Book Review: Hannibal: A History of the Art of War by Theodore Ayrault Dodge

Theodore Ayrault Dodge was a military historian who was born in 1842 and died in 1909. He fought as a Union officer in the American Civil War and wrote a number of biographies of history’s most famous generals, including Alexander the Great, Hannibal Barca, Julius Caesar, Gustavus Adolphus, Frederick the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte.
In Hannibal: A History of the Art of War, he goes into great detail concerning the battles of the Second Punic War. He analyses the battles thoroughly in terms of strategy and tactics. He clearly admires Hannibal both as a man and as a general, placing him on a par with Alexander the Great as one of the two best military commanders in history. As for Hannibal’s vaunted cruelty, well, war was exceedingly cruel in that era, and Dodge sites numerous examples of equal barbarity on the part of the Romans, pointing out that the history of the Punic Wars was written entirely by Romans and Greek subjects of Rome. Nothing has come down to us from a Carthaginian stylus.
Dodge does not rate Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus as Hannibal’s equal, stating that he was “brilliant but not great.” He faults Scipio greatly for allowing Hannibal’s brother, Hasdrubal, to depart from Spain and lead an army across the Alps into Italy. Indeed, he rates Gaius Claudius Nero and Marcus Claudius Marcellus as Rome’s best generals during the Second Punic War. He asserts that after the battle of Cannae, Hannibal was dogged by consistent ill fortune, and only his sheer brilliance allowed him to occupy a part of Italy as long as he did. For a contrary view one might want to read Scipio Africanus: Greater Than Napoleon by B.H. Liddle Hart.
Dodge greatly admires the Romans for their ability to learn from Hannibal and ultimately develop a military force capable of defeating him.
Dodge appears to have thoroughly studied the ancient sources, Livy, Polybius, Plutarch, Appian of Alexandria, Cassius Dio, Silius Italicus, Valerius Maximus and others, and he presents a wealth of detail. He seems to get some of his details wrong, however. For example, he has Syphax’ capital at Sicca when Livy clearly says it was at Cirta. He also says that Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus directed the battle of Magnesia (190 B.C. against Antiochus III of the Seleucid Kingdom) when Polybius makes it clear that Scipio was recovering from illness at Elaea at the time of the battle. Scipio’s brother Lucius Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus won the battle on his own.
Readers interested in the Second Punic War, and especially those interested in military history and the arts of war will find great enjoyment in this book.

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