Tacticians Versus Strategists in the Second Punic War

When it comes to comparing tacticians and strategists in the Second Punic War, I agree that Hannibal was a superb tactician but a poor strategist. As a superb strategist but not a tactical genius I point to Quintus Fabius Maximus, the architect of the “Fabian strategy.” Fabius realized that Hannibal was far more of a tactical genius than he was, and he formed a strategy of avoiding all out military confrontation with him and attempting to deprive him and his army of sustenance with a sort of “scorched earth” policy and attacking their foragers.
According to Livy, Fabius advised Aemilius Paullus against confronting Hannibal in Apulia with the 80,000-man army the Romans had recruited. He said “Lucius, you know we are headed for a disaster if Varro gets his way. Flaminius only began to play the madman’s Consul when he got to his province, at the head of his army. Varro was raving even before he stood for Consul!’
‘This man knows nothing about military matters, not even as much as Flaminius did, and Hannibal is a consummate genius. Varro probably doesn’t even know that you want to hold the high ground when you start a battle nor that you want the wind to be at your soldier’s backs and not in their faces. He has no notion of how to choose a battlefield. Believe me, Lucius, Hannibal will cut our army to pieces. I don’t care if we have twice as many men as he does, one of Hannibal’s battle-hardened soldiers is worth ten of our raw recruits.
“But Hannibal does not have time on his side. He is in a foreign land, a hostile land, facing all hostile and disadvantageous circumstances, far from his home, far from his country: he has peace neither by land nor sea, no cities nor walls to receive him. He sees nothing anywhere which he can call his own. He lives daily by plunder. He has scarcely a third part of that army which he conveyed across the Iberus. Famine has destroyed more than the sword. The few remaining lack provisions. Do you doubt that by remaining quiet we shall not conquer him who is daily sinking into decrepitude? The only way to defeat Hannibal is to continue as I and Geminus and Regulus have been doing. We must not fight him on his own terms, Lucius. You must put a stop to this madness!”
As everyone knows, the expedition to Apulia was an absolute and utter disaster for the Romans. They lost about 55,000 men on the battlefield and ten or fifteen thousand captured and sold into slavery. It was a monument to Hannibal’s tactical genius.
If Fabius had been allowed to carry on his strategy, Hannibal probably would have found his position in Italy untenable within a year or two.
Hannibal’s lack of strategic acumen is shown by what followed. The Romans got smart and largely stopped fighting Hannibal on his own terms. They concentrated upon punishing his allies, and by 206 B.C. they had clawed back nearly all of his territorial gains that he had acquired after Cannae and had him bottled up in a small area of Bruttium. When Hannibal’s brother Hasdrubal attempted to bring him reinforcements, they destroyed him and his Army at the battle of the Metaurus River.
The Romans eventually found someone who was BOTH a tactical and a strategic genius, Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus. I recommend reading Scipio Africanus, Greater Than Napoleon by B.F. Liddle-Hart.

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