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Hannibal: The Military Genius Who Almost Conquered Rome

Hannibal versus Rome: Watch the rise and fall of one of history’s greatest military commanders.
Hannibal: The Military Genius Who Almost Conquered Rome is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 16.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved the Lectures: Hated the Setting I've been hoping for something like this course since high school Latin class, when the Carthaginian Threat to the domestic tranquility of Rome was handled with great brevity, but little insight. I love the three-dimensional portrait Prof. MacDonald has given us of this daring and innovative general, and especially the way the battles are presented. Moreover, she does a wonderful job of bringing to life the whole Carthaginian era, and whets the viewer's appetite for more. Perhaps her next Great Course could bring us a history of the Phoenician people. Preferably with a decent stage setting. While I am happy to award Prof. MacDonald five stars, I wish there were some way to indicate a negative score for the stage setting. It's miserably cold and off-putting, and distracts from the lectures -- especially that nasty faux bookcase stuffed with the guts of coverless volumes. Come on, guys, what barbarian treats even fake books like that? Prof. Bob Brier had a wonderful set for his lectures on ancient Egypt, and the same set was also used by Prof. Kenneth Harl for some of his ancient history courses. It gave the impression of being in a small but comfortable classroom, complete with a window and a bookcase, and the lecturer had a lectern instead of a teleprompter. Why not dust it off and keep using it?
Date published: 2023-05-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fills a notable course gap admirably I've been fascinated with classical history for a couple of decades now. As it happens I was a young computer science student in college in the early aughts, competent but miserable in my chosen field. Then I heard Robert Solomon's lectures on Existentialism and within days had changed my major to recent continental european philosophy. Astonished that an academic course had had such an impact on me, I got my grubby little hands on a second (then Teaching Company) course: Famous Romans, by J. Rufus Fears (R.I.P. to an OG). It was utterly enthralling and I quickly signed up for a minor in the classics. If you've heard that timeless course, you may remember that Fears begins with a narrative scene featuring Publius Cornelius Scipio solemnly intimating the responsibility of Roman imperium before the open doors of the temple of Mars Ultor. It was from this scene--the Punic Wars from the very nascence of my interest--that everything else in my life has followed to some degree. While Fears' course is fantastic, it was, well, decidedly focused on the Roman perspective. Yes, he gave a rousing lecture on Hannibal, but one lecture out of 24 and only really on Hannibal inasmuch as he shaped Roman policy and strategy. I find this has been the common angle in academic study of the Punic Wars for some time now, or at least was when I was in school, so finally now here in 2023 we the plebes are given a course featuring the Carthaginians as a fully realized people of sophistication and culture, who exist with their own agency and are not simply foils for the traditional titans of Roman imperium and persuasion. Yes, it's true that anyone can go out there and pick up a copy of Livy or Polybius and be working with the same historiography and research as any professional scholar has had up until very recently. The Prof. MacDonald certainly explicitly acknowledges that these are the primary sources for the course's material, yet she handles that limitation with aplomb and moreover draws from recent scholarship (viz., archaeological evidence &c) when possible and appropriate. It's still worth reading Livy, I say (what else could I say?) but Prof. MacDonald is an informed and engaging guide for those times when a musty book simply won't do. The perspectives and biases from which she weaves the historical narrative are refreshing and whenever possible acknowledged. A reviewer below praised her for not engaging in "postmodern revisionism" or some meaningless word salad that grumpy retirees who can't let go of a certain historical tradition are apt to throw around when the interpretation doesn't suit them. It is impossible to form a narrative and analysis of "objectivity"--the human condition is notably and profoundly subjective prima facie and any narrative, by virtue of existing, takes a particular position or has a particular agenda. ALL THAT SAID, while Prof. MacDonald isn't 'objective', she is FAIR and charitable or skeptical as necessary in her reading and interpretation of the texts. This course is worth your time if you have any interest at all in the subject matter and one of the better Wondrium offerings of late. So, why only four stars? Because I, too, am a grumpy old man set in my ways and have yet to come to terms with the changes that have overtaken TGC/Wondrium courses over the past years. Particularly and specifically I truly loathe that they've absolutely moved far from the glory days of a wizened professor lecturing from memory with but a set of paper notes on a lectern--it's all rote reading from a teleprompter and all the lack of spontaneity that such a presentation necessitates. What is the point of having subject matter experts if they're simply reciting prefabricated teleprompter lines? Hire professional presenters if you're going to discount the professor's hard earned expertise and public lecturing and let the experts craft the materials so produced. And good lord the CGI or whatever sets that have become the norm over the past few years are truly soulless and without charm or purpose. AND rather than a dynamic lecturer moving about a set we are given a poor facsimile attempting to capture that dynamism via awkward camera shifts (from all of like two angles). So five stars for Prof. MacDonald and her fine work and scholarship, four stars for the keenly felt loss of everything about TGC that made me fall in love with them twenty years ago. Now if you'll excuse me it's nearly eight PM and I must needs take my metamucil and head to bed for the night.
Date published: 2023-05-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The Video and Sound quality are very poor. In the last ten years I have purchased over one hundred courses from "The Great Courses", the quality of the video and sound has always been superb, the room where the lecture is given has always been well planned and decorated related to the subject at hand. This course looks and sounds like it was recorded in Eve MacDonald's living room by herself without any support to record the course. The quality and presentation of the video is very poor and the sound overall is lousy, her voice has a slight, but disturbing echo. Eve Mac Donald knows her subject well, however I am very disappointed that The Great Courses did not placed her in their traditional class rooms and did not supported her with professional video and sound technicians. Very unprofessional. I very much like the history of Hannibal but do to the poor quality of the production of this course, I could no longer continue watching it, it was like watching a home made video.
Date published: 2023-05-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A well-told story I have learned about Hannibal from the point of view of the history of Spain and from the point of view of the history of Rome. It was delightful to see his story woven around these other histories with Hannibal at the center. Very well done.
Date published: 2023-04-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent history of a great man Hannibal is covered a bit in other TC courses on Ancient Rome, the Mediterranean world, and so on, given his importance in the 1st and 2nd Punic Wars. I found this course dedicated to Hannibal to be excellent. Prof MacDonald is an excellent, clear presenter, and the pictures and graphics add a lot, especially to understanding the dynamics of the major battles. I hope she does more TC courses.
Date published: 2023-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Un must J’ai acheté ce cours par curiosité ne connaissant que quelques éléments de l’histoire des affrontements entre Rome et Carthage. Je ne suis qu au 7eme épisode mais je suis enchantée. La conférencière parle clairement, lentement (toujours utile quand on ne maitrise pas parfaitement l’anglais) et domine totalement son sujet. Elle fait revivre les événements et les enjeux de façon magistrale.
Date published: 2023-04-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Series Professor and content were very professional. I truly appreciated that just the facts were given. There was no postmodern reinterpretation of events or motives, which I found refreshing.
Date published: 2023-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Great Course! Really enjoyed this course. ...instructor had just the right amount of passion and knowledge! ... Course was just the right length. Learned a lot about Hannibal and the period!
Date published: 2023-04-11
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Get to know one of history’s most important military commanders—Hannibal Barca—from his early days in Iberia to his famed march across the Italian peninsula in the Second Punic War. Along the way, you will become familiar with the ancient world and its customs, politics, notable figures, and way of life, before turning your attention to the terrifying but impressive conquest that made Hannibal so famous.


Eve MacDonald

Even in his failure, his bitterest enemies continued to admire and fear Hannibal. His exploits passed into the realm of myth and legend in his own lifetime, and in his death he has retained a kind of heroic notoriety that few can ever hope for.


Cardiff University

Eve MacDonald is a Senior Lecturer in Ancient History at Cardiff University. She earned a PhD in Ancient History at the University of Ottawa. She wrote the book Hannibal: A Hellenistic Life and has published numerous papers on ancient history. She has also worked extensively in the field on excavations, including in Italy and Carthage in Tunisia. Additionally, she has conducted fieldwork at the site of Fulayj in Oman and taken part in excavations of Sasanian Persian outposts in Georgia and Iran for the Persia and Its Neighbours project.

By This Expert

Hannibal: The Military Genius Who Almost Conquered Rome
Hannibal: The Military Genius Who Almost Conquered Rome


The Phoenicians and the Rise of Carthage

01: The Phoenicians and the Rise of Carthage

What do we really know about Hannibal Barca, an ancient Carthaginian military commander shrouded in myth and mystery? Evaluate two key sources on Hannibal’s life and career—Livy’s work on the Second Punic War and Polybius’s The Histories—before diving into the history of Hannibal’s homeland, Carthage.

36 min
The First Punic War

02: The First Punic War

Hannibal lived in the shadow of the Punic Wars, a century-long conflict involving Rome and his native Carthage. Investigate the complicated origins of the First Punic War. Explore Carthage’s early failures from the loss of Agrigento to defeat at the Battle of Mylae. And examine each side’s strengths, weaknesses, and imperial motivations at the start of the contest.

35 min
Hamilcar and the Rise of the Barcids

03: Hamilcar and the Rise of the Barcids

After a string of military losses, Carthage looked like it would fall to the Romans. Get to know Hannibal’s father Hamilcar before delving into how Rome ultimately prevailed despite the elder Barcid’s small but important victories. And explore the civil war that consumed Carthage between the First and Second Punic Wars.

34 min
Young Hannibal in Iberia, 237–221 BCE

04: Young Hannibal in Iberia, 237–221 BCE

What can be said about Hamilcar’s expedition to Iberia and Hasdrubal the Fair’s subsequent takeover of Iberia? How was young Hannibal primed for military service by an adolescence that was steeped in conquest? And why did the negotiations between Carthage and Rome fail to resolve the conflict between both powers? Dive into these questions and more.

33 min
Hannibal Takes Command, 221–218 BCE

05: Hannibal Takes Command, 221–218 BCE

Begin by exploring Hannibal’s early years of military service from how he cultivated troop loyalty to gaining the military victories that impressed and, in some cases, frightened his contemporaries. And wrap up by setting the scene for the Second Punic War, delving into the conflict over and subsequent sacking of Saguntum.

33 min
A New Hercules Prepares to Fight Rome

06: A New Hercules Prepares to Fight Rome

See how careful preparations, intelligence networks, sharp diplomacy, a diverse but well-governed army, and even dreams and Herculean legends helped Hannibal secure meaningful victories in the Second Punic War’s early years. And consider Carthage’s powerful army as it moved and fought its way toward Transalpine Gaul on the French coast.

34 min
Hannibal Crosses the Alps, 218 BCE

07: Hannibal Crosses the Alps, 218 BCE

Hannibal is famous for crossing the treacherous Alps. See how the young general transported his soldiers—as well as a cadre of elephants—across the mighty Rhone River. Investigate the obstacles that faced Hannibal and his army throughout their mountainous journey. And take stock of the impact of Carthage’s incredibly bold incursion into Italy.

33 min
First Victories: Ticinus and Trebbia

08: First Victories: Ticinus and Trebbia

Where did Rome stand, by the time Hannibal arrived in Northern Italy? What do we make of the famed commander’s impressive victory against powerful Roman forces and generals in Trebbia? And how was the skirmish—devastating for Rome, but great for Hannibal and Carthage—interpreted and explained by contemporaries? Tackle these questions and more.

30 min
The Romans Panic: Lake Trasimene, 217 BCE

09: The Romans Panic: Lake Trasimene, 217 BCE

Outmaneuvered and outflanked, the mood in Rome quickly soured. Follow Hannibal’s diverse army of Nubian, Celtic, and Carthaginian men on their trek to Picenum, paying special attention to Hannibal’s incredible ambush of Roman commander Flaminius and his army at Lake Trasimene. Then, focus on how Romans from different walks of life responded back home.

32 min
Cannae: Hannibal’s Great Victory, 216 BCE

10: Cannae: Hannibal’s Great Victory, 216 BCE

Follow Carthaginian troops as they hunkered down for the winter in Geronium only to reemerge stronger in the summer of 216 BCE. See how Rome’s Fabian strategy of containment played out, zeroing in on especially “bullish” confrontation as an example. Break down the Battle of Cannae, a skirmish that cemented Hannibal’s historic reputation.

34 min
Southern Italy Rebels against Rome

11: Southern Italy Rebels against Rome

Buoyed by victory, why was the famed Carthaginian general so hesitant about attacking Rome itself? How did both Rome and Carthage take the news of Hannibal’s plunder of the Italian peninsula? What, ultimately, led to the defection of a key Roman ally, the city of Capua? And what condition was the Carthaginian army in after the partnership? Consider these and other questions.

33 min
Macedon and the Fall of Syracuse, 212 BCE

12: Macedon and the Fall of Syracuse, 212 BCE

See how both Rome and Carthage sustained themselves in terms of money, manpower, and supplies in this critical period. Then, turn your attention to Macedonia and the allegiance it pursued with Carthage. End with a blow-by-blow account of a major turning point in the Second Punic War: the fall of Syracuse to Rome.

39 min
The Scipii and the 10-Year War for Iberia

13: The Scipii and the 10-Year War for Iberia

Rome won the Second Punic War, not in Italy, but in Iberia and North Africa. Delve into both theaters, getting to know key characters, like the formidable Roman Scipiones family. Look at how a series of military victories, along with a leadership shake-up, handed Iberia to the Romans.

36 min
The Tide Turns against Carthage, 209–205 BCE

14: The Tide Turns against Carthage, 209–205 BCE

By 209 BCE, Carthage found itself in trouble. Dive into the many factors behind Hasdrubal’s devastating defeat at the hands of Claudius Nero in the Second Punic War. See how Rome used Hannibal’s own military tactics against him. And, set the scene for Carthage’s eventual ruin in North Africa.

35 min
Hannibal’s Defeat, Escape, and Final Years

15: Hannibal’s Defeat, Escape, and Final Years

End the course by reconstructing the long resolution of the Second Punic War from confrontations in North Africa to the Battle of Zama. Examine the showdown between Roman-allied Masinissa and Carthage-allied Syphax. And explore what became of Hannibal and his homeland in the aftermath of defeat.

37 min