February 7, 2010

Hannibal (Stanford Continuing Studies Program)

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Available on iTunesU. I could not find a course website.

These podcasts detail the life of the Carthaginian general Hannibal, often considered one of the greatest commanders of the ancient world. During the Second Punic War against the Roman Republic in the 3rd century BC, Hannibal led his army over the Alps into Italy. He then used superior strategy and tactics to defeat the Roman army at a number of engagements, resulting in the battle of Cannae – a devastating loss for Rome. After this, the Romans adopted many of Hannibal’s techniques. At the Battle of Zama, Hannibal was defeated and Carthage lost the war.

The lectures were given by Patrick Hunt as part of the Stanford Continuing Studies Program sometime during 2007. I couldn’t find a course website, but there are a few articles relating to the course. There are 8 lectures (strangely numbered 1 through 10), all of which are audio only and nearly two hours long (around 30MB in size). The first podcast is an interesting discussion on Carthaginian culture, in particular whether they really practiced child sacrifice. The second lecture introduces the First Punic War and Hannibal’s father, Hamilcar Barca. The Second Punic War is covered over three lectures (along with an epilogue). The remaining three podcasts are dedicated to Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps.

It seems Patrick Hunt organises regular expeditions to cross the Alps, trying to find archeological proof of where Hannibal crossed. Great attention is paid to how closely various mountain passes fit the ancient descriptions. Dr Hunt personally favours the Col de Clapier. If this historical event is of interest, then you will be well served. There is not one, not two, but three different first-person accounts of modern crossings of the Alps in attempts to follow Hannibal’s footsteps: Hunt’s; Ed Boenig, a student of Dr Hunt’s; and John Hoyte’s, who crossed the Col de Clapier in 1959 with an elephant (called Jumbo).

Apart from close concentration on a narrow historical time period, the series has many intriguing digressions. For instance, there is occasional mention of the meaning of Hannibal’s name, “grace of Ba’al”. Ba’al was the main Carthaginian deity, who supposedly lived on a mountain. Thus Dr Hunt suggests Hannibal would have had no fear of mountains. A bit of a stretch, but still interesting. If you have a particular interest in finding out about Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps, then this is the podcast for you. However, there is still much to learn even if that is not your focus (and the second two alpine lectures can be safely skipped). On the downside, the first lecture (on the origins of Carthage) seems to be missing. Also, there is no sign of the lecture slides. Being able to see the maps and slides would have been particularly useful during discussions of which Alpine pass most closely matched ancient descriptions. Nevertheless, don’t be put off by the long podcast length, this series is well worth a listen.

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