Tuesday, January 03, 2006
"Most people are familiar with Julius Caesar. But many of the other generals are just as noteworthy, among them Scipio Africanus. Most people know of Hannibal because he crossed the Alps with his army and waged war against Rome. Ironically, Africanus, who defeated Hannibal and ended the war, remains largely forgotten.
Africanus?s story is remarkable in that he started the Second Punic War (218-201BCE) as a 17-year-old junior officer in the Roman army and ended it as the 34-year-old commanding general who bought about victory. Despite his achievements, he was eventually undone by his political enemies, who trumped up a corruption charge against him. That resulted in Africanus living his last few years in exile from Rome. He succumbed to sickness at the age of 51.
The theme in this book is that of generals being undone, politically. That?s not surprising because during the Republican era, members of the Roman Senate had to serve in the military. Generals were selected from their ranks, and a successful military career paved the path to political success.
During the reign of the emperors, generals were still picked from the senatorial class, but they no longer had any say in the ruling of Rome. However, a successful general could always overthrow the emperor with his army. Indeed, a too-successful general could end up being viewed as a threat by the reigning emperor.
This is a good book, though I could quibble with the fact that some generals such as Sulla and Vespasian have not been given the space they deserve. Also, the reader hardly gets to know what the common soldiers in the Roman army were like: they, as much as the generals, did much to win Rome an empire. Perhaps the lack of existing accounts by Roman soldiers is partly to blame for this. "