Hannibal (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Best known for moving elephants through high mountain passes in wintertime to the classic application of the double envelopment maneuver to surround and destroy a Roman army on the battlefield at Cannae, Hannibal's achievements have rarely been equaled and never surpassed. Not only did he grasp the importance of each of the elements of a military campaign, he mastered all of them to achieve the kinds of victories which soldiers still seek to ...
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Overview

Best known for moving elephants through high mountain passes in wintertime to the classic application of the double envelopment maneuver to surround and destroy a Roman army on the battlefield at Cannae, Hannibal's achievements have rarely been equaled and never surpassed. Not only did he grasp the importance of each of the elements of a military campaign, he mastered all of them to achieve the kinds of victories which soldiers still seek to emulate.

Despite his status as a great general and his string of victories on the battlefield, Hannibal was defeated in the end. It was Rome, not Carthage that became the superpower of the ancient world. The story of Hannibal's tactical genius but strategic failure holds lessons today for those who are trying to understand why success on the battlefield does not always, or even frequently, lead to victory in war.
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Introduction

There is a traditional military aphorism that provides clear insight into the relative importance of the component parts of military strategy: "Amateurs study tactics; professionals study logistics!" As the famous historian and biographer Theodore Dodge makes clear in his book, Hannibal: A History of the Art of War Among the Carthaginians and Romans Down to the Battle of Pydna, 168 B.C., the great Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca understood the importance of both of these key facets of military operations. From moving elephants through high mountain passes in wintertime to the classic application of the double envelopment maneuver to surround and destroy a Roman army on the battlefield at Cannae, Hannibal's achievements have rarely been equaled and never surpassed. Not only did he grasp the importance of each of the elements of a military campaign, he mastered all of them to achieve the kinds of victories, logistical and tactical, which soldiers still seek to emulate. For example, by learning the lessons of Hannibal's tactics, the Continental Army destroyed a British force at the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina in 1781 during the Revolutionary War; the Germans wiped out ninety percent of a Russian army that was invading East Prussia at the Battle of Tannenberg in 1914; the German Army killed or captured millions of Red Army soldiers in huge encirclement battles during the early days of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941; and the Soviet Union seized Manchuria from the Japanese with minimal losses in a massive strategic offensive, "August Storm," in 1945. Yet despite his status as a great general, one whom others sought to emulate, and his string of victories on the battlefield, Hannibal was defeated in the end. It was Rome, not Carthage that became the superpower of the ancient world. The story of Hannibal's tactical genius but strategic failure holds lessons today for those who are trying to understand why success on the battlefield does not always, or even frequently, lead to victory in war.

Theodore Ayrault Dodge (1842-1909) was considered by his contemporaries, as well as by many later historians, to be the greatest American military historian of the nineteenth century and an unparalleled biographer of some of history's greatest generals and commanders. Dodge fought in the Union Army in some of the Civil War's fiercest and costliest engagements, through the Seven Days Battle, Second Bull Run, and Chancellorsville, until he lost his right leg at Gettysburg. These experiences provided him with insights into the realities of warfare that are sometimes lacking in the work of purely academic or "armchair" military historians. Dodge was born in Massachusetts in 1842 into an affluent family and as a youth he was sent to Europe to broaden his horizons and receive an education. Unusually for an American of his era, this education began with him studying at a military school in Berlin under the tutelage of retired officers of the Prussian army. He then went on to further studies at Heidelberg University and University College, London, graduating in 1861. The outbreak of the Civil War saw his return to the United States, and he enlisted as a private in the New York Volunteer Infantry, serving in every regimental rank with the 101st and later the 119th New York Infantry Regiments in the Army of the Potomac.

Both a brave and perceptive soldier, Dodge's journal On Campaign with the Army of the Potomac: The Civil War Journal of Theodore Ayrault Dodge, published well after the war in 1898, offers a harrowing and vivid account of life--and death--in the Army of the Potomac during some of its most arduous and bloody campaigns. Wounded three times in combat, after the loss of his leg, he was judged unfit for further active service. As a result, Dodge was transferred to Washington, D.C., in 1864 and employed in administrative posts. While working at the War Department, he also studied for an LL.B degree at Columbia University, which was conferred in 1865. After the end of the war, he continued to serve as a bureau chief in the War Department until 1870, when he retired and began his writing career. He married twice, first to Jane Marshall Neil in 1865 and then to Clara Isabel Bowden in 1893. He died in 1909 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Dodge was a prolific author, writing a number of classic works of military history and biography: History of the Art of War: Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus Adolphus, Napoleon (12 Volumes), 1890-1907; The Campaign of Chancellorsville, 1881; A Bird's Eye View of our Civil War, 1883, a detailed but concise account of the conflict; A Chat in the Saddle, 1883; Patroclus and Penelope, 1885; Riders of Many Lands, 1894; and a series of large illustrated volumes entitled A History of the Art of War, being lives of Great Captains, including Alexander (2 vols., 1888), Hannibal (2 vols., 1889), Caesar (2 vols., 1892), Gustavus Adolphus (2 vols., 1896), and Napoleon (4 vols., 1904-1907). He also lectured extensively on both military history and his own experiences as a soldier in the Civil War, and contributed numerous articles to newspapers and magazines.

With his biographies of famous commanders, Dodge produced some of the finest military histories ever written, focusing heavily on the purely military aspects of their lives and character.. Dodge devoted only limited attention to such things as the upbringing, family life, and politics of his subjects, preferring instead to focus on their campaigns, with particular attention given to the course of each battle, which he described in intricate detail. For Hannibal, which remains one of the most comprehensive and readable studies of one of history's greatest generals, Dodge personally explored the route Hannibal's troops took from Spain to Italy, paying particular attention to investigating and identifying the exact route the army followed as it struggled over the Alps, including detailing which individual passes he believed they had taken through the mountains. Dodge based his assessment of the route on both the available ancient literary sources and his own physical examination of the geography and topology of the path itself, in an attempt to reconcile inconsistencies in earlier written accounts of the invasion. As a result of his personal reconnaissance of the ground on which the campaign between Hannibal and Rome was actually fought, Dodge was confident enough to assert which of the ancient sources was probably more accurate in its depiction of events. Such meticulous attention to detail is what helps make Hannibal a comprehensive and readable study of a great soldier and his campaigns.

Hannibal was born in 247 BCE, the oldest son of the successful Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca, and spent his early childhood in Carthage. Carthage--with its capital near Tunis in modern-day Tunisia--was a trading empire and the strongest naval power of the Mediterranean in the third century BCE. While the Romans were steadily spreading their power throughout the Italian peninsula, the Carthaginians were expanding their empire to embrace much of Western North Africa. While Rome was taking control of the Italian peninsula, Carthage solidified its hold on territory that stretched from western Libya to the Strait of Gibraltar, as well as ruling over most of southern Spain, from which it drew great wealth from gold and silver mines, and Carthage also occupied the islands of Sicily, Corsica, and Sardinia. The two expansionist empires finally came into direct conflict in the middle of the third century BC, when Rome's power spread to controlling the states of southern Italy. When the nearby Sicilian city of Messana revolted against its Carthaginian overlords, the Romans intervened, and the first Punic War began in 264 BCE and ended with Rome victorious in 241 BCE. Hannibal thus spent his early childhood among a Carthaginian aristocracy that was trying to cope with the humiliating peace terms that Rome had imposed, including stripping Carthage of many of its most valuable overseas colonies, among them Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica, and forcing the payment of a large cash indemnity.

When he was ten years old, in 237 BCE, Hannibal accompanied his father to Spain, where Hamilcar was trying to expand the Carthaginian hold on Spain by conquering Andalusia, in order to help compensate for the loss of Carthage's other provinces. Hamilcar died in 229 BCE while fighting a successful guerilla war against Rome and its allies in Spain, and Hannibal's brother-in-law Hasdrubal took over command and secured the Carthaginian position in Spain by diplomatic means, including Hannibal's marriage to a local princess. In 221 BCE, Hasdrubal was murdered and Hannibal was elected as the new commander by the Carthaginian army in Spain. He immediately renewed his father's earlier campaign against local Spanish tribes, some of whom were allied with Rome. These attacks on its client states in Spain led Rome to declare war on Carthage. As Hannibal had intended, the Second Punic War (218-202 BCE), Hannibal's best chance for revenge and glory , was under way.

As Dodge makes clear, it was Hannibal alone, seeking to emulate and expand on his father's victories in Spain against the Romans, who took the decision to attack Rome from Spain along the extremely risky northern approach through the Alps. The Carthaginian senate merely endorsed his decision, largely because it meant fighting the war on the territory of the enemy, always a preferred option, and because such a limited campaign would mean that they did not have to contribute much in the way of additional resources to the Hannibal's invasion. Dodge asserts that had Carthage provided Hannibal with real support in terms of reinforcements and supplies after his crushing defeat of Rome's legions at Cannae in 216 BC, a complete victory over Carthage's long-time enemy could have been won. However, Dodge also shows why the Carthaginian economy, with its lack of a strong agricultural base, really did not have the resources available to finance a full-scale war against Rome. Hannibal's campaigns were thus largely financed from revenues directly derived from the exploitation of precious metal mines in Spain. Indeed, Hannibal treated the resources of Carthage's Spanish colonies almost as a personal fiefdom, drawing both money and many of the soldiers who made up the infantry contingent of his army from there.

Setting out from Carthaginian-dominated Spain with a small army, Hannibal crossed the Pyrenees and struggled through the Alps in winter, encumbered by both a full baggage train and, more famously, war elephants, the tanks of their day. During this march, Hannibal lost half of his men and most of his elephants due to exposure in the mountains and attacks by local tribesmen. He reached northern Italy with only about 20,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry, and a few elephants left, although he was able to rebuild his army by recruiting about 30,000 local Gallic tribesmen as mercenaries. Dodge not only examines Hannibal's qualities as a general, a master of tactics and strategy, but also as a commander who had to hold together an army made up of disparate elements -- Carthaginians, Numidians, Spaniards and Gauls, professional soldiers, tribesmen, mercenaries -- and meld them together into an effective fighting force while facing huge logistical difficulties, and all the while campaigning in a distant, foreign land for years on end. It is an aspect of Hannibal's skill as a soldier that can be too easily forgotten if the focus is only on the battles he fought and the Roman armies he crushed.

Despite being a wounded combat veteran, Dodge is not cynical about war itself in his writings. He felt the sacrifice of his leg at Gettysburg was worthwhile in preserving the Union, a cause that he thought was righteous and just. Thus he was able to write unselfconsciously about glory and honor in Hannibal's campaign. His identification with the soldiers of the Carthaginian army, and their Roman opponents, is genuine and engaging. While the war that Dodge took part in was far different from that of Cannae or Zama, it was one in which he felt that honor and bravery had still made a key contribution to success on the battlefield. It is from this perspective that Dodge explores the central theme of Hannibal, the campaigns of the Second Punic War, a war fought largely in Italy by a relatively small Carthaginian expeditionary force, but which reached its climax on the battlefield of Zama, just outside the walls of Carthage itself. Dodge shows how Hannibal's campaigns represent one of the critical elements of a much wider struggle, the constant battle for supremacy between two rapidly expanding powers, Carthage and Rome, for first economic dominance and ultimately the creation of an empire in the Western half of the Mediterranean basin.

Dodge's style is clear and easy to read, full of interesting details that are always placed within the larger context of the book's narrative. In his account of Hannibal's campaigns against Rome, Dodge draws from the available historical sources to paint what, on the whole, is an even-handed picture. Limited, like all histories of the Punic Wars, by the availability of written source material, Dodge relies heavily on three ancient writers: Polybius, whom he believed had the best grasp of military matters, along with two other famous commentators, Livy and Plutarch. However, he supplements these sources with the knowledge and insights into soldiering he gained during his own military experience and by visits to the actual battlefields to analyze the course of Hannibal's long campaign in Italy, as well as the various individual battles. His accounts of the Carthaginian victories at the Battle of Lake Trebia and Hannibal's ambush of a Roman army near Lake Trasimene, a defeat that resulted in the slaughter of approximately 30,000 Romans, including their commander Flaminius, are masterful. Also powerful is Dodge's in-depth analysis of the three battles at Nola, where Hannibal suffered his first check at the hands of the Roman general M. Claudius Marcellus.

Dodge also describes in detail Hannibal's greatest victory, which came at the Battle of Cannae. Rome had gathered an army of around 80,000 infantry and 7,000 cavalry to overwhelm Hannibal in one single attack. Hannibal, with a force of about 40,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry, almost gratefully accepted the challenge. The two armies met near Cannae in 216 BC. The Roman general Varro, with a force twice the size of Hannibal's, decided to swamp the Carthaginian opponent with shear numbers in a head-on assault. Hannibal, however, outmaneuvered and overwhelmed the Roman cavalry with his own heavy horsemen, and when the Roman infantry began to force the Carthaginian line back, Hannibal ordered his two cavalry wings to wheel inward against the Romans while other Carthaginian cavalry attacked the Romans' rear. Using this double envelopment tactic, Hannibal encircled the entire Roman army. 60,000 Romans were slaughtered, compared to Carthaginian losses of only 6,000. In Cannaethe smaller but properly led army not only defeated but totally destroyed its larger and seemingly more cohesive enemy. This conquest came to be regarded as a classic battle of its type and marked the high point in Hannibal's career.

As Dodge makes clear, Hannibal's prowess on the battlefield relied on two critical elements-the high quality of his cavalry and his own tactical skill. The Carthaginian cavalry, comprising both Spanish and Numidian horsemen, outnumbered their Roman equivalents and they were greatly superior in quality. Proper utilization of this advantage gave Hannibal many of his victories in Italy. Once the Roman cavalry improved and was used intelligently by a skilled commander, as was the case at the Battle of Zama, then the heavy infantry of the Roman legions was quite capable of inflicting a crushing defeat on Hannibal and his Carthaginians. But it took the Romans several defeats to learn that they would have to improve their own strategy and tactics, and find more able generals, if they were to prevail over their cunning opponent. It was a long, slow process, but one that ended in 202 BC with Hannibal's defeat at Zama at the hands of Scipio Africanus. After this defeat, Carthage was forced to sue for peace and was never again able to seriously challenge Roman supremacy in the Mediterranean. Despite his defeat at Zama, Hannibal was made a suffete, or consul, in Carthage, a position of considerable political power. To rebuild Carthage, Hannibal reformed tax collection and tried to stimulate business and agriculture. His enemies, however, spread rumors that he was preparing for another war with Rome, a danger the Romans took seriously, and he was forced to go into exile to avoid arrest. He fled to Syria, where he acted as a mercenary commander or political advisor, staying at the courts of Rome's enemies, for the next twelve years. In 183 BCE, Hannibal scored a minor military victory for his latest employer, the king of Bithynia, against a Roman ally, Pergamum. This led Rome to send an envoy to Bithynia, in what is now Turkey, to demand that the king hand Hannibal over. To avoid Roman captivity, Hannibal instead killed himself.

Dodge allowed himself considerable latitude when it came to exploring Hannibal's character and motivations, as well as when examining the wider military and political forces that led him to the battlefield at Zama and to Carthage's crushing defeat on its own territory at the hands of an invading Roman army. Dodge's conclusion was that the Carthaginians, including Hannibal, consistently failed to fully grasp the deep roots of Rome's political cohesion. Despite numerous battlefield disasters, the resilience of Rome's political system, its military machine and its economic power meant that Rome's ultimate victory was rarely in doubt. Dodge is thus usually fairly objective with any opinions presented and bases them on fairly logical inferences. However, the book cannot always be regarded as totally trustworthy. As a number of modern historians have emphasized, Dodge is hardly balanced in his treatment of Hannibal. In his book, Dodge does nothing to disguise the deep respect he feels for the Carthaginian as both an individual and as a general. As a result, a number of historians have pointed out that Dodge found it difficult to criticize Hannibal, despite his numerous shortcomings and failures, in any meaningful way. The modern parallel might be with the way in which the character and generalship of the Confederate commander, Robert E. Lee, is often treated by modern writers. In Dodge's writings, Hannibal is too often presented as the perfect general, fearless, courageous, and decisive when it came to making difficult decisions. Indeed, Dodge presents him as the very essence of the cool, reserved commander, calculating every move and ready for every contingency. The corollary of this, however, is that Dodge almost invariably blames the shortcomings of his strategy during the campaign on factors beyond Hannibal's control. With such a mindset, Dodge's minor misgivings about Hannibal's actions serve mainly to display Hannibal's signature characteristics and accomplishments in an even more favorable light.

One of the unfortunate results of this hero-worship of Hannibal is that Dodge is driven to denigrate the character and military skills of the Roman general Scipio Africanus, Hannibal's longstanding nemesis, who inflicted the final crushing defeat on Hannibal at Zama. Dodge goes out of his way to discount the talents and exploits of the Roman and repeatedly states that "good fortune" was the only reason Scipio, whom he holds to have been merely competent as a general, was able to prevail over the abler commander. Indeed, Dodge ranks Scipio's generalship, in terms of ability and military skills, behind those of a number of other Roman commanders who faced Hannibal and lost. Such a dismissive assessment of Scipio's abilities contradicts the view of many other eminent historians and writers, such as British military theorist B. H. Liddell Hart, who consider Scipio to have been an outstanding commander. It is a viewpoint Liddell Hart sets out in detail in his book Scipio Africanus: Greater Than Napoleon.

Dodge crafted a fascinating and highly readable book, and by drawing on his own military service and war experiences, he is able to provide the reader with deep insights into the harsh realities of warfare in the ancient world. Dodge shows how Hannibal's successes and failures have made him a role model to soldiers through the ages.

Ian M. Cuthbertson, M. Litt. is a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute of the New School University and Director of the WPI's Counter-Terrorism Project. He holds an M. Litt. in Strategic Studies from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, and is the author of a number of books and articles on European military affairs, transatlantic security issues, and counter-terrorism policy.
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 26, 2008

    I Also Recommend:

    Second Punic War: 219/218-201 BCE

    Theodore Ayrault Dodge's book on Hannibal starts off with the abjuration of Carthaginian hegemony in Sardinia, Corsica and Sicily after the First Punic War: 264-241 BCE. Hasdrubal Barca of the Barcine family sets off to subjugate as much as Iberia as possible to generate gold, silver and other natural resources as well as to provide a 'center of gravity' within Iberia and to secure the lines of communication and a secure base that would A) provide a key interstices that would administrate Carthaginian suzerainty in Iberia, B) connect Iberia with the Carthaginian network of subjected states and C) to maintain mercantile trade. Theodre Ayrault Dodge mentions that the loss of peripheral zones within the Mediterranean deprived the Carthaginians of a water-route to Rome. (Thankfully Carthage was not a thalassocracy to the extent of the First Athenian Empire: 478-404 BCE and the Second Athenian Empire: 378/377-355 BCE; it still survived after the majority of its navy was wiped out and its maritime supremacy extinguished.)<BR/><BR/>Theodore Ayrault Dodge elucidates Hannibal Barca's ultracrepidation across the Rhone River and the Alps, and the hardships that were faced by trying to reach Italian soil. Theodore Ayrault Dodge succinctly mentions the poliorcetics of Saguntum: 219-218 BCE and the battles of Ticinus: 218 BCE, Trebia: 217 BCE, Lake Trasimene: 217 BCE and Cannae: 216 BCE with the culmination of the fate of the two empires at Zama: 202 BCE. Theodore Ayrault Dodge mentions the grand strategy of Hannibal Barca (to deprive the Romans of their Italian allies and to form a stranglehold against the capitol of Rome, and to enlist the aid of the Gallic tribes) and the composition of the Carthaginian armies (Libyo-Phoenicians, Iberians, Numidians: multinational composition of mercenaries; 1,043 peltasts or skirmishers in the front ranks, 2,048 psiloi or auxiliary soldiers in the rear and a Hellenistic-like phalanx of Carthaginian/Libyo-Phoenician pikemen, with a total of 1,024 cavalry per fighting force.) Theodore Ayrault Dodge also mentions the composition of the Roman forces which consisted of 1,200 Velites, 1,200 Hastati, 1,200 Principes and 600 Triarii per consular army (a total of two such fighting forces per year). He also mentions the siege techniques of antiquity such as the means of blockading and slowly depleting the resources of the enemy through the castrametation of two concentric walls: the circumvallation and the contravallation.<BR/><BR/>The only negative factor found in the book Hannibal by Theodore Ayrault Dodge is the balance of the book. The author does not give enough recognition for the exploits of Hannibal's rivals such as Fabius 'Cunctator', Metellus and Nero, as well as Publius Cornelius Scipio 'Africanus' who deprived the Carthaginians of a base in Iberia through the victories at Baecula and Ilipa, and the capture of New Carthage. Theodore Ayrault Dodge tends to degrade the capabilities of Hannibal's Roman enemies, and to belittle the strategic consequences of some of their exploits such as the capture of Syracuse and the loss of Carthaginian hegemony in Iberia. (For more on Scipio 'Africanus', the book by Basil Henry Liddell Hart is recommended.)

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2006

    A masterpiece!

    An amazing novel that gives you colorful explanations of both armies of Rome ,and Carthage. There are also great teachings of both nations powerful history. Loved it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2009

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    Posted March 13, 2009

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