Adonis Diaries

Archive for July 10th, 2010

Hannibal: All time gentleman soldier?

It is recorded that Alissa of Tyr (an ancient City-State in Lebanon), fleeing her brother, established Carthage in current Tunisia.  The emerging Roman Empire clashed with Carthage in the first Punic war (Punic for Phoenician since this first war was mainly maritime).  The war ended with a peace treaty against the will of Carthage commander-in-chief Hamilcar Barca (father of Hannibal).  Thus, Hamilcar was practically exiled.

In the meantime, Carthage had over 20,000 mercenaries on hand and didn’t feel paying them their full dues.  The mercenaries were in the city of Carthage and could have occupied it if they had a leader.  Carthage paid a portion of the salaries with promises to pay the remaining sum if they vacate the city, which the mercenaries did.

Carthage ordered Hamilcar back to subjugate the mercenary army. Hamilcar waged war against the mercenaries for 40 months before finishing the job.  By then, Carthage was exhausted with empty treasury.

Hannibal was 9 years old when his father died and he spent the next 16 years in the military.  By the age of 25, Hannibal was commanding the troops in Spain and had occupied most of Spain.  Rome then declared war on the ground that Hannibal broke the treaty. This is the second Punic war.

Hannibal marched quickly with 50,000 in infantry and 9,000 in cavalry, and a few elephants and crossed the Rhone River in France before the Roman army could intercept him.  Hannibal climbed the Alps mountain peaks as snow was falling.  This is considered the boldest and craziest endeavor in history.  By the time Hannibal reached the Po River in Northern Italy his army was reduced by half.

Even with this tired and much reduced army, Hannibal crushed two Roman armies in two encounters (each Roman army at least double Hannibal’s.  The route to Rome was wide open but Hannibal refused to march on Rome.  One of Hannibal cavalry commanders asked Hannibal permission to advancing to Rome saying: “Rome is five days away.  By the time your infantry arrives I will offer you Rome.”  This cavalry commander was beside himself as Hannibal declined the offer and he replied: “Hannibal, you are an excellent tactician but a very lousy strategist.”

The first question is:

1. “Why Hannibal had to cross the Alps Mountain range when Carthage had a capable navy?  There are many reasons, most of them interconnected.  First, Carthage was inclined not to accept the war: it already had a bad experience with hiring mercenaries.  Second, the aristocracy in Carthage feared that this young and hot-blooded commander might use the navy to enter Carthage and then resume the war according to his plans.  Third, Hannibal wanted to occupy all the lands leading to Italy to safeguard his rears and rob Rome of any future wealth and supplies in men and horses.  If Carthage was agreeable to waging war then Hannibal could have occupied the lands and then board the navy to Italy.

2. The second question is: “Why Hannibal failed to march on Rome?”  The one who dared to cross the Alps with elephants could logically dare to attempt to march on Rome and negotiate an advantageous deal even without putting a serious siege on Rome; assuming that Hannibal had no siege equipments.

Some say that Hannibal wanted to enter Rome with the least casualties by occupying the country side and depriving Rome from any supplies.  This reasoning might be valid but I have another alternative option.  Hannibal wanted to emulate Alexander by winning the heart and mind of the Romans. Hannibal was a military man and admired the Roman military spirit and would have rather be a commander in Rome than a commander in this rotten mercantile State of Carthage that feared him and refused him aids, even when he was about to defeat Rome completely.

Hannibal marched on to the Adriatic Sea and then south and captured many Roman territories.

In 216 BC, Rome had assembled a fresh army of 80,000 infantry and 8,500 cavalry and advanced to Canna.  Hannibal had barely 23,000 infantry and 10,000 o veteran cavalry.

Hannibal cavalry destroyed the young Roman cavalry within an hour and then encircled the Roman infantry on all sides.  Only 4,000 Roman soldiers escaped this massacre; most Romans died trampled.  Rome learned to care better for its cavalry; that is what it did in the battle of Zama 13 years later.  Again, Rome was wide open for the take; Hannibal declined to march on Rome and he wandered for another 12 years in Italy.

Apparently, Hannibal loved and roamed in Italy; he enjoyed being his own boss; a wandering king with no fixed palaces; no stuffy ceremonials; no mean political maneuvering.

Hannibal was now only 28 years old; he is young and having a blast and had all the time ahead of him before taking on boring responsibilities.  Hannibal was the ultimate Corporal: first in battle and last to quit the battle field.

By then, the Roman General, Scipio the Younger, had advanced in Spain and defeated the army of Carthage sent to relieve Hannibal.  Scipio marched on to Carthage.

Hannibal was summoned to Carthage; how could Hannibal and his army reach Carthage unless by sea?  When the oligarchy in Carthage need something, the navy is ready to dispatch the army of Hannibal.

Hannibal was defeated at the battle of Zama and was exiled.

Hannibal stayed at the Greek/Syrian Seleucid King and they fought the Roman again and were not lucky.  Hannibal fled up north and then committed suicide by poison in order not to be made prisoner by the Romans.

The all time gentleman soldier.

The Romans kept detailed intelligence on Hannibal activities, and it was never reported that Hannibal’s army burned villages or massacred civilians. If he did, he would have won the war instead of playing the gentleman soldier.  The greatest feat of Hannibal is that during these 15 years of wandering with a mercenary infantry, far away from home base, his army never experienced any mutinies.

Note 1:  There are detailed accounts of Hamilcar Barca war against the mercenaries in Carthage (the famous French author Flaubert described it in “Salombo”) then, why there are no accounts of Hannibal peregrinations in Italy? Surely the Roman kept tabs on Hannibal’s whereabouts with minute details; then, did the Romans decided that these intelligence are State secrets until Carthage is physically annihilated in the third Punic war?

Carthage and Hannibal should be erased from the Roman memory?  Physically yes, but never in history.

For 2,300 years Hannibal’s war tactics have been emulated as the most effective war engagements.  Hannibal, the all time gentleman soldier, reporting to “duty”.

Note: 2 Hannibal used his invincible army to weakening the strongest military superpower at each period.  He refrained entering Rome at several occasions simply so that Carthage would not return as the sole superpower in the Mediterranean Sea.  I re-edited this article for further development of this idea https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2010/09/29/wisest-general-all-time-hannibal/

I published many articles on Arab cultures and last week I posted two on Pre-Islam Arab cultures and the original matriarchal society.  A few facts highlights the historical contexts.  First, it appears that the first time the word “Arab” was discovered in manuscripts was in 853 BC as a coalition of Arab tribes, Syria, and a few Israelite tribes in northern Palestine, associated to counter an Assyrian incursion in the Levant.  Second, Arabic tribes extended to the desert region between the Euphrates and Tiger Rivers, to the vast stretch of land bordering the Red Sea, to Southern Palestine and Jordan, to the Sinai Peninsula, and to the lands bordering the Persian Gulf.  Fourth, the Arabic tribes languages and cultures were influenced by the urban civilization in Yemen, the various Persian Empires and India, and the various Western Empires of Greek, Roman, and Byzantium Empires before the advent of Islam. Fifth, the dominant Empires at every period paid tributes to coalition of Arabic tribes in return of keeping the peace on demarcation borders, facilitating trade caravans, and for gathering intelligence on the enemy as advanced warning of changes in policies, and for joining in battles.

There is this passion for legal proceedings in the Middle East since time immemorial. The “eye for eye” justice far predominant in the beginning until the principle of indemnization proved to be more valuable in the long run.  Pre-Islam Arab tribes learned to give priority or a higher weight to preventive justice resulting in preemptive banishment of members when behavioral trends of members endangered the peaceful coexistence of the tribe in its environment.  Behaviors judged to be of recurring tendencies that may harm the tribe and might involve it into unwanted clashes with other tribes were seriously dealt with. 

For example, stealing was far harshly punished than crimes of passions on the ground that thievery is in the nature of frequent lapses  while crime of passion is once in a lifetime. (Most probably, tribes kept “verbal statistics” on crimes of passion, and statistics speak louder).

With scarce resources and wealth, a tribe would figure out that it is to its advantage to banish troublesome members that might require the tribe to pay heavy compensations in camels and other life stock.  A banished member was not safe from retributions of “enemy” tribes when he was suspected of committing a crime even if there are no evidences; the suspect would not take the risk of facing justice and he would flee the region, as far away as he could:  He is hounded down and brought to justice even if he fled to Syria or Iraq.

Many “Arabic” stories and myths were altered and recounted by bordering Empires since antiquity to fitting the environment and culture. After Islam, anyone with talents in poetry, music, singing, storytelling was claimed to be haunted by the appropriate genie who would recite during his dreaming periods the corresponding pieces.  You may hear about the genies Dalhan (a cannibal who appears in the form of a human mounted on a black camel) or Ghaddar (who enjoys torturing prisoners), or Hatif (an invisible who extends imprudent hints),  or Shaytan (or Satan who reigns over fire), or Ifrit (who takes forms of animals), or Shiq (who has one arm, one leg, half a body and half a head) or Ghul and Qutrub (who prostitute one another), or Silat (who make you dance), or Sut (who makes you lie), or Scheherazade(who satisfies your desires).  In pre-Islam, the female warrior Goddess Uzza was the first to have she imprisoned most of them in the outer space of “mountain Qaf ” that circled earth.  A few genies are still free to roam among us and Scheherazade is one of them.

Who is the Arabic Scheherazade who said: ” “When I tell a lie then, am I not restoring an ancient truth?” Scheherazade had this habit of entering Bedouin tents and then encouraged them to telling her their dreams. Scheherazade continued to pervert men’s ambitions until she entered the tent of Aladdin from the tribe of Labwa (lioness).  Aladdin wanted to know all the stories and he kept lighting his candle and listening.  Aladdin’s tribe folded its tents but he remained listening to Scheherazade’s stories; he got old but remained focused on hearing stories. Scheherazade then realized that there are a finite number of stories and there is no first or last story since they follow a vicious circle of same stories with tiny alterations.

More myths in successive posts.

Note:   When you read about pre-Islam cultures of Arabic tribes you should keep in mind thousand of years of traditions and customs.  Pre-Islam Arabic cultures are lumped by the new emerging Islam as “Period of Ignorance (Jahilyya)” meaning ignorance of the One and Unique God Allah.  Fact is, many Arabic tribes were already Christians or what is labelled “heretic” Christians because they had dogmas different from the Byzantine Orthodox dogma.  Fact is, many Arabic tribes were Jewish; and many more believed in Mazda (the dominant religion in Persia.)  Fact is, most of the idols that Arabic tribes venerated were imported from Syria, Persia, and India.  Islam became the common denominator religion among Arabic tribes during the Prophet Muhammad life.

I might describe in successive series of  “pre-Islam Arabic cultures” a few of the poets and cultural customs .  Topics were mostly generated from “The enigma of Qaf” by the Brazillian Alberto Mussa who is Lebanese by origin.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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