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).