The Ghosts of Cannae: Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic [NOOK Book]

Overview

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

For millennia, Carthage’s triumph over Rome at Cannae in 216 B.C. has inspired reverence and awe. No general since has matched Hannibal’s most unexpected, innovative, and brutal military victory. Now Robert L. O’Connell, one of the most admired names in military history, tells the whole story of Cannae for the first time, giving us a stirring account of ...

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The Ghosts of Cannae: Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic

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Overview

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

For millennia, Carthage’s triumph over Rome at Cannae in 216 B.C. has inspired reverence and awe. No general since has matched Hannibal’s most unexpected, innovative, and brutal military victory. Now Robert L. O’Connell, one of the most admired names in military history, tells the whole story of Cannae for the first time, giving us a stirring account of this apocalyptic battle, its causes and consequences.

O’Connell brilliantly conveys how Rome amassed a giant army to punish Carthage’s masterful commander, how Hannibal outwitted enemies that outnumbered him, and how this disastrous pivot point in Rome’s history ultimately led to the republic’s resurgence and the creation of its empire. Piecing together decayed shreds of ancient reportage, the author paints powerful portraits of the leading players, from Hannibal—resolutely sane and uncannily strategic—to Scipio Africanus, the self-promoting Roman military tribune. Finally, O’Connell reveals how Cannae’s legend has inspired and haunted military leaders ever since, and the lessons it teaches for our own wars.

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Editorial Reviews

Denis Feeney
An author needs to ask what he can bring to the topic that is new. The distinctive edge of The Ghosts of Cannae is Robert L. O'Connell's consistently professional instinct for the behavior of men and units on the battlefield. He is able to put himself and his reader on the ground at Cannae, gagging in the heat of a southern Italian midsummer, assailed by an overload from every one of the five senses.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Military historian O’Connell (Of Arms and Men: A History of War, Weapons, and Aggression) has established the new standard for studies of the second conflict between Rome and Carthage. In dramatic and comprehensive fashion, he describes the rivalry, based on temperament and territory, that led to the slaughter at Cannae in 216 B.C.E. and beyond. Focusing chiefly on Hannibal and his Roman nemesis Scipio Africanus, he also awards proper consideration to Fabius Maximus, whose strategy of attrition and delay could have saved countless Roman lives. Differences in Roman and Carthaginian tactics, armament, and philosophy are explained, as is the importance of religious belief to both cultures. O’Connell shatters the popular myth of the invincibility of the Carthaginians’ fabled elephants, the “panzer pachyderms.” The “ghosts” of the title are the Roman survivors of Cannae, who were unwanted reminders of defeat. They were banished to Sicily until Scipio Africanus incorporated them into the army that achieved the final Roman victory at Zama. Unfortunately, a lack of sources restricts O’Connell’s ability to provide much information on the Carthaginian home front, but ample attention is given to the political maneuvers that shaped Roman policy. 6 maps. (July)
From the Publisher
"A masterpiece of style, imagination, and erudition." —-Victor Davis Hanson, author of Ripples of Battle
Kirkus Reviews
Readable study of a 2,000-year-old battle that still reverberates today. On Aug. 2, 216 BCE, in southeastern Italy, a massive Roman army faced down a smaller, apparently weaker Carthaginian force led by Hannibal. Two years earlier, Hannibal had famously led that force, war elephants and all, over the Alps into Italy, devastating the armies of the Roman Republic. At Cannae, he nearly finished the job, using a pincer movement to surround the Romans and nearly annihilating them. Contemporary accounts of the battle, such as those by Livy, aren't really contemporary at all, following it by a century and more. O'Connell (Soul of the Sword: An Illustrated History of Weaponry and Warfare from Prehistory to the Present, 2002, etc.), a former analyst with the U.S. Army Intelligence Agency, has his work cut out for him in sorting out what is reliable from what is fabulous or moralizing in the records of the past. Perhaps surprisingly, he gives fairly solid marks to Polybius of Megalopolis, who came nearly 75 years after and had access to now-lost Carthaginian accounts of the battle. The "ghosts" of the title are the Roman survivors of the battle, who crossed the sea with Scipio Africanus and sowed Carthage's fields with salt, erasing it from the map in an act that can only be considered genocide. O'Connell pointedly contrasts Carthaginian and Roman society, the one commercial and the other bellicose, and at several points he likens the Punic Wars to the transcontinental slaughter of the two world wars. He also notes that modern generals continue to study Cannae as a textbook example of smart, fluid strategizing. "[F]or the Allied invasion of Germany," writes the author, "Eisenhower envisioned a huge Cannae-like maneuver, employing a double envelopment of the Ruhr," and George Patton likened the Polish army in 1939 to the unfortunate Roman consular army at Cannae. A wide-ranging account of the battle that sets it in the larger context of the Punic Wars and the rise of the Roman Empire. Agent: Carl Brandt/Brandt & Hochman Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679603795
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/13/2010
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 266,782
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Robert L. O’Connell has worked as a senior analyst at the National Ground Intelligence Center, as a contributing editor to MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History, and most recently as a visiting professor at the Naval Postgraduate School. He is the author of Of Arms and Men: A History of War, Weapons, and Aggression; Sacred Vessels: The Cult of the Battleship and the Rise of the U.S. Navy; Ride of the Second Horseman: The Birth and Death of War; Soul of the Sword: An Illustrated History of Weaponry and Warfare from Prehistory to the Present; and the novel Fast Eddie.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Traces of War

Polybius of Megalopolis peered down from a pass high in the Italian Alps and caught sight of the rich green Lombard plain far below. It was exactly the same inviting panorama Hannibal had shown his half-starved, half-frozen, thoroughly discouraged army seventy-three years before, exhorting them to stay the course on what would prove to be an amazing path of conquest. Quite probably enough bits and pieces of that weary host remained visible for Polybius to be sure he was in the right spot; a certitude denied future chroniclers, and giving rise to one of ancient history’s most enduring and futile controversies: Where exactly did Hannibal cross the Alps?1 Polybius, for his part, was free to concentrate on questions he found more important. It was his aim—an endeavor that would eventually fill forty books—to explain to his fellow Greeks how a hitherto obscure city-state on the Italian peninsula had come to dominate, virtually in the course of a lifetime, the entire Mediterranean world. But if Rome stood at center stage in Polybius’s inquiry, Hannibal and Carthage were his foils. Each in their own way had nearly put an end to Rome’s ambitions. Both by this time were dead, obliterated by Rome, but it was the challenges they had posed and the disasters they had inflicted that Polybius found most compelling. For no matter how bad things had gotten, Rome had always responded, had picked itself up out of the dustbin of history and soldiered on. And it was in defeat more than victory that Polybius saw the essence of Rome’s greatness.

It never got worse than Cannae. On August 2, 216 b.c., a terrible apocalyptic day in southern Italy, 120,000 men engaged in what amounted to a mass knife fight. At the end of the fight, at least forty-eight thousand Romans lay dead or dying, lying in pools of their own blood and vomit and feces, killed in the most intimate and terrible ways, their limbs hacked off, their faces and thoraxes and abdomens punctured and mangled. This was Cannae, an event celebrated and studied as Hannibal’s paragon by future practitioners of the military arts, the apotheosis of the decisive victory. Rome, on the other hand, lost—suffering on that one day more battle deaths than the United States during the entire course of the war in Vietnam, suffering more dead soldiers than any other army on any single day of combat in the entire course of Western military history. Worse yet, Cannae came at the end of a string of savage defeats engineered by the same Hannibal, Rome’s nemesis destined to prey on Italy for another thirteen years and defeat army after army and kill general after general. Yet none of this would plumb the depths reached on that awful afternoon in August.

It has been argued that Polybius, aware of Cannae’s enormous symbolic import, deliberately structured his history so as to make the battle appear as the absolute low point in Rome’s fortunes, thereby exaggerating its significance.2 Yet, not only do sheer numbers argue the contrary, but also Rome on this day lost a significant portion of its leadership class, between a quarter and a third of the senate, the members of which had been anxious to be present at what had been assumed would be a great victory. Instead it was a debacle by any measure, so much so that a case can be made that Cannae was even more critical than Polybius believed, in retrospect a true pivot point in Roman history. Arguably the events of this August day either initiated or accelerated trends destined to push Rome from municipality to empire, from republican oligarchy to autocracy, from militia to professional army, from a realm of freeholders to a dominion of slaves and estates. And the talisman of all of this change was one lucky survivor, a young mili- tary tribune named Publius Cornelius Scipio,* known to history as Africanus. For at the end of many more years of fighting, Rome still would need a general and an army good enough to defeat Hannibal, and Scipio Africanus, with the help of what remained of the battlefield’s disgraced refugees, would answer the call and in the process set all else in motion.

* Typical Roman names of the late republican period had three elements: a praenomen, or given name (in this case Publius), chosen from a limited list and having no family connotation; a nomen, referring to the gens or clan name (Cornelii); and, finally, the cognomen, or family within the clan (Scipio).


From the Hardcover edition.
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Table of Contents

List of Maps xi

Cast of Characters xiii

I Traces of war 3

II Rome 29

III Carthage 57

IV Hannibal's Way 84

V The foc and the hedgehog 106

VI Cannae 132

VII Aftershocks 170

VIII The Avengers 199

IX Resurrecting the ghosts 227

Epilogue: The Shadow of cannae 261

Acknowledgments 261

Notes 269

Glossary of Latin, Military, and Technical Terms 289

Index 295

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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 54 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2010

    So-So Recap of Conventional Punic War History

    The topic is interesting, but O'Connell takes the conventional, Romanocentric view of the Rome-Carthage conflict. Although he attempts to be evenhanded, he often makes unsupported, judgmental statements and posits them as categorical fact. Many of these are historical boilerplate, even though there's really no way to know them as fact. Example: Hannibal's family hated Rome and was above all motivated by it. Really? How does one prove that? Even if true, what bearing does this assertion have on the overall historical analysis of the conflict between the two empires?

    Although a decent enough writer, O'Connell's stylistic flourishes were often grating and fell flat. Also, while his almost sole focus on military history is understandable and will be extremely interesting to some, this book was not a particularly enlightening or thorough examination of the conflict between Rome and Carthage. Granted, as implied by the title of the book, the focus is on the Battle of Cannae. However, with so much of the book devoted to the situation and events that led to Cannae, a better historical appraisal of the two empires would have been appreciated.

    For a much better modern historical analysis of Carthage and its conflict with Rome, I would suggest "Carthage Must Be Destroyed" by Richard Miles. (Unfortunately I think it has only been released in Britain so far.) It is longer and doesn't focus as much on military history (though there is plenty of that too), and since it is written by someone with a background in archaeology, there are many fewer unsubstantiated assertions, and less reliance on traditional stereotypes of the two empires.

    The main things I took from Mr. O'Connell's book were:
    1) Carthage's reliance on mercenaries left it extremely vulnerable when things went bad.
    2) Rome's reliance on charismatic generals led to the downfall of the republic.

    Both those theses were interesting and applicable to the modern era. I was just hoping for more from the book than that.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 7, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    This is a superb look at the participants of the second Punic War

    In 218 BCE, Hannibal led the Carthage army using elephants to invade the Roman Empire by climbing over the Alps. Two years later in Cannae, Italy the two enemies fought again using different tactics. The Romans had superior forces and a short supply line. Yet deploying a pincer movement, Hannibal and his army nearly ended the Roman Empire.

    This is a superb look at the participants of the second Punic War mostly from the military sides of both combatants and the Roman civilian actions and reactions; there is much less on how the people of Carthage felt. Fascinating with a super comparative analysis of Rome the conqueror and Carthage the traders as well as a discerning analysis of the strategies of Hannibal including his "panzer pachyderms" taking the fight to Italy, and the two Roman leader rivals Scipio Africanus who confronts the foe with swamping the battlefield and no regard to collateral damage and Fabius Maximus who wanted to delay the fight to attrite the enemy. Well written, the disgraced Roman survivors of the Cannae massacre were hidden from public view exiled to Sicily until Africanus realized they had a motive to insure victory at Zama in Africa. Mr. O'Connell makes references to modern warfare that can trace its roots to Cannae and how the victors write the history books with little regard to the facts as he debunks the revisionists who wrote over the next few centuries following the salting ethnic cleansing) of Carthage.

    Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2012

    Recommended for history fans

    Very good book - details the efforts leading up to the battle at Cannae and how it all unfolded. Would have given this 5 stars if a little more time had been spent describing the subsequent decade + of Hannibal in Italy.

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  • Posted March 24, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Highly recommend for the battle-minded soul.

    If you enjoy reading about battles and the strategies of battle, then this book is a must read for you.

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