Was Hannibal the greatest battlefield general of antiquity?

Oct 2007
91
New York, NY
Well said....why did Hannibal even need to cross the Alps anyway ?
I disagree; it was neither well said nor well written, in terms of veracity. He most certainly did not lose half his army, which has been covered before.

As the strategos of Carthage in 218 BCE, Hannibal took up the bearing and responsibility for practically the home government's entire war effort, in effect building a broad alliance system ringing Italy by 214 BCE, which increased the demands of his leadership but also the strain on Rome's home theater. But he still had to play the hand he was dealt, and when tensions blew in 219-218 BCE, he was caught between a rock and a hard place. The conditions of naval inferiority as of the end of the First Punic War, the economic limitations which befell Carthage following the Treaty of Lutatius (241 B.C.), and the subsequent horrific Truceless War (ironically, an event which did enhance the prestige of the Barcids, due to the success of Hamilcar Barca) almost certainly precluded her from building an armada which would necessitate the transport of an army onto Italian shores to actualize Hannibal's aims.

Moreover, the island relay points for such operations were not lost to Rome herself, who could herself, contrarily, use these same conduits to undertake troop landings in the opposite directions onto Carthage's regions of influence. Even if the Carthaginians could have substantially built up their navy amid the Iberian enterprise begun by Hamilcar (the sinews certainly increased into the 220s BCE), Roman attention would have turned to vigilance on their part (it already was, albeit mildly). I feel Hannibal did not have these alternative luxuries often alluded to regarding his elaborate plan: he couldn't arbitrarily 'leave earlier' for Italy or 'wait until next spring', etc. Rome's power needed to be inexorably reduced (at the very least) by appealing to her ‘protectorates’ beyond merely defeating Roman armies in a battle or two, a situation which worked similarly in prior Greek conflicts (this the political slogan ‘freedom of the Greeks’). Given his supreme generalship he was confident of, a superior army if utilized the way he designed it to against levied Roman armies, and the political climate of Italy the best he could discern it to be, the past afforded no precedent as to why his grand strategy wasn’t viable. But it could only germinate from the Po Valley.

Italy had to be attacked - and it had to be carried out while the iron was hot, given the traditional wavering nature of the Gauls, among whom the most powerful tribes who inhabited the lands constituting a vast and fertile region, a requisite for the point of berth of the bold attempt to tear apart the fabric of Rome's military federation in the Italian Peninsula, showed enthusiastic support if Hannibal could soon arrive in the Po Valley. For Hannibal's aims, attack was the best defense in a real sense (unlike the 'we're fighting them over there so we don't need to over here' nonsense of recent events); he had to arrive in the Po Valley where conforming allies awaited him, and before the weather would close his capacity to arrive there (he arrived where the ‘Taurins’ tribe are shown on the map below). In terms of weather in the alpine regions of southern Gaul and northern Italy, late fall by the calender was early winter by the conditions. However, he couldn't hastily leave too early (he wasn't really in a hurry); the eastern rivers of Iberia were dangerously in spate until the end of spring, and by arriving in northern Italy as late as possible in the late autumn, he would be able to appropriate the full harvests of the regions there. Also, he needed to prevent the Romans from getting wind of his designs too early, for obvious reasons (the element of surprise can quickly become counter-productive). To reiterate a case in point regarding the harvests - right before the Battle of the Trebbia was fought, one Dasius, a Latin commander (from Brundisium, we are told, which was a Latin colony) handed over the valuable supply-depot of Clastidium to Hannibal, enabling the latter to open his first bouts of propagandized diplomacy against Rome by honoring the commander and his garrison, all presumably Latins as well (Polybius, Book 3.69.4; Livy, Book 21.48.10). Thus the loyalty of the Latin communities proved early not totally solid to Rome, something Fabius would later state when a proposal was set forth to allow two Latin dignitaries a place in the Senate, to fill the spots left by those who perished at Cannae: Fabius sternly opposed this, exclaiming that the Latins 'were already hesitating and wavering in their allegiance' (according to Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, Book 23.22.8). No Latins would henceforth receive Hannibal in a conciliatory manner, but by 209 B.C. the inner ring of the Latin community (twelve of the thirty colonies) withdrew from Rome's war effort because they were bled white. Hannibal knew full well the greatest difficulties would be with his commissariat, and he addressed this issue with the calculating care of a diamond cutter: it was indeed the straightforward issue of victualing which somewhat limited Hannibal's capacity to act more freely and widely in Italy.

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Above: the paramount aspect of Hannibal's opening gamble lay with his correspondence with the powerful Insubres and Boii of Cisalpine Gaul, whose recent uprisings were surely not s coincidence when they received word that Hannibal was coming. He could not go by sea - not necessarily because the crude nature of shipping at the time would allow for a high rate of success in reaching Italian shores, but because no allies could be guaranteed along any of the littorals of Italy, and, probably most precluding, he had only 37 ships in commission in his Iberian flotilla in 218 B.C. Soon, it appears Carthaginian ships were being produced, but not in Spain, not now, and there was no time for a 'project' of inaction at this opening juncture (in terms of inhibiting mobilizations and money, etc.). Hannibal had spies in Rome, as a Carthaginian spy was caught in the Capitol in late 217 B.C. (Livy, Book 22.33.1). The coastal route was out of the question, as his guides who came from northern Italy to greet him surely apprised him that this region was more hostile than the ones more to the north leading to the Po Valley. This trek - clearly more appealing by s glance at the map - would have also necessitated crossing another formidable river after crosding the Rhone, the Var, hence the natural barrier of the twisting and narrow Riviera dei Fiori would have rendered him very susceptible to ambushing Ligurian brigands. It took the Romans a long time to establish a trading route with Massilia through these lands of banditry (Transalpine Gaul wasn’t a Roman province until 121 BCE), and Strabo tells in Book 4.6 of his great work that the ‘Ligurians had barred all the passes to Iberia along the seaboard’, a condition not feasible for a commander trying to get through with minimal fighting. However, the Ligurians are indeed stated as part of Carthage's allies in Hannibal's covenant with Philip V of Macedon (Polybius, The Histories, Book 7.9), another reflection of his political strategy bearing fruit. But that was four years later, when a tipping point seemed to favor Hannibal for a little while. In 218, it had to be the fertile Po Valley, and it had to happen before the weather blocked any army's arrival there. For Hannibal, the auspicious outlook outweighed any handicaps. He came very close...

Thanks, James :)
 
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Aug 2015
1,828
Los Angeles
Feel free to mention any culture where politics and generalship are not inseparable.
Imperial China where many dynasties will have separate branches of offices. While officers COULD have both civilian office and military office in his career, they are in general separated until you hit some really high posts.
 
May 2015
264
villa of Lucullus
It just seems people are being a bit arbitrary in what criteria we consider. Cyrus for example still conquered a much larger geographic area than say Gaius Marius or Scipio Africanus but people generally rate both ahead of him. You can argue that his conquest is not exactly equivalent to Alexander's but its still a much bigger area than that conquered by many highly regarded generals rated ahead of him.
 
May 2015
264
villa of Lucullus
Chagaputra Maurya is another example, he conquered a pretty huge area but I never see him rated highly on lists of ancient generals.


For Alexander we also have very little info on how many enemies he faced in most of his major battles. There are all sorts of estimates as to how many he faced at the Granicus, Issus, and Gaugemala. Some argue he may have even held a numerical advantage.
 
Mar 2018
329
UK
It also depends on how much information we have about them. There's basically no record of Cyrus' conquest, so its hard to know if it was due to his generalship or to circumstances.
 

macon

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
3,411
Slovenia
Chagaputra Maurya is another example, he conquered a pretty huge area but I never see him rated highly on lists of ancient generals.


For Alexander we also have very little info on how many enemies he faced in most of his major battles. There are all sorts of estimates as to how many he faced at the Granicus, Issus, and Gaugemala. Some argue he may have even held a numerical advantage.
Nobody knows what was Chandragupta Maurya doing and it was also probably done by his generals.

I think that it is pretty known that Alexander was having numerical advantage at Granicus and disadvantage at Gaugamela. Persians are in a starting defensive formation at Granicus as well as Macedonians at Gaugamela with their oblique formation. I can't tell about Issus.
 
Sep 2016
451
Georgia
I think that it is pretty known that Alexander was having numerical advantage at Granicus and disadvantage at Gaugamela. Persians are in a starting defensive formation at Granicus as well as Macedonians at Gaugamela with their oblique formation. I can't tell about Issus.
Most historians believe, that he was at disadvantage at Issus as well. Also that size of Macedonian army probably was smaller than in sources and Persian one as well. There is also Battle of Hydaspes, where bulk of the army under Craterus didn't participate in battle and Alexander fought Porus only with part of his army.
 
Likes: macon

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