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Scipio Africanus: Rome's Greatest General Hardcover – June 1, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“What Wellington was to Napoleon, Scipio was to Hannibal, a great captain of true genius and innovation, and the Republic’s greatest general. We have had to wait until now for a noted scholar to produce a complete and accurate account of Scipio’s military and political life in the detail that the subject deserves. Richard Gabriel’s biography of Scipio does just that and makes a unique contribution to our understanding of this great Roman general.”—Mordechai Gichon, professor emeritus of military history and archaeology, Tel Aviv University, and Fellow of the Society of Antiquities
(Mordechai Gichon 2008-05-30)

“An exciting book from one of the country’s leading military historians. Gabriel has given us a well-written treatment of the life and military campaigns of one of Rome’s most important historical figures that will be enjoyed by military historians, classicists, and general readers alike. An important and original work of military biography, especially dealing with the day-to-day aspects of soldiering in antiquity.”—David George, professor of classics senior fellow at the American School of Classics in Athens, Greece
(David George 2008-05-30)

“A brilliant work of research and analysis from one of the country’s leading military historians. A comprehensive, original and important work of scholarship and military biography that is certain to become the definitive work on Scipio.”—Steve Weingartner, editor of the Cantigny Military History Series and author of Chariots Like a Whirlwind
(Steve Weingartner 2008-05-30)

“Written in a fluid narrative style making it accessible to general readers as well as historians.”—Book News, Inc.
(Book News, Inc. 2008-11-21)

"Worth reading."—Ancient Warfare
(Ancient Warfare 2009-01-06)

“The prolific Gabriel . . . has specialized in writing well-researched, readable works on ancient military history as well as a number of very good military biographies. This worthy tome adds to both categories. . . . Overall, this biography is a well-crafted, much-needed examination of the Roman Republic’s most gifted commander.”—Choice
(Choice 2009-07-15)

About the Author

RICHARD A. GABRIEL is a distinguished professor in the Department of History and War Studies at the Royal Military College of Canada and in the Department of Defence Studies at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto. He is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than forty books, including Scipio Africanus, Thutmose III, Philip II of Macedonia, Hannibal, and Man and Wound in the Ancient World. He lives in Manchester, New Hampshire.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 326 pages
  • Publisher: Potomac Books; 3rd Printing edition (June 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1597972053
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597972055
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #574,145 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.Read more ›
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Format: 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?
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I so enjoyed this book. As a former Israeli Army infantry solider, I think twice before reading books of a military nature, having been convinced through my own experience that nothing other than the battle field itself...particularly its topography and other features unique to it...can explain the way a battle unfolds. The problem with too many military histories is the failure of a book format in recreating the battle field...even with the help of diagrams. Because of his skillful use of prose, Gabriel overcomes this common difficulty. He deftly brings the attending circumstances of each battle into focus, with the help of simple, yet helpful diagrams, in addition to his highly readable prose.

Although the story of the Rome and her wars has been told so many times, there were so many little gems that I encountered for the first time. For example, although I thought I was familiar with the consular system of two governing consuls, I did not know that in battle, they alternated command between them every other day. That is just one of several fresh insights I got in the chapter on the nature of each side's armies. The closing section of that same chapter on the daily logistical requirements of the army and its pack/draft animals was also enlightening, and helped me understand more than ever why ancient armies required winter quarters, until the fields produced this much needed fodder again in the spring.

Additional pluses to this volume are Gabriel's judgement with regard to primary sources, neither entirely trusting them, nor entirely dismissing them, but falling somewhere in the sober middle ground. When a source's report seems doubtful, he offers several likely alternative scenarios, all of which are reasonably and convincingly argued.
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