HANNIBAL by Ernle Bradford


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A scrupulous, astutely evaluative account of what little is known of Rome's greatest foe: the Carthaginian general who became master of ""well-nigh the whole of Italy"" (Livy) but could not hold it down. Bradford (Nelson, The Shield and the Sword, etc.) necessarily draws on Polybius and Livy for much of his story--Hannibal's desire to avenge Carthage for Roman high-handedness at the close of the first Punic War, his daring approach through the Alps, his overwhelming victories at Lake Transimene and at Cannae, the terror he struck in the Romans, the awe he inspired in his Gallic allies--who composed most of his forces. But: ""His ultimate aim, it would seem, was no more than a return to the status quo before the first Punic War."" He had, that is, no goal beyond abasing the Romans and regaining lost territory. And when Rome, defeated, refused nonetheless to surrender, ""he was faced with something quite novel"" that he had neither the men nor the equipment to deal with--""a war of attrition against a politically well-balanced republic."" Bradford describes Hannibal's long years ranging about Italy with dwindling forces--until finally he had to withdraw to Africa, and only then met defeat on the battlefield. He picks up what he can about Hannibal's subsequent exile from Carthage and flight from one to another Eastern refuge. On points of special interest--like the celebrated crossing of the Alps--he works in recent research findings (Gavin de Beer's prominent among them); for breadth, he calls upon the best historical scholarship. Simply as a concise, authoritative summation, then, this is presently the Hannibal book--a useful antidote, in particular, to Leonard Cottrell's dramatic, highly speculative Hannibal: Enemy of Rome (1961). Bradford, however, also asks the big questions--not only why Hannibal didn't ultimately triumph, but what difference it would have made if he had. And the longterm answer is none: Carthage had neither the manpower nor the culture to loom large in the march of history. An interesting little book--a good deal better than it needed to be.

Pub Date: Dec. 6th, 1981
Publisher: McGraw-Hill