For millennia, Carthage’s triumph over Rome at Cannae in 216 B.C. has inspired reverence and awe. No general since has matched Hannibal’s most unexpected, innovative, and brutal military victory. Now Robert L. O’Connell, one of the most admired names in military history, tells the whole story of Cannae for the first time, giving us a stirring account of this apocalyptic battle, its causes and consequences.
O’Connell brilliantly conveys how Rome amassed a giant army to punish Carthage’s masterful commander, how Hannibal outwitted enemies that outnumbered him, and how this disastrous pivot point in Rome’s history ultimately led to the republic’s resurgence and the creation of its empire. Piecing together decayed shreds of ancient reportage, the author paints powerful portraits of the leading players, from Hannibal—resolutely sane and uncannily strategic—to Scipio Africanus, the self-promoting Roman military tribune. Finally, O’Connell reveals how Cannae’s legend has inspired and haunted military leaders ever since, and the lessons it teaches for our own wars.
Military historian O Connell (Of Arms and Men: A History of War, Weapons, and Aggression) has established the new standard for studies of the second conflict between Rome and Carthage. In dramatic and comprehensive fashion, he describes the rivalry, based on temperament and territory, that led to the slaughter at Cannae in 216 B.C.E. and beyond. Focusing chiefly on Hannibal and his Roman nemesis Scipio Africanus, he also awards proper consideration to Fabius Maximus, whose strategy of attrition and delay could have saved countless Roman lives. Differences in Roman and Carthaginian tactics, armament, and philosophy are explained, as is the importance of religious belief to both cultures. O Connell shatters the popular myth of the invincibility of the Carthaginians fabled elephants, the panzer pachyderms. The ghosts of the title are the Roman survivors of Cannae, who were unwanted reminders of defeat. They were banished to Sicily until Scipio Africanus incorporated them into the army that achieved the final Roman victory at Zama. Unfortunately, a lack of sources restricts O Connell s ability to provide much information on the Carthaginian home front, but ample attention is given to the political maneuvers that shaped Roman policy. 6 maps.
Extremely good read. Scope and sequencing at a wonderful pace. Historical contexts explained effortlessly. Cannot recommend it highly enough, thoroughly enjoyed it from cover to cover. Made it required reading in my late Roman Republic course.