Review Corner: “Hannibal’s War”

23 Sep

Hannibal’s War. John Peddie. Sutton Publishing Limited, Thrupp, Stroud, Gloucestershire, England. 1997. ISBN 0-7509-1336-3. Pictures. Illustrations. Maps. Chronology. Tables. Appendix. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xvi. 232.

Reviewed by Simon S. Sundaraj-Keun

             For enthusiasts captivated, by Hannibal, the great Carthaginian hero of the Second Punic War (218-201 BC), Hannibal’s War is an important book that investigates and analyzes the life of a legendary general. The author, John Peddie explores the successes and failures of Hannibal’s Roman conquest.

            Peddie objective is to describe Hannibal as a master tactician on the battlefield, but a pawn for an empire with no hindsight. In his thesis, Peddie describe the blame for Hannibal ultimate defeat by Rome was Carthage. Systematically, he adds a scholarly and chronological interpretation on the major battles fought by Hannibal in the Second Punic War. The book starts out with a short description of Hannibal’s father, Hamilcar Barca and his brother-in-law, Hasdrubal both veterans of the First Punic War (264-241 BC) who influence Hannibal heavily.

Hannibal’s War describes each key event from the march from the Iberian Peninsula, to the Hannibal’s unorthodox maneuver by marching across the Alps into the Italian Peninsula (Chaps 2-4). Hannibal strength was in his leadership in making spontaneous decision on the battlefield. Peddie’s analysis of Hannibal was a leader who led by example and values his men over his own campaign objective (Chapter 6). This was Hannibal weakness that gave the Romans some breathing space (Chapter 5).

This book analyzes reason for Hannibal retreat was his inability to adapt (Chaps 7 & 11) to delay action tactics and the notion of total war employed by the Romans. The thinly stretch army of Hannibal was contained and Rome led by Scipio Africanus conducted war to Carthaginian territories in Spain and North Africa (Chaps 8-10).  In the epilogue section Peddie discuss that Hannibal failed to prepare Spain with a strong defense and leadership to counter a Roman invasion.

Peddie’s book like most British authors contains a fairly decent cited material along with a slim end notes section. The pictures, illustrations, and maps are helpful in aiding the reader to get a general feel for space and time it took each army to meet on the battlefield. There are also tables for resources and production statistics of civilization during the war. The book’s appendix section discuss in detail on “Hannibal’s March From The Rhone”, “Hannibal’s War Elephants”, and “The Trasimene Battlefield”. Hannibal’s War bibliography section is not substantial enough because it is subdivided into “General” and “Main Historical Sources” by authors like Livy and Cicero. The Second Punic War was written by Roman Historians in Latin thus it explains the inadequate source materials in this book.

The strength of the book is its objectivity to accuracy and contains various quotations from historians to generals like Livy, Julius Caesar, and General Field Marshall von Moltke. Peddie successfully argue in his thesis that Hannibal was a great general who wins battles, but could never won the war without the adequate support by Carthage. I do recommend Hannibal’s War by John Peddie for military officers, historians, and classic enthusiast in general.

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