An Indomitable Will: Hannibal Barca and the Start of a World War

19 Pages Posted: 7 Sep 2019 Last revised: 26 Sep 2019

See all articles by Michael Shammas

Michael Shammas

New York University School of Law

Date Written: September 17, 2019


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.

Keywords: Hannibal Barca, Realpolitik, Second Punic War, Second World War, Treaty of Versailles, Great Man Theory, Michael Shammas, International Relations

Suggested Citation

Shammas, Michael, An Indomitable Will: Hannibal Barca and the Start of a World War (September 17, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Michael Shammas (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States


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