Hannibal vs. Julius Caesar: Better Military tactician

Hannibal vs. Caesar

  • Hannibal

    Votes: 20 69.0%
  • Caesar

    Votes: 9 31.0%

  • Total voters
    29
Nov 2011
1,120
The Bluff
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.
Nice point - and not a Scipio in sight! The fact is that the maniple is the basic tactical unit and it is from this that everything else proceeds. We do not have tactical manuals for the mid-Republican army as we do for the Macedonian phalanx, the closest being Polybios' narrative and he is plain on the ability of the Roman legion's ability to adapt. A point he makes clear in his digression post Kynoskephalai were he asserts the Roman soldier is able to fight on all four fronts. The average hastai is not going to do this himself in the middle on the manilple but the maniple does: it (and its soldiers) can face about to rear and each flank as the soldier may do individually. Precisely what we see at Cannae until everything collapses into shockingly bloody disorder and the press literally kills off any movement.
 

Mangekyou

Ad Honorem
Jan 2010
7,963
UK
Hannibal is the beter tactician (its very close though). Whilst Caesar js a great tactician himself, Hannibal had far more tactical variance due to his polyglot army. He wielded those elements together for many many years.
 
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Duke Valentino

Ad Honorem
Jul 2017
2,340
Australia
Okay, there's a few points I wanna bring up to make my position clear. I'm not advocating that the Romans were only capable of moving forward, ever. In fact, my main point was always that Hannibal's army had greater tactical maneuverability to the Roman legions, especially the one at Cannae. As Goldsworthy remarks in his Cannae: Fields of Battle:

At Cannae Hannibal's soldiers formed a more united and cohesive force than their Roman opponents in spite of their much greater mix of languages and cultures . The Roman army in 216 was a very mixed bag, unused to working together and unfamiliar with many of its officers, a theme which we shall explore in more detail in the next chapter. Hannibal's army also possessed a much better balance between the different troop types . The Punic army had one cavalryman to every four infantrymen, compared to the Romans ' ratio of one to thirteen.

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.
I mean, sure, but consider that the Romans left 10,000 in their camp, and only so many velites can be deployed on the front of the Roman lines, considering especially that the light infantry battle was said to be typical, with no clear results either way. As Goldsworthy says, many scholars (including Delbruck, who is cited by Goldsworthy as a source on the nature of the Roman army and its numbers) place the number of heavy infantry at 50,000-55,000 strong; though he also notes, as is obvious, that we can't know for sure.

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.
I don't really see how using examples post-Second Punic War on the maneuverability of Roman maniples (executed by veterans of the Second Punic War, if I may add) is necessarily the best argument here. I'm not advocating for the mid-Republican legion as inflexible, but I've yet to see any scholar writing on the Second Punic War try and defend the typical legion (pre-Scipio) as on the same level of tactical independence as the infantry and especially cavalry in Hannibal's mercenary army; which, of course, is the subject of discussion, ultimately.

Hannibal is the beter tactician (its very close though). Whilst Caesar js a great tactician himself, Hannibal had far more tactical variance due to his polyglot army. He wielded those elements together for many many years.
Not really sure how Hannibal's leadership of mercenaries over years necessarily becomes the decisive factor in personal tactical ability.
 
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Nov 2011
1,120
The Bluff
I don't really see how using examples post-Second Punic War on the maneuverability of Roman maniples (executed by veterans of the Second Punic War, if I may add) is necessarily the best argument here. I'm not advocating for the mid-Republican legion as inflexible....
Yes you have been. Actually stating that it simply formed up and rolled forward. As well, "examples post-second Punic war" is incorrect. The first is from Cannae, ignored by yourself. DiocletianIsBetterThanYou mentioned Metaurus; ignored by you. The Kynoskephalai example is cogent because, as I noted, Polybios in no way remarks that this is unusual or a first. You would have this all down to some huge tactical reform due to Scipio. I rather think not. Perhaps you should read his his excursus on the legion versus phalanx.
 

macon

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
4,198
Slovenia, EU
Caesar won at Alesia, ultimately, but didn't he put himself in a bad situation in the first place? Would Hannibal have made the same mistake?
It was his gamble on a purpose. Other option was to run across Gaul for years after single tribes (and he had been already running around for a decade) but at Alesia they all came to him.

Scaeva expressed it with better words.
 

macon

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
4,198
Slovenia, EU
Okay, there's a few points I wanna bring up to make my position clear. I'm not advocating that the Romans were only capable of moving forward, ever. In fact, my main point was always that Hannibal's army had greater tactical maneuverability to the Roman legions, especially the one at Cannae. As Goldsworthy remarks in his Cannae: Fields of Battle:

At Cannae Hannibal's soldiers formed a more united and cohesive force than their Roman opponents in spite of their much greater mix of languages and cultures . The Roman army in 216 was a very mixed bag, unused to working together and unfamiliar with many of its officers, a theme which we shall explore in more detail in the next chapter. Hannibal's army also possessed a much better balance between the different troop types . The Punic army had one cavalryman to every four infantrymen, compared to the Romans ' ratio of one to thirteen.



I mean, sure, but consider that the Romans left 10,000 in their camp, and only so many velites can be deployed on the front of the Roman lines, considering especially that the light infantry battle was said to be typical, with no clear results either way. As Goldsworthy says, many scholars (including Delbruck, who is cited by Goldsworthy as a source on the nature of the Roman army and its numbers) place the number of heavy infantry at 50,000-55,000 strong; though he also notes, as is obvious, that we can't know for sure.



I don't really see how using examples post-Second Punic War on the maneuverability of Roman maniples (executed by veterans of the Second Punic War, if I may add) is necessarily the best argument here. I'm not advocating for the mid-Republican legion as inflexible, but I've yet to see any scholar writing on the Second Punic War try and defend the typical legion (pre-Scipio) as on the same level of tactical independence as the infantry and especially cavalry in Hannibal's mercenary army; which, of course, is the subject of discussion, ultimately.



Not really sure how Hannibal's leadership of mercenaries over years necessarily becomes the decisive factor in personal tactical ability.
If 10.000 left in Roman camp at Cannae were velites (most probably) then both lights on a field were about equal, around 10.000 each.
 
Nov 2011
1,120
The Bluff
If 10.000 left in Roman camp at Cannae were velites (most probably) then both lights on a field were about equal, around 10.000 each.
That remains possible given we're not told what troops defended the camps. One suspects some heavy infantry were in that mix though. A clue is offered by Livy 37.43.3 where the camp tribune orders the camp guard to kill the foremost of the fleeing Roman left and drive the rest back to battle with "sword wounds" (at Magnesia where Antiochos had routed the Roman left). Unless this, too, is another Scionic tactical "reform" given he was involved.....
 
Nov 2011
1,120
The Bluff
Polybios, 18.32.7-12:

Of course those generals who employ the phalanx must march over ground of every description, must pitch camps, occupy points of advantage, besiege, and be besieged, and meet with unexpected appearances of the enemy: for all these are part and parcel of war, and have an important and sometimes decisive influence on the ultimate victory. And in all these cases the Macedonian phalanx is difficult, and sometimes impossible to handle, because the men cannot act either in squads (synataxies) or separately. The Roman order, on the other hand, is flexible: for every Roman, once armed and on the field, is equally well equipped for every place, time, or appearance of the enemy. He is, moreover, quite ready and needs to make no change, whether he is required to fight in the main body, or in a detachment, or in a single maniple, or even by himself. Therefore, as the individual members of the Roman force are so much more serviceable, their plans are also much more often attended by success than those of others.
This is Polybios' summary of his comparison between the Roman manipular infantry and the Macedonian phalanx infantry. It is plain that the Megalopolitan sees the ability of the Roman legionary to fight in the battle line, detachment, in a single maniple or individually as the great advantage over the Macedonian phalangite who cannot operate by synataxis or on his own. The maniple (or even the individual) is more tactically adaptable and superior. Nothing here (or anywhere else) requires us to believe that this is largely the result of a brilliant Scipio (Polybios might well have nodded to such under Scipionic patronage). It is the reason the Romans abandoned the phalanx style for this style of army. If we're to take Livy (8.8.3-14) at his word in his (in)famous description of the Roman manipular army in action, the hastai and principes were able to rotate back through each others lines during the fighting if necessary (8.8.9):

When an army had been marshalled in this fashion, the hastati were the first of all to engage. if the hastati were unable to defeat the enemy, they retreated slowly and were received into the intervals between the companies of the principes. The principes then took up the fighting and the hastati followed them.
Some have doubted the ability of engaged infantry to so, including the much sainted and quoted Delbruck, but Livy is plainly convinced of this. And there remains the question of why three lines in quincunx? For an army capable of this, it is no miracle leap to deploy maniples to a wing or both wings (a la Scipio at Zama for example). The Spartans, with a far more rigid phalanx system, had been doing it for centuries by the process of anastrophe.
 

Duke Valentino

Ad Honorem
Jul 2017
2,340
Australia
That's a strawman, Delbruck never doubts that the hastati and principes fell back through the intervals, in fact he makes suggestions as to how they were drilled in this action. I haven't been keeping up to date with my reading for a long time now, which parallels my relative inactivity on this forum in the past half year, but I've yet to see an author attribute the Roman legions at Cannae the same capability of flexibility as the Roman veterans had at Kynoskephalai. Anyway, in all, these details are really minor, unless you disagree with my overall point that Hannibal's army during the Second Punic War was capable of superior manoeuvrability on the battlefield compared to the Roman armies of the time prior to Scipio?