Hannibal, Aikido and Casanova

Bear with me, please. I’m trying, right now, to analyze Hannibal’s phenomenal skill at winning battles. And I’m trying to find parallels in other areas of life.

It occurs to me that Hannibal had some things in common with this Aikido Black Belt:

It further occurs to me that Hannibal had his way with the Romans rather as Casanova had his way with about 120 women.

You use the force of the opponent, rather than your own, to win. That seems to be the trick. This may or may not be obvious when looking at battle diagrams of Hannibal’s great victories, such as this one at Cannae:

I’m desperately looking for other examples or refinements of this idea. Any hints will be gratefully received. If you think I’ve gone bananas, please suggest remedies.

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Kudos to other Hannibal lovers and thinkers

I’ve always noticed that, although Hannibal is ever so slightly less of a household name than, say, Alexander or Caesar (or should that be because, rather than although?), he seems to have the more passionate, sophisticated and thoughtful following.

Read, for instance, 100falcons on the subjects of Hannibal’s most ingenious trick, his famous boyhood vow to his father, and some of the lessons that Hannibal has to teach us.

In my book and this blog, I’ll be offering my own lessons. But today I’ll just quote excerpts from 100falcons’:

1. Take the initiative, keep the initiative. […] His enemy had constantly to try to guess his intention and defend himself against several alternative attacks. The enemy Roman consul was forever on the defensive, waiting, wondering, guessing, bracing himself for the blow. […]

2. Be quick. Surprise. Hannibal decamped by night from Capua and got to Rome before the Romans in Capua ever realized he was gone. He crossed Etruria through a swamp because that was the way everyone assumed he wouldn’t go.

3. Be crafty, lay a trap. [see also: Hannibal’s most ingenious trap] ….

4. Be flexible. Have a plan but be able to alter it or even drop it as circumstances change. […]

5. […] Think two steps ahead, not just one.

6. Understand your enemy; learn his weaknesses. Hannibal always sent out spies to learn the enemy’s plans. He interviewed prisoners and guides to get information. As soon as new Roman consuls were given command, he sent informers to find out who they were. Was the new general a hothead? Had he ever led troops in battle? What was the result? Was he cocky or impatient, did he like to tip the bottle? […]

7. Be daring. Come down with your army across the Alps with elephants and attack Rome on Roman ground, far from your own country and without logistic support except what you can steal.

8. Keep your mouth shut. Hannibal never told anyone what he was doing.

9. Be all of the above except when you are faced with an enemy who is all of the above. In that case, be like Fabius, […]

My comment at this stage is that the above lessons fall into the how-to-win category. Some of my lessons will zoom out to contemplate how you can win and yet–mysteriously–lose. That, of course, is half of the point of my book, which is that success can be one of Kipling’s impostors.

Incidentally, Erikatakacs left a comment underneath 110falcons’ post which he/she then began to answer in another post. In essence: why on earth did Hannibal not take Rome itself? Isn’t that why he went to Italy in the first place? Well, there are good reasons why he did not. But this also presents us with his fascinating paradox. If he was so good at thinking several steps ahead (as in Lesson Nr 5 above), why didn’t he… think that one extra step ahead as well. Let’s remember, that this winner ended up …. losing! Kipling indeed.

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