This section from Livy describes the desire to restore an empire which drove Hannibal to attack Rome. The desire to restore the empire burned in the father and became the end of the son:

It is said moreover that when Hannibal, then14 about nine years old, was childishly teasing his father Hamilcar to take him with him into Spain, his father, who had finished the African war and was sacrificing, before crossing over with his army, led the boy up to the altar and made him touch the offerings and bind himself with an oath that so soon as he should be able he would be the declared enemy of the Roman People. [5] The loss of Sicily and15 Sardinia was a continual torture to the proud spirit of Hamilcar. For he maintained that they had surrendered Sicily16 in premature despair, and that the Romans had wrongfully appropriated Sardinia—and even imposed an indemnity on them besides—in the midst of their African disturbances.

[2] [1] Tormented by these thoughts, he so bore17 himself in the African War, which followed hard upon the Roman peace and lasted for five years, and likewise afterwards, during the nine years he spent in Spain in extending the Punic empire, that it was plain to see that he meditated a more important war than the one he was engaged in, and that if his life had been prolonged, the Phoenicians would have invaded Italy under the leadership of Hamilcar, as they did in fact under that of Hannibal.

[3] Hamilcar’s very timely death and the boyhood18 of Hannibal delayed the war. In the interval betwixt father and son, the supreme command devolved, for about eight years, on Hasdrubal. 

14 B.C. 218–201

15 B.C. 241

16 i.e. the western part of the island, which had been in the possession of the Carthaginians at the beginning of the First Punic War.

17 B.C. 237–229

18 B.C. 229–222

 Livy, Boooks XXI-XXII With An English Translation, ed. Benjamin Oliver Foster, Ab Urbe Condita (Foster-Moore-Sage) English Text (Medford, MA: Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd., 1929), 5.

This is a curious thing, thousands upon thousands people would die because a man wished for a larger empire and delivered that desire to his son. It struck me because it seems to be the motivation for the current war; a motivate that has gone back decades.

The link is to a story in the New York Times from 2004. In a 2017 issue of European Review, it was argued:

“In this article, I argue that the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, by his political actions in Eastern Europe, the Baltic States and Central Asian countries, and his current actions in Ukraine, strives to re-establish the nineteenth-century Russian Empire, ignoring the principle of international law that protects the sovereignty of each nation-state over its territory. In order to achieve his goals Putin uses ‘soft force’ and social fermentation in Russian-speaking ‘near abroad’ nation-states of the former Soviet Union. He also uses a policy of weakening the economy of the target countries and uses the Russian chauvinism and irredentism as the basis of his policy.”

In 2018, Time Magazine said Putin does not really want war, but he does want his empire:

“At the same time, Putin also hopes that the relations with the West will improve. Putin doesn’t dream of world war. He dreams of the new Yalta Conference, the peace conference that took place in Crimea in 1944 and brought Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill together. Back then the leaders of the countries that won World War II divided the world into zones of influence. Putin wants new zones of influence and new clear rules of the game. He wants the West to admit that territory that once belonged to the USSR (probably including nearby countries) should be areas of Russian responsibility. He wants to get guarantees and suitable honors.”

And in January 2022, it was argued that while he wanted to speak of the empire he wouldn’t actually go to war:

“Only Putin himself, and the members of his very secretive inner circle, truly know how much of their rhetoric over NATO expansion is bluster and how much is true fear. But there is one, purely practical answer to the question of whether Putin intends to invade Ukraine — and it’s based on a factor that didn’t exist in Stalin’s time, or in Catherine the Great’s. Unlike his belligerent predecessors, Putin doesn’t have the military, economic or political strength to win.”

Now I imagine counter-examples of those who predicted war could be found. It is interesting that “everyone” knew Putin wanted the empire. He used policy when it worked. And that, he will policy to make incremental gains, made sense to everyone, because who would actually invade another country? This belief persisted even after he had troubled so many neighbors (Georgia, Chechnya, the Crimea, a build up which has another parallel to Hannibal). There is a pattern here.

Now, like Putin, Carthage went through a period of gaining more power by “policy” than violence:

“Relying more often on policy than force, Hasdrubal enlarged the sway of Carthage rather by setting up friendly relations with the petty kings and winning over new tribes through the goodwill of their leaders than by war and arms.

 Livy, Boooks XXI-XXII With An English Translation, ed. Benjamin Oliver Foster, Ab Urbe Condita (Foster-Moore-Sage) English Text (Medford, MA: Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd., 1929), 7. But when Hannibal came to power, the times changed and violence was the issue. He was concerned that if he did not proceed, he would lose his opportunity. His aim was to go after Rome, but he didn’t start with the main prize, instead he started small, taking what he could without immediately provoking Rome:

“But since an attack on them must certainly provoke the Romans to hostile action, he marched first into the territory of the Olcades—a tribe living south of the Ebro, within the limits of the Carthaginians but not under their dominion—that he might appear not to have aimed at the Saguntines but to have been drawn into that war by a chain of events, as he conquered the neighbouring nations and annexed their territories. [4] Cartala,29 a wealthy town, the capital of that tribe, he stormed and sacked; and this so terrified the lesser towns that they submitted and agreed to an indemnity. The victorious army, enriched with spoil, was led back to New Carthage for [5] the winter. There, by a generous partition of the booty and the faithful discharge of all arrears of pay, he confirmed them all, both citizens and allies, in their allegiance to himself; and early in the spring pushed forward into the land of [6] the Vaccaei ….”

Livy, Boooks XXI-XXII With An English Translation, ed. Benjamin Oliver Foster, Ab Urbe Condita (Foster-Moore-Sage) English Text (Medford, MA: Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd., 1929), 13.

The parallels are imperfect, and the men are remarkably different. But something about the greed to just desire to rule someone else (a greed I admit I cannot rightly understand from the inside) seems to have a particular shape as it works it way out. Something to think about.