Book Report: Scipio Africanus: Greater than Napoleon by B.H. Liddell Hart (1926, 1994)

When I read the selected works of Cicero earlier this year, Cicero kept telling me about the Roman age of heroes and of Scipio. So when my beautiful wife and I were killing some time in Patten Books a couple months back, I found this volume for $6. That alone should tell you how far gone I am into my current Roman history sort of phase (for me, 4 books in a couple of months is a pretty determined phase). SIX DOLLARS I spent on this book. And enjoyed it.

So if you’re like me and don’t really know who Scipio was, he’s the guy who beat Hannibal. In Carthage.

Now, if you remember your trivia, Hannibal took elephants over the Alps. Of course, since you remember the Roman empire and not the Carthaginian empire, you probably think it went badly for Hannibal. Not so. He trashed the Romans and then moved into Italy and maintained an army near Rome for 15 years. He might have stayed for another 15 or worked toward actually attacking Rome if it hadn’t been for that meddling kid, Scipio.

Scipio, like Hannibal, was the son of a commander who died in Spain. After some bravery and heroics, he got himself named commander of the Roman forces in Spain and then managed to throw the Romans out of Spain, cross into Africa, and march on Carthage. It was at this point Carthage withdrew Hannibal from Italy and the two met in the Battle of Zama. Wherein Scipio beat the master strategist and earned the title Africanus.

Without Scipio, the author argues, there would have been no later Roman republic and Roman empire. However, he’s forgotten in popular memory now because he didn’t bring bears across the Strait of Gibraltar or some other novelty.

With a subtitle like “Greater than Napoleon” (added to the new edition), you can tell that the author writes approvingly of the subject. Personally, I approve of that narrative type. I’d rather read some swashbuckling account of the person under study than a well-footnoted smug bit where you get as much of the professor’s disdain as anything else.

So the book is a good read and a very good bit of military history, back in an age where men were men, usually from the age of 13 to their deaths at 30.

Books mentioned in this review: