Ancient History & Civilisation




IN SUMMER 324 B.C., IN the city of Opis (near today’s Baghdad), Alexander invited the cream of his army and his government to an enormous banquet. The sources, unsure of the numbers, record a rumor that nine thousand people were in attendance.

It was a great show—prizewinning political theater—that much is certain. The purpose was to celebrate victory. Not the successful return of Alexander and his army from India the winter before but a more dubious success. Just a few days earlier, Alexander had put down a mutiny. The trouble came after he announced plans to send most of his Macedonian veterans home to Macedon. They were ten thousand men, a large group. He would replace them with new recruits from Macedon and Persia. Old and injured, the veterans were also fierce conservatives and hated Alexander’s pro-Persian policies, however limited those policies were. So they rose in protest.

Unlike in India, Alexander refused to budge. He wanted a new army and he wanted it loyal to him because he had plans for new wars. Alexander had the ringleaders of the mutiny executed and offered top military commands to Iranian officers. Within a few days, the Macedonians realized that Alexander was serious about having his own way, so they apologized, and it was all over.

Having won, Alexander was magnanimous. He gave the leading Macedonians the best seats at the banquet, where they surrounded him in a circle. The senior Persians sat in a ring around them, surrounded in turn by a circle of high-ranking representatives of the other peoples of the empire.

Like all ancient Greek or Macedonian meals, the banquet began with a prayer. Ritual called for filling a wine cup and pouring out a few drops in honor of the gods. Alexander gave the Macedonians the honor of ladling their wine from the same huge bowl from which he would drink. Greek and Persian priests began the ceremony, and then Alexander led the prayer. He prayed for “various blessings and especially for unity among Macedonians and Persians as partners in the government.”

Remarkable sentiments, but they were just words. The seating plan at the Opis banquet told the real story—Persians would play a role in Alexander’s regime but Macedonians (and Greeks) would monopolize the inner circle. But they would be his Macedonians and support his policy of working with the Persians. They would not be narrow-minded “Macedonia first” types who would challenge the king.

We’ll never know if Alexander would have succeeded in his plans, because he barely had a chance to put them into practice. By the next summer, the king was dead.

About 125 years later and about fifteen hundred miles to the west, an even more bittersweet victory party took place. It was summer 205 B.C. outside Croton, Italy. Croton was a small port on the toe of the Italian boot, with a harbor on the Ionian Sea, looking eastward toward Greece. A once great city, famous for its beautiful women and its wealth, Croton was a ghost town after centuries of war and ruin. Only two glories were left—the temple of Hera and Hannibal.

In 205, the area around Croton was all that remained of Hannibal’s once vast Italian holdings. It was a grim place, hardly worth keeping, but the Carthaginian government insisted that Hannibal stay. The rulers in Carthage thought he was distracting the Romans, but the Romans had him cornered. Hannibal had his hands full, what with the Roman army nearby, an epidemic, a food shortage, and the bandits who roamed the area. Still, he held his forces together for two more years until the government finally recalled them to Africa, in autumn 203.

Meanwhile, Hannibal made a magnificent gesture. Not far from Croton, on a rocky promontory on the coast, stood the sanctuary of Hera Lacinia. In spite of Croton’s decline, this famous and opulent shrine, which contained a solid gold column, had maintained its prestige.

It was here that Hannibal paid tribute to all that he had done. Hannibal placed in the temple a large history of his achievements since leaving Spain, thirteen years earlier, inscribed on a bronze tablet. The text was bilingual, written in Punic and in Greek.

It was a monument in the boondocks. It might have seemed like an empty gesture, but it made Hannibal immortal. It was still standing about fifty years later when the Greek historian Polybius saw it. Polybius took the backbone of his account of Hannibal’s war in Italy from the inscription, and Polybius’s book is the most trustworthy history of Hannibal that we have. In a real sense, our knowledge of Hannibal in Italy today goes back to the Lacinian inscription.

Hannibal lived for about another twenty-five years. If he ever regretted the long road that led from Cannae to Croton, he shouldn’t have. All his men and elephants did less to bring him fame than did one bronze tablet.

One hundred sixty years later and about four hundred miles to the northwest, in October 45 B.C. another victory party took place, this one loud and raucous. Caesar’s troops marched through the streets of Rome in triumph—for the fifth time. The previous summer 46, Caesar had stunned Rome by putting on four successive triumphs in just one month: one each for Gaul, Egypt, Pontus, and Africa. Now he celebrated victory in Spain.

Just like the earlier triumphs, the Spanish celebration was splendid. Each event had a theme, as it were—ivory for Africa and silver for Spain—which was used to decorate the floats in the parade. Silver symbolized both Spain’s famous mines and Caesar’s wealth.

In 46, Caesar tactfully avoided reference to the civil war, since a triumph was supposed to mark a victory over foreign armies, but in 45, he showed his true colors. He had fought and beaten fellow Romans in Spain, the sons of Pompey, and he made no bones about it. Caesar didn’t care, he had more important things in mind than Roman sensibilities. He was already gearing up for a new war in the East.

But many Romans did care. One of them was Gaius Pontius Aquila, one of the ten tribunes. As Caesar rode past the reviewing stand in his triumphal chariot, nine of the tribunes stood in salute, but Aquila remained seated. The dictator was furious. “Ask me for the Republic back, Tribune Aquila!” Caesar called out. Nor was that the end of it. For days, whenever Caesar promised something in public, he added bitingly, “That is, if Pontius Aquila will let me.”

Caesar capped his Spanish triumph with the usual public banquet for the people of Rome. Then, four days later, he feasted them again, which was unprecedented. His motive, he said, was to put on a lavish spread in order to make up for cutting corners in the first meal. Caesar was a politician, though, and perhaps the real reason was that he felt the public’s anger and he wanted to make amends.

Five months later, he was dead. Caesar was stabbed twenty-three times by a mob of senators. One of them was Pontius Aquila.

Things did not end well for any of our three commanders. Alexander and Caesar had military glory, at least—although neither one ended his last campaign on a high note. Hannibal did not even have that.

True, Hannibal helped Carthage recover after it had lost to Rome. His postwar statesmanship bought his country two generations of peace and prosperity. But he was paving the road to damnation for Carthage. After Hannibal, Rome would never trust Carthage again and eventually, it avenged Cannae in a way that made that battle’s carnage look like a pillow fight.

Neither Alexander nor Caesar bequeathed a legacy of peace. Caesar left Rome one generation of war, Alexander left his empire two generations of war.

Things could have gone differently. Alexander could have come back much sooner from the East and then devoted himself to governing his empire instead of building a new army for more fighting. Hannibal might have left Italy years earlier and protected Carthage and its empire instead of chasing an unreachable victory. Caesar might have negotiated a peace agreement with his Roman opponents years earlier. But that wasn’t in their character.

Alexander, Hannibal, and Caesar were conquerors, not statesmen. Conquerors keep on going until they and their men drop from exhaustion or die. Statesmen know when to stop.

They remind us of the wisdom of Winston Churchill, who wrote: “Those who can win a war well can rarely make a good peace, and those who could make a good peace would never have won the war.”


When Alexander returned from India, he had conquered an empire. The question now was, could he keep it? New empires do not govern themselves. They require enormous attention to the dynasty, the ruling elite, the army, and the administration. While Alexander was not blind to these matters, he was not overly interested in them either.

It was hard to listen to bureaucrats drone on when you still heard the trumpets.

Misgoverning an Empire

Alexander’s empire comprised two million square miles from Greece to India—three thousand miles as the crow flies, from end to end. It included dozens of different peoples and languages. How to hold them together?

The first and biggest issue was the new empire’s identity. Alexander claimed to be the king of Asia but he acted as if he expected a European elite to hold the upper hand. That was likely to offend everyone. It also conflicted with inconvenient facts of demography. Alexander had veteran Macedonian troops but he distrusted them. He ordered new recruits from Macedon, but Macedon was short of manpower and it needed soldiers to deal with new threats in Greece. The one place where Alexander got plenty of new troops, Iran, was full of people who resented his conquest. Alexander faced a dilemma.

Macedon and the Persian empire offered lessons for governing, both good and bad. Philip of Macedon had done an excellent job of integrating local elites into the ruling class by bringing their sons to his court. He did much the same with their followers by adding them to the Macedonian army. Philip was equally good at winning over foreign states by a combination of threats and bribes. He also founded new cities in territory that he conquered, and they could serve as bases for governing. Otherwise, though, he showed little interest in administration or state infrastructure. He created no bureaucracy and no ladder of offices to tie the middle class to the new regime.

The Persians ruled through a system of provincial governors, royal officials, military colonies, and constant deals and negotiations with local elites. Compared with other empires, the Persians governed with a light touch. There was little attempt to “Persianize” their subjects. While that made the Persians popular it also left them weak. Revolts were frequent and support for the empire was thin. When Alexander defeated the Persian army, very little held the civilian population together. Rome, with its close-knit society and alliance system, could pull together and bounce back after a defeat like Cannae. Persia could not rebound from Gaugamela.

Alexander showed leadership in some areas. After neglecting to supervise his provincial governors, he caught up. He recognized the severe shortage of Macedonian soldiers and began to build a new army. He took a stab at integrating a few Iranians into a new, Macedonian-dominated imperial elite.

But Alexander did not confront the even bigger problems of administering his new empire. Successful empires need large numbers of immigrants from the home country—soldiers, administrators, businessmen, propagandists, and settlers. They need schools to produce a steady stream of loyal public servants.

Empires need big garrisons and bases full of willing inhabitants, and not what Alexander had left behind: a string of vest-pocket-sized “Alexandrias” whose unhappy inhabitants had been uprooted and forced to live there. Plutarch claimed that Alexander founded seventy cities, but that was a wild exaggeration. The best modern scholarly estimate is that he founded only ten, of which all but two were on the eastern edge of his empire. It remained for Alexander’s successors to build the great new cities of the East, from Pergamum (in Anatolia) and Antioch (in Syria) to Ai Khanum (in Bactria). In short, Alexander did not establish the administrative structures his empire needed to survive.

This isn’t surprising. Alexander did not think in such terms. For him, government wasn’t about institutions, much less about citizens. It was about a great man, his friends, and the army.

Instead of building administrative structures, Alexander did what he liked doing best—he went back to war.

The provincial governors—satraps—and top officials needed to be guided by a strong hand from the center. But while Alexander was away in the East for five years starting in 330 B.C., he paid little or no attention to the rest of his empire. The result was maladministration, corruption, disloyalty, and rebellion. More than half of the twenty-three provinces of the empire experienced either rebellion or a pretender to the throne.

When Alexander came back to the West, he made an effort to improve things, but it was too little. Opposition was predictable and Alexander ran into plenty of it. If he had fought half as hard against administrative abuse as he fought against Darius, he might have consolidated his rule. Instead, he again turned his attention to the military, where he radically reformed recruitment and began yet another campaign of conquest.

As soon as he reached Iran in December 325, Alexander began cleaning house. In short order he had four provincial governors executed, along with several pretenders to the throne. They were all Iranians, and Alexander replaced them with Macedonians. Earlier, he had kept as many of Darius’s governors in place as he could, but now, only four Iranian governors were left. Alexander executed Macedonian officers and troops as well but not Macedonian governors, in spite of their misbehavior.

Alexander wanted cooperation in government between Macedonians (and Greeks) on the one hand, and Persians on the other. But he didn’t trust the Persians and the Macedonians didn’t see things Alexander’s way. They had even less interest than he in governing the former Persian empire. They wanted to loot it.

Alexander backed an ambitious strategy of sharing power with local elites. If he really was the king of Asia, this made perfect sense. He took modest steps forward but even those provoked cries of betrayal and sellout from the Macedonians. For example, they grimaced when, in early 324, Alexander made one hundred of his top officers marry Iranian wives and made ten thousand ordinary soldiers legalize their relationships with the Asian women they had met on campaign. Alexander himself married Stateira, daughter of Darius III, as well possibly as Parysatis, daughter of Artaxerxes III, one of Darius’s predecessors on the throne. A polygamist, Alexander had already married Roxane, daughter of a powerful Bactrian noble.

When it came to the degree of compromise needed to govern a state that stretched from the Indian Ocean to the Adriatic Sea, few Macedonians “got it.” Some of Alexander’s old friends understood. Hephaestion, for example, served as grand vizier, the Persian officer in charge of court ceremonial—and Alexander introduced a great deal of Persian ceremonial. Peucestas, who served as satrap of Persis (modern Fars), the old Persian heartland, learned to speak Persian and wore Persian dress. Seleucus actually loved the Sogdian princess he married, Apama, the daughter of the rebel baron Spitamenes. Ptolemy made wise use of the principle of compromise with native culture when he later became king of Egypt. But these men were the exceptions among Macedonians, not the rule.

Or maybe the Macedonians were realists. When you came right down to it, most Macedonians agreed with Parmenio that Alexander wanted too big an empire. They couldn’t say so, of course, because they loved and feared their king. But actions speak louder than words. Many Macedonians behaved as if the empire was ungovernable and would inevitably break down into local units. In Bactria, Egypt, and Macedon itself, local rulers rebuffed Alexander or engaged in outright rebellion. Not that they cared, but they were following time-worn Persian precedent.

The default mode of the Persian empire had been devolution—that is, the transfer of power from the central government to local government. When the Great King chose to make an issue of it, devolution became rebellion and it was put down by force. More often, however, the authorities in Persepolis, Susa, and Babylon simply accepted the fact that the governors of Egypt, western Anatolia, Bactria, and Sogdiana—not to mention the more-or-less-lost province of India—would do as they pleased.

Local power was one problem for the Persians and for Alexander. Another was the law of unintended consequences, which reigned in full force in so big an empire. One case in point was the rise of a mercenary problem in Greece because of developments as far off as Afghanistan (Bactria).

Cape Taenarum, in southern Greece near Sparta, became the headquarters of an ancient “Murder Incorporated”—a pirate’s nest of mercenaries and brigands looking for trouble. Alexander’s conquests caused the problem. Some of the men at Cape Taenarum were political exiles from the regime change in hundreds of cities that Alexander had conquered. Others had been let loose by Alexander in 325, when he ordered all satraps to disband their mercenary armies, which he rightly considered a threat to him—in Bactria, for instance, the mercenaries had rebelled. Still other mercenaries—six thousand, in fact—came to Cape Taenarum along with Harpalus, Alexander’s boyhood friend and treasurer, who ran off to Greece in 325 with a small fortune and a private army.

From one point of view, the mercenaries of Cape Taenarum were a cynical gift to Alexander, because they kept the Greek city-states on edge and out of Macedon’s hair. From another point of view they threatened Macedon, because it was possible that the Greeks would buy off the mercenaries and use them in a revolt. The upshot was that Alexander had to keep troops in Macedon, which empowered the governor there, Antipater, and denied Alexander valuable military manpower in the Middle East.

The Greek city-states were a problem again by 324, as they had been before 330. Athens was the biggest headache. The Athenians refused entry to Harpalus’s mercenaries but they gave asylum to Harpalus himself and to his money. They pocketed the money and shooed Harpalus out. (He was murdered soon afterward.) Meanwhile, Athens ignored an order from Alexander to every state in Greece. Alexander wanted the Greek states to accept political exiles back home, which would have reduced the number of mercenaries but sent many governments teetering. Athens stood to lose its control of the island of Samos, so it kept the exiles out. Once again, a problem of administration and authority loomed for Alexander.

But he much preferred to deal with military matters. Ever since the Macedonians had mutinied in India, he wanted to do something about their power in the army. He made his move in 324. As the story of the mutiny and banquet shows, Alexander succeeded in sending his infirm or older soldiers home to Macedon.

The numbers are telling. About ten thousand Macedonian infantrymen and one thousand five-hundred Macedonian horsemen went home. Alexander was left with thirteen thousand infantrymen and two thousand cavalrymen—a group consisting of both Macedonians and Greek mercenaries. He ordered new recruits from Macedon to replace the men he sent home, but they never arrived. Even if they had, they would have been outnumbered by the new troops from all over Iran who were now pouring into Alexander’s army.

Alexander needed a new military force after returning from India, and he got it. In 327 B.C., Alexander had ordered thirty thousand Easterners to be trained as Macedonian infantrymen, and by 324 they were ready. The next year, preparations were under way for a new war, and additional troops had arrived. Alexander’s boyhood friend Peucestas, governor of Persis, recruited twenty thousand soldiers from his province. The governors of two provinces in Anatolia sent mercenaries as well. A small number of Iranians had already been enrolled in the elite Companion Cavalry.

Looking ahead, another source of new troops would soon be available—the sons of Alexander’s veterans and Asian women. When he sent their fathers home, Alexander kept these boys for training as soldiers.

In short, Alexander was well on his way to creating a new army. If it proved loyal to him, and if it was anywhere near as effective as his old army, it could have put down any revolt in Alexander’s empire—or at least in most of it, India being far away and full of hostile armies. The new army might even have carried out Alexander’s new conquests. But loyalty and effectiveness were both big ifs.

New Worlds to Conquer

Governing was boring. Alexander wanted to be a conqueror. As a contemporary wrote, “Alexander was always insatiable when it came to conquest, he aimed at being the lord and master of everyone.” He had hardly shaken the dust of India off his boots when he was ready for new wars. Audacity, as usual, was his hallmark. The first stage, but only the first stage, was Arabia.

The Arabian peninsula had not been part of the Persian empire, but that didn’t stop Alexander from wanting to conquer at least part if not all of it. Arabia was famous for its myrrh and frankincense and the wealth in trade they generated, and it offered naval way stations for the voyage to India. Ancient seafarers avoided the open sea and looked for coastal harbors to break up a journey.

Alexander planned to conquer and settle the Arabian coast of the Persian Gulf. A prime goal was the fertile island of Bahrain and the mainland port opposite it, which was a terminal of the spice trade. But Alexander may have planned to go farther, into what is today Oman and Yemen, to control the areas where spice was produced and to gain ports on the south Arabian coast to use for the trade route to the Red Sea.

As he looked ahead, Alexander gave a much bigger role to warships than in his previous campaigns. In affairs of war, he was gifted with a profound capacity for growth; he was a man of enormous versatility. The success of Nearchus and his fleet, sailing from India to Iran, seems to have inspired Alexander. Now he knew that sea power could project force with little support from land. Sea power multiplied that mobility which the king so prized. Not only the Persian Gulf but other seas could be highways for his armies.

The invasion of Arabia was to be a seaborne expedition, and Alexander would personally sail with the fleet. In preparation for the war, Alexander had a new harbor built at Babylon with room for one thousand warships—a huge number by ancient standards. He sent recruiting agents to Syria and Phoenicia (modern Lebanon) to find sailors. Since timber was scarce near Babylon, he had the ships built in far-off regions, transported and reassembled on the Euphrates and sailed downstream to Babylon. By spring 323 the first ships were practicing drills on the river at Babylon.

Few people thought Alexander’s war plans would end with Arabia. It was rumored that he wanted the fleet to continue past Arabia and to sail around Africa to the Pillars of Hercules (Straits of Gibraltar). If so, that would fit in with other reported plans to conquer Carthage and Italy. Ever since Carthage supported Tyre against Alexander in 332, he had had an ax to grind against it. Alexander’s uncle had already invaded Italy and achieved considerable success there before being killed by a traitor in 331 B.C. It was only natural for Alexander to pick up the torch.

In spring 323, ambassadors from Carthage, Libya, and various Italian states came to see Alexander in Babylon. One of those states was Rome, which was a rising power in central Italy at the time. After Alexander’s death, his papers are supposed to have revealed plans to construct yet another one thousand warships in the eastern Mediterranean and to build a military road across North Africa.

Finally, Alexander was planning another fleet to explore the Caspian Sea and to find what he hoped (in vain) would be a river route to Sogdiana (modern Uzbekistan and part of Tajikistan).

Alexander had already conquered more empire than he was likely to be able to govern. But he wanted more.

“The Great Horn Is Broken”

The last eight months of Alexander’s life have the quality of a soap opera as told in a college frat house. The main themes were sex and violence, washed down with gigantic amounts of alcohol.

Since his return from India, Alexander journeyed here and there in Iran and Mesopotamia, attending to one piece of business after another. He was full of energy but he did not travel light. A huge royal entourage accompanied Alexander. Every trip was expensive and complicated but rarely unpleasant for those at the top, since the locals fell over one another to wine and dine the king and his court.

In autumn 324 the party stopped—Hephaestion died. He was Alexander’s closest friend and perhaps once his lover. Hephaestion died in Ecbatana (modern Hamadan) in western Iran. After a week of games and heavy drinking, he came down with a fever. On the seventh day, Hephaestion felt better and began eating and drinking again, against his doctor’s advice; he died later that day. Suspecting poison, Alexander had the doctor crucified. Then the king went wild with grief over his lost companion. He went through elaborate mourning rituals, commissioned an enormous monument in Babylon, and had Hephaestion proclaimed a “hero”—that is, a demigod—though the priests whom he consulted balked. Perhaps they figured it would cheapen Alexander’s own status as a god if they spread the honor around.

Hephaestion had supported the king in everything. Recently, he had been the mainstay of Alexander’s pro-Persian policy. Alexander even had them both marry daughters of Darius III, which made them brothers-in-law; Alexander hoped their children would be cousins. Now, Alexander was on his own.

In winter 324 to 323, Alexander was busy with a campaign against the tribes of the Zagros Mountains in western Iran. The Persians used to pay them protection money for safe passage through the region, but Alexander wanted to break them. He succeeded but only temporarily—a few years later the mountaineers were back to their old business.

In early 323 Alexander and his court went to Babylon. With preparations for the Arabian campaign, embassies from the West, and plans to memorialize Hephaestion, there was plenty to keep him busy. Yet the parties didn’t stop. In late May, Alexander celebrated the priests’ decision to let Hephaestion be worshiped with a round of celebrations. At one of them, a banquet thrown by a Greek, Alexander came down with a fever. It was May 31, 323 B.C. He never recovered. Eleven days later, on June 10, Alexander died. He was about a month shy of his thirty-third birthday.

“The great horn is broken,” says the Book of Daniel, in what is usually taken to be a reference to the death of Alexander. The phrase captures some of the shock the world felt at his sudden and unexpected demise. One minute, he was the all-victorious conqueror and then suddenly, he was gone.

Some people at the time saw the hand of Providence at work. Others turned to rumor, guesswork, and conspiracy theories: Was Alexander poisoned? Did he drink himself to death? Was he lonely and depressed?

The most credible version of what happened is that Alexander contracted a fever. He refused to take it seriously and continued working, even as the fever got worse. Finally, on the ninth day, the fever got so high that he took to his bed and lost the ability to speak. Two days later he fell into a coma and died.

Alexander did not behave prudently when he got sick, but then, he thought he was a god. His body had to bear the brunt of an accumulation of war wounds, including three he had acquired in Bactria, Sogdiana, and India—all unnecessary campaigns. The Indian wounds had been life-threatening. If poison cannot be ruled out as a cause of death, it seems less likely a contributing factor than these wounds.

“The music must always play,” says the poet. Alexander too probably felt that way. But suddenly, at the age of thirty-two, the music was over. All that was left was “the unmentionable odor of death.”

Unmaking an Empire

On his deathbed Alexander said that his empire should go “to the strongest.” He also said that his leading friends would hold “great funeral games” in his honor—those were his last words, in fact—or so men claimed afterward. The fight over the succession had begun.

Alexander’s marshals were hard men. They were, nearly all of them, believers in Macedon first. They had no interest in bringing the Persian elite into a big tent—nearly all of them immediately abandoned the Asian wives whom Alexander had forced them to marry—nor did they want to go off and invade new lands, not when they already had such rich territories in their hands. Some of them wanted to hold Alexander’s empire together, but most of them were content to grab whatever piece of it they could get. They loved to fight and had no hesitation about going to war to take what they wanted. No one in Alexander’s family could stop them.

When Alexander died, he left Heracles, an illegitimate son of his mistress Barsine, widow of Memnon of Rhodes. His wife Roxane was pregnant and eventually gave birth to a son, Alexander IV. Alexander’s half brother, Philip Arrhidaeus, was a full-grown man, but he was intellectually disabled.

In principle, Philip Arrhidaeus—now Philip III—and soon the infant Alexander IV were elected co-kings of Macedon. Real power lay in the hands of Alexander the Great’s generals.

Alexander did not choose to die young but he did choose not to produce an heir early. If he had followed those who advised him to marry before leaving Macedon in 334, Alexander might have left a ten-year-old legitimate son at the time of his death instead of an incapable brother and an unborn child.

To be sure, producing an heir would not have been without risks. As he grew up, Alexander’s son could have become the focus for enemies and rivals of the king—just as young Alexander himself had once been to his father, King Philip. As long as King Alexander was the only adult male member of the Argead royal line, he had no rivals to worry about. Yet his leaving no legitimate heir forced his family to pay the price after Alexander’s untimely death. Philip III was murdered in 317 and Alexander IV in 311. Heracles was murdered by 309. It was the end of the glorious dynasty of Philip and Alexander. Macedon would have new kings but they would come from different families.

Alexander’s empire did not survive either. Conquering an empire of two million square miles in eleven years was the work of a master. Dismembering it during the next fifty years was the work of a committee. What Alexander built up, his successors tore apart. Sixty years after Alexander invaded the Persian empire, Greeks and Macedonians still ruled most of what he had conquered, but they had ripped it into small pieces.

In fairness, even if Alexander had lived to a ripe old age and left a full-grown heir behind, he would have had trouble maintaining his empire. The Persians had never been able to keep control of India, Thrace, Macedon, or Greece, although they had invaded all of them. They barely held on to the ever-rebellious provinces of Egypt and Anatolia. And they didn’t attempt to add Arabia, Carthage, and Italy to their possessions, as Alexander was planning.

Within months of Alexander’s death in 323 B.C., Greece rose in revolt. A year later, in 322, Alexander’s generals began fighting one another. The conflict between them, known as the Wars of the Successors, lasted nearly fifty years, until 275 B.C.

Fifty years after Alexander’s death, the map of Alexander’s empire now looked something like this: Macedon was an independent kingdom, as was Egypt—which also controlled Libya, Israel, Phoenicia, Cyprus, and the Mediterranean coast of Anatolia. Northwest Anatolia was the small but rich kingdom of Pergamum. The heart of the old Persian empire, from Anatolia to Bactria, was still a single kingdom, ruled from Babylon. But India and northeastern Iran had broken away. So had most of the Greek city-states.

Descendants of Alexander’s generals ruled the three largest states. The family of Antigonus ruled Macedon, Ptolemy and his children ruled Egypt, and Seleucus and his descendants ruled from Anatolia to Bactria. Pergamum was founded by Alexander’s general Lysimachus, but control passed to another family.

Alexander’s generals had created the kingdoms of the Hellenistic Era, as historians call the years between 323 and 30 B.C. Alexander had laid the foundation by conquering the Persian empire, but the result looked nothing like what he had planned.

Ironically, the Hellenistic Era bore a certain resemblance to the Persian empire before Alexander. Back then, the Greek peninsula and the Balkans as well as India had maintained their independence, as they did in the Hellenistic period. Egypt and western Anatolia were semi-independent under the Persians and fully independent in the new era. Under the Persians, a great land empire in northwest Asia extended from the Mediterranean to the Hindu Kush, and so it did again under the Seleucid kings. The only difference, of course, was that Persians had ruled the old empire while Greeks and Macedonians ruled the new one.

The saddest irony concerns Macedonia. Alexander’s military needs stripped the kingdom of manpower. Few of his soldiers ever came home. Relatively little of the new wealth that he created found its way to Macedon. In fact, Alexander left the Macedonian state weaker than he had found it. Macedonians ruled from vast new realms but the old country suffered.


The war in Italy was lost—and Spain and Sicily too. The question before Carthage now was what it could salvage of the situation. The same question confronted Hannibal. But his interests and those of his country were not the same. Now, more than ever, he faced political as well as military challenges.

In a country that crucified failed generals, Hannibal had first of all to survive. Then he had to consider whether his military skills could still help Carthage. Finally, he had to see if he could transform his talents in the field into the skills of statesmanship that might buy Carthage the best peace it could get.

Hannibal’s Rival: Scipio

In autumn 203, Hannibal came home. After fifteen years of fighting up and down the Italian boot, he had been recalled to Carthage.

When he landed in Africa in 203 B.C., his countrymen wanted Hannibal to save them. He would have to reach deep into his stock of magic to pull that off.

A little more than a year before, a Roman army had arrived in Africa, led by Publius Cornelius Scipio. In that short period, the army brought Carthage to its knees. Scipio literally burned out one Carthaginian army and defeated another in battle; overthrew Carthage’s most important ally, King Syphax of Numidia, and replaced him with a pro-Roman king, Masinissa; and forced Carthage to sue for peace. Scipio imposed terms that deprived Carthage of all its overseas possessions and its navy, and that included a large indemnity.

Harsh terms, but Scipio could have asked for more. If he didn’t, it was because time wasn’t on his side. Carthage had enormously strong defensive walls, which meant it could withstand a long siege. Scipio’s term of office was limited and his political enemies at Rome were sharpening their knives. So he made the best treaty he could and sent it to Rome, where after some grumbling, it was ratified. Unfortunately for Scipio, the Carthaginians had second thoughts. They believed in Hannibal.

They were wrong. If time was unfriendly to Scipio, it was downright hostile to Carthage. The Carthaginians had kept Hannibal in Italy much too long, well past the time when he could win the war there, because they wanted to tie Rome’s hands. But it hadn’t worked and Rome had invaded Africa, even with Hannibal still in Italy.

Scipio had done so much damage in Africa that by the time Hannibal arrived, he had very little chance of defeating Scipio. Carthage should have accepted its fate and made peace. Instead, hoping for one last hurrah, the city recalled Hannibal and his men from Italy. They believed that Hannibal and the army that returned with him—probably, fifteen thousand men—could form the nucleus of a force that would drive out the Romans. They didn’t know when to stop.

Scipio was Rome’s greatest general. He came from a fighting family. As mentioned earlier, he had served at the battles of the Ticinus and Cannae, but he made his name in Spain. There, he inherited from his father and uncle a policy of making war on the Carthaginians. They failed but he succeeded.

Scipio wasn’t just a great general: he was Hannibal’s best student. In fifteen years of fighting in Italy, Hannibal had taught Rome how to wage war. Ironically, he seems not to have had equally apt pupils in Carthage. But it was probably easier to imitate Hannibal from a distance. Great men tend to use up all the air in a room.

From Hannibal, Scipio learned how to be a great and charismatic leader who emphasized mobility and surprise in battle. He trained his men to fight with a professionalism that Rome’s citizen militias lacked. Under his inspired leadership, they were the equal of Carthage’s armies.

After capturing New Carthage (209 B.C.) and defeating Hannibal’s brother Hasdrubal in the battle of Baecula (208 B.C.), Scipio went on to drive the Carthaginians out of Spain altogether. He won his final and greatest Spanish battlefield victory at Ilipa (206 B.C.). Near modern Seville, a large Roman army under Scipio met an even larger Carthaginian army under a general named Hasdrubal Gisgo (no relation to Hannibal or his brother Hasdrubal).

Scipio had drilled his best troops—25,000 Romans and Italian allies—and turned them into an excellent fighting force. Hasdrubal Gisgo’s soldiers were not as good. To add to his advantage, Scipio tricked the enemy by putting his best infantrymen on the wings instead of in the center, where the Romans usually placed their best soldiers. He attacked and defeated the Carthaginian flanks, and once they collapsed, the Carthaginian center followed.

Scipio won the battle and the war. Carthage lost its empire in Spain and with it, a major source of its money and manpower. But Scipio wasn’t done. He had huge ambition and an audacious vision to sustain it. He wanted to invade Africa. It was a mirror image of Hannibal’s invasion of Italy, but Scipio intended to make his invasion work.

Scipio knew that Hannibal’s strategy in Italy had failed less because of conceptual errors than because of adequate resources. Scipio intended not to repeat that error, but he faced powerful enemies in the Roman senate. Like Hannibal in Carthage, Scipio aroused the jealousy of other politicians in Rome. And he had a powerful enemy in Fabius.

Fabius believed that the war had to be won in Italy, but Scipio had learned from Hannibal that the war would be won by invading the enemy’s homeland. Fabius thought that Hannibal would prove even more dangerous back in Africa than he was in Italy. Scipio argued that it was possible to neutralize Hannibal in Africa by stealing Carthage’s best ally—the Numidians and their cavalry.

Scipio was elected consul in 205 B.C. but his enemies tried to starve him of troops. In response, Scipio put together an army of his own, an exceptionally good one. At its heart were two legions that the Senate despised. They were the survivors of Cannae and other lost battles. Bitter experience had taught them how to fight, and now they wanted to win back their good names. Scipio raised volunteers as well, and he had allied units at his disposal too. All told, he invaded Africa with about 28,000 men—26,000 infantry (10,000 Roman and 16,000 allied) and 2,200 cavalry (600 Roman, 1,600 allied). Already, when he was in Spain, Scipio had started wooing the Numidians. After landing in Africa in summer 204 B.C., he won them.

The schemes and battles by which Scipio took Numidia deserve a book of their own. A remarkable Carthaginian noblewoman named Sophonisba almost single-handedly saved the Numidian alliance. But Scipio outmaneuvered her and Sophonisba was forced to commit suicide.

To make a long story short, Scipio managed to detach the Numidian prince Masinissa from his alliance with Carthage; to defeat and capture the Numidian king Syphax, who was Carthage’s staunch friend; to replace Syphax as king with Masinissa, and to bring Masinissa firmly and finally into Rome’s camp. The upshot was that the Numidian light horsemen who had won so many battles for Carthage were now fighting against Carthage.

That change in alliance convinced Carthage to sue for peace. But it wasn’t Scipio’s first victory in Africa. He had already defeated two Carthaginian-Numidian armies. He beat the first army by fraud rather than force. In a night attack in spring 203 near Utica, northwest of Carthage, he set the mostly wooden structures of their camp on fire and killed large numbers of their soldiers. Scipio was cunning; the enemy was negligent.

The Carthaginian-Numidian alliance put together another army, but Scipio defeated it later that year at the Battle of the Great Plains, about seventy-five miles southwest of Carthage. As at Ilipa, Scipio defeated the enemy on the flanks. After the battle, Masinissa and his horsemen defeated and captured Syphax.

While all this was going on, Hannibal was still in Italy. He sat in the toe of the Italian boot, able to beat off all attacks, but unable to go on the offensive. Mago’s landing in northern Italy was the only hopeful sign for Carthage, but his attack soon failed. Carthage wasted its armies in Italy when it should have stood on the defensive in Africa.

In summer 203 the Carthaginian senate sent a delegation to Scipio to sue for peace. They distanced themselves from Hannibal and blamed the war on him and his family. Scipio offered peace on the terms mentioned above. The Carthaginian senate agreed, but many senators, and a large part of the Carthaginian people, were playing for time. They wanted Hannibal back.

Scipio granted a truce for negotiations. Carthage sent ambassadors to Rome who met with the Senate. Once again, Carthage’s diplomats blamed the war on Hannibal. The Romans were not impressed but they accepted Scipio’s terms on the condition that Hannibal and his brother Mago both leave Italy immediately. Most Carthaginians eagerly agreed.

The Last Battle: Zama

After landing in Africa in autumn 203 B.C., Hannibal spent about a year building up his army. He made his base outside the seaport of Hadrumetum (modern Sousse) about seventy-five miles southeast of Carthage, where his family owned property. At this distance, Hannibal was safe both from Scipio, who was camped northwest of the city, and from his enemies in the Carthaginian senate.

Hannibal’s homecoming did not include a visit to Carthage. In fact, he did not set foot in the capital city until after his final battle with the Romans, a year after his return to Africa.

Hannibal was always fighting two wars, one against the Romans and the other against his enemies in the Carthaginian government. From the time he landed in Africa, the second war loomed ever larger.

His fifteen years in Italy gave Hannibal a bitter education in Carthaginian politics. Everyone knew that the Carthaginian senate had some bad habits—crucifying failed generals, leaving armies in the lurch, making deals behind their generals’ backs, even blaming their policies on their generals. Hannibal was attuned to threats—he knew the senators would gladly abandon him.

But Hannibal had his allies in Carthage. Many Carthaginians were pinning their hopes on him when, in spring 202 B.C., they openly violated the truce with Rome. After seizing the cargo of more than one hundred shipwrecked Roman transport ships, they tried to kill Roman diplomats. It was all but a declaration of war. Most of Carthage’s politicians had “not small hopes but great hopes that they could win thanks to Hannibal and his men,” as Polybius says.

With the hawks ascendant in Carthage and the Romans feeling betrayed, a fight to the finish was inevitable. Hannibal intended to do his part by building an army. It was not a wise decision.

Hannibal should have known, even if his countrymen did not, that he could not pull off a miracle. Great field commander that he was, he did not have enough veteran infantrymen to match Scipio’s legionaries, nor did he have Masinissa’s cavalry on his side. Yet Hannibal forged ahead. Whether it was hope or wishful thinking or a hedge against crucifixion or a simple error, we do not know.

Hannibal was building an army with the men he had brought with him from Italy. He added Mago’s troops, who were mercenaries, and local recruits. He found a rival Numidian prince, an enemy of Masinissa, who supplied two thousand cavalry. Hannibal also bought wheat and horses.

Scipio, meanwhile, contacted Masinissa and asked him to gather his troops and join him immediately. For his part, Scipio attacked the Carthaginian farming communities of the fertile valley of the Bagradas (Medjerda) River. He stormed the towns and sold the population into slavery, making a nice profit while terrorizing the locals.

The Carthaginian government sent a delegation to Hannibal. They urged him to bring the matter to a decisive battle. Hannibal told them to “look after other matters and rest easy about this one: he would choose the right time himself.” A few days later, he moved his army inland to the vicinity of Zama, a town about seventy miles southwest of Carthage (the exact site is disputed). Scipio was not far away.

We have to wonder if the Carthaginian senate didn’t have a point—if Hannibal had moved more quickly, he might have been able to catch Scipio before Masinissa arrived. Without Masinissa’s cavalry, Scipio would have had a difficult time defeating Hannibal. But even if Hannibal had reached Scipio in time, he probably wouldn’t have been able to force him into battle.

Three spies sent by Hannibal to scout the enemy’s camp were caught by the Romans. But instead of executing them, Scipio gave them a tour of the camp and returned them to Hannibal with an escort and supplies. This suited the Roman’s purpose. While Masinissa and his troops hadn’t yet arrived, Scipio knew they were near. He wanted Hannibal to know only that they hadn’t arrived, because this might tempt him into a trap. By the time Hannibal attacked, Scipio was certain the Numidians would be present. Indeed, they arrived the next day.

Scipio now had his army, consisting of 29,000 infantry (23,000 Romans and 6,000 Numidians) and 6,100 cavalry (1,500 Roman and Italian and 4,600 Numidian). Hannibal had more infantry (36,000) but fewer cavalry (4,000).

But the battle did not begin until Hannibal did a remarkable thing. He requested a conference with Scipio. This wasn’t standard procedure in ancient warfare. One ancient writer says that Hannibal was so “amazed” at Scipio’s “grandeur of soul and audacity” in returning the three spies that Hannibal “felt an urge” to meet with him. Another says that Hannibal learned of Masinissa’s arrival and was so “struck by the enemy’s confidence” that he decided it was better to parley with Scipio now, and “seek peace while his army was intact and not defeated.”

Neither explanation does justice to the complexity of Hannibal’s motives. A man of his depth and experience wouldn’t request a meeting without thinking it through. Nor was he ready to surrender. He surely assessed the plusses and minuses of this unusual move before deciding to go ahead.

To request the meeting was an admission of weakness on Hannibal’s part. It also gave Masinissa and his men time to familiarize themselves with the Roman army and its battle plan. Yet there were advantages for Hannibal as well. As the older man and a heroic name—Hannibal was forty-five, Scipio, thirty-two—Hannibal probably wanted to intimidate his opponent and gather information firsthand. By getting a read on Scipio, by gauging his style and observing his reactions, Hannibal could better prepare for battle.

But the primary purpose of the meeting was most probably political. It served several agendas. Hannibal knew that he stood a good chance of losing the looming battle, so he made one last try at a peace treaty. Since Carthage had rejected Scipio’s terms, Hannibal took a harder line. While offering to abandon all of Carthage’s overseas possessions, as Scipio had required, he said nothing about the navy, an indemnity, or grain for Rome’s army. No doubt he expected Scipio to reject the offer, but perhaps Hannibal was hoping to bargain. In any case, he might have been playing to the peace party in Carthage. If he lost the battle, at least he could say that he had tried diplomacy. As it turned out, Scipio turned down the terms.

No matter, because Hannibal had another, more personal agenda—he cared what Scipio thought of him. He didn’t want Scipio basing his opinion of him on Carthaginian political slander, but wanted him to see the real Hannibal—and to see him now, before the battle, while they were still equals, and not later when Hannibal might have to come to him on bended knee.

The meeting was a private audience. It consisted of just the two men and their interpreters. The mood was intimate and intense.

Meeting with Scipio was a gesture of respect, the equivalent of two boxers touching gloves before the bout. It was a bow to the unwritten code of conduct among fellow warriors. Perhaps it was a reminder too that the politicians did not share their camaraderie.

Hannibal might have guessed that Scipio, like him, had problems with his own government (perhaps his spies had confirmed this). The meeting was a way of hinting to Scipio that he and Hannibal had much in common. They were opponents, not enemies, and they could be useful to each other, come what may. The loser could obtain mercy, while the victor would know someone he respected on the other side.

The meeting was a strategic masterstroke. Hannibal was thinking not only of the field at Zama, but also of the postwar world. He wanted to position himself. Lest he seem merely selfish, consider the lessons of his education in Carthaginian politics. Hannibal was a military man, and yet he had every reason to believe that he could run a wiser, more efficient, and more patriotic republic than the politicians had. That’s what two decades of commanding Carthage’s armies had taught him.

If Hannibal won the battle, he could exploit a personal relationship with Scipio in the aftermath. Rome would have to decide whether to keep fighting or to accept less generous terms than it had wanted. Hannibal might be able to nudge Scipio in the right direction.

If Hannibal lost the battle, Scipio might help Hannibal avoid the fate of being shipped off to Italy to march in a Roman victory parade that would climax in his execution. By establishing a personal connection with the Roman victor, Hannibal stood to increase his stock in Carthage. By the same token, he could impress on Scipio that he was the one Carthaginian whom Rome could trust if it had to do business with Carthage. Scipio could argue that Hannibal would be more useful to Rome alive and in Carthage, where he could serve as a voice of moderation, chastened as he had been by his war experience.

Finally, there was history. Hannibal knew that if he died in battle and Rome won the war, the enemy would write the history books. When Scipio was interviewed later, Hannibal wanted him to remember the man he had met in a tent before battle.

On the eve of his last pitched battle, Hannibal paid great attention to the postwar world. Neither Alexander before the battle of the Hydaspes nor Caesar before the battle of Munda had done or did anything similar. Hannibal wasn’t more intelligent than them but he had experienced a harsher schooling. Ironically, defeat had educated Hannibal.

But there was still a battle to fight, and it took place the very next morning. It was autumn 202 B.C.

Zama pitted Carthage’s best general against Rome’s best general, neither of whom had ever lost a major battle. The long Second Punic War between Rome and Carthage came down to this one day.

The ancient sources emphasize the drama of the occasion. And yet, Zama lacks the razzle-dazzle of Cannae or Ilipa. There were no flank attacks. Why did Hannibal and Scipio each give up his trademark maneuver? They most probably wanted to keep the other off balance by doing the unexpected. Hannibal displayed particular audacity in his deployments.

Hannibal knew that he stood at a disadvantage against Scipio, who had a better army. He outnumbered Hannibal in cavalry and in experienced, veteran infantrymen. (Hannibal had more infantrymen but most of them were new recruits.) Nonetheless, Hannibal put his ever-fertile mind to the problem and came up with an ingenious solution.

Contrary to his usual practice, he organized his army in three lines. The Romans too arranged their army in three lines, but Hannibal’s were different. In the Roman arrangement, the first line consisted of the youngest men, the second line contained the most experienced and mature men, and in the third line were the oldest soldiers—men slightly past their prime. Normally, the first two lines really fought a battle; the third line joined only when the going got very rough.

In Hannibal’s order of battle, the plan was just the opposite, and everything would come down to the third line. Hannibal’s first line consisted of mercenaries; these were the men who had fought in Italy with Hannibal’s brother Mago. The second line was made up of recruits drawn from Carthage and the North African countryside. The job of these first two lines was to get the Romans bloody and tired, to blunt the edge of their swords from overuse, and to break up the order of their line. But they were not good enough soldiers to defeat the Romans. That was the job of the third line.

The third line consisted of the men who had come back from Italy with Hannibal. These were a mix of Italians, Celts from the Po Valley, and Spaniards, Numidians, and Africans. In other words, the third line included men who had marched with Hannibal from the very beginning of the war. These were his best troops. Hannibal planned to use them to defeat the Romans after his first two lines had softened them up. They would stand their ground, fresh and firm, and beat back the Romans’ attack.

But the bigger problem was Scipio’s superiority in cavalry. With his combination of Italian cavalry and Numidia’s magnificent horsemen, Scipio could take Hannibal’s army in the flanks and the rear the way Hannibal had taken the Roman army at Cannae. Hannibal knew that he needed to stop that from happening, and so he employed two strategies—elephants and decoys.

Hannibal had more than eighty elephants with him at Zama. Like Porus at the Hydaspes River, Hannibal deployed them in front of his first line, hoping to use them to break up the enemy’s well-ordered formation. As terrifying as the charge of eighty elephants was, it didn’t work. Some of the elephants panicked at the sound of the trumpets and turned and trampled some of Hannibal’s cavalry units. Others simply stampeded off the battlefield. A third group of elephants charged the Romans and killed some light-armed troops but otherwise did little damage. Like Alexander before him, Scipio was prepared. He had arranged alley-like gaps between his legionary formations, and his men funneled the attacking beasts down them.

Hannibal’s elephants failed; now came the turn of Scipio’s cavalry. He placed it, as usual, on his flanks, with the Romans and Italians on his right and the Numidians on his left. Scipio ordered them to charge the much-outnumbered cavalry on Hannibal’s flanks. In response, Hannibal’s horsemen turned and fled, with the enemy in hot pursuit. For a long time, there simply were no cavalry on the battlefield. It is possible that Hannibal planned things this way, hoping to win the infantry battle before the enemy horses returned. Once they did, he could form his men in squares to ward them off.

It all came down to the infantry. Things went according to Hannibal’s plan. His first two lines—the mercenaries and the North Africans—got in some good blows before the Romans savaged them and drove them off the field. They left so many corpses and discarded weapons on the battlefield after the first phase of the fighting that the Romans had a hard time wading through them without slipping on the bloodstained ground in order to reach Hannibal’s third line—his veterans.

It was a moment of the highest drama. Veterans of Cannae stood on both sides. For the Romans, it was a grudge fight; for the Carthaginians, a final chance to save everything. Evenly matched, the two lines fought for a long while, but eventually Scipio’s cavalry returned. They made a decisive attack on the rear of Hannibal’s line and slaughtered them. It was Cannae in reverse.

Ancient battles sometimes ended on unequal terms. When an enemy was trapped, without hope of surrender or flight, the result was slaughter, at relatively little cost to the victor. The result was a lopsided but credible set of casualty counts. And so, at Zama, the Carthaginians had about twenty thousand dead and almost as many taken prisoner. The Romans had only about one thousand five hundred dead. Scipio had won a crushing victory. Hannibal had suffered his first defeat in a pitched battle.

Hannibal has been criticized for not using his third line to attack Scipio’s flanks at Zama. The critics also blame him for not regrouping his elephants or the survivors of his first two lines to screen off the rear and flanks of his third line. No doubt Hannibal thought of these moves but concluded that his men lacked either the numbers or experience to pull them off. Polybius says that Hannibal was admirable at Zama: he did everything in the battle that a good general with a great deal of practical experience could possibly have done.

After the defeat, Hannibal galloped back to the coast at Hadrumetum, over 120 miles away, abandoning what was left of his army. Shortly afterward, the Carthaginian senate sent an embassy to Scipio to sue for peace.

Scipio’s terms weren’t much harsher than the ones that Carthage had earlier accepted and then rejected. Carthage had to abandon all its overseas possessions; it had to pay an indemnity and supply grain for Scipio’s troops. But the indemnity was doubled from five thousand to ten thousand talents and Carthage lost its navy and its elephants. It could not make war outside Africa and needed Roman approval before making war in Africa. The peace terms also licensed Masinissa to harass Carthage by making the open-ended demand that it “restore” his ancestral possessions.

In Carthage, the Senate debated the treaty. In spite of everything, there remained war hawks, but they had to deal with Hannibal. For the first time in thirty-five years, he returned to the city of his birth.

Hannibal took part in the debate. He literally dragged an opponent of the treaty from the speaker’s platform. The senators were aghast and Hannibal apologized for the rough behavior that he had learned in the field. But he had made his point. After Zama, he said, all was lost, hopelessly lost. There was nothing left for the Carthaginians except to bow to Scipio’s terms. And so they did.

In the following year, 201 B.C., the peace terms formally went into effect. After seventeen years, the Second Punic War was over.

The Lion in Winter

We might have expected the Romans to bring Hannibal back to Italy as a prisoner. Instead, they let him stay in Carthage. It is tempting to give Scipio credit for this. Hannibal continued to serve as general through 200 B.C. He used his troops as a kind of police force in Libya, where Carthage’s authority had lapsed, and as a civilian conservation corps closer to home, where they planted olive trees to make up for the devastation left by the Roman army.

Then Hannibal stepped down from office. For the next three years he watched Carthage struggle with the Roman indemnity and political corruption on a massive scale. The Barca faction was out of power, and so people turned to Hannibal. In 197 B.C. he ran for office as suffete, Carthage’s chief magistrate—the equivalent of a Roman consul. He held a one-year term in 196.

After losing the war with Rome, after costing Carthage its empire in Spain, territory in North Africa, and much blood and treasure, Hannibal went on to a new political career at home. As chief magistrate, Hannibal streamlined the Carthaginian government and made it more democratic. He put a series of financial reforms into effect that ended a corrupt taxation system that had funneled tax revenue into the hands of the old boys’ club. Hannibal’s new system made it possible for Carthage to pay back the tribute imposed by Rome without raising new taxes.

It is the rare man who serves his country both as a commander in the field in wartime and as a political reformer at home in peacetime. It is even rarer to find someone who fails as a general but succeeds as a politician, but Hannibal had this distinction. Unfortunately, the combination of political success and military failure can be toxic. Success breeds jealousy.

Six years after accepting defeat, Carthage was booming and prosperous. The Roman government took note. The Romans hadn’t expected the great general to prove an equally great administrator, but they had learned the hard way not to underestimate Hannibal’s skill. A man in his midfifties, he was still vigorous, and this made them worry about where his strong hand might lead Carthage next.

Scipio said to leave Hannibal alone but the Roman senate rejected his advice. So, in 195 B.C., Rome demanded that Carthage hand him over. Hannibal fled to the East, first to Tyre, Carthage’s Phoenician mother city, and then to Anatolia and the kingdom of Antiochus III, another enemy of Rome.

Hannibal failed in his attempt to guide Antiochus to victory against Rome. Once again, he was forced to flee. This time, he ended up in the kingdom of Bithynia (in northwestern Turkey). In 183 B.C., the Romans cornered Hannibal in the port of Libyssa (near Istanbul). Rather than face humiliation as a prisoner, Hannibal took poison that he is supposed to have carried in his ring. He left behind a letter bitterly accusing the Romans of being too impatient to wait for an old man to die.

But the Romans knew what they were doing. Although in his midsixties, Hannibal still breathed fire. The military advisor to the Bithynian king, he had just won a naval victory over a Roman ally.

Carthage lived on in the afterglow of Hannibal’s success. Thanks to Hannibal’s statesmanship, Carthage was more prosperous than ever within fifty years of losing the Second Punic War. This was more than the Romans could stand.

In 149 the Romans gave the people of Carthage an ultimatum: either they surrender their city and move ten miles inland or face war. The Carthaginians chose to fight. They held out for three years. Finally, in spring 146, the Romans took the city by storm. A large part of the population died by starvation or the sword; the rest were sold into slavery. A great fire destroyed most of the city.

If Hannibal hadn’t set it on so sound a footing, Carthage might not have become prosperous enough to frighten Rome. Then again, if Hannibal hadn’t invaded Italy in the first place, Rome would surely not have feared Carthaginian prosperity.

That’s not the final irony, though. A century after Carthage was destroyed it was reborn. In 46 B.C. it was decided that the city was now to be a Roman colony and to be populated by immigrants from Italy. The new founder of Carthage was none other than Julius Caesar!


After Munda, Caesar had no more military enemies. Politics was another matter. All Romans admitted Caesar’s preeminence on the battlefield but few were willing to grant him supremacy at home. Rome was still a republic and liberty remained an ideal. Most people were willing to give up some of their privileges for the sake of peace, but just how many privileges and under what terms had to be negotiated.

To bring peace at home, Caesar had to shift from commanding Romans to courting them.

The Man Who Would Not Be King

It all depended, of course, on what Caesar wanted. But precisely what was that?

We have a rough idea but we can’t be certain. Caesar wrote no manifesto. He had less then two years left to live when he celebrated his four triumphs in 46 B.C., and that wasn’t long enough to change Rome thoroughly. But Caesar got a lot done during those two years, and he made some telling comments over the course of his last decade, so we’re not completely in the dark.

Caesar wanted to dominate Rome; that much is clear. He once said, upon passing through a village in the Alps, that he would rather be the first man there than the second man in Rome. Though admittedly self-centered, he was also a patriot and a reformer. At the same time, he was not willing to pin himself down to a specific constitution—and maybe that showed wisdom. When men propose big change, details become targets.

When Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 B.C. and started the civil war, he cited two motives. He said that he was defending the power of the tribunes—the representatives of the common people. He also said that he was defending his own rank and honor. Then, in a letter of 48 B.C. to Metellus Scipio, who was fighting for Pompey, Caesar spoke of three priorities: “the tranquility of Italy, the peace of the provinces, and the well-being of the empire.”

What’s interesting is what Caesar doesn’t mention, and that is the Roman senate. To Caesar’s opponents, the Senate was the crowning glory of the Roman system. The Senate, they thought, made Rome wise and free. A council of elders made up of experienced former magistrates, the Senate guided the ship of state. The Senate also guaranteed liberty, because it alone allowed free and unfettered debate. So its defenders argued.

Caesar was unimpressed. “The Republic,” he once said, “is nothing, just a name without form or substance.” His behavior between 46 and 44 B.C. demonstrated that he meant what he said.

Caesar believed that the Senate had kept Rome from making essential reforms, both in Italy and in the empire. He considered the senators narrow-minded and self-interested. And they were—and proud and prickly as well. Caesar insulted them in multiple ways, by acts of omission and commission—by neglecting to stand when they entered the room, for example, or by making them wait to see him. The Senate joined the chorus of Romans offering Caesar unprecedented honors, so many that they came close to worshiping him as a god—but not quite. The old aristocracy hated themselves for it, and they hated Caesar.

Caesar considered himself to be beyond such pettiness. He believed that only a man of supreme wisdom and talent could bring change. Caesar was that man—at least as he saw it. Many of his countrymen were willing to concede his greatness. At least, they were willing to grant him semi-divine status. But supreme political authority was another matter.

Caesar wanted to have the power of a king but without the title. In Rome, “king” was a dirty word. The Roman republic was founded in 509 B.C. (to use the traditional date) in a rebellion against a king. In Roman eyes, “monarchy” spelled corrupt and arbitrary rule—tyranny, in short.

Caesar flirted with the trappings of monarchy. He claimed to be descended from Rome’s first kings (and from the gods) and wore the special boots that they were supposed to have worn. He installed his mistress, Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, in a house across the Tiber, which seemed suspect to republican tastes. She brought her son, Caesarion, whom she claimed was Caesar’s child.

A few of his supporters dared to call Caesar king in public, but he rejected the term. Perhaps they were floating trial balloons for him, but Rome wasn’t ready for a king. Instead, Caesar had himself declared dictator perpetuo—dictator for life—in February 44B.C. This was just an extension of three shorter dictatorships that he had already been voted since crossing the Rubicon.

A dictator for life was as unconstitutional in Rome as it would be in any modern state. Caesar believed that he deserved the title and that the country would accept it rather than risk a return to civil war. What he failed to understand was that even many of his own supporters wanted him to show respect for the Senate and its ways and for the Roman constitution, but he was disrespectful of both. When, for example, one of the consuls of 45 B.C. died on the last day of the year, Caesar appointed one of his allies as consul—for less than one day.

Caesar believed that his dictatorship served the public good, and he did bring Rome temporary tranquility—and a heaping program of reforms to boot.

Caesar didn’t really care about the tribunes, but he did care about the ordinary people of Rome and Italy. He passed a series of laws to their benefit. The city of Rome was teeming with unemployment, violence, and corruption. Caesar cracked down on political gangs. He offered jobs through public works projects—a new forum and new temples—as well as entertainment and food through games and spectacles. He encouraged doctors and teachers to immigrate to Rome and he provided for the city’s public library.

At the same time, he cleaned up Rome’s crowded and dangerous streets. He used the carrot and the stick to move poor people out of town. On the one hand, he cracked down on noncitizens who had been getting free grain, which was a welfare benefit for Roman citizens. On the other hand, he set up new colonies for citizens. Eighty thousand Roman citizens, most of them poor, were chosen to emigrate to Anatolia, Greece, or North Africa. Meanwhile, he gave his veterans land in Italy, Spain, and Gaul.

The provinces too benefited from Caesar’s reforms. Before Caesar, all Italians were Roman citizens except for those living north of the Po River or in Sicily. Caesar enfranchised Italians north of the Po and gave Sicilians “Latin rights,” a limited form of Roman citizenship. Meanwhile, he brought relief to the province of Asia (western Turkey), where Roman tax collectors were notorious for abuses. Caesar ended that.

He reformed the Senate too, increasing its size from six hundred to nine hundred members and naming many new senators. They were loyal to him, of course, and they included men who were sneered at by the old senators: junior officers, army contractors, and Celts from northern Italy. But they brought new blood and talent where it was needed.

Meanwhile, in the midst of all this energetic reform, Caesar made plans to leave Rome. He was voted the authority to make war on the Parthian empire. An Iranian state founded in a revolt against Alexander’s successors, the Parthian empire stretched from Iraq to Afghanistan.

Caesar had two reasons to make war on Parthia; honor and security. In 53 B.C. the Parthians had demolished a Roman army at the battle of Carrhae (today in Turkey) and humiliated the legions by capturing their standards. In 46 B.C., the Parthians threw their support behind a revolt in Syria. Caesar wanted to put down the rebellion and avenge the defeat.

He planned a massive undertaking. The Senate voted him the largest army that he had ever commanded. It consisted of sixteen legions (on paper, about eighty thousand men) and ten thousand cavalry. The campaign was slated to begin in spring 44 B.C. After mustering across the Adriatic Sea, the punitive expedition would move against King Burebista of Dacia (modern Romania) whose armies had been raiding the Roman province of Macedonia—and who had supported Pompey. Then Caesar would cross into Asia.

Caesar planned to invade the Parthian empire through Armenia, a border state. He insisted on taking his time in order to study the Parthians and their fighting methods before attacking. They were fierce foes and especially well-known cavalrymen.

Whether Caesar had a new territorial conquest in mind or whether he just wanted to defeat the Parthian army is unclear. Rumor said that he wanted to conquer southern Russia on the way back and then fight his way to Gaul, but that strains belief. What is certain, though, is that Caesar projected a long campaign. He expected to be away from Rome for three years.

What about the Roman government while he was gone? Caesar appointed officeholders in advance to cover that period. They could help maintain his system, but they couldn’t rule with Caesar’s authority. Rome would never be as stable with Caesar away as it was with him present.

Perhaps that was the point. Maybe Caesar wanted the Romans to get a taste of life without his strong, guiding hand. When he returned, he would offer not only his authority but, as he hoped, new wealth and honors won for Rome, and won against a foreign enemy, not in another civil war. Caesar thought that the Roman people might welcome his dictatorship with sighs of relief.

Or so we might suppose. Maybe the real attraction of the Parthian War was escape. Better to take up arms against the Parthians on the field of honor, Caesar might have thought, than to trade words with Rome’s stubborn and treacherous grandees.

Caesar was scheduled to leave Rome on March 18, 44 B.C. At fifty-four years of age, he was no longer young. Caesar knew that when he left Rome for the front, he might have been looking at the city for the last time. He might not have minded.

The Ides of March

Caesar never left Rome, of course. He was assassinated three days before his scheduled departure. A conspiracy of sixty senators attacked him at a meeting of the Senate on March 15—the Ides of March, as the day was known on the Roman calendar. Brutus and Cassius, Cinna and Casca—the names of the leading conspirators are familiar to any reader of Shakespeare. They had been mulling over the plan for months and knew that this was their last chance to act.

The Senate was not meeting in the Senate House that day, as the building was under renovation. Instead, they met in a recent public works project of Caesar’s rival—the Portico of Pompey. Caesar died at the foot of a statue of Pompey.

The assassins wielded daggers and wounded Caesar twenty-three times. Hundreds of senators watched in helpless shock. The imperator struggled and fought back. He cried out in indignation and stabbed one attacker with his pen. The story goes that he gave up only when he saw Marcus Brutus attack him.

Brutus was the son of Caesar’s former mistress, Servilia. Rumor made Caesar the father but that is unlikely. Still, it adds poignancy to the wounded man’s comment. Looking at Brutus, Caesar is supposed to have said, in Greek, “You too, my son?” (He did not say, “et tu, Brute.”) And then he fell, never to get up.

It was one of the most famous assassinations in history. It is also a gigantic crack in the edifice of Caesar’s achievements—a huge fault line that cuts to the heart of his character. At first, it looks like a simple security blunder. Look deeper, though, and you can see the problem that underlaid everything that Caesar did in Rome. The great general had all that it took to be a great statesman as well—all except the realism. In the end, Caesar, the hard-bitten veteran of fifty pitched battles in which he claimed to have killed 1,192,000 people, was a romantic. He cared what the Roman people thought of him. That was his biggest mistake.

If Caesar had simply been a dictator, he would have surrounded himself with a bodyguard and stained the streets of Rome with the corpses of his enemies. But he would have nothing to do with the bloodshed and murders that marked the dictatorship of Sulla a generation earlier. Instead, Caesar continued his famous policy of clemency.

After returning to Rome in 46 B.C., he pardoned yet more of his enemies and allowed them to come back to Italy. He appointed many former supporters of Pompey to high office. He did nothing to stop Romans from publishing pamphlets in praise of his archenemy, Cato, who was now a martyr to freedom.

It would have been easy for Caesar to protect himself. All he needed was a bodyguard, which would have made it virtually impossible to assassinate him. As a general, he had had a bodyguard, like any Roman commander. Usually a troupe of Spanish auxiliaries protected him, but in early 44 B.C. he dismissed them. The Senate, it is true, had sworn an oath of loyalty and granted Caesar permission to form a new bodyguard of senators and knights, but Caesar was in no hurry to establish it.

Having a bodyguard would have meant admitting that he had to live in fear, and Caesar didn’t want that. Perhaps there was another factor as well. Caesar continued to think of himself as a member of Rome’s elite of nobility and culture. He did things like going to dinner parties at Cicero’s villa and discussing literature. When Brutus and Cicero each published books in praise of Cato as the ideal Roman, Caesar ordered his literary assistant to write a reply—and then, as soon as time permitted, Caesar wrote his ownAnticato.But the man who had indirectly caused the deaths of Cato, Pompey, Metellus Scipio, Domitius Ahenobarbus, and so many other champions of the Roman aristocracy could not easily claim his place in it.

Caesar was done in by a combination of arrogance and neediness. He wanted Rome’s aristocrats to acknowledge his supremacy while accepting him as a member of their club. He really couldn’t have both. If he wanted his fellow aristocrats to pat him on the back, he couldn’t force them to kneel before him. If he insisted that they knuckle under, then he should have been ready for their knives. As wise as he was, Caesar was blind to this truth.

Caesar may have made the additional mistake of thinking that he was untouchable. Perhaps he really did believe that he was protected by the Fortuna Caesaris—“the good fortune of Caesar.” Perhaps his calculations were strictly secular, but in that case they were arrogant. Caesar’s sense of his own genius and his exaggerated estimate of his own superiority made it seem like treason even to imagine that any of the lesser men whom he had beaten could possibly harm him.

Half of Rome, he thought, loved him, and the other half feared him. It was irrational, he reasoned, for anyone merely to hate him. But he forgot the importance of dignitas, or rank—a strange omission indeed for a man who justified his decision to cross the Rubicon by saying that his dignitas was dearer to him than life itself.

Alexander the Great gave up on trying to have the Macedonians kiss the ground in his presence. Caesar never tried anything so obvious with Rome’s proud aristocrats, but what he did offended them just as much. He made a mockery of the honors that meant so much to them. He flirted with being called king. And, worst of all, he forgave his enemies.

The assassins of 44 B.C. would never forgive Caesar for pardoning them. Caesar aroused their jealousy and their fear. His achievements dwarfed theirs. His demagoguery threatened to siphon off their wealth to the common people. His reforms offended innate Roman conservatism. But worst of all, his arrogance humiliated them. The very clemency that Caesar was so proud of was the nub of his enemies’ case against him. As Cato is supposed to have said, Caesar had no right to lord it over people by exonerating them.

And so, the conspirators gathered, now squawking like geese, now sharpening their knives like soldiers.

The Men Who Would Be Caesar

Rome’s senators were narrow-minded and self-defeating. They were stingy to Rome’s soldiers and unwelcoming to the elite of northern Italy and Gaul. In return, both of those groups supported Caesar. So did the ordinary people of Italy—the main target of the senators’ exploitation. And yet, these same selfish senators were the most stubborn and magnificent defenders of political liberty that the world has ever seen.

It was liberty for a very few but it was liberty nonetheless. Nothing would make them surrender the right to do and say what they pleased. Caesar would have to kill all of them to make them submit. He was too much of an old Roman aristocrat himself to do any such thing. Caesar couldn’t kill the likes of Brutus and Cassius because he cared too much about what they thought. But after they killed him, the rules changed.

The men who came after Caesar didn’t mind killing most of Rome’s nobility if that’s what it would take to keep them securely in power. So they did.

That was the tragedy of the Ides of March. Rather than restore the Republic, it brought back the civil war, and with a vengeance. Caesar’s civil war lasted five years; the new outbreak lasted fourteen. Caesar had steadfastly steered clear of what the Romans called “proscription,” that is, posting lists of enemies whose lives and property were both forfeit. The new war brought it back.

The list included two thousand three hundred of the wealthiest and most prominent members of the Roman elite. Many of them escaped with their lives but not their property. But even that wasn’t enough to satisfy the desire for loot, so eighteen of the richest cities in Italy, with their lands, were given to the soldiers who still supported Caesar by their commanders.

Among those who did not survive was Cicero. The orator’s hands and tongue were brought as gruesome trophies to the man who ordered his murder, Mark Antony. Caesar’s former lieutenant emerged after the Ides of March as one of the two most important leaders of Caesar’s troops. The other was Caesar’s nineteen-year-old grandnephew.

Gaius Octavius, the grandson of Caesar’s sister, was Caesar’s legal heir. Caesar had traveled back from Spain with young Octavius in 46 B.C. and was impressed by him. Octavius was sharp, cunning, and ambitious. Having no living, legitimate children of his own, Caesar adopted Octavius posthumously, which was not an unusual procedure in Rome. When Caesar’s will was read, Octavius became Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus—often called Octavian today.

Unlike Alexander, Caesar had an adult heir. But like Alexander, Caesar left a succession struggle behind him. Mark Antony had no intention of giving way to Octavian. Antony was a grown man of about forty and a great soldier. Octavian was no solider, but he had more important qualities. Octavian had not only Caesar’s name he also had Caesar’s political talent, and then some. He began outmaneuvering Antony from the start.

The two of them fought in Italy and Octavian’s troops won the upper hand. Then they joined forces against the army of Brutus and Cassius, which they defeated at the battle of Philippi, in Macedonia, in 42 B.C. Antony and Octavian then divided up the Roman world. Octavian got Italy and the West, while Antony got the East—and Cleopatra.

Caesar’s former mistress now hitched her wagon to Antony’s star. Together, the two of them planned to build a new Eastern empire and then defeat Octavian. But Antony went down to defeat against Parthia, where he tried and failed to carry out the invasion that Caesar had planned.

Octavian, meanwhile, gathered his own forces. He defeated the last remaining son of Pompey, Sextus Pompeius, in a naval war off Sicily. He solidified his support in Italy and the West while caricaturing Antony as the love slave of an Eastern queen.

Octavian’s propaganda proved more successful than Antony’s heroics. In 32 B.C., the Senate declared war on Antony and Cleopatra. The conflict was decided in the naval battle at Actium in 31 B.C., a victory for Octavian.

In 30 B.C., Antony and Cleopatra each committed suicide. Caesarion was killed on Octavian’s orders. Octavian was now the sole master of the Roman world. Known by the title Augustus (“Majestic”) from 27 B.C. on, he would rule Rome as its first emperor. Between the two of them, Caesar and Augustus established a succession of emperors that lasted in Rome for five hundred years.

By 30 B.C., there was nobody left in Rome who remembered what the old Republic had been like. Years of war and proscription had swept them all away. The field was clear for Augustus to finish what Caesar had started. But, in turning Rome from a republic to a monarchy, Augustus learned from Caesar’s example.

Augustus would take no title such as “dictator for life.” He merely called himself princeps, that is, “first among equals.” Nor did he display disrespect for the Senate. On the contrary, Augustus claimed that he was restoring the Republic. He pretended to follow all the old rules of the political game.

But no one was fooled. All Rome understood that Augustus had established a new regime, one that brought law and order at the price of liberty. But law and order were better than war.


None of our three commanders ended his war well. None managed to combine military victory with statesmanship. And yet, each failed in a different way.

Hannibal’s conflict ended in disaster. When he left for Italy in 218 B.C., he launched what he might have expected to be a relatively short war. When it became clear that it would be a long war, he proved to be unable to acquire the resources—the manpower and money—needed to win. He did not adapt well to changing circumstances. He demonstrated neither good judgment nor sound strategy.

When he invaded Italy, Hannibal was the essence of audacity. When it came to leaving Italy, he seemed to be stuck. After Hasdrubal’s defeat at the Metaurus in 207, the failure of Hannibal’s Italian expedition should have been obvious. And yet he stayed in Italy for four more years.

If the choice to stay was his, then it demonstrates stubbornness and illusion on his part. If the Carthaginian government was forcing him to stay, then Hannibal showed a lack of leadership by not persuading them otherwise.

When he finally was recalled to Africa in 203, Hannibal probably behaved about as well as any general could under the circumstances. But by then it was too late. It is an open question whether he should have refused to continue fighting at all.

Alexander avoided disaster, but he stretched his empire to the limit. The last years of the war, from Sogdiana to India, had been of limited strategic value or none at all. Spitamenes did not pose enough threat to justify Alexander’s campaigns. India offered great wealth, but it was nearly impossible to hold.

Caesar ended his war most successfully. Neither North Africa nor Spain will go down as his most smoothly run campaign, and each offered moments of great danger. But he handled them in the proper order and kept returning to Rome to manage political affairs. His strategy was sound.

Things look different if we turn to each man’s peacemaking skills. Alexander showed a lack of interest in organizing the infrastructure needed to make his claim to be “king of Asia” into a reality. He paid insufficient attention to the new governing class, beginning with his own dynasty. At the age of thirty-two, and after more than a dozen years on the throne, he was just getting around to producing a legitimate heir. He demonstrated leadership in promoting mixed marriages, but he left open the question of whether the children of these unions would be able to govern the empire. He had a new army but its effectiveness was untested.

The Persians had barely held their empire together, and Alexander’s realm was even larger. Rebellions were a foregone conclusion, but cohesion was not. Alexander did little to tighten his grip on his “spear-won” land. On the contrary, he set off on a new war in Arabia, with other expeditions in the works. The warrior had insufficient interest in becoming a statesman.

Caesar did better, at least to an extent. A politician before he became a general, Caesar took internal issues much more seriously than Alexander did. But Caesar displayed only limited patience with the process of reform. He proved unable to manage the old Roman aristocracy who stood in his way, and he paid for it with his life. But even had he been more diplomatic he would not have been more focused on the task at hand. Like Alexander, he hardly ended one war before he began the next.

In an irony of history, Alexander and Caesar each died as he was about to start a vast new war. Neither man could stand life in the capital when the camp beckoned.

Alexander did not succeed in creating a great new empire or dynasty, but he did succeed in destroying an old empire—the Persian empire. And he did lay the groundwork for a series of successor states under a new Greek and Macedonian ruling class. In that sense, he was a successful statesman.

Caesar failed in his attempt to lead a long life as a dictator. But he began the process of reforming Rome that, under his chosen successor, Augustus, turned it from the Roman republic into the Roman empire. Caesar’s statesmanship, although flawed, seems far greater than Alexander’s.

Each man also left a brand behind. From Alexander’s successors to Pyrrhus to Hannibal to Caesar and beyond, to Trajan and Julian the Apostate, would-be conquerors looked to Alexander as their model. Caesar had such an impact as a conqueror that not only did every Roman emperor take his name, but so did the rulers of such far-off states as Germany, Austria, and Russia, whose kaisers and tsars are just variations of “caesar.”

But Hannibal’s is the most ironic case of all. At the very moment that his military dreams died, his political skills came alive. By establishing a relationship with Scipio, he probably did the single most important thing he could to save himself from exile or execution. He then proceeded to reinvent himself as a statesman and reformer, doing for Carthage what Caesar did for Rome—and then some. It might seem selfish if Hannibal considered himself indispensable, but it was probably true. Could anyone other than Hannibal have saved Carthage? No one else combined the magical name with his audacity and leadership, and with a good judgment that had been honed in adversity,

Tragically, Hannibal was not permitted to stay in Carthage to enjoy the fruits of his success. Even worse, Carthage found that its very prosperity brought ruin at the hands of a vengeful Rome. But thanks to Hannibal, the last generations of the great north African metropolis were among its most peaceful and well-governed.

Few could have expected that from the man who once looked at Italy from the heights of the Alps with murder in his eyes.

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