The Second Punic War

The Second Punic War saw one of the first genuine challenges to Roman authority, and Greek writers of the time looked to “the clouds now looming in the west”. The opposition’s leader, Hannibal, carefully engineered a cumulative resistance strategy which refused to comply with Roman expectations of escalating importance. However, Hannibal’s power was in his common sense, which seemed to be compromised when he decided that the Carthaginian attacks should exploit Rome’s proximity to water and thus to naval siege. To understand Hannibal’s motives is to study the history, politics, and individual psychology which drove him at that time. For example, many theories have posed different reasons for his decision to engage the military megapower against him: the hatred of Rome for its threats to its Carthaginian allies or to its former territories, the unavoidable threat which Rome posed to his position and power in Spain, the alliances which both Rome and Carthage made were seen as aggressive precursors for war- rather than preventive measures for security, etc. Nonetheless, war was waged, and the political processes of Carthage and Rome often took center stage. Carthaginian government combined elements of oligarchy, monarchy, and democracy as well as the influence which each had on the administrative decisions which formed law, whereas Roman government was reaching the ineffectual zenith of the common people who had been promised rights. The Romans were concerned about the Messana Straits’ access to all of Italy and were forced into action- against the soundest military strategies which had kept them in their peninsular lands throughout history. Cannae became the decisive battle between ancient Carthage and Rome and would forever change the face of global international relations.

Sun Tzu’s On War continues to be one of the most well-read sources of military strategy which has often been misunderstood because it takes a step-by-step cumulative learning approach rather than the exploratory reasoning which traditionally examined particular aspects of military strategy- one at a time. Sun Tzu does not complicate his elements of war with abstract super-concepts or personal attributions of genius. Yet, paradoxically, a sense of spirituality and personal drive are factored into the military advantage which he calls “shih” is featured heavily in his work. It is important to remember that Sun Tzu lived before both Thucydides and Clausewitz but was not as well known to the Western world but continue to be a well-known explanation of balanced rationality and irrationality in warfare. In Sun Tzu’s theories, every asset, including those which employ deceit and manipulation must be inventoried in the consideration of the assets in preparation for war; for him, the winner claims the right to determine their moral sensibilities only after victory.

Several of Clausewitz’ predecessors also wrote of imbalance and military strategy, and Heraclitus, for one, believed that war is both unavoidable and necessary. Clausewitz wrote that war cannot be narrowly defined by the physical act of engaging in combat. As an unavoidable certainty, Clausewitz advocated that the resolution of conflict should account for a tripartite approach to each nation’s interests. This triangular model of conflict connects the waging of war to the presence of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity. Some critics accused Clausewitz of ignoring the significance of the so-called minor battles in favor of aggrandized efforts to form a ‘decisive’ battle. Indeed, Italian scholars believe that the minimal aid which the Etruscans provided to Rome may have been a deciding factor in Hannibal’s defeat, and the allegiances which kept Rome safe and powerful required that assistance be provided to Thurii at the risk of provoking war; likewise, Rome’s powerful ally-city of Massilia had formerly been threatened by the Carthagians, whom had emerged scot-free in 231 BC when Hamilcar Barca explained that the expansions sought only to pay war reparations to Rome. Rome would not be so naïve again. While less decisive factors played crucial roles in the Second Punic War, Thucydides portrayed the Peloponnesian War as a conflict which had narrowly been avoided and was, in fact, unavoidable and inevitably decided by one such decisive battle. In short, Athens and Sparta were destined for a war in which political and militant leadership played an influential role which often overshadowed the results of the individual battle.

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