Customer Reviews


20 Reviews
5 star:
 (11)
4 star:
 (6)
3 star:    (0)
2 star:
 (2)
1 star:
 (1)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Defending Scipio
Richard Gabriel has written what must be regarded as the definitive biography of Scipio and, in doing so, argues convincingly that Scipio was Rome's greatest general-was, in fact, one of the greatest captains of antiquity.

Augustin and Elissa de Cartago, however, are not persuaded by Gabriel's arguments. Augustin notes and implicitly agrees with Gabriel's view...
Published on November 18, 2008 by Steven Weingartner

versus
64 of 75 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A strange pottage
Sharing Mr Gabriel's observation that no one has written a biography of Scipio which truly evaluates the man's place in Roman military history, and being myself something of a fan of the great Africanus, I was very much looking forward to reading this one, but could only struggle about halfway through before giving up in frustration and annoyance. The sources of both are...
Published on August 16, 2008 by M. Cotone


‹ Previous | 1 2 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

64 of 75 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A strange pottage, August 16, 2008
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Scipio Africanus: Rome's Greatest General (Hardcover)
Sharing Mr Gabriel's observation that no one has written a biography of Scipio which truly evaluates the man's place in Roman military history, and being myself something of a fan of the great Africanus, I was very much looking forward to reading this one, but could only struggle about halfway through before giving up in frustration and annoyance. The sources of both are many. While conceding that Gabriel's descriptions and speculations about Scipio's campaigns and battles are interesting--even when he overlooks his own earlier solutions to questions which he later poses--I found his projection of the modern political and military mindset onto Carthage and Rome most annoying. Both states emerge in his narrative as modern entities of some sort, in which a thought-out policy is established by the civilian government and entrusted to the military for execution. Such was certainly not the case with either city, and certainly not the case with the Barcids' activity in Spain, which was viewed with enormous suspicion by their political rivals in Carthage. Equally annoying is the author's habit of contradicting himself within a matter of lines, e.g., the Spanish city of Saguntum is identified as an independent city and half a paragraph later is said to revolt against Carthage; his obvious unfamiliarity with the Latin language and its terminology, e.g., his translation of "mare clausum" as the enclosing (instead of enclosed) sea and identification of the term "legion" as deriving from Romulus' primitive army instead of the word for "to pick" or "select"; and his tendency to the grandiose, e.g., describing the situation of Rome's allies as obliged to help her "for decades" against Hannibal, thirteen years after his arrival in Italy. Gabriel's description of the Roman army is a true pottage of information taken from works written over the past century and a half (I was surprised that he did not cite H. P. Judson's long-outdated "Caesar's Army") which describe the Republican army at different eras and stages of development, but are applied to that of Scipio's time as found convenient to whatever thesis the author wishes to argue. Likewise, he boasts of his familiarity with the German and Italian literature on Scipio and the second Punic war in his introduction, but fails to include in his bibliography two recent and noteworthy English works, viz., Adrian Goldsworthy's "The Punic Wars" and "Cannae". And how can one not mention the small things, such as the use of "legionnaires" for "legionaries" and the spelling errors ("make due" for "make do") liberally scattered about the text? While I agree with Mr Gabriel's statement that an up-to-date biography of Scipio is needed, I fear that his does not qualify.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Defending Scipio, November 18, 2008
By 
Steven Weingartner (LaGrange Park, IL USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Scipio Africanus: Rome's Greatest General (Hardcover)
Richard Gabriel has written what must be regarded as the definitive biography of Scipio and, in doing so, argues convincingly that Scipio was Rome's greatest general-was, in fact, one of the greatest captains of antiquity.

Augustin and Elissa de Cartago, however, are not persuaded by Gabriel's arguments. Augustin notes and implicitly agrees with Gabriel's view that "the brilliance of a general depends on the quality of his defeated opponents," but goes on to assert that "the only great opponent Scipio ever defeated was Hannibal at Zama, a victory scored by luck and the fortunate arrival of Massinissa's cavalry at the battlefield in the nick of time." He thus dismisses Gabriel's observation that the Carthaginian generals Scipio faced in Spain were quite competent, citing in particular "the bungling Hasdrupal Gisco" as "surely the sorriest excuse for a commander in the Wars." But how do we know that Gisco and his brethren were incompetent? Because they were beaten by Scipio!

What seems to have escaped Augustin's attention is that the quality of generals can only be assessed after the fact, by the outcome of the battles they fought and by their performance in those battles; or that, relatedly, the supposedly poor quality of Scipio's opponents might be a function of Scipio's talents. In universe of tautological thinking that Augustin inhabits, we know he Carthaginian generals lose because they're incompetent; and we know they're incompetent because they lose.

One imagines that Augustin is perplexed by Scipio's astonishing good luck in facing a succession of Carthage's incompetent generals. Where, one wonders, were the competent Carthaginian generals? Vacationing in the Balearic Islands? Lolling on the sands of Carthage's municipal beaches? Or were the generals beaten by Scipio the best Carthage had to offer? And if that is the case, one how Carthage became a great power in the western Mediterranean. So many incompetent generals--and yet, there she was, contending with Rome for mastery of the Enclosed Sea.

The issue of luck vexes Augustin, and Elissa de Cartago as well. Hence: ". . . the only great opponent Scipio ever defeated was Hannibal at Zama, a victory scored by luck and the fortunate arrival of Massinissa's cavalry at the battlefield in the nick of time. . . ." (Augustin); and "it was Hannibal who was responsible for luring the cavalry of Massinissa and Laelius from the battlefield" and "sheer luck that they returned before Hannibal's veterans cut down the Roman line. . . . [Hannibal]"would have vanquished Scipio in the last battle ,had it not been for the lucky (for the Romans) return of Massinissa."

Attributing Hannibal's loss at Zama to bad luck working in Scipio's favor is reminiscent of a losing football coach blaming his team's loss to bad calls by the referees. Gabriel's critics cannot accept that just as bad calls are a part of every game-integral to them and not anomalus-so too is bad luck integral to warfare. It is what a general makes of the luck presented to him, good or bad, that marks him as a great field captain. Two thousand years later another great captain would remark that he preferred lucky generals over brilliant ones. Unlike Gabriel's critics, Napoleon recognized that some element of luck, and often as not a very large portion of it, is a necessary ingredient of a general's coup d'oeil. If one were to apply the critics' reasoning to all parties, one might fairly conclude that Hannibal's three greatest victories-at the Trebia, Lake Traisemene, and Cannae-were attributable to the incompetence of the Roman generals he faced. And how do we know that they were incompetent? Because Hannibal beat them!

The truth is, Hannibal's reputation for greatness was based largely on his performance in the first three years (218-216) of the sixteen-year Second Punic War. His achievements in that period, although spectacular, did not produce decisive results. His superior practice of the operational art and his tactical brilliance were undeniable, enabling him to outmarch, outmaneuver, and outfight the Romans--but to no ultimate avail. He could defeat Roman armies; he could not defeat Rome. Nor did he achieve any significant (much less decisive) success in the years that followed. After 216 he did not fight, much less win, any major battles on Italian soil even though he remained in Italy for the better part of the fourteen years. His next big battle, fought in North Africa (at Zama, near Carthage, in 202), was also his last; and he lost it, losing the war in the bargain.

Hannibal's invasion of Italy is one of the great military feats of the age, at once a masterpiece of operational maneuver, a textbook case of leadership in adversity, and a triumph of endurance. But the fact that Hannibal had to make the journey at all was evidence of a profound weakness in his, and Carthage's, war-waging capabilities, namely the lack of an effective navy to provide seaborne support for her overseas armies. The Carthaginian navy had been largely destroyed in the First Punic War and in the twenty-three years that followed the city's oligarchy had given shipbuilding priority to merchant carriers over war galleys. In the meantime, the Roman navy had grown to dominate the seas. Hannibal took the land route to Italy because Rome and Carthage's elite left him with no other choice.

Rome's control of the Western Mediterranean prevented Hannibal from receiving meaningful reinforcements from either Spain, his primary source of fighting men, or North Africa. He tried to make good his losses by recruiting among the Celtic tribes of northern Italy. However, there were never enough Celts willing to join him and always too many Italians eager to oppose him; as a result, he always suffered manpower shortages and fought outnumbered.

Hannibal recognized that Rome's numerical advantages would prove insurmountable in the long term, ruling out a lengthy war of attrition. To that end he would strike at the system of alliances that Rome had built with other Italian states and which it dominated. Hannibal understood that the Italian confederation provided Rome with the vast manpower reserves and material resources it needed for a prolonged war with Carthage. It was, in modern parlance, Rome's strategic center of gravity. If Hannibal could break the confederation he could break Rome.

He felt that this was an attainable goal, believing that many if not most of the allied states wished to be free of Roman domination and that they were waiting only on favorable circumstances to break away from Rome. Hannibal determined to create those circumstances by bringing Rome to battle early and often and by winning those battles convincingly. In doing so he would leave Rome too battered to retaliate against disloyal allies, causing them to defect. Eventually the defections would reach a critical mass and Rome's citizens would lose the will to continue the war. The Romans would then sue for peace and in the negotiated settlement that followed Hannibal would impose terms that would restore Carthage to parity with Rome.

Hannibal enjoyed initial success. In two battles, at the River Trebia and Lake Traisemene, his army killed upwards of 60,000 Romans. The Roman Senate responded by appointing Quintus Fabius as temporary dictator, putting him in charge of Rome's armies. The aged Fabius, surely one of the most underrated and effective generals of his (or any) age, avoided open battle with Hannibal, instead implementing a strategy of mobile containment, attrition, and delay (hence the moniker bestowed on him, Cunctator, Latin for "Delayer") whereby several large forces were positioned around the Carthaginian army for the purpose of shadowing its movements, conducting fighting withdrawals when advanced upon, and otherwise harrying its rear and flanks.

Hannibal was completely flummoxed by the so-called Fabian strategy, thereby demonstrating an inability to adapt to new circumstances. Thwarted in his aim to bring the Romans to battle, he ravaged the countryside mercilessly, killing many Italians and perpetrating untold atrocities in the process. When in the spring of 216 Hannibal's army marched from its winter quarters, the Romans sacked Fabius, replaced him with two generals who were eager to fight, and gave them a mighty army numbering over 86,000 men and a mandate to destroy the invaders. Instead, at the Battle of Cannae, Hannibal maneuvered his outnumbered forces to execute a double envelopment of the Roman army. The Roman force was destroyed; more than fifty thousand legionaries were killed.

But Hannibal did not follow up on his victory by marching on Rome: according to Livy he paused for a day and a night to allow his troops, exhausted by the effort required to kill so many Romans, to rest. Marhabal, the Carthaginian cavalry commander, had urged Hannibal to seize the moment and attack the capital; when Hannibal refused Marhabal reproached his commander: "You know how to win victory, Hannibal; you do not how to use it" ("vincere scis, Hannibal; victoria uti nescis").

It was a trenchant criticism. Moving on Rome would have entailed a lengthy siege, and Hannibal had neglected to bring siege equipment and engineers to Italy. He might have conscripted Italians who knew how to build and use such equipment (as, much later, the Mongols would do with the Chinese) but he was evidently too busy massacring the populace to concern himself with properly equipping his army to achieve a decisive city. Nor did he have enough men to garrison his conquests in Italy, which would have made a siege of Rome almost impossibly problematic. And because Rome ruled the sea he could not count on receiving reinforcements via a naval task force from Carthage or Spain. Thus it may be seen that he had failed to formulate any practicable strategy for exploiting his battlefield successes. His plan for winning the war amounted to nothing more than killing lots of Romans and hoping that the Romans would give up. As events were to prove, his strategy was not merely ill-conceived: it was delusional.

After Cannae a number of allied states, notably Capua and Tarentum, did indeed defect; but overall the alliance held and Rome and its citizens remained stalwart in their prosecution of the war. Eventually the Romans returned to the strategy of refusing open battle, electing to merely contain Hannibal in southern Italy, where he moved his army after Cannae, while devoting their principle energies to the conquest of Spain. Hannibal's strategy for defeating Rome had failed and in 202, after spending fourteen fruitless years in Italy, Hannibal returned to North Africa, there to preside over Carthage's downfall.

Augustin admits that Scipio was a military innovator but disdains his innovations on the grounds that he "copied them from the organization of Hannibal's army." But the ability to learn from one's opponent and apply what one has learned to achieve substantive results is a rare quality among military leaders, the product of a keen and supple intellect, and therefore worthy of praise not condemnation. In any case Scipio did not copy the structure and methods of Hannibal's army so much as he identified the most effective elements of Carthaginian warcraft and developed countermeasures tailored to the Roman system. In other words, he adapted to circumstances on the ground, also a rare quality--one that Hannibal manifestly (see above) did not possess. The notion that Scipio's victory at Ilipa "owes more to Hannibal as a model that to any ingenuity on Scipio's part" is rank foolishness, indicative of a failure to recognize that successfully modeling one's enemy to defeat him is in and of itself a manifestation of ingenuity, and no mean feat to boot.

Augustin scorns the notion that Scipio was an honorable man, citing his "butchery of civilians in three cities," without mentioning the many and serial atrocities Hannibal perpetrated on the Italian populace. He approvingly notes that Hannibal's largely mercenary army remained loyal to him but clearly does not understand that the loyalty of his troops was at once a function of external circumstances-they were in a hostile land, with nowhere to go-and, certainly, mindfulness of the horrific fate suffered by mercenaries and Libyan townships that revolted against Carthage after the First Punic War. He accuses Scipio of being an opportunist, as if this were a bad thing in generals, and for being concerned with personal glory, as if Scipio were unique in this respect. He excoriates Scipio refusing peace overtures from a man who invaded his country, occupied and ravaged great swaths of his homeland, and slaughtered his countrymen by the tens of thousands. And then he huffily denounces as "treacherous" a night attack on the camps of his enemies--the same enemies who had spent more than thirteen years marching to and fro through Italy, devastating the land and its people, leaving desolation in their wake. Prior to this episode the Carthaginians had presented Scipio with "very reasonable proposals," as well they might now that they were losing the war; and pretended to consider their very reasonable proposals, whiling plotting to destroy them. The nerve of the man! Augustin cries foul, and it is a sorry thing to hear. He makes no mention of the bouquets the Carthaginians presented to the Romans during their long and ruinous sojourn in Italy--because there were none.

What all really boils down to is that Augustin and Elissa de Cartago simply don't like Scipio and Rome. Both give the game away in this regard in the final sentences of their respective critiques,
where they cite Neil Faulkner's Rome-bashing book, Rome: Empire of the Eagles, in the most laudatory terms.

Of course you don't have to like Scipio or Rome to enjoy Gabriel's book: all that is required is an appreciation of excellent scholarship and a true story well told.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent review of an unsong hero, January 6, 2011
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Scipio Africanus: Rome's Greatest General (Hardcover)
When historians and soldiers talk about the punic war,they mention a number of points.That it was key in Rome's rise as an empire,that the leading star was Hannibal,that key military concepts such as the Fabian strategy,the double envelopment,the battle of annhilation,of fighting on after losing the first couple of battles originated with this war.We often hear stories of how Hannibal crossed the Alps with his elephants or how he destroyed 3 different roman armies in 3 different battles (the last one ,Cannae is held as a tactical masterpiece).We hear how Fabius used a pseudo-guerilla strategy of avoiding battles with Hannibal and eroding his army through skirmishes or how the Battle of Metaurus is one of the decisive battles of world history where one Roman general after receiving intelligence of Hasdrubal (hannibal's brother ) arrival ,made a forced march to join up with another Roman general to launch a surprise attack on Hasdrubal ,destroying his army and killing him in the process and saving Rome.What we very rarely hear about the Punic war is the story of the most brilliant general to have fought in that war,Scipio Africanus.
In this masterpiece of a book,Richard Gabriel relates the story of this most brilliant of generals and makes a convincing argument that not only was he a great general but also a master grand strategist and one who had formidable political skills.Scipio ,haing survived a number of early battles went on to revolutionize the Roman army in terms of boldness,tactics,organization,weapons and the use of intelligence.He modified and expanded the legion to make it better to resist attacks by "barbarian infantry",he introduced the gladius captured from the spanish tribes as the main weapon for the legion,his manuvers such as the capture of New CArthage,the attack on Hasdrubal at Baecula or the attack on the Carthaginian camps at Utica were exceptional for their boldness and daring.His use of deception,innovation and the reverse cannae formation at Illipia to destroy a larger army were quite simply a tactical masterpiece that deserve to be mentioned along with the battles of gaugamela,cannae and austerlitz.He was also a master in understanding the field of logistics.Even more outstanding were his abilities to read and manipulate the political situation.The senate in Rome had much of a say in running the war and it could and did disrupt successfull strategies if they were unpopular.A case in point is the Fabian strategy which though effective was temporarily disrupted because of its unpopularity.Scipio was able to successfully prosecute his invasion of North Africa inspite of these difficulties .A modern analogy would have been if General Westmoreland was able to convince the american public to stay the course in Vietnam or if the Soviet General staff was able to convince the Politburo to stay the course in afghanistan(both these wars were political and not military defeats).
In making his case ,Gabriel convincingly illustrates that not only was Scipio the best general in the Punic war but also the greatest general that imperial rome ever produced, greater than Julius Caesar who often gets far more credit.Indeed,this book should serve as the template of generalship.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Justice served, September 12, 2008
This review is from: Scipio Africanus: Rome's Greatest General (Hardcover)
Dr. Gabriel,the widely-known and respected military historian and ethicist served justice in this new volume in his series of biographies of the world's greatest generals.
While historians and textbooks present the adventures of Hannibal, this author brings to the reader the genius of Scipio as one of the greatest generals of antiquity whose talents are proven -among many others- in the brilliant strategies applied in the battles at the Tower of Agathocles, the Carthagian Camps, the Great Plains, Zama, and the Ebro River in the early years of 200 BCE. All make it evident that he set Rome on its imperial course, expending Rome's power over parts of western Europe, Africa and Asia. This unmatched military biography is a significant contribution to scholarly interest as enlightening reading to all who have interest in history.
The thirty-five pages of notes and eight pages of bibliography witness to the author's thoroughness and deep knowledge of the topic.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good biography...., July 28, 2009
By 
lordhoot "lordhoot" (Anchorage, Alaska USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Scipio Africanus: Rome's Greatest General (Hardcover)
I found Richard Gabriel's biography on Scipio Africanus to be quite excellent in most aspects. He fairly assessed his subject and used nearly all the sources available to paint a very complete picture of one of Rome's great commanders. In areas where he could not get the source, he managed to make some educated conjectures that make sense. And doing that well is important in books of this nature, where sources are few. I thought the author did a good job on that level. (Just look at Strauss' book on Spartacus when it come to making great educated conjectures that make sense.)

Only part of the book I thought that needed some pondering was the last chapter that define the subtitle of this book: Rome's Greatest General. I for one, do not believe Scipio Africanus was Rome's greatest general. The book and its completeness actually make my case that Scipio was not the greatest. After reading this book, all I can say is Caesar has done more, accomplished more and fought under far more various type of military operations then Scipio can dream of. The book also failed to mentioned Pompey the Great as one of greats in Roman military history. The fact that he is the only Roman general known to history as "the Great" should make him among the top five commanders of Roman military history. And yet, he was defeated by Caesar. But if there was a battle that make Caesar the greatest of Roman generals, it would have to be Alesia, a battle that Scipio would be hard press to win. Interestingly, the book mentioned how often Caesar make mistakes but failed to mentioned how often Caesar recovered from his mistakes and win. Caesar's ability in strategy is amply shown in how he fought the Roman Civil War and his strategic decisions that enabled him to bring the entire Roman Republican empire under his control. Simply put, Caesar fought ten times the battles as Scipio, fought ten time more campaigns then Scipio, fought over territories ten times larger then Scipio and fought against numbers ten times greater then Scipio ever faced and Caesar won them all. Professor Gabriel is wrong on Scipio.

But overall, its a good book and come highly recommended to anyone who enjoyed Roman military history. Let us not forget that this is just one of two books written solely on Scipio Africanus, other is written by B.H. Liddell Hart and I thought its quite good as well.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lots of Great Points, Lots of Errors -- Worth the Read and Some Thought, June 24, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Scipio Africanus: Rome's Greatest General (Hardcover)
To dispense with the hype about "Rome's Greatest General", I believe that comparisons against various opponents or other commanders at various times in history are essentially meaningless and not worth discussing. Each generally successful commander is worth some analysis and thought, and among the Romans, Scipio Africanus is worth more than most. After all, who has the time and interest to study Lucullus or Marcellus? But beyond that, who cares? Scipio never had Napoleon's problems or was forced to fight battles that extended beyond his personal sight, and arms, training, tactics and logistics vary greatly with the passage of years. Caesar, for example, seemed to face new and unknown conditions in Gaul every time he turned around. At least Scipio knew more of less what his enemy would look like and how he would be armed and would fight.

The author has introduced many good points of analysis, and his maps and descriptions of Scipio's battles are far better than most. No doubt this is due to his ownership of two references I haven't seen (but would like to), namely "Antike Schlachtfelder" (Ancient Battlefields)and "Schlachten Atlas zur antiken Kriegsgeschichte" (Atlas of Battles for the Histories of Ancient Wars.) Perhaps the author can tell me where to purchase these references. It is clear that Scipio was at least mildly innovative in making the legion structure more maneuverable, but he was blessed as all Roman commanders were with dedicated troops even if they were the militia of the time. The purely professional Roman soldier was yet to come and would make his appearance in the Social Wars. Nevertheless, the Roman citizen-soldier was well trained and disciplined, and all commanders could count on a certain level of martial skill and steadfastness in whatever legions he fielded. By way of contrast, American commanders have historically suffered by having to rely on very uneven troops in all American wars from the Revolution to Korea. A commander must know his men and how to use them, and that was the outstanding trait exhibited by Daniel Morgan at Cowpens. Scipio also showed this trait, as did Hannibal to a similar degree. With respect to Zama, I have always thought it was a close-run thing in which luck played a part in addition to Hannibal having to use too many untrained troops and certainly untrained elephants.

Author Gabriel does tend to cast the ancient battles under a modern microscope and impute modern motives and attitudes to ancient characters. That is a mistake in my opinion, and it is incumbent on any author of ancient history to put himself into ancient context and see ancient reality through ancient eyes and then interpret that reality and vision for the modern reader. Author Gabriel doesn't quite pull that off in this book.

There are also many errors of translation from original sources, editing mistakes, inconsistencies and faulty interpretations. Ancient cavalry of course did not possess stirrups so could not break infantry formations through attacks with pikes or lances, but they could and did attack infantry with archery (remember the Parthians) and heavy cavalry using slashing swords (Alexander's Companion Cavalry.) The author indicates that the Roman cavalry rode up, dismounted, and fought on foot in spite of being lightly armoured and armed and also having to hold on to their horses. The Spanish cavalry used by the Carthaginians certainly didn't fight that way, nor have I read that the Romans did. In any case, infantry could defend itself effectively against non-archer cavalry with long pikes like those developed by Phillip and lengthened by Alexander. One must also remember that the horses in ancient times were smaller than medieval or modern horses due to the lack of fodder (oats had not been developed yet) during the winter.

I recommend the prospective reader avail himself of all the reviews since most make very good points both good and bad, and then keep those points in mind while reading the book. Frankly, I liked the book and read past the problems I detected. Although the book was probably written for a general audience, it is also of value to the specialist. For contrast, the reader might also look at the work on Scipio by B. H. Liddell Hart. The writing is done well, and the author is to be commended for a valiant effort.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Plausable Answers, December 7, 2008
By 
James T. Sabin (Silver Spring, MD, USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Scipio Africanus: Rome's Greatest General (Hardcover)
Probably everyone interested in the Classical World of the West is familiar with Hannibal. Far fewer, however, know Scipio Africanus, the Roman general who defeated him, humbled Carthage, and reformed the army in ways that helped lead to Rome's empire.

As someone who read Richard Gabriel's book before reading the Amazon reviews, I was struck how little acknowledgment was given Gabriel's particular background, skills, and approach as they are quite important to understanding and evaluating his interpretations. First, Gabriel was a combat-tested U.S. Army officer before he became a military historian and author or co-author of more than 25 books. Second, through the years Gabriel has reconstructed and tested a wide variety of ancient weapons and armor. If one thinks of distances and terrain, equipment and logistics as types of primary source documents, one can see how valuable they can be in the hand of a warrior-scholar like Gabriel.

Polybius, another warrior-scholar, was some six years old at the time of Scipio Africanus' Zama triumph. Although he had unrivaled access to Scipio family materials and opportunities to speak with some of the few remaining veterans of Scipio Africanus' campaigns, it is difficult to assess exactly how Polybius came to the time-lines and assertions he presented. And one must remember that Polybius was the key source for Livy, writing about a century later, and other early commentators. All this makes Gabriel's interpretations well worth considering.

By and large where Gabriel challenges earlier battle descriptions and interpretations, he does so with a "probably," a "most likely," or some other qualifier. Nonetheless, Gabriel's plausable interpretations and judgments underpin what is likely to be the most accurate survey of the career and impact of Scipio Africanus we will have. Gabriel's book is must reading for any student of ancient Western military history not because it definitively answers a number of challenging questions--the evidence simply does not allow for this--but because it often challenges accepted answers in plausable ways.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perspectives on this book, September 1, 2008
This review is from: Scipio Africanus: Rome's Greatest General (Hardcover)
I am writing this review to correct what are very serious errors by the first review that appears here, and what also appear to me to be a bewildering perspective given in that review, in the hope that those who are not familiar with the history of the second Punic War and its aftermath may be more encouraged to read the book and the few that have proceeded it - including the history of Polybius. In the first place, the first review completely fails to note that Scipio Africanus faced a far more professional set of generals than the likes of Marius, Sulla, or even Julius Caesar. He did this, despite the lack of full support of Rome. To compare Scipio to them is absurd as their circumstances and the significance of what Scipio faced and they did are so far apart as to render comparison meaningless. The reviewer fails to note Scipio's defeat of 4 Catharginian armies in Spain, 2 more in Africa, before meeting Hannibal at Zama; all armies were led by well seasoned and highly professional commanders. At Zama Hannibal had advantage of his veteran troops, 80 war elephants, and a well manned cavalry. The two sides were rather evenly matched. Hannibal's veterans troops were at the rear - so why do you think Scipio had Laelius and Massinisa first drive the Hannibal's cavalry off the field and then encircle Hannibal's veterans? Luck? Now comes a typical Hannibal apology - "It wasn't Scipio that beat Hannibal, it was the Roman cavalry" - Oh lord! Let me digress a bit to demonstrate the nonsense of this type of "reasoning". Try saying it wasn't Montgomery and later Patten that drove Rommel all over North Africa, it was the British and then the American armored divisions. The comment is absurd of course, but that is my point! Scipio fully realized the criticality of a well disciplined cavalry and very effectively built one, first around Laelius, and then around Laelius and Massinisa. He also built an effective naval force as he needed it. He revolutionized Roman tactics, which of course the likes of Marius, Sulla, and "what's his name" inherited, but never really did themselves. As for a grand strategy, that began with Scipio's father and uncle who decided to press on to Spain rather then turn back to face Hannibal - the battle of the Tinicus was more of a standoff then a victory for Hannibal! It appears that the reviewer would benefit from a bit of background reading and not rely on Hollywood movies for his "facts" and perspective.

To call Scipio Rome's greatest general is quite appropriate - after all, within 53 years after Zama Rome went from being an Italian city state to ruling most of of the world it knew - did the others accomplish that? Hannibal and his country lost it all. But, as Hart had told us, folks like the loser, not the winner.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Ancient Roman History, April 4, 2011
By 
G. Poirier (Orleans, ON, Canada) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Scipio Africanus: Rome's Greatest General (Hardcover)
This exceptional book focuses on what is known about the life of Scipio Africanus, who has been acclaimed by many historians as one of the greatest generals of antiquity if not of all time. Using clearly identified ancient sources as well as modern scholarship, the author has reconstructed the highlights of Scipio's life - both military and political.

In discussing Scipio's military campaigns, the author has provided very detailed descriptions of the armies involved, weapons used, battle strategies and ultimate outcomes. Where the ancient sources differ on some issues or describe events that are unlikely if not impossible, the author offers speculation as to what really happened; this is based on the analyses of other historian as well as his own personal views. The book's final chapter is an attempt at putting into perspective Scipio's qualities as a great general.

The author is very clear, careful and detailed in his prose - something that is essential when describing battle scenes. He writes in a style that is at once generally lively, serious, widely accessible and often quite gripping. Although this excellent work may be enjoyed by anyone, it should be of particular interest to history enthusiasts, especially those with a penchant for Ancient Roman military history.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding biography of ancient military leader with lessons to still be applied today, September 14, 2008
This review is from: Scipio Africanus: Rome's Greatest General (Hardcover)
Paul Grabiel's book "Scipio Africanus" is a stunning biography of one of the few Roman generals who never suffered defeat in military combat. The book goes far beyond a discussion on Roman Society, and the Punic Wars, it also teaches many lessons that can still be applied in military arts today.

The book's main focus is on the military campaigns of Scipio Africanus across Spain and Carthage in The Second Punic Wars. The military campaigns culminate with the Roman defeat of Hannibal's army in the Battle of Zama. Each of the campaigns is laid out by discussing the strategic context of the battle and is supported by graphics depicting the layout of the armies.

Scipio Africanus was a master at building alliances. He knew of his own army's weakness in cavalry, so he specifically formed an alliance with the Numidians, who were known for their master horsemanship. His ability to form strategic alliances carried over into other key areas, such as logistics. The old adage is that an army moves on its stomach. Scipio Africanus understood this very well, and he planned his campaigns to ensure that his army never moved beyond its supply base.

What other lessons can we learn from Scipio that can be applied today? Scipio Africanus exemplified two key tenets of what is known in current military parlance by such buzzwords as the "Revolution in Military Affairs", or "Transformation". The first element was tactical innovation. Gabriel asserts that until his time, Roman legions could only maneuver in only two directions - forward and backward. Scipio Africanus invented the means for second echelon units to maneuver to the outside of the formation, enabling an envelopment of the enemy. At the time, these tactics were revolutionary concepts and caught many adversaries by surprise.

A second lesson is on the standardization of equipment, with the corollary of integrating technological improvements. Gabriel writes of Scipio Africanus' adoption of the Spanish sword after the battle of New Carthage. Gabriel writes "With some design changes, it became the gladius hispanicus, the Roman army's basic infantry weapon."

This book was my first experience with the Punic Wars, and it is a great book for the the casual reader.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 2 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

Scipio Africanus: Rome's Greatest General
Scipio Africanus: Rome's Greatest General by Richard A. Gabriel (Hardcover - June 1, 2008)
$30.00 $19.42
In Stock
Add to cart Add to wishlist
Search these reviews only
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.