The three Punic Wars are probably the most famous foreign wars fought by the Roman Republic (in particular the Second Punic War, with its images of Hannibal, his elephants and his crushing victory at Cannae), but the same period also saw the Romans fight their first wars across the Adriatic, and finally defeat the Gallic tribes of northern Italy, a long standing threat to the city of Rome herself. This period also saw Carthage attempt to recover from her defeat in the First Punic War by establish a new empire in Spain.
Although the Punic Wars are fairly well documented, the gaps between them are less well served. Many of the surviving histories rush over these periods and prefer to focus on the dramatic clashes with Carthage, and in other cases the sections covering the gaps between the wars are totally lost (Book 20 of Livy being perhaps the most frustrating gap). The author doesn't brush over these problems, and in many sections the discussion of the gaps in the sources, problems with the surviving sources and the contradictions between competing sources are at the heart of the discussion. These debates are supported by sizable extracts from the various sources. One minor quibble here - sometimes two or three different sources are given in sequence, but they are only identified by book endnotes, which makes them effectively unreferenced - putting the author's names after each source would have made this excellent approach more effective.
I like Sampson's approach to this period. He largely follows Polybius, whose history is the best surviving source, but then brings in alternative versions of events, suggesting where they may provide extra details or reflect later errors. I thought I was quite familiar with this period, but I hadn’t realised how serious a threat the Gauls of northern Italy posed to Roman power at the time, how much effort went into the Gallic Wars, or how close the Gauls came to directly threatening the city - at the start of this period the Romans hardly controlled any of the Po valley in northern Italy, so their power was limited to central and southern Italy, something I must admit I hadn't realised. This is the period in which Rome completed the conquest of northern Italy, eliminating one of her most dangerous enemies, and is thus of great significance.
This is a useful book that helps fill a gap in the military history of Rome, with a good use of the limited sources.
I - Rome Before and After the First Punic War (338-218 BC)
1 - Roman Expansion in Italy and Beyond (338-241 BC)
2 - Roman Expansion in the Mediterranean - Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica (241-218 BC)
II - Roman Expansion in Italy and the East (238-228 BC)
3 - Roman Expansion in Italy - The Gallic and Ligurian Wars (238-230 BC)
4 - Roman Expansion in the East - The First Illyrian War (230-228 BC)
5 - Carthaginian Expansion in Spain and the Roman Response (237-226 BC)
III - Roman Expansion in Spain and the Roman Response (237-226 BC)
6 - The Gallic War I - The Road to Telamon
7 - The Gallic War II - The Battle of Telamon (225 BC)
8 - The Gallic War III - The Roman Invasion of Northern Italy (224-223 BC)
9 - The Gallic War IV - The Battle of Clastidium (222 BC) and Subsequent Campaigns (222-218 BC)
IV - The Consequences of Expansion (225-218 BC)
10 - Roman Expansion in the East - The Second Illyrian War (219 BC)
11 - Carthaginian Expansion in Spain and the Roman Response (225-218 BC)
Author: Gareth C. Sampson
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military