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Hannibal Winters his army in Southern-Italian city Capua – Implications for the Obese American Military confronting Iran

Hannibal Winters his army in Southern-Italian city Capua – Implications for the Obese American Military confronting Iran

Tom Verso (July 27, 2012)
Roman Soldier and Obese American Soldier

History is about IDEAS. Living Ideas! – Ideas that can be generalized from past events and applied to present-day decisions. Decisions are mental states (ideas) that exist prior to physical actions. Rational decisions are ‘ideas’ based on ‘experience’. History is the sum of a society’s experiences with implications for current rational decisions. For example, Hannibal’s ‘experience’ after wintering his troops in the southern-Italian city Capua (216 B.C.), and the possible implication that ‘experience’ may have for ‘decisions’ about American military policy vis a vis Iran today



Introduction‘Bottom-of-the-ninth inning’

In August 216 B.C., on the southern-Italian Apulian plains at Cannae, Hannibal’s army administered the third successive crushing defeat to the Roman Legions.  He had not simply defeated the Legions; he literally destroyed the Roman army. While the reported numbers killed vary in the tens of thousand (e.g. 50-70), what is certain; at the end of the Battle of Cannae, Rome essential had no armed forces to resist Hannibal. Rome had no other Legions to place between Hannibal’s army and the city of Rome.  The city was in a panic!
Maharbal, Hannibal’s cavalry commander is said to have urged Hannibal to immediately march on Rome: “Let me advance instantly with the horse, and do thou follow to support me; in four days from this time thou shall sup in the capitol”
Hannibal refused Maharbal’s advice, and historians and generals such as Napoleon have been speculating ever since about why he did not immediately march on Rome; often agreeing with Maharbal who went on to say: “You know, Hannibal, how to win a fight; you do not know how to use your victory.”
However, Hannibal, considered one the greatest military geniuses in history, seemed to understand what Maharbal and historians since did not:
The might of Rome was not measured in numbers of legions, but in the character of the southern-Italian people. 
For example, after offering Rome the opportunity to ransom prisoners and enter into peace treaty discussions, the Romans instantly and categorically refused to even talk.  In short, they said:
Forget-About-It! If you thought climbing the Alps was difficult see what awaits you when scaling the walls of Rome...Bring It On!”
Again, the Roman character was demonstrated when Hannibal thought he would amuse his troops with gladiator competition. He pitted Roman prisons one against the other with promises of winner’s freedom.  Not a single Roman sword was drawn.  They would all live or they would all die but they would not turn on one another – again, end of conversation!
In short, Hannibal’s genius is captured in his grasp of the ‘bottom-of-the-ninth inning’ baseball adage: “It ain’t over till it’s over and it ain’t over yet.”  Even without Legions, Rome had a lot of fight left in her.
Accordingly, he withdrew from the field of battle and wintered his troops in the southern Italian city of Capua; thus giving rise to an even greater puzzle of Hannibal history...The mystery of what happened in Capua?
When his army emerged from Capua in the Spring of 215 B.C. it was still formidable, but no longer the invincible killing machine it had consumed Roman Legions in Trebbia, Trasimene and Cannae.  Hannibal fought the reconstituted Roman army throughout southern Italy.  He won some battles and lost some.  But the tide had turned against him and eventually he escaped Italy back to Carthage; pursued relentless by Scipio Africanus who avenged his father's defeat at Trebbia and the massacre at Cannae destroying Hannibal's army at the Battle of Zama causing Carthage to sue for peace on very favorable terms to Rome.
In idiomatic folk double entendre: Hannibal could mess with Rome for just but ‘so-long’, and then it was ‘so-long’ Hannibal.
So what happened to Hannibal’s army during that winter respite in Capua, and are there any implications for armies today; especially the American forces posed to attack Iran even as we ‘speak’?
Hannibal Crosses the Alps – October 218 B.C. – What manner of men are these?
We tend to speak about Hannibal’s Alps crossing in broad generic terms such as: “how difficult it must have been” and “it was an extraordinary challenge”, “unequaled”, etc.  However, I cannot believe any contemporary reader of the crossing’s details, doesn’t from time to time put down the book and wonder, indeed marvel, at such a human endeavor; the shear physical (anatomical/physiological) and mental exertion, and the magnitude of the pain that must have been endured by the individual ‘grunt’ soldiers.
Consider the follow from Life of Hannibal by Thomas Arnold 1879 and Rome and Carthage: the Punic Wars by R. Bosworth Smith 1881:
“Hannibal was on the summit of the Alps about the end of October; the first winter snows had already fallen; but two hundred years before the Christian era the Alps was far colder than at present, and the snow lay on the passes all through the year.  Thus the soldiers were in dreary quarters; they remained two days on the summit, resting from their fatigues...still before them they knew too well, even their decent might be perilous and painful. (Arnold p. 67)
“...the snows were gathering on the peaks and the troops who had been drawn from burning Africa or from sunny Spain shivered in the mountain air...Rest only gave them time to recollect the difficulties which they had so hardly passed, and to picture the perils which were still to come.” (Smith p. 117)
“The army had to cross what seems to have been, in the greater cold which was then prevalent through out Europe, a glacier or an ice slope covered with a thin coating of newly fallen snow.
“At last, the head of the column reached a projecting crag round which neither man nor beast could creep. An avalanche or a landslip had carried away some three hundred yards of the track...It was three whole days before the roadway was sufficiently wide and strong for them to pass.  (Smith p.118)
These type of descriptions go on and on in the two books cited and virtual all other books about Hannibal’s Alps crossing.
What relief those soldiers must of felt when they came off the summit into the Aosta Valley, which would take them into Italy. It’s hard to imagine what they thought as they looked back at the summit they just crossed. (picture of Alps from Aosta valley below)

For this writer, having spent one January week in an Army bivouac on a hill at Fort Dix, New Jersey, the physical rigor that those soldiers had to endure is to my mind amazing. But, the magnitude of these men was further demonstrated upon their exit from the Alps on to the plains of Italy.  For they were “about to enter a war which stands forth without a parallel in ancient history”, and, that war began within days of the Alpine descent. 
“The cold and hunger, and exposure and fatigue, of fifteen days of mountaineering had done their work on them. ‘They had been reduced to the conditions of beast...they looked not like men but phantoms or their shadows’ said the Roman general who was about to meet them in the field, and as he thought, like shadows to sweep them away.” (Smith p.120)
Was ever a general so wrong?  These “shadows” were about to engage in a scale of combat that would literal destroy the Roman Army.  That they could walk is amazing.  That they could fight so effectively is mind-boggling    
From Torino to Cannae – Hannibal’s Army consumed Roman Legions
Torino – October 218 B.C.
No sooner did Hannibal emerge from the Alps at what is thought to be present day Ivrea, he turn westerly and marched his army to present day Torino (see Google map below) where he engaged “the Taurinians, a Ligurian people who refused to ally themselves with Hannibal”.  Thus, judged to be allied with Rome and therefore a threat; “He attached and stormed their principal town,” (Arnold, p. 72-73)

Battle of Ticinus (Ticino) – November 218 B.C.
After ‘dealing with’ the Taurinians, again without resting his troops, he marched East along the Po River Valley looking for the Romans, whom his scouts report to be in the area.  Note: he took no evasive action to avoid the Romans.  He came to fight and so he got on with it as soon as possible.
His first encounter was with a relatively small Roman advance unit on the confluence of Ticinus and Po Rivers just south of present day Pavia. (See Google map below)  

Truly one of the great ironies in history: the Roman Legion at Ticinus was lead by Publius Scipio who was wounded and saved by his son Scipio who would come to be called Africanus! Hannibal’s first significant battle of the Second Punic War at Ticinus and his last battle at Zuma were against Scipio Africanus. And Scipio was involved with all battles in between – he just barely escaped the massacre at Cannae.
Trebbia - November 218 B.C. the first Great Battle of the Second Punic War
After the ‘encounter’ at Ticinus, Hannibal pursued Scipio’s troops to the confluence of the Trebbia and the Po Rivers near present day Piacenza (see Google Map below)

In late December on the Winter Solstice, Hannibal engaged the Romans and defeated no less than TWO Roman Armies!
For purposes of this article, be reminded:
The Carthaginian soldiers, without any respite from their October Alpine ordeal, have marched hundreds of miles, fought and won three battles.  Still Hannibal pursued the Romans.
From Piacenza he marched across the snow covered Apennines Mountains on down to the Plains of the Arno River between present day Lucca and Florence (see Google map below).

(Note: for purposes of simplicity, maps show straight lines from place to place to give a sense of space and terrain.  In reality the lines of march were much different.  For example, Hannibal crossed the Apennines Mountains north of Genoa and marched more or less down the coast before turning inland in the direction of present day Florence.)
In the Lucca area, Hannibal encountered the treacherous Arnus Marshes where conditions were such that Hannibal’s men may well have wished they were back in the Alps. Indeed, Hannibal lost sight in one eye as a result of an infection incurred in the marshlands. Spring rains and mountain snow melts cause the Arno to overflow its banks creating a morass of water and mud. 
“For four days and three nights the army went toiling on through the water or the mud, unable to find a dry spot on which they could either sit down or sleep.”(Carthage and the Carthaginians 1881, R. Bosworth Smith p. 128).
Battle of Lake Trasimene (Trasimeno) – April 217 B.C.
From the Arno River Valley Hannibal marched his army to the northern edge of Lake Trasimene (Trasimeno) on the road leading from Cortona to Perugia (see Google Map below).

On June 21, 217 B.C., Hannibal ambushed the Roman consul Flaminius and his army of about 25,000 men between the hills at Cortona and Lake Trasimene. The Romans, including the consul, were annihilated. Smith summed it up succinctly:
“It was carnage, and a carnage only...For three hours the slaughter had gone on, and 15,000 Roman corpses covered the ground, or were floating on the waters...The Roman army was annihilated.” (Ibid p.135)
“Resting” in Marche – Winter 216 B.C.
After the battle of Lake Trasimene, Hannibal lead his troops south easterly across the Apennines, for the second time, to the Adriatic Sea in present day Marche (Picenum) (see Google Map below)

Here, these amazing soldiers “rested”.  If one considers resting, living in a tent-city on the wintry Marchian seacoast.  But, compared to climbing mountains, fording rivers, marching for days and nights through swamps, fighting battles of historic magnitude and generally walking from Spain to Marche; no doubt these amazing men thought their humble tents and camp fires cozy – indeed!
Smith summed up their accomplishments:
“From New Carthage in Spain to the Adriatic, what a catalogue of dangers met and overcome, and what rowing victories!  Crossing rivers: the Ebro, the Rhone, and the Po; climbing mountains: the Pyrenees, the Alps, and the Apennines; victorious battles: Ticinus, Trebia, and Trasimene!” (Ibid p.138)
And, their greatest battle and victory awaited them in the spring at Cannae. (See Google map below)
Cannae – August 2, 216 B.C. – Oh my! Such a day!

As noted in the introduction above, the magnitude of the slaughter of Roman soldiers at Cannae is hard to fathom.  But, more generally, it has been said that never before nor since has a state survived after suffering such crushing defeats in close succession as those of Rome at the Trebia, Lake Trasimene, and Cannae. But, survive it did!
Also, as noted above, in part the survival of Rome was the result of Hannibal’s decision to winter his troops in the city of Capua just north of Naples, rather than immediately march on Rome itself (see Google Map below).
When his army took to the field again in the Spring of 215 B.C. it was a whole different ballgame!
The mystery of Capua
It is hard to imagine what the Carthaginian soldiers must have felt entering Capua.  In the Spring of 218 B.C. they crossed the Ebro River in Spain and marched to Southern Italy fighting Nature and Roman Legions every step of the way.  Down to the Fall of 216 B.C., luxury to them was a wintry tent, a campfire and a gruelish meal. Now they were to live in fine city houses, eat and drink excellent food and wine, and enjoy the pleasures of women – in short, the life of leisure.
When those soldiers returned to the field of battle in the Spring of 215 B.C., Las Vegas odds markers were betting the ranch on Hannibal completing his conquest of Rome.  However, that did not come to pass. The awesome Carthaginian fighting machine had lost its edge. Still an efficient force that would fight in southern Italy for the next thirteen years until they finally departed in 203 B.C.; nevertheless, Hannibal’s army would never again see the likes of victories at Trebbia, Trasimene and Cannae.
Luxury Hypothesis
Historians, beginning with the ancient Roman Livy, who posited what may be called the ‘luxury hypothesis’, have been speculating ever since about what caused the change in the effectiveness of Hannibal’s army. Livy suggested that the luxurious life in Capua caused a diminishment of the Carthaginians fighting capacity. Smith writes:
“It has been remarked by many writers, modern as well as ancient, that Capua proved a Cannae to Hannibal.  Given over to Luxury and to Greek vices, it was certainly not the place best suited for the winter retirement of an overstrained army; and, doubtless, the troops, who had ere now wintered among the snow of the Apennines or in the open plains of Apulia, must have luxuriated in the easeful quarters...” (Carthage and the Carthaginians 1878, R. Bosworth Smith p. 279)
However, most contemporary historians, such as Smith, reject Livy’s ‘luxury hypothesis’.  Rather, they point out that after the disasters of the previous two years, Rome learned from its defeats and developed tactics and techniques to counter Hannibal’s.
For example, the great classically scholar and world historian Arnold J. Toynbee writes:
“In the hard school of their repeated defeats in the Hannibalic War the Romans had taught themselves an improvement in infantry technique which transformed the Roman Army from the least to the most efficient fighting force in the Hellenic World of the day...” (A Study of History vol. IV, p 436)
However, Toynbee does not completely reject Livy’s luxury hypothesis’.  He sees evidence in the historic record indicating some truth in Livy’s explanation of the post-Cannae Carthage army.
While most historians refer to Livy’s comments about the consequences of the luxurious life the Carthagians experience in Capua; they do so out of context.  Consider the full quote:
“Those heroes who had resisted the utmost assaults of adversity were undone by an excess of prosperity and enjoyment...They became enervated by rounds of sleeping, drinking, eating, whoring, bathing and taking their ease...It was the opinion of military experts that, in allowing them to come to this pass...their commander committed an error at Capua that deprived him of the strength to win the war.” (Livy quoted by Toynbee Study vol. II, p.19 – emp. +)
What too many historians ignore is that the luxury hypothesis was not Livy’s; it was the "opinion of [Roman] military experts".  Livy like any good historian is citing his sources.  Those who reject the hypothesis are in fact engaging [Roman] military experts - not Livy.
While many historians discuss the changes in Roman military tactics and techniques, Toynbee is unique in that he also describes the very stoic life that Roman military commanders imposed on their troops subsequent to Capua.  For example, he writes:
“Hannibal’s fatal error was never committed by the Roman Government to the end of its days...she did not make the mistake of stationing the army in Capua or even any of those delectable places along the Riviera...
She took care that the soldiers of the Empire should be tempered by an environment which was not less severe than that which had produced the redoubtable soldiers of the Republic. The legionaries were stationed along the Rhine and the Danube among the Transalpine forest and rains and frosts, to be exercised by this new challenge from Physical Nature...
Augustus clearly divined that incompatibility between military efficiency and an easy environment...(Study vol. II, p.20 emp.+)
Gibbon is also cogent on this point:
“The camp of a Roman legion presented the appearance of a fortified city...The important labor was performed by the hands of the legionaries themselves; to whom the use of the spade and the pickaxe was no less familiar than that of the sword or pilum...Besides their arms, which the legendaries scarcely considered an encumbrance, they were laden with their kitchen furniture, the instruments of fortification and the provision of many days.” (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire vol. I Chapt.1)
In short, complex social phenomena are never the result of a single variableWhen seeking social causes one must look for multiple variables.  In this case, the Romans no doubt learned from their encounter with Hannibal and changed tactics; and also they learned the positive affects of the hard life as preparation for combatants.
Iran and the American Military
Iran – A ‘hard country’
This idea about the deleterious affects of a ‘soft-life’ on armies was discussed by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus centuries before Hannibal, regarding ancient Persian (i.e. today’s Iran)
Herodotus relates the story about the Persian [Iranian] emperor Cyrus who, in Toynbee’s words: “performed a feat beyond the genius of Hannibal.” Subsequent to creating a vast empire, a Persian [Iranian] nobleman suggested to Cyrus...
“Sire why should we not emigrate from the confined and rocky territory which we at present posses, and occupy a better place? There are many of which we have only to take our choice...
“Cyrus, [responded]: ‘Soft countries invariably breed soft men, and it is impossible for one and the same country to produce splendid crops and good soldiers.” (Study vol. II, p. 21 emp.+)
Toynbee, writing in 1932, went on to say:
“It’s an historical fact that the rough country of Persia –the modern Iran – continued, unlike Latium, to be a breeding ground for soldiers [long after the empire]...The stony fields and bleak pastures...did not cease to breed warriors...
“Herodotus might have capped his story with a prophecy that the rough country which had bred soldiers for Cyrus would continue to bear these formidable crops so long as the Persian peasant remained on his homestead to sow the dragon’s-tooth seed.” (Study vol. II,  p. 21 n.2 emp.+)
America – A ‘soft’ country
Today, the American military is poised for a military attack on Iran with its formidable armada in the Persian Gulf and bases in surrounding countries.  However, there is a large body of documentation on the Internet describing and discussing the problem of obesity holds for the military, both in terms to the quality of recruits and active duty personnel.
For example,
“In 2002, 12,331 soldiers, or 2.2 percent of the Army's active duty force, were diagnosed as overweight. Last year, that number grew to 40,440 soldiers, or 6.5 percent of the force, according to the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center.
All five military branches saw similar increases over the past eight years, led by the Air Force, with 7.2 percent of its ranks considered overweight or obese. Since 1992, more than 24,000 soldiers have been discharged for failing to control their weight.
At Fort Hood, nearly 1,000 soldiers have entered the post's Army Move weight management class since December, officials say.
The problem of military obesity has potentially severe ramifications for both individuals and the armed forces in general, experts say. A 2007 study in the American Journal of Health Promotion found that excess weight in the military, which is blamed for rising numbers of back and joint injuries, caused a loss of $105.6 million annually in missed work days and lower productivity. And a group of retired generals says the obesity epidemic in the civilian world is a national security threat, with more than 20 million Americans of military age too heavy too enlist.
“Data from the worldwide, representative 2002 and 2005 Department of Defense (DoD) Surveys of Health-Related Behaviors Among Active Duty Military Personnel were used to assess the prevalence of overweight and obesity ...The final response bases included 12,756 (2002) and 16,146 (2005) personnel. Results indicated that the prevalence of overweight and obesity in military personnel increased to an all-time high in 2005 (60.5%) with higher prevalence of obesity in 2005 compared to 2002 (12.9% vs. 8.7, respectively, P ≤ 0.01).
Iran on the other hand, since the Islamic revolution in 1979 has suffered relentless military and economic pressure.  No sooner had the new revolutionary government been installed, Iraq attacked; and Iran fought the far better equipped and finance Iraqi army for nine years to a standstill.  Subsequently, Iran has suffered terrorist attacks (e.g. killing of scientist) and relentless economic warfare (e.g. sanctions and embargos)
Has the over thirty years of strife made Iran weaker?
Consider a recent Cyrus-esque statement by one of Iran's leading clerics Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei:
“These days Westerners have been creating hype about the sanctions against Iran but they do not understand that they themselves have vaccinated the Iranian nation against any sanctions with the bans imposed in the past 30 years...over the past three decades Iranians have stood up to all conspiracies and sanctions by sacrificing their lives, property, and loved ones.
As a result [of these sacrifices] we are now 100 times stronger than we were about 30 years ago.”
Also, Rear Admiral Sayyari pointed out that Iran's Navy possesses all the required capabilities... aimed at safeguarding regional security.
Relying on efficient human resources, the Iranian Navy has enhanced the deterrence power and security of the region, he noted.
If Livy and Toynbee’s Luxury Hypothesis (i.e. hard conditions create strong armies and vice versa) then American military planners should give pause before entering into a war with Iran.  While they no doubt have overwhelming material power, sooner or latter they will have to put boots on the very hard ground of the Iranian plateau, which has been sowed with the dragon’s-tooth seed, breeding hard soldiers for millennia.
In short:
“Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it”Edmond Burke.     

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