Monday, January 21, 2013


Dexter Hoyos (ed.), A Companion to the Punic Wars. Blackwell companions to the ancient world. Ancient history. Chichester; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. Pp. xx, 643. ISBN 9781405176002. $199.95.

Reviewed by Dan-el Padilla Peralta, Stanford University (

Version at BMCR home site


New Blackwell Companions continue to fly off the presses. Under the editorial guidance of Dexter Hoyos, the contributors to the new Companion to the Punic Wars have produced an engaging and thought-provoking addition to Blackwell's line-up. The decision to structure this Companion around a set of wars is itself notable: previous history volumes in Blackwell's Ancient World series had explored geographic regions (e.g., ancient Egypt, ancient Macedonia, the ancient Near East); cultural/political units bounded according to the standard periodizations (e.g., "archaic" Greece, the "Hellenistic" world, the Roman "Republic"); topics within the study of ancient history (e.g., the Roman army, ancient history itself); or a historical figure and his context (Julius Caesar). While this Companion certainly stands out for its concentration on warfare, Hoyos and his équipe have not simply co-authored a new military history in the spirit of Lazenby (1978, 1996) or Goldsworthy (2000): the volume's contributions range beyond the battlefield in their attempt "to fit the warfare into its complex environment to illuminate the culture, background, demography and postwar fortunes of the two states that fought each other to the death over a hundred and twenty years" (editorial introduction, p. 1).

The seven essays in Part I ("Background and Sources") set the scene. First, John Serrati outlines the history of the Roman city-state up to the eve of its first flirtation with Mediterranean empire. Next, Barbara Scardigli grapples with the evidence for Romano-Carthaginian interactions prior to the Punic Wars. Carthage's journey to aspiring Mediterranean hegemon is the subject of Walter Ameling's contribution. Paul Erdkamp introduces readers to the major demographic and logistical parameters of the Punic Wars. Inspired by the work of John Keegan, Sam Koon explores the physical experiences and grim sights of land warfare.1 Rounding out this section, Craige Champion on Polybius and Bernard Mineo on non-Polybian sources tackle the sometimes-vexed literary testimony for the wars. While each of these essays provides ample food for thought, and the unit as a whole is well organized, the rationale for slotting Erdkamp's and Koon's essays here (and not in one of the sections dedicated to the wars themselves) was not immediately apparent to me.

We move on to the action in Part II ("The First Punic War and Aftermath"), where the question of whether either state intended to go to war and/or had a coherent strategy in place for Mediterranean empire-building takes center stage. In the first of his two contributions, Hoyos tries to make sense of the lead-up to full-fledged hostilities between Carthage and Rome in 264. Boris Rankov differentiates the First Punic War into five distinct periods. Bruno Bleckmann argues that the war's inception and progression must be understood with reference to the political culture of the Republican nobilitas. Luigi Loreto claims that the entre-deux-guerres period witnessed a re- orientation of Roman foreign policy and "grand strategy" around 230.2 Finally, Hoyos posits that defeat at the hands of the Romans forced Carthage to shift its "geopolitical priorities." While the contributions here are generally of high quality, the range of opinions and perspectives on display in this section might pose a challenge to non- specialist readers, especially when it comes to evaluating different—and occasionally conflicting—interpretations of the same literary sources.3

Part III ("The Second Punic War") checks in at 169 pages—roughly one-third of the entire volume excluding references and indices. Hans Beck opens by offering a valuable corrective to rigidly legalistic debates over the Kriegsschuldfrage, rightly emphasizing that the disappearance of Carthaginian sources deprives us of any chance of recovering "the actual background history" of the war's origins. Michael Fronda unconventionally argues that Hannibal's planning and methods were rather conventional for his time. Richard Miles tries to pin down the core features of the Hannibalic ideological program, concentrating on Hannibal's strategically minded appropriation of Heracles/Hercules as the most salient feature of his propagandistic self-projection. Strategy, but this time of a more directly military and institutional kind, is at the center of Klaus Zimmerman's essay. Louis Rawlings illuminates the degree to which the Hannibalic campaign became in a very real sense a "Social War" (appositely deployed as a title of one of his section headings) that "pushed the Roman alliance system to its military and political limits" (p. 317). Peter Edwell explains how pivotal the extra-Italian campaigns were to deciding the final outcome of the war and underlines their contribution to the refinement of Rome's imperialistic capabilities. Returning the focus to Italy, Kathryn Lomas delves further into the reasons and motives for defections from Rome's alliance system during the Hannibalic campaign. With the section's last two contributions, discussion shifts to the respective political and economic substructures of the two combatants as the war unfolded. Pedro Barceló finds evidence for the wielding of power by a "military elite that determined the fate of the city till its demise" (p. 374) in the fragmented and sometimes distorted literary testimony for the inner workings of the Carthaginian leadership. Toni Ñaco del Hoyo clarifies—to the extent that our sources allow—the financial problems Rome faced in the provisioning and payment of its armies. This section is strong across the board; my one complaint is with the redundant treatment of certain topics, about which I will have more to say in a moment.

Part IV ("The last half-century of Carthage") covers the last phase of the Roman-Carthaginian drama. Claudia Kunze's overview of Carthage and Numidia between the Second and Third Punic Wars stresses the cresting ambitions of the Numidian kingdom and its elites as an underappreciated factor in the events leading up to the destruction of Carthage. Kunze's incorporation of archaeological findings into her analysis will be especially useful to readers interested in learning about the North African 3rd-2nd century BC material record and its historical implications. Next, Nathan Rosenstein first summarizes the traditional take on the Hannibalic war's effect on small farmers, then critiques it and puts forward a "new paradigm" for understanding how high population growth could go hand in hand with high mortality rates due to death on the battlefield (an argument pursued in more detail in his 2004 book4 and taken up by Erdkamp earlier in the volume). Finally, Yann Le Bohec recaps the "action history" of the final face- off between Rome and Carthage. Le Bohec's essay is remarkable for its willingness to call into question standard political and economic explanations for Rome's destruction of Carthage; he prefers an approach centered on "collective psychology" as the primary mover.5 In general, the contributions in this section are thorough and quite stimulating. But the absence of any independent discussion of Rome's changing relationships with the Greek world in the interwar period is surprising, to say the least. What about the Hellenistic courts that took Hannibal in and tried to benefit from his military expertise as Roman armies swept into the East?6

Finally, in Part V ("Conclusions"), three contributors tangle with the legacy of the Punic Wars. M'hamed Hassine Fantar takes stock of the Phoenician-Carthaginian contribution to Mediterranean history in a sweeping if sometimes over- generous assessment: not every reader will agree that "[t]he concept of the individual can be considered as a Phoenician invention, which could be behind the genesis of the Citizen [sic]" (p. 450).7 John Richardson's "Spain, Africa, and Rome after Carthage" traces how the provinciae of Hispania Citerior, Hispania Ulterior, Africa Vetus, and Africa Nova emerged from the conflicts between Rome and Carthage. Concluding this section and the volume as a whole, Giovanni Brizzi ("Carthage and Hannibal in Roman and Greek memory") zeroes in on the imprint left on the collective memory of Greeks and Romans by Hannibal and the Barcids. Particularly on the reception of Hannibal's reputed impietas, Brizzi's essay offers some intriguing insights, but some readers might bristle at the essentializing assumptions behind such statements as "secularization, while still keeping intact the forms of the national religion, tended among certain Carthaginians (and in particular, I believe, Hannibal's family) to empty them of any real content" or "because of the very nature of Semitic spirituality, it [sc. Hannibal's religious sense] would have been unaware of the naturalistic projections so dear to the myths of the classical world he confronted" (p. 487).

With a volume of such length and scope, there will naturally be disagreements over points of presentation and emphasis. I would venture four substantive criticisms. First, as is typical of many Companions, the accessibility and readability of individual contributions vary. Luigi Loreto's exposition of grand strategy might be too rich to be easily digested by someone who is not already familiar with applications of grand strategy theory to ancient history (e.g., controversially, Luttwak's Grand strategy of the Roman empire [1976]). As for Fantar's study of the Punic legacy, it was never entirely clear to this reader whether the claims made about the gifts of Phoenicia and Carthage to the Mediterranean were being posited as objective claims or were themselves embodying a modern mode of reception (or both). Second, there is extensive—and sometimes unnecessary—overlap among several of the contributions, especially in Parts II and III. Hoyos seeks to head off this criticism by noting in his editorial introduction "that differing interpretations of the same or a similar issue will be presented, appropriate to the healthy diversity of views in current historiography" (p. 5); but how many discussions of the Kriegsschuldfrage (to cite only one example) are needed to convey a sense of this diversity? Third, this overlap in themes and topics takes away space that could have been devoted to the large-scale transformations of Roman life and culture—fueled and to no mean extent funded by Rome's victories over its North African rival—taking place during the third and early second centuries. Poenico bello secundo Musa pinnato gradu / intulit se bellicosam in Romuli gentem feram (Porcius Licinus fr. 1 Courtney), but profound and lasting shifts in literary and artistic production are only part of the story; also to be considered are the city's physical and infrastructural expansion, as well as the institutional and social upheavals that redefined Roman and Italian life. Even though a few of the contributions touch on these developments, a more systematic exposition of any of them would have enhanced the volume's quality. Finally, more attention to bibliography and non-textual aids would have improved the final product. Only eight of the contributions provide suggestions for "Further Reading" (always helpful for newcomers to the field) and several essays are very sparsely annotated. On the subject of non-textual aids: even at the cost of ramping up the already- exorbitant price of this Companion, a few more maps would have been immensely helpful, especially for the chapters devoted to battles and tactics.

My cavils in the previous paragraph notwithstanding, Hoyos and his team are to be complimented for their success in bringing the multifaceted "action history" of the wars to life in a striking and sophisticated way.8


1.   Regrettably there is no treatment of the unique demands and changing conditions of naval warfare here or elsewhere in the volume.
2.   Not discussed in this chapter is whether specific internal developments at Rome (viz. the passage of the lex Flaminia c. 230 that Polybius [2.21.8] credits as the aitia of the Gallic War) might have driven this restructuring of strategic aims.
3.   So, e.g., Loreto would like us to believe the ancient sources (Aulus Gellius, Zonaras) reporting Rome's diplomatic humiliation when it tried to curb the activity of Carthaginian warships in Sardinia during the late 230s (p. 193); Hoyos dismisses these sources as late and their reports of diplomatic tensions as not trustworthy (p. 211).
4.   To which he refers the reader. Several other contributions also represent distillations of previously published work (e.g., Bleckmann's chapter summarizes his 2002 Die römische Nobilität im Ersten Punischen Krieg, as the author himself states in n. 1).
5.   For two complementary discussions, readers might also wish to consult J.M. Quillin, "Information and empire: domestic fear propaganda in Republican Rome, 200-149 BCE" (Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics 2004 [160.4: 765-85]); and N. Purcell, "On the sacking of Carthage and Corinth" (in D. Innes et al. [edd.], Ethics and rhetoric: classical essays for Donald Russell on his seventy-fifth birthday [Oxford 1995]).
6.   Rome's post-2P War commitments in the Greek world come up for (brief) discussion only in Champion's chapter on Polybius in Part I.
7.   Fantar addresses in passing the Latin-Punic texts whose discovery and publication forced a re-assessment of writing, ethnicity, and bilingualism in North Africa. To his bibliography add F.G.B. Millar, "Local cultures in the Roman empire: Libyan, Punic and Latin in Roman Africa" (JRS 1968 [58: 126-34]); J.N. Adams, "Latin and Punic in contact? The case of the Bu Njem ostraca" (JRS 1994 [84: 87-112]); id., Bilingualism and the Latin language (Cambridge 2003), Chapter V sections 2.5 and 4.4.
8.   Apart from minor orthographical inconsistencies (e.g., Acra Leuce/Akra Leuke), the volume is on the whole well produced, with few typos. Some of the essays translated into English could have benefited from more careful editing to remove grammatical or idiomatic infelicities.

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