Hannibal's Oath
According to ancient sources, Hannibal was only nine years old when his father dipped the small boy's hand in blood and made him swear eternal hatred of Rome. Whether the story is true or not, it is just one of hundreds of legends that have appeared over the centuries about this enigmatic military genius who challenged Rome for mastery of the ancient world.In this new biography, historian John Prevas reveals the truth behind the myths of Hannibal's life, wars, and character— from his childhood in Carthage to his training in military camps in Spain, crossing of the Alps, spectacular victories in Italy, humiliating defeat in the North African desert, banishment from Carthage, and suicide. Hannibal's Oath is an epic account of a monumental figure in history.

Hannibal's Oath Details

TitleHannibal's Oath
Author
ReleaseSep 26th, 2017
PublisherDa Capo Press
ISBN-139780306824258
Rating
GenreHistory, Nonfiction, Biography, Historical

Hannibal's Oath Review

  • Heidi The Hippie Reader
    January 1, 1970
    A fascinating and true study of Hannibal, one of ancient Rome's greatest enemies, a brilliant general and, according to John Prevas, a "larger-than-life action hero from the past."Prevas did the translations from period and later documents, historical research and traveled to the places where Hannibal went, to create one of the most insightful, non-fiction examinations of Hannibal that I've ever read.It all started with Hannibal's father, Hamilcar. "Hamilcar was furious at what he saw as Roman b A fascinating and true study of Hannibal, one of ancient Rome's greatest enemies, a brilliant general and, according to John Prevas, a "larger-than-life action hero from the past."Prevas did the translations from period and later documents, historical research and traveled to the places where Hannibal went, to create one of the most insightful, non-fiction examinations of Hannibal that I've ever read.It all started with Hannibal's father, Hamilcar. "Hamilcar was furious at what he saw as Roman bad faith, but powerless to intervene at the moment, he chose to bide his time and find another way to even the score." loc 290, ebook. Spoiler alert (if you don't know ancient history): Hamilcar had a bunch of kids and made them swear to destroy Rome. The boys, he groomed as warriors; the girls, he married off advantageously to help his sons."As the rituals neared completion, Hamilcar called for Hannibal, then only nine years of age, to join him at the altar. There, the young boy begged his father to take him to Spain, and Hamilcar consented on the condition that Hannibal pledge to the god he would always be an enemy to Rome and to anyone who stood with Rome." loc 323, ebook. No pressure or anything.The Barcas, Hamilcar's family, create a foothold in Spain. It is from there, that Hannibal will eventually attack the Romans by, famously, crossing the Alps- with elephants in tow.Anything to do with Hannibal's elephants were my favorite parts of this book. "The elephants were often plied with wine before battle to stimulate their aggression, and while the wine might have done that to some degree, it also seems to have contributed to their tendency to panic and then rampage during the mayhem of the fighting." loc 713, ebook.Drunk, rampaging elephants! It doesn't get much more dramatic than that.Though written more like a textbook than a historical fiction (which is my favorite way to learn about history), I still learned a lot from Hannibal's Oath and enjoyed it.Recommended for classic majors, elephant lovers and fans of ancient history.Reminder: the short quotations I cited in this review may change in the final printed version. Thank you to NetGalley and Da Capo Press for a free advance reader's copy of this book.
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  • Vivian
    January 1, 1970
    Vincere scis, Hannibal, Victoria uti nescis. You know how to win, Hannibal, but not how to use victory.I love reading about history and war because it makes me feel better about how deplorably we as humans are doing, right now. There's something about the never-ending cavalcade of conquest, unbridled greed, and violence that soothes me. For the non-experts and forgetful, all the ancient geographical names and political/ethnic groups are given their contemporary names as well so that it's easy t Vincere scis, Hannibal, Victoria uti nescis. You know how to win, Hannibal, but not how to use victory.I love reading about history and war because it makes me feel better about how deplorably we as humans are doing, right now. There's something about the never-ending cavalcade of conquest, unbridled greed, and violence that soothes me. For the non-experts and forgetful, all the ancient geographical names and political/ethnic groups are given their contemporary names as well so that it's easy to follow along how much we have NOT changed. Bless us humans. Additionally, the writing is that of a friendly confidential, eminently readable and filled with snippets of gossip and what not to liven up the bare facts. Want to tell me about the scurrilous rumors surrounding great leaders' sexuality from Alexander the Great to Hamilcar to Julius Caesar with charming old world insults--Absolutely yes, thank you. "[H]usband to many a woman and wife to many a man." re: Julius Caesar, and Alexander the Great had much the same reputation. And frankly, human sacrifice never gets old. I'm not talking about the noble kind, but rather the good ole appease the gods with blood and flesh of the pre-substantiation kind. It wasn't always symbolic. And that's just the beginning! I mean Hannibal's adherence to his oath makes the Godfather movies look unfocused and soft by comparison. Spoiler, not spoiler: Italy 2200 years later is still a collective of semi-autonomous city states. Again, supply chain management--this is how wars are lost. Best part is how each player looks at the chessboard and sees a totally different game. No one imagined the Alps were passable. Plus, we are blessed with gems like this: It was no longer a battle, it was a massacre--un sanguinoso--a bloodbath, lending its name to a nearby town, Sanguineto. Best yet, as every good soldier knows--you need an exit strategy. And at the end, Hannibal was prepared. If you're looking for a hard academic read or military science breakdown, then this is probably not your book, but the interested layperson is going to find this a quick and informative read. One of my favorite generals~~ARC provided by NetGalley~~
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  • Emma
    January 1, 1970
    Like many people, the total sum of my Hannibal related knowledge is that he undertook a journey over the Alps with a large, diverse army (including elephants) in order to stick it to Rome in their own back yard. After that, he won big a few times, then lost just as large. In a expertly researched and well written book, Prevas aims to fill in the details and ensure Hannibal's reputation as one of the great military leaders is as well known as those of Caesar and Alexander [loc 3424].As a result o Like many people, the total sum of my Hannibal related knowledge is that he undertook a journey over the Alps with a large, diverse army (including elephants) in order to stick it to Rome in their own back yard. After that, he won big a few times, then lost just as large. In a expertly researched and well written book, Prevas aims to fill in the details and ensure Hannibal's reputation as one of the great military leaders is as well known as those of Caesar and Alexander [loc 3424].As a result of this intention, Prevas tales a generally positive view of Hannibal's abilities and actions, though he never shies away from presenting the complexities of the man and the atrocities committed by his army. Saguntum fell and Hannibal's soldiers unleashed their fury on its survivors in an orgy of looting, rape, and murder. Hannibal ordered his soldiers to put every adult male in the city to death and the surviving women and children were distributed among the victors as spoils of war. [loc 574] He may have been fighting what he considered to be a war of liberation, but thousands of people were killed, including 48000 enemy troops during his win at Cannae in 216 BCE. Prevas argues that Hannibal was successful because he was able to surprise-It was Hannibal who always chose when, there, and how to fight-not his enemy [loc 1290]. This certainly seems to be true for the larger set piece battles, but the losses he suffered during the march over the Alps, of possibly half of his forces, from skirmishes, weather, and other assorted difficulties shows he was far from perfect. As does his overall game plan to pile on the pressure, motivating allies to abandon Rome and fight for their own freedom against Roman oppression; despite periodic successes, there was never a widespread revolution against Roman control, and as a strategy, it failed. However, right to his death, there were some who considered Hannibal a threat. He was the bogeyman who would never stop in his promise to fight Rome, a larger than life figure amongst the superstitious Romans, a battlefield commander with superhuman qualities who could not be defeated by mere mortals. After his decisive defeat by Scipio Africanus at Zama in 202 BCE, he took a leading position as sufet in Carthage, though betrayal by the local elite led him to exile, where he offered his aid to other anti-Roman leaders, such as the Seleucid king, Antiochus III. Roman victories pushed him further from civilisation and the final push came when the Senate voted to allow Flaminius to fetch Hannibal from his small castle on the coast along the gulf of Izmit, some thirty miles west of Nicomedia. In the end, Hannibal killed himself rather than be captured, his oath to fight the Romans till death intact. [loc 3322]Prevas has very much succeeded in making the book accessible to popular as well as academic audience. The text is heavily based upon and gives reference to the extant written sources, with explanatory notes and a good bibliography. Interspersed are snippets from his own travels in the areas he is discussing, modern place names, local stories, science experiments, contemporary and modern anecdotes- all adding up to both a fun and multi sourced read. Prevas personally followed Hanibal's route many times and this allowed him to posit locations for specific attacks based on both his readings and his experiences of the geography, providing strong arguments against the suggestions of other historians. Overall, an excellent assessment of Hannibal that should bring him to a wider audience.ARC via Netgalley.
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  • BAM The Bibliomaniac
    January 1, 1970
    A big thank you to John Prevas, Da Capo Press, and Netgalley for the free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.A legendary general, Hannibal led one of the most infamous invasions of ancient history, taking an army of mixed heritage over the Alps straight to Rome's doorstep. Reared by a fearsome leader of Carthage, Hannibal was nine years old when he began to hate Rome. This resentment festered until he was twenty-six and made commander of Carthage's forces. He was a fair and opt A big thank you to John Prevas, Da Capo Press, and Netgalley for the free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.A legendary general, Hannibal led one of the most infamous invasions of ancient history, taking an army of mixed heritage over the Alps straight to Rome's doorstep. Reared by a fearsome leader of Carthage, Hannibal was nine years old when he began to hate Rome. This resentment festered until he was twenty-six and made commander of Carthage's forces. He was a fair and optimistic leader, inspiring his soldiers to push themselves through hardships and to view death as no option. Obstacles to Hannibal were simply temporary setbacks. He was strategic, calculating, and unconventional-all traits that assisted in his various victories, especially since the Romans were known to be impulsive and disorganized. The second Punic war continued for sixteen years until Hannibal finally faced a devastating loss and was recalled to Carthage. He then lived his life like an exile, inciting revolt against Rome in the cities where he stayed until he was finally corned. When he lost all hope of survival he made the ultimate choice. Prevas took time to research his book, which is much appreciated. He walked the same paths; deduced appropriate ancient bridgeheads; climbed the Alps trails; read historical sources in the classic languages. I feel like he knows what he's talking about. I trust the information in this book. Prevas writes in a relaxed style; everyone can enjoy this book and learn about this captivating personality of ancient history. Previous knowledge is not necessary. It's even appropriate for students. Well done, Prevas!
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  • Laura LVD
    January 1, 1970
    4.5 STARSGreat account of the rise and fall of Carthago. It is very well researched and contains a lot of original info i had never read before about Hannibal and this era in general. The author even disagrees with most historians in some passages, adding facts and sources he researched himself and ideas he got by researching on the actual ground of facts and battles; i found this amazing.Besides, it is well written and easy to read. Despite the plethora of characters that appear in the book, it 4.5 STARSGreat account of the rise and fall of Carthago. It is very well researched and contains a lot of original info i had never read before about Hannibal and this era in general. The author even disagrees with most historians in some passages, adding facts and sources he researched himself and ideas he got by researching on the actual ground of facts and battles; i found this amazing.Besides, it is well written and easy to read. Despite the plethora of characters that appear in the book, it was never confusing.Also, his portrait of Hannibal is well balanced, showing his strong points and his weaknesses alike, something i value a lot in biographies.The only thing i missed is that i would have liked a lot of maps. The sites in which the story develops are not always well known and maps or pictures of the sites as they look today would have been a great addition.*Note: I want to thank the publisher and the author who sent me a free advanced reading copy of the book in exchange for a honest review*
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  • Alex Sarll
    January 1, 1970
    Broadly speaking, I’m pretty good on Imperial Rome but hopeless on the Republic bar a couple of glimmers. One of which isn’t mentioned at all here; that to get the elephants down some passages of the Alps, Hannibal’s army essentially made them giant snowboards. I do hope this hasn't been disproved since I heard it from my classics teacher. Anyway, that whole Alps business turns out to have been one of those strategies (see also: Gallipoli) which exists somewhere in the shadowlands between audaci Broadly speaking, I’m pretty good on Imperial Rome but hopeless on the Republic bar a couple of glimmers. One of which isn’t mentioned at all here; that to get the elephants down some passages of the Alps, Hannibal’s army essentially made them giant snowboards. I do hope this hasn't been disproved since I heard it from my classics teacher. Anyway, that whole Alps business turns out to have been one of those strategies (see also: Gallipoli) which exists somewhere in the shadowlands between audacity and fucking stupidity. Yes, attacking from an unexpected angle is a great idea – but losing half your force before you even get to Italy, not so much. And many of them perished in the *second* ambush in a gorge by mountain tribes, which is where you start to think, never mind military genius, shouldn’t anyone basically competent be on the look-out by that point? Still, Hannibal did at least turn it around and do likewise to the Romans at Trasimene…and so it keeps going. Hannibal will alternate some brilliant gambit (sending the foe in the wrong direction as they chase after cattle with torches on their horns) with something obviously stupid. In the former category, consider the fake retreat; it’s a classic, it’s probably been used since before we were fully human. It worked for William at Hastings, and it’s probably working today for some leader whose name we’ll never know in some godforsaken little war somewhere. But it’s never worked with quite such breathtaking, apocalyptic success as it did for Hannibal at Cannae. And yet – having pulled off that perfect victory, Hannibal still can’t win the war. He doesn’t have the heavy equipment to besiege Rome, so instead he spends the best part of a decade titting about in Italy, trying to splinter Rome’s alliances, seemingly never grasping that while he can rock up at any given city and reward them for deserting Rome, he doesn’t have the manpower or infrastructure to build a rival confederation, so all that’s going to happen is the Romans will then turn up and punish them for collaborating with Hannibal, while he’s off doing the same somewhere else. Not to mention that having a marauding ancient army raping, looting and pillaging in the neighbourhood was never exactly the surest way to win hearts and minds, so the whole business becomes a losing game for everyone. Though I do like the way that Hannibal made sure never to attack the estates of his foe Fabius, which combined with Fabius’ strategy of waiting Hannibal out, would lead to awkward accusations of collusion for Fabius back in Rome. Not that it seems to have taken that much – the degree of petty infighting in Republican politics is a fright, and Scipio Africanus would later face similar bullshit despite his success against Hannibal (or maybe even because of it – because the vultures all wanted a piece of the spoils opened up by victory, and how dare the man who actually earned it get in their way?). But clever as that was in the short term, there’s an interesting aside about how the war's devastation, the ensuing conscription, and the increase in slavery led to the collapse of smallholding as a viable living, and greater centralisation - so you can point to Hannibal's attempt to break Rome's power as a key factor in creating the Empire. Nice work, mate. No, really, excellent job there. And so the book slogs dutifully through a decade plus of pointless attrition, Hannibal starting one half-arsed siege after another only to then abandon it and go do one elsewhere. Finally the attention span, the whining about the lack of support from home for a war that it must have been increasingly obvious even at the time was unwinnable, starts to remind one more than anything of Trump. Though in Hannibal’s defence, once he’s back in Carthage and running for consul-equivalent, claiming to be against the oligarchs from whom he came – after he gets in, he really does try to drain the swamp. With about as much success as going against vested interests generally meets, true, but at least he tried. That’s not the only prefiguring of later history, either. The prelude of the First Punic War is oddly reminiscent of the First World War; Hannibal's father Hamilcar, leading the fight against Rome, is basically screwed once the Romans get his supply lines. But he still perceives the politicians' readiness to quit, their acceptance of an unequal peace, their forfeiture of colonies and trade routes to the enemy, as a stab in the back (of course, for all the upheaval in 1918 Germany, at least they didn't also have to put up with atrocities by their unpaid mercenaries, which only their recently-undermined general could end). And from this, the supposed oath of the title, where Hamilcar made Hannibal and his brothers swear undying enmity towards Rome. Which leads one to ask - if this was the case, why did Hannibal spend those 14 years in Italy giving every indication that he wanted to end Roman hegemony, but had no intention of eradicating the city itself? Was it one of those ‘Ah, but letting them live would be the real punishment!’ ideas, as beloved of fictional characters who are also idiots who don’t know where that story inevitably ends? True, after Hannibal's Second Punic War, vanquished Carthage experienced an economic boom much like that Germany and Japan had following the Second World War. But still, you can tell the third war and utter destruction are waiting…before which point, one earnestly hopes, the later re-enactment diverges. (One further parallel, not on that same timeline: among Roman-allied cities, it was generally the poor who were keener on leaving Rome for Carthage, despite Hannibal's promises that this would mean greater autonomy often proving hollow. At which point I couldn't help but start thinking of the whole business as ‘Rexit')You may have noticed there that Hamilcar Barca and his son Hannibal have annoyingly similar names; well, they’re not the only ones. One of Hannibal’s brothers, true, is called Mago, but he’s very much the exception, and at times the story recalls those section of Wolf Hall where you wonder whether Henry became king simply by virtue of being the only man in England not named Thomas. The other brother, you see, is Hasdrubal (who would cross the Alps quicker, and with fewer losses, than his more famous brother. Sure, that may have been because the way was cleared and the locals twatted by Hannibal already, but it still seems unfair that disastrously first trumps competently second in the world’s memory). Oh, and the Barca clan’s big political opponent in Carthage is called Hanno, as is Hannibal’s cavalry commander. But you must be sure not to confuse any of these men with Hamilcar the Carthaginian (a shadowy figure reprising Hannibal’s Italian harassments, with improbable numbers of troops, in a small number of the sources); or Hannibal’s subordinate Hannibal Monomachus (the one who suggested the army could feed on their dead as they crossed the Alps. One wonders if this gave Thomas Harris ideas); or Hannibal’s brother in law Hasdrubal the Handsome (who as well as being married to one of Hannibal's sisters, was reputedly the lover both of Hannibal’s father and later of Hannibal himself). Hasdrubal the Handsome is definitely one of the characters I’d want to foreground if making this story into the HBO drama – or Renaissance tragedy – it deserves to be. And if you cast it right, there would be some fabulous scenes – not just the big battles, either. The meeting before Hannibal’s big defeat at Zama, say, where the man behind all those grand gambles tries to convince the younger Scipio that it’s better not to chance what he’s already achieved, to play it safe and accept peace…was Hannibal trying to psych Scipio out? Had he really learned his lesson? Had he simply lost his nerve? Given what a fiasco Zama was for the Carthaginians (helped partly by the Roman troops specifically detailed to throw javelins up the elephants’ bums), it’s tempting to say it was the nerve, but then even after that, on the run, fighting a naval battle (which had never previously been his department), Hannibal was coming up with cunning methods for a decapitation strike, and deploying snake bombs in a manner which would give even Samuel L Jackson pause. And then too, those last years of exile would make a great miniseries in themselves, with Hannibal an uneasy guest at the court of Antiochus, a younger man (and a monarch) convinced that while Hannibal was good, he was himself even better.(This is the same Antiochus who would subsequently lose Greece to the Romans by fighting a battle at Thermopylae, arguably the most famous geography-is-really-important-here battlefield in history…and falling for the exact same tactic which undid Leonidas centuries earlier. Even compared to some of Hannibal’s fuck-ups, that’s impressively shit) As I say, this isn’t even vaguely my period, so I can’t comment on how well John Prevas has served it. This book’s USP seems to be that, as well as reading the sources, the author has himself toured the locations. This does enable an assessment of conditions and a new take on rival theories, but with no pics in the Netgalley ARC, didn't profit this reader as much as it might have done. Similarly, the finished copy may excise some of the repetitions between sections which creep in here, or do something about that curious afterword which compares Hannibal to Caesar and Alexander (fair enough in itself) and goes on to suggest they both died violently, by assassination - which is at best questionable in Alexander's case. But the biggest omission is that, while Prevas makes clear the reasons Hannibal could never win in Italy - principally, the ease of reinforcement for the Romans, and the lack of siege machinery - it's never really explained why the same limiting factors didn't apply to Scipio in Africa, and leave proceedings at stalemate. A frustrating omission – not that the whole story wasn’t frustrating, but otherwise that was mostly Hannibal’s fault, not the author’s.
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  • Darcysmom
    January 1, 1970
    I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley for free in exchange for an honest review. Hannibal's Oath is a well researched, very accessible biography of one of the most famous military leaders in western history. John Prevas has woven a strong narrative that doesn't waver from chapter to chapter. I particularly like that he is very clear about the suppositions he makes and the potential problems with ancient source material. His end notes are well written and clarify information exceptionally I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley for free in exchange for an honest review. Hannibal's Oath is a well researched, very accessible biography of one of the most famous military leaders in western history. John Prevas has woven a strong narrative that doesn't waver from chapter to chapter. I particularly like that he is very clear about the suppositions he makes and the potential problems with ancient source material. His end notes are well written and clarify information exceptionally well. I especially liked the note about the hands-on experiment he did with heating a large boulder and pouring vinegar on it to make it easier to break up (the hypothesized way Hannibal's engineers cleared the alpine trail of a massive boulder).Like many biographies of ancient historical figures, Hannibal's Oath left me wishing for more, and decrying the sparseness of primary sources about his personal life. I would happily recommend this book to both the reader with a casual interest in ancient history and the confirmed ancient history buff.
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  • Margaret Sankey
    January 1, 1970
    Prevas offers a solid, popular look at the career or Hannibal and his family, with special attention to the geography, which Prevas has considered carefully to make best guess about the calculated risk of the Alpine crossing and most likely locations of battles. The strength of this work is the bigger picture of the still-strong Hellenistic world in the wake of Alexander, the clashing strategies of Hannibal and Rome (Hannibal wanted to break apart Roman hegemony over the Greek and Italian cities Prevas offers a solid, popular look at the career or Hannibal and his family, with special attention to the geography, which Prevas has considered carefully to make best guess about the calculated risk of the Alpine crossing and most likely locations of battles. The strength of this work is the bigger picture of the still-strong Hellenistic world in the wake of Alexander, the clashing strategies of Hannibal and Rome (Hannibal wanted to break apart Roman hegemony over the Greek and Italian cities, Rome was willing to go all or nothing), the political machinations within Carthage, and the resource management necessary to wage decades-long wars in the ancient world. Prevas began his study as part of a Latin class, so he starts with the documents, and offers background on when, by whom and why the source was made, and how it affects the information offered about Hannibal.
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  • Beverly
    January 1, 1970
    Hannibal has always been a favorite historical character. Few of the students in my history class have heard of him. I will recommend this book to them as it is an easy to read, interesting description of Hannibal and his never-ending quest to defeat Rome. This is a book for historians as well as the casual reader.
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