Academic journal article Military Review

THE GHOSTS OF CANNAE: Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic

Academic journal article Military Review

THE GHOSTS OF CANNAE: Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic

Article excerpt

THE GHOSTS OF CANNAE Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic Robert L. O'Connell, Random House, New York, 2011, 310 pages, $17.00

THE FIRST QUESTION a reviewer should ask when reading this book is: Why another book about Cannae? The battle of Cannae (216 B.C.E.) between the Romans and the Carthaginians has been and continues to be the ideal example of the "Battle of Annihilation"-the epitome of the "Decisive Battle." Thus, there is a plethora of books and articles that purport to explain Hannibal's tactical masterpiece and sing the praises of the great captain who engineered such a gigantic killing field-that is, if the butchery of nearly 70,000 human beings could ever be considered a subject worthy of praise. In addition, the primary sources for this period have long been identified, analyzed from the widest variety of scholarly perspectives, and intensely commented in their most minute details.

Given these facts: Why another book on Cannae? The answer is that Robert O'Connell not only provides the nonspecialist reader a well-written interpretation of this classic battle, but also its historical context, its immediate consequences, and its ultimate meaning. O'Connell's narrative encompasses the entire scope of the Second Punic War and explains why it can also be regarded as "Hannibal's War." He weaves his narrative around Hannibal's personality and those of his primary Roman opponents. Central to the story is the role of the survivors of the battle- the "Ghosts of Cannae"-which were disgraced by the Roman Senate for allegedly fleeing the battlefield and who, O'Connell argues, eventually formed the core of veterans in the victorious army, which went on to defeat Hannibal on his home turf under Scipio Africanus-himself a survivor of Cannae. …

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