Hannibal: A Hellenistic Life by Eve MacDonald - review by Richard Miles

Richard Miles

Elephant Man

Hannibal: A Hellenistic Life


Yale University Press 332pp £25 order from our bookshop

The Carthaginian general Hannibal resides in that elite pantheon of outstanding generals that includes Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Napoleon and very few others. As Eve MacDonald makes clear in her new book on Hannibal, it is a reputation richly deserved. Marching a large army up through Spain over the Pyrenees, across what is now France and then over the Alps as winter closed in was an achievement that the ancients thought could only be achieved by those touched by divinity. The fact that he had a squadron of elephants with him merely added to his giant-sized legend (although only one of these lumbering beasts actually survived the odyssey).

On his arrival in northern Italy in 218 BC, Hannibal succeeded in tactically outwitting a series of Roman generals and destroying their armies. Like all the great generals of this period, Hannibal was also an accomplished propagandist who claimed that he was the new Heracles (the hero who legend told

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