Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: Hannibal vs the Islamic State

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: Hannibal vs the Islamic State

Article excerpt

Whatever the Islamic State hopes ultimately to achieve by its current onslaught on all and sundry in the Middle East, Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, would certainly understand why it has been successful (so far); but Hannibal, who came within an ace of conquering Italy, might offer a word of warning.

In the ancient world, conquest of territory was the route to enrichment: other people's resources became yours to use as you wished. By 358 BC Philip had trained up what would turn out to be an almost unbeatable army. Moving south from Macedon, he picked off Greek city-states one by one, until by 338 BC he had gained effective control over all of Greece. He then planned an assault on Persia, but was assassinated in 336 BC. Alexander fulfilled his father's ambitions.

Philip's success, however, was not simply down to his army, superb though it was; it was the fact that he knew that the ever-disunited, squabbling Greek cities would never combine against him. He could therefore take them out piecemeal, which he did. …

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