Book Review: Hannibal’s Road: The Second Punic War in Italy 213-203 B.C. by Mike Roberts

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author and/or publisher. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

Hannibal’s Road covers a period in history that is often only briefly described, if not glossed over entirely.  That period is the 10 years between 213-203 B.C. after his stunning victories at Trebia, Trasimene, and Cannae until his evacuation of the Italian peninsula.

The stats.  There are 249 pages of text divided into an introduction, 11 chapters, and an epilogue.  There are also several maps, notes, a bibliography, and an index.

The period between the Roman defeats at Trebia, Trasimene, and Cannae from 218-216 B.C. and the roan invasion of Africa in 203 B.C. is at best glossed over or briefly described as a brutal learning period for Rome before their final and often times implied inevitable, defeat of Hannibal at Zama in 202 B.C. If anyone figure from this period is mentioned at any length it is Quintus Fabius Maximus “Cunctator” the delayer who is extolled for his strategy of containment and avoiding decisive engagements that allowed Rome to recover from her crushing defeats.

The period is much more than a time of rebuilding although it was that as well.  This was a period during which Rome faced the most difficult challenge of the republic’s history and historians do a disservice to us all by dismissing the period.  Mike Roberts has done an excellent job at filling in the gap of knowledge and doing so in a way that is accessible to the layman or armchair historian.

It is quite obvious that all the classical sources were consulted but he has also built on modern work by academic historians in building the narrative of Rome’s struggles during this crucial decade.  His characterization of the leading figures of both Rome and Carthage makes these figures into people instead of just odd sounding names that populate history books.  He also humanizes the war by discussing the political factors that exercised both common people and elite.  I found his descriptions of the Roman in-fighting regarding strategy and  military commands especially illuminating.

His battle accounts are lively and acknowledge the limitations of level of detail available at the remove of two millennia.  For all that, this is an engaging narrative that tells a story unfamiliar to most people interested in antiquity, namely that of Rome threatened.  Most readers will be much more familiar with the stories of Roman arms proceeding from triumph to triumph and any setbacks being minor at best.  During the period of this book that was emphatically not the case as it is entirely possible that Rome could have fallen, indeed, some scholars might even argue that Rome should have fallen.

In conclusion, Hannibal’s Road is a most interesting book about a most interesting period of western history that has been ignored or downplayed much more than it should have been.  The writing style id lively and even sardonic at times and eminently readable.  This is an excellent book that I would encourage anyone with an interest in classical antiquity to add to their library.