Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

ISRAEL blitzes Palestinian territory while America tries to get a stranglehold on al-Qa'eda's mountain hideouts. Both can claim 'victory', but an enemy must (in a sense) agree that it has been defeated before real victory has been gained - as Hannibal discovered.

The First Punic War (264-241 BC) was fought over Sicily. Carthage failed to exploit its superiority at sea, and, when it sued for peace, Rome turned Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica into its first provinces (the Roman empire starts here). Carthage shifted its overseas power-base to Spain, and in 218 Bc the Second Punic War began when Hannibal launched a daring attack on Rome, marching his army and elephants over the Rhone, across the Alps and down into northern Italy.

Hannibal was banking on his tough, experienced army, his own brilliantly innovative generalship and (the great imponderable) his ability to win Italians to his cause. He made a terrifying start, crushing the Roman army at Trebia (218 BC), Trasimene (217 Bc) and, most devastatingly of all, further south at Cannae (216 BC). After such victories, he had every reason to expect Rome to surrender. But the Romans did not agree that they had been defeated, and poured money and manpower into proving it. They learned from experience, observing how Hannibal lured the enemy into fighting on terrain advantageous to himself and how he liked to hit the legions from the side rather than head-on. …

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