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October 30, 2005

I managed to catch National Geographic’s Hannibal vs. Rome tonight…and found it to be precisely what I expected.  An excellent introduction for the unititiated, but still very much a gloss over of the actual history. 

A few of my thoughts, in the case that anyone is interested:

  • The documentary spent too much time on Hannibal in the Alps.  The crossing of the Alps was a means to an end…it was an incredible feat, yes…but come on.  Does it really deserve the half hour or however long it was given?
  • It also glossed over the real reason that Hannibal chose to lead his army over the Alps in the first place.  It was absolutely correct that he wanted to fight the war in Italy, on Rome’s threshold.  But he did not march overland from Spain and cross the Alps "just to do it".  He did it because, in 218 B.C., Rome controlled the seas.  If he wanted to reach Italy, he had to do so overland, and that meant crossing the Alps.
  • While it did an amazing job with the Battle of Cannae, I think the documentary could have set it up a bit better.  How?  By touching upon the first major battle between Hannibal and a Roman army – the Battle of Trebbia River – fought in December 218.  Trebbia was a disaster for Rome…but as the cavalry and the allied soldiers routed, ten thousand legionnaires smashed clean through Hannibal’s line.  The big, clumsy "sledgehammer" of an army that the Romans led to Cannae was intended for the same end…to smash clean through Hannibal’s line.  It wasn’t that they were clueless…it was that they had seen the approach work on limited scale in the past, and were trying to apply it to the army at large.
  • As usual, Adrian Goldsworthy was the standout "expert" on the documentary.  He is as articulate when speaking as he is when writing. 
  • Is it just me, or did Scipio bear an uncanny resemblance to Jon Sim?  Speaking of which – it was refreshing to see Scipio get some props.  Usually Hannibal gets all the love in this type of thing, and Scipio is treated as little more than a footnote.  Which isn’t fair to either man…Scipio because it ignores his achievements, and Hannibal because it cheapens his ultimate loss at Zama.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 31, 2005 7:20 pm

    I had the pleasure of going to Rome for the first time a couple of months ago, and it sparked my interest in the Ancient empire, I’ve read “I Claudius” and obviously know about the standard Roman stuff. What would be a good starting point for further reading?

  2. October 31, 2005 9:03 pm

    Michael Grant’s “History of Rome” is a good place to start if you are looking for a solid overview. It is also a good read, and Grant’s prose is at times delightful. His phrase “the height of unwisdom” is one of my favorites from a history text, rivalled only by Norman Cantor’s “memorable treatise on falconry”.

    Tom Holland’s “Rubicon” is an equally good place to start. It is also well-written, but not as traditional a work as Grant’s. It jumps around from theme to theme…but still covers the bases.

    For a bit more depth, Adrian Goldsworthy’s “The Punic Wars” and Christian Meier’s “Caesar” are noteworthy and the combination of both should take you straight through to the reign of Augustus.

    If you are interested in approaching it through historical fiction, I highly recommend Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome Series, beginning with “The First Man in Rome” and ending with “The October Horse”. This span of books covers a wide swath of territory, from the rise of Gaius Marius at the end of the second century B.C. through the assassination of Caesar and subsequent rise of Antony and Octavian.

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