Thursday, March 17, 2011

B.H. Liddell Hart's "Scipio Africanus: Greater Than Napoleon' (Steak Knives)

I knew very little (nothing really) about Scipio Africanus until I started searching for a good book on Hannibal.  While in Florida, I happened across Liddell Hart's text at Borders, and given the weak US $ and 'going out of business' deep discounting, I walked away with this for next to nothing.  This makes it easy to take a chance on an unfamiliar book/author, of course.

I was pleased.  That popular history doesn't celebrate this early Roman 'general' (active c. 200 BC) is a shame, as his record - undefeated when leading in battle, vanquishing Hannibal and ending the Second Punic War - and ultimate impact - ushering in the Mediterranean ascendancy of the Roman Empire - are as impressive, if not more, than those that followed.  In fact, it's the premise of the author (as the subtitle suggests), that Scipio surpasses Caesar, Napoleon and Alexander among the greatest 'captains' of all time.  This is argued based on Scipio's undefeated status, but also (persuasively) in terms of his innovation/pioneering strategy and tactics, and the fact that he was paired against well trained and skilled generals (vs. Alexander, who often fought against an untrained/undisciplined rabble, for example), not to mention Hannibal himself, another master of the ages.  Still, this is a selective argument, and Liddell Hart comes off as a bit of a fanboy, particularly in denigrating Alexander's achievements and legacy in Asia, Africa and Europe.

It's also notable that the text is written in recent memory of 'the great war/WWI' - which made for an interesting read of the author's own prejudices (and lack of hindsight we enjoy in 2011) regarding modern warfare and strategy.

I'd also recommend the following site, if only for the animated PPT of The Battle of Zama, the meeting of Scipio and Hannibal, which led to the end of the Second Punic War.  Overall, this site is a great resource to understand visually how classic engagements played out...

The Battle of Zama, in which Hannibal gets his ass handed to him by our hero.

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