Hannibal’s Road, The Second Punic War in Italy, 213-203 BC, Mike Roberts

Hannibal’s Road, The Second Punic War in Italy, 213-203 BC, Mike Roberts

The story of the first few years of Hannibal’s invasion of Italy is one of the most famous in military history, from the crossing of the Alps to the series of battles that ended with the destruction of a massive Roman army at Cannae. However Hannibal spent more than a decade in Italy after Cannae, involved in near constant warfare against the Romans and their allies. He won over a series of southern Italian cities, including Capua and Tarentium, and won a series of further victories over Roman armies. Despite the often dramatic events of these years they are often skipped over, while the attention turns to the Scipios in Spain and the final invasion of Africa. However as this book proves, this is an interesting period with more than its fair share of major sieges and battles, more Roman defeats, and then a remarkable recovery that saw Hannibal slowly pinned down into an ever small area of southern Italy.

One irritant is that the author has picked sides. Hannibal is the hero of the piece and the Romans almost pantomime villains. There are occasions where no effort seems to have been made to understand Roman motives – one example that stands out is their execution of a group of hostages who attempted to flee from the city. The author sees this as inexplicable cruelty, but seen from the Roman point of view it will have made perfect sense. By the time of this incident they had already suffered a series of massive defeats, and many of their former allies in the south of Italy had changed sides. When their hostages attempted to flee, the Romans were inevitably going to see this as a sign of yet another round of betrayal, and responded accordingly. There is also a tendancy to dismiss any Roman battlefield victory over Hannibal as false, while accepting every story of Hannibal’s successes. Fortunately we are given the stories of Roman victories, so we can make our own judgements. Ironically, in his conclusion the author does demonstrate an understanding of why the heart of the Roman alliance stayed together – their remarkable system of absorbing conquered or allied states into their own system with different levels of citizenship and rights, something that other ancient societies failed to do.

One thing that does emerge from this story is that Hannibal doesn’t appear to have had a plan B. Plan A was to defeat the Romans in battle, strip away as many of their allies as possible and hope that the Romans would be forced to the negotiating table. When that didn’t happen he found himself involved in a decade of near constant campaigning in the south of Italy, where he could still win battlefield victories, but couldn’t defend his key allies. The only time he threatened Rome directly was done to try and lift the pressure on his allies at Capua, rather than as serious attack on the city, and had no real impact. Despite his battlefield victories he was slowly pushed south, until by the time he was forced to return to Africa he only held a small area in the very far south, and was no longer a serious threat.

Overall this is an interesting book that provides detailed coverage of a period that is rather too often skipped over. 

1 - A Second Round
2 - High-Water Mark
3 - One Hanno amongst Many
4 - Three More Blows
5 - Under the Servian Walls
6 - War in Apulia and Lucania
7 - A Fierce Season
8 - Death of a Hero
9 - A Last Chance
10 - Holding and Hoping
11 - Endgame

Author: Mike Roberts
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 262
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2017

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