Around 300 BC there was this general from a tiny country who made Rome tremble in her boot.
All the way from his country, situated in another continent altogether, he brought his army and laid siege to Rome. Rome, of the crucifixion, of the incestuous rulers, of the plots and assassinations, of the daily taxes, of the most severe army in the world, won. She struggled, she lost some, but at the end of the day the general was left to oblivion, and with the power she was given she crucified Christ.
Hannibal, this general of mine, is one of the most famous people in history. The remarkable thing in that is everything we know of him was told by his enemies, and what we know is that he was the most brilliant military strategist.
He suffered hero worship throughout history, until in modern days thinkers and poets rebelled. Why do we only mention him? Wasn’t there a whole army with him? He didn’t fight by himself, so why don’t we honor the little people as well? It is a mark of our times, our contemplation of the imprint an individual is able to leave. And these three, contemplation, imprint and individual co-exist after the French Revolution, and not before.
Whether the foot soldier is the unsung hero or leadership the open secret, none of these matter. Why did Hannibal lose? Wouldn’t the world have been a better place if such an brave soldier, creative planner, resilient commander and engaging leader were the one to rule? Instead of, say, Nero? What matters is: why did he lose?
Rome, for all that she became the Empire, did not squash him like a bug. At the time Hannibal came she was barely controlling her own continent. Defeat was not that preposterous. She had to fight, and retrench, and summon troops, and hire mercenaries, and squeeze her allies, and substitute her generals, and lose, and learn.
And Rome did not invent incest or crucifixion or assassination. Rome was a city of its time. And so was Carthage; so was Hannibal.
I – coming two thousand years later – am not going to moralize over this; it’s not the victory of evil over good nor unavoidable entropy. But I am going to try to conclude this piece with this. There is something to be said about decisions.