Hannibal's Oath - The Life and Wars of Rome's Greatest Enemy, John Prevas

Hannibal's Oath - The Life and Wars of Rome's Greatest Enemy, John Prevas

This biography of Hannibal is aimed at the interested non-historian, and aims at telling his story in an engaging way. The author has visited most of the places he discusses (and has his favourite theory for Hannibal’s route across the Alps), so we get a clear picture of places Hannibal campaigned and lived in. 

Don’t expect detailed battle narratives - even Cannae only gets two pages - but that isn’t really the point of the book. There is plenty on the build-up to the battle and its aftermath, so we get to see how it fits into the wider war without getting drawn into the nuts and bolts of the battle.

Cannae also emerges as not only the high point of Hannibal’s war, but also his last really significant success. After failing to take full advantage of his victory, Hannibal became bogged down in a war of sieges, largely in southern Italy. Most attempts to send him reinforcements failed, and he was unable to come up with a way to defeat the new Roman plan of avoiding major battles and keeping several field armies active against him at any time. The decision not to attack Rome comes across as a major mistake (especially when one looks Sulla’s civil wars, when the city proved to be rather vulnerable to attack). When Hannibal did finally get a chance to fight another set piece battle, this time at Zama in North Africa, he underperformed (shades of Napoleon at Waterloo). Hannibal crossed the Alps in 218 BC, Cannae came in 216 BC and Hannibal didn’t leave Italy until 203 BC, so his major victories all came in the first two years of the fifteen he spent in Italy.

I found the section on Hannibal’s time in exile particularly valuable. The Romans are often portrayed as having been vindictive in their pursuit of Hannibal, but he actually remained a active enemy of Rome for most of this period, playing an active part in Antiochus III’s war against Rome, and even late in life winning a naval victory over Rome’s ally Eumenes of Pergamon. The idea that Hannibal was hunted down while he was quietly retired is thus entirely false.

This is a good readable biography of a key figure in the history of the Roman Empire, fighting in the wars that saw Rome’s power expand in both the western and eastern Mediterranean.

1 - The Road to Power
2 - On the March
3 - Over the Icy Peak
4 - Crushing the Romans
5 - The Ebbing Tide
6 - Unending War
7 - Return to Africa
8 - Exile

Author: John Prevas
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 320
Publisher: Da Capo Press
Year: 2017

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