Professor of Psychology, University of Nebraska-Kearney
Q/What do you find most compelling about Hannibal?
Hannibal’s integrity and brilliance. Unlike Alexander, Caesar, and other distinguished military leaders, Hannibal was a genuine patriot who fought for the survival of his nation rather than for self-aggrandizement or personal profit. He was loyal to Carthage even when Carthage failed to support him, and after the end of the war managed to eliminate corruption and restore the city’s economic prosperity. His democratic reforms and the term limitations he established for the magistrates were significant political achievements, on a par with his military victories.
Q/ Hannibal is often lauded as one of the greatest leaders of ancient history. Do you think he deserves this position even though in the end he lost the 2nd Punic War?
Absolutely. There can be little doubt that Hannibal was one of the greatest leaders of Antiquity as well as a genius without peer on the battlefield.
Q/ Did Hannibal ever have a chance against Rome? Why did he lose?
Hannibal came very close to stopping the Roman Republic. After Cannae, Rome was on her knees. If at that point Carthage had made a supreme effort, sending all available reinforcements to Hannibal in Italy, there is little doubt that he would have brought the conflict to a favorable conclusion. Instead, the reinforcements were sent to Spain, to defend the silver mines, a colossal blunder on the part of the Carthaginian senate. Without reinforcements, although undefeated, Hannibal was forced to fight a defensive war. In the final battle, at Zama, it was the betrayal of Massinissa far more than the generalship of Scipio that decided the outcome.
Q/ What do you think of the Wood Brothers aim to ride Hannibal's route on bicycles, from Cartagena to Carthage?
A magnificent and worthwhile project, and one I wish I had been able to accompany!
Q/ A number of professional historians have retraced Hannibal's route. Is it possible to confidently identify Hannibal's route over the Alps and why?
I find the arguments of Sir Gavin de Beer and others for the Col de la Traversette having been the one used by Hanibal most compelling, but we will not know for certain unless archeological digs in the area manage to uncover traces of the passage of Hannibal’s army.
Q/ What is the main reason why didn't Hannibal attack Rome?
There were many reasons why Hannibal did not march against Rome immediately after Cannae. Rome was a large city, defended by huge walls, which Hannibal’s troops would have been unable to breach, lacking siege equipment. Besides, his numbers were insufficient for a successful siege. Parking his relatively small army in front of the walls of Rome would have allowed them to be trapped between the city’s defenses and reinforcements arriving from all corners of the peninsula, and would have accomplished nothing but his own destruction. Additionally, without a permanent base of supply, Hannibal did not have the resources to feed his animals and men on a march of over 200 km without adequate preparation. After Cannae he also had to take care of an indeterminate, but certainly large, number of wounded. But there is another reason, which is perhaps even more important: Hannibal never intended the destruction of Rome. There is abundant evidence (including the text of the treaty with Philip V of Macedon, in 215 BCE, recorded by Polybius), that his intention was to limit the expansion of the Romans to the center of the Italian peninsula, rather than the obliteration of the city on the Tiber.
Q/ When most people think of Hannibal they think of elephants? Were they really a major part of his arsenal?
While elephants will probably always be associated with the image of Hannibal, they took part in far fewer engagements than assumed by many. No elephants fought at Lake Trasimene or at Cannae, and it is very likely that the 80 pachyderms Hannibal is supposed to have had at Zama were a gross exaggeration, if not a total fabrication, of the pro-Roman historians. I have exploded this myth in one of my papers.
Q/What is an example of an important question/mystery about Hannibal and/or the Carthaginians that is still unanswered?
The fate of his wife and son!
Q/Is there a piece of our historical record missing? I mean, is it fair to say that the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians are a bit of a mystery to us, even though they were an important civilization?
Yes, the loss of the Carthaginian accounts of the wars with Rome has left us with a distorted picture painted by pro-Roman propagandists, and the destruction of the cultural treasures of Phoenician/Carthaginian heritage lost in the genocidal sack of Carthage in 146 BCE represents a tragic loss for all of humanity.