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5.0 out of 5 stars Hannibal at the gates, 25 Jan 2012
This review is from: The War with Hannibal: The History of Rome from its Foundation Books 21-30: The History of Rome from Its Foundation Bks. 21-30 (Classics) (Paperback)
This is the story of the Second Punic War, and of Rome's most implacable foe: Hannibal Barca. There can be little doubt that the world would be a very different place had Carthage won this war.

In his introduction, Livy writes the following:

"A number of things contributed to give this war its unique character; in the first place, it was fought between peoples unrivalled throughout previous history in material resources, and themselves at the peak of their prosperity and power; secondly, it was a struggle between old antagonists, each of whom had learned, in the first Punic War, to appreciate the military capabilities of the other; thirdly, the final issue hung so much in doubt that the eventual victors came nearer to destruction than their adversaries."

Livy's chronicle of this long and bitter struggle - stretching from the siege of Saguntum in 218BC to Hannibal's final defeat at Zama in 202BC - is a thrilling story. Its depiction of Hannibal is unusual, given the traditional bias of Roman historians towards their enemies. He was clearly an exceptional man, capable of leading armies made up of tens of different nationalities, and of holding them together. But Livy also argues that it was Hannibal's over-confidence, coupled with the intrigues of his political enemies, that led to his eventual downfall.

Livy does not shrink from criticizing his own side. His descriptions of the catastrophic trilogy of Roman defeats (River Trebia, Lake Trasimene, Cannae) read like scathing indictments. His portrayal of the Senate's ineptitude is even more damning. Some passages are very revealing, such as those describing how the Romans built their first war fleet based on a captured Carthaginian vessel. On the other hand, Livy can also engage in outright propaganda. For example, his account of young Scipio's election as curule aedile by universal popular acclaim is totally unbelievable. He generally paints Africanus in a flawless light. Nevertheless, it all makes for an entertaining read.

In sum, "The War With Hannibal" is not to be missed. Aubrey de Selincourt provides an excellent translation of an epic struggle, with all the twists and turns of war.
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