibal's scouts. So I am quite skeptical Hannibal would be able to get to a position from which he would be able to observe the Roman army when his scouts were kept at bay...

    EDIT: Plutarch's fragment is also interesting if we look at it from another angle. It might be just an anecdote aimed at explaining why Hannibal accepted battle.
    Last edited by Dromikaites; May 03, 2006 at 11:45 AM. Reason: Typos

  18. #18
    Spartan JKM's Avatar Semisalis
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    Default Re: August 3, 216 B.C. - Cannae; was Maharbal correct?

    I'm sorry Dromikaites (and others); you're analysis hasn't gone unread. I just haven't had as much time or inclination to post here. I'll try to do it a little more piecemeal.

    Plutarch, born in 46 A.D. and died in 120 A.D., wrote 5 centuries after Cannae? Not that it makes much of a difference, but you might want to re-do the math there.

    Hannibal was indeed cautious, but only when it was the pragmatic thing to do. The crossing of the Alps alone should silence any critic that doesn't think he was a bold leader. His entire battlefield control and maneuvering at Cannae indicates everything (there's always an element of luck involved) that occured from his units was what he had planned for.

    I doubt Hannibal didn't realize the relative size of the Roman army at Cannae when battle was about to commence. Not only was he always well-informed of important matters of intelligence (ie, an approaching army of 16 legions, even if divided, would not go unnoticed from him), but once he seized the small stronghold of Cannae, he set up his entrenched position with the Adriatic Sea on his right (east), and commanded a vast countryside which enabled to see some 40 miles northwest towards the hilly country which divided Samnium and Apulia. To the west of his position rose the distant peak of peak of Mt. Vultro, with flat lands between. Behind him was a more uneven country(southeastwards) leading to the ranges of southern Apulia. In his immediate front was the winding Aufidus River. See Theodore Dodge Pgs 353-354, who visited the site in the 1880s, with only one leg, as he had lost one during the American Civil War.

    He must have known he was up against a massive force, and they came to bring him to battle.

    Thanks, Spartan JKM :original:
    Last edited by Spartan JKM; June 09, 2006 at 04:02 PM.

  19. #19

    Default Re: August 3, 216 B.C. - Cannae; was Maharbal correct?

    Quote Originally Posted by Spartan JKM
    Plutarch, born in 46 A.D. and died in 120 A.D., wrote 5 centuries after Cannae? Not that it makes much of a difference, but you might want to re-do the math there.
    Ooops! I should use the calculator next time
    Quote Originally Posted by Spartan JKM
    Hannibal was indeed cautious, but only when it was the pragmatic thing to do. The crossing of the Alps alone should silence any critic that doesn't think he was a bold leader. His entire battlefield control and maneuvering at Cannae indicates everything (there's always an element of luck involved) that occured from his units was what he had planned for.
    Hannibal deployed his troops in response to the Roman deployment.
    I agree that his plan of organizing a weaker center than the wings does show his intention of hitting hard the Roman flanks. It also shows he was counting on the momentum of the Roman legions, hoping that the enemy would converge to the center. Placing that center forward encouraged even more the Roman wings to run towards where the action seemed to be.

    However if we accept he knew how many Romans are in front of him then it means he took risks like never before and never after. The Roman system of maniples made it easy for the Romans to extend the line to the left (Carthaginean right) in an orderly fashion. Such a move would have negated Hannibal's trap and it was a move very easy to be made by the Romans. As I said before, I suspect Varro had something like that in mind, except he didn't have the time to implement it. The Roman cavalry on the right flank was too quickly dispersed by the Carthaginean attack. But what if it would have held? The dust raised by the horses on the left flank would have created an excellent cover for the Roman infantry engaged in an outflanking move.

    Quote Originally Posted by Spartan JKM
    I doubt Hannibal didn't realize the relative size of the Roman army at Cannae when battle was about to commence. Not only was he always well-informed of important matters of intelligence (ie, an approaching army of 16 legions, even if divided, would not go unnoticed from him), but once he seized the small stronghold of Cannae, he set up his entrenched position with the Adriatic Sea on his right (east), and commanded a vast countryside which enabled to see some 40 miles northwest towards the hilly country which divided Samnium and Apulia. To the west of his position rose the distant peak of peak of Mt. Vultro, with flat lands between. Behind him was a more uneven country(southeastwards) leading to the ranges of southern Apulia. In his immediate front was the winding Aufidus River. See Theodore Dodge Pgs 353-354, who visited the site in the 1880s, with only one leg, as he had lost one during the American Civil War.

    He must have known he was up against a massive force, and they came to bring him to battle.

    Thanks, Spartan JKM :original:
    I found an interesting comment on the battle here:
    The author of the comment is the German Fieldmarshal Count Alfred von Schlieffen. To me he seems to imply that Hannibal's success would have been judged highly unlikely beforehand.
    A battle of complete extermination had been fought, most wonderfully through the fact that in spite of all theories, it had been won by a numerical inferiority. Clausewitz said "concentric action against the enemy behooves not the weaker" and Napoleon taught "the weaker must not turn both wings simultaneously." The weaker Hannibal had, however, acted concentrically, though in an unseemly way, and turned not only both wings, but even the rear of the enemy.
    Let's see who the 3 guys are:
    1. Clausewitz was a good enough general to be entrusted with the education of the Prussian crown prince and with becomming the chief of the Prussian Military Academy. He fought against Napoleon's army both in the service of his native country Prussia and in the service of Russia.
    2. Napoleon was...we know who
    3. von Schlieffen was the Chief of the German Imperial General Staff from 1891 to 1905. He participated in the Austro-Prussian War in 1866, and in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 so we can safely assume he also knew a thing or two about fighting battles.

    It looks like 3 highly qualified professionals out of which one clear military genius find Hannibal's victory amazing in the sense normally something like that doesn't happen. Adding to that Hannibal's cautious behavior exhibited before and after Cannae makes me doubt he had a sudden change of personality and that he threw military common sense by the window in the morning of August 3, 216.

    On the other hand, if you have Dodge's description of the battlefield and if Dodge says that Hannibal had access to a point where from he could have seen the size of the Roman army ("Plutarh hypotesis") inspite of Roman's efforts to prevent scouting and foraging then we are faced with a very interesting issue about decision making.
    Last edited by Dromikaites; June 24, 2006 at 05:01 PM. Reason: Typos

  20. #20

    Default Re: August 3, 216 B.C. - Cannae; Was Maharbal Correct?

    One of the fascinating issues of the Second Punic War is the set of decisions made by the Romans right after Cannae

    In post #14 I've mentioned the armies the Romans had in Italy (Sicily not included). I will now focus on the timeline:

    Right after Cannae
    1. The legion of the fleet, in Ostia - that would have been quickly brought to Rome. We can assume the fleet didn't need cavalry, so we're talking probably about 4,000 "marines".
    2. The 25,000 men-strong army of L. Postumius, at the time sent to Cisalpine Gaul. That army was almost as far from Rome as Hannibal was. That was probably a normal Roman army, with half of the infantry made of Roman citizens, half of Allies and with twice as much Allied cavalry than the Roman one. It would have probably been made of 24,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry.
    3. The 10,000 troops that had escaped from Cannae, regrouped by the surviving consul Varro. Those weren't fully equiped anymore, according to Livy's account (and it's quite likely he was right because many soldiers would have abandoned their weapons in order to run faster). They probably had cavalry within their ranks, but we can't tell how much of it for sure. Nowadays it is expected an army routs when it loses one third of its soldiers. We know the Carthaginian cavalry didn't pursue the routed Roman horse so probably not many Roman equites were killed running. If this hypotesis is true, then the 10,000 army of survivors had an unusual (for a Roman army) proportion of cavalry.
    4. The population of Rome was another obvious source of soldiers. We know that the Senate was able to recruit and equip some 16,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry.

    Therefore, when the Senate decided to resist, it did so counting on 4,000 (the "marines") + 10,000 (the survivors of Cannae) + 16,000 levied infantry + 1,000 levied horse. That would give the Senate a grand total of some 31,000 men, with 25,000 more (L.Postumius) that could have been called if needed.

    The Senate knew Hannibal had around 35,000 men. Yet that seemed not to impress the Roman leaders much, inspite of the recent disaster at Cannae.

    The Romans take action
    The Senate did not wait for Hannibal to march on Rome. As soon as the legions were formed, they marched South. Keep in mind L. Postumius was left in Cisalpine Gaul, to intimidate the Gauls. Instead, the Romans creatively solved the manpower shortage by:
    1) Allowing 8,000 slaves to volunteer;
    2) Freeing 6,000 prisoners who had been incarcerated for debts.

    What's worth noting is the 14,000 new troops were almost half of those under L. Postumius, yet he wasn't recalled. The Romans were risking to run into Hannibal marching on Rome with less troops they had at Cannae, yet they pressed south. Why?

    I find 2 reasons for that:
    1. They had to show themselves in the south, in order to prevent their allies from deserting all. Of course by doing that they took a huge risk (or did they?)
    2. They knew Hannibal won't actually attack them. Fabius Cunctator had shown them that Hannibal won't risk an open battle.

    To be continued...

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