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Studying Warlords – Hannibal Barca Part 1

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hannibal elephants 2

“I will either find a way, or make one.”

Background

Hannibal Barca is regarded as one of the greatest generals and military strategists in the history of mankind due to the astounding logistical feat of crossing the alps with 45000 men and 70 elephants. He ranked himself as second best in the history of war, placing only Alexander the Great and/or Pyrrhus above him, depending on what sources we get our information from. In either case it says something about his self-esteem.

Hannibal was the eldest son of the great warlord Hamilkar Barca who was responsible for uniting and transforming the Carthaginian Empire into the only  viable threat to the Roman Empire. From an early age Hannibal was instilled with hatred for Rome and is said to have sworn an oath to destroy Rome.

For fifteen years Hannibal and his army roamed around Italy and conquered much of it without any reinforcements from Carthage and remained undefeated by the Romans despite being consistently outnumbered. This was unprecedented in history as the Romans were superior in combat to everyone else.

He had two brothers, Mago and Hasdrubal, who would both come to play commanding roles in Hannibal’s army. Growing up Hannibal and his brothers always remained close to warfare and by the time they became adults they were already veterans in the art of war. Since Hannibal was the oldest son he was groomed to eventually succeed his father and take charge of the Carthaginian army. His father’s teachings of draconian discipline, deterministic philosophy, and the practice of exercising a patient attitude while facing adversity, together combined to form quintessential parts of Hannibal’s character.

Leadership Skills

There have been no recordings in history of mutiny or disobedience in the armies of Hannibal, surely owing to his great competence as a leader and ability to bolster morale. His troops are believed to have worshipped him as a god.

Hannibal is the first known military warlord to lead by example. He would never force any of his men to do anything that he himself was not able or willing to do. He dressed casually, slept among his men, and would talk to them regularly. In other words, he never completely distanced himself to the privacy of his war tent.  He knew the names of all the commanders of his army and personally greeted the men who distinguished themselves in battle through feats of immense bravery. Hannibal rewarded these men richly with privileges and often bestowed them with commanding positions, honorary titles, or nicknames. Caesar and Napoleon, among others, would later study and apply what they had learned from Hannibal.

It is said that when Hannibal’s lieutenant Monomachus proposed that the army resort to cannibalism as a means of instilling fear in the Roman people, Hannibal refused the proposition because he claimed that he could not order the men to do something that he himself was unable to do. To do so would be to damage his integrity.

Patience & Good Disposition

Since his childhood Hannibal had developed a naturally cheerful and steadfast disposition regardless of circumstances. His sense of calm and centeredness was to the point that it allowed him to keep good humour and joke around in the midst of battle. Just before the Battle of Cannae as the armies were lining up, Gisco, one of Hannibals most competent commanders, was showing low morale and hinting towards a slight of panic due to the vast number of soldiers exhibited by the Roman army. Hannibal quickly took note of this and restored Gisco’s gumption by saying:

“Ah there is one thing about them more wonderful than their numbers … in all that vast number there is not one man called Gisgo.”

This appears to have cheered up Gisco, and it is one of the few direct quotes by Hannibal recorded in history.

Frugality, Discipline, and Willpower

Whenever Hannibal would read or write he would do so standing up (I’ve actually implemented the habit myself and warmly recommend it). He walked around with weights sown into his sandals to train his feet whenever he wasn’t in combat.  He would consciously hold his breath for as long as he could while marching or doing chores to increase his cardio.

The frugality of Hannibal is thoroughly documented in history. He would rarely if ever drink wine, he never ate to the point of becoming full, and did not engage in the festivities following a victory for longer than he had to. He was faithful to his wife even though he could choose freely among literally thousands of women. He rose before the sunrise every morning to meditate and exercise.

       Philosophical & Religious Beliefs

The name Hannibal literally means ‘Grace of Baal’, with Baal being the main god of the Carthaginians.

Hannibal seems to have been driven to do his utmost in everything he endeavoured for non-egoic reasons. He appears to have been a very autotelic person. Being a Carthaginian, it is fair to assume that he had a very deterministic view of the world and believed everything happened according to the will of the gods. All a man can do is to brace himself in acceptance to that which happens.

Just as the rain pours down without asking for permission, Hannibal did not believe that he needed to ask for permissions to do whatever was within his power. Everything in the world, including humans, are created by the gods and nature. Humans are thus fit to do as they please, but in the end the gods have the final say. Hannibal believed he had the power to control his actions, but not the consequences of his actions.

Furthermore he believed that the gods favor men of sound character and those who are ‘doers’ and take action, whereas the gods show visible contempt for those who spend their lives passively and become paralyzed with inaction, regardless of what circumstances apply. Hannibal did his best not to dwell in self-pity and victimization as he believed that it robbed him from the present moment and might cause him to become passive and reactive to external events.  He never complained, not even when he slowly lost one of his eyes due to a severe infection of pinkeye while being forced to drain it from pus on a daily basis for months. That must have hurt.

If he had been a vain man he would surely have prided himself on being superior to pain, torture, fear of death, and his exceptional ability of remaining clear-headed and composed amidst chaotic circumstances. This probably stemmed from his religious beliefs, which resembled that of stoic philosophy.

He did not believe much in prayer and religious ceremonies, at least not more than his contemporaries. He did however believe that the way to honor the gods was through action. By conquering and subjugating the Roman Empire he would please Baal, not by remaining passive and chanting songs.

Tome

Lessons & Insights

What can we learn from the life of Hannibal Barca?

  • Lead by example!
  • Be patient!
  • Don’t allow yourself to be paralyzed to the point of inaction – remember: the gods favor action above all else!
  • Remain unaffected by external events and circumstances outside of your power to control.
  • Take whatever measures necessary to do that which lie within your power to control.
  • Train your willpower and discipline daily.
  • Don’t complain the gods hate people who nag!
  • Exercise moderation and frugality in life.

Click here to read part 2.

Sources:


Hannibal Crosses the Alps: The Invasion of Italy & the Second Punic War, John Prevas.

Hannibal: Pride of Carthage, David Anthony Durham.

Wikipedia

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Comments

  1. Good post, though post 2 was slightly better (i comment on both now after reading)

  2. IMMENSE! Every single thing about this man rings something in my soul. I try my best to live like this. Every time I go out to lead my team on the rig, I egt dirtier than they do (despite the fact i live in a country where a white european is not expected to do any form of labour). Every time the guys go out and party with hookers, I tell them i cant do that because i love my wife and i believe in karma. They laughed at me to begin, but now they respect me and I’ve even had the honour of overhearing one guy say “this guy is Western, but don’t judge him, he’s not like the others”. Discipline is literally the key to everything, and every great man posesses it. I hope some day I have sons, and this is the first thing i will be teaching them from day 1! Great post and I am going to amazon to look for some books on this man. Any recommendations?

    • Hey G-Freedom. That’s great to hear. Hannibal is definitely one whose example is worth following ;)

      Can’t really recommend any ONE great book about him.

      I’ve only read two books on Hannibal thus far, but they were both decent.

      1. “Hannibal Crosses the Alps”.

      2.”Pride of Carthage” which isn’t 100 % historically accurate. It’s more of a novel.

      If you don’t mind reading on your computer I can send you the first book as a pdf, if you’d like.

      I’ve also read a fair amount about him on the Internet.

  3. IMMENSE! Every single thing about this man rings something in my soul. I try my best to live like this. Every time I go out to lead my team on the rig, I get dirtier than they do (despite the fact i live in a country where a white european is not expected to do any form of labour). Every time the guys go out and party with hookers, I tell them i cant do that because i love my wife and i believe in karma. They laughed at me to begin, but now they respect me and I’ve even had the honour of overhearing one guy say “this guy is Western, but don’t judge him, he’s not like the others”. Discipline is literally the key to everything, and every great man posesses it. I hope some day I have sons, and this is the first thing i will be teaching them from day 1! Great post and I am going to amazon to look for some books on this man. Any recommendations?

  4. Have you ever read Ghosts of Cannae, written by Robert L. O’Connel? One of the best history books I’ve ever read.

  5. Francis Gwanmesia says:

    Inspiring but most of what this guy writes cannot be proven…where did he get these quotes from? We only know about him by the Romans and while he was a leader by example for sure…he was also a very rich and cruel man ( punic perdify) and many followed him on the promise for money….we can’t be sure of who he really was…he did a lot of cruel things and ultimately brought Carthage to ruin….to.me he was not a hero and not a good strategist..he hated Rome so much he didn’t devise a good plan…

Trackbacks

  1. […] been around for a fraction of hundredth of a percent of the time that humans have walked the earth. Hannibal Barca did not need one. Napoleon did not need one. Einstein did not. Leonardo did […]

  2. […] If Hannibal had conquered Rome. If Napoleon hadn’t been forced into war with Russia. If Hitler had won WW2. . . and so on. […]

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