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Second Punic War › Ancient History

Definition and Origins

by Mark Cartwright
published on 29 May 2016
Carthaginian War Elephant (The Creative Assembly)

The Second Punic War (aka The Hannibalic War ) was fought between Carthage and Rome between 218 and 201 BCE.While the First Punic War had been fought largely over control of Sicily, the Second Punic War involved confrontations in Spain, Italy, Sicily, Sardinia, and North Africa. The Carthaginians were led by Hannibal, one of the most gifted commanders in history, but the Romans had their own great general Scipio Africanus, and it was he who attacked Carthage on home soil, beating Hannibal and delivering final victory. Carthage would briefly rise again for a Third Punic War 50 years later but its position as a great Mediterranean power was now lost forever.


Following the terms of surrender in 241 BCE, Carthage, having lost the longest war in ancient history up to that point, agreed to withdraw from Sicily and pay reparations to Rome of 3,200 talents. The First Punic War had been tremendously costly to both sides but Rome's seemingly inexhaustible resources, especially its capacity to renew large naval fleets meant that, ultimately, Carthage could not compete with the Mediterranean's newest superpower. The Romans took over the Carthaginian mantle as the rulers of the seas and so, if Carthage were to wrest control back from its arch-enemy, it would have to fight on land, and that required money, lots of it.
Before Carthage could think about Rome, it first had to deal with the continued unrest closer to home. In the so-called Truceless War (also Mercenary War) between 241 and 237 BCE, Carthage had to put down a joint rebellion of mercenary troops, understandably upset at not having been paid for their efforts in the first Punic War, Libyan groups, and several citiessuch as Tunis and Utica. Hamilcar Barca was recalled from Sicily and he joined Hanno the Great, who had recently made significant conquests in Libya, to quash the rebellion. Meanwhile, Rome seized control of Sardinia which had been Carthage's most important source of grain.


Without a significant fleet and having lost their strategically important fortresses in Sicily, Corsica and Sardinia, the Carthaginians had to look elsewhere for a source of money to fund their armies. The answer was Spain. They had long since had control of the old Phoenician colonies there, and it had already proven a rich source of silver. Accordingly, Hamilcar Barca was despatched in 237 BCE to expand Carthaginian territory, which he did, establishing his base at Gades ( Cadiz ) and founding a new city of Acra Leuce. He supplemented his own force with local recruits and amassed a 50,000-strong army with a corps of 100 elephants. Tribute in money if not men was extracted from local cities and new silver mines were worked.
Hasdrubal the Fair took over from Hamilcar Barca following his death by drowning in 229 BCE and added another 10,000 infantry to his force and 8,000 cavalry, while his war elephants also doubled to 200. By now Carthage controlled half of the Iberian Peninsula. Then in 221 BCE a new face arrived on the scene: Hannibal, eldest son of Hamilcar Barca. Hannibal's father had made his son swear never to be a friend of Rome, and with this solid platform of wealth and arms, he did not disappoint for the commander, still only 26, would become Rome's greatest ever foe.
Territories During the Second Punic War

Territories During the Second Punic War

In 226 BCE Hasdrubal had signed an agreement with Rome, concerned at Carthage's expanding empire, not to cross the River Ebro in southern Spain, but Hannibal, now in overall command in Spain, was more ambitious. He invaded ever deeper inland and then besieged and conquered Saguntum (modern Sagunto, just north of Valencia), a long-time ally of Rome, in 219 BCE. This action had the consent of the Carthaginian government but it would prove one move too far for the Romans who, having by now dealt with the troublesome northern Gauls and Illyria, demanded Hannibal be handed over for suitable punishment. Carthage declined and Rome declared war in March 218 BCE. The Second Punic War was underway.


Hannibal expected Rome to attack his position in Spain and, indeed, a Roman army was sent there with 60 quinqueremes under the command of P. Cornelius Scipio while another one sailed for Sicily. The Romans, though, had missed a trick.Hannibal surprised them by deciding to invade Italy. The First Punic War had shown that Rome could not be defeated from the outside, but perhaps fighting in its own territory and stirring up rebellions, it might be defeated from within.
Accordingly, Hannibal left Hasdrubal Barca (son of Hamilcar Barca) in charge of things in Spain and audaciously crossed the Alps in 15 days. The expedition was not without cost. The difficult journey lost him a significant portion of his army but the losses were more to do with fighting hostile Gallic tribes and desertions than the elements. He had set off with 90,000 soldiers and 12,000 cavalry, and on arrival he had at his disposal only 20,000 men and half his original cavalry. These were supplemented with sympathetic Gauls from northern Italy and the Carthaginian pressed on regardless.
Hannibal established his reputation for near invincibility when he won a battle at the Ticinus (Ticino) river near Pavia and again at the Trebia River in December 218 BCE. Another victory came near Lake Trasimene in June 217 BCE where 15,000 Romans were killed and 10,000 captured. Hannibal once again released Italian prisoners but dealt harshly with Romancaptives to emphasise he was at war with only the latter and local communities were welcome to join him.
Carthaginian War Elephants

Carthaginian War Elephants

After three bad losses worse was to follow for Rome in August 216 BCE when Hannibal, moving into southern Italy, won a great victory against a much larger opposing army (80,000 men) at Cannae in Apulia (modern Puglia) in the heel of the Italian peninsula. In typical fashion, the Carthaginian general used the terrain to his advantage, this time putting his 50,000 troops close to the River Aufidus; he constrained the eight legions of the enemy to do likewise and thus restricted their possibility of manoeuvre and gain advantage from their greater numbers. Hannibal had employed his customary tactics of high mobility in the field too and enveloped the enemy while his cavalry attacked the rear. 50,000 of the enemy were killed compared to 5,700 on Carthaginian side, most of those being Gauls. Hannibal seemed unstoppable.
The result of this spectacular campaign was that most of the city-states of southern Italy defected to the Carthaginian cause, including Italy's second most important city, Capua. However, all the Latin colonies and central Italy remained loyal to Rome and this meant that Hannibal's new acquisitions had to be constantly defended. The expected break-up of Rome's hegemony and a mass Gaul uprising did not happen. Neither could Hasdrubal support him from Spain nor Carthage by sea. Rome was reeling but Hannibal was on his own, and he fatefully decided not to attack Rome itself. This may have been because he lacked outside support but also because it was probably never his intention to annihilate Rome. Rather, his campaigns in Italy sought to compel Rome to recognise Carthage's claim on its empire.
Realising they were up against one of history's greatest commanders, Rome changed tactics and adopted a policy of avoiding Hannibal in direct battle, instead fighting only his allies. This was the so-called 'Fabian policy' after Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, the dictator of 217 BCE, who earned the nickname 'Cunctator' (Delayer). Fabius knew that, as at Cannae, Hannibal might win direct confrontations, but he could be worn down by blocking his supplies by sea and entrapping him in Italy. Hannibal desperately tried to conquer a port city, notably Neapolis (Naples) and Tarentum (Taranto), but all attempts failed, as did repeated attacks on Nola. Hannibal had defeated several large Roman armies, but Rome itself, as in the First Punic War, seemed immune to the losses.


Rome, despite having a dangerous enemy on its doorstep, was tenacious if nothing else and rejected all offers of a peace deal. A Roman army was then defeated in Gaul in 216 BCE, but their fortunes slowly began to improve. An army of 13,500 men and corps of elephants were redirected by Carthage to Spain instead of Hannibal in Italy. A similar sized army was sent in an unsuccessful attempt to take Sardinia back for Carthage. Two strategic mistakes which would be regretted by the Carthaginians. Both Syracuse and Tarentum defected to Carthage in 214 and 212 BCE respectively, but Hannibal was being left without support in Italy. The Carthaginian general was faced with the problem that he simply did not have the manpower to keep control of all his newly acquired territory. Wherever Hannibal was not, the Romans would attack.
Hannibal's Major Battles in Italy

Hannibal's Major Battles in Italy

In 212-211 BCE, when Capua was besieged by six Roman legions, Hannibal tried to make them withdraw by feigning a march on Rome, but the ruse failed. The strategy of Fabius, although interrupted occasionally by zealous commanders eager for glory in their one year of office as consul, was slowly working and, relentlessly, the Romans backed Hannibal into an ever-smaller pocket so that by 207 BCE he controlled only Bruttium. Rome might have feared a land battle but they were still masters of the seas, and this meant that Hannibal could not be resupplied. The clock was ticking and Rome had time on their side.


Meanwhile, the war was widening. In 215 BCE Rome attacked southern Spain, dramatically defeating Hasdrubal at the battle of Ibera in 215 BCE. Saguntum was retaken but both Roman commanders, P. Cornelius Scipio and Gn. Cornelius Scipio Calvus were killed and their armies seriously defeated in the Tader valley in 211 BCE. Their replacement in Spain was the proconsul Publius Cornelius Scipio whose later exploits would allow him to add an 'Africanus' to his name. The 25-year old general sailed from Ostia and quickly made his mark on the war by a shock capture of the main Carthaginian supply base and treasury in Spain, Carthago Nova (modern Cartagena) in 209 BCE. The Iberians now gave up the Carthaginian cause and Rome had access to the enemy's silver mines to boost its war effort.
On Sicily, the Carthaginians lost their useful ally, Syracuse. Carthage sent an army of 23,000 to the island in 213 BCE but could not prevent the city falling into the hands of Marcus Claudius Marcellus, a veteran of the First Punic War, in 212 BCE.Rome then could establish firm control over the island by 210 BCE. Marcellus shipped large amounts of Greek art back to Rome in a novel method of impressing the populace with his success. Macedon too was brought into the war. Under Philip V, the Macedonians proved no match for the Roman general Marcus Valerius Laevinus, and Macedon was forced out of the Adriatic and into a war with the Aetolian Confederacy in north-west Greece.
Campaigns of the Second Punic War

Campaigns of the Second Punic War

Back in Spain, Scipio Africanus was gaining local allies, and he defeated a Carthaginian army led by Hasdrubal at Baecula in 208 BCE. Hasdrubal escaped to Italy but the remains of his army were defeated at the Metaurus River the following year.Scipio preferred to focus on Spain and won another victory, again against a more numerous opponent, at Ilipa in 206 BCE.Spain, the original flashpoint of the war, was now cleared of Carthaginian forces. Scipio then made allies of two Numidian princes, Syphax and Masinissa, in preparation for his plan to take the war to Africa. Syphax would later defect to the Carthaginians, and the Roman Senate was initially against an invasion, but eventually Scipio got his backing and was ready to strike at the soft underbelly of the Carthaginian held territories in Africa, just as Hannibal was doing in southern Italy.
At the same time in Italy, Hannibal was still holding out despite facing armies twice the size of his own force. Carthage sent an army to Liguria in northern Italy in 205 BCE. Led by Mago, Hannibal's brother, the 14,000-strong force suffered from an inability to land closer to Hannibal's army because of Roman naval dominance and their control of the major ports. Almost inevitably, Mago was unable to join forces with Hannibal and his army was defeated in Cisalpine Gaul in 203 BCE. The theatres of war in Spain, Sicily, and Italy were now almost played out and attention turned to Africa.


In 205 BCE, after being appointed consul, Scipio crossed the Mediterranean to Sicily and strengthened his army. Then, in 204 BCE, with a force of around 30,000 men and 440 ships, he crossed to North Africa in three days. Scipio immediately defeated a contingent of 500 Carthaginian cavalry and then had his army boosted by the arrival of Masinissa's Numidian cavalry. There followed another quick victory against a 4,000-strong Carthaginian cavalry force.
Scipio Africanus the Elder

Scipio Africanus the Elder

When Scipio attacked Utica, the city proved more resilient than expected, and Carthage, meanwhile, assembled an army under Gisgo, son of Hasdrubal. This force consisted of 30,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry, and Gisgo was almost immediately joined by the Numidian Syphax with his army of 50,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry. This huge force moved towards Utica to relieve the siege in 203 BCE. The two sides did not clash, rather, each established a camp to see out the winter. After a period of hesitant peace negotiations, which may only have been offered for Scipio to gain intelligence on the enemy positions, the Roman general divided his force in two and attacked the camps of Syphax and Gisgo at night. The raids were hugely successful and devastated the enemy.
With reinforcements coming from an army led by Hasdrubal, the Carthaginians and their Numidian allies managed to muster another army of 30,000 infantry. Scipio marched to meet them, and after three days of merely observing each other, the battle commenced. Scipio's cavalry wings crushed the enemy and the African infantry collapsed. After Scipio sent a force to establish Masinissa on the throne and capture Syphax, the Numidian threat was removed. In addition, Scipio had conquered Tunis.These defeats now put the city of Carthage itself in danger and necessitated the return of Hannibal from Italy to defend the homeland. Carthage made overtures for peace in 203 BCE, perhaps only to allow Hannibal time to come back home as indicated by their treatment of a Roman transport fleet blown off course in 202 BCE. In the summer of 202 BCE, the war was very much back on again and the two sides would clash in one final decisive battle. For Carthage it would be the very last throw of the dice.


In October 202 BCE, the armies of Hannibal and Scipio met on a plain in western Tunisia near Naraggara. The two commanders actually met in person in a conference where Hannibal perhaps requested a peace settlement but Scipio was probably keen to end the long war with a showpiece battle and earn himself a triumph back in Rome. The battle is referred to as 'the battle of Zama' because that town was on Hannibal's route to the battlefield. Scipio fielded 30,000 infantry and 5,500 cavalry, which included 6,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry from Masinissa. Hannibal's mix of Italian veterans and new recruits numbered some 45,000 men and included 2,000 Numidian cavalry from their ally Tychaeus.
Hannibal's troops fought well, especially the veterans placed in the rear line of three, but the 80 Carthaginian war elephants were easily dealt with by Scipio, who had placed his legionaries so as to create channels which allowed the animals to pass through when they charged. They were then herded back in the direction of the Carthaginians to cause havoc there. The Roman and Numidian cavalry then hit Hannibal's forces in the rear, and victory was theirs. 20,000 Carthaginians had fallen while Rome suffered fewer than 5,000 fatalities.
Roman Beach Attack

Roman Beach Attack

The Second Punic War was lost and Hannibal sued for peace terms. The Romans insisted on Carthage giving up its entire fleet (except a paltry 10 ships), all elephants, and all Roman prisoners. Further, Carthage could not make war without Rome's permission, had to recognise the territories of the new Numidian king Masinissa, and pay in reparations to Rome the huge sum of 10,000 talents over the next half century. The Romans also took possession of southern Spain.
At the beginning of the war both sides had been roughly equal in fighting forces on land. Rome had a far superior navy, but Carthage had the best commander in Hannibal. Once again, though, Rome's seemingly inexhaustible resources in men, ships, and money, combined with skills on the battlefield and command of the seas, had ensured Rome could replenish losses more easily than Carthage. And, in the final battle at Zama, Scipio had shown what could be achieved by adapting standard tactics to defeat specific enemies. It would be a lesson well-learned and repeated again and again by the Roman army, now well-practised at fighting in multiple theatres simultaneously. Rome, with its greatest enemy crushed, was now, and would remain for centuries, the unchallenged master of the Mediterranean.

Hannibal › Antique Origins

Definition and Origins

by Joshua J. Mark
published on 29 March 2018
Hannibal Barca (Creative Assembly)

Hannibal (also known as Hannibal Barca, 247-183 BCE) was a Carthaginian general during the Second Punic War between Carthage and Rome (218-202 BCE). He is considered one of the greatest generals of antiquity and his tactics are still studied and used in the present day. His father was Hamilcar Barca (275-228 BCE), the great general of the First Punic War (264-241 BCE).
These wars were fought between the cities of Carthage in North Africa and Rome in northern Italy for supremacy in the Mediterranean region and the second war resulted directly from the first. Hannibal assumed command of the troops following his father's death and led them victoriously through a number of engagements until he stood almost at the gates of Rome; at which point he was stopped, not by the Romans, but through a lack of resources to take the city.
He was called back to Africa to defend Carthage from Roman invasion, was defeated at the Battle of Zama in 202 BCE by Scipio Africanus (236-183 BCE) and retired from service to Carthage. The remainder of his life was spent as a statesman and then in voluntary exile at the courts of foreign kings. He died in 183 BCE by drinking poison.


According to the historian Philip Matyszak, "There is much we do not know about this man, though he was one of the greatest generals in antiquity. No surviving ancient biography makes him the subject, and Hannibal slips in and out of focus according to the emphasis that other authors give his deeds and character" (24). Nothing is known of his mother and, although he was married at the time of some of his greatest victories, no records make mention of his wife other than her name, Imilce, and the fact that she bore him a son. What became her her or her son is not known. The story of Hannibal's life is told largely by his enemies, the Romans, through the historians who wrote of the Punic Wars.


The Greek historian Polybius writes how Hannibal's father invited him to join an expedition to Spain when the boy was around nine years old. Hannibal eagerly accepted the invitation but, before he was allowed to join up, his father "took Hannibal by the hand and led him to the altar. There he commanded Hannibal to lay his hand on the body of the sacrificial victim and to swear that he would never be a friend to Rome" (3:11). Hannibal took the vow gladly - and never forgot it.
He accompanied his father to Spain and learned to fight, track and, most importantly, out-think an opponent. Matyszak comments how "the modern concept of teenagers as somewhere between child and adult did not exist in the ancient world, and Hannibal was given charge of troops at an early age" (23). When his father drowned, command of the army passed to Hasdrubal the Fair (c.270-221 BCE), Hamilcar's son-in-law, and when Hasdrubal was assassinated in 221 BCE the troops unanimously called for the election of Hannibal as their commander even though he was only 25 years old at the time.


Following the First Punic War the treaty between Carthage and Rome stipulated that Carthage could continue to occupy regions in Spain as long as they maintained the steady tribute they now owed to Rome and remained in certain areas. In 219 BCE the Romans orchestrated a coup in the city of of Saguntum which installed a government hostile to Carthage and her interests. Hannibal marched on the city, lay siege to it, and took it. The Romans were outraged and demanded Carthage hand their general over to them; when Carthage refused, the Second Punic War was begun.
Map of Hannibals Route into Italy

Map of Hannibals Route into Italy

Hannibal decided to bring the fight to the Romans and invade northern Italy in 218 BCE by crossing the mountain range of the Alps. He left his brother Hasdrubal (c.244-207 BCE) in charge of the armies in Spain and set out with his men for Italy. On the way, recognizing the importance of winning the people to his side, he portrayed himself as a liberator freeing the people of Spain from Roman control.
His army grew steadily with new recruits until he had 50,000 infantry and 9,000 cavalry by the time he reached the Alps. He also had with him a number of elephants which he had found very useful in terrorizing the Roman army and their cavalry.Upon reaching the mountains he was forced to leave behind his siege engines and a number of other supplies he felt would slow their progress and then had the army begin their ascent.
The troops and their general had to battle not only the weather and the incline but hostile tribes who lived in the mountains. By the time they reached the other side, 17 days later, the army had been reduced to 26,000 men in total and a few elephants.Still, Hannibal was confident he would be victorious and led his men down onto the plains of Italy.
The Romans, meanwhile, had no idea of Hannibal's movements. They never considered he would move his army over the mountains to reach them and thought he was still in Spain somewhere. When word reached Rome of Hannibal's maneuver, however, they were quick to act and sent the general Scipio (father of Scipio Africanus the Elder, who accompanied him) to intercept. The two armies met at the Ticino River where the Romans were defeated and Scipio almost killed
Carthaginian War Elephant

Carthaginian War Elephant

Hannibal next defeated his enemies at Lake Trasimeme and quickly took control of northern Italy. He had no siege machines and no elephants to take any of the cities and so relied on his image as liberator to try to coax the cities over to his side. He then sent word to Carthage for more men and supplies, especially siege engines, but his request was denied. The Carthaginian senate believed he could handle the situation without any added expense on their part and suggested his men live off the land.


Hannibal's strategy of presenting himself as a liberator worked and a number of cities chose to side with him against Rome while his victories on the field continued to swell his ranks with new recruits. After the Battle of Trebbia, where he again defeated the Romans, he retreated for the winter to the north where he developed his plans for the spring campaign and developed various strategems to keep from being assassinated by spies in his camp or hired killers sent by the Romans.Polybius writes how Hannibal,
had a set of wigs made, each of which made him look like a man of a different age. He changed these constantly, each time changing his apparel to match his appearance. Thus he was hard to recognize, not just by those who saw him briefly, but even by those who knew him well. (3:78)
Once spring came, Hannibal launched a new assault, destroying the Roman army under Gaius Flaminius and another under Servilius Geminus.
The Romans then sent the general Fabius Verrucosus against Hannibal who employed a new tactic of wearing Hannibal down by keeping him constantly on the move and off balance. Fabius became known as "the delayer" by refusing to face Hannibal directly and delaying any face-to-face engagement; he preferred instead to strategically place his armies to prevent Hannibal from either attacking or retreating from Italy. So successful was Fabius' strategy that he almost caught Hannibal in a trap.


He had the Carthaginians penned up near Capua where retreat was blocked by the Volturnus River. It seemed that Hannibal had to either fight his way out or surrender but then, one night, the Romans saw a line of torches moving from the Carthaginian camp emplacement toward an area they knew was held by a strong garrison of their own. It seemed clear Hannibal was trying to break out of the trap. Fabius' generals encouraged him to mount a night attack to support the garrison and crush the enemy between them but Fabius refused, believing that the garrison in place could easily prevent Hannibal from breaking out and would hold until morning. When the garrison mobilized to march out and meet Hannibal in battle, however, they found only cattle with torches tied on their horns and Hannibal's army had slipped away through the pass the Romans had left untended.
Hannibal then marched to the Roman supply depot of Cannae, which he took easily, and then gave his men time to rest. The Romans sent the two consuls Lucius Aemilius Paulus and Caius Terentius Varro, with a force of over 50,000, against his position; Hannibal had less than 40,000 men under his command. As always, Hannibal spent time learning about his enemy, their strengths and weaknesses, and knew that Varro was eager for a fight and over-confident of success. As the two consuls traded off command of the army, it worked to Hannibal's advantage that the more ambitious and reckless of the two, Varro, held supreme authority on the first day of battle.
Hannibal arranged his army in a crescent, placing his light infantry of Gauls at the front and center with the heavy infantry behind them and light and heavy cavalry on the wings. The Romans under Varro's command were placed in traditional formation to march toward the center of the enemy's lines and break them. Varro believed he was facing an opponent like any of the others Roman legions had defeated in the past and was confident that the strength of the Roman force would break the Carthaginian line; this was precisely the conclusion Hannibal hoped he would reach.
Battle of Cannae - Initial Deployment

Battle of Cannae - Initial Deployment

When the Roman army advanced, the center of the Carthaginian line began to give way so that it seemed as though Varro had been correct and the center would break. The Carthaginian forces fell back evenly, drawing the Romans further and further into their lines, and then the light infantry moved to either end of the crescent formation and the heavy infantry advanced to the front. At this same time, the Carthaginian cavalry engaged the Roman cavalry and dispersed them, falling on the rear on the Roman infantry.
The Romans, continuing in their traditional formation with their well-rehearsed tactics, continued to press forward but now they were only pushing those in the front lines into the killing machine of the Carthaginian heavy infantry. The Carthaginian cavalry had now closed the gap behind and the forces of Rome were completely surrounded. Of the 50,000 plus Roman soldiers who took the field that day only 10,000 escaped; 44,000 were killed while Hannibal lost around 6,000 men. It was a devastating defeat for Rome which resulted in a number of the Italian city-states defecting to Hannibal and Philip V of Macedon declaring in favor of Hannibal and initiating the First Macedonian War with Rome.
Battle of Cannae - Destruction of the Roman Army

Battle of Cannae - Destruction of the Roman Army

The people of Rome mobilized to defend their city, which they were sure Hannibal would move on next. Veterans and new recruits alike refused pay in order to defend the city. Hannibal, however, could make no move on Rome because he lacked siege engines and reinforcements for his army. His request for these necessary supplies was refused by Carthage because the senate did not want to exert the effort or spend the money.
Hannibal's commander of the cavalry, Maharbal, encouraged Hannibal to attack anyway, confident they could win the war at this point when the Roman army was in disarray and the people in a panic. When Hannibal refused, Maharbal said, "You know how to win a victory, Hannibal, but you do not know how to use it." Hannibal was right, however; his troops were exhausted after Cannae and he had neither elephants nor siege engines to take the city. He did not even have enough men to reduce the city by encircling it for a long siege. If Carthage had sent the requested men and supplies at this point history would have been written very differently; but they did not.


Among the Roman warriors who survived Cannae was the man who would come to be known as Scipio Africanus the Elder.Scipio's father and uncle, two of the former commanders, had been killed fighting Hasdrubal in Spain and, when the Roman senate called for a general to defend the city against Hannibal all of the most likely commanders refused believing, after Cannae, that any such command was simply a suicide mission. Scipio, only 24 years old at the time, volunteered. He left Rome with only 10,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry to meet Hannibal's much larger force.
Scipio began in Spain - not Italy - in an effort to subdue Hasdrubal first and prevent reinforcements from reaching Italy. He first took the city Carthago Nova and moved on from there to other victories. In 208 BCE, he defeated Hasdrubal at the Battle of Baecula using the same tactic Hannibal had at Cannae.


Hasdrubal, recognizing that Spain was a lost cause, crossed the Alps to join Hannibal in Italy for a united attack on Rome. At the Battle of the Metaurus River in 207 BCE, however, Hasdrubal's army was defeated by the Romans under Gaius Claudius Nero (c. 237-199 BCE); Hasdrubal was killed and his forces scattered. Nero had been engaging Hannibal in the south but slipped away in the night, defeated Hasdrubal, and returned without Hannibal ever noticing. The first Hannibal knew of Hasdrubal's defeat was when a Roman contingent threw his brother's head to the sentries of his camp.
Scipio, still in Spain, requested money and supplies from the Roman senate to take the fight to Hannibal by attacking Carthage; a move which, he was sure, would force Carthage to recall Hannibal from Italy to defend the city. The Roman senate refused and so Scipio shamed them by raising his own army and appealing to the people of Rome for support; the senate then relented and gave him command of Sicily from which to launch his invasion of North Africa.
Hannibal, in the meantime, was forced to continue his previous strategy of striking at Rome in quickly orchestrated engagements, and trying to win city-states to his cause, without being able to take any city by storm. The historian Matyszak writes, "In the field, Hannibal remained umatched. In 212 and 210 he took on the Romans and defeated them. But he now understood that the wound Rome had received at Cannae had not been mortal. The flow of defections to the Carthaginian side slowed and then stopped" (39). In Spain, the Carthaginians had been defeated by Scipio but Hannibal had no knowledge of this; he only knew his brother had been killed but not that Spain was under Roman control.
Battle of Zama

Battle of Zama

By this time, Scipio was already set to invade North Africa and his plan would work exactly as he predicted. In 205 BCE he landed his forces and allied himself with the Numidian King Masinissa. He quickly took the Carthaginian city of Utica and marched on toward Carthage. Hannibal was recalled from Italy to meet this threat and the two forces met on the field in 202 BCE at the Battle of Zama.
Scipio had studied Hannibal's tactics carefully in the same way that Hannibal had always taken pains to know his enemy and out-think his opponents. He had no experience in facing Scipio, however, and only knew him as the young general who had somehow managed to defeat Hasdrubal in Spain. Scipio seemed to conform to Hannibal's expectations when he arranged his forces in traditional formation in a seemingly tight cluster.
Hannibal was certain he would scatter these Romans easily with an elephant charge but Scipio used his front line as a screen for a very different kind of formation: instead of the closely-packed configuration presenting a horizontal front across the line (the formation Hannibal saw from his position) he arranged his troops in vertical rows behind the front line. When Hannibal launched his elephant charge, Scipio's front line simply moved aside and the elephants ran harmlessly down the alleys between the Roman troops who then killed their handlers and turned the elephants around to crush the ranks of the Carthaginians; Hannibal was defeated and the Second Punic War was over.
The Battle of Zama - Elephant Charge

The Battle of Zama - Elephant Charge


After the war, Hannibal accepted a position as Chief Magistrate of Carthage in which he performed as well as he had as a military leader. The heavy fines imposed on defeated Carthage by Rome, intended to cripple the city, were easily paid owing to the reforms Hannibal initiated. The members of the senate, who had refused to send him aid when he needed it in Italy, accused him of betraying the interests of the state by not taking Rome when he had the chance but, still, Hannibal remained true to the interests of his people until the senators trumped up further charges and denounced Hannibal to Rome claiming he was making Carthage a power again so as to challenge the Romans. Exactly why they decided to do this is unclear except for their disappointment in him following defeat at Zama and simple jealousy over his abilitites.
In Rome, Scipio was also dealing with problems posed by his own senate as they accused him of sympathizing with Hannibal by pardoning and releasing him, accepting bribes, and misappropiating funds. Scipio defended Hannibal as an honorable man and kept the Romans from sending a delegation demanding his arrest but Hannibal understood it was only a matter of time before his own countrymen turned him over and so he fled the city in 195 BCE for Tyre and then moved on to Asia Minorwhere he was given the position of consultant to Antiochus III, the Seleucid king.
Antiochus, of course, knew of Hannibal's reputation and did not want to risk placing so powerful and popular a man in control of his armies and so kept him at court until necessity drove him to appoint Hannibal admiral of the navy in a war against Rhodes, one of Rome's allies. Hannibal was an inexperienced sailor, as was his crew, and was defeated even though, much to his credit, he came close to winning. When Antiochus was defeated by the Romans at Magnesia in 189 BCE, Hannibal knew that he would be surrendered to the Romans as part of the terms and again took flight.
Hannibal Barca

Hannibal Barca

At the court of King Prusias of Bithynia in 183 BCE, with Rome still in pursuit, Hannibal chose to end his life rather than be taken by his enemies. He said, "Let us put an end to this life, which has caused so much dread to the Romans" and then drank poison. He was 65 years old. During this same time, in Rome, the charges against Scipio had disgusted him so much that he retreated to his estate outside the city and left orders in his will that he be buried there instead of in Rome. He died the same year as Hannibal at the age of 53.
Hannibal became a legend in his own lifetime and, years after his death, Roman mothers would continue to frighten their unwilling children to bed with the phrase "Hannibal ad Porto" (Hannibal is at the door). His campaign across the Alps, unthinkable even in his day, won him the grudging admiration of his enemies and enduring fame ever since.
Hannibal's strategies, learned so well by Scipio, were incorporated into Roman tactics and Rome would consistently use them to good effect following the Battle of Zama. After the deaths of Hannibal and Scipio, Carthage continued to cause problems for Rome which eventually resulted in the Third Punic War (149-146 BCE) in which Carthage was destroyed.
The historian Ernle Bradford writes that Hannibal's war against the Romans,
may be regarded as the last effort of the old eastern and Semitic peoples to prevent the domination of the Mediterranean world by a European state. That it failed was due to the immense resilience of the Romans, both in their political constitution and in their soldiery (210).
While there is some truth to this, Hannibal's ultimate defeat was brought about by his own people's weakness for luxury, wealth, and ease as much as by the Roman refusal to surrender after Cannae. There is no doubt, as Bradford also notes, that had Hannibal "been fighting against any other nation in the ancient world...his overwhelming victories would have brought them to their knees and to an early capitulation" (210) but the cause of Hannibal's defeat was just as much the fault of the Carthaginian elite who refused to support the general and his troops who were fighting for their cause.
No records exist of Carthage awarding Hannibal any recognition for his service in Italy and he was honored more by Scipio's pardon and defense than by any actions on the part of his country. Even so, he continued to do his best for his people throughout his life and remained true to the vow he had taken when young; to the end, he remained an enemy of Rome and his name would be remembered as Rome's greatest adversary for generations - and even to the present day.


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