Book Reviews at roman history books and more…
Greater Than Napoleon
by B. H. Liddell Hart
Foreword by Michael Grant
by Jim BloomLiddell Hart has written a sparkling, lively and incisive review of Scipio's military career, subordinating his subject's political and diplomatic acumen to his military objectives.
Liddell Hart wrote this book very early in his career as a noted military commentator and theorist. It is only ancient historical theme. He has also won praise from scholars working in the period who admire his ability to get at the essence of Scipio's methods and character. If you hesitate to read this because you are not much interested in military theory or analysis, don't let this hold you back. The discussion of Scipio and his historical period is not "interrupted" by arcane trivia about "breakpoints" , "fulcrum of maneuver" and other such arid technical phrases. Liddell Hart, to be sure, has written a study of the military aspects of each campaign, but it is one that is lively and full of insights into the personality traits and vision that made Scipio Africanus a "great captain".
The final chapter contrasts Scipio with the list of " great captains" noted by Napoleon's famous dictum as worthy of study. Of those in antiquity, Alexander, Hannibal and Julius Caesar are relevant. One plus for Scipio is that he is relevant to modern democracies in that he could not impose his will much as Alexander, and, to a lesser extent, Julius Caesar, might but had to play the game of politics in an open forum. Liddell Hart applauds Scipio's moderation, worldly diplomacy and instinct for attacking the decisive nerve center of the enemy's warmaking capacity, not necessarily his armies in the field. In an effort to sound authoritative, I think that Liddell Hart is at times a bit harsh on Hannibal, and to a lesser extent on Alexander and Julius Caesar.
On the down side, one quibble: Liddell Hart shuns footnotes as being intrusive to the narrative. The problem I had with this is that when he is quoting Polybius or Livy (he avoided modern accounts), it is sometimes difficult to discern whom he is citing, especially when the quote is interrupted with a synopsis or an aside. Similarly, the lack of an index prevents one from readily referring back to the book and comparing his analyses to those of others. Some of Liddell Hart 's later works are more didactic, in that he had then fixed upon his "indirect approach" theory and tended to hammer it home. Further, it seemed that he became more selective in his use of examples from history, choosing only those that sustained his principle, even twisting some facts to fit the model. In this book, one feels that we are getting a full and fair picture of Scipio Africanus in action.
Soldier and Politician
by Howard H. Scullard
Thames & Hudson,
out of print
Scullard is an acknowledged authority on both the military and political aspects of the republican and early principate periods of Roman history.
This book is not quite a fresh look at the subject. It is an amalgamation of his first book, Scipio Africanus in the Second Punic War (1930) and his later (1951) study of the Roman political scene of Scipio's era. Scullard has trimmed the military portion slightly and truncated the political segment (about the last third of the book) even more.
Notwithstanding the cut-and-paste, the book reads well. His critique of military operations is quite as incisive as that done by Liddell Hart, if not so forcefully expressed, with the advantage that Scullard is more adept in weighing Livy's account against that of Polybius. In the earlier work, Scullard had criticized Liddell Hart for not being able to read the sources very critically. Nonetheless, he cited Liddell Hart 's book a number of times to support his own reading of events. In this version, there are not many citations of Liddell Hart but he does praise Liddell Hart 's book in the preface.
There is no bibliography. All references to modern accounts are in the endnotes. The index is not detailed enough. I wanted to be able to cross-reference his analysis with that of Liddell Hart but the skimpy index (and lack of one in Liddell Hart ) made that difficult. All-in-all a wonderfully well-rounded portrait of Scipio and his adaptation of the Roman war machine to the political and material realities of Rome at the apex of the republican epoch.
Copyright Jim Bloom © 2000
Also by Jim Bloom:
Scipio Africanus – A Military Biographical Sketch
Lion Feuchtwanger's Josephus: Exoneration of a Maligned Jewish Champion
Articles & Essays by group members & friends
Roman History Reading Group