The Ghosts of Cannae is the story of the Second Punic War. The war between Carthage and Rome really begins when Carthiginian General Hannibal Barca makes his famous trek from Spain over the Alps and into the Italian peninsula where he would wage war against Rome for 15 years.
O’Connell provides a great story by informing the reader of the historical context of the era. The competition between Carthage and Rome for control of the Mediterranean and Hannibals promise to his father to continue to wage war on Rome.
The reader becomes familiar with Hannibal through his wily tactics and ability to outsmart his Roman foes. A clear picture is also painted of the working man, those who served both for Hannibal and Rome.
The apex of the book is the battle of Cannae. This slaughter of tens of thousands of Roman legionaires leaves the survivors in an undesirable position. They are practically exiled to the island of Sicily where they remain for years as the Empire wants nothing to do with them.
Their redemption comes in the form of Scipio Africanus. Son of Publius Cornelius Scipio, himself a Roman Praetor who was killed in battle against Scipio along with his brother(and Africanus’ uncle).
Of course at the time that Scipio revives the ‘Ghosts of Cannae’, he has not yet earned the name ‘Africanus’. That name is to be bestowed upon him for his successes in Africa against Carthage, namely the battle of Zama. Which he will rightly do after succeeding in Carthaginian Spain and then freeing Italy of Hannibal who is finally forced to evacuate the peninsula.
The ‘Ghosts of Cannae’ provides a terrific and quick history of both the Romans and Carthagians as well as life in general in the Mediteranean basin at that time. It also details quite well the history of the battles and events of the Second Punic War.
Though listed at 336 pages, the book really only reads for about 260 pages because the bibliography is that extensive. But when you’re writing about a 2,000 year old war there tends to be a lot of sources.
The book reads well and provides many interesting notes about the events and those involved. Such as how the Roman survivors of Cannae, after being essentially abandoned on Sicily are taken to Africa by Scipio and find themselves as the veterans in Scipios army who line up against the veterans of Hannibals army from Cannae and find themselves fighting the same men they fought against 14 years earlier.