Since his meteoric life and tragic death, Hannibal Barca comes across the centuries as the military commander with few, if any equals. A courageous leader, brilliant tactician, and steadfast soldier in the service of his beloved Carthage, Hannibal existed for one sole purpose: to defeat and, if possible, to eliminate the power of Rome(Livy p.207).
Hannibal’s destiny was already chosen for him before his own birth. The only thing that couldn’t have been foretold was the outcome of his struggles.
His father Hamilcar Barca, another fearless commander from Carthage, was in charge during the first Punic War. Hannibal was taken to Spain at the young age of only nine. There he was forced to swear hostility to Rome. From his fathers death to his own death Hannibal was constantly involved in a struggle between Carthage and Rome.
Hannibal was placed in the army as soon as his father felt he was old enough to start his vigorous training.
He learned to handle arms as skillfully as any soldier does, and he never asked his soldiers to do something that he himself could not do. In 221 BC, Hasdrubal was assassinated, and Hamilcar died in battle in 229 BC. The young Hannibal was given his first command, at the age of twenty-six. Hannibal was now the commander-in-chief, and the Carthaginian government ratified his position. He was a brilliant well-liked leader form the start. “The veterans thought that in Hannibal, Hamilcar had returned to life. They noted the same energy in Hannibal’s face, the same keen glance. He was absolutely fearless in going into danger, very prudent when it was on hand. No amount of labor fatigued him, physically or mentally. He endured heat and cold very well. What time remained over when his tasks were done he gave to rest. Many times the soldiers saw him lying on the ground amid the outposts and the guards, wrapped in a military cloak”(Miller et al Livy p.41).
Before the death of Hasdrubal, Carthage had negotiated a treaty with Rome to establish a line of Demarcation on the Ebro River. This treaty led to Hannibal’s first military action. Saguntum, which was located well south of the line, became the center of Roman ambitions. Saguntum’s leaders began attacking nearby Cartheginian allies and expelling supporters. The city of Saguntum was well inside the Carthaginian influence, but the Romans demanded that Carthage not take action at Sanguntum. Hannibal ignored Roman demands and decided to take action on the city. Hannibal organized his armies and threw a siege on Saguntum. The city was greatly reduced and Hannibal began his amazing trip over the Alps.
According to H.L. Oerter of Miami University, Hannibal’s journey, including 40 elephants, over and through the Alps into Italy has never been denied. But, there has been no generalized agreement on the route that he followed. It is known that two Greek scholars accompanied Hannibal’s forces, but their accounts have never been found.
A Roman army under the command of General Publius Cornelius Scipio was sent to meet and dispose of Hannibal, but failed to come across the great leader. Scipio did finally meet Hannibal at the Ticinus River. The meeting was accidental. Forces from both sides met, and the Carthaginians came out of the battle victorious. Scipio was badly wounded and nearly lost his life. The Romans retreated to Placentia, where Longus would reinforce them. Fighting on the left bank of the Trebia River the Romans were again soundly defeated. Hannibal advanced to the Arno River by spring.
In 217 BC, Hannibal moved on to Perugia and forced the Roman Flaminius into open combat, at the battle of Lake Trasimene. The Carthaginians nearly annihilated Flaminius, killing thousands and forcing others to drown in the lake. Rome sent reinforcements to Flaminius but Carthage intercepted and destroyed them also. That same year Rome elected Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator’s dictator who adopted the Fabian tactic of delay. This tactic only allowed small skirmishes between the two armies.
In 216, Hannibal made his move south and seized the army supply depot at Cannae on the Aufidus River. Here, in August, The Battle of Cannae was fought. While the Guals and Iberian infantry of Hannibal’s center line yielded before the drive of the numerically superior Roman infantry, the Libyan infantry and cavalry of Hannibal’s flanks stood fast, overlapped the Roman line, an in a rear encircling movement turned to pursue the victorious legionaries(Khalaf p.2). This great land victory brought the desired effect, but Hannibal did not march on Rome and decided to spend the winter of 216-215 in Capua. Carthaginian fighting strength was beginning to weaken. Realizing this the Romans began to put the strategy suggested by Fabius into operation. Fabius’s suggestions consisted of: to defend the cities loyal to Rome; to try to recover, where opportunity offered it but rather to keep the Carthaginians alert in every theatre of war. Hannibal, due to inferior numbers wasn’t able to spread his forces to match the Romans or throw his concentrated strength into a decisive battle, turned the tides from offensive to defensive in Italy. Hannibal gained only minor victories, except for the capture of Tarentum, for the next two years.
In 213 Casilinum and Apri were recovered by the Romans, and in 211 Hannibal had to march to Capua to relieve the Roman siege. Despite his hurried march, Capua fell to the Romans before Hannibal could save the city. In that same year Syracuse fell, and in 209 Tarentum had also been recovered by the Romans.
Roman success in Spain brought severe blows to Carthaginian power there. To save their territories in Italy, Hasdrubal assembled a force of soldiers from the main Carthaginian army to cross the Alps and come to Hannibal’s aid. Before the Carthaginian armies could meet, Hasdrubal’s army was defeated at Metaurus in Italy. Hannibal’s last hope of making a recovery in Italy was destroyed. Hannibal placed his forces in Bruttium, along with his remaining allies, to resist the Romans for 4 more years. Hannibal had to abandon Italy in 203, in order to save his country from Scipio Africanas.
By the time Hannibal had arrived home, Carthage had already negotiated a peace treaty with Rome. When Hannibal arrived they violated the treaty for one last stance against the Romans. According to S. G. Khalaf accounts of the campaigns that followed differ greatly. Both Hannibal and Scipio, in order to link up with their respective Numidian allies, moved up the Bagradas River to the region of Zama Regia. Hannibal was now deficient in cavalry; the mercenary troops of his front line and the African infantry of his second line together were routed, and Scipio, seeing that Hannibal’s third line, the veteran soldiers, was still intact, reformed his front and brought up the Numinian cavalry of Masinissa, his Numidian ally, in the Carthaginian rear. Hannibal lost 20,00 men in defeat, but he himself escaped Masinissa’s pursuit. Scipio had won the battle of Zama.
A treaty between Rome and Carthage was made within a year after the Battle. Although accused of having misconducted the war, he was made a suffete (a civil magistrate) and kept his military command. Hannibal soon became unpopular with a certain group of Carthaginian nobility and fled to the court of Antiochus at Ephesus, where Ephesus was planning to wage war against the Romans. Inexperienced Ephesus was defeated in his first two battles, and the Romans demanded that Hannibal surrender. When Hannibal heard of this he fled to either of two places: Crete to the court of King Prusias, or he joined the rebel forces in Armenia.
Finally the Romans by unknown means got themselves into a position to demand the surrender of Hannibal. Hannibal was unable to escape this time, so he poisoned himself in the village of Libyssa. The year is uncertain, but it was probably 183.
Hannibal throughout his life was a military genius. He had a great personality and was very persuasive. It was said that he could get any man to fight for him. Hannibal did what not many could do, defeat the Romans time and time again. His military victories brought him so close to beating the Romans, but he never had the chance to finally destroy Rome. “His examples in war have sometimes been applied, with success, to destroy greater evils than he could have imagined or understood, In this sense, so longs as war remains an instrument of policy, he was a creator and not a destroyer”(Cottrell p 248).
Bradford, D. S. (1998). Hannibal. In The encyclopaedia Britannica (Vol.5, pp.683-685). Chicago, IL: Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Cottrel, L. (1965). Hannibal: Enemy of Rome. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Khalaf, S. G. (1999, January 25). Colonial Punic Wars and Hannibal [On-line]. Available: http://phoenicia.cnchost.com/punicwar.html
Livy, T. (1994). Hannibal. In Historical world leaders: Europe A-K (Vol.1, pp.207-211). Detriot, MI: Gale Research.
Miller, O. B. (1953). A picturesque tale of progress. Chicago, IL: The Book House of Children.
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