Hannibal vs. Julius Caesar: Better Military tactician

Hannibal vs. Caesar

  • Hannibal

    Votes: 20 69.0%
  • Caesar

    Votes: 9 31.0%

  • Total voters
    29
Jul 2017
2,247
Australia
#31
Certainly Carthaginian armies regularly changed in composition due to the use of mercenaries, and so it is hard to talk about a standard Carthaginian army, but I have seen little reason to think that Hamilcar's army in Spain was in itself exceptional within the grand scheme of Carthaginian history, and we really know very little about what happened in Spain. If your argument is that Hannibal was inspired by Hamilcar's tactics and strategy in e.g. the Truceless War, then that is a different argument, although Dexter Hoyos in his book The Truceless War has argued that viewing Hamilcar as a proto-Hannibal is giving Hamilcar too much credit. For example, the claim that Hamilcar's victory outside Utica in 240 was a proto-Cannae is too much of a stretch from what Polybius says. But if we're saying that the army that Hasdrubal left Hannibal in 221 was massively better than your average Carthaginian army, I have not seen the evidence. Maybe Hannibal's army was exceptionally good at killing Spaniards due to the experience of the prior years, but whether or not that makes his army massively better than the Roman armies they faced does not necessarily follow. It must also be remembered that Hannibal faced a huge numerical disadvantage at Cannae. If we're saying that Hannibal's army became better than the Roman armies it faced, that could be attributed to Hannibal.
You're arguing here that Hannibal's army from the onset wasn't necessarily better than the Roman one, which I take to be clearly incorrect. Even as far back as the Mercenary War, we see Carthaginian units capable of impressive tactical maneuver. At Trasimene, the independent corps of Hannibal's army were capable of working well under their officers in independent commands, and at Cannae we have the cavalry officers reigning in their cavalry after the flank battle. On the other hand, the Roman army before Scipio could not match Hannibal's army at all in terms of tactical independence. The Roman army acted as a unit. They formed into line, and moved forward. This is made explicitly clear just by looking at how Scipio had to heavily drill his troops so that he could deviate from the traditional triple axeis. In no way would the generals at Cannae have been capable of deviating from the traditional deployment at all; the militia army of the Romans simply weren't trained for it. Conversely, we have Hannibal's men capable of independent tactical command under their officers to a degree far more advanced than that of their Roman counterparts. That Hamilcar was displaying similar tactical flexibility during the Mercenary War, and that he went to Spain and built that army from the ground up seems to indicate that the school of thought belongs to Hamilcar, and wasn't exclusive to Hannibal. Even the idea that Hamilcar may have came up with the concept of attacking Italy by land isn't considered very far fetched by a number of scholars. The clear lesson from the First Punic War was that Carthage no longer had the superiority by sea, and attacking Italy via Sicily would just be a killing field. A new way had to be devised in order to win the next war that would inevitably follow. That solution would be tactical superiority under the command and school of thought of Hamilcar, the man who proved himself capable of tactical genius in the field. We're not sure how much we can attribute to Hamilcar, but we know these for certain:

1. Hannibal's Carthaginian army had clear tactical superiority to the Roman legion;
2. This change was certainly not brought about instantly by Hannibal;
3. Therefore the change must have come, at least partially, from before his time;
4. Hamilcar is shown using hints of tactical flexibility and maneuver during the Mercenary War;
5. Hamilcar is the one who conquered a lot of Spain and built the core of Hannibal's army;
6. Therefore, the logical conclusion is that Hamilcar had a leading hand in building up the army and instilling a new school of thought based on tactical superiority over the legion.

These are my own thoughts on Hamilcar's significance, not trying to debate you.


Most of Hannibal's victories, including one that has few equals in the entire history of warfare (Cannae), were against a foe that was both qualitatively and quantitatively superior.

Caesar and Alexander - for all their brilliance - never faced enemies that commanded armies that were better than their own. While Caesar did also fight other Romans, the armies commanded by his opponents usually lacked the experience of his veterans from Gaul. Ruspina was an exception, with Caesar in command of the greener army - and he was defeated. (Although he performed absolutely brilliantly in getting his army out intact. His army should have been destroyed and probably would have been were it in less capable hands)
In what way were Hannibal's enemies qualitatively superior except during the end of the war in Africa?
 
#32
You're arguing here that Hannibal's army from the onset wasn't necessarily better than the Roman one, which I take to be clearly incorrect. Even as far back as the Mercenary War, we see Carthaginian units capable of impressive tactical maneuver. At Trasimene, the independent corps of Hannibal's army were capable of working well under their officers in independent commands, and at Cannae we have the cavalry officers reigning in their cavalry after the flank battle. On the other hand, the Roman army before Scipio could not match Hannibal's army at all in terms of tactical independence. The Roman army acted as a unit. They formed into line, and moved forward. This is made explicitly clear just by looking at how Scipio had to heavily drill his troops so that he could deviate from the traditional triple axeis. In no way would the generals at Cannae have been capable of deviating from the traditional deployment at all; the militia army of the Romans simply weren't trained for it. Conversely, we have Hannibal's men capable of independent tactical command under their officers to a degree far more advanced than that of their Roman counterparts. That Hamilcar was displaying similar tactical flexibility during the Mercenary War, and that he went to Spain and built that army from the ground up seems to indicate that the school of thought belongs to Hamilcar, and wasn't exclusive to Hannibal. Even the idea that Hamilcar may have came up with the concept of attacking Italy by land isn't considered very far fetched by a number of scholars. The clear lesson from the First Punic War was that Carthage no longer had the superiority by sea, and attacking Italy via Sicily would just be a killing field. A new way had to be devised in order to win the next war that would inevitably follow. That solution would be tactical superiority under the command and school of thought of Hamilcar, the man who proved himself capable of tactical genius in the field. We're not sure how much we can attribute to Hamilcar, but we know these for certain:

1. Hannibal's Carthaginian army had clear tactical superiority to the Roman legion;
2. This change was certainly not brought about instantly by Hannibal;
3. Therefore the change must have come, at least partially, from before his time;
4. Hamilcar is shown using hints of tactical flexibility and maneuver during the Mercenary War;
5. Hamilcar is the one who conquered a lot of Spain and built the core of Hannibal's army;
6. Therefore, the logical conclusion is that Hamilcar had a leading hand in building up the army and instilling a new school of thought based on tactical superiority over the legion.

These are my own thoughts on Hamilcar's significance, not trying to debate you.
You're looking at manoeuvres in 217 and 216, whereas Hannibal had commanded the army since 221 and had been actively involved in the army since 225. My argument isn't regarding whether Hannibal's army was a good army, but rather whether we can backdate that fact to Hamilcar or whether we can attribute it to Hannibal's own talents. The only manoeuvre of his in the Truceless War that seems somewhat flexible to me is the battle outside of Utica, in which Hamilcar's army was approached by the mercenaries while on the march, did a quick retreat, and then turned back around. Hoyos delves into all the particulars of Polybius' account and comes to the conclusion that it was nothing special, but rather a simple manoeuvre that Hamilcar could have trained his novice levies to do within a month or so (I don't remember his exact estimate). Every other battle of Hamilcar is shrouded in a great deal of mystery. While Hamilcar did seek out Spain as a new place for Carthage's imperialistic activity, choosing silver mines over trade routes, and through war and diplomacy established the foundations for the territory that Hasdrubal and Hannibal would build upon, we aren't told anything about what he did with his army, and Fabius Pictor and Cato (based on fragments), closer in time than Polybius, do not appear to have thought Hamilcar the type to plan an invasion. Cato considered him a great statesman, and Pictor blamed the war on Hasdrubal's corrupting influence over Hannibal. And while the Roman army was not particularly flexible, there was clearly something great about those armies even before Scipio came along. Their maniples and their dogged determination in battle were devastating for enemies, whether they be Samnites, Etruscans, Gauls, Greeks (considering the trouble they gave Pyrrhus), and Carthaginian armies not under Hannibal's command.
 
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Jul 2017
2,247
Australia
#35
You may be relying too heavily on one work to convey your views. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the main crux of Hoyos' analysis appears to be this:

Hamilcar in his first operation had shown boldness—very unlike his confrère Hanno—and been blessed by luck. The smallness of his numbers had been more than compensated by rebel exuberance and indiscipline. His tactics of feigned retreat in face of the enemy turning into abrupt counterattack required troops con dent in drill and in their leader, though as military movements they were (and Hamilcar surely meant them to be) the simplest in the circumstances. But to see them foreshadowing Hannibal’s at Cannae or elsewhere, as is sometimes done, is hardly plausible. Nor are reconstructions that make them more Hannibalic persuasive, as shown above. A good deal more in Hannibal’s style—enemy centre held by infantry and then surrounded by cavalry—was the victory over Regulus’ Roman army in 255, thanks to the Spartan mercenary officer Xanthippus.

This doesn't really address whether Hamilcar was capable of executing, or responsible for the development of independent tactical maneuver. Hoyos is making a superficial comparison to Cannae. In particular, it's hard to imagine that a man like Hamilcar would somehow not understand the execution of maneuvers in the simplest hammer and anvil principles. Hamilcar's tactics during the aforementioned battle are specific to the situation he found himself in. If we look at Goldsworthy's The Fall of Carthage, we can find quite a different viewpoint. Take for example:

The army which Hannibal led into Italy in 218 was probably the finest Carthaginian army ever to take the field. Its efficiency was in part the result of its commander's ability as a leader, but was more the product of long years of hard campaigning in Spain under the leadership of Hamilcar, Hasdrubal and Hannibal himself During this time its command structure had developed to a high level, and this, as well as its march discipline and ability to manoeuvre, was markedly superior to the Roman forces drawn up against it. The high quality of this army, around which he could more easily incorporate GalHc and subsequently Italian allies, allowed the genius of Hannibal to dazzle his opponents in the opening campaigns.

Goldsworthy, The Fall of Carthage: The Punic Wars 265 - 146 BC, 36.

Goldsworthy of course agrees that the Carthaginian army of Hannibal in 218 was markedly superior tactically, and indicates that this advantage is more heavily due to Hamilcar and the experience of the troopers under all three men in Spain; rather than solely the ability of Hannibal as a leader. He also says:

It is in these campaigns far more than the war in Sicily that we see evidence of Hamilcar's skill as a general, consistently out-manoeuvring the larger rebel forces.

Goldsworthy, 135.

I'll leave this as food for thought for now. I wouldn't say that Hamilcar was a Philip-esque figure in such an extreme way, though his influence on the "school" of warfare that Hannibal employed, down to the tactical maneuvers of the soldiers is in some considerable way thanks to Hamilcar - which is accepted even by a mainstream scholar like Goldsworthy.
 
#36
You may be relying too heavily on one work to convey your views. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the main crux of Hoyos' analysis appears to be this:

Hamilcar in his first operation had shown boldness—very unlike his confrère Hanno—and been blessed by luck. The smallness of his numbers had been more than compensated by rebel exuberance and indiscipline. His tactics of feigned retreat in face of the enemy turning into abrupt counterattack required troops con dent in drill and in their leader, though as military movements they were (and Hamilcar surely meant them to be) the simplest in the circumstances. But to see them foreshadowing Hannibal’s at Cannae or elsewhere, as is sometimes done, is hardly plausible. Nor are reconstructions that make them more Hannibalic persuasive, as shown above. A good deal more in Hannibal’s style—enemy centre held by infantry and then surrounded by cavalry—was the victory over Regulus’ Roman army in 255, thanks to the Spartan mercenary officer Xanthippus.

This doesn't really address whether Hamilcar was capable of executing, or responsible for the development of independent tactical maneuver. Hoyos is making a superficial comparison to Cannae. In particular, it's hard to imagine that a man like Hamilcar would somehow not understand the execution of maneuvers in the simplest hammer and anvil principles. Hamilcar's tactics during the aforementioned battle are specific to the situation he found himself in. If we look at Goldsworthy's The Fall of Carthage, we can find quite a different viewpoint. Take for example:

The army which Hannibal led into Italy in 218 was probably the finest Carthaginian army ever to take the field. Its efficiency was in part the result of its commander's ability as a leader, but was more the product of long years of hard campaigning in Spain under the leadership of Hamilcar, Hasdrubal and Hannibal himself During this time its command structure had developed to a high level, and this, as well as its march discipline and ability to manoeuvre, was markedly superior to the Roman forces drawn up against it. The high quality of this army, around which he could more easily incorporate GalHc and subsequently Italian allies, allowed the genius of Hannibal to dazzle his opponents in the opening campaigns.

Goldsworthy, The Fall of Carthage: The Punic Wars 265 - 146 BC, 36.

Goldsworthy of course agrees that the Carthaginian army of Hannibal in 218 was markedly superior tactically, and indicates that this advantage is more heavily due to Hamilcar and the experience of the troopers under all three men in Spain; rather than solely the ability of Hannibal as a leader. He also says:

It is in these campaigns far more than the war in Sicily that we see evidence of Hamilcar's skill as a general, consistently out-manoeuvring the larger rebel forces.

Goldsworthy, 135.

I'll leave this as food for thought for now. I wouldn't say that Hamilcar was a Philip-esque figure in such an extreme way, though his influence on the "school" of warfare that Hannibal employed, down to the tactical maneuvers of the soldiers is in some considerable way thanks to Hamilcar - which is accepted even by a mainstream scholar like Goldsworthy.
I certainly wouldn't deny that there are scholars with that opinion, although I must admit I have never been particularly impressed with Goldsworthy. Hoyos is a master when it comes to source analysis, and his analysis of the battle in 240 does not suggest the idea that the units in his army were particularly capable of independent manoeuvre; and that's the only battle for which we have detail. His magnum opus, incidentally, is Unplanned Wars, on the causes of the First and Second Punic Wars. Admittedly, I also have some bias as I know the guy (yes, I'm bragging). That being said, as far as I've seen, the sources don't convey what Goldsworthy is saying about Hamilcar's contribution to Hannibal's army, beyond the fact that the regular (and regularly-employed) units must have been pretty experienced. Certainly, Hamilcar was capable of successful and bold marches and counter-marches, as well as surprise attacks, but nothing that we know of him leads me to conclude that his army was particularly flexible in battle. It's possible, but to me it seems like nothing more than speculation.
 
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Jul 2017
2,247
Australia
#37
Good points, and sure its speculation ultimately, but Hamilcar certainly was a driving factor in the development of this military doctrine. To what extent, we don't know, but the idea that Hannibal came up with all these ideas and implemented them solely by himself, as far as I know, is not supported at all by any scholar. The "school of Hamilcar" as Delbruck describes it, would refer to Hamilcar's methods of maneuver, surprise attacks, ruses and drilling, as far as I understand it. These concepts would have been built on during the Spanish campaigns, and the experience and organisation of the growing Carthaginian army would be based on these principles.

Bringing it back to the OP topic, I voted Caesar. It's not by much, but unless someone can convince me that battles such as Cannae can overrule Caesar's campaigns against other Roman opponents with the same army structure and understanding of logistics in Africa, Spain, Italy and Greece, I'll have to stick to my vote. Hannibal certainly has Zama, which I find to be an incredible demonstration of Hannibal's tactical acumen, even with so many disadvantages, but this was one battle in what was, ultimately, an irrelevant campaign in the context of the overall war. The war had already been won by the Romans a long time before that. To quote Delbruck:

Strategy, as we have come to know it in Gaul through Caesar, consists of avoiding the enemy's strength and pitting one's own strength against the enemy's weakness. Caesar did the same thing in the Civil War, but the same principles called for another kind of execution, since the military conditions were different. Laying out fortified camps, providing systematically for resupply, occupying favorable positions, maneuvering—Caesar's Roman opponents understood all these activities just as well as he did.

-Delbruck, Warfare in Antiquity, 515.
 
Likes: macon
#38
Good points, and sure its speculation ultimately, but Hamilcar certainly was a driving factor in the development of this military doctrine. To what extent, we don't know, but the idea that Hannibal came up with all these ideas and implemented them solely by himself, as far as I know, is not supported at all by any scholar. The "school of Hamilcar" as Delbruck describes it, would refer to Hamilcar's methods of maneuver, surprise attacks, ruses and drilling, as far as I understand it. These concepts would have been built on during the Spanish campaigns, and the experience and organisation of the growing Carthaginian army would be based on these principles.
If we mean that Hannibal took inspiration from Hamilcar's use of surprise attacks and counter-marches, that seems likely. But on the question of Hamilcar's units being more capable of independent movement than Rome's, I'm a stickler for the sources. Regarding the fact that few scholars attribute to Hannibal a specific military doctrine, few scholars speak of military doctrines at all when they discuss Carthaginian armies, and most of the scholars I've read do not back-date Hannibal's military mastery to a doctrine established by Hamilcar, unless this 'doctrine' constitutes surprise attacks, surprise marches/counter-marches and surviving in enemy territory for a long time, which does not have a bearing on the flexibility of individual units in battle but may well have inspired Hannibal. Regardless, we seem to be going around in circles on this one :)
 
Nov 2011
945
The Bluff
#39
I'll address this in depth when I get home, but just briefly on Cannae, it's a bit exaggerated to posit Hannibal having a "huge" numerical disadvantage. He had about 30,000 heavy infantry against 50,000, and had a huge superiority in both numbers and quality in his cavalry.
Polybios states that Rome enrolled eight overstrength legions of 5,000 for Cannae. That is a round figure and we can assume that the heavy infantry was around 3,540 per legion giving us 56,640 hastai, pricipes and triarii along with some 23,600 velites. Polybios states that the Carthaginian infantry numbered no more than 40,000 and that this included the light infantry. At the battle's opening Polybios describes the battle between the light troops ("advanced guard") as "indecisive". Difficult to see if the Carthaginians had only 10,000 such against 23,600? These Carthaginian lights comprised of slingers and javelin men (longchophoroi). Perhaps the latter were better in the light melee than the velites but numbers are an issue. Either way, the Romans brought 80,000 infantry into the field against 40,000.

You seem to have a view of the mid-Republican Roman army as some sort of juggernaut incapable of much beyond forming into lines and moving forward. As if it were some phalanx incapable of tactical adaption. The Romans had long since given up the phalanx style of heavy infantry (aside from the triarii) in favour of the manipular formation - for the very reason that it was more adaptable to circumstance and flexible. Elsewhere we've seen how the flank maniples at Cannae turned to engage the enfilading Africans on each flank. Polytbios noted the differing formation used at Cannae and also noted the closing up to centre to punch through the Celts and Spaniards. At Kynoskephalai a tribune takes twenty maniples to the take the Macedonians in the rear. Polybios in no way remarks that this was a first or that to do so was unheard of. As well, Flamininus fought this battle with two separate wings of his army in separate engagements. None of this can be demonstrated to be because of the advent of Scipio I'd have thought. Because the Romans didn't have to in some of the battles we have related does not mean they couldn't.
 
#40
Polybios states that Rome enrolled eight overstrength legions of 5,000 for Cannae. That is a round figure and we can assume that the heavy infantry was around 3,540 per legion giving us 56,640 hastai, pricipes and triarii along with some 23,600 velites. Polybios states that the Carthaginian infantry numbered no more than 40,000 and that this included the light infantry. At the battle's opening Polybios describes the battle between the light troops ("advanced guard") as "indecisive". Difficult to see if the Carthaginians had only 10,000 such against 23,600? These Carthaginian lights comprised of slingers and javelin men (longchophoroi). Perhaps the latter were better in the light melee than the velites but numbers are an issue. Either way, the Romans brought 80,000 infantry into the field against 40,000.

You seem to have a view of the mid-Republican Roman army as some sort of juggernaut incapable of much beyond forming into lines and moving forward. As if it were some phalanx incapable of tactical adaption. The Romans had long since given up the phalanx style of heavy infantry (aside from the triarii) in favour of the manipular formation - for the very reason that it was more adaptable to circumstance and flexible. Elsewhere we've seen how the flank maniples at Cannae turned to engage the enfilading Africans on each flank. Polytbios noted the differing formation used at Cannae and also noted the closing up to centre to punch through the Celts and Spaniards. At Kynoskephalai a tribune takes twenty maniples to the take the Macedonians in the rear. Polybios in no way remarks that this was a first or that to do so was unheard of. As well, Flamininus fought this battle with two separate wings of his army in separate engagements. None of this can be demonstrated to be because of the advent of Scipio I'd have thought. Because the Romans didn't have to in some of the battles we have related does not mean they couldn't.
There is also the example of the Metaurus, where Nero took half of his men around the back of the Roman army to reinforce the left flank.

The Roman army was certainly an exceptional army even in this period. They smashed enemy after enemy, whether they be Carthaginian, Gaul, Etruscan, Samnite or Greek (they gave Pyrrhus a run for his money - Indeed, they used rough, uneven ground at Ausculum in their efforts to counter Pyrrhus, knowing that their maniples would be better able to deal with the environment).
 
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