Monday, June 27, 2022

Most Memorable War

The History of Rome, Books 21-30: The War with Hannibal
The History of Rome: 
The War with Hannibal 
by Livy

“Indeed, that is the nature of crowds: the mob is either a humble slave or a cruel master. As for the middle way of liberty, the mob can neither take it nor keep it with any respect for moderation or law.”   ― Livy, The History of Rome: The War with Hannibal

Livy begins
his history of the Roman War with Carthage with the following passage: "I am now about to tell the story of the most memorable war in history: that, namely, which was fought by Carthage under the leadership of Hannibal against Rome." Thus asserts Livy at the start of the decade beginning in 222bc, books 21–30. He was certainly correct regarding ancient history. The Indo-Germanic and Semitic races were at war with one another over world dominance. The historian notes that the two had a hatred for one another that was as great as their armies, and that they were not only evenly matched but also knowledgeable of the enemy's battle strategies and potential might.

Livy never downplays the exploits of Hannibal, a 26-year-old who emerged as the protagonist of his tale. Ninety thousand soldiers, twelve thousand cavalry, and thirty-seven elephants crossed the Alps, and he made up any facts he could not find in existing records. After failing to stop the Carthaginians in Gaul, Scipio the father attempted again in the Italian plains, but each setback terrorized the imperial city. After Trebia and Lake Trasimene, Fabius Maximus's delay strategies were successful in keeping the invaders at bay for a while, but another consul, Varro, was impatient, which led to the ultimate Roman loss at Cannae (216 b.c.e.). Hannibal could have easily reached Rome if he had capitalized on his victory.

Book 25 covers a different stage of the conflict. A seventy-four-year-old mathematician named Archimedes' inventions of the catapult and grappling hooks, which lifted the prows of Roman ships attempting to attack the breakwater and sank them, kept Marcellus, who was besieging Syracuse, at bay for three years. Ultimately, though, the Romans discovered the gap in the defenses and took control of the island. This war is not over, but will continue until Scipio pursues Hannibal all the way to Zamma outside of Carthage where he will lead Rome to their ultimate victory.

I was impressed that Livy opened his narrative mentioning Hannibal by name. That is undoubtedly because he is the most engaging character in the story and likely the best General in spite of ultimately being defeated by Scipio Africanus. It is a narrative is full of great commanders, brutal and bloody warfare, shifting loyalties, superstitions and omens, and enough thrills to keep the reader both informed and entertained.

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