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Thread: [History] August 3, 216 B.C. - Cannae; Was Maharbal Correct?

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    Default [History] August 3, 216 B.C. - Cannae; Was Maharbal Correct?

    Author: Spartan JKM
    Original Thread: August 3, 216 B.C. - Cannae; Was Maharbal Correct?

    August 3, 216 B.C. - Cannae; Was Maharbal Correct?I've noticed many discussed issues about Hannibal's great campaign - yes, that very ill-fated enterprise of 219 - 202 B.C. This post is, as usual, merely a point of view of a subject I find fascinating. I hope we can all agree on that point :wink:

    I hope this isn't too long winded and choppy. My quotes of Polybius and Livy are from this valuable online service:

    Titus Livius, 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, even if partly or wholly fanciful, is certainly well-expressed in dramatic fashion. However, Polybius, our more reliable source, makes no mention of Maharbal in his account of Cannae; he has one Hasdrubal and one Hanno as the primary cavalry commanders. I guess that trivia really doesn't matter, and 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 Roman fugitives after Cannae,

    "...made their way to Canusium. Their situation was still perilous, for this place lay only some 4 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 Romans who made it to Canusium (another, 4,550, 50 cavalrymen 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 and Canusium. But besieging Canusium with 10,000 Roman troops holding it may have taken months, and despite the magnitude of Hannibal's astonishing tactical masterpiece at Cannae, his entire army, including a garrison for his firm base and wounded, was now around 40,000-45,000 men. But his effective fighting strength would have been no more than about 35,000. He had rounded up very swiftly 19,300 prisoners, and from different directions. 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 Montgomery says 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...",

    and the great historian Will Durant states in his The Story of Civilization, Vol. 3, Book 1, Ch 3, Pg. 51,

    "...It was a supreme example of generalship, never bettered in history. It ended the days of Roman reliance solely on infantry, 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 scale was much different. Lack of manpower for a 'colossal Cannae' forced the substitution of a 'right hook' for Hannibal's 'double-envelopment'. Alfred von Schlieffen's 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 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 1939 at the Battle of Khalkin-Gol (Nomonhan),

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

    Norman Schwarzkopf, among many others, including Conde, Napoleon and Wellington, was an avid admirer of Hannibal's generalship.

    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..."

    and, 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 him at Zama, yet the battle was touch-and-go until the cavalry returned 'providentially' for Rome.

    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, at the Rhone, and the Allobroges at the Gorge de la Bourne (?). But his classic breakout at the Ager Falernus, where Fabius Maximus thought he had Hannibal trapped, was a paradigm of superb stratagem; Hannibal sent 2,000 oxen, their heads ignited by fire at night, up the pass near the 4,000 Romans guarding the exiting defile. The Romans rushed up the hills 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.

    Double-bluff was exemplified by the Battle of Lake Trasimene. Roman historiography has labeled Gaius Flaminius as 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 Flaminius, a seasoned commander who had recently defeated the Cisalpine Celts (ie, 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 25,000 men or so expect to be ambushed?

    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 2 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 labeled fools, in some form or another, by Roman historiography. 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 (later Africanus). Remember that Rome was a nation-at-arms, and these 'amateurs' were trained for war from youth

    The amazing 'reverse-refusal' of Hannibal's infantry maneuver at Cannae even constituted a giant trap. His center was deployed in a convex manner, so as to entice the advancing Romans to attack them, and the placing of 2 strong blocks of African infantry on either wing and further back meant not only would the enemy tend to suck into the center, but if things went amiss fugitives from his Celtic and Iberian units would also be funnelled into the center where they could bunch and slow the Roman advance - even if they didn't want to. His unusual placing of the more numerous shock cavalry on the confined flank near the Aufidus River, with the Numidians on the other side, actually slightly outnumbered by the Roman allied cavalry, meant that the Roman contingent would most likely be checkmated by the maneuverable Numidians, while the heavy cavalry would dispose of the Romans easily on their side, and be available for other tasks. Varro should be at least credited for realizing the right bank of the river was less suitable for cavalry, but Hannibal came up with an answer. The only way to significantly seduce Rome's allies was to destroy Roman armies, not just best them. No victory could have been greater for this purpose. But in the long run, Cannae simply cemented the loyalty of Rome's core allies - something nobody could predict without applying such a test.

    In final defeat at Zama, 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 proved his adeptness with 'boomerang' style tactics before. Hannibal was a student of war, and, as I said earlier, a master of simple and double bluff. 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 try a flank maneuver with his cavalry, as Hannibal had done at Cannae? He was certainly capable, and with superior material at his disposal. 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 surely hoped they would do their 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 impossible that Hannibal thought 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', OK?) We have a scholarly point of view from H.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. I would like to believe he wasn't far-fetched with his research.

    Moreover, Polybius only mentions it was Hannibal's left flank that was disrupted by elephants sent out of control. On the right flank he tells us that the scattered elephants, "...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...". What confusion, Polybius, if the elephants escaped out of the field? How did Gaius Laelius so easily send the Carthaginian cavalry, though green but not outnumbered (assuming Masinissa's 4,000-strong was not interdispersed with the Romans), into flight? The flight seemed immediate. The answer is they quite possibly were ordered to give ground.

    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 a Roman triple-line, 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 1st and 2nd line - a 'true reserve'. Scipio could not do to him what he had so easily done to the other Carthaginian generals the past 7 years. Hannibal absorbed Scipio's legions, tiring them in the process, hoping to beat him head-on. 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 1st 2 lines hadn't turned on each other and Massinissa and Gaius Laelius hadn't returned 'providentially', as Polybius also said.

    Judging by his actions from when he first arrived in 218 B.C., a march on Rome itself never formed part of his plans. Assaulting Rome could only be practical with the total dissolution of the 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 had a legion of marines at Teanum, as well as 1,500 men at Ostia, who would be sent to Rome. A considerable force was raised from the slave and criminal population (14,000 men), and two legions were to the north under one 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.

    Sorry, I should stick more to the point. Hannibal's lively and imaginative 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 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 Etruria. At the time of Hannibal, the walls of Rome followed a line about 7 miles long, interrupted by flanking towers and enclosing about 1,000 acres (400 hectares ?). 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, a broad landfill, the agger (?), sloped gradually up towards the top of the wall 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 30 ft. (10 meters). Moreover, Rome could not be blockaded, as it still maintained dominance at sea, and had the Tiber as an efficient source of supply.

    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.

    Also, 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.

    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).

    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, while depleting her reserves in manpower by detaching her allies, even if they didn't join his cause for Carthage directly. It's a mistake to assume he was banking on Italian peoples joining him in arms. After all, it was this very concept that Hannibal allegedly advised Antiochus III of Syria to undertake, as Livy tells us, 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..."

    Hannibal may have been somewhat naive as to the nature of Rome's relations with her allies - a misconception anyone could have made - but he certainly understood what gave Rome her strength, and it was that very strength he attacked. Time was possibly on Hannibal's side, 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 from 218 - 216 B.C. for Hannibal. If he had learned anything from his father, he would know Rome was immensely resilient, not to mention stubbornly proud. The 1st 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 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.

    Moreover, the loyalty of the Latins was not unquestionable. After all, it was a Latin, one Dasius from southern Italy who handed Clastidium (modern day Casteggio), a Latin colony, 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 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. Now, Hannibal's strategy, after they wouldn't discuss peace, was to be primarily, and intensely, diplomatic.

    But more than Cannae, it was seven years later in which Hannibal's grand strategy was bearing fruit: Livy, Book 27.9,

    "...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'..."

    Not only did Hannibal render most of Campania unavailable to Rome, but 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...'

    and, 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 place 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 C. Terentius 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...

    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. C. 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, 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..."

    Yes, Hannibal did ultimatley fail. But can we really think of him as a complete failure? I guess it comes down to one's impressionable nature, but in my opinion, Hannibal wasn't a complete failure at all. It took nearly 2 decades for Rome to overcome him, and 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. Hannibal received just 4,000 of the many that Carthage dispatched throughtout the war. Scipio had a secure base and indeginous allies to begin with in Iberia, never had to venture far into the Iberian and African lands, and certainly never faced the enormous reserves of manpower that opposed Hannibal. Julius Caesar, though brillaint, faced unorganized tribal levies in Gaul, and his veterans were more than a match for the bulwark of Pompey's raw recruits. Genghis Khan had Chepe and Subotai to conquer elsewhere. Marlborough benfeted from the indespensible aid of Eugene, and Napoleon had his brilliant marshals, particularly the great Davout.

    How can we call him a complete failure if, after 7 years, his strategy resulted in the defection of the 2 largest cities in Italy after Rome itself, along with 40% of the Rome's allies rendered unavailable for her, 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 when it comes to some of these clashes in 209 -208 B.C. Hannibal was never tactically defeated amid his defensive 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.

    Please don't misunderstand me; Hannibal had plenty of trouble too, as the war dragged on. His allies became a liability 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 about 150,000 troops 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 certain 'mantlets' and 'towers' on his attacks on Casilinum and Cumae. But he never deployed a lumbering 'siege-train' throughout his campaigns. 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. Of the 77,000+ troops dispatched by Carthage throughout the war (not including his initial invasion), only 4,000 reached him, at Locri in 215 B.C. His defensive war became increasingly difficult without help from outside 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 arrival at and seizure of Genoa with some 14,000 troops as late as 206 B.C., coupled with the fact that supplies and troops numbering an additional 6,800 (and 7 elephants) reached him from Africa. I know - 'would have, could have, should have'.

    Polybius even records of a Carthaginian landing at Pisa in 217 B.C. before Trasimene: 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..."

    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 1st 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 2nd 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 attacking Roman forces upon Africa and Iberia, as he cross-posted some 30,000 Africans to Iberia and vice-versa. 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.

    Should he have not gone too war at all? Absolutely not; it may have taken a little while, but war was coming. The whole history of Roman diplomacy before and after Hannibal suggests that her demands would not have ceased with Hannibal laying off Saguntum. His great strike into Italy was a classic example of attack is the best defense.

    I think the arguments concerning Hannibal as a 'failure', 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 led to the abandonment of Carthage itself. In 150 B.C., Rome demanded that Carthage resettle not less than 10 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 6 to 1 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 (no mention of the corvus at 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.

    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 gamble at all.

    So, I opine no - Maharbal was not right. Hannibal made the most viable decisions to bring Rome down. It just never was going to work. But his genius nearly pulled it off, and so stern a test was never applied again to a rising power by a weaker one (militarily speaking).

    Thanks, Spartan JKM :original:
    Last edited by Settra; December 31, 2013 at 12:53 PM. Reason: fixed author hyperlink

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