Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Leonard Cottrell's "Hannibal: Enemy of Rome" (Steak Knives)

There are about 8 or 10 great generals/masters in history, let's suppose.  Hannibal is on that list.  Alexander is on that list.  Napoleon is on that list.  Scipio and Themistocles, sure.  Themistocles?  But I digress...
This text on Hannibal's 'little trek' along the Med, over the Alps and Italy is a good account of what made up the amazing history of 'The Second Punic War.'  Scipio finally hands Hannibal his own ass after a long war of attrition... it's turning point in history that's given far less credit than it deserves, I think.  Rome was very (and rightly) worried that Hannibal's long tour ravaging around the capital's periphery would end in the snuffing out of it's flame just as it was getting itself kindled.

This text was a great primer for me.  I had no detailed or meaningful knowledge of Hannibal's campaigns apart from 'elephants and Alps.'  It was a quick and easy read on the subject that still managed to come of as meaty.  

The author weaves his own travels through the imagined line of Hannibal's progress into his account, which is something I usually find tiring and self-indulgent in a writer, but Cottrell is happily brief and relevant in his interjections.  It was also a great counterpoint to the Scipio bio I read a few months back, to get perspective from the opposing strategy, mind and personality as each drew closer to the other and the great finale to the Second Punic War, and Carthage as a 'global superpower' in the BCE Mediterranean.

That the saga of Hannibal's extended march on Rome was decades from genesis to close was a real surprise for me.  I had assumed it was a single campaign and thrust against the capital.  This and other surprises in scope and detail make Cottrell's account a well-worthwhile read. 

Hannibal's likeness on a contemporary coin.  Still, nobody can say for certain what he looked like.  Maybe me?  Who knows.

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