The Second Punic War According to Livy


By Steven Knorr and Nick Richwagen

Livy is known as a moralizing historian, and in his War with Hannibal (History of Rome: Books XXI-XXX) his belief in Roman values shows in his narration. Livy believed that human character and the moral character of history outweighed historical accuracy. Livy was interested in stories of right and wrong and the triumph of virtue. He highlighted heroic Roman leaders and singled out their virtues, such as with Quintus Fabius, who nobly delayed the Carthaginian advance through Italy to buy the Romans time.  Livy valued Roman virtues such as piety, bravery, and honor, and condemned weaknesses of character as leading to ruin. Like any pious Roman, he placed great stock in omens. Numerous omens exist in Livy’s history, both good and bad, that foreshadow events to come. Livy’s writing is best understood through a deeply moralistic, pious lens.

Hannibal Barca

Livy detested Hannibal, and establishes him as the antagonist from the beginning of Book XXI. Hannibal, who swore an oath to his Father to always be Rome’s enemy, and dreamed that a snake would be the destruction of Italy. Hannibal is not presented as an honorable warrior but as someone who used tricks and wit to deceive his opponents. Even when Hannibal had equal or greater numbers against the Romans, he never won without using trickery. Carthaginians throughout are called oath-breakers or treaty-breakers so naturally Hannibal did not fight honorably.  Livy’s opinion of Hannibal is voiced by the Carthaginian noble Hanno, who says “and this son of his, with the devil in his heart and the torch in his hand, to kindle its flames, I hate and abhor”. Hanno (Hanno II the Great) opposed war with Rome in the Carthaginian assembly (10).

Livy did admire Hannibal’s leadership abilities, and notes that he was able to win the respect of the Carthaginian forces as an inexperienced general when he joined his uncle Hasdrubal in Spain.  Early on he even points out that Hannibal lived rather simply for someone of his stature in society. Hannibal ate to satisfy his basic needs, he slept on the ground like the rest of his soldiers, and his clothing was simple. Nevertheless, Livy paints Hannibal as someone capable of great cruelty, such as his execution of the men of Saguntum even while Carthaginian demands were still being read. Livy understood the reasons behind the cruelty and sometimes demonstrates it to be a necessary evil, but Livy uses it to mark the Carthaginians as a cruel and evil invading force whereas Romans are not shown in the same light.

Roman Exceptionalism

Livy was a patriotic Roman, and admired the values of his predecessors while believing them morally superior to the Romans of his own time. Livy believed that Rome has been “richer in good citizens and noble deeds than anywhere else.” This is Roman exceptionalism, especially in comparison to his views on other ancient peoples. To Livy, The Gauls were a people who loved gold and were easily controlled as they often quarreled with one another. For example, Gallic chieftains plot Hannibal’s death, but are never able to execute such an act because they are too busy fighting one another. While Livy Acknowledges that Carthaginians, Spaniards, and Gauls are good warriors, they all demonstrate vices that are true to their barbarian nature. Though Romans can have their faults, most are portrayed as down to earth and reasonable people. Rome is portrayed as being honest and just, always acting within the means of the law. During Hanno’s speech, he says of the Romans that “their demands are mild, their first steps slow and cautious.” (33).

Scipio Africanus

The Roman general Scipio is Livy’s great hero, the embodiment of Roman virtue. After the catastrophic defeat at Cannae, the Roman people felt absolutely hopeless, yet Scipio rises to the occasion in order to lift Roman morale.  It is here that we see Scipio pledge an oath “I swear with all passion of my heart that I shall never desert our country, or permit any break my oath, may Jupiter, Greatest and Best, bring me to a shameful death, with my house, my family and all I possess” (153). While other Romans are overcome with despair, Scipio remains firm and resolute, and retains his absolute conviction in Rome and her gods.

Titus Manlius Torquatus

After Cannae, Hannibal offered the surviving Roman soldiers back for ransom. The Roman Senate argued about this while being harangued by the families of these Carthaginian hostages, who wanted back their sons, brothers, and relations. Livy uses Titus Manlius Torquatus, who defeated the Carthaginian in Sardinia (215 BC) to speak on behalf of Roman honor. Torquatus concludes that the hostages must not be paid, and that is the duty of Romans to die on the battlefield. Livy does mention Torquatus to be a man considered by some to be of “old fashioned…and excessive strictness.”

Omens and Portents

Livy uses omens to demonstrate the presence of supernatural forces and the influence the gods exert in everyday life. Throughout his History, and especially in episodes relating to the Punic Wars, those who fail to heed omens and demonstrate sufficient piety suffer catastrophe.

Before the Roman defeat at Lake Trasimene (June 217 BC), Consul Gaius Flaminius gave the order to march and was thrown from his horse. Despite this bad omen, Flaminius was impatient and ordered the Roman army forward. Flaminius was lured into battle by Hannibal and ambushed; the Roman army of 30,000 men was destroyed. Livy shows Flaminius as being undevout or impious in contrast to later consuls such Scipio or the dictator Fabius Maximus who are shown as pious people and respect the traditions, particularly during a time of crisis when one wouldn’t want to upset the gods. What Livy demonstrates is that human actions can either please or displease the gods, who guide destiny.


Project Summaries and Update for January 2017

This is the second calendar year since our website started back in August 2015. I thought it might be helpful to do an overview of the different subjects we have so far covered. In descending order from the most recent:

 10/2016 A Concise Summary of World War One: The First Two Years (1914-1916)  This project chronicles the first two years of the Great War.
 9/2016 Classical Inspiration for American Government A discussion of the ancient philosophy and traditions which inspired the creation of the US government.
 9/2016 Emperor Tiberius According to Tacitus A look at the second Roman emperor through the lens of the author Tacitus (AD 56-120), who had more than his fair share of biases.
 1/2016 The Radicalization of the French Revolution Why did the French Revolution become so extreme? Also, inexplicably our most popular essay.
 10/2015 The Saxons – Early History and Geography Concerning the ancient Saxon tribe, their traditions and customs, and their homeland in northern Germany. Also a look into some modern German geography.
 8/2015 Athens and the Greek World, 404 – 200 BC An examination of the political life of Athens, and its position in the larger Greek world, from the end of the Peloponnesian War through the Hellenistic Period.

In all so far, our two contributing authors have written five posts with more planned projects in the near future.

Although readership is still small, we are averaging one view every other day and have seen growth in views every month since last September. We are currently looking for more contributors, if anyone might enjoy writing about a history related topic for zero compensation. In interested, please comment or email one of the authors.

A Concise Summary of World War I: The First Two Years (1914-1916)

Nick R. 

Project Description 

This is an ongoing project to complement my reading of John Keegan’s The First World War (2000), as well as Michael Howard’s The First World War: A Very Short Introduction (2003). I have also made use of other literature and resources throughout the project (see Useful Resources below).

Every year 1914-1918 has a paragraph summary detailing the events of each month. This article is for the first half of the conflict, 1914-1916.  Each year of the war also has a table, divided into sections for the Western Front, the Eastern Front, the Southern Front/Balkan Campaign and the multiple Turkish Fronts fought against the Ottoman Empire.

Particular attention is spent on the largest battles of the war: Verdun and the Somme (1916), and Passchendaele (1917). The first two of these will be covered here.

1914– The War Begins

The Great War began in July 1914, after decades of military buildup and tension between the great powers of Europe. Conflict was set off by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary and nephew of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph. In retaliation, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28th. The next day, Austrian forces began shelling Belgrade, the Serbian capital. Alliances between the great powers and the invasion of Belgium brought Germany and Austria-Hungary into conflict with Russia, France, and the United Kingdom by early August.


At the start of August, Germany invaded Belgium in order to maneuver around the strong French positions along the Franco-German border. This began the Battle of the Frontiers. Stiff Belgian resistance prevented German forces from invading past the border until late August. Belgian fortresses, most importantly Liege and Namur, held the Germans back until the last fort surrendered on the 17th. French attempts to invade German Lorraine in mid-August ended in utter disaster. Pushing into France, the Germans were able to overwhelm seven French armies as well as the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).

Combat in 1914 often featured field armies maneuvering in open spaces to gain advantage. By the end of the year, this would no longer be a feature of the war on the Western Front.

Also in August, the Austro-Hungarians invaded Serbia. At the Battle of Cer, Serbian forces defeated the far-larger Austrian army. As a result, Austria was forced to commit many more reserves to Serbia than Conrad von Hötzendorf, the overall Austrian commander, had anticipated.

In the east, Russian forces invaded German Prussia. Changes in leadership in the east saw Erich Ludendorff and Paul von Hindenburg take command over German forces. Their leadership saw the annihilation of the Russian Second Army at the Battle of Tannenberg by August 30th. In the subsequent First Battle of the Masurian Lakes, Russian forces were expelled from German territory.

Russian forces fared far better at the Battles of Galicia (Lemberg), where they caused 300,000 Austro-Hungarian casualties and took over 100,000 prisoners by September 11th. Many remaining Austrian forces were then bottled-up at the fortress  city of Przemyśl at the foothills of the Carpathian mountains. Attempts to relieve this fortress from Russian siege would see almost a million deaths in the Austrian army before Spring.


The start of September saw French forces and the BEF in full retreat towards Paris as the Germans pushed onward. British success at Mons had done little to stop the ongoing German offensive. As the German armies reached the outskirts of Paris, the German 1st and 2nd Armies became detached. French Commander-in Chief Joseph Joffre noticed this gap and allied forces were able to drive a wedge between German forces. This Miracle of the Marne saw the allies pushing German forces back along the Aisne river. Mid-September saw the creation of the trenches that would define combat at the western front for years to come.


Both sides attempted to outflank enemy trench-works in the Race to the Sea, which culminated in the First Battle of Ypres in late October through November. This battle saw the end of the old British professional army, most of whose soldiers had become casualties since the start of the war. Huge numbers of German casualties occurred in inexperienced reserve units brought up to the front.

The Ottoman Empire entered the war in late October by shelling Russian Odessa. In November, Russian troops crossed over the Caucasus Mountains into Ottoman territory during the Bergmann Offensive, opening up the Caucasus Front against the Turks. Although the Turks had initial success, they were forced to retreat after the terrible Battle of Sarikamish, suffering the terrible effects of mountain winter.

Serbia again triumphed over Austria in the Battle of Kolubara, ending in December. However, casualties were massive on both sides and the Serbs were running low on munitions and manpower.

Table of Events- 1914

1914 Western Front Eastern Front Balkans Campaign/ Turkish Fronts
June 28: Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand
July July Crisis 7/25: Serbia mobilizes

7/28: Austria declares war

7/29: Austria shells Belgrade


420 mm Krupp Gun, used to destroy Belgian fortifications

8/1: Germany mobilizes, declares war on Russia.

8/3: Germany and France declare war on each other

8/3: Invasion of Belgium

8/4: The United Kingdom declares war on Germany

8/7: The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) arrives in France

8/14-24: Battle of the Frontiers

8/17: Liege fortification cleared

8/21: Charleroi

8/23: Mons

8/24: The Great Retreat begins

8/30: Kluck stops German drive to Paris

8/15: Russia invades Prussia

8/23-9/11: Battles of Galicia

8/27-30: Battle of Tannenberg

The Russian Second Army was encircled and destroyed at Tannenberg
8/1: Germany and the Ottoman Empire sign a secret alliance treaty

8/6: Austria-Hungary declares war on Russia

8/12: Austrian invasion of Serbia (starts Balkan Campaign, B.C.)

8/15: Battle of Cer  (B.C.)


Allied forces exploited the 30 mile gap between the German 1st and 2nd armies at the Battle of the Marne
9/4: Joffre halts retreat of French forces

9/5-12: Battle of the Marne

9/14: Falkenhayn new German Chief of Staff

9/15- Push to the Aisne and the creation of trenches

9/7-9/14: First Battle of the Masurian Lakes

9/11: Battle of Galicia ends

9/16: Siege of Przemyśl Begins

9/6-10/4: Battle of Drina
October 10/10: Siege of Antwerp ends

10/19-11/22:  First Battle Ypres

Vistula River/Lodz Stalemate 10/4: End of Battle of Drina

10/29: Turkey shells Odessa, sparking war with Russia

November 11/11:  Kindermord at Ypres

11/22: End of Ypres

The Caucasus Campaign led to massive Turkish casualties during the winter of 1914. 86% of Ottoman troops were killed during the Battle of Sarikamish
11/2: The Russian Bergmann Offensive starts the Caucasus Campaign (C.C.)

Fao Landing/Battle of Basra starts the Mesopotamian Campaign (M.C.)

11/16-12/16: Battle of Kolubara (B.C.)

December Christmas Truce  12/7: Niš Declaration

12/16: End Battle of Kolubara

12/5-1/18: Battle of Ardahan (C.C.)

12/22-1/17: Battle of Sarikamish.

Enver Pasha assumes direct control over the 3rd Army.

Continue reading “A Concise Summary of World War I: The First Two Years (1914-1916)”

Classical Influence in American Government

Ancient Greek Political Thought and the model of Roman Government Influenced America’s Foundations

Ned Richardson

The founding fathers of the United States  drew upon multiple sources for inspiration during the establishment of American government. The ideas of Enlightenment philosophers were extremely important; Voltaire, Montesquieu, and John Locke were figures whose ideas shaped the new nation. However, the founders drew not only upon Enlightenment  philosophy for political inspiration but also looked towards the cultural heritage of the classical west. Philosophers from classical Greece proposed the separation of powers in government, an idea that the American founders adopted for their new nation. In addition, The Roman Republic  (509-27 BC) served as a direct model of government for the writers of the constitution.  The political thought of the ancient Greek and Roman world profoundly influenced the government of the United States of America.


I. Plato’s Mixed Government

II. Aristotle: Separation of Powers

III: Polybius and the Roman Republic

IV: Classical Education and Influence in Revolutionary America

V: American Mixed Republican Government

I. Plato’s Mixed Government

Ancient Greek philosophers created the concept of separation of powers, an idea integral to the government of the United States. The Greeks developed other ideas that would be central to the American Constitution. Despite the vast cultural achievements of the Greek world, the greatest legacy of Ancient Greece was in the intellectual tradition philosophy. Many of the philosophers developed political ideas that would later influence the development of the United States of America, over two thousand years later.

Continue reading “Classical Influence in American Government”

The Radicalization of the French Revolution

By T. 

In 1789, when the Estates-General was called by Louis XVI, only a small fraction of the delegates selected were members of the Jacobin club. However, by 1793 the most radical Jacobins had established a virtual republican dictatorship. How did this political minority experience such a meteoric rise? How did Revolutionary France transform from a constitutional monarchy into a republican dictatorship? The downfall of the revolutionary republic cannot be explained by any one factor. The execution of Louis XVI, war, political factionalism, and revolutionary fervor can all be attributed to the political gains of the Jacobin club. It is telling that within the National Assembly the extreme wing of the Jacobins would become known as the Montagnard, or the Mountain.

The Girondins, Paul DelaRoche (1843). The Girondins were the dominant political faction within the Jacobin club until 1793, when their relative moderation and support for foreign wars led to their increasing unpopularity.

The Flight to Varennes and the Creation of the First French Republic

The end of the constitutional monarchy was critical to the rise of the Jacobins; the monarchy fell largely due to the Varennes flight. On the 20-21st of June 1791 King Louis XVI and his family attempted to flee France to the Austrian Netherlands. With the King’s flight and eventual arrest, debate ensued on whether or not France should remain a constitutional monarchy.

When public papers began printing the king’s declaration explaining his flight (where he denounced many revolutionary decrees) hundreds of political clubs began to be created across France; over 400 houses were affiliated with the Jacobin club. By mid July of that year popular opinion was decisively against the monarch, with only 1 in 6 provinces showing any sympathy towards the King. This is in stark contrast to the previous public opinion immediately after the king’s capture: citizens had been more inclined to believe that the King was ill-advised or kidnapped.

Continue reading “The Radicalization of the French Revolution”

The Saxons (Part 1)- Early History and Geography

By N. 

Most famously known for their invasion of post-Roman Britain, the Saxons are a tribe important to Western history. Their interaction with the Romans in late antiquity characterized them as opportunistic pirates and raiders, yet they would go on to be a founding element of English civilization. Later, the Saxon Wars (772-804) with Charlemagne would be critical to the Christianization of central Europe; these conflicts would also presage the Viking raids that would devastate the Carolingian Empire. Here, I hope to give an account of Saxon history from the earliest times with a focus on their life on the European continent, though some discussion will be spent on their invasions of England.

The Saxons: Early Sources

The Saxons are first mentioned with certainty in history from the writings of Ptolemy (100-170 AD), a Greek Egyptian born under Roman rule in Alexandria. Ptolemy, in his tenth chapter of Geographia (150 AD)¸ writes about the Germanic peoples inhabiting the lands east of the Rhine river (Rhenus), north of the Danube (Danubius), and west of the Vistula. This work was written during the reign of Marcus Aurelius.

Continue reading “The Saxons (Part 1)- Early History and Geography”

Athens and the Greek World, 404-200 BC

 The Acropolis at Athens, Leo von Klenze (1846)
The Acropolis at Athens, Leo von Klenze (1846)

By N. 

Classical Athens is a common subject of study. Rising to prominence among the Greek city states, Athens exerted cultural and economic control throughout the Greek world. Home to many of the most famous figures of Ancient history, the classical city-state produced Pericles, Socrates, Plato and other famous individuals. However, after Athen’s defeat during the Peloponneisan War (431-404 BC), the city’s political history is often overlooked. Although no longer the center of a regional empire, Athens was still was an economic and cultural center of Greece. The following is a brief overview of Athenian political life after 404 and before the entry of Rome into the eastern Mediterranean.

Athens and Greece- from 404 BC to the Macedonian Invasion (356)

The Peloponnesian War resulted in the loss of Athen’s empire, and Sparta became the chief power (hegemon) among the Greek cities. For the next 50 years, Athens would struggle to regain her former political influence, bringing the city-state again into conflict with her arch-rival Sparta. After further conflict with a new Theban hegemony (362), all of Greece became vulnerable to a rising northern power.

Athens and Greece 404-456

Immediately after the war, Athens was forced into becoming a “subject-ally” of Sparta and had its democracy abolished. Sparta was always unhappy with Athenian democracy and sought to replace it with a more familiar form of government. The Spartan-approved Thirty Tyrants ruled Athens as oligarchs, though their reign was short lived- Athens was again a democracy by 403.

Continue reading “Athens and the Greek World, 404-200 BC”