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Old December 30th, 2011, 06:27 AM   #11
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Once our Mark has added the critical facts and figures, let us elaborate some details.

Naturally, Punic War II was fought and lost not just by Hannibal Barca on his own resources, but by the Carthaginian republic as a whole.

Must entirely agree that Carthage had little choice; in any case, the choice was Roman, and the fate of Carthage was in all likelihood pre-determined from the beginning of Punic War I.
The only Punic option would have been the total abject surrender to the Romans.

It's hard to tell if Hannibal underestimated the Romans or not, as no sources on his side have survived. Anyhow, it's clear that he was the foreign enemy of the Roman republic that better assessed the strengths and limitations of the Romans against them.
No other enemy ever had any closer chance to actually won a war against Rome all along the half-millennium republican period.

As discussed in previous related threads, all our available sources were fiercely chauvinistically pro-Roman, and their biases against Carthage couldn't have been any more prominent; Polybios in particular essentially equated "Punic" with anything negative of this life.
Ergo, the Roman own statements on the purported causes of the Roman victory (the inherent superiority of the Roman system & people, the poor performance of the Punic mercenaries, the cowardice and negligence of the Carthaginian people & state, and the purported inability of Hannibal to profit from victory) must be taken with a grain of salt.

The factual account clearly shows that both the Punic state & people were actually deeply committed with the war effort, all along the eighteen years of this war.

"Mercenary" was strictly speaking a proper description for just a minority of the Punic army.
In any case several Punic allied units fought so well that they were almost immediately recruited by the Romans as auxiliaries, ostensibly in essentially the same conditions they were previously fighting for the other side.
Massinisa and his Numidians were no doubt the most notable example.

Plainly, Hannibal couldn't have taken Rome, even after Cannae.
The Punic siege tactics were still poorly developed and some enthusiastic local support (moderate in Campania & southern Italy but totally absent in the Latium surrounding Rome) would have been an absolutely indispensable requirement.

Manpower was of course the main clue of the Roman victory (in spite of the unsurprisingly customary report by the patriotic Roman chroniclers about general overwhelming Punic numerical superiority in almost any clash) but IMHO it was just half of the answer.

The other half were IMHO mainly the wise Fabian strategy, the ferreous control over the Italian allies and the perpetual Roman naval hegemony.

Naturally, no manpower superiority could have perpetually resisted massive carnages ad infinitum.
After the already never previously attested colossal Roman onslaught of both Trebbia & Thrasimene, Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus Cunctator (and no doubt a large party behind him) applied the eponymous strategy, which BTW had of course been used before (e.g. by the same Romans against Pyrrhos).
In a nutshell, such strategy implied systematic scorched earth tactics avoiding open battle any time overwhelming military advantage was not evident and constant attrition from permanent guerrilla warfare.

However, even when successful, the Fabian strategy might be disturbingly similar to plain defeat; ergo it was unsurprisingly initially unpopular in spite of its huge success and duly abandoned after the end of Cunctator's dictatorship; a more direct, epic and traditional approach was chosen instead.
The well-known result was the colossal disaster of Cannae.
The Romans were able to learn from the own mistakes and the Fabian strategy was religiously and quite successfully applied once again against Hannibal's army for the rest of the war in Italy.

The ostensible main aim of Hannibal's strategy was the recruitment of the Roman Italian allies to his side (in all likelihood the only strategy with any real potentiality of success in the long term).
In spite of the huge victories of Hannibal, the vast majority of such allies actually remained on the Roman side; ostensibly due to a variable mix of love & fear for Rome.
Those large cities that dared to try their luck & power by switching sides (notoriously Capua, Taras & Syrakouse) timely paid the terrible price.

In spite of their proud naval tradition, Carthage was never able to seriously challenge the Roman hegemony at the sea all along Punic war II, not even during the critical moments after Cannae.
Such hegemony allowed Rome:
- to isolate te Punic troops not only in Italy, but also in Hispania & Sardinia;
- to neutralize the Punic allies in Italy, Sicily, Makedonia and Hellas;
- to constantly harass the Punic homeland;
- to back the Numidian opposition;
- and last but not least to protect the critical food supply from Egypt and other Roman allies.

Such wise strategy and immense effort allowed Rome to eventually completely neutralize the army of the still undefeated Hannibal for several years, to such point that even during his own consulship (DXLIX AUC / 205 BC) PC Scipio Africanus Major was perfectly able to differ at his own convenience the definitive clash with Hannibal to his own expected pro-magistrature.

Last edited by sylla1; December 30th, 2011 at 06:33 AM.
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Old December 30th, 2011, 07:15 AM   #12

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Great post Sylla!

Fronda in his book Between Rome and Carthage: Southern Italy during the Second Punic War supposes the alliances to both Hannibal and Rome were dictated by centuries of interstate rivalries that determined what actions the cities and towns would take when faced by Hannibal - political factionalism within the cities governing elite and interstate rivalries hindered Hannibal's strategy - for example - gaining Capua turned a number of cities from ever joining Hannibal out of choice because of their fear of Capuan hegemony (who most likely didn't want to control all of Italy, but take back what had been stripped of them by Rome) - those in the past that had joined Capua in her policy decisions in war turned from Rome - and those that didn't had fought that very same Capuan league in the past, and their very survival depended on staying with Rome as they feared they'd lose out in an alliance with Hannibal. This was the case all over the South where he tried to turn allies from Rome. In Bruttium, centuries of warfare between the Greeks and the Bruttians made the Greeks hesitant of joining Hannibal when most of Bruttium joined him, which is true of Greek intercity rivalry too - when he captured Locri, who had previous interstate rivalry with Rhegion, the Rhegions turned to Rome for help fearing Locrian hegemonic aspirations. Likewise, the Bruttians also attacked Croton without Hannibal's knowledge, which shows they also expected more power - sadly - with Rome's reaction after Cannae to garrison cities that might sway in order to prevent such a thing (though this did not mean it would work - see Tarentum in 213/2) this limited Hannibal's success massively. The combination of long term conditions (local rivalries) and short term factors (Rome's military response) proved to much for Hannibal's strategy to overcome, but was a damn good effort considering the limited options available to him.

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Old December 30th, 2011, 01:06 PM   #13

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Why did Hannibal lost the war?
I know that he was a great tactician maybe the best, I also know that Africanus conquered Hispania while Hannibal was in Italy (therefore losing reinforcements) and then Africa making Hannibal return to Africa (killing his horses to be able to sail) and then lost against Africanus at the battle of Zama.
But why with great victories such as Cannae, Trasimene and Trebia he was unable to defeat the Romans? Was it because the Carthaginian senate didn't send money and reinforcements? Or was it because Hannibal didn't knew how to use a victory?
Saying that he "didn't know how to use a victory" is a bit harsh, but there may be some truth to it. I realize that it would've been difficult for Hannibal to besiege, never mind take, Rome - even after Cannae - but as I see it, there was no other way for him to win the war. Rome differed greatly from all other contemporary states in that she would never ever concede defeat, even after a crisis such as Cannae. In fact, it is said that the Senate wouldn't even speak to the Carthaginian embassy that came to Rome shortly after Cannae. Hannibal most likely hadn't expected this; he would have expected Rome to behave like any other contemporary state and sue for peace. We can't know why he didn't march on Rome after Cannae, but I daresay it was foolish of him not to - even despite the hostile territory, supply issues, relief armies etc., etc.. Because there was no other way for him to win the war. Only one time in the history of the Republic did Rome concede defeat by accepting a humiliating peace, namely after Brennus sacked Rome itself in 390 BC. As far as I'm concerned, Hannibal might as well have gone back to Spain after Cannae if he wasn't prepared to risk marching on Rome itself. Remaining in Italy for over a decade was futile and resulted in nothing except the decimation of his army. So IMHO, not marching on Rome --> defeat.
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Old December 30th, 2011, 01:31 PM   #14

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In fact, it is said that the Senate wouldn't even speak to the Carthaginian embassy that came to Rome shortly after Cannae. Hannibal most likely hadn't expected this; he would have expected Rome to behave like any other contemporary state and sue for peace.
There may be some truth to this, but that would be assuming Hannibal didn't know his history lessons. He certainly would have known they were a determined lot from the First Punic War, not to mention Pyrrhus' own invasion of Italy which resulted in much the same reaction from Rome when Pyrrhus had marched within forty miles of it... Even his own people had refused to back down when they were surrounded by rebelling Libyans after already losing a very costly war against Rome in Sicily, who were now faced by their own angry mercenaries in the Truceless War, hemming them in their own city at one stage (Hamilcar Barca had to break out in a daring night operation)! Personally I believe it was more a hopeful move, and he was prepared for the inevitable Roman reply.

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Old December 30th, 2011, 01:38 PM   #15

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There may be some truth to this, but that would be assuming Hannibal didn't know his history lessons. He certainly would have known they were a determined lot from the First Punic War, not to mention Pyrrhus' own invasion of Italy which resulted in much the same reaction from Rome when Pyrrhus had marched within forty miles of it... Even his own people had refused to back down when they were surrounded by rebelling Libyans and angry mercenaries in the Truceless War, hemming them in their own city at one stage (Hamilcar Barca had to break out in a daring night operation)! Personally I believe it was more a hopeful move, and he was prepared for the inevitable Roman reply.
Well, history lessons or not, Pyrrhus never inflicted such a major defeat upon the Romans as Hannibal did. And if Hannibal suspected that the Romans wouldn't accept a peace under any circumstances, why did he invade Italy in the first place? What was the point? I would think he wanted to weaken the Romans enough for them to be forced to sue for peace. The only way to do this would've been to march on Rome.
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Old December 30th, 2011, 01:47 PM   #16

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And if Hannibal suspected that the Romans wouldn't accept a peace under any circumstances, why did he invade Italy in the first place?
I didn't say that he suspected they wouldn't accept a peace under any circumstances. He obviously believed they could be brought to the negotiating table, as is evidenced by the 'historical' treaty reported by Polybius between Carthage and Macedonia. It would just take time, and weathering down her political support with her allies and colonies. Perhaps he honestly believed that after such a defeat as Cannae, on their own soil, they'd be prepared to listen, but I believe he was also prepared for the response he got...

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I would think he wanted to weaken the Romans enough for them to be forced to sue for peace. The only way to do this would've been to march on Rome.
We've already been through this on another thread, so you know my thoughts on this!

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Old December 30th, 2011, 05:54 PM   #17

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Great information Sylla! And also great information about the allies markdiekenes! and well i said that Hannibal didn't knew how to use a victory precisely because he didn't marched to Rome and other reasons, of course he didn't had the siege required to attack successfully Rome, but he coulda give it a shot right? Also his cavalry commander Maharbal supposedly said "Hannibal, you know how to gain a victory, but not how to use one."
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Old December 30th, 2011, 07:55 PM   #18

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In short, Rome controlled perhaps 10 times the resources (men and metal) of Carthage. Hence the carthaginians had to draw on mercernaires and allies whose reliability was questionnable. Rome also controlled the seas.

As for Hannibal's victories they most probably have been exagerated (especially Cannae)
Actually the total resources under control by Rome and Carthage were comparable. If Rome had 10 times the resources of Carthage both city states wouldn't engage in war for a total of 40 (!) years before a decisive outcome could be reached.

I don't think that the difference in resources between Rome and Carthage was all that great as people think it was. I have counted all the troops engaged in all the battles that wikipedia has manpower numbers for (which are derived from ancient sources) and I have reached 650,000 men for Carthage and 770,000 for Rome, a manpower superiority of 20% for Rome. However as Sylla1 have argued, since these numbers were derived from pro-Roman sources they tended to exaggerate Carthaginian troop numbers and understate Roman troop numbers. Still, considering the literary evidence it appears that if our sources are not that distorted them Carthage did not suffer from such inferiority in resources after all.

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Old December 30th, 2011, 08:50 PM   #19
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Actually the total resources under control by Rome and Carthage were comparable. If Rome had 10 times the resources of Carthage both city states wouldn't engage in war for a total of 40 (!) years before a decisive outcome could be reached.

I don't think that the difference in resources between Rome and Carthage was all that great as people think it was. I have counted all the troops engaged in all the battles that wikipedia has manpower numbers for (which are derived from ancient sources) and I have reached 650,000 men for Carthage and 770,000 for Rome, a manpower superiority of 20% for Rome. However as Sylla1 have argued, since these numbers were derived from pro-Roman sources they tended to exaggerate Carthaginian troop numbers and understate Roman troop numbers. Still, considering the literary evidence it appears that if our sources are not that distorted them Carthage did not suffer from such inferiority in resources after all.
This point has already been dicussed in some detail within a previous thread.

Without any new evidence, my personal conclusion must still be the same; the figures on the Punic armies and casualties as reported by their sworn mortal enemies couldn't have been any more biased & distorted to the Nth degree, fundamentally for their understandable chauvinism.

Analogous to any other utterly chauvinistic epic narrative (let say Herodotos on the Persian-Hellenic wars) the Punic enemy was systematically presented as having a significant numerical advantage over the brave Roman patriots.
A couple of isolated exceptions (notably Cannae, where the ostensible motivations of the pro-Roman authors were rather peculiar and entirely different) were simply the exception that confirmed the rule.

Ergo, the aforementioned exercise would be IMHO inherently flawed, i.e. like trying to estimate the demographics of the Achaemenid empire under Xerxes I from any extrapolation of the reportedly five millions plus men carried to Hellas (plus their purportedly colossal fleet) and the required logistics; needless to say, any results would inevitably be extremely inflated.

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Old December 30th, 2011, 11:44 PM   #20
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Great information Sylla! And also great information about the allies markdiekenes! and well i said that Hannibal didn't knew how to use a victory precisely because he didn't marched to Rome and other reasons, of course he didn't had the siege required to attack successfully Rome, but he coulda give it a shot right? Also his cavalry commander Maharbal supposedly said "Hannibal, you know how to gain a victory, but not how to use one."
Needless to say, such notoriously anti-Punic statement was transmitted by the utterly anti-Punic patriotic Roman sources, particularly the notoriously non-military Titus Livius.

Interestingly enough, the quasi-contemporary military expert Polybios said nothing on such purported anecdote, in spite of his strong anti-Punic bias.

Objectively, attacking Rome would have clearly been a major blunder, even after Cannae.
Hannibal simply lacked any ally all along Latium.

Please remember that the small isolated Saguntum, entirely surrounded by Punic allies and fighting entirely on its own, resisted far larger Punic forces commanded by Hannibal himself for full eight long months.

Once in Italy, al along the years of Punic War II the Punic army was never able to capture by siege any major city without any significant internal collaboration (e.g. like Capua or Taras), needless to say entirely absent at Rome.

Plainly, pretending to attack the Servian Walls of the great metropolis that Rome already was, still with so great manpower reserves at its disposition, surrounded by so many Roman allies with the relatively small army of Hannibal Barca would have been IMHO tantamount to suicide.

Again, the ostensible prudent Punic strategy of recruiting the local Roman Italian allies so wisely used by Hannibal was in all likelihood the only conceivable strategic option that had any real potential of success.

At the risk of overstating the obvious, each Italian city switching sides was more manpower, resources & bases for Hannibal and less for Rome; even more, those were usually excellent soldiers trained under essentially the same standards and tactics shoulder-to-shoulder with the Roman legions.

Only with some eventual significant local support would any Punic assault or siege against Rome have had any real chance of success.

Last edited by sylla1; December 30th, 2011 at 11:51 PM.
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