Hannibal, Invader From Carthage by Robert N. Webb is a biography that focuses on and highlights the life and times of Hannibal, the Carthaginian general. Hannibal is best remembered as the courageous warrior who led an army of thousands and thousands of men, thirty-seven elephants, and a number of horses across Spain, the Alps, and Italy, on a mission to conquer Rome. The author does an admirable job showing different views of Hannibal.
He quotes other historians and poets throughout the course of the book, such as Livy, Polybius, and Lord Byron. Quoting other historians is an effective system of writing because it is not just Webb reciting facts, but other famous writers giving interpretations as well. As a boy, and all during his adult life, Hannibal was exposed to the traumas of war and battles. This probably is the reason why he was exceptionally fearless and brave. Hannibal became one of the greatest generals of all time, and is labeled by historians as a military genius superior to fearless heroes such as Alexander the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte.
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Hannibal, born in Sicily in 251 BC, was always close to war. The first five years of his life set the pattern for his future. Soldiers, who were mercenaries of about six different races, always surrounded him. Hannibal’s father, Hamilcar, led Carthaginian forces against Rome for the last six years of the First Punic War. Hamilcar was very bright and was always coming up with brilliant ways to attack the Romans. Hannibal was with his father when Hamilcar raised his army of mercenaries, who were ferocious warriors. Hannibal received all of his skills from his father. During Hannibal’s time as leader of the Carthaginians, he always used force of arms, even when they were not necessary. He displayed much courage and talent in battle. Not only was Hannibal a great warrior, but he was highly educated for his time. Acts of pure genius and reasoning saved him during difficult and strenuous times in his prime years.
A significant historical aspect of the book is in general Hannibal and the Carthaginian’s hate towards the Romans. The Carthaginians always had an edge, because Hannibal was so brilliant. For example, Hannibal planned invasions when the Romans least suspected them. Hannibal’s army could not invade by sea, because the Roman navy was in control of the seaports. The only other way to get to Rome from Spain was the Alps, a near-impossible mountain range to cross. But the bold and daring Hannibal had plans to cross the Alps, and he believed that his army could do it. Hannibal marched out of Carthage with ninety thousand foot soldiers, twelve thousand horses, and thirty-seven elephants. Hannibal led them all on a fifteen hundred mile journey, which would go on to prove he was one of the greatest generals to ever lead an army.
Hannibal’s deceptive, tricky, and skillful thinking was one of the reasons why he was successful against Rome. The elephants were probably the greatest aspects of the army. They can be compared to the tanks used today in modern warfare. These huge animals trampled over the Romans, and were almost impossible to capture of kill. The average Roman would be helpless against a line of charging elephants. The mere appearance of the elephants on the battlefield was frightening. They shook the ground when they ran. Hannibal’s goal of completely demolishing the Romans was successful, and a large part of this success was due to the outstanding idea of Hannibal to use elephants in battle.
Hannibal faced a large problem on his journey. As he advanced towards the Rhone River, he would have to find a way to get the elephants across. Because time was crucial, Hannibal’s quick reasoning and thinking was the reason the elephants crossed the river quickly and efficiently. Under Hannibal’s direction, two huge rafts, over fifty feet wide and made out of the heaviest logs were constructed. One was two hundred feet long, the other one hundred feet long. The elephants crossed a few at a time on these rafts. The rafts were sent back to pick up new elephants once the previous had crossed. This operation was repeated until all thirty-seven elephants crossed safely. Again, the genius mind of Hannibal and fast acting helped the Carthaginians overcome a huge obstacle.
Hannibal’s decision to cross the Alps was probably the bravest, most daring, and unexpected decision in Carthaginian history. The Alps were a major geographical “problem”; they were a land barrier almost impossible to cross. Hannibal had to travel through them because there was no other direct route to Rome available at that moment in time. Hannibal ran into many difficulties during his climb. Many tribes that lived in the Alps were not happy when Hannibal and his men tried to cross. A battle was fought with the Allobroges and the Carthaginians won. Later on though, nearing the end of the journey through the Alps, two landslides took place.
One of these landslides caused a gigantic rock to block the path down the side of one of the mountains. Thousands of men tried to move the rock, but their efforts were unsuccessful. The well-educated Hannibal, recalling his old science lessons, thought up a purely genius plan to conquer the enormous rock. Hannibal’s men created a huge fire.
Flames rose hundreds of feet in the air. Once these flames gave the rock a reddish-glow, his men took sledgehammers and hacked away at the rock. Huge slabs were cut off, and it took four days to reduce the rock to gravel and small stones. Hannibal had conquered a natural obstacle, and it was said that he performed a miracle. He had overcome the problems along the mountain and he reached his goal – crossing the Alps on a mission to conquer Rome.
The Battle of Cannae is one of the most important historical aspects of the book. When Hannibal reached Roman territory, he moved into the plentiful land of Cannae, occupied by the Romans. Cannae held weapons, corn, and other provisions. It was a Roman stronghold, but Hannibal’s surprise attack was able to capture it with ease. Soon, the Romans decided to fight back for the land. The Roman army was twice the size of Hannibal’s, and it seemed that the Romans would have no problem taking Cannae back.
But in this battle, just as the many others he had been through, Hannibal exhibited supreme generalship. After the Battle of Cannae took place, the Romans had lost over seventy thousand men, while Hannibal lost only six thousand. The magnitude of the Roman losses can be compared to the total American losses in WWII. Overall, this battle has been ranked with the Battles of Blenheim, Waterloo, and Gettysburg.
Hannibal achieved all of his goals in his lifetime. He accomplished everything that he set out to accomplish. When Hannibal died at sixty-seven, it marked the end of Carthage. Hannibal’s greatness as a warrior had kept his army together. The only battle that the Carthaginian military genius lost was his last and final battle, the Battle of Zama. Throughout his whole life of war, in most battles his army was outnumbered as much as ten to one. But Hannibal’s ability to think quickly and put forth excellent ideas is the reason why his army came out victorious. Hannibal left his mark as one of the greatest generals of all time.
I would recommend this book to someone who is interested in analyzing supreme leaders in history. Not only does the author fully and effectively explain the motives under Hannibal’s ideas, but Webb also discusses other leaders, such as Scipio Africanus. Webb’s style of writing was clear and concise.
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