Thursday 28 April 2016

The Fall of Carthage

Its been a long time since I did a book review as I never seem to have the time to start, let alone finish, books these days. My recent holiday gave me an opportunity to reverse this trend and I took a pile of paperbacks away with me. As it was I only had time to read one book and I think I probably picked one of the best out of the bunch. 

The Fall of Carthage by Adrian Goldsworthy covers all three of the Punic Wars with Rome showing how Carthage was utterly unprepared for the Roman way of making war. Even at the height of Punic success - when Hannibal ravaged the Italian countryside destroying legion after legion - the Romans never wavered in their resolve to win or die. For them this was a war that could only end in the total destruction and subjugation of one side or the other. Such implacable stubbornness was unthinkable in the Hellenistic world and after three clear battlefield victories Hannibal had every right to expect to conclude the war on terms favorable to Carthage. This was not to be the case. Instead the seeds of the complete destruction of Carthage over 60 years later were already being sown.
"He who conquers is not the victor unless the loser considers himself beaten" Ennius (a writer during the period of the Roman Republic and the Punic Wars)
One of the best things about this book is that its not overly academic. Goldsworthy does take the time to discuss the historical sources (the book is meticulously referenced) and he never shies away from discussing their reliability but this never interferes with his telling of the historical story. Polybius is described as a generally reliable source and is one of the closest contemporaries of the history he writes about. Livy, writing later, is less reliable and there is a suggestion that his approach is much more pro-Roman and therefore unreliable. Having said that the Author does make it clear that sometimes historians just have to work with the sources they have and where only one source is available then that account has to be used, albeit with caveats.

Goldsworthy concludes by describing the conflict with Carthage - and in particular the Second War - as Rome's "Battle of Britain moment". Despite huge battlefield losses and a seemingly unstoppable foe the Romans simply refused to concede defeat. In so doing they broke every convention of warfare in the ancient world and locked themselves into a life or death struggle that could only end in the utter annihilation of one side or the other. Carthage didn't see the war in such stark proportions and consequently didn't prosecute the war as vigorously or as ruthlessly as they could have, and in so doing they lost the war and, in the end, everything.

The Sack of Carthage in 146 BC - The final act of the Punic Wars

For me the things that makes this book stand out is the fact that all three Punic wars are discussed in one volume and that the links between each conflict are very clearly laid out. In effect the Author is arguing that the three wars that spanned over a century were effectively a single struggle with Rome growing stronger economically, politically and militarily with every encounter. The Roman mindset was not initially expansionist but the conflict with Carthage changed that outlook - partly as a necessity of war with such a deadly foe - and by the end of the period Rome was on the fast track to becoming the worlds first superpower.

A very enjoyable book and one of the best pieces of historical analysis that I have read in a long time. 

Series: Cassell Military Paperbacks
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Cassell (April 1, 2007)
Language: English
Rating:      ★★★★


  1. I'll be waiting for this one when it is translated to Dutch. Always interested in historical books!
    Thanks for the review!


  2. Goldsworthy never disappoints!
    And he is a well known wargamer too


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