MASTERING THE WEST: Rome and Carthage at War

by Dexter Hoyos

OUP (2015) h/b 360pp £18.99 (ISBN 9780199860104)

H. has previously written important monographs, articles and edited volumes on Rome, Carthage and the Punic Wars. This makes him ideal to produce this clear and accessible narrative. It deals chronologically, in fourteen chapters, with the conflicts between Rome and Carthage, both of whom H. sees as equally powerful, imperialist republics. It usefully provides, as far as is possible, the Carthaginian perspective as much as the Roman. He argues, as he has elsewhere, that the Punic Wars were largely unintended: the first (264-241 BC) resulted from both republics becoming drawn into Sicilian politics, the Romans more fearful of Syracuse than Carthage; the second (218-201 BC) due to a diplomatic kerfuffle over the insignificant Spanish town of Saguntum amidst differing expectations of evolving spheres of empire; the third (149-146 BC), which led to the destruction of Rome’s erstwhile opponent, itself an avertible calamity.

Throughout, H. stresses Rome’s perseverance in the face of overwhelming defeats that would have crushed other ancient states. This is rightly coupled with the curious frequency with which Carthaginian commanders proved unwilling to capitalise on advantages, although H. also does not spare criticism of often disastrous Roman leadership. The consequences are best seen in his lengthy account of the Hannibalic War. Rome fought on despite the triple disasters of Trebia, Trasimene and Cannae, while Hannibal, for all his military genius, proved unable to besiege Rome itself because Carthaginian reinforcements continually failed to materialise. Rome’s willingness to commit manpower en masse and Carthage’s miscalculations culminated in the latter’s eventual annihilation.

Broadly speaking, H’s arguments are effective. He treats the three Punic Wars rather fully, but does not neglect to discuss the otherwise predominantly peaceful relations between Carthage and Rome. At times his interpretations are rather personal or digress into counterfactuals. However, these enliven the long narrative stretches, effectively engaging the reader in reconsidering the inevitability of the Punic Wars and the emergence of Rome as a Mediterranean superpower.

The more advanced reader might wish for greater discussion about limitations of our knowledge of the period, but this would have been at the cost of the book’s readability and accessibility especially to the general audience. H. laudably balances this by including a short appendix discussing the textual, numismatic and epigraphic sources. Also included are a timeline and glossary to specialist terms as well as ten useful, well-rendered maps prepared by the author. These greatly complement the readable prose. Endnotes are used sparingly and surgically. I found only one typo (p.200: ‘an.d’), the book otherwise being as well-edited and produced as the text is written.

Although H. says little that he has not already said elsewhere, this is a solid and eminently readable contribution to the fields of Punic and middle Republican studies. Its accessibility, erudition and scope will make it an essential addition for either the general reader or those pursuing undergraduate studies.

David Colwill—Cardiff University


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