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An Indomitable Will: Hannibal Barca & the Start of a World War
  • Michael Shammas
Michael Shammas
New York University School of Law

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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For many historians, the “Great Man” theory–emphasizing the centrality of powerful leaders in changing history–has (rightly) fallen out of fashion. Less credit is given to leaders; more attention is paid to the average person. Concurrently, for many international relations theorists, the demands of realpolitik and geopolitics are emphasized while the individual personalities of leaders and the collective personalities of cultures are de-emphasized. Yet, while the “Great Man” theory of history is limiting, certain historical events simply cannot be explained without reference to the passions, motives, and personalities of individual leaders. Relatedly, though the competitive desire for resources can explain some wars, the fiercest conflicts are fought not over tangible goods but over abstract ideals. The Second Punic War proves both points: Almost entirely on his own, for reasons related more to culture and ideals than resources, one remarkable man–Hannibal Barca–triggered the ancient world’s deadliest world war. The next time resentment over an unfair treaty, bitterness, one driven leader, and clashing ideals would trigger such large-scale conflict would not occur until the Second World War.
Published in SSRN Electronic Journal. 10.2139/ssrn.3445076