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Ancient texts

2nd Punic war
Facts and fictions



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In the previous pages the 2nd Punic war is explained. Still there are a lot of misconceptions
Click on a statement to find out if it is true or not.

 
The Alps were an obstacle,considered impossible to pass in Hannibal's time
This is partly true
  • The passes through the Alps had been known for centuries.
  • A lot of trade routes went through the Alps
  • Moving an army over mountains is, of course, more difficult than over flat terrain.
  • In wintertime it was indeed very difficult to come across the Alps. Even today the passes are closed in the winter.
The Romans considered the Alps as a wall, that made penetration impossible.
This is not true!
  • The passes in Alps had been known for centuries and the Romans were well aware that in 225 bc a Gallic army of 30,000 men came from the river Rône over the Alps to help the Gauls in Gallia Cisalpina. (Polybius 2.22)
  • The Romans simply never had considered the possibility a Cartagenian army would march to Rome, they expected to attack the Carthaginians in Spain and Africa
  • When P. Cornelius Scipio learned Hannibal had escaped him into the Alps, he hastened to go to the other side of the Alps in order to await him there with an army. Remember the Alps were enemy ( Gallic) territory, so his discission to go around by sea, was a wise one. So now he expected Hannibal to show up at the other side.
Hannibal's idea to cross the Alps was brilliant
This is not true
  • It was probably not his idea in the first place, but his father's (Hamilcar). The idea of hitting the Romans in their homeland, was certainly Hamilcar's
  • Crossing the Alps to attack the Romans, was in it self not a bad idea, but doing in wintertime proved to be disastrous: Hannibal lost half his army! His brother Hasdrubal would cross the Alps in 208bc without the loss of a single soldier.
Hannibal couldn't move his army by sea, because the Romans controlled the sea
This is not true
Hannibal was a brilliant strategist
This is not true
  • His basic strategy: Cross the Alps. Make the peoples conquered by Rome allies. Attack Rome itself and win the war, he inherited from his father
  • Hannibal would cling to this strategy, long after it was clear it didn't work
    • Hannibal lacked the flexibility to postpone his crossing over te Alps till spring and in the meantime defeating the advancing Roman army of P.Cornelius Scipio.
    • He kept trying to convince cities to choose his side, in the hope to raise enough power to defeat the Romans, long after it must have been clear even to him, he would never reach that point.
Hannibal was a brilliant tactician
This is true, but:
  • The tactics he used were probably not his invention, but developed by his father Hamilcar:
    • Make use of the eagerness of the enemy to attack
    • Lure them in the center of your army, surround and destroy them
  • Hannibal Barca executed these tactics brilliantly, but his victories were at least partly due to the incompetence of his adversaries:
  • Second his victories were also very much based upon the superiority of his cavalry; in numbers as well as in quality
  • When he had lost this advantage and met a commander as competent as he was, he lost the battle of Zama
Hannibal's decision not to attack Rome after his victory at Cannae,
was the best way to continue the war.
This is probably not true:
Though the general opinion is that it was, I doubt that and think he better had moved to Rome
  • He lost the initiative in the war and didn't make use of the momentum, he had at that time but now lost forever.
  • He kept waiting for reinforcements, that would never arrive in the quantities he thought he needed.
  • He couldn't create a sense of urgency ("now or never") in Carthago, to send him the troops he wanted. If he had marched to Rome, he could have made clear that by sending the troops, the war would soon be won by Carthago and trade and money would flow to Carthago again.
  • By not attacking Rome, he failed to give the Samnite cities the impression, Rome was all but defeated and they better do their best to help the victor in besieging Rome. Now a lot of cities placed their bets on Rome or at best kept their options open.
  • By besieging Rome, even now he lacked the manpower to make a complete encasement, he would have forced Rome to attack Hannibal, who was considered invincible , while he still could concentrate his powers in stead of spreading them all over South Italy.
  • Even when not completely sealed off,Rome would soon suffer from famine. A city like Rome needed 100tons of grain alone every day, not to speak of all the other needs. Transportations like these were easy to frustrate and the Tiber could be closed for ships.
  • Now all this didn't happen, Rome got time to recuperate, while Hannibal weakened in the same time.
Hannibal was a brilliant leader
This is true without any hesitation.
  • Hannibal moved his army over the Alps and lost half his army there. Another Hannibal had been crucified for less. Hannibal Barca's men would follow him until the end.
  • Hannibal kept together an army made of many nationalities. There is no record of mass defections from Hannibal's camp, he kept his men together all the time.
  • Even the two critical authors, T. Livius and Polybius admit their admiration for his leadership.
 
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