Livy’s statement, that Hannibal’s failure to immediately march against Rome after his victory at Cannae was what saved the Republic, is sheer nonsense. First of all, Cannae and Rome are far away from each other, over 400 km, and there is no way Hannibal could have gotten there in a couple days; it would have taken weeks. His army needed to be resupplied. He undoubtedly had a large number of injured soldiers who needed care. His fighting forces were not large enough to lay siege to a fortified and walled city like Rome. In Spain it took him eight months to conquer the city of Saguntum, which was much smaller than Rome. He knew that if he parked his army in front of the walls of Rome it would take years to breach the city’s defenses, even had he had siege engines, which he did not.
Roman reinforcements would arrive from all parts of Italy and his army would end up trapped between the walls of Rome and large contingents of enemy forces. More importantly, destroying Rome was never his strategic goal; he instead intended to limit the expansion of Rome to the central area of Italy and to liberate Gauls, Italians, and Greeks from the yoke of Rome. His strategic goals were brilliant and he would have won the war, had he received the necessary reinforcements from Carthage. But the politicians at home were concerned with defending their sources of profit: the silver mines in Spain. So, practically every time they sent reinforcements, they went to Spain, and not to their commander winning battles in Italy. The myopic Carthaginian plutocrats could not see that the very survival of Carthage was at stake. By not supporting Hannibal, they doomed Carthage. It was the greed of the politicians, not the failure of Hannibal, what led to the war being lost.
The more we study the Battle of Cannae, the more amazing it becomes, because every single aspect of that battle was carefully planned, orchestrated, and implemented with the utmost precision. The amazing discipline of Hannibal’s forces, the coordinated movements of the multi-ethnic elements of his army, the synchronization of his infantry and cavalry, as well as his manipulation and control of the terrain and the deployment of the Roman army, everything worked perfectly. This was not a battle that was decided by luck. He didn’t just get lucky. In his mind’s eye he had seen the battle unfold before it was fought. Every detail was set in place. His men trusted him and followed his orders exactly, thus achieving this incredible victory. Cannae was a masterpiece never equaled in the history of warfare.
Over the years, Cannae has had many imitators, with different degrees of success. In the last century, for example, Germany’s Schlieffen plan in World War I was based on the Battle of Cannae. Alfred von Schlieffen died before the beginning of World War I, and so it was von Moltke who was actually in charge of implementing the plan, which called for the envelopment of France’s forces all the way to and around Paris. Von Moltke was too timid and worried so much about leaving Germany open to an attack by Russia from the east that instead of following Schlieffen’s plan to the letter, he committed an insufficient number of men and tried to surround a smaller part of France, falling short of Paris.
This led to disaster and to long lasting trench warfare in which an enormous number of soldiers died. It has been suggested that if the Schlieffen plan had been implemented exactly as designed, based on the Battle of Cannae, the Great War would never have developed and instead would have been a brief Franco-German conflict that would have been over in three weeks. The most recent example of an imitation Cannae occurred under the command of the American general, Norman Schwarzkopf. The first Gulf War was based on the Battle of Cannae. Saddam Hussein apparently was not familiar with the history of Hannibal’s campaign against Rome, and deployed his huge army in a manner reminiscent of the Romans at Cannae, which allowed Schwarzkopf to envelop and defeat it following the model of Hannibal’s masterpiece. In his memoir Schwarzkopf writes, “My victory was based on Hannibal’s Cannae.” The Battle of Cannae continues to be studied in military academies throughout the world. It was a perfect battle that no one has ever fully equaled or surpassed.
There are many new investigators in the field, and a lot of research continues to be done today on the Second Punic War and particularly on the feats of Hannibal. New discoveries are helping to see through the distortions of pro-Roman propaganda still permeating the historical record. In Tunisia, for example, a distinguished investigator, whose name is Abdelaziz Belkhodja, has been conducting research on the other big battle of the Second Punic War, the Battle of Zama. He has made some startling discoveries, finding plenty of evidence challenging the very historicity of the battle, which may never have happened at all.
His research strongly suggests that the second war between Carthage and Rome ended with a peace treaty favorable to Rome, with Carthage agreeing to pay reparations, but not with a final battle. Not only that, but the treaty in question must have been quite different from the one reported in the pro-Roman sources, written after the destruction of Carthage and the burning of all the Carthaginian records in the holocaust of 146 BCE. Belkhodja’s findings are detailed in a book that is rewriting history as we speak. There are all kinds of exciting new discoveries concerning the Punic Wars as the result of recent archaeological research, dating technology, and the careful examination and correlation of ancient texts.
History, particularly history written by the victors and infused with a large dose of propaganda, is not set in stone and needs to be challenged and reevaluated. The process is exciting and highly stimulating. It is like the work of a detective reopening a cold case, and discovering important details that were missed before. Such research is the passion of my life. I’ve been investigating this fascinating subject for more than 15 years and I don’t see an end to it. The more I explore, the more new discoveries come to the fore—it is an exhilarating journey.
Allow me to end by recommending an important book published in Tunisia, in 2014. It is by Abdelaziz Belkhodja and is titled “Hannibal Barca: L’histoire veritable et le mensonge de Zama,” in other words, “Hannibal Barca: The True Story and the Deception of Zama.” In my humble opinion, it is the most important book on Hannibal published in recent years. The author gives you a concise but accurate overview of the events in Hannibal’s life and then focuses on the last battle, the one Hannibal allegedly lost, and provides abundant and compelling evidence that shows that Hannibal was never actually defeated by the Romans and that the Second Punic War ended in a very different manner. Exciting discoveries like this one do not happen every day. The author’s thesis was first presented in a paper published in 2010, which was followed by the first edition of the book in 2011 and by the second, slightly revised edition this year (2014), both published by Apollonia in Tunisia.
Belkhodja, A. Hannibal Barca: L’histoire veritable et le mensonge de Zama. Tunis, Tunisia: Apollonia, 2014.
Daly, G. Cannae: The experience of battle in the Second Punic War. Routledge/Taylor & Francis, 2002.
Delbrueck, H. Warfare in Antiquity. University of Nebraska, 1975.
Ehlert, H., M. Epkenhans, and G. Gross (editors). Der Schlieffenplan: Analysen und Dokumente. Ferdinand Schoeningh, 2007.
Goldsworthy, A. Cannae: Hannibal’s greatest victory. Cassell, 2001.
Healy, M. Cannae 216 BC: Hannibal smashes Rome’s army. Osprey, 2000.?Livy. History of Rome (Loeb Classical Library). Harvard.
Mosig, Y. and I. Belhassen. “Revision and reconstruction in the Punic Wars: Cannae revisited” in The International Journal of the Humanities, 4:2, 2006, pp. 103-110.
Mosig, Y. and I. Belhassen. “Revision and reconstruction in the Second Punic War: Zama—whose victory?” in The International Journal of the Humanities, 5:9, 2007, pp. 175-186.?Polybius. The Histories (Loeb Classical Library). Harvard.
Schwarzkopf, H. N. and P. Petre. It doesn’t take a hero: The autobiography of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf. Bantam/Random House, 1992.
Von Schlieffen, A. Cannae. E. S. Mittler & Sohn, 1936.
© Yozan Mosig, 2015
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