Hannibal's Road: The Second Punic War in Italy 213-203 BC, by Mike Roberts
Barnsley, Eng.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate Publishers, 2017. Pp. xxvi, 262. Illus., maps, notes, bibio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 1473855950.
Hannibal’s Italian Campaign
One would think that the Hannibalic or Second Punic War (218-201 BC) had been well covered, but in this book Roberts, who has written on Alexander’s “Successors”, the Hellenistic age, and other subjects in Classical Antiquity, shows that operations in Italy from 216 BC – not, as the title indicates 213 – onwards have been largely over-looked, but demonstrate the Carthaginian’s remarkable abilities and help explain his ultimate failure.
His account opens with the background of the war. Roberts then takes up Hannibal’s dramatic crossing of the Alps into in Italy, his victories culminating in Cannae, and the defection of some of Rome’s South Italian allies, through 213 BC, when the Romans initiated a policy of containment in Italy while seeking to strike at Hannibal’s power base in Iberia. At this point, where most accounts shift to events in Iberia and elsewhere, including operations in Illyria and the First Macedonian War, Roberts remains in Italy.
Roberts does an excellent job tracking events in Italy over the next decade. Roberts gives us some good strategic analysis and a number of excellent battle pieces on largely overlooked actions, while weaving political, logistical, and military trends into his account. Generally avoiding Hannibal, by rapidly shifting forces back and forth. the Romans struck at his Italian allies, and any reinforcements arriving overland from Iberia and Gallia. Although not winning all of the battles that followed in Italy, the Romans never gave Hannibal a chance for a decisive victory. Meanwhile, Scipio – later famed as “Africanus” -- secured control of Spain and then invaded Africa itself. With Carthage threatened, Hannibal took his army to defend the homeland, where he lost to Scipio at Zama.
Rogers also makes a very good case that Hannibal was a better general than Alexander the Great. This argument is made by considering the tenacity of Hannibal’s opponents, his own tactical brilliance, his lack of material resources, and his ability to turn a largely mercenary force of Africans, Gauls, Iberians, and Italians with no ties of loyalty beyond those to their general, into a superb military instrument that was able to remain in the field against enormous odds for over a decade.
Hannibal’s Road is an important read for anyone interested in the Punic Wars, Roman history, or generalship.
Note: Hannibal’s Road is also available in several e-editions.
Reviewer: A. A. Nofi
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