Panel Proposal: The Second Punic War

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Panel Proposal: The Second Punic War

CAMWS 2011

Following the First Punic War panel in 2010 at CAMWS-SS in Richmond, VA this panel at the 2011 CAMWS in Grand Rapids, MI will examine four rarely considered sides of the Second Punic War. The Second Punic War redefined Rome in much the same way the Civil War redefined the United States, as the Republic’s moment of crisis. Victorious over Hannibal, Rome swiftly conquered the rest of the Mediterranean, as Polybius tells us. Avoiding the more standard topics like the battles of Cannae and Zama or the rise of Hellenism, this panel will examine four overlooked (neglected!) features of the war that remain relevant today, both as we study the Romans and as we study ourselves.

The first paper examines politics and tainted elections, including that of 216 when all 193 centuries voted, down to the capite censi, but the voters failed to elect a second candidate in the only known, unresolved election in Roman history. Equally unusual or scandalous disturbances tainted or plagued four of the next five consular elections, in particular, Q. Fabius Maximus Cunctator overturned the result when he disliked the leading candidates in 215, and had himself elected instead. He later failed to recuse himself as the presiding magistrate when his son ran for consul (and won). Some 2200 years later we experienced some similar electoral headaches, especially during the Bush-Gore 2000 election debacle, showing that American elections are no cleaner than their Roman antecedents. The second paper addresses the role of elephants in war and the war in Spain, arguing that this distant theater became paramount over the war in Italy. Both the home front in Carthage and Hannibal’s army in Italy depended upon Spanish resources. The Carthaginian belief that elephants would be a decisive factor in winning the war proved misguided and helped lose Baecula and Ilipia, and thus Spain as a result (and Zama). In Italy, meanwhile, Hannibal’s sole elephant (Syrus) played no role in his victories after Trebbia.

The third paper will provide a view of the Second Punic War that is neither Roman nor Carthaginian, but Italo-Greek. Hannibal’s efforts to persuade the Italo-Greek poleis to rebel against Rome, generally failed, as most Ionian Greeks were reluctant join a Carthaginian against Rome. The exceptions spell out a rule in unto themselves. Hannibal’s failure prevented his easy access to supplies and reinforcements and impeded his entire war effort, just as locals of differing nationalities in Iraq and Afghanistan distrust the occupying American forces. The fourth paper will address not the impact of the war on Roman agriculture, but its effect on entrepreneurs and traders. The most important economic consequence of the war was fiscal: the creation of the denarius system used increasingly throughout Italy and the provinces, moving the Republic towards one currency and, like the Euro two thousand years later, greatly facilitating trade. Roman traders and contractors (societates), armed with this new stable currency and Greek financial practices, used the war to come to political prominence and great economic power in the second century.
Electoral Irregularity and Chicanery during the Second Punic War

Tu Maximus ille es, unus qui nobis cunctando restituis rem. With these words Vergil Aen. 6.845-46 addresses the hero of the Second Punic War, Q. Fabius Maximus Cunctator, whom Poseidonius apud Plut. Fab. 19.3 calls “the shield of Rome.” Vergil, Livy, Plutarch, Appian, and Cassius Dio all commend his famous “Fabian strategy” to engage Hannibal only in a war of attrition, refusing direct confrontation until the Roman state could recover from the heavy blows its impetuous commanders had suffered at Hannibal’s hands. Fabius also famously ignored the outcry his war of attrition provoked from his angry countrymen, who wished to fight Hannibal openly, commenting that he would not be “enslaved to the very men whom he should rule and control when they go astray and have foolish whims” (Plut. Fab. 5.6). With this determination, Fabius, who enjoyed the near unique distinction of membership in both the Pontifical and Augural colleges, resorted to whatever means lay at his disposal to enforce his will upon the Roman people claiming that he was advancing the war effort, even when he used his political or religious authority to overturn an election.

One of Fabius’ so-called defensive maneuvers to thwart Hannibal, absent in Plutarch but preserved by Livy 24.8-9, saved Rome – or so Fabius argued – when he interfered with the will of the voters in the election for the consulship of 214, and forced the “prerogative century” to vote again for more capable candidates to lead the state against Hannibal. Shockingly, Fabius himself was elected (along with Claudius Marcellus) in an episode that could at best be called “electoral irregularity,” but in truth amounted to stubbornness, willpower, force, and ambition, guised as patriotic endeavor to preserve the state from itself. Furthermore, the very next year Fabius presided over elections at which his son was elected to the consulship. Given that Fabius had disqualified the more experienced candidates of 214, “electoral chicanery” better describes his actions.

From 217 - 202 eight elections saw irregularities, some of which resemble our Bush-Gore 2000 debacle, and were equally controversial. These electoral irregularities include the unprecedented failure to reach a majority (217), the nullification of the consul-designate on religious grounds (216), an episode of candidate nullification (215), three failures by parties of interest (Fabius twice, Fulvius once) to recuse themselves (215, 214, 210) from the proceedings, the election of two legally unqualified candidates (212 and 206), and finally a season marked by such bad weather that the election for 202 could not be held until after the March 15 inauguration day.

Fabius claimed that the gravity of the war forced him to intervene. This might be true, but the years 216-206 witnessed the most tumultuous decade of elections in Roman history, unmatched even by the decade (58-49) preceding Julius’ civil war against the Senate, by which time electoral chicanery and bribery had became common place.


Robert Develin, “Religion and Politics at Rome during the Third Century,” Journal of Religious History 10 (1978), 3-19.

T. A. Dorey, “The Elections of 216 B.C., RhM 102 (1959) 249-252.

E. S. Gruen, "The Consular Elections for 216 B.C. and the Veracity of Livy," CSCA 11 (1979), 61-74.

E.S. Stavely, Greek and Roman Voting and Elections (Cornell University Press 1972).

G.V. Sumner, “The Elections of 217 B.C.” Phoenix 29 (1975), 250-59.

L. R. Taylor Party Politics in the Age of Caesar (Univ. of CA at Berkeley 1949).

Briggs L. Twyman, “The Consular Elections for 216 B.C. and the lex Maenia partum de auctoritate,” CP 79 (1984), 285-94.
The Crucial Spanish Theater in the Second Punic War

Very little modern scholarship has been devoted to the Spanish Theater of the Second Punic War. A decade into the second great struggle, the two decisive battles at Baecuela (208 B.C.), and Ilipa (206 B.C.) made a Roman victory in the war inevitable, and yet the number of articles on these battles represent a tiny fraction of publications on the Second Punic War, and less than a dozen of these investigations focus on the respective generals, battles, or consequences of the battles in the entire corpus of modern scholarly literature. Most scholars regard these two battles as if they were peripheral footnotes, with the exceptions of Walbank, (1970 pp. 247-255, 296-304); and Scullard, (1974 pp. 68-94). Neither battle appear in the Second or Third editions of the Oxford Classical Dictionary as independent entries, and together they total only two meager sentences in a lengthy entry in the Third Edition of the Oxford Classical Dictionary (p. 1278). For any further modern sources one must consult either Kromeyer and Veith’s study of ancient battlefields (1922-1930), or Pauly’s Realencyclopaedie (1839-1978). Even in these works information on the two battles is less than overwhelming.

Although Hannibal shocked the Romans when he brought 21 elephants (Liv. 21.22) across the Alps in December 218, only one survived into the Spring of 217 (Liv. 21.58, 22.2). Elephants rarely clinched victory for the Carthaginians during the Second Punic War. We think of Hannibal as an adaptable and daring commander initially, although it was only sustained through the few years and lost by 214. Those advantages shifted to the Romans by 208 B.C. His plan to bring the war to Rome in Italy, was reversed on him when Scipio brought the war to the Iberian Peninsula. The two key battles, Baecula and Ilipia, showcase Scipio’s generalship and highlighted the inabilities of the Carthaginians. Hannibal was completely cut out of the action by Rome, and his inability to cut himself and his army back in, expose serious flaws in his generalship.

After the Roman victory at Baecula, the Carthaginian Generals decided to meet the Romans for a decisive confrontation in Spain at Ilipa, where the fate of Rome and Carthage hung in the balance. At Ilipa, Scipio used intelligence and misinformation to set the stage for the mortal blow to Carthage. Scipio had exploited the very strengths of the Carthaginian army by their complacency. Hasdrubal Gisgo’s elephants were a liability on the battlefield.

Hannibal was no Alexander. He could not resolve the Second Punic War after 214, and the longer it went, the worse his situation became. His brother, Hasdrubal and Hasdrubal Gisgo were solid commanders, but they could not defeat P. Cornelius Scipio (Africanus) in Spain. After nearly a decade of desperation, Rome secured victory. After Ilipia, Hannibal was trapped in Italy with no hope of supplies, reinforcements, or regaining the initiative. His defeat at Zama in 202 really marked only a symbolic end of the Second Punic War. While Cannae, Lake Trasimene, and Zama, get the bulk of attention; most historians neglect the impact of Baecula and Ilipia in Spain. Without Scipio’s victories in Spain, Zama would not have been possible.


Bagnall, Nigel The Punic Wars (St. Martin’s Press, Oxford, 2005).

Dudley, D.R. and Dorey, T.A. Rome Against Carthage (C. Tinling & Co. Ltd., 1971).

Goldsworthy, Adrian The Punic Wars (Cassell & Co, Oxford, 2000).

Glover, R.F. “The Tactical Handling of the Elephant” Greece and Rome, Vol. 17 (1948) 1-11.

Glover, R.F. “The Elephant in Ancient Warfare” The Classical Journal, Vol. 39 (1944) 257-261.

Gowers, W. “The African Elephant in Warfare” African Affairs, Vol. 46 (1947) 42-49.

Kromayer, Johannes and Veith, Georg Schlachten-Atlas zur antiken Kriegsgeschichte (Wagner & Debes, Leipzig 1922–1929)

Pauly, A. and Wissowa, G. Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft (Alfred Druckenmüller Verlag, Stuttgart, 1967)

Scullard, H. H. The Elephant in the Greek and Roman World (Thames and Hudson, London, 1974).

Walbank, F.W. A Historical Commentary on Polybius (Oxford University Press, New York, 1970).

Ethnic Considerations of Loyalty among Italo-Greek Poleis
Livy, Polybius, and others report that the key to Hannibal’s strategic vision for winning the Second Punic War was the defection of Rome’s Italian allies. The failure to detach enough of these allies doomed Carthage ultimately to lose its struggle with Rome, despite so many battlefield victories. Hannibal found the most success in luring away newly subdued Gallic tribesmen upon his arrival in Italy, and again some defections after his spectacular triumph at Cannae, but he lost the war because he could not shake most Italian communities from the alliance unless he resorted to treachery.

The Samnites, Bruttii, Lucani and most of the Greek cities of Southern Italy peeled away from the Roman camp after Cannae with some exceptions. The explanation for their defected to Hannibal likely comes from their all too recent subjugation in the wake of Pyrrhus’ ejection from the Italian Peninsula. But a number of tribes, such as the Messapii, remained loyal as did a number of Greek poleis. Often regional rivalries played a greater role than loyalty to Rome. The Apulians generally feared a newly ascendant Tarentum, and the Greek cities of Campania vied with turncoat Capua. But among Greek poleis choosing to remain loyal to Rome an interesting commonality emerges. For the most part the loyalists were founded by Ionian colonists from Euboea or Chalcidice, whereas poleis founded by Achaean and Dorian settlers tended to defect to Hannibal. While the relative historical and strategic circumstances were likely determinant, nevertheless the direct coincidence of ethnic self identities and imperial loyalties elicits the questions: how much did geopolitics affect ethnic identity and how great a role did ethnic considerations as civic leaders weighed the pros and cons of adhering to the Roman alliance system?

The Romans emerged victorious in the end because enough of their allies held firm. Even in the recently acquired region of southern Italy the interaction of adroit Roman political calculation with proud socii maintained the Southern Italian alliance system. Despite attrition and war weariness, key cities such as Rhegium, Neapolis and Elea contributing naval support which blocked Carthaginian reinforcements from Hannibal, and kept open the trade lines with Sicily, at that time the major bread basket, even while a hostile army occupied Italian soil.


Primary Sources

Diodorus Siculus

Dionysus of Halicarnassus


Plutarch. Life of Pyrrhus

Secondary Sources

Attema, Peter. Centralization, Early Urbanization and Colonization in First Millennium BC Italy and Greece: Part 1 Italy. Dudley, MA: Peeters, 2004.

Cerchiai, Luca; Jannelli, Lorena; Longo, Fausto. The Greek Cities of Magna Graecia and Sicily. Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2004.

Derks, Ton and Roymans, Nico. The Role of Power and Tradition: Ethnic Constructs in Antiquity. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009.

Gabba, Emilio. Republican Rome: The Army and the Allies. Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1976.

Hall, Jonathan. Ethnic Identity in Greek Antiquity. Cambridge: University Press, 1997.

Lazenby, J.F. Hannibal’s War. Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1998.

Lomas, Kathryn. Rome and the Western Greeks 350 BC-AD 200: Conquest and Acculturation in Southern Italy. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Pearson, Lionel. The Greek Historians of the West. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987.

Toynbee, Arnold J. Hannibal’s Legacy, the Hannibalic War’s effects on Roman Life Volume 1 - 2 Rome and her neighbours before Hannibal’s entry. London, 1965.

Walbank, F.W. A Historical Commentary on Polybius. New York: Oxford University press, 1970.

Hannibal’s (Non-Agricultural) Legacy?

The Long-Term Economic Impact of the Second Punic War

Though scholars have largely rejected the once popular idea that Hannibal’s invasion of Italy led to fundamental changes in Roman agriculture (Frederiksen 1970: 339; Lo Cascio & Storchi Marino 2001; Rosenstein 2004: 7), many still regard the Second Punic War as a “turning point” for the Roman economy which brought “substantial change and significant restructuring” (Morel 2007: 503). For many of Rome’s subjects, the war certainly brought decisive change, as the widespread disappearance of local coinages clearly indicates (Burnett & Crawford 1987: iv). However, aside from the successful introduction of the denarius system, which would persist for centuries, there are few long-term changes in the Roman economy that one can attribute directly to the war. In many respects the war’s outcomes, such as the expansion of Roman territory and increased state revenue, amount to nothing more than the continuation of earlier trends. The war did cause the Romans to innovate in the realm of pubic finance, but these innovations tended to be short-lived, abandoned as soon as the crisis was past. For example, in 216, they created the triumviri mensarii who played a (somewhat ambiguous) role in managing state finances (Livy 23.21, 24.18.12, 26.36.5; Andreau 1999: 115). But this commission did not outlast the war. Similarly, the Romans stopped minting gold coins following the war, probably not resuming this practice until the 80s (Hollander 2007: 20-21).

This paper reviews the evidence for the impact of the Second Punic War on Roman public and private financial practices, examining in particular the consequences of the introduction of the denarius system, the increasing importance of societates in the second century (Badian 1972: 44-45), and the growing influence of Hellenistic economic ideas (Nicolet 1976; Barlow 1978: 242). Rome's new, high quality coinage fostered trade and caused the Roman 'zone of circulation' to expand considerably (though it always lagged behind the growth of the Empire). With the aid of a stable currency and the help of sophisticated Greek financial techniques, Roman societates – both those involved in state contracts and those engaged in trade (for Cato’s koinōnia: Plut. Cat. Mai. 21) – became increasingly powerful, politically and economically, during the second century. Ultimately, the Hannibalic War had a much more profound impact on private rather than public Roman economic practices.

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Roman Republic. Oxford.
Barlow, C. T. (1978). Bankers, Moneylenders and Interest Rates in the Roman

Republic. Thesis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Gabba, E. (1980). “Riflessioni antiche e moderne sulle attività commerciali a Roma nei secoli II e I a.C.” Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 36: 91-102.
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Greco-Roman World. W. Scheidel, I. Morris and R. P. Saller, Cambridge University Press.
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187 – 194.

Rosenstein, N. S. (2004). Rome at War: Farms, Families, and Death in the Middle Republic. Chapel Hill, University of North Caroline Press.
Storchi Marino, A. and E. Lo Cascio, Eds. (2001). Modalità Insediative e Strutture Agrarie nell’Italia Meridionale in Età Romana. Bari, Edipuglia.

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