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A marble bust, reputedly of Hannibal, originally found at the ancient city-state of Capua in Italy.[1][2][3][4][5]
Born247 BC
Died183, 182 or 181 BC (aged 64-66)
RankGeneral, commander-in-chief of the Carthaginian armies
Battles/warsSiege of Saguntum
Battle of Ticinus
Battle of Trebia
Battle of Lake Trasimene
Battle of Cannae
Battle of the Silarus
Battle of Herdonia
Battle of Zama

Hannibal (Hǎnnibal Barca, 247 BC – ? 183/2/1 BC), was a Carthaginian statesman and general who was the greatest enemy of the Roman Republic.

Hannibal is most famous for what he did in the Second Punic War. He marched with an army from Iberia over the Pyrenees and the Alps into northern Italy and defeated the Romans in a series of battles. At the Battle of Cannae, he defeated the largest army Rome had ever put together even though Carthage was heavily outnumbered. The Roman army at Cannae is reckoned at 16 legions and a total of 86,000 men. Over 80% of the army was killed or captured, including many of its commanders.

Hannibal kept an army in Italy for many years. Eventually, a Roman invasion of North Africa made him return to Carthage. He lost, and the Romans made him leave Carthage. He lived at the Seleucid court and convinced its emperor to fight Rome. When he lost a naval battle, Hannibal fled to the Bithynian court. When the Romans told him to surrender, he committed suicide by drinking poison.

Hannibal is listed as one of the greatest military commanders in history. The military historian Theodore Ayrault Dodge once called Hannibal the "father of strategy" because even his greatest enemy, Rome, copied his military ideas.

Hannibal's well-known feat of crossing the Alps with war elephants passed into European legend: a fresco detail, ca. 1510, Capitoline Museums, Rome

Early life and career[change | change source]

Hannibal's father, Hamilcar, was the commander of the Carthaginian forces at the end of the First Punic War. After Carthage had lost the war, Hamilcar crossed to Hispania to conquer the tribes of what is now Spain. At the time of this invasion, Carthage was in a poor condition. Its navy could not carry its army to Iberia (Hispania). Hamilcar had to march towards the Pillars of Hercules and to go across the Strait of Gibraltar. According to a story in Livy, Hamilcar made Hannibal promise that he would never be a friend of Rome.

In return, Hamilcar agreed to take Hannibal with him to Spain. Hamilcar spent two years finishing the conquest of Iberia south of the Ebro. He died in 229/228 in battle, most likely by drowning in the Jucar River.[6] His son-in-law Hasdrubal took command but was assassinated in 221 BC.

With Hasdrubal's death, Hannibal became the leader of the army. Rome feared the growing strength of Hannibal. They made an alliance with the city of Saguntum and claimed to be protecting the city. Saguntum was south of the Ebro River and so. Hannibal attacked the city. It was captured after eight months. With the attack of a Roman ally, Rome wanted justice from Carthage. Instead, the Carthaginian government saw nothing wrong with Hannibal's actions. The war that Hannibal wanted was declared at the end of the year.

Second Punic War[change | change source]

Overland journey to Italy[change | change source]

Hannibal´s route of invasion given graciously by The Department of History, United States Military Academy

Hannibal's army was made up of as many as 75,000 foot soldiers and 9,000 horsemen. Hannibal left New Carthage in late spring of 218 BC. He fought his way north to the Pyrenees. He defeated the tribes by clever mountain tactics and stubborn fighting. After marching 290 miles through Hispania and reaching the Ebro, Hannibal chose the most trustworthy and loyal parts of his army of Libyan and Iberian mercenaries to keep going with him. He left 11,000 troops to keep watch over the newly conquered region. At the Pyrenees, he let go of another 11,000 Iberian troops. Hannibal entered Gaul with 50,000 foot soldiers and 9,000 horsemen.

Hannibal needed to cross the Pyrenees, the Alps and many important rivers in the region starting in the spring of 218 BC, he fought his way to the Pyrenees. He made peace deals with the Gaulic tribal leaders and reached the Rhône River. Arriving at the Rhône in September, Hannibal's army numbered 38,000 infantry, 8,000 horsemen, and 37 war elephants.

Hannibal got away from a Roman force sent to fight him in Gaul. He then went up the valley of one of the streams of the Rhône River. By Autumn, he reached the foot of the Alps. His journey over the mountains is one of the most famous achievements of any military force. After this journey, Hannibal came down from the foothills into northern Italy, to the surprise of the Romans. He had arrived with only half the forces he had started with and only a few elephants. Hannibal had lost as many as 20,000 men crossing over the mountains.

Battle of Trebbia[change | change source]

A diagram depicting the tactics used in the Battle of Trebia.

Publius Cornelius Scipio commanded the Roman force sent to stop Hannibal. He did not expect Hannibal to cross the Alps but expected to fight Hannibal in Spain. With a small army still in Gaul, Scipio tried to stop Hannibal. He moved his army to Italy by sea in time to meet Hannibal.

Hannibal made the area behind him safer by defeating the tribe of the Taurini (now Turin). The opposing forces fought at Carthage, where Hannibal forced the Romans to get out of the plain of Lombardy. This victory did much to weaken Roman control over the Gauls, who decided to join the Carthaginians. Soon, all of northern Italy was unofficially allied. Gallic and Ligurian troops soon raised his army back to 40,000 men. Hannibal’s army was ready to invade Italy. Scipio retreated across the River Trebia. He camped at the town of Placentia and waited for more troops.

The Senate had ordered Sempronius Longus to bring his army from Sicily to meet Scipio and to face Hannibal. Hannibal was in position to head him off. Sempronius avoided Hannibal and joined Scipio near the Trebbia River near Placentia. At Trebia, Hannibal defeated the Roman infantry by a surprise attack from an ambush on the flank.

Battle of Lake Trasimene[change | change source]

Arriving in Etruria in the spring of 217 BC, Hannibal decided to lure the main Roman army led by Flaminius into battle. Hannibal found Flaminius camped at Arretium. He marched around his opponent’s left side and cut Flaminius off from Rome. Hannibal made Flaminius chase him. On the shore of Lake Trasimenus, Hannibal destroyed Flaminius's army in the waters or on the nearby slopes. He killed Flaminius as well. He had got rid of the only force that could stop him from getting to Rome. He realized that without siege engines, he could not hope to take the capital and so he decided to continue into central and southern Italy. He hoped this show of strength would create a revolt against the Roman government. After Lake Trasimene, Hannibal said, “I have not come to fight Italians, but on behalf of the Italians against Rome.”

Fabian strategy[change | change source]

Rome was put into an immense state of panic and appointed a dictator, Quintus Fabius Maximus. He was an intelligent and careful general.

Fabius adopted the Fabian strategy" He refused open battle with his enemy and put several Roman armies near Hannibal to limit his movement. Fabius sent out small forces against Hannibal’s foraging parties. Residents of small northern villages were told to post lookouts. They could gather their livestock and possessions and go to fortified towns to wear down the invaders’ endurance.

Hannibal decided to march through Samnium to Campania. He hoped that the destruction would draw Fabius into battle, but Fabius refused to be drawn into battle. His troops became irritated by his “cowardly spirit”. His policies were not liked since Romans were used to facing their enemies in the field, and the people wanted to see a quick end to the war.

The rest of autumn continued with frequent skirmishes. After six months, Fabius was removed from his position in accordance with Roman law.

Battle of Cannae[change | change source]

In the Spring of 216 BC Hannibal captured the large supply depot at Cannae in the Apulian plain, effectively placing himself between the Romans and their source of supply.[7] The Roman Senate resumed their consular elections in 216. They chose Caius Terentius Varro and Lucius Aemilius Paullus as consuls. The Romans raised largest army so far their history to defeat Hannibal. It is estimated that the total strength of the army was around 80,000 men.

Destruction of the Roman army, courtesy of The Department of History, United States Military Academy.

The Roman army marched southward to Apulia. After two days of marching, they found Hannibal at the Audifus River. Varro was a reckless man full of pride and was determined to defeat Hannibal. Varro's arrogance got the better of him and allowed Hannibal to drew him into a trap. With brilliant tactics, Hannibal surrounded and destroyed most of this force even though he was heavily outnumbered.

It is estimated that 50,000-70,000 Romans were killed or captured at Cannae.[8] Among the dead were 80 senators. The Roman Senate was no more than 300 men: 25%–30% of the governing body. The Battle of Cannae one of the worst defeats in the history of Ancient Rome. It is also one of the bloodiest battles in all of human history in terms of the number of lives lost in a single day. After Cannae, the Romans refused to fight Hannibal in battles but tried instead to defeat him by wearing him down. They relied on their advantages of supply and manpower.

Because of that victory. most of southern Italy joined Hannibal's cause. Thet same year, the Greek cities in Sicily revolted against Roman control. Macedonian King Philip V supported Hannibal. That started the First Macedonian War against Rome. Hannibal made his new base in Capua, the second-largest city of Italy.

Stalemate[change | change source]

Without resources from his allies or reinforcements from Carthage, Hannibal could not do much more and began losing ground. He continued defeating the Romans whenever he could bring them into battle but could never score another decisive victory.

End of war in Italy[change | change source]

In 212 BC, plotters in Tarentum let Hannibal into the city. They then blew the alarm with some Roman trumpets. This let Hannibal's troops pick off the Romans as they stumbled into the streets. Hannibal told the Tarentines to mark every house in which Tarentines lived so that they would not be looted. Even with the looting, the citadel held out. That stopped Hannibal from using the harbuor, and Rome was slowly gaining ground over Hannibal. In the same year, he lost Campania.

In 211 BC, the city of Capua fell. That summer the Romans destroyed the Carthaginian army in Sicily. Meanwhile, Hannibal had defeated Fulvius at Herdonea in Apulia, but lost Tarentum. With the loss of Tarentum in 209 BC and the Romans capturing of Samnium and Lucania, his hold on south Italy was almost lost.

In 207 BC, he retired to Bruttium. Those events marked the end to Hannibal's success in Italy. In 203 BC, Hannibal was recalled to Carthage to lead the defence of his homeland against a Roman invasion.

Battle of Zama[change | change source]

Both Scipio Africanus.and Hannibal met on the field of Zama. Hannibal had about 50,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry. Scipio had 34,000 infantry and 8,700 cavalry. For years, Hannibal had won victories with his experienced army. He now faced the best of the Roman army, and he led a makeshift army, which did not do well against the Romans. Hannibal was defeated, and 20,000 men of his army were killed at Zama, with the same number of men being taken as prisoners. The Romans lost as few as 500 dead and 4,000 wounded. With their best general defeated, the Carthaginians accepted defeat and surrendered to Rome.

Exile and death[change | change source]

Seven years after the victory of Zama, the Romans demanded Hannibal's surrender. He went into voluntary exile and went to Tyre, the mother-city of Carthage, and then to Ephesus and Syria.

In 190 BC, he was placed in command of a Phoenician fleet, but it was defeated in a battle off the Eurymedon River. Hannibal went to Cretebut soon returned to the Asia Minor. At Libyssa, on the eastern shore of the Sea of Marmora, he was going to be turned over to the Romans. Rather than letting himself be taken, he committed suicide by drinking poison. The precise year of his death is not certain. It is believed to be 183 BC. He died in the same year as Scipio Africanus.

In film and television[change | change source]

Year Film Other notes
2006 Hannibal Motion Picture starring Vin Diesel
2004 The Phantom of the Opera The beginning Opera being rehearsed is one about Hannibal so titled Hannibal
2005 The True Story of Hannibal English documentary
2001 Hannibal: The Man Who Hated Rome English documentary
1997 The Great Battles of Hannibal English documentary
1996 Gulliver’s Travels Gulliver summons Hannibal from a magic mirror.
1960 Annibale Italian Motion Picture starring Victor Mature
1955 Jupiter's Darling English Motion Picture starring Howard Keel
1939 Scipio Africanus - the Defeat of Hannibal (Scipione l'africano) Archived 2006-01-18 at the Wayback Machine Italian Motion Picture
1914 Cabiria Italian Silent movie

References[change | change source]

  1. Lancel, Serge 1995. Hannibal cover: "Roman bust of Hannibal. Museo Archeologico Nazionale. Naples"
  2. Goldsworthy, Adrian 2000. The fall of Carthage cover: "Hannibal in later life"
  3. Goldsworthy, Adrian 2001. Cannae p. 24: "a bust, which may be a representation of Hannibal in later life, although there are no definite images of him"
  4. Goldsworthy, Adrian 2003. The complete Roman Army p. 41: "a bust that purports to show Hannibal in later life"
  5. Matyszak, Philip 2003. Chronicle of the Roman Republic p. 95: "bust, thought to be of Hannibal, found in Capua"
  6. Hamilcar Barca [1]
  7. Ancient History Sourcebook [2] Archived 2014-09-13 at the Wayback Machine
  8. Ayrault Dodge & Theodore 1995. Hannibal: a history of the art of war among the Carthaginians and Romans down to the Battle of Pydna, 168 BC. Da Capo Press.

Other websites[change | change source]