The Romans’ destruction of Carthage after the Third Punic War erased any Carthaginian historical record of Hannibal’s life. What we know of him comes exclusively from Roman historians who had every interest in minimizing his success, exaggerating his failures, and disparaging his character. The charges leveled against Hannibal include greed, cruelty and atrocity, sexual indulgence, and even cannibalism. But even these sources were forced to grudgingly admit to Hannibal’s military genius, if only to make their eventual victory over him appear greater.
Yet there is no doubt that Hannibal was the greatest Carthaginian general of the Second Punic War. When he did not defeat them outright, he fought to a standstill the best generals Rome produced, and he sustained his army in the field for sixteen long years without mutiny or desertion. Hannibal was a first-rate tactician, only a somewhat lesser strategist, and the greatest enemy Rome ever faced. When he at last met defeat at the hands of the Roman general Scipio, it was against an experienced officer who had to strengthen and reconfigure the Roman legion and invent mobile tactics in order to succeed. Even so, Scipio’s victory at Zama was against an army that was a shadow of its former self. The battle could easily have gone the other way. If it had, the history of the West would have been changed in ways that can only be imagined. Richard A. Gabriel’s brilliant new biography shows how Hannibal’s genius nearly unseated the Roman Empire.
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