The July 7, 2022 issue of The Wall Street Journal “headlined” “Russian Forces Urge Advance in Eastern Ukraine.”
Below the attached photo, the caption reads: “DESTRUCTION: A man surveys the damage caused by a suspected Russian missile attack on the central market in Sloviansk, a city in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region.”
In addition, there is the following consequence: “A tactical change by Russia prepares the conditions for a protracted war of attrition.”
Submitted to Getty Images by Miguel Medina of Agence France-Presse, the photo shows the devastation that has become a hallmark of Putin’s invasion and highlights the loss of life, land and freedom in Ukraine’s war-torn eastern flank.
Citizens of the world cannot help but feel devastated as, since February 24th, we witness the piecemeal attacks on a free people whose country stretches across Russian-occupied lands and the territories of NATO member states.
Indeed, for students of ancient history there are many unfortunate parallels, with the invasion of Italy by the Carthaginian military leader Hannibal being offered as a prominent example.
Born 247 BC BC/BC In the coastal region of North Africa, Hannibal was trained from childhood to detest the growing influence of Roman military and naval forces in the western Mediterranean and Spain.
This hostility was particularly heightened by the loss of Sicily and Corsica to the Romans in the First Punic War, also known as the First Carthaginian War (264–241 BC/BC).
This was the first of three wars between the Roman Republic and the Carthaginian or Punic Empire (from Latin “Poenicus”) that ultimately resulted in the destruction of Carthage, an important historical Phoenician settlement in North Africa.
Hannibal, son of the great warrior Hamilcar Barca, commanded the Carthaginian forces in the Second Punic War (218–201 BC 183–181 BC/BC, in Libyssa, Bithynia (near Gebze in Turkey) .
According to the research of William Culican, an editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “In 219 AD, Hannibal attacked Saguntum, an independent Iberian city south of the Ebro, to consolidate Punic rule over Spain.
“In the treaty between Rome and Carthage after the First Punic War (264-241), the Ebro had been established as the northern limit of Carthaginian influence on the Iberian Peninsula.
“Saguntum was south of the Ebro, but the Romans had “amicitia” (friendship) with the city and regarded the Carthaginian attack on it as an act of war.
“The siege of Saguntum lasted eight months, and in the process Hannibal was wounded.
“Although the Romans did not send an army to help the inhabitants of Saguntum, they sent envoys to protest at Carthage and demanded the surrender of Hannibal after its fall.
“Thus, with his refusal, the Second Punic War began, which was declared by Rome and waged almost exclusively by Hannibal on the Carthaginian side.”
“Hannibal is believed to have started from Cartagena, Spain, with an army of about 90,000 men, including an estimated 12,000 cavalry, but that he left at least 20,000 soldiers in Spain to protect his supply lines.
“In the Pyrenees, his army, which included at least 37 elephants, met fierce resistance from the Pyrenean tribes. This resistance, and the likely desertion of some of his Spanish troops, reduced his numbers by the time he reached the Rhône, but he met little resistance from the tribes of southern Gaul.
“Meanwhile, the Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio transported his army, which had been pinned down by an insurrection in northern Italy, by sea to the region of Massilia (Marseille), a city allied with Rome.
“Thus, Hannibal’s access to the coastal road into Italy was blocked not only by the Massilians, but also by at least one Roman army with another assembly in Italy.
“As Scipio marched north on the right bank of the Rhône, he learned that Hannibal had already crossed the river and was marching north on the left bank.
“Realizing that Hannibal probably intended to cross the Alps, Scipio returned to northern Italy to await him.”
It is known from various ancient sources and modern analysis that Hannibal survived the passage through the Alps with great difficulty and reduced strength, hampering his later efforts to successfully invade and take over the Italian peninsula.
Hannibal’s troops, under a besieged command and miserably cut off from supply lines, scoured the Italian countryside to stock up on supplies and maintain their gradual approach to the walls of Rome.
However, Hannibal did not march on Rome, but spent the winter of 216–215 in Capua, which declared its loyalty to Hannibal, possibly hoping to be made equal with Rome.
Gradually, the Carthaginian fighting power weakened. The strategy proposed by Quintus Fabius, later “Cunctator”, the Delayer, especially after the Roman losses at the Battle of Lake Trasimene, was put back into use.
The Roman leaders decided to defend the cities loyal to Rome and try to win back the cities that fell to Hannibal wherever possible.
Crucial to Fabius’ successful strategy was never to go directly into battle when the enemy offered to, but to keep the Carthaginians on the alert through a vigilant and dogged pursuit.
In this way, Hannibal was hampered in distributing his forces among the Romans due to his gradually deteriorating numbers, and he was unable to deploy a concentrated force in a decisive battle.
His initial expectation of an unbeatable offensive degraded in Italy to a cautious and not always successful defensive, which was only sporadically supported by the home government in Carthage.
Also, due to Roman naval supremacy and impracticable land-based supply lines, Hannibal was forced to procure local supplies for a protracted war of attrition.
This is what we’ve seen in Ukraine since February 24: Putin’s border violation, full-force invasion, attempts to control waterways, rivers and bridges, dysfunctional supply lines and failure to take over one city after another.
Strikingly, we see an inability to seize Zelenskyy and Ukraine’s Prime Minister in Kyiv, a patchy retreat, and now attacks on civilian targets to undermine the will of the people.
What we are also seeing, however, is the militarization of Zaporizhzhia, the nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine that was seized by a Russian force of 500 soldiers in March and is now laced with anti-personnel mines along the banks of the reservoir vital to water supplies cool the six reactors.
To defeat Hannibal, Publius Cornelius Scipio shifted his focus to North Africa and set up an attack on Carthaginian lands to retrieve Hannibal to defend his homeland.
In advance, Scipio managed to prepare his soldiers for battle so efficiently that he defeated Hannibal and his weary troops, along with the inexperienced reserves raised, in 202 BC. / B.C. defeated at Zama and shifted the balance of power back to Rome.
Most importantly, Scipio achieved this victory and acquired the title “Africanus” with the invaluable Allied help of the Numidians led by Masinissa. There is a lesson to be learned here. What does ancient history say about President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy?
Main Line Media News columnist Mary Brown is an Associate Professor of Latin at Saint Joseph’s University.