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The Ghosts of Cannae: Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic (Anglais) Broché – 13 septembre 2011

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Chapter One

Traces of War

Polybius of Megalopolis peered down from a pass high in the Italian Alps and caught sight of the rich green Lombard plain far below. It was exactly the same inviting panorama Hannibal had shown his half-starved, half-frozen, thoroughly discouraged army seventy-three years before, exhorting them to stay the course on what would prove to be an amazing path of conquest. Quite probably enough bits and pieces of that weary host remained visible for Polybius to be sure he was in the right spot; a certitude denied future chroniclers, and giving rise to one of ancient history’s most enduring and futile controversies: Where exactly did Hannibal cross the Alps?1 Polybius, for his part, was free to concentrate on questions he found more important. It was his aim—an endeavor that would eventually fill forty books—to explain to his fellow Greeks how a hitherto obscure city-state on the Italian peninsula had come to dominate, virtually in the course of a lifetime, the entire Mediterranean world. But if Rome stood at center stage in Polybius’s inquiry, Hannibal and Carthage were his foils. Each in their own way had nearly put an end to Rome’s ambitions. Both by this time were dead, obliterated by Rome, but it was the challenges they had posed and the disasters they had inflicted that Polybius found most compelling. For no matter how bad things had gotten, Rome had always responded, had picked itself up out of the dustbin of history and soldiered on. And it was in defeat more than victory that Polybius saw the essence of Rome’s greatness.

It never got worse than Cannae. On August 2, 216 b.c., a terrible apocalyptic day in southern Italy, 120,000 men engaged in what amounted to a mass knife fight. At the end of the fight, at least forty-eight thousand Romans lay dead or dying, lying in pools of their own blood and vomit and feces, killed in the most intimate and terrible ways, their limbs hacked off, their faces and thoraxes and abdomens punctured and mangled. This was Cannae, an event celebrated and studied as Hannibal’s paragon by future practitioners of the military arts, the apotheosis of the decisive victory. Rome, on the other hand, lost—suffering on that one day more battle deaths than the United States during the entire course of the war in Vietnam, suffering more dead soldiers than any other army on any single day of combat in the entire course of Western military history. Worse yet, Cannae came at the end of a string of savage defeats engineered by the same Hannibal, Rome’s nemesis destined to prey on Italy for another thirteen years and defeat army after army and kill general after general. Yet none of this would plumb the depths reached on that awful afternoon in August.

It has been argued that Polybius, aware of Cannae’s enormous symbolic import, deliberately structured his history so as to make the battle appear as the absolute low point in Rome’s fortunes, thereby exaggerating its significance.2 Yet, not only do sheer numbers argue the contrary, but also Rome on this day lost a significant portion of its leadership class, between a quarter and a third of the senate, the members of which had been anxious to be present at what had been assumed would be a great victory. Instead it was a debacle by any measure, so much so that a case can be made that Cannae was even more critical than Polybius believed, in retrospect a true pivot point in Roman history. Arguably the events of this August day either initiated or accelerated trends destined to push Rome from municipality to empire, from republican oligarchy to autocracy, from militia to professional army, from a realm of freeholders to a dominion of slaves and estates. And the talisman of all of this change was one lucky survivor, a young mili- tary tribune named Publius Cornelius Scipio,* known to history as Africanus. For at the end of many more years of fighting, Rome still would need a general and an army good enough to defeat Hannibal, and Scipio Africanus, with the help of what remained of the battlefield’s disgraced refugees, would answer the call and in the process set all else in motion.

* Typical Roman names of the late republican period had three elements: a praenomen, or given name (in this case Publius), chosen from a limited list and having no family connotation; a nomen, referring to the gens or clan name (Cornelii); and, finally, the cognomen, or family within the clan (Scipio).

From the Hardcover edition.

Revue de presse

“A masterpiece of style, imagination, and erudition.”—Victor Davis Hanson, author of A War Like No Other

“Outstanding . . . [a] superb chronicle of events that shaped the fate of Western civilization.”—Booklist

“[O’Connell] is able to put himself and his reader on the ground at Cannae, gagging in the heat of a southern Italian midsummer, assailed by an overload from every one of the five senses.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Dramatic and comprehensive . . . O’Connell has established the new standard for studies of the second conflict between Rome and Carthage.”—Publishers Weekly
“[O’Connell] writes with clarity about an era shrouded in speculation.”—Providence Journal-Bulletin

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Format: Broché
The perfect companion for all military history enthusiasts is the ROMA VICTRIX WINE BEAKERCalix Imperium, Coupe à vin en étain ROMA VICTRIX

The Ghosts of Cannae is a study of that battle--the worse defeat in Roman history, and a battle that cost more lives than any other single engagement in Europe, up to and including the Battle of Somme. More Romans died at Cannae on August 2, 216 BC than Americans did during the whole of the Vietnam War. O'Connell undertakes to explain the entirety of Cannae, from the events, the cultural, social and political pressures that led to the engagement to the rippling after effects of the Roman defeat which would eventually shake the foundations of the Republic itself.

It was ". . . a terrible apocalyptic day," writes military historian Robert L. O'Connell at the beginning of The Ghosts of Cannae, ". . . 120,000 men engaged in what amounted to a mass knife fight." That statement encapsulates what makes O'Connell's account of this ancient Roman battle at once so compelling, enlightening, and readable. The author possesses a rare talent among scholars to bring remote and seemingly academic facts down from their rarified heights and put them, vividly and viscerally, right in front of the reader. And it doesn't get more visceral than 50,000 men, lying gutted on the field of battle on a hot summer day.
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 4.4 étoiles sur 5 123 commentaires
152 internautes sur 160 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 It makes you go "Hmmm..." 4 mai 2010
Par Connie (She who hikes with dogs) - Publié sur
Format: Relié Commentaire d‘un membre du Club des Testeurs ( De quoi s'agit-il? )
This is an interesting and easy-to-read narrative for the beginner history fan of Ancient Rome's military tactics and battles during the Punic Wars. Robert O'Connell presents an introduction to Rome's early Republic years before delving into the Second Punic War. Ancient Roman historians such as Polybius and Livy are often quoted (not that historians have a lot to go on, either) but credit must go to O'Connell for also wanting to present the Carthaginian point of view, of which many pages are dedicated. He uses his own vast knowledge to add his analysis of why certain tactics failed and others were successful.

History is written by the victors and the losers just fade away. The curious reader will want to understand why Hannibal and his followers took the route they did, why they wanted to attack Rome where they did, and why it all mattered. This is a book not just about Hannibal, but about Hasdrubal, Scipio Africanus and Quintus Fabius Maximus. Maps are included to show the progress made by Hannibal from Spain to Italy. What should have been a vicotry for Hannibal turned out to be a deafening defeat, and O'Connell goes into impressive analysis of why Hannibal's strategy failed. Although I can't verify all facts in this book, this is an easy-to-read and inquisitive narrative of the Second Punic Wars and the aftermath. A non-military-trained historian would be able to understand O'Connell's work.

I just finished a semester of Ancient History and found this book perfect for some citations on the Roman Republic. I enjoyed this book. It is not too heavy into military tactics, nor is it too scholarly for everyman's history fan. But the author also asks the "How" and "Why" of the strategies used by the commanders and why they all failed.

Perhaps more scholared readers may find this book repetitive or perhaps long in the introduction as the Second Punic War and Hannibal's crossing of the Rhone don't happen until half-way into this book, however for someone who just enjoys a good historical read, this book is ideal. Robert O'Connell clearly has a passion for military history and the Ancient Romans. If you want to know more about the Second Punic War and read some analysis, this book is perfect.
72 internautes sur 77 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 First rate 17 mai 2010
Par Peter Ingemi - Publié sur
Format: Relié Commentaire d‘un membre du Club des Testeurs ( De quoi s'agit-il? )
There are two extremes when reviewing pre-release books. One of them is a book that is so boring that you find yourself not finishing it before the release date exemplified by [ASIN:0345505352 Never Tell Our Business to Strangers: A Memoir]]. The other extreme is exemplified by The Ghosts of Cannae a book SO good that I finished it in two days and put it down wanting more.

This book examines Rome and Carthage, a bit of history of the first Punic war, some excellent coverage of Hannibal and the battle itself, and the subject of the title. The "Ghosts" of Cannae, namely the Roman survivors who were given short shift by the republic..

He does all of this in a prose stile that really works, he turns a phrase with the best of them and approaches the problems with the surviving accounts of both the battle and ancient history without disrespecting them.

He spends a fair amount of time talking about the effects of the battle and how it shaped all the various parties. His suggestion connecting the battle with the eventual fall of the republic is an interesting proposition.

His epilogue about how Cannae has become a fixation of some modern soldiers was the only weakness, not because it is bad but because I wanted more of it. The worst part of this book is the fact that it ended.

I can't recommend this volume enough, buy it.
33 internautes sur 39 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Hannibal was pretty cool! 25 mai 2010
Par J. Green - Publié sur
Format: Relié Commentaire d‘un membre du Club des Testeurs ( De quoi s'agit-il? )
Author Robert O'Connell acknowledges up front that a lack of contemporary sources from the time period limit what we know, but he makes exceptionally good use of what information is available. He explains that the Battle of Cannae during the Second Punic War was a turning point for Republican Rome (216 BC). Rome was beaten badly by Hannibal, the Carthaginian general who led his troops over the Alps in a daring and highly successful raid. But for all Hannibal's military genius and victories, he lost the war and Rome went on to become a great power. The "Ghosts" in the title refer to Roman soldiers who lost at Cannae and were exiled in shame, but later played a pivotal role when Scipio Africanus (gotta love the names!) recruited them and finally defeated Carthage.

I remember Hannibal from history classes long ago but didn't recall the Battle of Cannae - even had to look up the pronunciation which surprisingly turns out to be kan-EE (the emphasis can actually be on either syllable). Hannibal really was the star of this book for me, and I found it rather boring (almost stopping for something else) until it reached his trek into the Alps. Then the book takes off and was almost impossible to put down as he explains Hannibal's military strategies, and how he adapted and took advantage of situations (like positioning his troops upwind so the dust blew in the Romans faces). While I think O'Connell tries to make the book accessible for those without much knowledge of early Roman history, some prior exposure might be useful to follow the narrative. I also appreciated that O'Connell explains the limitations on the record from that early time, and throughout debates on the merits of various records and why or why they might not be reliable. His writing style is... well, I guess I could say 'interesting' - I thought it sounded like it was written by a twenty-something instead of a seasoned historian - but it works and makes it very readable. Maps, a 'list of characters,' and glossary of important terms are also helpful for those of us not familiar with ancient military history. In the end, a very enjoyable book (now I'll have to find something on Archimedes and the battle of Syracuse, which sounded very interesting...).
67 internautes sur 86 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Interesting Thesis Marred by Lackluster Writing 2 juillet 2010
Par Patrick Odaniel - Publié sur
Format: Relié Commentaire d‘un membre du Club des Testeurs ( De quoi s'agit-il? )
Robert L. O'Connell in The Ghosts of Cannae puts forth the intriguing notion that the defeated, scorned and exiled Roman soldiers following Rome's disastrous battle with Hannibal at Cannae became the harbingers of an ominous turn in Roman civic life. In short, these "ghosts" of the Roman army wound up transferring their loyalty from the Republic of Rome to a particular Roman general (a benign transfer in this instance to Scipio, but later to lead to the fatal--at least fatal to Republican Rome--transfer of loyalty to Julius Caesar). O'Connell also does a good job explains the basics of Roman military and civic life (a la Michael Grant).

Unfortunately, O'Connell's writing is tinctured with corrosive cliches whereby one must always "drive home" a point, Roman officials are trapped in a "rat race" and certain types of Roman soldiers are "one-trick ponies." Indeed, there are jarring uses of modern idioms which O'Connell no doubt thought would help to make his book more accessible and relevant to the casual reader--a creature, I fear, that has been exterminated through the toxic carpet bombing of television and video games--at the expense of alienating more serious readers of history. So, Roman officials serve just one year thereby allowing rapid turnover with the result that everyone may have Warhol's 15 minutes of fame (alluded to here with the clunky phrase, "the Warholian rubric")while, elsewhere, Roman patriotism is contrasted with drinking the "proverbial Kool-Aid." In other words, to use yet another tired phrase, O'Connell has fallen between two stools (one of which does not exist).
13 internautes sur 16 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
2.0 étoiles sur 5 Diet History - Low Carb! 30 janvier 2012
Par thedudeabides1001 - Publié sur
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
I'm a fanatic consumer of Greek and Roman history and so, naturally, I was drawn to this book. The battle of Cannae is no doubt one of the most written-about battles in human history. its the ultimate underdog story that stirs our souls because it demonstrates how drastically a cunning mind can upset the accepted order of the day. Hannibal was clearly the greatest general in history, and this battle was his Opus Magna.

There are a lot of history buffs who drool over the incomparable power of the Roman army and never tire of reading of their exploits and victories, but there is also a healthy audience for the exact opposite (i.e. reading about Rome having its nose stuck into the *stuff* and being devastated in battle and given a run for its money). this battle is perfect for the latter type of reader, but not this book.

I wouldn't be so critical of O'Connell if there weren't already rivers, nay, vast oceans of text regarding this battle elsewhere in the world. His presentation is too chummy and personal for my taste. it seems to aim for capturing the wandering minds of college-aged readers, or shocking the lay-historian into a "deeper" understanding of the battle. The problem is, there isn't anything shocking enough about Cannae that hasn't already been said in a billion ways to make his effort worthwhile. instead, what we get is a commercialized history with too much pomp and circumstance. at times while reading this book i could almost hear his self-righteous drum-rolls building in the background before he breaks an impressive fact over your head.

i don't like to drag out negative reviews, so i'll just say this. Like Levar Burton before me, "You don't have to take my word for it." Here: (Page 8) "...Augustus Caesar, Rome's first emperor--or princeps, as the main man preferred." MAIN MAN? O'Connell, did you know Augustus? are you lightheartedly trying to sound cool because you were actually one of his best buddies so it's ok for you to use street terms to refer to him? when i read lines like this (and there are plenty more) I have to wince, and it takes that much extra effort for me to be interested in the next thing he has to say. History can be fun, but weak language in writing is not the way. his work is undermined by it.

Just a note: if you are heeding my warning and wondering what i would suggest in place of this book, without hesitation I say "Rubicon" by Tom Holland. Written with professionalism and unparalleled intrigue. something about the way he writes both captivates and informs seamlessly.
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