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Hannibal: The Military Biography of Rome's Greatest Enemy

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The Romans’ destruction of Carthage after the Third Punic War erased any Carthaginian historical record of Hannibal’s life. What we know of him comes exclusively from Roman historians who had every interest in minimizing his success, exaggerating his failures, and disparaging his character. The charges leveled against Hannibal include greed, cruelty and atrocity, sexual in The Romans’ destruction of Carthage after the Third Punic War erased any Carthaginian historical record of Hannibal’s life. What we know of him comes exclusively from Roman historians who had every interest in minimizing his success, exaggerating his failures, and disparaging his character. The charges leveled against Hannibal include greed, cruelty and atrocity, sexual indulgence, and even cannibalism. But even these sources were forced to grudgingly admit to Hannibal’s military genius, if only to make their eventual victory over him appear greater. Yet there is no doubt that Hannibal was the greatest Carthaginian general of the Second Punic War. When he did not defeat them outright, he fought to a standstill the best generals Rome produced, and he sustained his army in the field for sixteen long years without mutiny or desertion. Hannibal was a first-rate tactician, only a somewhat lesser strategist, and the greatest enemy Rome ever faced. When he at last met defeat at the hands of the Roman general Scipio, it was against an experienced officer who had to strengthen and reconfigure the Roman legion and invent mobile tactics in order to succeed. Even so, Scipio’s victory at Zama was against an army that was a shadow of its former self. The battle could easily have gone the other way. If it had, the history of the West would have been changed in ways that can only be imagined. Richard A. Gabriel’s brilliant new biography shows how Hannibal’s genius nearly unseated the Roman Empire.


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The Romans’ destruction of Carthage after the Third Punic War erased any Carthaginian historical record of Hannibal’s life. What we know of him comes exclusively from Roman historians who had every interest in minimizing his success, exaggerating his failures, and disparaging his character. The charges leveled against Hannibal include greed, cruelty and atrocity, sexual in The Romans’ destruction of Carthage after the Third Punic War erased any Carthaginian historical record of Hannibal’s life. What we know of him comes exclusively from Roman historians who had every interest in minimizing his success, exaggerating his failures, and disparaging his character. The charges leveled against Hannibal include greed, cruelty and atrocity, sexual indulgence, and even cannibalism. But even these sources were forced to grudgingly admit to Hannibal’s military genius, if only to make their eventual victory over him appear greater. Yet there is no doubt that Hannibal was the greatest Carthaginian general of the Second Punic War. When he did not defeat them outright, he fought to a standstill the best generals Rome produced, and he sustained his army in the field for sixteen long years without mutiny or desertion. Hannibal was a first-rate tactician, only a somewhat lesser strategist, and the greatest enemy Rome ever faced. When he at last met defeat at the hands of the Roman general Scipio, it was against an experienced officer who had to strengthen and reconfigure the Roman legion and invent mobile tactics in order to succeed. Even so, Scipio’s victory at Zama was against an army that was a shadow of its former self. The battle could easily have gone the other way. If it had, the history of the West would have been changed in ways that can only be imagined. Richard A. Gabriel’s brilliant new biography shows how Hannibal’s genius nearly unseated the Roman Empire.

30 review for Hannibal: The Military Biography of Rome's Greatest Enemy

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mark Dunstan

    Unfortunatly this seems to be a bit of a mixed bag - I had read and enjoyed Gabriel's work on Scipio, so decided to try this to complement it. There is some to admire in this book, but sadly, there is also a lot that drags his work down. He contradicts himself on several occasions (particularly in his use of John Lazenby in regards to Hannibal's continued victories in Italy after Cannae - he uses Lazenby's work almost word for word, but when he comes to the battles themselves later, simply prese Unfortunatly this seems to be a bit of a mixed bag - I had read and enjoyed Gabriel's work on Scipio, so decided to try this to complement it. There is some to admire in this book, but sadly, there is also a lot that drags his work down. He contradicts himself on several occasions (particularly in his use of John Lazenby in regards to Hannibal's continued victories in Italy after Cannae - he uses Lazenby's work almost word for word, but when he comes to the battles themselves later, simply presents Livy's exaggerated Roman victories - without even referring to what he'd written earlier following Lazenby... he doesn't even try to analyse the differences, or present why Lazenby came to the conclusions he did... he also misses out small successes of Hannibal - at Geronium for example, and on his withdrawal from Rome when he savaged the Rome camp at night before marching back...) It's annoying as there is also quite a lot of good stuff in here that I haven't found in other books on the subject (and I've read a lot - close to thirty!) refuting Delbruck's claims on the nature of Roman defenses and Hannibal's chances of a successful siege, presenting an intriguing case for why Hannibal didn't attack Rome after Lake Trasimene, being that he had a relatively healthy army, access to rich plains to support it, and being only 80 miles from Rome, he also considers the logistical side of warfare. This book would have easily hit a four had he not been so sloppy/lazy/contradictory in regards to Hannibal's campaigns and battles in Italy where he doesn't present any argument for the reported Roman victories over Hannibal's forces (where Hannibal kept losing the number of 8,000 men in every battle which looks more like a routed army casualty figures, I'm stunned he can go on to say Hannibal actually had a large force against Scipio's in Locri considering he must have lost something like 30,000 men in the last 2 years of campaigning in Italy if we go by Livy's figures, I'm surprised he had any men left to scare off the Romans (who were afraid to attack him after the Metaraus - according to the last few years, Hannibal was a joke of a commander, losing every battle and thousands of men, why be afraid of a general like that?)... then he goes on to say Scipio killed 60,000 at the battle of Illipa with a straight face(a ridiculous claim)... there just doesn't seem to be much analysis of these exaggerated figures)... his ending analysis of Hannibal is pretty damning, and we do need to be critical and neutral, but Gabriel makes lots of assumptions (many based on dubious speeches and even Silius Italicus' poem Punica!) which makes his conclusion of Hannibal's generalship incredibly flawed. It's a pity, because underneath his lazy approach, there's actually quite a few interesting ideas/interpretations going on.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Franco Luciano

    This book is an informational and interesting read on one of the most fascinating characters of the ancient world. The author goes into tremendous detail on the main troops of each side, describing their weapons and equipment well. He also covers the background to Hannibal's life and campaigns thoroughly, and explains the differences in thinking between his Hellenistic mindset and the Romans' more severe, moralistic one. The book also gives great insight into the few original sources that we hav This book is an informational and interesting read on one of the most fascinating characters of the ancient world. The author goes into tremendous detail on the main troops of each side, describing their weapons and equipment well. He also covers the background to Hannibal's life and campaigns thoroughly, and explains the differences in thinking between his Hellenistic mindset and the Romans' more severe, moralistic one. The book also gives great insight into the few original sources that we have from the ancient world, and both criticises their inaccuracies, and commends their facts. I would have liked more of an epilogue, perhaps placing Hannibal against the pantheon of his contemporaries and rivals. For that, and the fact that I am automatically biased when it comes to books about Hannibal, I can only rate this 4 out of 5.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Heinz Reinhardt

    Richard Gabriel has written a very useful, and more detailed than most, military history of one of the greatest commanders of antiquity: Hannibal Barca. Detailing the structure of Carthaginian society and how this impacted their structuring of their armed forces, and the role of the Barcid family in reforming and leading the impetus of Carthaginian military doctrine, Gabriel lays a firm foundation for the narrative that follows. While the book covers well trodden ground, it is still relevatory a Richard Gabriel has written a very useful, and more detailed than most, military history of one of the greatest commanders of antiquity: Hannibal Barca. Detailing the structure of Carthaginian society and how this impacted their structuring of their armed forces, and the role of the Barcid family in reforming and leading the impetus of Carthaginian military doctrine, Gabriel lays a firm foundation for the narrative that follows. While the book covers well trodden ground, it is still relevatory and deeply insightful. Following the loss of territory in Sicily, and the Roman seizure of Corsica and Sardinia following the end of the First Punic War, Carthage turned to the Iberian peninsula to expand it's resource pool and it's strategic depth. It was in the fighting against the various tribes and alliances in Iberia where Hannibal had his first tastes of commanding troops in the field. The Spanish were excellent fighters and Hannibal felt no hesitation in absorbing them into the Carthaginian armed forces structure. In his invasion of Italy, Spanish troops would be one of the main components of his war machine. (He even married a Spanish tribal princess to further cement alliances with Iberian tribes and Carthage). Gabriel does a very good job of detailing and analyzing the very familiar story of Hannibal's initial invasion. The Battles of the Ticinus River, Trebia, Lake Trasimene, and Cannae, all well known in military history circles, is bolstered by a refreshing detailing of Hannibal's war in Italy following his triumph at Cannae. Most military histories (even Goldsworthy's) either gloss over, or entirely ignore the war in Italy post Cannae. While true, despite his amazing triumph in destroying a 90,000 man Roman army at Cannae, the Romans turned around and forced Hannibal into a strategic irrelevancy, Gabriel shows the reader as to how and why this was done. Something the vast majority of studies on Hannibal, and the Second Punic War, fail at. Hannibal's return to Tunisia, to face Scipio at Zama is the most detailed engagement of the book, and Gabriel shows how much of a mess, for both commanders, that battle truly was. Gabriel then writes a very good chapter analyzing why Hannibal ultimately failed. His assertion that it was Hannibal's cultural Hellenism (Carthage was not native to Africa, but a colony of Phoenician merchants native to Tyre, in modern day Lebanon, and who had close cultural ties to the Greeks and the Hellenic Empires) is not exactly a new assertion. While it has been made before, Gabriel does a better job than most of the others in detailing how Hannibal's Hellenistic mindset when conducting warfare, failed utterly to take into account the Roman cultural doctrine of total warfare. Hannibal, seeking to defeat Rome(not to conquer it as too many have in the past asserted), was predicated upon winning a series of stunning tactical successes to force the Roman Senate to the negotiating tables. Roman doctrine was one of strategic endurance. Individual tactical and operational failures were secondary to ultimate strategic success, and Rome eschewed negotiations in favor of attrition, and total mobilization and total modes of warfare. In fact, this is the birth of the modern Western methodology of warfare. Overall, there were very few errors or typos, all of which can ve attributed to the all too common malaise of sloppy editing and poor proofing that plagues most publishing houses now a days. This is an excellent book, and my literary introduction to Mr. Gabriel. I was familiar with him as a young man when the History Channel aired the (somewhat awful) show: Battles BC, where Gabriel was one of the three main talking heads. After reading this work on Hannibal, I plan to seek out more of his work. Highly recommended.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Austin Littke

    Wish i could give it a 2.5. As another comment summed this up: Sloppy, Lazy, and the author continually contradicts himself. Along with this he seems to clearly hold bias against Hannibal and conversely bias in favor of Scipio (but although this is easily perceptible, he doesnt allow it to become too glaring to where its a major problem. You can simply tell). My MAIN problem is when the author continually asserts his MAIN point in the book: Hannibal failed because due to his Hellenistic education Wish i could give it a 2.5. As another comment summed this up: Sloppy, Lazy, and the author continually contradicts himself. Along with this he seems to clearly hold bias against Hannibal and conversely bias in favor of Scipio (but although this is easily perceptible, he doesnt allow it to become too glaring to where its a major problem. You can simply tell). My MAIN problem is when the author continually asserts his MAIN point in the book: Hannibal failed because due to his Hellenistic education and thinking his strategy was simply to win a few battles in hope that Rome would come to the negotiating table after as was common in greek culture when an army was routed in a major battle. A few authors i have read have pondered this also as the reason hannibal didnt march on rome when he had the chance, but its a completely ridiculous claim to assert hannibal wasnt aware of Rome's attitude and resolve during the first Punic war, nor of the Pyrrhic wars. Of course Hannibal knew there was a possibility of total war! The author eventually brings to light his own contradiction about Pyrrhus but still asserts his point nonetheless and implies hannibal was just that naive and air-headish and cavalier about the situation. Secondly, in his scathibf breakdown of hannibal's strategy he acts as though hannibal had tons of time before setting off from spain to come up with some grand strategy while he points out strategic flaws. Beyind having a basic blueprint of what he hoped to do, nothing was predictable and Hannibal had to improvise everything. Example: author criticizes hannibal for trying to establish a kind of southern italian protectorate sometime after Cannae due to not having adequate manpower etc. --Again, how did hannibal know reinforcements would fail to be able to come, oe that anything else would transpire as it did such as the spanish campaign etc? This was simply a fluid, improvised strategy subject to alteration or change upon demand. For a military guy writing this, he certainly writes as a MODERN military guy and neglects to put hannibal's situation in context. Furthermore, he asserts Carthage did the right thing strategically refusing to send reinforcements. Just because Carthage had the culture of losers and refused to take the steps necessary to levy reasonable manpower to carry out a war of the magnitude it had gotten itself into, doesnt make it sound strategically, its still stupid. Lastly, the author seems to lazily elaborate on and criticize/question what he feels like then just quickly skims over other things and doesnt question the obviously inflated and ridiculous numbers and claims made by Livy as he does in other situations. Its simultaneously sloppy, lazy, and contradictory as he spends a ton of time analyzing and criticizing army size and fatality numbers in other parts as he feels like. At the least just say "Numbers of losses given for hannibals army were (...) but this seems implausible" CONCLUSION: The book seems like the author just threw together a rough draft of pages of what he felt like writing on and then went back and just filled in enough on everything otherwise to make sure the whole chronology was in the book. Given the above criticism, the book is short and still worth reading and does have good and even novel analysis on some things and I enjoyed reading it enough (just the aforementioned criticisms may leave you a bit wanting and disappointed) for this reason id recommend it to read if you're able to check it out at the library or borrow it, not worth spending money on to own, however.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Lacy

    Intelligent and worthy account of Hannibal’s Italian campaign If one begins one’s reading of this intelligent and worthy account of Hannibal’s Italian campaign, begin with the last chapter before the Epilogue as it lays out the whole book succinctly. Well written and organized, it allows new perspective from other books I have read on Hannibal. For example, after Cannae, Carthage interest in Hannibal’s Italian mission. It became a diversionary mission to keep Roman troops devoted close to Italy s Intelligent and worthy account of Hannibal’s Italian campaign If one begins one’s reading of this intelligent and worthy account of Hannibal’s Italian campaign, begin with the last chapter before the Epilogue as it lays out the whole book succinctly. Well written and organized, it allows new perspective from other books I have read on Hannibal. For example, after Cannae, Carthage interest in Hannibal’s Italian mission. It became a diversionary mission to keep Roman troops devoted close to Italy so Carthage could devote its primary strategy to capturing and maintaining its domains in Spain, North Africa, Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica. Hannibal seemed to become like the American WWII General Patton. Hannibal’s failure to invade Rome twice was due to his Hellinistic mindset that by building up enough battle victories against the Romans he could bring them to the peace table. It was also due a misunderstanding to the Roman mindset that they never went to a peace settlement until they were the victor. Points that other books have not made clearly; that the war was not military, but political. Gabriel provides a sound commentary for our study and appreciation.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    I found this book to be somewhat dry, but incredibly informative. Richard Gabriel starts by detailing the cultures of the time, and Hannibal's likely upbringing. He then utilized this to explain why Hannibal may have made the strategic decisions he did, and how his misunderstanding of Rome's culture may have lead to his undoing. Overall, The book was well written, and I especially appreciated the last few chapters. My only complaint is the amount of attention paid to the numbers of various infant I found this book to be somewhat dry, but incredibly informative. Richard Gabriel starts by detailing the cultures of the time, and Hannibal's likely upbringing. He then utilized this to explain why Hannibal may have made the strategic decisions he did, and how his misunderstanding of Rome's culture may have lead to his undoing. Overall, The book was well written, and I especially appreciated the last few chapters. My only complaint is the amount of attention paid to the numbers of various infantry, cavalry etc. While this may be interesting to some, I personally felt like it was too much after a point.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Sellors

    A genuinely enjoyable book. Not too one-sided which is unusual in biographies. In fact the author is extremely critical of Hannibal at times, especially his inability to push home his advantage and attack Rome when it lay open to assault. Given that most of the information comes from fairly biased Roman sources the author does a good job of sifting through the information and making valid points.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Michael Walters

    I found the first 2/3 of this book to be exceptionally dry and I very much had trouble getting through it. It reads just like a text book and can become dry and repetitive often. The book’s saving grace is when it FINALLY starts to describe the actual combat in Italy.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Slim Khezri

    This volume is an excellent examination of the Carthaginian general, and genius Hannibal Barca. Richard A. Gabriel is thorough in his assessment, referencing his statements extensively to both primary ancient sources and secondary contemporary researchers. It provides insight into Hannibal's childhood, his family, father and his Italian campaign. An excellent overview of the life of an extraordinary man. A superb book that describes Hannibal in great detail, who won all his battles (except the n This volume is an excellent examination of the Carthaginian general, and genius Hannibal Barca. Richard A. Gabriel is thorough in his assessment, referencing his statements extensively to both primary ancient sources and secondary contemporary researchers. It provides insight into Hannibal's childhood, his family, father and his Italian campaign. An excellent overview of the life of an extraordinary man. A superb book that describes Hannibal in great detail, who won all his battles (except the next to last, Zama, and his last as a navel commander for King Prusias of Bithynia- Hannibal was a field commander, not a navel commander) and lost the war with Rome. Why does the adage "He who wins the battles, wins the war," not work for Hannibal in the Carthaginians Second Punic War against Rome? On page 218: "Hannibal failed because his operational victories did not achieve his strategic objectives. After Cannae, the strategic ground shifted beneath his feet, reducing a man who had once been the king of the battlefield to little more than a sacrificial pawn in a much larger game that he never really understood." Also important is a footnote to Chapter 9. "Why Hannibal Failed," from the text page 212, footnote 2 (on page 248 in the text): "My old friend and colleague the late Col. Harry Summers used to tell the story of his assignment to the negotiations in Hanoi between the North Vietnamese and the Americans in an effort to end the war. In a conversation with a North Vietnamese colonel, Summers remarked, 'Well, whatever the outcome, you never defeated us on the battlefield.' The North Vietnamese colonel smiled and said, 'That is true. But it is also irrelevant!'" And so it was with Hannibal against the Romans, until the end at Zama and Scipio Africanus. A brilliant must read, if you're into history!

  10. 5 out of 5

    robert

    Very dry reading. Way too much info about logistics and too little about the actual battles. It felt like 85% on logistics and quantities of equipment on only 15% dedicated to the actual battles. More maps would have helped. Even the famous crossing of the Alps was covered in short order. Hannibal was famous for using elephants, yet the author gives very little info about how they were utilized in battle.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ralph Gibbs

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kalman

  13. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Ward

  14. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Boots

  15. 4 out of 5

    Michael Klein

  16. 5 out of 5

    patrick Lorelli

  17. 5 out of 5

    Francis Dale

  18. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Land

  19. 5 out of 5

    Diogo Cruvinel

  20. 4 out of 5

    Hugh MacNab

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Vogelsang

  22. 4 out of 5

    Abhishek Dhar

  23. 4 out of 5

    Charlie Gann

  24. 5 out of 5

    Eddie Valdez

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dave

  26. 5 out of 5

    Simon

  27. 4 out of 5

    Frank

  28. 4 out of 5

    Yonicka Derus

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ayman Kuzbari

  30. 5 out of 5

    Rodney

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