The Ghosts of Cannae: Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic

O'Connell, Robert L.
Random House 2010
ISBN 978-1-4000-6702-2
Date finished: 2010-12-09

A fine and thoroughly engrossing account of the Second Punic War between Rome and Carthage, around 200BC. This was the war in which Hannibal led his army from Spain over the Alps into Italy, managing to get a few of his force's elephants to survive the trip (O'Connell notes that the elephants, for some reason considered vital by Carthaginian generals, were of little use in battle and often damaged their own side through unpredictable behaviour), and in which Archimedes was killed in the fall of Syracuse.

The war also featured the Battle of Cannae, a centerpiece of the book, where Hannibal's clever strategy destroys a much larger Roman force, a loss that traumatized the Senate and resulted in the banishment of the surviving Roman legionaries. I've often found military history tedious and hard to follow -- it all blurs into a jumble of "salients", "flanking", and other specialized topics -- but the discussion here is clear and vivid.

Finally, O'Connell suggests that the banishment of the losing soldiers, dubbed the Ghosts of Cannae, led them to look to their general Scipio Africanus more than to the Roman state, setting the pattern for army loyalty to charismatic generals. This made armies a useful tool for taking over the state, and the seeds of the Roman republic's end were therefore planted, leading to Julius Caesar and finally Octavian, two centuries later.

Tagged: ancient rome, classics


%T The Ghosts of Cannae
%S Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic
%A O'Connell, Robert L.
%@ 2010-12-09
%* *
%K classics, ancient rome
%G ISBN 978-1-4000-6702-2
%P 293pp
%D 2010
%I Random House
%C New York

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