Who Was the Better General, Hannibal or Scipio?

In my estimation Hannibal’s rival Roman General, Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus was the better general.

Hannibal was unsurpassed as a battlefield tactician, but in terms of strategy and logistics, Scipio was superior to him while being a superb battlefield tactician in his own right.

Hannibal’s overall strategy for winning the Second Punic War was flawed. Rather than take an army across the Alps, where he lost half of his original 70,000 men to death or desertion, he would have done better to have stayed in Spain let the Romans come to him. He would have had 100,000 men at his command and all of the resources of southern Spain at his disposal. There were no Roman commanders at the time who were even remotely his equal in battlefield tactics, and he would have annihilated any the legions the Romans sent. The Roman would have kept sending legions and seeing them destroyed until they realize that they could not beat Hannibal on the battlefield.

Hannibal could then have built a fleet and taken back Corsica and Sardinia and perhaps even Sicily from the Romans. He could have made an alliance with one of the Magna Graecia cities, perhaps Tarentum or Metapontum, to let him use their harbor and invaded Italy and marched directly on a much-weakened Rome. The Second Punic War might have come out very differently.

As for Scipio, his conquest of Spain was a masterpiece in strategy, tactics and logistics. The first thing he did was to conquer New Carthage, which deprived Carthage of much of its wealth in Spain but also the hostages that they used to keep the Spanish tribes in line. It was a brilliant start. His victories at Baecula and Ilipa destroyed Carthaginian resistance in Spain and within four years he cleared the peninsula of all Carthaginian military personnel.

His invasion of Africa was superbly planned, with a years’ stay in Sicily where he thoroughly trained his men and amassed everything he would need for the invasion. At the Battle of Zama his handling of the threat of 80 elephants that Hannibal directed toward the Roman lines early in the battle was brilliant. Hannibal was believed to be unbeatable on the battlefield, but Scipio was the victor that day, probably because he had the advantage in cavalry.

To understand more about Scipio, I recommend reading Africanus, Greater than Napoleon by B.F. Liddle-Hart.

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