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How To Win A War

To win a war, most people believe that all you need to do is win on the battlefield. While that is certainly important, being good at fighting isn’t the only thing that matters. War is just as much about economics, political will, and strategy and to win requires mastery of all three. A leader can win every battle they fight but still lose the war if they don’t have these qualities. Just look at Hannibal Barca.

The Carthaginian general, Hannibal was considered one of the greatest leaders in the ancient world, and the greatest threat to Rome. Under his leadership, his mercenary army accomplished feats that people could only dream of. From crossing the Alps in the dead of winter to rampaging across Italy for a decade and a half, it’s safe to say he was an excellent general.

But despite his brilliance, Hannibal lost the war and Carthage was eventually destroyed. While some attribute this failure to the rest of Carthage not supporting him or simply to Rome’s endless resources, others believe Hannibal deserves criticism.

Some of his best commanders and closest friends believe that Hannibal made mistakes throughout the war, one of the biggest being failing to act after the Battle of Cannae. This engagement was widely considered to be Hannibal’s greatest victory as despite being outnumbered two to one, he managed to surround and wipe out an entire Roman army.

Of the 86,000 Romans who marched out to face him as many as 70,000 were slain and thousands more taken prisoner. After such a defeat, it seemed Rome was on his knees and that now was the best time to strike. That was the advice Maharbal, Hannibal’s second in command and cavalry commander gave him.

Hannibal refused to listen, believing his troops were too exhausted to march. This exchange was captured by the historian, Livy in his History of Rome.

“Hannibal’s officers crowded round him with congratulations on his victory. The others all advised him, now that he had brought so great a war to a conclusion, to repose himself and to allow his weary soldiers to repose for the remainder of that day and the following night. But Maharbal, the commander of the cavalry, held that no time should be lost. “Nay,” he cried, “that you may realize what has been accomplished by this battle, in five days you shall banquet in the Capitol! Follow after; I will precede you with the cavalry, that the Romans may know that you are there before they know that you are coming!” To Hannibal the idea was too joyous and too vast for his mind at once to grasp it. And so, while praising Maharbal’s goodwill, he declared that he must have time to deliberate regarding his advice Then said Maharbal, “In very truth the gods bestow not on the same man all their gifts; you know how to gain a victory, Hannibal: you know not how to use one.”

– Livy, Roman Author and Historian

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