Was Hannibal the greatest battlefield general of antiquity?

Mangekyou

Ad Honorem
Jan 2010
7,849
UK
#1
I was recently reading a thread on Sun Tsu being the greatest general of all time, and it got the armchair general in me thinking. Who, was the greatest battlefield general of antiquity?

There are many people who could fit this description, and from all eras of history. For me, the person who fit this category more than anyone was the great Cathaginian, Hannibal Barca. Below i will state some of my reasons for this.

Planning and logistics -
In around about 218bc, Hannibal performed one the greatest feats of planning and logistics in history, when he started his long, overland march through the alps, and into the fertile grasslands of Italy. When he started his march, he had; 38,000 infantry, 8,000 cavalry and 37 war Elephants. After he fought his way through the mountainous tribes, and all the perils crossing a mountain came with, he had only; 20,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry and only a few elephants.

Strategy and tactics -
A genius in both of these fields. More renowned for his battle tactics though, after repeatedly destroying the formidable armies of the Roman republic, in a series of battles that culminated in the annihilating defeat fo the Romans at Cannae, where every noble family in Rome suffered casualties. Hannibal displayed a mastery of tactics in these battles , his ingenuity was brilliant, and his tactics at Cannae became that renowned in militay circles, they were adapted for the Gulf war.

Intelligence/Leadership - Hannibal was extremely intelligent and could often think his way out of any situation, when required. He played on the psychology of the Roman commanders, using their own traits against them. Two other examples include; using vinegar and fire, to beak through a rockfall, when crossing the Alps, and tying faggots to cow herd when trapped in a passage, forcing an opening to escape. His leadership abilities could be seen through every facet of his character. He was loved by his men, often eating and sleeping by them, and his core of veterans had absolute confidence in his military leadership.

Hannibal had a good political career after the war, helping the economy of Carthage to grow again, and being involved with the greek enemies of Rome with Philip of Macedon.

His only defeat came when he returned to his native land and fought at the battle of Zama.

At this time not only was momentum against the Carthiginians, but Hannibal was fighting the best Roman general of the war in Scipio Africanus, and fighting a battle in defense of his homeland.

Does his defeat at Zama mean that he met a better general than him?

No it doesnt.

Scipio Africanus was an excellent general. He had fought in other losing battles against Hannibal in Italy, and as such he had developed his own battle tactics on how to cope with Hannibal. It was baxically a Cannae in reverse.

However, what must be taken into account are the following things:

- Only a small part of his army were the battle scarred and tried and tested veterans that he had at his disposal in Italy. The rest were mercenaries and soldiers from other Carthaginian armies. Basically, whatever was available at the time.

- Prince Massinissa had betrayed the Carthaginians, turning against Hannibal and joining the Romans. The Numidian light cavalry were some of best of antiquity, and they were a vital compnoent of Hannibals battles in Italy. Not only that, but it was the talented prince, who turned against Hannibal, destroying his king, Syphax. What cavalry was left for Hannibal, was no match for them.

- The Roman army that Scipio Africanus now led, was extremely able. They were well drilled, they were loyal, but once more, they were battle hardened, with absolute belief in their own ability. Unlike other Roman armies that crumbled before Hannibal, these men would do no such thing.

- Hannibal used an ingenious plan, by putting his veterans at the back of the line. Not only would these men stop any people who wanted to retreat, but Hannibal was hoping, by the time the Romans reached this line, they would be worn down and his veterans were more than a match.

Although i havnt given a battle analysis here, it can be seen that rather than being outgeneralled, Scipio won the battle because of the superior army he had available to him. Hannibals plan may have worked, if the lines proceeding the veterans had held out longer, instead of dispersing with ease. The veterans, fighting to the last man, but unable to withstand the pressure, which the Numidian cavalry had now put on them by encircling them from the back, like was done to the Romans at Cannae. A bitter Irony for Hannibal, the Romans had a superior army at thois point.

Like other military leaders, Hannibal's victories against superior forces in an ultimately losing cause won him enduring fame, that far outlasted his native country within North Africa. His crossing of the Alps ramains one of the most monumental and epic military feats of ancient warfare and captured the imagination of the world.

Thanks for reading!

Hope you enjoyed and discuss intelligently.
 
Jun 2009
6,987
Glorious England
#4
You'll have to excuse Belisarius, he has a long-standing dislike of Hannibal.

I doubt many other generals could have executed the Battle of Cannae, so yes, if he isn't the greatest he's certainly up there.
 
Likes: macon

Mangekyou

Ad Honorem
Jan 2010
7,849
UK
#5
You'll have to excuse Belisarius, he has a long-standing dislike of Hannibal.

I doubt many other generals could have executed the Battle of Cannae, so yes, if he isn't the greatest he's certainly up there.
Lol!

Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and Belisarius was an outstanding general himself.

Hannibal showed throughout many of his battles that he was an outstanding general, was a master of misdirection, and was also well educated, in the sciences, ala the plan he used to melt the big ice walls in the Alps.

As a tactician, and man of ingenuity, i see not many that are better. Maybe Napoleon was of this caliber too, and Marlborough.
 

Labienus

Ad Honorem
Jul 2009
6,479
Montreal, Canada
#6
In my opinion, Julius Caesar was better. Tactically, they are pretty much equal. Caesar had Pharsalus, Alesia, Thapsus, Munda, Zela. Hannibal had Cannae, Trasireme and Trebia.

However, strategically, Caesar obliterates Hannibal. The Gallic wars alone demonstrates Caesar`s genious and I think that he showed in gaul that he is probably the greatest strategist in history, only Napoleon and Subutai comes close in my opinion. He also displayed a really good understanding of strategies in the civil war. Strategy never was Hannibal`s force and it showed after Cannae when he failed to capitalise on his victory.

As a beseiger, Caesar is Hannibal`s superior in every aspect. The sieges of Alesia and Dyrrhachium were masterpieces(even if Dyrrhachium ended in Caesar`s withdrawal).

In logistics, they are both equal in my opinion.

As dealing with politics, Caesar leaves Hannibal in the mud.

My two cents.
 
Likes: macon

Mangekyou

Ad Honorem
Jan 2010
7,849
UK
#8
In my opinion, Julius Caesar was better. Tactically, they are pretty much equal. Caesar had Pharsalus, Alesia, Thapsus, Munda, Zela. Hannibal had Cannae, Trasireme and Trebia.
Im a big lover of Roman History, and Julius ceasar was an outstanding general. Better? Im not sure Ceasar was better strategically, Hannibal Tactically.

Also, out of those mentioned battles, only Pharsalus and Alesia were his outstanding ones. Zela could be counted i suppose, as it was a lighting campaign.

However, strategically, Caesar obliterates Hannibal. The Gallic wars alone demonstrates Caesar`s genious and I think that he showed in gaul that he is probably the greatest strategist in history, only Napoleon and Subutai comes close in my opinion. He also displayed a really good understanding of strategies in the civil war. Strategy never was Hannibal`s force and it showed after Cannae when he failed to capitalise on his victory.
I concede that Caesar is probably superior in this department.

However i wouldnt say he "obliterates Hannibal" Hannibal had a good strategy for the war, which can be seen by him wanting to traverse the Alps as a method of Invading Italy.

What needs to be taken in account is that by all rules of warfare in antiquity, Rome had "lost", and should have been willing to negotiate surrender after the disaster at Cannae.

Hannibal and the carthaginians had no way of knowing and fighting against a state completely geared to total war.

As a beseiger, Caesar is Hannibal`s superior in every aspect. The sieges of Alesia and Dyrrhachium were masterpieces(even if Dyrrhachium ended in Caesar`s withdrawal).
Romans were generally better at sieges than almost any other military nation at the time. They were engineer soldiers remember.

In logistics, they are both equal in my opinion.
Debatable

Hannibals crossing of the alps was a masterpiece of History

As dealing with politics, Caesar leaves Hannibal in the mud.
Romans were political generals, and as such, were highly accomplished at both. Ceasar was a master in this area.

Hannibal was not slow in this area either. He rejuvenated the Carthaginian links and trade brilliantly.

My two cents.
I appreciate it.

Thank you :)
 
Likes: Rovi

Toltec

Ad Honorem
Apr 2008
7,923
Hyperborea
#9
It's like Olympic divingyou attept a dive of different difficulty level and get marked on that.

Hannibal attempted an 11 difficulty invasion and scores an 8.

Caesar in Gaul attempted an 8 difficulty invasion and scored a perfect 8.
Pompey has a difficulty rating of 9 and Caesar dropped a point and scoring 8.
 

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