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"Hannibal: Overrated?" Topic


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14 Jul 2018 9:18 a.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

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©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian21 Dec 2017 8:41 p.m. PST

In the book Great Generals of the Ancient World, the author contends that Hannibal is not a battlefield genius. He simply looked good due to the often inept Roman generals who opposed him.

Do you agree?

peterx Supporting Member of TMP21 Dec 2017 8:45 p.m. PST

Yeah, anyone could walk from Africa, and could cross the Alps to attack Rome from the north, if they have elephants.

Personal logo SBminisguy Supporting Member of TMP21 Dec 2017 9:24 p.m. PST

Absolutely! What were the Carthagians thinking when they put a cannibal in charge of their army?!?

Marcus Brutus21 Dec 2017 10:05 p.m. PST

Do you agree? Not at all. I think Hannibal, both as a strategist and a tactician has to be rated in the top tier generals of all time. His double envelopment at Cannae has enthralled military students throughout time. Even Schlieffen's plan for the defeat of France was ultimately rooted in a study of Hannibal's victory at Cannae.

williamb21 Dec 2017 10:31 p.m. PST

Haven't read the book so I cannot really comment on it. I will have to see if a full review of it is in "Slingshot", but a comment was posted by the person reviewing it on the Society of Ancients website as follows:

"Finished Great Generals of the Ancient World by Richard Gabriel, for a Pen & Sword review. His underlying theme, that the great generals had certain traits of character – good education enabling them to mentally dominate their environment, and strong willed purpose – is an interesting one.

I'm not convinced however by his exclusion of Alexander from his list. His reasoning is that Philip turned the Macedonian army into an unbeatable war machine, and all Alex had to do was point it in the general direction of Persians. In which case explain Gaugamela – that little oblique movement trick wasn't something invented by Philip. And even granted that Alex didn't come up with the arms and battle formations that gave the Macedonians their superiority, he still knew exactly how to use them, just as Caesar knew how to use his legions (most of the time).

But my real grumble with Mr Gabriel is that he comes up with his own hypotheses without any real attempt to analyze the primary sources, i.e. he spins theories but doesn't found them on anything. His theories are a little uncertain too – he can't make up his mind whether Alexander charged the Sacred Band with his cavalry or went around them, and he leaves the question hanging.

An OK read to get an overview of the great generals, but it doesn't really contribute anything new." Justin Swanton

While the generals facing Hannibal in Italy may not have been the best, an average general would not have been able to create the ambush at Lake Trasimene or deploy his army in the manner that Hannibal did at Cannae in order to make the best of their capabilities versus the Romans.

Cyrus the Great21 Dec 2017 11:09 p.m. PST

In a word, "No".

wrgmr121 Dec 2017 11:11 p.m. PST

My thoughts exactly Cyrus!

Personal logo Bashytubits Supporting Member of TMP21 Dec 2017 11:17 p.m. PST

He is one of the greatest of Ancient commanders, so NO. I do not recall very many other generals who could so routinely defeat the Romans.

gamershs Supporting Member of TMP22 Dec 2017 12:06 a.m. PST

Yes and No. He was a good field commander but no so great at strategy. He beat Roman armies but could not defeat Rome. When Rome finally got his measure they forced him to return to Africa. He then meet a commander who was good in the field and better at strategy and he was finally defeated.

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP22 Dec 2017 2:48 a.m. PST

Lee did not face the best opposition either.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP22 Dec 2017 3:21 a.m. PST

Lee never destroyed a Union army either.
Hannibal destroyed 3 Roman armies.

So the answer no he isn't Overrated.

JARROVIAN Supporting Member of TMP22 Dec 2017 4:43 a.m. PST

An emphatic 'NO'. Anyone who could command such a truly multi-national force, and wield it to crush 3 Roman armies has my vote. Not only that, but the foresight to attack Italy from the North. Outstanding.

olicana22 Dec 2017 5:01 a.m. PST

No, I don't agree either. Hannibal WAS a military genius.

It sounds like someone flying in the face of two thousand years of general opinion to say something different just to be different: If that's the case, then it would seem that the book is more about the author than his subject and I will not be adding it to my shelves.

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP22 Dec 2017 5:20 a.m. PST

There is no doubt that he knew his way around a battlefield. So much so that the Romans made it a rule not to engage him in battle and just tear down the Carthaginian empire while Hannibal showed he had no knack for strategic thinking and kept his initial assumption that if he beat them enough times in battle the Romans would sue for peace.

Brilliant general, superior logistics skills, less good on the strategic level and couldn't shake off certain assumptions about how Rome would behave.

HANS GRUBER22 Dec 2017 6:04 a.m. PST

No, he is not over rated. The only question I have, is he better than Alexander? Alex conquered an empire, but never fought and defeated the Romans.

Joes Shop Supporting Member of TMP22 Dec 2017 6:05 a.m. PST

No.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP22 Dec 2017 6:07 a.m. PST

So much so that the Romans made it a rule not to engage him in battle and just tear down the Carthaginian empire while Hannibal showed he had no knack for strategic thinking and kept his initial assumption that if he beat them enough times in battle the Romans would sue for peace.

To be fair, everybody thought that way, Pyrrhus made the same mistake, once you've shown to be superior on the battlefield, they should surrender and agree to a settled peace. The Enemies of Rome never learned you literally have to burn Rome to the ground to beat Rome.

Perris070722 Dec 2017 6:53 a.m. PST

Lake Trasimene was pretty brilliant if you ask me. So another no.

Kenntak Inactive Member22 Dec 2017 7:00 a.m. PST

I agree with most everything that has already been aptly said. There was a reason that parents told their misbehaving children "Hannibal ad portas." Just holding a force together for nearly 17 years in an enemy country is simply amazing. That would be since the turn of the century for us! Honestly, if he is overrated, every great general is.

martin goddard Sponsoring Member of TMP22 Dec 2017 8:02 a.m. PST

Is this the chap that wrote two other books. 1. "the rolling stones" are not much of a music group and 2. "the moon landings were a fake"?

Big Red Supporting Member of TMP22 Dec 2017 8:07 a.m. PST

Any general can appear to be brilliant, overrated or inept until you have to walk a mile in their boots or sandals.

Do brilliant generals appear brilliant because they make their opponents look inept or do inept generals look that way because of their brilliant opponents? The margin of victory is often very slim and many things outside of the general's control can contribute to victory or defeat. "You have to do the best you can with what you have to work with" (from the oft quoted Will Rogers).

If the Romans had broken through the Carthaginian center before their flanks had been turned, Varro would have looked like a fighting genius and Paullus like a wimp. Hannibal would have been an historical footnote as the guy who crossed the Alps and got the snot beat out of him at Varro's brilliant victory at Cannae, studied as the best way to beat a wily opponent.

The difference is that Hannibal took a calculated risk based on time and distance. The Romans did break through but not in time.

Calculated risk – success equals genius, failure equals inept. And you don't know how its going to turn out or as Yogi said "it ain't over ‘till its over". Varro ends up looking like a jerk and Hannibal justifiably looking like a genius After the battle.

What would Hannibal's reputation be if the opposition was commanded by say Fabius or a mature Scipio? No battle with Fabian or a hard-fought draw with Scipio or even a greater victory yet?

The strategic problem for Hannibal or even Pyrrhus was the overwhelming imbalance of resources between Rome and her enemies. You can beat the snot out of opponent after opponent but when you get tired, the opposition just brings in yet another opponent. Your once brilliant footwork is gone, you are boxed into a corner and, well, you read the book.

On the strategic level, what were the alternatives? What could Hannibal, Pyrrhus or other Successors have done in the face of Rome's suspected but not yet confirmed overwhelming power? Negotiate your best but likely horrible deal against a ruthless enemy and only delay a war with an even more horrible ending? Give it a long shot and most likely go down swinging thereby saving face but losing everything?

At least Pyrrhus could retreat back to Greece but where was Hannibal's going to go? How could he grapple with the bully on the block who turns out not to be a paper tiger but a colossus?

21eRegt Supporting Member of TMP22 Dec 2017 8:52 a.m. PST

Not at all overrated. The fact his victories are still studied testifies to that.

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP22 Dec 2017 10:01 a.m. PST

The attitude of the Carthaginian Senate towards Hannibal was " Glad he's out of our hair and has swanned off to Italy."
The only support he got was from his brother who took his own private army to help him and got smashed.
How many years did he survive in southern Italy?

Koxinga22 Dec 2017 10:45 a.m. PST

I read the book, one of Dr. Gabriel's main arguments was that Hannibal never took the opportunity to besiege Rome, especially after Trasimene. But a good counter argument would be that in an event of a siege of Rome, the Gauls, who might composed half his army, or more, would definitely have deserted.

daler240D Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member22 Dec 2017 11:26 a.m. PST

Haha, NO. (sheesh!)

Personal logo herkybird Supporting Member of TMP22 Dec 2017 11:42 a.m. PST

Hannibal was respected throughout the Ancient world, nuf sed!

Parzival22 Dec 2017 2:23 p.m. PST

Brilliant at tactics, effective at logistics (for the time), good at battle strategy, lousy at war strategy. If you can be defeated in your overall goal by not ever being brought to battle, your war strategy needs to be rethought. He never did that.

But no, and finally, yes.

Dn Jackson22 Dec 2017 5:23 p.m. PST

I disagree with the idea that he was a poor strategist. This argument seems to be built on the idea that he should have besieged Rome. He seems to have thought it would be a bad idea to try that. Maybe he was right, maybe not.

However, he seems to have tried what might have been a very effective strategy of peeling off Rome's allies and getting them to join him. It seems to me it was a sound strategy, and had he done the same thing a generation earlier, it might very well have worked. He did peel off the recently defeated Gauls and Capua.

As Polybius notes, "How much more serious was the defeat of Cannae, than those that preceded it can be seen by the behavior of Rome's allies; before that fateful day, their loyalty remained unshaken, now it began to waver for the simple reason that they despaired of Roman Power."

Just because the strategy failed, it doesn't mean it was a bad one.

So, in my opinion, he was not overrated at all and the writer is trying to make a name for himself by going against the common wisdom.

Korvessa23 Dec 2017 12:07 a.m. PST

Dn Jackosn +1
especially the last line.

Don't forget, he was a general. not a monarch.
Makes a difference

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP23 Dec 2017 6:02 a.m. PST

Also it's not his fault that other Carthagenian generals seemed to be completely incapable of beating the Romans legions.
Hannibal couldn't be in Italy, Spain and North Africa at the same time.

Was he perfect at everything? No but just because you're not the ultimate warrior god incapable of making mistakes doesn't mean you're overrated.

catavar23 Dec 2017 11:37 a.m. PST

No. See all the above.

grahambeyrout Inactive Member23 Dec 2017 2:45 p.m. PST

Hannibal has maintained a reputation as one of history's greatest generals for only about two thousand years. There is simply no mileage in repeating that view, so if you are an obscure academic who wants to get his book published and publicized you need to be controversial. Might as well leave out Alexander for luck while you are at it.

rvandusen Supporting Member of TMP23 Dec 2017 2:53 p.m. PST

The Romans certainly didn't think Hannibal was overrated.

Shagnasty Supporting Member of TMP23 Dec 2017 7:13 p.m. PST

No for Hannibal and the idea of Alexander being disregarded should a punishable offense!

Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP24 Dec 2017 5:05 p.m. PST

He made the Romans look inept.

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