Hannibal - Legacy To The Ancient World

Legacy To The Ancient World

It was written that Hannibal taught the Romans the meaning of fear. It has been said that for generations, Roman housekeepers would tell their children brutal tales of Hannibal when they misbehaved. In fact, Hannibal became such a figure of terror that whenever disaster struck, the Roman Senators would exclaim "Hannibal ante portas" (“Hannibal before the Gates!”) to express their fear or anxiety. This famous Latin phrase evolved into a common expression that is often still used when a client arrives through the door or when one is faced with calamity.

A grudging admiration for Hannibal is evident in the works of Roman writers such as Livy, Frontinus, and Juvenal. The Romans even built statues of the Carthaginian in the very streets of Rome to advertise their defeat of such a worthy adversary. It is plausible to suggest that Hannibal engendered the greatest fear Rome had towards an enemy. Nevertheless, they grimly refused to admit the possibility of defeat and rejected all overtures for peace; they even refused to accept the ransom of prisoners after Cannae.

During the war there are no reports of revolutions among the Roman citizens, no factions with the Senate desiring peace, no pro-Carthaginian Roman turncoats, no coups. Indeed, throughout the war Roman aristocrats ferociously competed with each other for positions of command to fight against Rome's most dangerous enemy. Hannibal's military genius was not enough to really disturb the Roman political process and the collective political and military capacity of the Roman people. As Lazenby states, "It says volumes, too, for their political maturity and respect for constitutional forms that the complicated machinery of government continued to function even amidst disaster—there are few states in the ancient world in which a general who had lost a battle like Cannae would have dared to remain, let alone would have continued to be treated respectfully as head of state." According to the historian Livy, Hannibal's military genius was feared among the Romans, and during Hannibal's march against Rome in 211 BC "a messenger who had travelled from Fregellae for a day and a night without stopping created great alarm in Rome, and the excitement was increased by people running about the City with wildly exaggerated accounts of the news he had brought. The wailing cry of the matrons was heard everywhere, not only in private houses but even in the temples. Here they knelt and swept the temple-floors with their dishevelled hair and lifted up their hands to heaven in piteous entreaty to the gods that they would deliver the City of Rome out of the hands of the enemy and preserve its mothers and children from injury and outrage." In the Senate the news was "received with varying feelings as men's temperaments differed," so it was decided to keep Capua under siege, but send 15,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry as reinforcements to Rome.

According to Livy, the land occupied by Hannibal's army outside Rome in 211 BC was sold at the very time of its occupation and for the same price. This may not be true but as Lazenby states, "could well be, exemplifying as it does not only the supreme confidence felt by the Romans in ultimate victory, but also the way in which something like normal life continued. After Cannae the Romans showed a considerable steadfastness in adversity. An undeniable proof of Rome's confidence is demonstrated by the fact that after the Cannae disaster she was left virtually defenseless, but the Senate still chose not to withdraw a single garrison from an overseas province to strengthen the city. In fact, they were reinforced and the campaigns there maintained until victory was secured; beginning first in Sicily under direction of Claudius Marcellus, and later Hispania under Scipio Africanus. Although the long-term consequences of Hannibal's war are debatable, this war was undeniably Rome's "finest hour".

Most of the sources available to historians about Hannibal are from Romans. They considered him the greatest enemy Rome had ever faced. Livy gives us the idea that he was extremely cruel. Even Cicero, when he talked of Rome and its two great enemies, spoke of the "honourable" Pyrrhus and the "cruel" Hannibal. Yet a different picture is sometimes revealed. When Hannibal's successes had brought about the death of two Roman consuls, he vainly searched for the body of Gaius Flaminius Nepos on the shores of Lake Trasimene, held ceremonial rituals in recognition of Lucius Aemilius Paullus, and sent Marcellus' ashes back to his family in Rome. Any bias attributed to Polybius, however, is more troublesome, since he was clearly sympathetic towards Hannibal. Nevertheless, Polybius spent a long period as a hostage in Italy and relied heavily on Roman sources, so there remains the possibility that he was reproducing elements of Roman propaganda.

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