Ancient History & Civilisation


OH YES, HANNIBAL and his elephants' was the almost universal reaction whenever I told someone that I was writing a book about the Punic Wars. The Alps were mentioned fairly often, and every now and again the Romans put in an appearance, but that seemed to be about the limit of most people's knowledge. Only a few had much idea of when and by whom this series of conflicts had been fought, and who eventually won. A small minority, most of whom had an interest in ancient or military history, knew much more, and their knowledge was often remarkably detailed and embraced the minor tactical details of particular battles or the peculiarities of Punic religion. Perhaps it should be more surprising that even these few remembered anything at all about wars fought twenty-two centuries ago, but it is only in the last few generations that the Punic Wars have disappeared from the wider consciousness in Europe and North America. Until well into the twentieth century Greek and Latin languages and literature lay at the heart of Western education, and the major events and personalities of the Graeco-Roman World, especially those described by one of the great ancient authors, were familiar and frequently alluded to in art and literature.

All this has now changed, as Latin and Greek are now rarely taught in schools, and the perception of the classical roots of modern culture steadily diminishes. The distant - and often bitter - memory of childhood acquaintance with Caesar's Gallic Wars and Passives, Subjunctives and Ablative Absolutes is now increasingly uncommon. I am probably one of a relatively small minority in my generation who attended a school where Latin was compulsory from the age of nine. I can still remember toiling my way through a passage in my first Latin textbook (and so using only a few simple tenses) which recounted the story of Regulus keeping his oath even though it meant death by horrible torture. Such things were rare in the late

1970s and have become rarer still, but moral tales like that of Regulus, or Cincinnatus and Horatius Codes were long seen as highly appropriate for children. Very few even of the students who study Ancient History, Classics or Philosophy at university now have any prior knowledge of Greek or Latin. Amongst the population as a whole references to Hollywood epics such as Spartacus or Ben-Hur are far more likely to prompt a response than mention of Polybius, Livy or Tacitus. A reversal of this trend seems extremely unlikely, but it is clear that interest in the long-distant past remains, evidenced by the regular appearance of television documentaries featuring history and archaeology. There are several reasons for this continued attention. The classical world witnessed many intensely dramatic events and was peopled with remarkable personalities, charismatic individuals whose careers were often both heroic and tragic. It is, in short, the source of many good stories which still bear retelling. Its influence, along with that of Christianity, also did more than anything else to shape the culture of today.

This is a work of military history and is not primarily aimed at an academic audience. Its intention is to provide an accessible account and analysis of the three wars fought between Rome and Carthage in the third and second centuries BC, placing them firmly within the context of the struggle for dominance of these two cities and within the background of warfare in this period. I have not attempted to provide references to the entire literature dealing in some way with aspects of these wars, nor have I included every theory or interpretation advanced by scholars in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries AD. More care has been taken to mention the ancient accounts of each incident, nearly all of which are available in translation and are essential for any deeper study into the subject. The general reader may rightly choose to ignore all of the references to both ancient and modern works. Those whose interest takes them further should be able to gain access to the mass of books and articles devoted to aspects of the Punic Wars through the bibliographies contained in the modern works cited here. The best narrative accounts of the First and Second Wars, with detailed discussions of the primary sources, are J. Lazenby's The First Punic War (London, 1995) and Hannibal's War (Warminster, 1978, reprinted with new introduction Oklahoma, 1998). These works provide sound starting places for more detailed study into either conflict.

No one can attempt any serious study of this period without leaning heavily upon F. Walbank's A Historical Commentary on Polybius, 3 volumes (Oxford, 1970), which has been recently reissued. It would easily have been possible to place a reference to this remarkable work on nearly every page of this book. The starting place for any discussion of the locations of the major battles in this period still remains J. Kromayer & G. Veith, Antike Schlahtfelder (Berlin, 1903-31) and its accompanying Schlahtenatlas(Gotha, 1922). However, we must admit that it is impossible to locate many battlefields with any certainty. In the current work I have only expressed a firm opinion on such matters in the case of areas which I have actually visited. Even the finest maps cannot replace the impression gained by actually walking over the ground itself. The precise location of many of these actions does not greatly affect our understanding of the conflicts as a whole.

Many conversations over the years have contributed to the ideas expressed in this book. Especially useful was a series of seminars run by myself and Louis Rawlings as part of the Cardiff University MA programme in 1996-7 on the theme of the Second Punic War. I would also like to thank all the family and friends who read the early drafts of the text and contributed many helpful comments, and in particular Ian Hughes and Kevin Powell. Finally, I should thank Nick Chapman, formerly of Cassell, who suggested and commissioned this book in its current form.

Note Throughout this book centuries and dates mentioned should be assumed to be BC unless the text specifically indicates otherwise.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!