April 02, 2005

Hannibal and Rome

Battle of Cannae

When the first survivors staggered back to Rome, they were met with disbelief. As more arrived, disbelief changed to horror. Hannibal now had defeated the equivalent of eight consular armies in the space of two years. No one before or after him ever had such brilliant success against Roman arms. Cannae was Hannibal's greatest victory, but was not enough to win the war.

At perhaps the shining moment of all Livy's Roman history, the messengers arrived at the city with news of the devastating defeat of the Romans at Cannae at the hands of Hannibal in 216 BCE. Fifty thousand were dead on the field. "No other nation in the world," according to Livy, "could have suffered so tremendous a series of disasters and not been overwhelmed" (22.54.10). And the great soul, the magnus animus of the Romans was revealed in their unwillingness even to mention peace after Cannae or to ransom back the survivors. "The Romans had a greater spirit after the terrible disaster of Cannae than they would ever have in success" (De officiis 3.11.47). The willingness to expend everything (up to and including the state) was, paradoxically, the final insurance of the continued existence of both the state and of the spirit. Hannibal's will was broken, his animus fractus, according to Cicero, when he received news that the Romans were "discarding" their soldiers at the moment when they were most in need of them (De officiis 3.32.114). The defeated Romans not only refused to ransom their own soldiers, but ordained by law that soldiers must vanquish or die, so that, according to Polybius, there might not be any hope of survival in case of defeat (Polybius 6.58.11).

The indomitable Romans rallied again, declared full mobilization, elected M. Junius Pera dictator. They raised new legions not only by releasing debtors and those accused of capital crimes from jail but even by freeing slaves (a very un-Roman thing to do). It would seem that every effort was made to increase the number of legions in service (by 211 there were apparently 25, compared with only 4 in a 'normal' year). The coffers of the state were empty, and the armies in Sicily were told they had to provide for themselves. During 215 BC, Quintius Fabius Maximus was elected dictator by the centuriate assembly and adopted a highly cautious strategy. Rather than join battle with Hannibal, he decided on a policy of caution and harassment that would keep Hannibal moving and gradually wear him down and giving the Romans an opportunity to recover from their military reverses. This Fabian strategy of harassing Hannibal while avoiding formal engagementsnegated Hannibal's tactical skill and superior cavalry.


After such 3 such defeats by Hannibal, each defeat destroying a majority of each Roman army sent against him, it is a testament to human will that they never gave up.

"No other nation in the world," according to Livy, "could have suffered so tremendous a series of disasters and not been overwhelmed" (22.54.10)

Indeed.

"The Romans had a greater spirit after the terrible disaster of Cannae than they would ever have in success" (De officiis 3.11.47).

That describes 9/11 to the 1. America is a worthy successor to the Roman Imperial hegemony in more ways than one.

Like the North in the first year of the American Civil War, a number of defeats demoralized the Senate and the people, but the leaders in charge of the military did not give up hope. Through careful use of strategies, the leaders were able to stop the enemy armies. What at most would have been called a draw, after Cannae, would have been seen as a great victory. Such as Antietam was seen as.

Hannibal needed reinforcements, which the Carthaginian government refused to furnish, and he also lacked siege weapons. Gradually the Carthaginian fighting strength weakened. The strategy suggested by Fabius was put into operation: to defend the cities loyal to Rome; to try to recover, where opportunity offered, those cities that had fallen to Hannibal; never to enter battle when the enemy offered it but rather to keep the Carthaginians alert in every theatre of war. Thus Hannibal, unable because of inferior numbers to spread his forces to match the Romans and unable to employ this concentrated strength in a decisive battle, passed from the offensive to a cautious and not always successful defensive in Italy, inadequately supported by the home government at Carthage and, because of the Roman command of the sea, forced to obtain local provisions for protracted and ineffectual operations.


The Carthaginian Senate deserved to be destroyed. After treating such a loyal and brilliant leader as Hannibal as beneath notice, they deserved the fruits of their wisdom. Just as the Democrats deserved to be out of power for how they used the setbacks and defeats of the War on Terror for their personal power games.

he senate, egged on by Cato, and having already made plans for such an occurrence, voted for war in 149 BC.

"When the Carthaginians had been some time deliberating how they should meet the message from Rome [an ultimatum to break up their army and navy] they were reduced to a state of the utmost embarrassment by the people of Utica anticipating their design by putting themselves under the protection of Rome. This seemed their only hope of safety left: and they imagined that such a step must win them favor at Rome: for to submit to put themselves and their country under control was a thing which they had never done even in their darkest hour of danger and defeat, with the enemy at their very walls. And now they had lost all the fruit of this resolve by being anticipated by the people of Utica; for it would appear nothing novel or strange to the Romans if they only did the same as that people. Accordingly, with a choice of two evils only left, to accept war with courage or to surrender their independence, after a long and anxious discussion held secretly in the Senate-house, they appointed two ambassadors with plenary powers, and instructed them, that, in view of the existing state of things, they should do what seemed for the advantage of their country. The names of these envoys were Gisco Strytanus, Hamilcar, Misdes, Gillimas, and Mago. When they reached Rome from Carthage, they found war already decreed and the generals actually started with their forces. Circumstances, therefore, no longer giving them any power of deliberating, they offered an unconditional surrender." (Polybius XXXVI)


The Carthaginian senate, in great anxiety, now sent an embassy to Italy to offer any reparation the Romans might demand. They were told that if they would give three hundred hostages, children of the noblest Carthaginian families, the independence of their city should be respected. They eagerly complied with this demand.

But no sooner were these hostages in the hands of the Romans than the two consular armies - a total force of 80,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry, thus secured against attack, crossed from Sicily into Africa, and disembarked at Utica, only ten miles from Carthage. They demanded the surrender of Carthaginian arms, and received 200,000 sets of armor and 2,000 catapults. Still hoping to win their enemy to clemency, they complied with this demand also.

Now they consuls made known the final demand that the senate had intentionally withheld from the Carthaginian envoys in Rome. The Carthaginians had to abandon the town itself for destruction and could settle wherever they wanted in Carthaginian territory, provided that the new site was at least ten miles from the sea. Such a move was clearly impossible for a trading city, and the Carthaginians refused, declaring war on the Romans.

When this resolution of the Senate was announced to the Carthaginians and they realized the baseness and perfidy of their enemy, a cry of indignation and despair burst from the betrayed city. The effect was that the desperate war party took control of the city of Carthage. Moderate men, who had tried to save peace, were massacred together with the Italian residents. A army was raised from the city itself and its neighbouring towns and tribes. Meanwhile the Roman army, having allowed the Carthaginians too much time to organize, was losing more men through sickness (due to camping out in marshes) than it lost by fighting the enemy.


Appeasement never works for long. Better to fight the good fight, and to risk it all, then to be at the mercy of one's superiors.

Having thrown out Hannibal, Carthage now suddenly reverts to Danegeld. The Romans respect strength, not weakness. Enough strength will buy you much. Some strength, but not enough, will buy you little but war.

The fall of the Carthaginian empire is not a matter for regret. Outside the walls of the city existed hopeless slavery on the part of the subject, shameless extortion on the part of the officials. Throughout Africa Carthage was never named without a curse. In the time of the mercenary war the Moorish women, taking oath to keep nothing back, stripped off their gold ornaments and brought them all to the men who were resisting their oppressors. That city, that Carthage, fed like a vulture upon the land. A corrupt and grasping aristocracy, a corrupt and turbulent populace, divided between them the prey. The Carthaginian customs were barbarous in the extreme. When a battle had been won they sacrificed their handsomest prisoners to the gods; when a battle had been lost the children of their noblest families were cast into the furnace. Their Asiatic character was strongly marked. They were a people false and sweet-worded, effeminate and cruel, tyrannical and servile, devout and licentious, merciless in triumph, faint-hearted in danger, divinely heroic in despair.

Let us therefore admit that, as an imperial city, Carthage merited her fate. But henceforth we must regard her from a different point of view. In order to obtain peace she had given up her colonies abroad, her provinces at home, her vessels and elephants of war. The empire was reduced to a municipality. Nothing was left but the city and a piece of ground. The merchant princes took off their crowns and went back into the glass and purple business. It was only as a town of manufacture and trade that Carthage continued to exist, and as such her existence was of unmixed service to the world.


Indeed, Carthage merited her fate. As early as the 2nd Punic Wars perhaps.

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